History, Department of
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Elizabeth Tudor had one older half-sister and one younger half-brother by the first and third of her father Henry VIII’s wives. During her father’s reign the young Elizabeth spent a fair amount of time with one or the other of her siblings, either at court or one of the other residences where she lived. Though her relationship with her brother Edward was easier, Mary, 17 years older than her younger sister, could be kind to the child who had lost her mother in such a horrific manner—even though she loathed Elizabeth’s mother Anne Boleyn. This essay interrogates the relationships Elizabeth had with both Mary and Edward (Figure 1). But these were not the only siblings Elizabeth had. She not only referred to fellow sovereigns as her sisters and brothers, but Henry VIII fathered other children of whose illegitimacy there was no question. This essay also considers Elizabeth’s sibling relationships in these other contexts. Though as queen Elizabeth often used the rhetoric of family, she found her relationships with her siblings to be problematic and dangerous. Given the competing claims for power, it was often difficult for royal children to have close bonds.
Elizabeth’s relationships with her siblings caused her danger and anxiety. In many ways Elizabeth had little freedom over how she would relate to her siblings; these relationships were predetermined by the political and religious constraints of the time, which made uncomplicated familial affection impossible. But Elizabeth was able to structure some positive family feelings. Being a godmother apparently gave the queen some joy. As her godson Sir John Harington said of her, “We did all love her, for she said she loved us … When she smiled it was pure sunshine.”
Published as Chapter 7 in Sibling Relations and Gender in the Early Modern World: Sisters, Brothers and Others, edited by Naomi J. Miller and Naomi Yavneh (Aldershot, England, & Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate, 2006), pp. 77–88. Copyright © 2006 Naomi J. Miller and Naomi Yavneh. Used by permission.