Historians Get Rare, Uncensored Peek at Elizabeth I

British Library uses imaging technology to uncover pages of old account of her reign
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 17, 2023 11:33 AM CDT
Historians Get Rare, Uncensored Peek at Elizabeth I
A portrait of Queen Elizabeth I.   (Getty / photos.com)

As Elizabeth I lay on her deathbed in 1603, she chose King James VI of Scotland to succeed her on the British throne. Or at least that has been the long-accepted version of history recorded in the first official account of her reign, William Camden's Annals. Now, however, some high-tech imaging has allowed historians at the British Library to read what Camden originally wrote, and it appears the deathbed scene is a fabrication, reports the Guardian. King James commissioned Camden's work, and it seems the author went through his original draft and revised hundreds of pages to cast James in a better light, usually by pasting new paper over the original text and writing new text on that, per a post at Fine Books & Collections.

Historians have been unable to read all of Camden's original text for 400 years, but the new imaging technology has changed that. In regard to the apparently fictional deathbed scene, he "presumably included it to appease James, so that his succession looked more predetermined than it had actually been," says Julian Harrison of the British Library. "Elizabeth was too ill to speak in her final hours and no other historical evidence points to this deathbed scene being true." It will take some time to go through and assess the revisions, but the British Library is offering a peek at some early examples. Another involves the rumor that James plotted to assassinate Elizabeth:

  • "In 1598, a man named Valentine Thomas confessed to having been sent by King James to murder Queen Elizabeth," per the library's account. "Newly studied passages reveal that Camden initially intended to keep this shocking information in the Annals, but he subsequently amended and softened the confession to say that Thomas 'had accused the King of Scots with ill affection towards the Queen.'" The allegation wasn't true, but James "was highly sensitive to any slander against him, having sent other writers to prison for offending him." Camden played it safe and changed his text.
(More Queen Elizabeth I stories.)

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