As you might expect Elizabeth I had many godchildren including Mary Queen of Scots’ infant son James – her proxy had to lurk outside the chapel during the baptism as Mary obviously had her son baptised within the Catholic faith whilst Elizabeth was very clearly Protestant. Once Mary was forced to abdicate and her half-brother the Earl of Moray took charge of the new king crowned by John Knox in Stirling, James was raised a Protestant. In later years, when James was nineteen Elizabeth started to write to James with advice. The pair exchanged correspondence occasionally thereafter.
Very conveniently the exact numbers of godchildren can be traced through the queen’s accounts. In 1562 she gave 37d for “Mr Sakevill’s child.” Unsurprisingly she was godmother to Lord Hunsdon’s child and Sir Francis Knolly’s child the same year. Both of the former were part of the extended Boleyn family through Elizabeth’s aunt Mary – they are sometimes referred to rather enviously of being the “tribe of Dan” in an Elizabethan court context.
In addition to family she was also godparent to the children of her advisors – Robert Cecil’s son, William, became her seventy-ninth godchild. Then there were her nobility who angled for a royal sponsor for their children in the hope of royal patronage. The Earl of Northumberland’s son Algernon was one of Elizabeth’s godchildren in 1602. Elizabeth was fond of the boy’s mother, Dorothy Devereaux and had helped arrange the marriage so it is perhaps not so surprising. More surprising is that the French ambassador’s children could also claim Elizabeth as her godmother.
As the years passed Elizabeth even became godparent to her godchildren’s children – notably the case of Sir John Harrington in 1587. Sir John’s mother was Isabella Markham, like Dorothy Devereaux a lady of the privy chamber. Sir John Harrington of Kelston is probably Elizabeth’s most famous godchild mainly because of his invention of a flushing toilet which Elizabeth decided might be unsanitary. Elizabeth also described him as “saucy.” He in his turn wrote fondly of her but recognised that as her death drew close that he needed to hitch his wagon to the rising star of James VI of Scotland. Harrington was also in receipt of quite an unusual gift from his godmother. She translated Seneca’s Moral Letters as a gift/advice for the six-year-old.
In total Elizabeth became godmother to one hundred and two children. Each of them received a gift of money upon their baptism, hence the detail of the list, and each of them could hope once they were adults to draw upon the favour of their relationship with Gloriana.
Just as an aside children could expect three godparents – two of their own sex and one of the opposite sex. The most senior godparent of the same sex had naming rights – presumably unless trumped by Her Maj.
“Queen Elizabeth’s Godchildren.” by Constance E.B. Rye. The Genealogist (NS) vol.2 (1885) page 262-265