Easter in 1603 and the End of Elizabeth I's Queendom

Lately there has been some discussion around securing the date for Easter around the world. This could sound logical for those of us who are thrown by the early Easter this year in 2016 - In the Christian calendar,  Easter traditionally occurs on the Sunday of the first moon after the the astronomical spring Equinox on the 21st of March.

In the year 1603, Easter was also significantly close to the Equinox, on March 30. In Shakespeare's England, just 6 days before Easter Sunday, the whole country was thrown into mourning. Queen Elizabeth I was dead.. What's more, according to the Gregorian calendar, the Queen's death on the 24th of March actually occured on the last day of the year 1602. The following day, March 25 was celebrated annually with the festival of the annunciation, or the proclamation of the angel Gabriel to Mary that she would give birth to Jesus the Messiah.

Samuel Clarke,  The history of the glorious life, reign, and death, of the illustrious Queen Elizabeth  published in 1683.

Samuel Clarke, The history of the glorious life, reign, and death, of the illustrious Queen Elizabeth published in 1683.

The Queen's death at such a time would have been a cause for some commotion as the country prepared for Easter. Samuel Clarke tells us that on the day of her death, the Queen had reigned 44 years, 4 months and 7 days. It is hard to imagine then, how the minister at Westminster Abbey was able to prepare his Easter sermon without referring to the nation's long-serving and beloved Queen. In fact a sermon that was sold in print in 1603 - a publication of a sermon given in 1593 at 'St Paul's crosse in the Easter terme' - indicates the kind of messages being passed on to the people following Elizabeth's death. Titled Heart's Delight, Thomas Playfere's sermon opens with Psalm 37,  asking the reader to 'delight thyself in the Lord', and 'delight not in the things of this world'.

What the death of Elizabeth I meant for Shakespeare and his company at the newly constructed Globe theatre is anyone's guess, but they would certainly have had some reason to delight in the world. Though Elizabeth was an advocate for the theatre and regularly fought for the legality of the London city players against the Mayor of London and antitheatrical puritans, she also instated a rigorous process of review for each new play before it was staged in London, which had playwrights constantly subject to censorship. The death of the Queen and succession of James I was very likely opening an opportunity for change in the fast-growing London theatre scene.

The Queen's body was finally brought by boat along the Thames to Westminster to be laid to rest, nearly a whole month after Easter on the 28th of April, 1603. John Stow observed that thousands of people came out to see her funeral barge: there was 'such a general sighing, groaning, and weeping, as the like has not been seen or known in the memory of man'. Interestingly, Shakespeare was one of the few notable poets of the time who did not write an elegy for the Queen in her passing. What this tells us about his relationship (or lack of) with Elizabeth is open for interpretation.

                Memorial stone unveiled in 1977 in Westminster Abbey

                Memorial stone unveiled in 1977 in Westminster Abbey