The bones of Elizabeth I, Good Queen Bess, lie mingled with those of her sister, Bloody Mary, in a single tomb at Westminster Abbey. Their only chance of concealing the truth, and perhaps buying themselves a few days to flee the country, was to trick the king.Kat Ashleya€™s first thought was to find a village girl and dress her up in the princessa€™s robe, with a mantle, to fool the king. Of course this entire theory sounds absurd, given that every child grows up with tales of our glorious Virgin Queen, celebrated by Shakespeare and venerated in innumerable plays, songs and films over the centuries.And yet the many corroborating details around this extraordinary tale about the Bisley boy were enough to convince the 19th-century writer Bram Stoker, most famous as the author of Dracula. For Berry, who has written 12 thrillers, the trail began with a chance question during a tour of Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire three years ago. But are they really royal remains a€” or evidence of the greatest conspiracy in English history?If that is not the skeleton of Elizabeth Tudor, the past four centuries of British history have been founded on a lie.And according to a controversial new book, the lie began on an autumn morning 470 years ago, when panic swept through a little group of courtiers in a manor house in the Cotswold village of Bisley in Gloucestershire. He was travelling from London, in great discomfort a€” for the 52-year-old monarch was grossly overweight and crippled by festering sores a€” to visit his daughter, Elizabeth.The young princess had been sent there that summer from the capital to avoid an outbreak of plague. She could surely be married to a French or Spanish prince to seal an international alliance a€” and her own children would secure the Tudor dynasty Henry so desperately craved.
Bisley was a tiny hamlet, however, and there were no female children of Elizabetha€™s age.But there was a boy, from a local family called Neville.
Here was a young woman growing into womanhood whom all around her had known all her life a€” or, what was equivalent, believed they had.a€™Any differences in her appearance were dismissed as the natural effects of growing up. There was no obvious heir, and Marya€™s former husband was now Britaina€™s greatest enemy, Philip II of Spain.
But she had fallen sick with a fever and, after weeks of bleeding, leeches and vomiting, her body was too weak to keep fighting. Now she was dead, and when the king discovered it, Parry and Lady Ashley would surely be executed.
He was a gawky, angular youth a year or so younger than Elizabeth, who had been the princessa€™s companion and fellow pupil for the past few weeks. Her most urgent duty, as the last of the Tudor line, was to provide an heir a€” yet she described herself as a Virgin Queen, and vowed she would never take a husband, even if the Emperor of Spain offered her an alliance with his oldest son.She stayed true to that oath, provoking a war which almost ended in Spanish invasion in 1588.
The night before the kinga€™s arrival, his favourite daughter, the only child of his marriage to Anne Boleyn, had been dangerously ill.

And with no time to look further afield for a stand-in, Parry and Lady Ashley took the desperate measure of forcing the boy to don his dead frienda€™s clothes.Remarkably, the deception worked.
Most convincing to Berry were the contemporary portraits, which are reproduced in his novel.
Publicly, Elizabeth sometimes claimed that people needed to feel their monarch was wedded to the whole country, rather than one man. The penalty would not even be beheading, but death by the most gruesome torture imaginable.They would be bound and dragged through the mud for a mile to the scaffold.
Henry saw his daughter rarely, and was used to hearing her say nothing.A  The last time she had been presented in court, meeting the new Queen Catherine Parr, she had been trembling with terror.
One picture exists of Elizabeth as a child, attributed to the court painter William Scrots.
On other occasions, she hinted that the debacle of her fathera€™s six wives, and her mothera€™s death at the block, had put her off marriage for life.If those reasons sound flimsy, the queena€™s determination to control her image was iron.
The princess was known as a gentle, studious child, and painfully shy a€” not a girl to speak up in front of the king who had beheaded her mother.So when a€?shea€™ stood at Bisley manor, in the dimness of an oak-beamed hall lit by latticed windows, it was not so surprising that the king failed to realise he was being duped. She had slender shoulders, a delicate neck and a heart-shaped face with ginger hair and eyebrows.In the next known portrait, shortly after she was crowned queen, her broad shoulders and neck are disguised with heavy furs.
She wore thick make-up and heavy wigs at all times: no one was permitted to see her without them. Their entrails would be hauled from their bodies and held in front of their faces as they died, and then their limbs would be hacked off and displayed on spikes, to be picked bare by the birds. He had no reason to suspect his daughter had been ill, after all, and he himself was tired and in pain.But after he left later that afternoon, the hoax began in earnest. Parry and Lady Ashley realised that if they ever admitted what they had done, the kinga€™s fury would be boundless. He has spent 18 months researching the conspiracy for his novel The Kinga€™s Deception, a Dan Brown-style thriller set in 21st-century London. Her jaw is heavy and square.All subsequent pictures of the queen were painted to an ideal, showing Elizabeth as she wished to be seen, not as she was.

Thomas Parry was knighted, and made a Privy Counsellor and Comptroller of the Household a€” the richest rewards Elizabeth could bestow.
On her deathbed, she commanded that the crown must go to her cousina€™s son a€” James VI of Scotland, whose mother was Mary Queen of Scots.
They might get out of the country to safety, but their families would surely be killed.On the other hand, few people had known the princess well enough to be certain of recognising her, especially after an interval of many months.
Even the official portrait commissioned after her death by her chief adviser, Sir Robert Cecil, conformed to what was known as a€?The Mask Of Youtha€™ a€” the idealised face of the monarch, which never aged.Many Tudor courtiers suspected that Elizabeth had a deep secret. He was a bad-tempered man who made many enemies, and few at court grieved when he died in 1560 a€” one wag said he expired a€?from mere ill-humoura€™.Steve Berry believes the queen must have confessed her secret to her chief minister, William Cecil.
But the command itself was cryptically worded: a€?I will have no rascal to succeed me, and who should succeed me but a king?a€™Was there a hint in those words that for 45 years the figure on the throne had herself been a a€?rascala€™, playing a part?
This boy had already fooled the king, the most important deception.Meanwhile, there was no easy way to find a female lookalike, and replace the replacement. Lord Somerset was the power behind the boy king Edward VIa€™s throne, after Henry VIII died in 1547 when Elizabeth was just 13. The politician had a reputation for an almost supernatural ability to read people and discover facts: she needed Cecil to understand that a marriage would not just haveA  been pointless, it would haveA  been ruinous.
As the courtiers buried the real Elizabeth Tudor in a stone coffin in the manor grounds, they decided their best hope of protecting themselves and their families was to teach this Bisley boy how to be a princess. Instead of a magnificent state funeral for the monarch the nation called a€?Glorianaa€™, the queena€™s bones were interred with those of her sister in Westminster Abbey.Berry points to the recent DNA analysis that proved that remains discovered under a Leicester car park were those of Richard III, who ruled a century before Elizabeth. Such high-tech methods would not even be necessary to establish whether the bones in the Abbey tomb were all female, or whether a male skeleton was buried there.a€?Elizabetha€™s grave has never been breached,a€™ Berry says.

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