On 10th October 1562, twenty-nine year-old Queen Elizabeth I was taken ill at Hampton Court Palace, with what was thought to be a bad cold. However, the cold developed into a violent fever, and it became clear that the young queen actually had smallpox. Just seven days later, it was feared that the Queen would die. Fortunately, Elizabeth survived the disease and was not too badly scarred, although her friend Lady Mary Sidney, who nursed Elizabeth through the illness, was terribly disfigured by the disease. In his Memoir of Services, Mary's husband, Henry Sidney, recorded the effect nursing Elizabeth had on his wife:
"When I went to Newhaven [Le Havre] I lefte her a full faire Ladye in myne eye at least the fayerest, and when I retorned I found her as fowle a ladie as the smale pox could make her, which she did take by contynuall attendance of her majesties most precious person (sicke of the same disease) the skarres of which (to her resolute discomforte) ever syns hath don and doth remayne in her face, so as she lyveth solitairilie sicut Nicticorax in domicilio suo [like a night-raven in the house] more to my charge then if we had boorded together as we did before that evill accident happened."
It was while Elizabeth was recovering from the illness that she ordered her council to make Robert Dudley protector of the kingdom, and she made it clear that "as God was her witness nothing improper had ever passed between them."
Members can find out more about Elizabeth I's experience, other important people who caught it, and about the illness itself in my Claire Chats video talk.
Image: Elizabeth I at prayer, from the frontispiece of her personal prayer book, 1569, shared on www.marileecody.com
- On This Day in Tudor History, Claire Ridgway.
- A Viceroy’s Vindication? Sir Henry Sidney’s Memoir of Service in Ireland, 1556-78, ed. Ciaran Brady.
- Queen Elizabeth I, J.E. Neale, Chicago Review Press; Reprint edition (August 30, 2005), p.121.