There was politics behind the choice of East Anglia for Elizabeth’s summer progress in 1578. During the course of the summer, Elizabeth stayed twice with Philip Howard, Earl of Surrey – heir of the foolish traitor Thomas Howard, fourth duke of Norfolk – just turned 21 that June. Kenninghall, Norkolk’s great palace, had been shuttered since his execution in June 1572. It was reopened now – restored to life – for the queen’s visit, a symbolic restoration. Surrey spent lavishly in pursuit of Elizabeth’s favour: her visits to Kenninghall and another mansion in Norwich were said to have left him £10,000 in debt.
It was no doubt for the benefit of adherents to Norfolk’s former cause that the government stage-managed the humiliation and arrest of a young catholic gentleman named Edward Rookwood as the court made its way from Bury to Kenninghall. Being entertained at Euston, his family’s house, on Saturday August 9th, Elizabeth received Rookwood and gave him her hand to kiss. It was discovered – a piece of theatre – that Rookwood had been “excommunicated for papistry” and he was called before Sussex, the lord chamberlain, who demanded of him “how he durst presume to attempt [the queen’s] real presence, he, unfit to accompany any Christian person”. Rookwood was ordered out of his own house and, further, committed to the town prison in Norwich.
In a further show of power, a piece of plate was declared missing from the court. A search was instigated and, in a hayrick, an image of the Virgin Mary was discovered. That night, after some country dancing had ended, the idol was set behind the people, suddenly appearing “a beast raised upon a sudden from hell by conjuring”, it was said. Elizabeth ordered that the image be burned in sight of the country people, to the unspeakable joy of everyone, “but one or two who had sucked of the idol’s poisoned milk”.
The gleeful report – addressed to the earl of Shrewsbury and dated 30th August 1578 – is from the pen of Elizabeth’s torturer, the malevolent and lascivious psychopath, Richard Topcliffe.
This Rookewoode is a Papyste of kynde newly crept out of his late Wardeshipp. Her majesty, by some means I know not, was lodged at his house Ewston, farre unmeet for her Highnes, but fitter for the blacke garde; nevertheles (the Gentilman brought into her Majesty’s presence by lyke device) her excellent Majesty have to Rookewoode ordenary thanks for his badd house, and her fayre hand to kysse; after wich was brayved at: But my Lord Chamberlain, nobly and gravely understanding that Rookwood was excommunicated for papistry, called him before him; demanded of him how he durst presume to attempt her real presence, he unfit to accompany any Christian person; forthwith said he was fitter for a pair of stocks; commanded him out of the Court, and yet to attend her Council’s pleasure; and at Norwich he was committed. And to decipher the gentleman to the full: a piece of plate being missed in the court and searched for in his hay house, in the hay rick such an image of our Lady was there found, as for greatness, as for gayness, and workmanship, I never did see such a match; and after a sort of country dances ended, in her Majesty’s sight the idol was set behind the people, who avoided. She seemed rather a beast raised up on a sudden from hell by conjuring, than the picture of whom it had been so long and so often abused. Her Majesty commanded it to the fire, which in her sight by the country folks was quickly done, to her content, and unspeakable joy of every one but some one or two who had sucked on the idol’s poisoned milk…