At almost as dark a period of English history was the Coronation of the great Queen whose reign was to prove its most glorious chapter. The twenty-five year-old Elizabeth I succeeded to the Throne at a moment when the country was encompassed by dangers.
Torn by bitter religious dissension and persecution, threatened by her traditional enemies of Scotland to the north and France to the south, already half-absorbed by Mary Tudor's doting marriage to King Philip in the fatal web of Spanish empire, and seething with economic and social unrest, England was little in the mood to welcome a weak, woman to its tottering Throne.
But the woman who ascended it on that anxious, bitter day in the November of 1558 was no ordinary woman. Two months later, on January 15 , 1559 she was crowned at Westminster.
On the day before, when she rode in state from the Tower to Whitehall, she gave her subjects their first taste of the arts by which she was to win and retain their adoration. It was snowing a little, but the jewels and gilded clothes of those riding in the royal cortege made the day seem almost bright. The Queen herself was carried in an open litter, decked with gold brocade, with a sea of crimson and silver gentlemen-at-arms about her.
In his brilliant life of the great Queen, Professor Neale has given us a wonderful picture of Elizabeth on that day -
"Rich banners and streamers waved from windows, and everywhere people crowded, some of whom, their patience inexhaustible, had been waiting for hours in their places. Well were they rewarded; and not by a spectacle only, but by a hundred little touches that stirred their loyalty and set them talking afterwards in tavern and home, reconstructing the day's epic and inflaming their hearers with their own affection. At one place an old man turned his back and wept. 'I warrant you it is for gladness!' exclaimed Elizabeth; and so in very deed it was.
Another time she was seen to smile, and being asked the reason, answered that she had heard someone say, 'Remember old King Henry VIII.' Many a simple body moved forward to speak to her, for whom she stayed her litter. She accepted untold nosegays at poor women's hands, and it was noticed that a branch of rosemary, given with a supplication by a poor woman near Fleet Bridge, was in her litter when she reached Westminster."
In the whole range of English literature on Elizabeth scarcely anything which expresses so well as this passage the true nature of the relationship which should bind a Sovereign to her subjects. It was a relationship which the English perfectly and exquisitely comprehended.
"Be ye well assured I will stand your good Queen," she told the City delegations who took leave of her at Temple Bar. It was a Coronation promise that time was to see gloriously fulfilled.