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Victorian Christmas by Bill Dickinson
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2002 Princess Anne Ave Charle Brauer House - Church Hill Richmond, VA

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This personal letter from Ann Fisher of Richmond, England, to her niece Esther Powell in Long Island (1808) is an excellent example of cross-writing (or cross hatching), a practice 19th-century letter writers used to save money on postage and paper. The letter is turned sideways and written over. Though cross-writing looks difficult to read, it actually isn’t once you take a closer look–try it!

Ann Fisher letter to Esther Powell, 1808 February 1. New-York Historical Society, MS 2958.3421

Cataloging of the American Historical Manuscript Collection (AHMC), a group of 12,000 small and unique manuscript collections, is made possible by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, the Peck Stacpoole Foundation, and the Pine Tree Foundation of New York. 

On this day in history, the 24th March 1603, Queen Elizabeth I, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, died at Richmond Palace, aged 69 bringing the rule of the Tudor dynasty to an end. Elizabeth I had reigned for 44 years and 127 days and her reign was known as “The Golden Age”. She was the longest reigning Tudor monarch.

It is said that the execution of her former favourite, Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex, on the 25th February 1601 had a huge impact on Elizabeth. She had already lost her great love Robert Dudley in 1588, her good friend Blanche Parry in 1590 and her friend and adviser William Cecil, Lord Burghley, in 1598. It seemed that all those she loved and depended on were dying and leaving her. Her grief, combined with a belief that she was losing her grip on her court and country, led to her becoming severely depressed.

Tracy Borman, in her book “Elizabeth’s Women”, writes of how Elizabeth decided to move to Richmond Palace in January 1603 because it was the place to which she felt that she could “best trust her sickly old age”. She was obviously feeling low and ill and just wanted to be somewhere where she felt at home. Borman also writes of how it was in the last couple of months of her life that Elizabeth decided that she did not want her young ladies around her, instead she wanted older ladies who had served her for years, friends who she trusted.

G J Meyer writes that the doctors probably had no idea of why Elizabeth was dying and that it could have been any of the following:

-A bronchial infection that turned into pneumonia

-Streptococcus

-The failure of some vital organ

-Poisoning from ceruse – the white lead and vinegar mixture that Elizabeth used as make-up.

But G J Meyer writes that whatever the actual medical condition it does appear that it was aggravated by Elizabeth’s state of mind, her depression.

Elizabeth was then buried at Westminster Abbey in the vault of her grandfather, Henry VII, until she was moved in 1606 to her present resting place, a tomb in the Lady Chapel of Westminster Abbey which she shares with her half-sister Mary I. King James I spent over £11,000 on Elizabeth I’s lavish funeral and he also arranged for this white marble monument to be built. The tomb is inscribed with the words:-

“Consorts both in throne and grave, here we rest two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary, in hope of our resurrection.”