via Christopher Stevens:
The bones of Elizabeth I, Good Queen Bess, lie mingled with those of her sister, Bloody Mary, in a single tomb at Westminster Abbey. But are they really royal remains — or evidence of the greatest conspiracy in English history?
If that is not the skeleton of Elizabeth Tudor, the past four centuries of British history have been founded on a lie.
And according to a controversial new book, the lie beg an on an autumn morning 470 years ago, when panic swept through a little group of courtiers in a manor house in the Cotswold village of Bisley in Gloucestershire.
The king, Henry VIII, was due at any hour. He was travelling from London, in great discomfort — for the 52-year-old monarch was grossly overweight and crippled by festering sores — to visit his daughter, Elizabeth.
The young princess had been sent there that summer from the capital to avoid an outbreak of plague. But she had fallen sick with a fever and, after weeks of bleeding, leeches and vomiting, her body was too weak to keep fighting. The night before the king’s arrival, his favourite daughter, the only child of his marriage to Anne Boleyn, had been dangerously ill. In the morning, Elizabeth lay dead.
Elizabeth’s governess, Lady Kat Ashley, and her guardian, Thomas Parry, had good reason to fear telling the king this awful news. It would cost them their lives. Four of Henry’s children had died in infancy and, of the survivors, one — Edward — was a sickly boy of five and the other an embittered, unmarried woman in her late 20s.
The ten-year-old Elizabeth was Tudor England’s most valuable child in many ways. She could surely be married to a French or Spanish prince to seal an international alliance — and her own children would secure the Tudor dynasty Henry so desperately craved.
Now she was dead, and when the king discovered it, Parry and Lady Ashley would surely be executed. Their sole duty had been to keep the princess safe: failure was treason. The penalty would not even be beheading, but death by the most gruesome torture imaginable.
They would be bound and dragged through the mud for a mile to the scaffold. There they would be hanged, cut down and disembowelled. Their entrails would be hauled from their bodies and held in front of their faces as they died, and then their limbs would be hacked off and displayed on spikes, to be picked bare by the birds.
Their only chance of concealing the truth, and perhaps buying themselves a few days to flee the country, was to trick the king.
Kat Ashley’s first thought was to find a village girl and dress her up in the princess’s robe, with a mantle, to fool the king. Bisley was a tiny hamlet, however, and there were no female children of Elizabeth’s age.
But there was a boy, from a local family called Neville. He was a gawky, angular youth a year or so younger than Elizabeth, who had been the princess’s companion and fellow pupil for the past few weeks. And with no time to look further afield for a stand-in, Parry and Lady Ashley took the desperate measure of forcing the boy to don his dead friend’s clothes.
Remarkably, the deception worked. Henry saw his daughter rarely, and was used to hearing her say nothing. The last time she had been presented in court, meeting the new Queen Catherine Parr, she had been trembling with terror.