24th March 1603 was the day on which Queen Elizabeth I died. It was therefore also the day on which the crowns of England and Scotland were united in the person of Elizabeth I’s successor.
Queen Elizabeth was only a few months short of 70 years old. She hated the idea of growing old and had done everything she could to pretend to herself that this was not happening. For example, she wore luxuriant tawny wigs to disguise the fact that the fiery red hair of her youth was now grey and thinning. She so hated to see herself as an old woman that she had all the mirrors removed from her palace at Richmond.
However, she knew that her time was running out and, during her final months, reconciled herself to the idea of dying. For days on end she refused to go to bed, being instead propped up on cushions while she meditated in silence.
On 23rd March she announced: “I wish not to live any longer but desire to die”, and at three o’clock the next morning that is what she did. Her coronation ring was so tightly fixed to her finger that the digit had to be cut off before the ring could be released.
On the death of the last of the Tudors the crown passed to the son of her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, whom Elizabeth had had executed in 1587. James Stuart had been King James VI of Scotland since 1567 (when only one year old) and he now added the title of King James I of England and Ireland. The effective creation of the United Kingdom has lasted to the present day, although whether it will continue for much longer is a contentious point.
© John Welford