Early in February, I made a post on a poem composed by Richard Edwardes, about the ladies who served Mary I, which you can read here. In my research for that post, I came across a reference to a similar poem written about the ladies who served Elizabeth, entitled ‘The prayse of six gentle Women attending of the Ladye Elizabeth her grace at Hatfield then.’

This poem was written by John Harington, a Tudor politician and writer, who lived 1517–1582. He was favoured by Elizabeth I, who stood as godmother to his son, John. Elizabeth and Harington first became acquainted some time prior to her ascension, perhaps when he served in the household of Thomas Seymour, whose imprisonment he shared though fortunately survived. They certainly knew each other in Mary’s reign; he was accused of delivering a letter to Elizabeth in connection with the Wyatt plot, for which both he and Elizabeth were imprisoned. Early in Elizabeth’s reign, Harington married Isabel Markham, one of the ladies who had loyally served her prior to her queenship. Markham had been the object of the already married Harington’s affections for some years, and she appears in this poem as being worthy of the gift of a phoenix.

Little is known about this poem. There have been next to no attempts to analyse it, nor to identify the women listed, who Harington only gives by surname. The title seems to suggest that it was written before Elizabeth became queen; however, I believe that the poem was written during the first year of Elizabeth’s reign, and that the title was an addition made at some point in the centuries since.

The poem certainly refers to Elizabeth’s time as Hatfield prior to her reign, perhaps even the time of ascension since the narrator is ‘commaunded in haste to Hatfield,’ where Elizabeth was residing at the time. There are several points which suggest that it could have been written at a later time. Firstly, for a man already suspected of being involved in a rebellion in Elizabeth’s name, it would seem quite foolish to write a poem in praise of her and her household. Elizabeth was in disgrace during this period; the smart man praised Queen Mary. Furthermore, the stanza on Markham I believe suggests that she was at least betrothed to Harington, if not married: ‘Oh, happie twyse is hee/whome love shall do the grace/to lynck in vnytie/that blissfull to enbrace’; as well as the comparing her to Griselda, the epitome of long-suffering, uncomplaining wifehood. Finally, I believe that my identifications of the ladies only make sense in the context of Queen Elizabeth’s royal court.

I believe the first lady mentioned ‘Grey’ is Katherine Grey, rather than her sister Mary Grey. Katherine never served Elizabeth prior to her queenship, but after her ascension, Katherine was made a Maid of Honour. Katherine was also the next in line for the throne under the terms of Henry VIII’s Act of Succession. That status would also explain why she is placed first in the poem. Katherine married Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, without consent in 1560, and was imprisoned for the rest of her life. This suggests the poem was written in the first couple of years of Elizabeth’s reign.

Miniature of Lady Katherine Grey by Levina Teerlinc, c.1555-1560

The next lady mentioned is Willobe, who can be identified as Margaret Willoughby, who did actually serve Lady Elizabeth prior to her ascension. Upon becoming queen, Elizabeth made Margaret a Gentlewoman of the Privy Chamber. On the 5th October, 1559, just under a year after Elizabeth’s ascension, Margaret married and became Mrs. Arrundel. Therefore, the poem must have been written within the first year of Elizabeth’s reign, otherwise she would have been named Arrundel by Harington.

Markham, of course, we have already discussed, refers to Isabel Markham, who would become Harington’s wife, again, within the first year of Elizabeth’s reign. Along with Margaret Willoughby, she served Elizabeth at Hatfield. Upon Elizabeth’s ascension, Markham became a Gentlewoman of the Privy Chamber.

Norwyche is Elizabeth Norwyche, who was a Gentlewoman of the Bedchamber to Queen Elizabeth. She did serve Elizabeth prior to her ascension. She became Lady Carew upon her marriage to Sir Gawain Carew in 1562.

Seintloe is most likely to be one Elizabeth St. Loe. Though there is no evidence that she served Elizabeth prior to ascension, her brother did serve Elizabeth at Hatfield. St. Loe became a Gentlewoman of the Privy Chamber upon Elizabeth’s ascension.

Skypwith would be Bridget Skipwith, who is listed as a Gentlewoman of the Privy Chamber to Elizabeth in 1559, and attended Elizabeth at her coronation. There is no evidence that Skipwith served Elizabeth prior to this. She married in 1567 and became known as Mrs Cave.

All of these ladies attended Elizabeth at her coronation on the 15th January, 1559. Whilst half of them did have a history of serving Elizabeth prior to her ascension, there is no evidence that Bridget Skipwith or Elizabeth St. Loe did; Katherine Grey certainly did not. I believe that Harington wrote the poem shortly after the coronation, and is describing the narrator attending Hatfield shortly after Elizabeth’s ascension, which is in essence being compared with Diana’s bounty. The title must have been added by a later individual who assumed the poem was written whilst Elizabeth was still living at Hatfield.


The prayse of six gentle Women attending of the Ladye Elizabeth her grace at Hatfield then

The great Dyana, chaste

infforest late I mett

who me commaunded in haste

to Hatfield for to geatt

And to you Sixe a rowe

her pleasure to declare

How she meanes to bestow

on eache a gift most rare


ffyrst doth she geve to Grey

the ffawlcons Curtesse kinde

her Lord for to obay

with moste obedient mynde

ffraught with suche vertues rare

his love aye to renew

with Tysbe to compare

Or , Alsyon most trew


To worthye willobe

As Egle in her flight

So shall her pearcing eye

bothe heale and hurt eache wight

that shall vppon her gase

Shall sone perceyve I see

A Lawra, in her face

And not a Willobe


To Markhams, modest mynde

that Phenixe bird most rare

So have the godes assynde

with Grysylde to compare

Oh , happie twyse is hee

whome love shall do the grace

to lynck in vnytie

that blissfull to enbrace


To Norwyche good and grave

Suche Sapient eares is send

As prudent Serpents have

the Charmer to defend

with knowledge in foresight

of suche thinges yet to come

As had Cassandra bright

Whoe tolde of Troye the dome


ffor Seintloe doth she say

So stable shall shee stand

as rock within the sea

or hudge hill on the land

dye rather with the mace

ffrom mightie Hercules hand

then once her truth degrace

yf she theare in do stand


If Skypwith shuld escape

Without her gift most rare

Dyana wold me hate

and fill my life with care

syns in her Temple chaste

full highe vppon the wall

her bowe thear hangith fast

vnbroke and ever shall


Thus have I shewid you all

this worthie goddesse will

Who hath decreed you shall

as her owne ympps lyve still

long in suche sacred sort

whearof dame fame shall bloe

suche trumppe of true reporte

as through the earth shall goe



Top image: Coronation portrait of Elizabeth I, c.1600, from a lost original






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