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The Great Tudor Cover-Up
Folklore or Fact?

There are many legends concerning Elizabeth I and why she remained the Virgin Queen. Alternatively, there are those stories which claim that the virtuous title was unjustified. Berkshire has two such tales. The second is from Bisham, on the Thames near Marlow. The parish church at Bisham claims among its many huge monuments a “small sculptured memorial” to Queen Elizabeth’s two sons, which sadly I have been unable to locate.

During her virtual imprisonment by her sister, Queen Mary, Elizabeth spent some time at Bisham Abbey, the local manor house.  This was apparently during the three years between 1555 and 1558, although much of this time was spent at Hatfield House (Herts). The Princess had been placed in the care of Sir Philip and Thomas Hoby (See “Beaten till the Blood Ran”) after the latter’s two sisters-in-law had declined the appointment. For many years a mulberry tree, said to have been planted by the princess, stood in the grounds at Bisham and a holy well, frequented by her, still does. It is called Elizabeth’s Well. Some years after Elizabeth became Queen, she commented to Sir Thomas, “If I had a prisoner whom I wanted to be most carefully watched, I should entrust him to your charge; If I had a prisoner I wished to be most tenderly treated, I should entrust him to your care”. Was she merely referring to his kind treatment of her while a prisoner, or was there a deeper meaning to her words? Perhaps Elizabeth had entrusted Sir Thomas with her own children: prisoners in their sad little grave.

The Hamstead Marshall legend has a near identical twin in the much more widely known tale of Wild Will Darrell (note the similarity in name to Master McDorrell) of Littelcote Park (Wilts) near Hungerford. He secretly called a midwife out from Shefford Woodlands, one night, to attend his sister while giving birth. When the baby was born, he threw it into the blazing fire.

Hamstead Park has strong connections with Queen Elizabeth. It was given to her by her brother, King Edward VI, in 1550! Again, this was during the period when Elizabeth was kept under close scrutiny. She had been sent to Hatfield (Herts) around this time, after rumours that she was carrying the child of her guardian, Lord High Admiral Thomas Seymour. the ambitious Seymour was the King’s uncle and Lord Protector’s brother, as well as being the husband of the Dowager Queen, Catherine Parr. This did not prevent him from constantly flirting with the young Elizabeth, who was said to be very fond of him. So perhaps the legend is not as ridiculous as it might, at first, seem. Contemporaries would certainly not have thought so. By January 1549 though, Seymour was in the Tower and was shortly after executed. If both rumour and legend are true, then Elizabeth must have travelled to Hamstead Marshall before it was in her possession. Perhaps the King had already promised it to his sister, or did she ask for it, shortly after these sinister events? She probably knew the place well from when it had belonged to her step-mother, her guardian’s wife, Queen Catherine, before her death in 1548.

Shortly after her accession to the throne in 1558, Queen Elizabeth gave Hamstead Marshall to her faithful friend, Sir Thomas Parry. Parry had been the cofferer in her household while in Seymour’s care. He was a member of Elizabeth’s exclusive inner circle of friends. They had been through much together and he was one of the few that she could trust explicitly. Parry had been quizzed extensively about the Princess’s supposed liaison with the Admiral while the latter had been in the Tower. Was Hamstead his reward for concealing the Royal pregnancy? was he the only one who could be trusted to keep the secret room hidden?

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