A Difficult Childhood
When Elizabeth was a year old, her father, Henry VIII, made her Princess of Wales, making Mary illegitimate in the process. But after Anne Boleyn was executed, Elizabeth was also cast out of the line for succession. She was probably far too young to be greatly effected by her mother's sudden extinction, but her lifestyle changed considerably. The marriage of her father to her mother was annulled, and she was made a royal bastard. She was stripped of her title of Princess to become Lady Elizabeth. Within days of Anne's death, Henry had re-married, this time to Jane Seymour, a young woman who had been a maid of honour to Anne, just as Anne had been a maid of honour to Catherine.
Jane Seymour died a few days after giving birth to Henry's longed for son, Prince Edward. Like Elizabeth, Edward had to grow up motherless, and from an early age, the two children formed a close bond. Although Elizabeth was getting along well with her half sister, Mary, they were never close. They were of different religions, Elizabeth, a Protestant and Mary, a Catholic; a wide age gap of seventeen years and very different personalities. Edward and Elizabeth, however, were closer in age, of the same religion, and shared a passion for learning. They were given a very impressive education, being taught Latin, Greek, Spanish, French, as well as all the other requirements of a classical humanist education: history philosophy, mathematics.
Henry's marriage to his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, was quickly annulled as neither she or Henry found each other agreeable. Henry's fifth wife, Katherine Howard, had a more lasting impact upon Elizabeth. Katherine was Elizabeth's cousin on her mother's side, and the young Queen took a great interest in her new step-daughter, often having Elizabeth with her, and playing with her. When she first dined in public, she gave Elizabeth the place of honour opposite her. To young Elizabeth, who so far had spent her life in the shadows of the court, overlooked as insignificant, this must have been a momentous occasion. But this happy state of affairs was not destined to continue. It was discovered that Katherine had committed adultery, she was taken to the Tower of London and executed on Tower Green. This must have been a very painful and confusing episode for Elizabeth, who was only eight years old. Robert Dudley, her childhood friend and confidant when she later became Queen, said many years later that when she was eight years old, Elizabeth told him that she would never marry. In eight short years she had lost her mother and had had three stepmothers, two of whom were now dead. Also, no doubt, she had heard tales of the fate of her sister's mother, Catherine of Aragon, and it is not surprising that these combined events impressed in her a certain fear of what happened to women who married.
But life with Henry's sixth wife, Katherine Parr, proved to be rather tranquil for Elizabeth. Katherine was a motherly lady who did her utmost to give the royal children a family home. She liked to have the children around her, and did much to reconcile Elizabeth and Mary to their father. By now, Henry had a great ulcer on his leg that troubled him immensely and his enormous weight hindered his mobility considerably. He died on 28 January 1547.
Elizabeth was with her brother, Edward, at the royal Palace of Enfield (London) when they were told of their father's death. Both children knew their lives were about to change considerably, as they were now orphans. Elizabeth was thirteen years of age then, and Edward was King of England at the age of nine.