Death of a Queen

 

Queen Elizabeth I of England died on this day, March 24, 1603.  She had reigned for 44 years, one of the longest reigns in the history of English monarchs. She was the second female to ever take the throne in England, the first being her sister Mary who ruled for only five years.

Bess was born on September 7, 1533 — thus making her nearly 70 years old at the time of her death. This was REALLY OLD by Elizabethan standards, a time when plague and disease ran rampant, not to mention poor nutrition, excessive labor, wars and general hardships.  The  average person only lived to be about 38 years old.  Monarchs, of course, had access to the best lifestyles and health care.

Bess’ death was caused by a combination of things.

Having survived a bout with smallpox in 1562 which had left her skin very scarred, the Queen took to using a cosmetic covering which was made of eggshells and lead. (Yes LEAD!) This could not have been healthy! This concoction lent to the appearance of her  unnaturally white skin, considered fashionable at the time.

But what were the long term effects of these applications? Symptoms of lead poisoning include abdominal pain, headaches, irritability, memory problems and inability to have children. (Hardly worth the fashion statement!)

Also, Bess’ teeth, by all accounts, were rotten.  King Henry IV of France, after having audience with her, reported: “her teeth are very yellow and unequal … and on the left side less than on the right. Many of them are missing, so that one cannot understand her easily when she speaks quickly.”

While we now know that dental health greatly aids in preventing disease, this was not the case in Tudor England.  Bess, along with her father Henry, enjoyed excessive sweets. Bess, however, did not reach Henry’s status of obesity.

The French King also said of Elizabeth: “her figure is fair and tall and graceful in whatever she does; so far as may be she keeps her dignity, yet humbly and graciously withal.”

Nonetheless, no one can escape Father Time, and by 1602 the Grim Reaper was on his way.

In the winter of 1602 Bess had caught a chill after walking out in the cold air. She complained of a sore throat as well as aches and pains. She retired to rest in her private apartments, but would not go to bed, staying awake for days on end.  Elizabeth knew she was not well, yet she refused to see her doctors. When her chief adviser Robert Cecil told her that she must go to bed, she snapped “Must is not a word to use to princes, little man!”

Some of her contemporaries believed she could have recovered had she been willing to fight off her illness.  Elizabeth, however, seemed to have a death wish.

For a number of years the Queen had been suffering from some form of of mental instability and depression. This was apparently caused by the stresses of the monarchy and the many fickle decisions she had made, which toyed with people’s lives. (And perhaps it could have been the LEAD…)  In the course of her reign Bess had  been responsible for several deaths which left her guilt ridden and paranoid. The most noteworthy of these was the beheading of her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, whom she had executed after the Scottish Queen was caught in a plot to overthrow Bess.

Another death that agonized her was that of Robert Devereaux, Earl of Essex, who had once been ELizabeth’s favorite courtier.

Robert Devereaux, 2nd Earl of Essex

In 1601 Essex lost his head after he tried to raise a London rebellion against the Queen. Although she had ordered the execution, it was reported that afterward Bess was known “to sit in the dark, and sometimes with shedding tears to bewail Essex.”

To make matters worse, as often happens in old age, Bess had lost, and greatly missed, a number of her dearest friends. She never overcame the untimely death of her one true love, Sir Robert Dudley (also stepfather of Essex) whom she had decided not to marry.

Her closest adviser and father-figure, William Cecil, Lord Burghley  (whom she had dismissed from office after the agonized decision of beheading Mary Queen of Scots) had now passed away as well.

Elizabeth was no fool. She knew her popularity could not last forever, and she had always depended upon the love of her people. An aged and feeble queen could not hold the hearts of England’s youth.  A new day was dawning with the discoveries in the New World, as well as expanding trade and commerce. The country was looking for young, fresh leadership.

As Elizabeth’s condition deteriorated, her favorite clergyman, the Archbishop Whitgift of Canterbury was called to her side.  Whitgift reported that the Queen was at this point unable to speak, but she held onto his hand. The Archbishop tried to encourage her with words of recovery, but she made no response.  However, when he spoke to her of the joys of Heaven, she squeezed his hand, as if in anticipation of the after life.  By this time it was clear to all of those around that Elizabeth was dying.

There was, of course, the question of Succession.  As the famous Virgin Queen, Bess had never married and bore no children. There were several descendants of the York and Lancaster bloodlines who had potential claim the the throne. The most likely of these was Elizabeth’s cousin, King James of Scotland who was favored by her Privy Council.  The question was once again put to the Queen on her deathbed. The Privy Council urged her to sign the succession document. She did not.

For the sake of the peaceful transition of power, it was later announced that Elizabeth had gestured in agreement for James to succeed her. Chief adviser Robert Cecil then took it upon himself to make arrangements for the transition.

During her reign, Queen Bess’ accomplishments were many.  She defeated the Spanish Armada, protected the realm against a number of foreign entities, brought peace to her previously divided country and restored the prosperity that her father Henry had depleted.  She also created an environment where the arts flourished, including drama which elevated Shakespeare to superstar status.

She was called Gloriana, The Faerie Queen, The Virgin Queen  and Good Queen Bess. To this day the time of her monarchy is considered a Golden Age of Great Britain.

She once said:  “To be a king and wear a crown, is a thing more glorious to them that see it, than it is pleasant to them that bear it.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Appreciating Black Cats

 

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Today, August 17, is Black Cat Appreciation Day!

Black cats are often feared, mistrusted and misunderstood.  For centuries they have taken on a soiled reputation and are often thought to bring bad luck. This theory seems most prominent in the United States. Perhaps because of Puritanical roots, or perhaps because of the color black itself — these cats have long been associated with all kinds of willy-nilly superstition.

It is time to dispel these myths! In truth, black cats are loyal, affectionate, funny and fantastic pets.  Historically,  black cats have been celebrated and revered in many cultures. In fact, these ebony beauties were thought to bring good luck in many parts of Great Britain and Asia. Consider the following:

 Seafaring Cats:

In Yorkshire,  it was believed that a black cat kept in a fisherman’s home would ensure his ship’s safe return from sea.  It was also believed that a black cat aboard ship would bring a bounty of fish.  If the cat was banished from the ship, the supply of fish would run out as well.  Cat ahoy!

black cat boat 2

Doctor Cats:

In Cornwall,  it was believed that passing a black cat’s tail over one’s eyes would cure soreness and headaches.  In Wales, it was believed that  a black cat could ensure good health.  Modern day scientists have proven that  keeping a cat can actually lower one’s blood pressure, so there may be some truth to these theories.

black cat doctor

Wealth and Love:

“Whenever the cat of the house is black, the lasses of lovers will have no lack”  — Scottish Folk Saying

In Scotland, it was believed that a bride seeing a black cat on her wedding day would ensure a happy marriage.  Scottish folklore also states that a black cat found on your porch will bring financial prosperity. In Japan, a black cat was considered an all around good luck charm.

In Ancient Egypt, black cats were worshiped and revered because of their association with the goddess Bast.  Many pharaohs and queens owned black cats.

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21st Century Cats

In modern times,  the engineer and professor of animal science Temple Grandin has spoken praises of black cats.  Grandin claims that there is a relationship between fur color and animals’ behavior.  Black cats, she says, are known to be more sociable and adaptable. A stray black cat is often more likely to make friends with strangers. In groups of cats, the black ones will often be more affectionate.

If a black cat has graced your life, you already know they are smart, with a great sense of humor!

black cat humor

Despite all of this, black cats are still the last to be adopted out of animal shelters. If you are in the market for a pet, please consider one of these dark lovelies.

Famous black cat owners include Frank Zappa, Marlon Brando, Joey Ramone, Morgan Freeman, Brigitte Bardot, Vincent Price and John Lennon.  (And maybe even smart guy Groucho Marx…)

“A black cat crossing your path signifies that the animal is going somewhere.” — Groucho Marx

Take time to appreciate a black cat today!

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Mother Earth (a rondeau)

 

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She is not ready for your tomb

Of rancid waste, of filth and doom

There is much life in Mother Earth

A wealth of riches, home and hearth.

Gestation beats within her womb

 

Azalea, daisies stretching bloom

Her blossoms delicate perfume

The lady presses sun and mirth

She is not ready for your tomb.

 

Her skillful weaving, fruit from loom

Touch wheat fields of her sweeping broom

Where golden ores are forging birth

With gemstones rich, she’ll find her worth

In treasures more than you’d assume

She is not ready for your tomb.

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**NOTE:  This poem was inspired by John W. Leys  and his use of experimental poetry forms. The Rondeau was first used in thirteenth-century France, popular among medieval court poets and musicians. Because it is named for the French word ’round’ I could not resist using it as a tribute to Earth.  Read more about the Rondeau here.

Happy Earth Day! 🙂