Monday, December 8, 2014

(Some of) The Women of Queen Elizabeth’s Court

by Lea Rachel

Elizabeth I is well known as a long-surviving, successful, female ruler of England. But what about some of the other contemporary women favored by Queen Elizabeth, or present at her court? Do we know much about any of them, and if so, what were their stories?

Elizabeth I
One such notable woman was Levina Teerlinc, a Flemish painter who moved to England with her husband in 1545 and soon became royal painter to Henry VIII. She stayed on over the years in the courts of Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I. Much of her artwork has unfortunately not survived, but a few noteworthy pieces have, including this portrait of Elizabeth I, c. 1565.

Teerlinc is best known for her portrait miniatures, and indeed she is well known today for helping the portrait miniature gain success as a respected art form.

Elizabeth, Lady Hoby
Elizabeth Cooke, Lady Hoby was the first female in all of England to be keeper of her own castle. Her modern-thinking father allowed her (and her three sisters) an advanced education for the time, and Elizabeth Cooke over her lifetime became a noted poet and musician, as well as translator of French and writer in Greek, Latin and English. She was a confidant and very close friend of Elizabeth I, even attending (and hosting) meetings of the Privy Council.

Katherine Champernowne, Lady Astley, was governess to Elizabeth I from the time she was four years old. She was not a noblewoman and indeed her parentage is uncertain, but it is clear that she was well educated as she taught the future Queen Elizabeth many subjects, including astronomy, geography, history, mathematics, and at least four languages. “Kat,” as she was affectionately known, was loyal to Elizabeth throughout the upheaval of Henry VIII’s death and the reigns of Edward and Mary, and when Elizabeth ascended to the throne in 1559 Kat followed her as a trusted and regular confidant, go-between, and source of information about the realm.

Blanche Parry was a long-time personal attendant of Elizabeth I, even claiming that she rocked Elizabeth’s cradle when she was a newborn. Parry is known to have stayed with Elizabeth I during her time in the Tower of London, and after Elizabeth became Queen, Parry became a member of the privy chamber and Keeper of Her Majesty’s Jewels. She was also given extraordinary duties as keeper of the queen’s personal papers, clothes, furs, and books. Throughout Elizabeth’s reign Parry received gifts and sensitive information for the queen, and was known to write letters on the queen’s behalf. Parry never married and instead chose to become a central player in Elizabeth’s court, receiving substantial material rewards and acknowledgement from Elizabeth in recognition of her pivotal importance to the success of the reign.

Catherine Carey, Lady Knollys, was chief lady of the bedchamber to Queen Elizabeth I, and well known at the time as Queen Elizabeth’s favorite lady in waiting. She served Queen Elizabeth for decades, while also giving birth to over a dozen children. Servant and mother both, she was always working, and by all accounts she was also very well respected and liked.

Archival records list a number of other women at the Royal Court of Elizabeth I, including Joan Hilton, laundress; Alice Smythe, silkwoman; Elizabeth Green, starchwoman; Millicent Frankwell, distiller; Abigail Heveningham, maid, and many, many others. It is clear that the reign of Elizabeth I, noteworthy for many reasons, was successful not just due to the talents of one remarkable woman at the top, but to many remarkable women, at all levels of power and influence throughout the Royal Court.


Lea Rachel possesses a strong literary background firmly planted in her roots, education, and experiences. Originally from Detroit, Michigan, she hails from a bloodline of writers, including her grandmother Beki Bahar, an internationally published Turkish author and poet, and her uncle Anthony Kosnik, coauthor of a well-respected liturgical book that circulated circa the 1970s.

Rachel attended the University of Michigan, where she had two short stories published in the competitive literary publications Prism and The Write Stuff. She has attended writing workshops at the University of Michigan, University of California, and University of Iowa—and placed fifth, out of 18,000 entries, in the personal essay category of the 72nd Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition.

Rachel makes her home in St. Louis, Missouri, with her husband and son. The Other Shakespeare is her first novel, released subsequent to her debut work, a personal memoir entitled I Promise.


  1. Elizabeth had some special female friends. Certainly Kat Carey was one of them and another was Mary Sydney, a beauty who contracted disfiguring small pox while tending Elizabeth who ironically suffered from far less scarring.

  2. I knew about some of these women, but its amazing to see the list and know they held places of strong positions b/c of their Queen.

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Do you have information about Lady Higney - Elizabeth Venior?

    1. I'd like to know as well. She is my 10th great grandmother. Married Sir John Floyd. (direct lineage) though I believe that her name was Mary.

    2. And my 9th great grandmother so I'd like to know as well. Thanks, Wolf Boehme

  4. Id like to know more about this too, according to, she is my 8th great grandmother!


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