Having been declared illegitimate, Elizabeth grew up facing an uncertain future. She watched her stepmothers be divorced, beheaded, or die in childbirth. Her father, once the most brilliant and handsome prince in all Europe, fell foul of ill health. Her brother Edward died of consumption. Her cousin Jane Grey was beheaded for claiming the throne. Her sister Mary, in love with a man who was repulsed by her, had died broken hearted and childless.
Elizabeth had survived them all. She had faced down the allegations of illegitimacy. She had even come out of the tower alive, after her sister Mary had imprisoned her there under suspicion of treason. Not only that, she was declared Mary’s heir rather than her enemy when Mary finally accepted she would never have a child. Against all the odds, in the face of Catholic opposition and with the crowned heads of Europe watching, Elizabeth had been proclaimed queen at the age of 25, and crowned. She gripped the blanket as she thought of it.
Every day since then, Elizabeth had held onto the throne. When plots against her life were revealed, with everyone saying she should marry; Elizabeth had ruled in her way, without a man to steal her power. Tonight, she felt like all this had brought her precisely to this place; alone in her bed, having ordered the death of a fellow queen.
And yet, Mary was not an innocent. Despite her beauty and charm, she went from being adored to being reviled by her people, and sought refuge in England. When Mary’s husband, the young King of France, had died, she had returned to Scotland. Her reign there was a complete disaster. Unsuitable husbands, murder, scandal and a flight for her life had ensued.
Elizabeth shivered to recall how she had felt upon hearing that Mary was in England, pleading for her help. The complications of having another queen in her kingdom had been evident to Elizabeth immediately. What followed was a cruel journey of nearly two decades for both queens – imprisonment for Mary, and guilt and confusion for Elizabeth.
In her darkest hours, Elizabeth could feel the gnawing jealousy towards Mary eating away at her heart. Jealousy because Mary had been given a kingdom and thrown it all away, whilst Elizabeth clung to her throne every day. Jealousy because Mary was beautiful and charming, not ageing and childless like Elizabeth. Several times Mary had written to Elizabeth, begging to meet her, convinced that if she could only see her and speak to her as a beloved sister, queen and cousin… But time and again, Elizabeth had refused her, determined not to be manipulated by that beautiful face, as others had.
Now, as Elizabeth thought of what Mary had been reduced to, that mangled corpse, how glad she was that her face, her pleas, her tears, had never taken place in front of her.
Elizabeth lay down in the darkness, resolving to sleep. She would solve nothing tonight; perhaps the guilt over Mary’s death would stay with her until her last breath. Dawn would soon arrive, and she would have to get up and face the day as the person who Mary could never be – the Queen of England.