Elizabeth was the only child of Henry VIII
and Anne Boleyn
, who did not bear a male heir and was executed less than three years after Elizabeth's birth.
Elizabeth was born at Greenwich Palace and was named after both her grandmothers, Elizabeth of York and Elizabeth Howard. She was the second child of Henry VIII of England born in wedlock to survive infancy. Her mother was Henry's second wife, Anne Boleyn. At birth, Elizabeth was the heir presumptive to the throne of England. Her older half-sister, Mary, had lost her position as a legitimate heir when Henry annulled his marriage to Mary's mother, Catherine of Aragon, to marry Anne, with the intent to sire a male heir and ensure the Tudor succession. She was baptised on 10 September 1533; Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, the Marquess of Exeter, the Duchess of Norfolk and the Dowager Marchioness of Dorset stood as her godparents. A canopy was carried at the ceremony over the three-day old child by George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford, John Hussey, 1st Baron Hussey, Lord Thomas Howard, and William Howard, 1st Baron Howard of Effingham.
Elizabeth was two years and eight months old when her mother was beheaded on 19 May 1536, four months after Catherine of Aragon's death from natural causes. Elizabeth was declared illegitimate and deprived of her place in the royal succession. Eleven days after Anne Boleyn's execution, Henry married Jane Seymour, who died shortly after the birth of their son, Prince Edward, in 1537. From his birth, Edward was undisputed heir apparent to the throne. Elizabeth was placed in his household and carried the chrisom, or baptismal cloth, at his christening.
Elizabeth's first governess (or Lady Mistress), Margaret Bryan, wrote that she was "as toward a child and as gentle of conditions as ever I knew any in my life". By the autumn of 1537, Elizabeth was in the care of Blanche Herbert, Lady Troy, who remained her Lady Mistress until her retirement in late 1545 or early 1546. Catherine Champernowne, better known by her later, married name of Catherine "Kat" Ashley, was appointed as Elizabeth's governess in 1537, and she remained Elizabeth's friend until her death in 1565, when Blanche Parry succeeded her as Chief Gentlewoman of the Privy Chamber. Champernowne taught Elizabeth four languages: French, Flemish, Italian and Spanish. By the time William Grindal became her tutor in 1544, Elizabeth could write English, Latin, and Italian. Under Grindal, a talented and skilful tutor, she also progressed in French and Greek. After Grindal died in 1548, Elizabeth received her education under Roger Ascham, a sympathetic teacher who believed that learning should be engaging.
By the time her formal education ended in 1550, Elizabeth was one of the best educated women of her generation. At the end of her life, Elizabeth was also believed to speak Welsh, Cornish, Scottish and Irish in addition to the languages mentioned above. The Venetian ambassador stated in 1603 that she "possessed [these] languages so thoroughly that each appeared to be her native tongue". Historian Mark Stoyle suggests that she was probably taught Cornish by William Killigrew, Groom of the Privy Chamber and later Chamberlain of the Exchequer.