Queen Elizabeth I

The thing about ghosts is that they are unpredictable. They turn up when you least expect them and then they scare the living daylights out of you. That’s how they work. You cannot set your watch by a ghost because ghosts do not keep to schedules or time tables… apart from the ghost of Queen Elizabeth 1st which is supposed to make an annual appearance every March 24th in the courtyard of Richmond Palace.

Queen Elizabeth 1st died on Thursday March 24th 1603 at the age of 69. She had caught a chill a few months earlier while out walking and later complained of a sore throat and general aches and pains. Her courtiers reported that she seemed depressed. As her condition worsened she was brought to Richmond Palace, her “warm winter box” and a favourite home.

Richmond Palace

The Queen was a stubborn woman and although she admitted that she was not well she refused to accept the advice of her doctors to go to bed. Instead she spent hours standing by a window or perching on a chair. Some said that she was making no effort to help herself. She was old and tired and lonely and perhaps she realised that relief would only come when death released her. Eventually she moved into a small private room in the Wardrobe. Growing steadily weaker the Queen lay on the floor on cushions for 4 days in virtual silence until her servants were able to move her into bed.

In her last days, as gentle music played, the Queen was attended by 73 year old Archbishop Whitgift. By then she was unable to talk and could only communicate by squeezing his hand. When Whitgift suggested that she might be getting better the Queen ignored him but when he spoke of the ‘joys of heaven’ she squeezed his hand contentedly. After her death it was said that she had answered the important and unresolved question of who should succeed her by hand gestures alone. The courtiers decided that it was to be James VI of Scotland.

Finally in the early hours of March 24th 1603 the old Queen fell into a deep sleep and died…

“This morning, about three o’clock her Majesty departed from this life, mildly like a lamb, easily like a ripe apple from a tree… Dr Parry told me he was present, and sent his prayers before her soul; and I doubt not but she is amongst the royal saints in heaven in eternal joys.”

John Manningham -A Diarist

Elizabeth Southwell

Moments before the death one of her ladies-in-waiting left the room. When the woman returned shortly afterwards she was amazed to see the Queen striding purposefully towards her. Her amazement increased when upon re-entering the royal chamber she saw the body of the dead Queen lying in bed. It was this apparent ‘visitation’ that sparked off the legend that Richmond Palace is haunted by Elizabeth’s ghost. Less well known is the suggestion that the entire ghostly apparition had been dreamt up by Elizabeth Southwell, a lady-in-waiting who had recently become a Catholic. She wanted to start a rumour that Elizabeth, the Defender of the Protestant faith, was a witch doomed to walk the earth forever.

No post mortem was carried out on Elizabeth but it was generally believed she died from blood poisoning caused by a make-up called ‘ceruse’ which contained poisonous white lead. Of course it might have been down to simple old age. When Elizabeth’s death was announced on the streets of London the following day witnesses reported the eerie silence of the stunned crowd. Elizabeth had been their queen for nearly 45 years and most had known no other ruler.

Queen Elizabeth's funeral

On the 28th April 1603, Elizabeth was given a magnificent funeral. Her coffin, covered in purple velvet, was topped by an effigy dressed in the robes of state with a crown and a sceptre. When the crowds gathered in the streets saw the life-like representation they wept. John Stow, an antiquarian who attended the funeral, wrote…

“Westminster was surcharged with multitudes of all sorts of people in their streets, houses, windows, leads and gutters, that came to see the obsequy, and when they beheld her statue lying upon the coffin, there was such a general sighing, groaning and weeping as the like hath not been seen or known in the memory of man, neither doth any history mention any people, time or state to make like lamentation for the death of their sovereign.”

As to the success of her own reign the Queen said while praying…

Richmond Palane Wardrobe

“When wars and seditions with grievous persecutions have vexed almost all kings and countries round about me, my reign hath been peaceable, and my realm a receptacle to thy afflicted Church. The love of my people hath appeared firm, and the devices of my enemies frustrate.”

According to the legend the ghost of Queen Elizabeth, dressed in a Farthingale, is supposed to appear outside the Wardrobe at Richmond Palace in the early hours of March 24th. Phantom hoof beats have also been heard.

Queen Elizabeth 1st died on a Thursday – 24th March 1603. This year March 24th falls on a Thursday as well. Does this synchronicity mean that mysterious physic powers are gearing themselves for an extra-special spectral spectacular next week? Don’t ask me. I will be tucked up in bed with the sheets pulled firmly over my head.

Credits: Wardrobe from Flickr. Death of Elizabeth by Paul Delaroche. Richmond Palace from PastScape, Queen Elizabeth by George Gowers, Elizabeth Southwell from Lalivornia

— from Martyn Day