Is this proof the Virgin Queen was an imposter in drag? Shocking new theory about Elizabeth I unearthed in historic manuscripts.
By CHRISTOPHER STEVENS FOR THE DAILY MAIL PUBLISHED: June 2013
The bones of Elizabeth I, Good Queen Bess, lie mingled with those of her sister, Bloody Mary, in a single tomb at Westminster Abbey. But are they really royal remains — or evidence of the greatest conspiracy in English history?
If that is not the skeleton of Elizabeth Tudor, the past four centuries of British history have been founded on a lie.
And according to a controversial new book, the lie began on an autumn morning 470 years ago, when panic swept through a little group of courtiers in a manor house in the Cotswold village of Bisley in Gloucestershire.
The king, Henry VIII, was due at any hour. He was travelling from London, in great discomfort — for the 52-year-old monarch was grossly overweight and crippled by festering sores — to visit his daughter, Elizabeth.
The young princess had been sent there that summer from the capital to avoid an outbreak of plague. But she had fallen sick with a fever and, after weeks of bleeding, leeches and vomiting, her body was too weak to keep fighting. The night before the king’s arrival, his favourite daughter, the only child of his marriage to Anne Boleyn, had been dangerously ill. In the morning, Elizabeth lay dead.
Elizabeth’s governess, Lady Kat Ashley, and her guardian, Thomas Parry, had good reason to fear telling the king this awful news. It would cost them their lives. Four of Henry’s children had died in infancy and, of the survivors, one — Edward — was a sickly boy of five and the other an embittered, unmarried woman in her late 20s.
The ten-year-old Elizabeth was Tudor England’s most valuable child in many ways. She could surely be married to a French or Spanish prince to seal an international alliance — and her own children would secure the Tudor dynasty Henry so desperately craved.
Now she was dead, and when the king discovered it, Parry and Lady Ashley would surely be executed. Their sole duty had been to keep the princess safe: failure was treason. The penalty would not even be beheading, but death by the most gruesome torture imaginable.
Their only chance of concealing the truth, and perhaps buying themselves a few days to flee the country, was to trick the king.
Kat Ashley’s first thought was to find a village girl and dress her up in the princess’s robe, with a mantle, to fool the king. Bisley was a tiny hamlet, however, and there were no female children of Elizabeth’s age.
But there was a boy, from a local family called Neville. He was a gawky, angular youth a year or so younger than Elizabeth, who had been the princess’s companion and fellow pupil for the past few weeks. And with no time to look further afield for a stand-in, Parry and Lady Ashley took the desperate measure of forcing the boy to don his dead friend’s clothes.
Remarkably, the deception worked. Henry saw his daughter rarely, and was used to hearing her say nothing. The last time she had been presented in court, meeting the new Queen Catherine Parr, she had been trembling with terror.
The princess was known as a gentle, studious child, and painfully shy — not a girl to speak up in front of the king who had beheaded her mother.
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If her secret was betrayed, the country could be plunged into civil war. There was no obvious heir, and Mary’s former husband was now Britain’s greatest enemy, Philip II of Spain. Certainly, Cecil was surprisingly stoic about the queen’s determination never to wed.
Publicly, Elizabeth sometimes claimed that people needed to feel their monarch was wedded to the whole country, rather than one man. On other occasions, she hinted that the debacle of her father’s six wives, and her mother’s death at the block, had put her off marriage for life.
If those reasons sound flimsy, the queen’s determination to control her image was iron.
She wore thick make-up and heavy wigs at all times: no one was permitted to see her without them. And she controlled her succession with equal ruthlessness.
On her deathbed, she commanded that the crown must go to her cousin’s son — James VI of Scotland, whose mother was Mary Queen of Scots. But the command itself was cryptically worded: ‘I will have no rascal to succeed me, and who should succeed me but a king?’
Was there a hint in those words that for 45 years the figure on the throne had herself been a ‘rascal’, playing a part? Author Steve Berry believes there is only one way to discover the truth. After Elizabeth died in 1603, there was no autopsy.
Instead of a magnificent state funeral for the monarch the nation called ‘Gloriana’, the queen’s bones were interred with those of her sister in Westminster Abbey.
Berry points to the recent DNA analysis that proved that remains discovered under a Leicester car park were those of Richard III, who ruled a century before Elizabeth.
Such high-tech methods would not even be necessary to establish whether the bones in the Abbey tomb were all female, or whether a male skeleton was buried there.
‘Elizabeth’s grave has never been breached,’ Berry says. ‘Now it’s time to open it up and see what’s in there.’
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