“Good Queen Bess” passed away on March 24, 1603. She was the daughter of Henry the VIII and Anne Boleyn. Her mother was beheaded two and a half years after her birth and she was declared illegitimate and deprived of the title of princess. The great irony is that Elizabeth I proved to be one of England’s best monarchs. She was more moderate than her father and half-siblings, was a shrewd diplomat, and presided over one of the greatest victories in English history, the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588.

Her reign is known as the Elizabethan era, a high point in English history, with great works being written by William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe and exploration led by Sir Francis Drake. It was a period of relative religious tolerance that saw persecutions drop away. Elizabeth’s motto was “video et taceo” (I see, and say nothing).

At 29, she contracted smallpox, which left her skin scarred and dependent on cosmetics. Here is where trouble starts.

One of the most popular cosmetics of the upper classes was Venetian ceruse, which women used to whiten their faces, necks, and chests. It was made by mixing vinegar with lead, which created an opaque powder that gives the wearer a milky, porcelain white complexion. The big problem with ceruse is that it is absorbed through the skin and leads to lead poisoning, hair loss, muscle paralysis, and a slowly deteriorating mental condition. It also corrodes the skin, leaving it unattractive; so, thicker and thicker layers had to be applied over time. Prolonged use of ceruse killed, and it is believed to be culpable in the death of Elizabeth I.

Amazingly, ceruse, while highly poisonous, remained popular for about 300 years despite its side effects. Finally, in 1634 it was classified as a poison.

In February 1603, Robert Devereux, a favorite of the queen, was beheaded and it seemed to put Elizabeth into a state of depression. By March, Elizabeth seemed ill yet she refused to be examined or lie down in bed. She stood for hours on end, visibly weakened. Her ladies-in-waiting became alarmed and spread cushions on the floor, and after a while Elizabeth collapsed on them. She lay speechless on the floor for 4 days until servants lifted her into her bed. She passed away on March 24, 1603. Her funeral took place on April 28 at Westminster Abbey. Her successor was James I of Scotland, whose mother Elizabeth had beheaded.

Elizabeth never married and the Tudor line and claim to the throne passed with her.

Reference

  1. Death of Queen Elizabeth I. http://www.elizabethan-era.org.uk/death-of-queen-elizabeth-i.htm.
  2. Elizabeth I of England. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_I_of_England.
  3. History lesson: lead, mercury and leeches were used to whiten complexions in the 1400s. http://www.whiterskin.info/history-lesson-lead-mercury-and-leeches-were-used-to-whiten-complexions-in-the-1400s/.
  4. Skerrett V. The death of Queen Elizabeth I.  http://tudorstuff.wordpress.com/2009/11/03/the-death-of-queen-elizabeth-i/.
  5. Venetian ceruse. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venetian_ceruse.