Elizabeth's life was troubled from the moment she was born. Henry VIII had changed the course of his country's history in order to marry Anne Boleyn, hoping that she would bear him the strong and healthy son that Catherine of Aragon never did. But, on September 7, 1533 in Greenwich Palace, Anne bore Elizabeth instead.
Anne did eventually conceive a son, but he was stillborn. By that point, Henry had begun to grow tired of Anne and began to orchestrate her downfall. Most, if not all, historians agree that Henry's charges of incest and adultery against Anne were false, but they were all he needed to sign her execution warrant. She was beheaded on the Tower Green on May 19, 1536, before Elizabeth was even three years old.
Elizabeth was probably at the royal manor at Hunsdon when her mother was arrested and executed after being at court for Christmas (and likely the last time she saw her mother). Henry had remarried and was eagerly awaiting the son he hoped Jane Seymour was carrying. As it turned out, she was indeed to bear Henry a son, Edward (future Edward VI). Jane died shortly after her son was born.
Elizabeth's last stepmother was Katherine Parr, the sixth queen to Henry VIII. Katherine had hoped to marry Thomas Seymour (brother to the late Queen Jane), but she caught Henry's eye. She brought both Elizabeth and her half-sister Mary back to court. When Henry died, she became the Dowager Queen and took her household from Court. Because of the young age of Edward VI, Edward Seymour (another brother of Jane's and therefore the young King's uncle) became Lord Protector of England.
Elizabeth went to live with the Queen Dowager Katherine, but left her household after an incident with the Lord Admiral, Thomas Seymour, who was now Katherine's husband. Just what occurred between Elizabeth and Thomas will never be known for sure, but rumors at the time suggested that Katherine had caught them kissing or perhaps even in bed together. Katherine was pregnant at the time of the incident. She later gave birth to a daughter named Mary. Katherine died not too long afterwards and was buried at Sudeley Castle. This left Thomas Seymour as an eligible bachelor once again.
Because Elizabeth was a daughter of the late King Henry VIII, she was in line to the throne (despite several attempts to remove her from the chain, she was in Henry's will as an heir) and was therefore a most sought-after bride. During the reign of Edward VI, Thomas Seymour asked for Elizabeth's hand in marriage, which she refused. From this incident, both Thomas and Elizabeth were suspected of plotting against the king. Elizabeth was questioned, but was never charged. Seymour however, after an attempt to kidnap the boy king, was arrested and eventually executed for treason. Elizabeth was reported to have said, upon hearing of the Lord Admiral's death (although it is probably apocryphal): "Today died a man of much wit, and very little judgment."
Edward may have contracted what was then called consumption (possibly tuberculosis) or had a severe respiratory infection. When it looked inevitable that the teenager would die without an heir of his own body, the plots for his crown began. Reports of the young King's declining health spurred on those who did not want the crown to fall to the Catholic Mary. It was during this time that Guilford Dudley married Lady Jane Grey, who was a descendant of Henry VIII's sister Mary, and was therefore also an heir to the throne. When Edward VI died in 1553, Jane was proclaimed Queen by her father Henry Grey and her father-in-law John Dudley, who rallied armies to support her. However, many more supported the rightful heir: Mary, daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. Nine days after Jane was proclaimed Queen, Mary rode into London with her sister Elizabeth. Jane Grey and her husband Guilford were imprisoned in the Tower.
Shortly after becoming Queen, Mary was wed to Prince Philip of Spain, which made the Catholic Queen quite unpopular. The persecuted Protestants saw Elizabeth as their savior, since she was seen as an icon of "the new faith". After all, it was to marry her mother Anne Boleyn that Henry instituted the break with Rome. Because of this, several rebellions and uprisings were made in Elizabeth's name, although she herself probably had little or no knowledge of them. However, Mary sensed the danger from her younger sister, and imprisoned her in the Tower.
The story, possibly apocryphal, of Elizabeth's entry into the Tower is an interesting one. She was deathly (pun intended) afraid of the Tower, probably thinking of her mother's fate in that place, and when she was told she would be entering through Traitor's Gate, she refused to move. She had been secreted to the Tower in the dark so as not to raise the sympathy of supporters. That night was cold and rainy, and the Princess Elizabeth sat, soaking wet, on the stairs from the river to the gate. After her governess finally persuaded Elizabeth to enter, she did so and became yet another famous prisoner of the Tower of London.
Elizabeth was released from the Tower after a few months of imprisonment and was sent to Woodstock where she stayed for just under a year. When it appeared that Mary had become pregnant, Elizabeth was no longer seen as a significant threat and the Queen let her return to her residence at Hatfield, under semi- house arrest. Mary Tudor was nearly 40 years old when the news of her "pregnancy" came. After a few months, her belly began to swell, but no baby was ever forthcoming. Some modern historians think that she had a large ovarian cyst, and this is also what lead to her failing health and eventual death.
News of Mary's death on November 17, 1558 reached Elizabeth at Hatfield, where she was said to be out in the park, sitting under an oak tree. Upon hearing that she was Queen, legend has it that Elizabeth quoted the 118th Psalm's twenty-third line, in Latin: "A Dominum factum est illud, et est mirabile in oculis notris" -- "It is the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes."
Elizabeth had survived and was finally Queen of England.