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Events Mark 400 years since Queen Elizabeth I

The Queen is dead……. A courtier bends over the still figure stretched out beneath rich coverlets. He takes from her finger a ring of mother of pearl, ruby and diamond that he must carry north: by this token only is James VI of Scotland confirmed to succeed to the throne of England.

Elizabeth I, the queen with ‘the heart and stomach of a king’ and one of England’s most influential monarchs, was born in 1533 at Greenwich Palace, London, its site next to the National Maritime Museum where this ring will be on display as part of an exhibition marking the life and times of the Virgin Queen (May 1 – September 14, 2003). She died on March 24, 1603 at the long-demolished palace at Richmond, near London, having reigned 45 years.
The Greenwich exhibition – the greatest collection of personal items, paintings and other relics linked with the monarch ever assembled – is among the highlights of a wide-ranging programme marking Elizabeth’s 400th anniversary throughout 2003.

Growing up well-removed from Court at Hatfield Palace, where now stands Jacobean Hatfield House, Elizabeth was proclaimed Queen there in 1558. Hatfield, 23 miles from London, is home to the beautiful 1585 Ermine Portrait of Elizabeth by William Segar and stages regular Elizabethan-style banquets.

Educated as a well-known princess, like her doomed relative Lady Jane Grey, Elizabeth found herself imprisoned as Jane was, in the Tower of London. The Tower is planning a series of Tudor events ranging from Easter’s ‘Young Elizabeth’ of 1555 – her year of imprisonment there at the hands of her half-sister Queen Mary – to summer’s ‘Soldiers of Queen Elizabeth’ demonstrating the weapons and tactics of 1603, and costumed interactive ‘Tales of the Tower’, including the story of Lady Jane Grey, at weekends from March 29 to July 20.

Hampton Court Palace, only 14 miles from central London, celebrates in February the great explorers of Tudor times – Drake, Raleigh, Frobisher – sailing in search of fabled wealth and the New World, settling in Virginia and circumnavigating the globe. Weekends at the palace during April and May find Elizabethan cookery in the Great Kitchens, while Easter’s ‘Gloriana’ event recalls the palace’s wonderful treasures and lavish entertainments. During August, the palace will ring to the sound of the ‘Music of Merrie England’ and the clash of swords as the Knights of Passion fight in armour, Tudor-style. To round off the year, from December 27 – January 1, 2004 there’s an Elizabethan Christmas of festive food and fun.

Elizabeth enjoyed travel: her frequent Royal Progresses from top to toe of England saw her staying at castles and manor houses alike, thus guaranteeing a feast of exhibitions and events for visitors in 2003. Dover Castle on the south coast holds an Elizabethan Festival (May 17-18) as does the romantic ruin, Kenilworth Castle in the Heart of England - home of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, a favourite of the Queen – (June 14-15). Tilbury Fort, in Essex, from which Elizabeth’s address in 1588 inspired her army to confront the might of Spain, celebrates her reign on August 8-9.

Other magnificent castles, among them Warwick in Warwickshire and Kent’s Hever – the home of Elizabeth’s mother Anne Boleyn (who was executed when her daughter was only two) plus Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire - built in 1590 and said to be ‘more glass than wall’, have strong Elizabethan connections and will be reflecting that in their summer activities.
Cornwall’s Pendennis Castle plans an Elizabethan Festival (August 24-25) while in Devon, Sir Francis Drake’s home at Buckland Abbey re-opens in March with new galleries about his contribution to Elizabethan power.

Burghley House near Stamford in Lincolnshire, sumptuous stately home of Elizabeth’s mentor - statesman William Cecil, first Lord Burghley - and venue for the annual Horse Trials, has a series of costumed events in view. London’s Eltham Palace has a lecture in May by TV historian David Starkey and a ‘Tudor Day Out’ planned for August.

Elizabeth also enjoyed sports – her hunting lodge at Chingford, outside London, is preserved. She was connected with Amberley Castle in Sussex from 1588 until her death, often visiting this hunting lodge now turned luxury hotel. She also broke her Progress of 1601 to hunt at Castle Ashby, in Northamptonshire, where guests may sleep in her four-poster – now with en-suite marble bath!

In London, the arts scene marks the anniversary with Elizabethan music by Concordia at the Wigmore Hall in January and summer’s BBC Promenade Concerts – the ‘Proms’ -- favouring Tudor music, while the National Portrait Gallery is planning a display of Elizabethan portraits and special activities through the summer.

For a taste of the theatre as Elizabeth enjoyed it, a visit to the Globe on the South Bank is a must. Created in the image of Shakespeare’s ‘wooden O’ the Globe’s repertoire includes plays by other Elizabethan dramatists as well as Shakespeare performed in true Elizabethan style – including an all-male cast. There are also displays, demonstrations and exhibitions on 17th-century theatrical themes.

Winter visitors are in for a treat in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ at Stratford-upon-Avon, a play written especially for Elizabeth, who wanted to see more of ‘that merry rogue, Falstaff’!

Following Queen Elizabeth II’s Jubilee in 2002, this Elizabethan anniversary promises another Royal year in 2003.