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BLOG: Protocol in the presence of Queen Elizabeth I

While planning our recent trip to Iceland, we had to arrange COVID-19 testing for the return trip. The "protocol" at that time demanded that we be tested within 24 hours of our re-entry into the USA. While we were enjoying our vacation, my cousin texted me with news--the protocol had CHANGED! We no longer had to be tested at all!

Begin responsible travelers, we still visited the testing location and all of the news was excellent. Not only did we not need testing, but we'd receive a refund, too.


Protocol is a quirky thing; it comes, goes, changes, and sometimes completely disappears. But in the Elizabethan court, the Queen's protocol for her subjects was strictly enforced. This week, my guest is well-known and highly respected British author, Tony Riches. His recent works include historical fiction on three famous Tudor gentlemen of the Elizabethan age. The most recent of them is Sir Walter Raleigh, who would have been subject to the Queen's protocol. Let's see just what Riches has to say about this routine--protocol before England's Queen Elizabeth I.

Protocol in the Elizabethan Court: How Sir Walter Raleigh

had to behave in front of the Queen

By Tony Riches

For my Elizabethan series I chose three very different favourites of the queen, who each saw different sides of her personality. Sir Francis Drake showered her with gold and jewels, stolen from the Spanish, in return for the status he longed for. The Earl of Essex was like the errant son she never had, but Raleigh became her protector, Captain of the Guard, and lived to see the last days of the Tudor dynasty.

It was quite a challenge to attract the queen's attention, as she was surrounded by guards and a group of favoured courtiers. Even nobles were only allowed into the Presence Chamber, where they could be made to wait for many weeks. This meant Raleigh stood little chance, until he used his contacts to be chosen to command the royal guard.

The queen spent most of her time in her private quarters, the guarded rooms called the ‘Privy Chamber’. Only the most favoured courtiers were allowed into the Privy Chamber, where she met with ambassadors, was entertained, ate her meals and slept. The queen was rarely alone, as she had four Ladies of the Bedchamber, eight Gentlewomen of the Privy Chamber, and six maids of honour to serve her food and help her dress.

As a ‘commoner’, Raleigh, like most Elizabethans, had no idea of the protocol. The only way was to seek favours from those who could help him, illustrated by this shore excerpt from my new book, Raleigh – Tudor Adventurer:

Alice Goold taught me all she knew about the strange customs and traditions of the royal palaces. She took three of my leather-bound books, and lay them in a neat row together on my table.

‘Let us say this is the presence chamber.’ She placed her hand on the first book. ‘Her Majesty holds court here, and sees less important visitors. I’ve never been inside, but heard you are supposed to bow to the throne, even if Her Majesty is not present.’ She gave me a mischievous glance, and moved her hand to the second book. ‘The privy chamber is where the queen sups, and receives important visitors, such as ambassadors.’ She pointed to the third book. ‘Beyond there are the privy lodgings.’

‘Where Her Majesty sleeps?’

She nodded. ‘Always with one or more of her ladies of the bedchamber.’ Alice gave me a cautionary look.

‘Be wary of them, Captain Raleigh, lest they harm you with their gossip.’

Queen Elizabeth demanded absolute obedience from her courtiers – and dealt harshly with anyone who failed to meet her high standards. Her courtiers were forbidden to marry without her permission, and her ladies were not allowed to form liaisons with her favourites. When Raleigh fell in love with the queen’s maid of honour, Bess Throckmorton, he had a dilemma. The queen was likely to refuse permission for them to marry, so they decided to marry in secret.

Their situation became more complicated when Bess became pregnant, and gave birth to their son. In the summer of 1592, someone revealed their secret to the queen. Elizabeth ordered Raleigh and Bess to be imprisoned in the Tower of London.

Raleigh's cell in the Tower of London.

Raleigh and Bess were released in August 1592, as the queen wanted Walter to oversee her share of the spoils from a recently returned expedition which raided the Spanish coast. Once his work was done, Raleigh was sent back to the Tower, but was freed early in 1593 and become a member of Parliament. Despite his harsh punishment, Raleigh showed little sign of any change in his lifelong loyalty to the queen.

I found many of the details of Raleigh’s life in his surviving letters, which as well as describing his adventures and disasters, are some of the best examples of the Elizabethan period. They reveal his strengths and weaknesses, as a courtier and failed politician, soldier and poet, a man ready to speak up for the poor and to honour his debts. My hope is that my new book, Raleigh – Tudor Adventurer, will help readers see beyond the myths and half-truths, and have a better understanding of the man who has been called the last true Elizabethan.

All About the Book

Tudor adventurer, courtier, explorer and poet, Sir Walter Raleigh has been called the last true Elizabethan.

He didn’t dance or joust, didn’t come from a noble family, or marry into one. So how did an impoverished law student become a favourite of the queen, and Captain of the Guard?

The story which began with the best-selling Tudor trilogy follows Walter Raleigh from his first days at the Elizabethan Court to the end of the Tudor dynasty.

All About Tony

Tony Riches is a full-time UK author of best-selling historical fiction. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the lives of the Tudors. He also runs the popular ‘Stories of the Tudors’ podcast, and posts book reviews, author interviews and guest posts at his blog, The Writing Desk. For more information about Tony’s books please visit his website and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches

Connect with Tony


Available on #KindleUnlimited!

43 views2 comments


Mary Anne Yarde
Mary Anne Yarde
Jun 23, 2022

Thank you so much for hosting today's tour stop for Raleigh – Tudor Adventurer.

All the best,

Mary Anne

The Coffee Pot Book Club


Jun 22, 2022

This was very interesting. I enjoy reading about the Elizabethan period in England. I look forward to reading Tony’s books.

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