Last weekend I got to cross something off my bucket list. I got to be the Queen of England.
Granted, it was at a Megagame rather than by ensnaring Prince Harry and then assassinating multiple members of the royal family. But after a day in Queen Elizabeth I’s shoes, I was absolutely shattered. I don’t know how those royals did it.
The Spanish Road
It was the most eagerly anticipated Megagame in this year’s calendar, for me at least. I had been pestering Ben Moores, the game’s writer, for months, hoping to nab the best role in the game, and he was kind enough to grant me my wish.
The game started in 1565 and spanned about 20 years. By this point Queen Liz has already been on the throne for several years, but her chief challenges remained the same throughout most of her reign: try to retake Calais from the French, avoid prolonged war with any (and especially multiple) of the big European powers, maintain England as a Protestant nation but don’t piss the Catholics off too much, unite Britain by claiming Ireland and ideally Scotland too. And avoid the questions of marriage and succession as much as possible.
Like all good Megagames, I achieved some aims and failed catastrophically at others.
The other people on my team were as follows:
- My loyal and trustworthy councillors, Francis Walsingham and William Cecil
- My noble but Catholic advisors, Earl Charles Neville and Duke Thomas Howard
- My incredible attractive courtiers, Robert Dudley and Christopher Hatton
- My Viceroy of Ireland, Earl Thomas Radcliffe
- My adventurer of the high seas, Sir Walter Rayleigh
Also played were the European powers of France, Spain and Portugal, the Italian nations of Savoy, Genoa, Tuscany, Venice and the Papal States, the mostly Protestant states of the Netherlands and Switzerland, the mighty Holy Roman Empire, and the heathen Ottomans. It was a huge game, of about 90 players.
I knew I had to make a statement at this game. I knew I had to be as obviouly queenly as possible.
Step one was dyeing my hair. Elizabeth’s claim to the throne was heavily disputed. There were many who called her mother Anne Boleyn a whore, and named her father as Mark Smeaton or one of the many other men that Anne was alleged to have bedded. Her saving grace was largely due to the incredibly Tudor head of red hair that she had – and her Tudor temperament of course, but we’ll get to that later.
So, having been blonde for so long, I bought some “tangerine” hair dye. And wow:
Granted, I felt I looked a bit more “Little Mermaid” than “Queen Liz”, but it would definitely make an impression.
The next move was the outfit.
I was thrilled to have discovered a few weeks earlier that the West Yorkshire Playhouse was the home of a very extensive and inexpensive costume hire service.
The trouble is that I have a severe overheating problem. I generally wear strappy tops and short skirts, mostly because I feel too warm and somewhat lightheaded in more substantial clothing (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!). I could deal with a long skirt, but the fashion for long-sleeves in the 16th century was more difficult.
Luckily – very luckily – there was one dress. And it was in my size. And it looked… AWESOME.
Despite my inclination to instantly put everything on social media, I refrained this once. I wanted to surprise people.
TC also hired an outfit. This was his historical portrait:
And this is how he looked:
Pretty impressive, huh! If you have any occasion coming up then I 100% recommend hiring outfits from the West Yorkshire Playhouse – my dress was just £18 for a week’s hire, and all our accessories came included – the ruff, necklace, tiara and ridiculous underskirt!
My hair curled, my face painted and my outfit ready, we got the tube across London to the venue. I imagine we were quite a sight on the tube – I made sure to have a queenly smile and wave ready for anyone who gawped.
The venue was a talking point in itself. The Bedford was built as a Tudor theatre. I don’t think words can do it justice, but maybe pictures can?
The reaction to my outfit was brilliant. It was well worth the effort when person after person – including some I hadn’t met before – couldn’t help but bow to my sheer presence.
Upon arrival at my table my two Catholic nobles presented me with pomanders to ward off ill humours.
My good friend Ben was to be my chief flirt for the day, Robert Dudley, and I was especially pleased with the casting of Walsingham. Historically my chief spymaster, the role was given to possibly the most duplicitous Megagamer alive, so I knew I was in safe hands.
And amusingly my Facebook Live video at the start of the day was oddly prophetic…
After a brief welcome speech from the game designer, we were off!
Welcome to England
My speech to welcome my council covered 3 main points.
Number one, no flirting with any women other than me. From all accounts Queen Elizabeth was quite self-centred and very jealous (it was a real stretch to play as her!), and in particular Dudley and Hatton were not permitted to betray me with other women. In fact, if anyone wanted to reference the existence of another woman, they had to preface it with a less-than-favourable adjective. “The dowdy Queen of France”, for example.
Rule number two, no infighting. We were a mixed bunch of Catholics, Protestants, gentry and nobles, and I didn’t want words like “Papist” and “heretic” being thrown around. We were all good Englishmen, and we would behave as such.
Rule number three, if anyone betrays me, I’ll cry.
And with that we started!
The first task for each turn was to decide what council action to take. Options included establishing a colony, voting taxes, and determining the succession. The top priority to start with was raising some money with which to do awesome things. Opinions differed as to the best approach – should we centralise or improve our trade routes? Walsingham was a key advocate for centralisation, which removed the ability for provinces to raise militia in return for increased income every turn. Dudley pushed hard for trade, supported by the noblemen who didn’t want to see their provincial power taken away from them.
We took a vote. In the game rules, council members were supposed to hold equal votes, but my council unanimously decided that their votes should be merely advisory, and that I should have the final say. On the one hand, this is as it should be. On the other hand… that’s a lot of pressure!
Centralisation won by a narrow margin, so, as would happen many times over the course of the day, I took Walsingham’s advice (“What say you, Walsingham?” was my refrain whenever I had no clue what to do). We centralised three prosperous regions, and Walsingham snuck in a card to centralise one of Howard’s northern provinces, which we’d been planning to leave as a defence against the Scots. Pardon the pun, but I didn’t realise people would be showing their hands quite so early.
Once council time closed, the game quickly descended into madness.
Early Days of Reign
Many things happened during the first couple of turns that I lost track of the precise order.
The gallant Sir Walter Rayleigh was sent off to conquer the New World in the name of England! Unfortunately, Spain and Portugal saw the Americas as “theirs”, so weren’t too pleased when we were very successful over there. My early hopes of an alliance with King Phillip II of Spain were dashed when he didn’t flirt back with me. It seems his marriage to my sister meant nothing to the Catholic swine.
Meanwhile, domestically things were going fabulously. I had a historic claim to the kingdom of Ireland, but in actuality this barely extended into a seventh of the total land. My Viceroy, Radcliffe, spent several turns waging war on territories over there and my Archbishop and several travelling Protestant preachers had some success converting them to Protestantism.
Mostly my subjects were happy people, although a dispute did arise between Howard and Neville quite early on. This was brilliant, because I had been worried that they would be working together against me in private. Neville had been inciting religious uprisings in Howard’s lands, and Howard had taken one of Neville’s provinces in revenge… or maybe it happened the other way around. I told them to grow up and sort it out between them and to stop fighting… and to kiss on the cheek to show their brotherliness. The troops went away, but somehow that land stayed with Howard…
Marriage and Succession
A key feature of the game was my disinclination to marry, and the disputed succession that arose from that.
My briefing stated explicitly “Don’t allow anyone to discuss her marriage in the council, ever.” This didn’t last very long, and a decent amount of each council session was devoted to discussing my various suitors (more on that later).
As it stood at the start of the game, my heir presumptive was Mary, Queen of Scots. This was disastrous – she was Catholic, with strong ties to England’s oldest enemy, France. She also refused to recognise me as the Queen of England, and styles herself as Queen of England and Scotland.
Lower down the line of succession were Lord Darnley (an immature Catholic Scot), and then the sisters to Lady Jane Grey (the Nine Day Queen), Katherine and Mary – both good Protestants but hugely uninterested in following Jane’s route to the gallows by trying for the throne.
Many people pressed me to marry Mary Queen of Scots to an English noble, but I was worried that this would cause greater support for her in my country. She ended up betrothed to the heir to the Duke of Tuscany. The Duke was quite keen not to anger me (he told me afterwards that I had been a bit terrifying – SUCH a compliment!) and agreed to press upon Mary to sign the Treaty of Edinburgh recognising me as queen. This didn’t end up happening, but it was totally worth a shot.
The only other marriage to one of my heirs was Charles Neville. Having been pressing me for a good marriage since the start of the game, he eventually asked for permission to marry Mary Grey. I told him that that was impossible… unless he converted to Protestantism. He agreed, and the Archbishop converted him on the spot. I should have been more worried about this, really…
Not long after, we got some hilarious news. Mary Grey had died… in CONCEPTION! This was what we were told along the grapevine – what a man! It later turned out that she’d actually died in childbirth, bearing him an heir called Henry, which was much much less amusing.
We are to WAR
Early on, the Prince Elector of Saxony came to Dudley to ask for English support in a war against France. One of my objectives in my briefing was to retake Calais for the English (I was styling myself Queen of England, Ireland and France because of my claim there). After a lot of dithering on my part (again, incredibly in character) and back and forth on the parts of Neville, Dudley and Cecil, Saxony promised us a loan of 12 ducats, of which we only had to repay 8, if we joined them. Since this would ideally cover our costs, we agreed.
The next council session, we declared war on France. I was terrified that the Saxons would have backed out, and sent a man off to ensure they had kept up their side of the bargain. They had!
Our campaign in France seemed to take forever. I waited anxiously for news from General Neville, and when it did come back, it was wonderful – Calais had fallen to our siege. Neville had been injured, but not badly, and we celebrated with a cheese board of good English Calais cheese (also because it was lunchtime).
While we held Calais, everything seemed rosy. It was also when I received most of my six marriage proposals of the day.
One of the first was Phillip of Spain. Having spurned me earlier, he sent an emissary to ask for my hand. I hesitated. I told the Spaniard that my marriage was a matter for my country, not me, and that I would have to take it to them during the next council (a phrase I used many times during the day). In the intervening time Phillip married elsewhere, and so I pretended to be mortally offended, as I had actually been seriously considering this proposition – I hadn’t been, just remember all the dreadful things that happened when my sister Mary had been married to him! Was it even legal for me to marry him?
My second proposal was far more suitable. William of Orange, the Protestant leader of the Netherlands which was undergoing a religious revolution at the time, came to me himself to propose. He even got down on one knee. He was a married man, but assured me his wife was sick. In fact, he arranged with Walsingham to have her killed. I permitted William to court me publicly (a step down from betrothal in the court’s eyes, no real commitment like betrothal in mine). The council continued to press me to marry him – he was the favourite of many of them – but just before I would have had to agree or back out completely, news came of his sudden death. “Oh, good, now I don’t have to break it to him that I never intended to marry him”.
At the same time, the Holy Roman Empire was pushing their candidate for my hand, “Duke Charles of Lower Germany”. I don’t really know who he was, which was a big reason for him not being a real option (although naturally I pretended otherwise, using my “it is a matter for the country, not for my heart” line again).
The most surprising proposal came from the Sultan of the Ottomans, who suggested his son as a match. I was all smiles to his face, but when I turned around said “Walsingham, get this dirty heathen out of here”. He was a Moslem, so not even an option. It was pretty hilarious to consider though.
The most recurrent French option was Henry of Navarre. He never proposed to me, but his name was mentioned many a time during our various negotiations with the French.
(You may have spotted that’s only five proposals – my last will turn up later…)
Meanwhile, our victory did not last long. Saxony had suffered a great defeat in the south of France and had to pull out, meaning backup forces marched on Calais quickly and retook it. My men escaped, with their lives and wounded pride.
The next council session, I ordered Neville to account for his actions. Why had Calais fallen? We had used up most of our money on this war, and had nothing to show for it. Naturally someone had to take the fall for it, and Neville was the obvious culprit. With some calling for him to be declared a traitor and stripped of his lands, I settled for simply removing the title of General from him.
This was not taken well. He immediately declared himself a rebel and fled.
With fistfuls of coins I had no idea he had, he raised an army against me. I had to name a new General, and quickly, otherwise he would face no opposition. Thomas Howard was the obvious choice – he had troops in place close to Neville’s. But he was a Catholic and the most obvious ally to Neville. Dudley was also a potential choice, but I was worried that this appointment would drive Howard further towards Neville’s cause. Instead I chose my only Protestant nobleman, who had been successfully seizing territory in Ireland thus far – Radcliffe.
The rebellion was enormous and bloody. Many good men lost their lives – they may have looked like counters but they were actually my subjects.
Just as we were considering whether to continue the battling for another turn, a peace deal was negotiated, thanks to Howard and Walsingham. Neville would withdraw his troops and return to the fold, provided his son by Mary Grey was declared my heir. In return, he would lose his English lands. Walsingham pressed me to arrest him, but I wanted to avoid another full rebellion, so he was instead banished to Scotland, where he spent most of the rest of the game.
His son was indeed named my heir – with the proviso that he be brought up equally in the Protestant and Catholic faiths. Neville had converted back to Catholicism during his rebellion (his swapping of faiths earned him the nickname Lord Hokey-Cokey), and I was worried that he would end up with too great a Catholic influence, so I summoned my heir to Ludlow castle and determined that I would find him a good Protestant wife.
Okay, things are about to get a bit scary, so here is a nice interlude about my house.
My briefing said I should build a nice house to impress my countrymen. So I did. By spending 6 ducats a turn, I could add a piece to my palace in Middlesex.
By the end of the game, I had the biggest house in the world. I had spent 36 ducats on my enormous building, which featured many many bedrooms (each of which I showed off to Dudley *ahem*) and a private theatre which showed Shakespeare plays every Saturday.
Several of my fellow Englishmen also had quite nice houses. These displays of wealth could have contributed to the calamities which followed…
Back to the scary stuff. Not long after lunch, it was announced that the Pope had excommunicated me.
This essentially gave all of my Catholic subjects the right, nay, the responsibility to rebel against me and remove me from my throne.
As a Protestant, the Pope had no power over me. As the queen of a mixed-religion country, where I had been anxiously treating my Catholic citizens much better than my sister Mary the heretic-burner had been treating the Protestants, I was terrified. Our religious tolerance level was “neutral” – meaning we didn’t go hunting Catholics out, but they shouldn’t be practicing their faith in public. “Religion is between a man and his god”, as I said many times that day.
I expected uprisings almost instantly. When this didn’t happen, I breathed a short sigh of relief. It didn’t last long.
Will I be murdered by my Catholic subjects? Will my last proposal lead to marriage? Would we ever get Calais back? Tune in next time for more betrayal than you can shake a pomander at.