England and Scotland had been fighting over border issues and territorial claims for centuries, at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives and countless financial losses. All these dead couldn’t bring peace between the two bordering countries. In the end, it only took one death, the death of a Queen, to unite them.
Queen Elizabeth I died March 24, 1603. It marked the end of the Tudor Era, and the beginning of the Stuart Dynasty.
Elizabeth I shown near the end of her reign. Portrait by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger. It is located at the Folgers Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC.
As golden as Elizabeth’s reign seems from an historical perspective, all was not golden. Plague continually took its toll throughout her reign, and persistent bad harvests disrupted the food supply and trade. The truth is, many of Elizabeth’s subjects were sick, starving and homeless. Most of the people with whom she had begun her reign were gone. Cecil, Walsingham and Leicester––even Essex–– were now dead. Elizabeth was increasingly a lonely old lady at the head of a young court. The sentiment among many was, “Out with the old, and in with the new.” But there was still one problem.
Elizabeth was the last surviving heir named in Henry VIII’s will. She had produced no heir for England and she had consistently refused to name her successor. Elizabeth had a long memory and she remembered all too well how—as the named successor––she had been the focus of conspirator’s plots during her sister’s reign, and how quickly courtiers had abandoned her sister’s court and flocked to hers when Mary was battling her final illness. Elizabeth would not tolerate the same treatment. If England wanted a successor, they would have to find their own.
And so they did. Led by Robert Cecil (William’s son), the Privy Council held a series of secret correspondences with James VI of Scotland. James VI was the son of Mary Queen of Scots, the great-grandson of Margaret Tudor, Henry VIII’s older sister, and thereby a direct descendant of Henry VII. He had Tudor blood, he was Protestant, and he was a king. He offered a logical option for the English.
King James I shown early in his reign of England. Portrait by John De Critz the Elder. It hangs in the National Portrait Gallery of London.
In the last months of Elizabeth’s life she slipped into a type of catatonic existence. Not ill so much as done. The Queen who had offered so much to England, and had during her reign often sacrificed her own happiness, comfort, and money for her people, in the end just quit. She passed away on March 24, 1603. After her last breath, her attendants slipped the royal ring off her finger, delivered it to a waiting messenger, who immediately began a rapid progress north. The ring was delivered to James VI of Scotland, and the Privy Council of Elizabeth I offered him the crown of England. He accepted, of course.
James VI of Scotland became James I of England. The Tudor Dynasty had come to an end.