“GOOD Queen Bess” was aged just 27 when she rode into Southampton in the August of 1560.
She had come from Netley where she had been staying with the Earl of Hertford at the castle there.
The young queen, described as “vigorous, astute and intellectual” who was to mould the destiny of England in no uncertain manner, stayed in the town for three days.
Southampton was then still walled around with the Bargate as the northern bastion. The High Street or English Street as it was still generally called, was considered “one of the fairest streets that is in any town of all England and is well builded for timber building... and there be many fair merchants’ houses”.
These fine houses of former generations gave dignity to the town although its prosperity as a port had sadly waned.
The Queen came again in 1569 and this time she rode in from Titchfield where she had been entertained by the Earl of Southampton.
This visit was made while on her way to Basing to stay with the Marquis of Winchester.
While in Southampton she signed a writ displacing the Mayor of Coventry dating it September 8 “at our Tower of Southampton”.
This notable castle was still important and was described by one historian as being “most beautiful in form, circular and wall within wall.”
The Queen’s visit caused great excitement but also considerable expense. One history book has 30 entries including: “Sergeants of the Arms – 20 shillings, (£1); payed her fotemen; payed her trumpeters; payed to the drome and flute of Portismothe; payed Peter Glasier for his drome and flute.”
Had the drums and flutes accompanied the procession from Titchfield to Southampton?
There was indeed much musical jubilation in the town for records show the cost of ringing the church bells to welcome the Her Majesty as well as payment to the men of the church “who sang for the Queen”.
The last visit of Elizabeth to Southampton was in September, 1591, and this time it was on a grand scale with all her court.
On September 4, the mayor and corporation, with the resplendent newly-gilt mace, gathered north of the Bargate to greet her on arrival and presented her with a purse containing £40 as a gift from the loyal town.
Southampton, still almost entirely within the walls and with a population of 3,500 people, must have been packed with its visitors.
The courtiers were housed in the important mansions such as Bugle Hall, the residence of the Earl of Southampton, and also probably the present “Tudor House” and the other fine dwellings for which the town was famous.
The visit was an expensive affair for the town, however, costing £98 (equivalent to more than £12,200 in today’s value), including the price of the purse, £1 9s (£1.45) and the re-gilding of the mace at £1 1s (£1.05).
As the imposing cavalcade of mounted courtiers was drawing away through the Bargate and out of the town on September 7, a remarkable and dramatic incident took place.
The leading members of the local “French Church” were determined to speak to the Queen to express gratitude as in 1567 Elizabeth had given them, as fugitive Huguenots, the use of the little chapel of St Julian at God’s House.
These French protestants had then settled in Southampton, eventually taking a very useful part in the life of the community.
On the occasion of the Queen’s visit they gathered together outside the Bargate and in their recorded words: “When she was gone and was without the town not having been able to get access to Her Majesty before, we thanked her for having enjoyed her protection in this town for more than 24 years.”
Elizabeth replied kindly, “blessing God that it had been in her power to afford protection to the poor strangers whose prayers, she knew well, had served much in the preservation of her dominions.”
With these words of gratitude, Elizabeth rode away from Southampton forever.