La Monnaie / De Munt LA MONNAIE / DE MUNT

The story of Bastarda

First evening: ‘For Better, for Worse...’

Marie Mergeay
Reading time
7 min.

The first part of Bastarda focuses on the life of young Elizabeth: from her childhood, marked by the tragic death of her mother Anne Boleyn, through her unexpected coronation to the ultimate confrontation with her cousin and rival Mary Stuart. Read the synopsis here.


Three narrators – Cecil (Reason), Smeton (Emotion) and Nottingham (Theatre) – welcome us and announce the story: “Once upon a time...” There once was a time. There once was a now. Once upon a time, there lived a queen, Elizabeth I Tudor, daughter of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII.

In this story, in which everything is possible and time is an elastic concept, the narrators navigate together with the Child – Elizabeth’s inner voice – between the different time periods. As a result, the time period of the performance shifts seamlessly within the Elizabethan era from her first few years of life until her death.

When the theatre doors close, we find ourselves at Westminster Palace, the primary residence of Elizabeth I.


The Child Elizabeth puts on a play with her dolls in which a prince leaves his princess for a more beautiful and younger princess. Her mother, Anne Boleyn, comforts her with a lullaby.

The narrators announce that Henry VIII wants to marry Jane Seymour in the hope that she will provide him with a male heir to the throne. To facilitate this, Anne Boleyn is accused of treason and adultery and beheaded. Elizabeth, not yet three years old, is now a bastard child.

Fast forward through Elizabeth’s adolescence to the age of 25: she grows up with her stepmothers; her father dies in 1547, her half-brother King Edward VI in 1553; her Catholic half-sister Mary Tudor (Bloody Mary) comes to the throne and has Elizabeth confined in the Tower of London; Elizabeth meets Robert Dudley, the future earl of Leicester. He becomes the love of her life. We see Elizabeth and Robert dancing together. Living on the side lines as a bastard does not appear to be problematic for her. But then Mary Tudor dies. And Elizabeth becomes queen.


While preparing for her coronation, Elizabeth is confronted by her inner child, who at first seems to be terrified of the throne and power that comes with it. Once everything is ready, we hear ‘God Save the Queen’ and Elizabeth I enters the room and makes her way to the throne.


The Queen opens her first Parliament. The Lords are openly sceptical about the competence of a woman to rule the country. They insist that Elizabeth choose a husband and ensure an heir. In a passionate speech, the Queen states her views on all important economic and religious matters. In matters of faith, she wants to follow a middle way. To solve the ‘Great Matter’ of her marriage, she accepts a union with the French king. Her mother appears on the stage and calls to mind the smouldering ashes of her first love.

Before marriage can be discussed further, Elizabeth wants to go on a Royal Progress – a tour of the kingdom. During this tour, she wants to make an extended stop at Kenilworth, the castle of Robert Dudley (Leicester). Hope and love are in the air.


Leicester awaits Elizabeth’s visit and evokes tender memories of their past. Although he still loves her, he is anxious. The Queen does not know that he is secretly married to Amelia. He asks his wife to hide for the duration of the royal visit. Amelia refuses and wants to be honest with the Queen.

Elizabeth arrives at Kenilworth filled with hope. Seeing Leicester again makes her feel a bit confused and she struggles to refrain from showing her feelings. At the same time, she repeatedly hears the voice of her father, reminding her of her royal duty. She feels as if she is swinging back and forth between conflicting interests.

Amelia confronts Elizabeth. The Queen realises that she has a love rival and that Leicester has deceived her. We see her mother Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour render a similar scene in which Jane confesses to Anne that she is Henry’s mistress and that he intends to marry her.

Elizabeth challenges Leicester by offering him her hand and the English throne. He now has no choice but to admit that he is already married. Henry tries to convince Jane that everything will work out for the best: he will get rid of Anne and Jane’s future will be glorious. Jane does not want this to be at Anne’s expense. The Child urges Elizabeth to take revenge, but she chooses to forgive Leicester and Amelia.


The Child is upset about what has just happened and continually interrupts Cecil and Smeton as they recount the facts, with Elizabeth’s suitors passing in review and the Scottish matter being raised. Robert Dudley is named Earl of Leicester and appointed the Queen’s Master of Horse. As a result of this prestigious royal appointment, he moves into the rooms adjacent to Elizabeth’s. Amelia stays behind at Kenilworth and dies under suspicious circumstances: she is found dead at the bottom of the stairs. Cecil and Smeton attempt to learn more about her death and once again raise the matter of Elizabeth’s marriage, but the Child will have none of it and demands a party!

Intermission: Music sounds in the halls of the theatre and there is dancing on stage.


The narrators welcome us back into the theatre: everything may have remained the same during the intermission, but time has not stood still. Elizabeth is now 31 years of age: still marriageable, but far from young. Following a coup in Edinburgh, the Scottish Queen Mary Stuart has sought refuge in England. She is imprisoned by Elizabeth. Cecil urges the Queen to take care of the two most pressing issues at that time – the question of marriage and the threat posed by Mary. After all, she is also legally entitled to the English throne. Elizabeth’s parents state her two options: revenge or forgiveness.

The Child announces Elizabeth’s decisions: she does not want a king at her side and she does not wish to meet her cousin Mary. She suspects that Mary is not only a political rival, but also one in love. Elizabeth then has Leicester summoned in the hope that she will learn his feelings. This will help her decide whether or not to have Mary executed. When Leicester admits that he loves Mary, Elizabeth agrees to a secret meeting with her cousin. For her part, Jane Seymour begs Henry to spare Anne’s life.

In Mary’s cell, (falsified) evidence is found that she is involved in French and Spanish conspiracies against the English throne. Leicester visits her to show his support and to announce Elizabeth’s visit. He begs her to act submissively towards Elizabeth.

The Queen’s visit is announced and the ultimate confrontation is now unavoidable. The tension builds gradually between the two queens. Mary seals her fate by offending Elizabeth: “Unchaste daughter of Boleyn, do you dare talk to me about dishonour? Unworthy, obscene whore, you will drown in my disgrace! Lowly bastard, the English throne has been violated by your actions.” Elizabeth is both furious and distraught.