Robert Cecil was on good terms with Elizabeth, who saw him frequently due to his father’s position. He in turn cultivated the relationship, realising that she apparently had a high regard for his intelligence and seemed genuinely interested in his comments on various matters. Francis too, was often at Court due to his special relationship, which Robert understood all too well. Thus it came about that both boys were present one late summer day together with a number of the Queen’s teen-age ladies-in-waiting, playfully chatting while one of them did the Queen’s hair across the room, and Francis played the lute.
Robert Cecil, sickly and deformed, became the subject of some teasing, giggles, and unpleasant whispers behind his back by the girls, of which he was fully aware and deeply hurt. Having taken enough abuse, and trembling with anger, the cunning Robert made a malicious response by suddenly addressing the girl who had been insulting him the most, shouting loudly so that all could hear, “You should be put to death for bringing such dishonour to the Queen.” Instantly, the Queen stood up and walked over, asking, “What is this all about?” as the whole room fell silent. Francis stopped playing and listened.
“Madam,” said Robert, “this young maiden here does you dishonour, calling you a whore, and claiming that you bore a son to the noble Leicester.”
“What? How dare you?” said the Queen angrily to the girl, and attacked her, striking vicious blows to her face. Soon she was on top of the girl, and banging her head against the marble floor. “You dishonourable, vicious wench. After all I have done for you!”
Francis watched the scene with increasing anxiety. It appeared to him that the Queen was going to kill this girl if she kept up her violent attack. With great intrepidity, he approached the Queen, saw that the girl was bleeding from the mouth, took hold of Elizabeth’s arm, and said nervously, “Fair Queen, I beg you. See what you have done. In God’s name, please! Be not as barbarous as a Roman or a Greek. Patience. May I not remove the maiden?”
Elizabeth stopped, turning her wrath upon Francis. “Who are you, of all people, to interfere with me? Where is your loyalty?” Now she was raging mad. “I curse the day you were born. Would you forsake your own mother and defend one who flouts her honour?”
The room fell silent as a graveyard, as all eyes turned to the Queen. The tension was as heavy as a lead tombstone.
“Mother?” said Francis, finally, frowning in disbelief.
“Mother?” said one of the girls. “Mother?” repeated a second. “Francis?” said one. “Then it is true?” said another, weakly.