Based on Margaret Irwin’s novel, this fictionalized biography portrays princess Elizabeth’s romantic but tragic relationship with Thomas Seymour before she becomes queen.
On November 16, 1558 Mrs. Ashley (Kay Walsh) tells Mr. Parry (Cecil Kellaway) that Queen Mary is dying and that Elizabeth will be queen at age 25. They celebrate by drinking and remember the little girl.
Proud King Henry VIII (Charles Laughton) shows people the future Queen Elizabeth. Ann Boleyn laughs and is executed. Mrs. Ashley takes the now illegitimate child to the country to meet a step mother. Henry tells the girl she is legitimate again, but another step-mother, Catherine Howard, is beheaded.
Years later Thomas Seymour (Stewart Granger) comes to take Elizabeth (Jean Simmons) back to London, but she does not want to go. He says he liked her mother and asks to see her. He says she is like her mother and that everyone will love her. She decides to go and meets the Queen, Catherine Parr (Deborah Kerr). Prince Edward (Rex Thompson) comes to her room and says the Queen won’t last because she contradicts the King.
On a ship they go to face the French. Henry asks Archbishop Cranmer (Lumsden Hare) why he authorized an English translation of the Bible, but Catherine says that as regent it was her doing. Henry warns her of heresy, and Elizabeth screams. Henry sends her away, and she says she will not go back to Hatfield. Henry praises Elizabeth for seeing the French ships first and becomes ill.
King Henry is dying in bed and speaks to Catherine, Ned Seymour (Guy Rolfe), Thomas, and Elizabeth. She says England has never been invaded because they are the Normans. Elizabeth finds Mrs. Ashley packing and rushes to see Thomas in his room. He warns her to leave and says that he will come to see her often. She kisses him and runs out, meeting her sister Mary in the hall. Edward tells Elizabeth that his father is dead and that he is afraid. Ned says that he and Ann Seymour (Kathleen Byron) are now King Edward’s guardian.
Mary accuses Elizabeth of visiting Thomas and insults Ann Boleyn. Thomas tells Ann and Ned that he does not like young girls. Thomas does not want Ned to be Lord Protector.
Mr. Mums (Leo G. Carroll) tutors Elizabeth on Caesar’s conquests. She says they need more ships. She tells Mrs. Ashley that she loves Thomas. Mrs. Ashley tells her that he is in love with another woman, and she learns it is Catherine. Mary learns that Elizabeth is in Whitehall and looks for her. Elizabeth and Edward hide, and he likes Thomas for giving him money. They decide that Thomas should marry Catherine. She gets a letter from Edward, and she and Thomas are happy; they ask Bess if she did it, but she denies it. Catherine tells Elizabeth that she will not have to leave.
Edward gives Thomas ships to fight the pirates. Ned and Ann are envious of Thomas and welcome him home. Thomas asks for more ships, but they fear he wants the throne. Edward comes running in, and Thomas kneels before him. Thomas greets Catherine and then goes to Elizabeth and kisses her. Mrs. Ashley warns Catherine about Thomas and Elizabeth being together. They go on a ship. At home Thomas tells her that Ned wants to marry her to a foreigner. She tells him her ambitions to send ships to the new world. Catherine comes in, and Thomas kisses her.
Ned tells Thomas he got a letter from Elizabeth that she will serve the country. At a banquet Elizabeth charms the Danish ambassador. Edward tells Thomas he wishes he would die. Elizabeth and the Dane lead the dancing. Thomas is jealous and sends his page Barnaby (Robert Arthur) to Elizabeth, who lets him kiss her. Thomas escorts Elizabeth home in a boat and asks who she kissed. He reprimands her and asks if she wants to drive everyone who loves her mad. She says he is jealous and laughs, and he gets angry and slaps her. He apologizes and kisses her. She says she loves him.
Catherine tells Elizabeth that she cannot afford to lose Thomas. She asks if it is an infatuation, or else she will have to go away. Elizabeth says she will have to go.
Mr. Parry tells Elizabeth that Thomas sent her no letter, but Catherine is dying. Thomas puts Catherine in bed. She asks if he wants her to die so that he can marry Elizabeth. He says he has always been happy with her.
Edward’s birthday is celebrated at court. Ned and Ann see Elizabeth come in and say she has not seen Thomas in the year since Catherine died. Elizabeth asks to see Edward, and he says Thomas will be home soon. He says that Ned got the letter Thomas sent her saying that he is coming back to her. Edward says that Ned wants to kill Thomas. Elizabeth learns that Ashley and Parry have been taken to London for questioning. At night Thomas comes to see Elizabeth. They embrace, and she cries; they kiss. Thomas is saying goodbye and is risking his life. They kiss and part.
Ned with a commission tells Elizabeth that Thomas has been arrested. She warns Ned that she is second to the throne. He accuses her of the love affair. She testifies that Ned is trying to convict his brother Thomas of a crime he did not commit. Ned says her mother had three lovers, and Elizabeth slaps him. She demands her proclamaton be read to all.
Barnaby visits Thomas in his cell and says they have been questioning her night and day. Barnaby is sad, and Thomas realizes his fate.
Elizabeth dictates an order that Edward writes. Thomas goes to his execution. Edward and Elizabeth grieve together, and he goes to bed. Mary sees the majesty of Elizabeth.
Mrs. Ashworth tells Mr. Parry that she never forgot Thomas. They bow to Elizabeth.
This romantic drama explores the dangers and challenges of those who are in positions that are affected by powerful people. In this story young Elizabeth is on the receiving end of such power plays, but later she will wield the power. Perhaps by learning from this experience she was less tyrannical than she might have been otherwise. Certainly her liberal character is a sharp contrast to her intolerant sister Mary.