Elizabeth The First


Elizabeth I of England

Reign 17 November 1558 – 24 March 1603
Coronation 15 January 1559
Predecessor Mary I
Successor James I
Royal house House of Tudor
Father Henry VIII
Mother Anne Boleyn, 1st Marchioness of Pembroke
Born 7 September 1533
Palace of Placentia
Died 24 March 1603
Richmond Palace
Burial Westminster Abbey

Elizabeth I (7 September 1533 – 24 March 1603) was Queen of England, Queen of France (in name only), and Queen of Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death. She is sometimes referred to as The Virgin Queen (as she never married), Gloriana, or Good Queen Bess, and was immortalized by Edmund Spenser as the Faerie Queene. Elizabeth I was the sixth and final monarch of the Tudor dynasty (the other Tudor monarchs having been her grandfather Henry VII, her father Henry VIII, her half-brother Edward VI, her cousin Jane, and her half-sister Mary I). She reigned for 45 years, during a period marked by increases in English power and influence worldwide, as well as great religious turmoil within England.

Elizabeth's reign is referred to as the Elizabethan era or the Golden Age of Elizabeth. Playwrights William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, and Ben Jonson all flourished during this era; Francis Drake became the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe; Francis Bacon laid out his philosophical and political views; and English colonisation of North America took place under Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Humphrey Gilbert. Elizabeth was an even-tempered and decisive ruler. A favourite motto for her was video et taceo ("I see and keep silent")[1]. This last quality, viewed with impatience by her counsellors, often saved her from political and marital misalliances. Like her father Henry VIII, she was a writer and poet. She granted Royal Charters to several famous organisations, including Trinity College, Dublin (its official name is the College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Elizabeth near Dublin) in 1592 and the British East India Company (1600).

In her nearly forty-five years as monarch, she created only nine peerage dignities, one earldom and seven baronies in the Peerage of England, and one barony in the Peerage of Ireland. She also reduced the number of Privy Counsellors from thirty-nine to nineteen, and later to fourteen.

The Commonwealth of Virginia, one of the 13 colonies that became the United States of America, was named for Elizabeth I, the "Virgin Queen", as was the Ulster Plantation town of Virginia, County Cavan, Ireland.


Early life

Elizabeth was the only surviving child of King Henry VIII of England by his second wife, Anne Boleyn, Marchioness of Pembroke. The couple were secretly married sometime between the winter of 1532 and late January of 1533. In later life Elizabeth reported to the Venetian ambassador that she had been told it was the earlier date, possibly in November.[2] Elizabeth was born in the Palace of Placentia in Greenwich, on September 7, 1533. Upon her birth, Elizabeth was the heir presumptive to the throne of England despite having an older half sister, Mary; Mary was not considered by Henry VIII to be a legitimate heir because Henry annulled his marriage to her mother, the Spanish princess Catherine of Aragon.

Henry would have preferred a son to ensure the Tudor succession, but following Elizabeth's birth, a male heir never came, as Queen Anne suffered at least two miscarriages, one in 1534 and again at the beginning of 1536. The King enjoyed a string of affairs, one of which involved a young woman named Elizabeth Blount, known as Bessie, daughter of a knight, Sir John Blount of Shropshire. In 1519, Bessie became the mother of a male while she was single, Henry FitzRoy, 1st Duke of Richmond and Somerset, also named Earl of Nottingham. While he acknowledged Fitzroy, the king did not put the boy into the official lineage. It is believed the king thought to do so would anger his subjects. Fitzroy died of consumption in 1536 at the age of seventeen.

Historians debate the exact reason why Anne fell from power, but it is generally agreed that she was innocent of the charges against her, and that her death was orchestrated by her political rivals.[3][4][5] Anne was arrested on 2nd May 1536 and imprisoned. Seventeen days later, she was executed on charges of treason, incest with her younger brother, George Boleyn, and witchcraft. Elizabeth, then three years old, was declared illegitimate and lost the title of Princess. She also lost the money and gifts her mother had routinely showered upon her. After Anne's death, she was addressed as Lady Elizabeth and lived separately from her father as he married his succession of wives. In 1537, her father's third wife, Jane Seymour, gave birth to a son, Prince Edward, who became the official heir to the throne under the Act of Succession 1543.

Elizabeth's first governess was Lady Margaret Bryan, a baroness whom Elizabeth called "Muggie". At the age of four, Elizabeth acquired a new governess, Katherine Champernowne, whom she often referred to as "Kat". Champernowne developed a close relationship with Elizabeth and remained her confidante and good friend for life. Matthew Parker, her mother's favourite priest, took a special interest in Elizabeth's well-being, particularly because a fearful Anne had entrusted her daughter's spiritual welfare to Parker before her death. Parker later became Elizabeth's first Archbishop of Canterbury after she became queen in 1558. One companion, to whom she referred with affection throughout her life, was the Irishman Thomas Butler, later 3rd Earl of Ormonde (d. 1615).

Princess Elizabeth, age 13 in 1546, thought to have been painted by Levina Teerlinc
Princess Elizabeth, age 13 in 1546, thought to have been painted by Levina Teerlinc

Elizabeth was resourceful, determined, and exceedingly intelligent. She loved learning for its own sake. Like her mother and father, she was flirtatious and charismatic.

Henry VIII died in 1547 and was succeeded by Edward VI. Catherine Parr, Henry's last wife, married Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley, Edward VI's uncle, and took Elizabeth into her household. It is believed that Seymour made advances towards Elizabeth while she lived in his household. There, Elizabeth received her education under Roger Ascham. She came to speak and read six languages: her native English, as well as French, Italian, Spanish, Greek, and Latin. Under the influence of Catherine Parr and Ascham, Elizabeth was raised a Protestant.

As long as her Protestant half-brother remained on the throne, Elizabeth's own position remained secure. In 1553, however, Edward died at the age of fifteen, after suffering ill health from birth. He had left a will which purported to supersede his father's will. Disregarding the Act of Succession 1543, it excluded both Mary and Elizabeth from succeeding to the throne and declared Lady Jane Grey, ward of Thomas Seymour, to be his heiress. A plot was formed by Thomas and John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland who married his son, Guilford Dudley to Jane. Lady Jane ascended the throne, but was deposed less than two weeks later. Armed with popular support, Mary rode triumphantly into London, her half-sister Elizabeth at her side.

Mary I contracted a marriage with Prince Philip of Spain (later King Philip II), seeking to strengthen the Catholic influence in England. Wyatt's Rebellion in 1554 sought to prevent Mary from marrying Philip, and after its failure, Elizabeth was imprisoned in the Tower of London for her alleged involvement in it. There were demands for Elizabeth's execution, but few Englishmen wished to put a member of the popular Tudor dynasty to death. The Lord Chancellor Stephen Gardiner wanted to remove Elizabeth from the line of succession, but neither Mary nor Parliament would allow it. After two months in the Tower, Elizabeth was released on the same day her mother was executed eighteen years earlier. She was then put under house arrest under the guard of Sir Henry Bedingfield.

Following a moderate start to her reign, the Catholic Mary opted for a hard line against Protestants, whom she regarded as heretics and a threat to her authority. In the ensuing persecution she came to be known as "Bloody Mary". She urged Elizabeth to convert to the Roman Catholic faith, but the princess, instead, kept up a skillful show of allegiance to suit her own conscience and ambitions. By the end of that year, when Mary was mistakenly rumoured to be pregnant, Elizabeth was allowed to return to court at Philip's behest. He worried that his wife might die in childbirth, in which case he preferred Lady Elizabeth, under his tutelage, to succeed rather than her next-closest relative, Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary of Scots had grown up in the French court and was betrothed to the French Dauphin and, although she was Catholic, Philip did not desire her to grasp the English crown because of the heavy French influence in her politics.

Early reign

Monarchical Styles of
Queen Elizabeth I
Reference style Her Majesty
Spoken style Your Majesty
Alternative style Her/Your Grace, Her/Your Highness

In November 1558, upon Queen Mary's death, Elizabeth ascended the throne. She was far more popular than Mary, and it is said that after the death of her half-sister the people rejoiced in the streets. Legend has it Elizabeth was sitting beneath an oak tree reading the Greek Bible at Hatfield when she was informed of her succession to the throne. As it was November and winter, it was unlikely Elizabeth would have been quietly reading but perhaps enjoying a brisk walk. A manservant approached her and breathlessly said, "Your Majesty…". Elizabeth then quoted Psalm 118 in response: "This is the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes".

During her procession to the throne, she was welcomed wholeheartedly by the common people, who performed plays and read poetry exclaiming her beauty and intelligence. Elizabeth's coronation was on 15 January 1559. She was 25 years old. There was no Archbishop of Canterbury at the time; Reginald Cardinal Pole, the last Catholic holder of the office, had died shortly after Mary I. Since the senior bishops declined to participate in the coronation because Elizabeth was illegitimate under both canon law and statute and because she was a Protestant, the relatively unknown Owen Oglethorpe, Bishop of Carlisle crowned her. The communion was celebrated not by Oglethorpe, but by the Queen's personal chaplain, to avoid the usage of the Roman rites. Elizabeth I's coronation was the last one during which the Latin service was used; future coronations except for that of George I used the English service. She later persuaded her mother's chaplain, Matthew Parker, to become Archbishop.

One of the most important concerns during Elizabeth's early reign was religion. She relied primarily on Sir William Cecil for advice on the matter. The Act of Uniformity 1559, which she passed shortly after ascending the throne, required the use of the Protestant Book of Common Prayer in church services. Communion with the Catholic Church had been reinstated under Mary I, but was ended by Elizabeth. The Queen assumed the title "Supreme Governor of the Church of England", rather than "Supreme Head", primarily because several bishops and many members of the public felt that a woman could not be the head of the Church.

In addition, the Act of Supremacy 1559 was passed requiring public officials to take an oath acknowledging the Sovereign's control over the Church or face severe punishment. Many bishops were unwilling to conform to the Elizabethan religious policy. Those bishops were removed from the ecclesiastical bench and replaced by appointees who would agree with the Queen's decision. She also appointed a new Privy Council, removing many Catholic counsellors in the process. Under Elizabeth, factionalism in the Council and conflicts at court were greatly diminished. Elizabeth's chief advisors were Sir William Cecil, as her Secretary of State, and Sir Nicholas Bacon, as the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal.

Elizabeth ratified the Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis established on April 3, 1559, bringing peace with France. She adopted a principle of "England for the English". Her other realm, Ireland, never benefited from such a philosophy. The enforcement of English customs in Ireland proved unpopular with its inhabitants, as did the Queen's religious policies.

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester painted by Steven van der Meulen.
Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester painted by Steven van der Meulen.

Soon after her accession, many questioned whom Elizabeth would marry. Her reason for never marrying is unclear. She may have felt repulsed by the mistreatment of Henry VIII's wives, her mother's death always in her mind, or perhaps psychologically scarred by her rumoured childhood relationship with Lord Thomas Seymour while in his household. Contemporary gossip was that she had suffered from a physical defect that she was afraid to reveal, perhaps scarring from smallpox. There was also the story that she would only marry one man, Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, with whom she was rumored to be deeply in love and whom she appointed her Master of the Queen's Horse. However, her council refused to sanction the marriage because of his status and his family's participation in the Lady Jane Grey matter (and for the early part of her reign Dudley was already married to Amy Robsart who later died in somewhat suspicious circumstances, although Dudley was acquitted of any involvement in this). Some believe Elizabeth decided that if she could not have him, she would not marry at all. The most likely cause, however, was probably her reluctance to share the power of the Crown with another and her fear that a marriage with a foreigner would provoke the same hostility as that of her sister Mary's disastrous marriage to Philip II. She also did not want to risk making England a foreign vassal and possibly involving it in the unprofitable and unpopular wars that Mary's marriage had done, while marriage to a high-born Englishman would involve England in factional dispute at court. Given the unstable political situation, Elizabeth could have feared an armed struggle among aristocratic factions if she married someone not seen as equally favourable to all factions. What is known for certain is that marrying anyone would have cost Elizabeth large amounts of money and independence as all of the estates and incomes Elizabeth inherited from her father, Henry VIII, were hers only until she wed.


While Elizabeth has been referred to as the "Virgin Queen" because she never married, it is unclear if she was actually a virgin in the medical or spiritual sense. Most prominent historians agree that she probably was a physical virgin due to a combination of psychological conditioning, avoidance of pregnancy and disease, loss of power and/or political control, threat of religious disfavor, and perhaps spiritual consequences. While a King might resort to keeping a wench, mistress or to concubinage (terms which simply denote differing levels of official recognition and financial benefit), it would have been dangerous for a women, especially a woman ruler dependent on public opinion for stability, to behave in the same manner. It was common for men, to take or pay for lovers simply because of the pleasure and comfort it brought. It is difficult to understand Elizabeth's apparent lack of sexual activity through modern eyes where it is often assumed that a ruling Queen naturally would have needed her personal sexual needs fulfilled. Even among her contemporaries she was a social and sexual enigma by refraining from marriage, sex, and childbirth. Much speculative ink has since been spilled over this matter, often strictly for the purposes of entertainment and commerce.

Playwright Ben Jonson remarked that the queen had "a membranum, and was incapable of Man" and that a friend, "a chirurgeon" had offered to remove the stubborn hymen with his trusty scalpel, but that Elizabeth demurred.[citation needed] We shall never know the details of whether she did or didn't do anything in private; We do know that she never married, because that would have changed her from a queen regnant to a queen consort: she would have lost the power of a king, which she clearly had and which she used to her country's advantage. In later centuries, other queens would have more options, notably Queen Victoria, who married and kept the crown, making her husband the Prince Consort. Elizabeth II was married at the time she inherited her father's crown as queen regnant. She has reigned even longer than her two predecessors, though not as an absolute monarch but as a constitutional one.

Conflict with France and Scotland

The Queen found a dangerous rival in her cousin, the Catholic Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland and wife of the French King Francis II. In 1559, Mary had declared herself Queen of England with French support. In Scotland, Mary Stuart's mother, Mary of Guise attempted to cement French influence by providing for army fortification against English aggression. A group of Scottish lords allied to Elizabeth deposed Mary of Guise and, under pressure from the English, Mary's representatives signed the Treaty of Edinburgh, which led to the withdrawal of French troops. Though Mary vehemently refused to ratify the treaty, it had the desired effect, and French influence was greatly reduced in Scotland.

Upon the death of her husband, Francis II, Mary Stuart had returned to Scotland. In France, meanwhile, conflict between the Catholics and the Huguenots led to the outbreak of the French Wars of Religion. Elizabeth secretly gave aid to the Huguenots. She made peace with France in 1564; she agreed to give up her claims to the last English possession on the French mainland, Calais, after the defeat of an English expedition at Le Havre. Elizabeth, however, did not give up her claim to the French Crown, which had been maintained since the reign of Edward III during the period of the Hundred Years' War in the fourteenth century, and was not renounced until the reign of George III during the eighteenth century.

Elizabeth and the 1559 Religious Settlement

Signature of Elizabeth I of England
Signature of Elizabeth I of England

Catholicism had been restored under Mary I, but Elizabeth claimed to be Protestant, and thus wanted to create a Protestant Church. Parliament was summoned in 1559 to consider the Reformation Bill and create a new Church. The Reformation Bill defined the Communion as a consubstantial celebration as opposed to a transubstantial celebration, included abuse of the Pope in the litany, and ordered that ministers should not wear the surplice or other Catholic vestments. It allowed ministers to marry, banned images from churches, and confirmed Elizabeth as Supreme Head of the Church of England. The Bill met massive resistance in the House of Lords, as Catholic bishops as well as the lay peers voted against it. They butchered much of the Bill, changed the litany to allow for a transubstantial belief in the Communion and refused to grant Elizabeth the title of Supreme Head of the Church.

Parliament was prorogued over Easter, and when it resumed, the government entered two new bills into the Houses — the Act of Supremacy and the Act of Uniformity. The Act of Supremacy confirmed Elizabeth as Supreme Governor of the Church of England, as opposed to the Supreme Head. Supreme Governor was a suitably equivocal phrasing that made Elizabeth head of the church without ever saying she was, important because in the sixteenth century, it was felt that women could not rule a church.

The Bill of Uniformity was more cautious than the initial Reformation Bill. It revoked the harsh laws against Catholics, removed the abuse of the Pope from the litany and kept the wording that allowed for both consubstantial and transubstantial belief in the Communion.

After Parliament was dismissed, Elizabeth, along with William Cecil, drafted what are known as the Royal Injunctions. These were additions to the Settlement, and largely stressed continuity with the Catholic past — ministers were ordered to wear the surplice. Wafers, as opposed to ordinary baker's bread, were to be used as the bread at Communion. There had been opposition to the Settlement in the shires, which for the most part were largely Catholic, so the changes were made in order to allow for acceptance to the Settlement.

Elizabeth never changed the Religious Settlement despite Protestant pressure (previously thought to originate from the Puritan choir) to do so and it is in fact the 1559 Settlement that forms much of the basis of today's Church of England.

Plots and rebellions

At the end of 1562, Elizabeth fell ill with smallpox, but later recovered. In 1563, alarmed by the Queen's near-fatal illness, Parliament asked that she marry or nominate an heir to prevent civil war upon her death. She refused to do either, and in April, she prorogued Parliament. Parliament did not reconvene until Elizabeth needed its assent to raise taxes in 1566. The House of Commons threatened to withhold funds until the Queen agreed to provide for the succession. On 19 October 1566, Sir Robert Bell boldly pursued Elizabeth for the royal answer despite her command to leave it alone; in her own words "Mr. Bell with his complices must needs prefer their speeches to the upper house to have you my lords, consent with them, whereby you were seduced, and of simplicity did assent unto it."

Mary Queen of Scots
Mary Queen of Scots

Different lines of succession were considered during Elizabeth's reign. One possible line was that of Margaret Tudor, Henry VIII's elder sister, which led to Mary I, Queen of Scots. The alternative line descended from Henry VIII's younger sister, Mary Tudor, Duchess of Suffolk; the heir in this line would be the Lady Catherine Grey, Lady Jane Grey's sister. An even more distant possible successor was Henry Hastings, 3rd Earl of Huntingdon, who could claim descent only from Edward III, who reigned during the fourteenth century. Each possible heir had his or her disadvantages: Mary I was a Catholic, Lady Catherine Grey had married without the Queen's consent and the Puritan Lord Huntingdon was unwilling to accept the Crown.

Mary, Queen of Scots, had to suffer her own troubles in Scotland. Elizabeth had suggested that if she married the Protestant Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, then Elizabeth would "proceed to the inquisition of her right and title to be our next cousin and heir." Mary chose her own course, and in 1565 married a Catholic, who also had a claim to the English throne, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. Lord Darnley was murdered in 1567 after the couple had become estranged. Darnley was a heavy drinker and had approved the murder of Mary's secretary David Rizzio, with whom he suspected her of having an affair. Mary then married James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, who was widely believed to be responsible for Darnley's murder. Scottish nobles then rebelled, imprisoning Mary and forcing her to abdicate in favour of her infant son, who consequently became James VI.

In 1568, the last viable English heir to the throne, Catherine Grey, died. She had left two sons, but they were deemed illegitimate, owing to the absence of any living witnesses to the marriage, or to any clergy who could attest to having performed it. Her heiress was her sister, the Lady Mary Grey, a hunchbacked dwarf. Elizabeth was once again forced to consider a Scottish successor, from the line of her father's sister, Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scots. Mary I, however, was unpopular in Scotland, where she had been imprisoned. She later escaped from her prison and fled to England, where she was captured by English forces. Elizabeth was faced with a conundrum: sending her back to the Scottish nobles was deemed too cruel; sending her to France would put a powerful pawn in the hands of the French king; forcibly restoring her to the Scottish throne may have been seen as an heroic gesture, but would cause too much conflict with the Scots; and imprisoning her in England would allow her to participate in plots against the Queen. Elizabeth chose the last option: Mary was kept confined for eighteen years, much of it in Sheffield Castle and Sheffield Manor in the custody of George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, and his redoubtable wife Bess of Hardwick.

Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk
Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk

In 1569, Elizabeth faced a major uprising, known as the Northern Rebellion, instigated by Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, Charles Neville, 6th Earl of Westmorland and Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland. Pope Pius V aided the Catholic Rebellion by excommunicating Elizabeth and declaring her deposed in a papal bull. The Bull of Deposition, Regnans in Excelsis, was only issued in 1570, arriving after the Rebellion had been put down. After the Bull of Deposition was issued, however, Elizabeth chose not to continue her policy of religious tolerance. She instead began the persecution of her religious enemies, giving impetus to various conspiracies to remove her from the throne. She also permitted the Church of England to take a more explicitly Protestant line by allowing Parliament to pass the largely Calvinist 39 Articles in 1571 which acted as a declaration of Church of England faith.

Elizabeth then found a new enemy in her brother-in-law, Philip II, King of Spain. After Philip had launched a surprise attack on the English privateers Sir Francis Drake and John Hawkins in 1568, Elizabeth assented to the detention of a Spanish treasure ship in 1569. Philip was already involved in putting down a rebellion in the Spanish Netherlands, and could not afford to declare war on England.

Philip II participated in some conspiracies to remove Elizabeth, albeit reluctantly. The 4th Duke of Norfolk was also involved in the first of these plots, the Ridolfi Plot of 1571. After the Catholic Ridolfi Plot was discovered (much to Elizabeth's shock) and foiled, the Duke of Norfolk was executed and Mary lost the little liberty she had remaining. Spain, which had been friendly to England since Philip's marriage to Elizabeth's predecessor, ceased to be on cordial terms.

In 1571, Sir William Cecil was created Baron Burghley; a wise and humorous man, who always advised caution in international relations, he had been Elizabeth's chief advisor from the earliest days, and he remained so until his death in 1598. In 1572, Burghley was raised to the powerful position of Lord High Treasurer; his post as Secretary of State was taken up by the head of Elizabeth's spy network, Sir Francis Walsingham.

Also in 1572, Elizabeth made an alliance with France. The St Bartholomew's Day Massacre, in which thousands of French Protestants (Huguenots) were killed, strained the alliance but did not break it. Elizabeth even began marriage negotiations with Henry, Duke of Anjou (later King Henry III of France and of Poland), and afterwards with his younger brother François, Duke of Anjou and Alençon. During the latter's visit in 1581, it is said that Elizabeth "drew off a ring from her finger and put it upon the Duke of Anjou's upon certain conditions betwixt them two". The Spanish Ambassador reported that she actually declared that the Duke of Anjou would be her husband. However, Anjou, who was reportedly scarred and hunch-backed, returned to France and died in 1584 before he could be married.

Conflict with Spain and Ireland

In 1579, the Second Desmond Rebellion began in Ireland with the arrival of an invasion force funded by Pope Gregory XIII; but by 1583, the rebellion had been put down after a brutal campaign waged by fire, sword and famine, in which a large part of the population of the then County Desmond, the north-western part of the province of Munster died; chilling, albeit approving, observations on the campaign are set out in A View of the Present State of Ireland by the poet, Edmund Spenser (first licensed for publication in 1633, four decades after it was written).

Also in 1580, Philip II annexed Portugal, and with the Portuguese throne came the command of the high seas. After the assassination of the Dutch Stadholder William I, England began to side openly with the United Provinces of the Netherlands, who were at the time rebelling against Spanish rule. This, together with economic conflict with Spain and English piracy against Spanish colonies (which included an English alliance with Islamic Morocco), led to the outbreak of the Anglo-Spanish War in 1585 and in 1586 the Spanish ambassador was expelled from England for his participation in conspiracies against Elizabeth. Fearing such conspiracies, Parliament had passed the Act of Association 1584, under which anyone associated with a plot to murder the Sovereign would be excluded from the line of succession. However, a further scheme against Elizabeth, the Babington Plot, was revealed by Sir Francis Walsingham, who headed the English spy network. The extent to which the plot was created by Walsingham will always remain open to conjecture.

Mary was put on trial for treason by a court of about 40 noblemen, including Catholics and presided over by England's Chief of Justice, Sir John Popham. Mary denied the accusation, drawing attention to the fact that she was denied the opportunity of reviewing the evidence or her papers that had been removed from her, that she had been denied access to legal counsel and that she had never been an English subject and thus could not be convicted of treason. Mary was ultimately found guilty and was beheaded at Fotheringay Castle, Northamptonshire on February 8, 1587. At her execution, she removed a black cloak to reveal a deep red dress, the liturgical colour of martyrdom in the Catholic Church. The execution was badly carried out. It is said to have taken three blows to hack off her head. The first blow struck the back of her head, the next struck her shoulder and severed her subclavian artery, spewing blood in all directions. She was alive and conscious after the first two blows. The next blow took off her head, save some gristle, which was cut using the axe as a saw.

Portrait of Elizabeth made to commemorate the defeat of the Spanish Armada (1588), depicted in the background. Elizabeth's international power is symbolized by the hand resting on the globe.
Portrait of Elizabeth made to commemorate the defeat of the Spanish Armada (1588), depicted in the background. Elizabeth's international power is symbolized by the hand resting on the globe.

In her will, Mary had left Philip her claim to the English throne; under force of the threat from Elizabeth's policies in the Netherlands and the East Atlantic, Philip set out his plans for an invasion of England. In April 1587, Sir Francis Drake burned part of the Spanish fleet at Cádiz, delaying Philip's plans. In July 1588, the Spanish Armada, a grand fleet of 130 ships bearing over 30,000 men, set sail in the expectation of conveying a Spanish invasion force under the command of the Duke of Parma across the English Channel from the Netherlands. Elizabeth encouraged her troops with a notable speech, known as the Speech to the Troops at Tilbury, in which she famously declared, "I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a King, and of a King of England too! And I think it foul scorn that Spain or Parma or any prince of Europe should dare invade the borders of my realm". Thus the legend of Good Queen Bess was born.

The Spanish attempt was defeated by the English fleet under Lord High Admiral Charles Howard, 2nd Baron Howard of Effingham, aided by inclement weather. The Armada was forced to return to Spain, with appalling losses on the North and West coasts of Ireland. The victory tremendously increased Elizabeth's popularity, but it proved far from decisive, and an ambitious strike against Spain in the following year (the English Armada) ended in complete failure. The war continued in the Netherlands, where the Dutch Estates were seeking independence from Spain. The English government also involved itself in the conflict in France, where the throne was claimed by a Protestant heir, Henry of Navarre (later Henry IV of France). Elizabeth sent 20,000 troops and subsidies of over £300,000 to Henry, and 8,000 troops and subsidies of over £1,000,000 to the Dutch.

English privateers continued to attack Spanish treasure ships from the Americas. The most famous privateers included Sir John Hawkins and Sir Martin Frobisher. In 1595 and 1596, a disastrous expedition on the Spanish Main led to the deaths of the ageing Hawkins and Drake. Also in 1595, Spanish troops under the command of Don Carlos de Amesquita landed in Cornwall, where they routed a large English militia and burned some villages, before celebrating a mass and retiring in the face of a naval force led by Sir Walter Raleigh.

In 1596, England finally withdrew from France, with Henry IV firmly in control. He had assumed the throne (by agreeing to convert to catholicism), commenting that, "Paris is worth a mass". The Holy League, which opposed him, had been demolished, and Elizabeth's diplomacy was beset with a new set of problems. At the same time, the Spanish had landed a considerable force of tercios in Brittany, which expelled the English forces that were present and presented a new front in the war, with an added threat of invasion across the channel. Elizabeth sent a further 2,000 troops to France after the Spanish took Calais. Then she authorised an attack on the Azores in 1597, but the attempt was a disastrous failure. Further battles continued until 1598, when France and Spain finally made peace. The Anglo-Spanish War reached a stalemate after Philip II died later in the year. In part because of the war, Raleigh and Gilbert's overseas colonisation attempts came to nothing, and the English settlement of North America was stalled, until James I negotiated peace in the Treaty of London, 1604.

Later years

Portrait by unknown c.18th century
Portrait by unknown c.18th century

In 1598, Elizabeth's chief advisor, Lord Burghley, died. His political mantle was inherited by his son, Robert Cecil, who had previously become Secretary of State in 1590. Elizabeth became somewhat unpopular because of her practice of granting royal monopolies; the abolition of which Parliament continued to demand. In her famous "Golden Speech", Elizabeth promised reforms. Shortly thereafter, twelve royal monopolies were ended by royal proclamation; further sanctions could be sought in the courts of common law. These reforms, however, were only superficial; the practice of deriving funds from the grants of monopolies continued.

At the same time as England was fighting Spain, it also faced a rebellion in Ireland, known as the Nine Years War. The chief executor of Crown authority in the North of Ireland, Hugh O'Neill, 2nd Earl of Tyrone, was declared a traitor in 1595. Seeking to avoid further war, Elizabeth made a series of truces with the earl; but during this period, Spain attempted two further armada expeditions against Northern Europe, although both failed owing to adverse weather conditions. In 1598, O'Neill offered a truce, while benefiting from Spanish aid in the form of arms and training; upon expiry of the truce, the English suffered their worst defeat in Ireland at the Battle of the Yellow Ford.

In 1599, one of the leading members of the navy, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and given command of the largest army ever sent to Ireland, in an attempt to defeat the rebels. Essex's campaign was soon dissipated, and after a private parley with O'Neill — in which the latter sat on horseback in the middle of a river — it became clear that victory was out of reach. In 1600, Essex returned to England without the Queen's permission, where he was punished by the loss of all political offices and of the trade monopolies, which were his principal income.

The succession to the throne had been the ultimate political concern in England since Mary Stuart's arrival in Scotland in the 1560s, and by the end of the century there was only one question in the minds of Elizabeth's advisors: who next? It is in this context that the behaviour of Essex is best explained. In 1601, he led a revolt against the Queen, but popular support was curiously lacking, and the former darling of the masses was executed.

Charles Blount, 8th Baron Mountjoy, a bookish man who liked to wrap himself up in scarves, was sent to Ireland to replace Essex. With ruthless intent, Mountjoy attempted to blockade O'Neill's troops and starve his people into submission; the campaign effectively cast the English strategy of the earlier Desmond Rebellion (1580-83) into a larger theatre, with proportionately greater casualties. In 1601, the Spanish sent over 3,000 troops to aid the Irish, with the justification that their intervention countered Elizabeth's previous aid to the Dutch rebels in the campaign against Spanish rule. After a devastating winter siege, Mountjoy defeated both the Spanish and the Irish forces at the Battle of Kinsale; O'Neill surrendered a few days after Elizabeth's death in 1603, although the fact of her death was concealed from the supplicant rebel with great skill and irony on Mountjoy's part.

During her last ailment, the Queen is reported to have declared that she had sent "wolves, not shepherds, to govern Ireland, for they have left me nothing to govern over but ashes and carcasses" (The Sayings of Queen Elizabeth (1925)). Elizabeth's successor promoted Mountjoy to the office of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, an office in which he showed skill and moderation, until his early death in 1605.


Although the last fifteen years of Elizabeth's reign were darkened by political misfortunes, they were also backlit by the artistic glories of the age of Sidney, Spenser, Marlowe and Shakespeare, by the navigational achievements of Drake and Hawkins, and by the establishment of the first colony in Virginia, named for her. This period had begun with the repulse of the Spanish Armada, which secured Elizabeth's authority as a protestant monarch; it ended with the melancholy of old age and the increasing cynicism of a Court that had grown stale. Yet, Elizabeth contrived some of her greatest speeches in the autumn of her reign and continued to survive, as she had all her life, the continual challenges of those who thought themselves better equipped to rule.

The Queen's health remained good until the autumn of 1602, when a series of losses among her remaining friends appeared to throw her into a melancholy. In her depression, she was lethargic and silent, quite unlike her usual brisk manner. Her courtiers anxiously tried to cheer her, but as she admonished her godson, John Harington, "When thou dost feel creeping time at thy gate, these fooleries will please thee less." She withdrew to Richmond Palace and to her bedchamber, lying on cushions on the floor and taking no nourishment. To Robert Cecil, insisting she go to bed, she flared, "Little man, little man, the word 'must' is not to be used to Princes." Then she fell silent. Her behaviour became eccentric. She stood upright, without relief, for two days, silent, with her finger held in her mouth like a tired child. It was as if she knew that, lying down, she would not rise again.

On March 21, 1603, the Lord Admiral finally persuaded the Queen to go to bed. They had to saw the Coronation Ring off her finger where it had grown into the flesh. She could no longer speak. Robert Cecil later alleged that she wordlessly signed to him that James VI of Scotland - son of Mary of Scotland - would be her heir. On March 24, with the Archbishop of Canterbury on his knees by her bed, praying with her women for her soul, she died, between 2 and 3 AM. Her physician later said it was like watching the falling of "a ripe apple from the tree." Elizabeth had ruled England for more than 44 years. A horseman was already travelling north to Scotland, and James VI, carrying her ring.

The will of Henry VIII had declared that Elizabeth was to be succeeded by the descendants of his younger sister, Mary Tudor, Duchess of Suffolk, rather than by the Scottish descendants of his elder sister, Margaret Tudor. If the will were upheld, then Elizabeth would have been succeeded by Lady Anne Stanley. If, however, the rules of male primogeniture were upheld, the successor would be James VI, King of Scotland. Still other claimants were possible. They included Edward Seymour, Lord Beauchamp of Hache (the illegitimate son of the Lady Catherine Grey) and William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby (Lady Anne Stanley's uncle).

It is sometimes claimed that Elizabeth named James her heir on her deathbed. According to one story, when asked whom she would name her heir, she replied, "Who could that be but my cousin Scotland?" According to another, she said, "Who but a King could succeed a Queen?" Finally, a third legend suggests that she remained silent until her death. There is no evidence to prove any of these tales. In any event, none of the alternative heirs pressed their claims to the throne. James VI was proclaimed King of England as James I a few hours after Elizabeth's death on March 24, 1603; heralding the end of the Tudor Dynasty and the start of the reign of the House of Stuart in the Kingdom of England. James I's proclamation broke precedent because it was issued not by the new sovereign himself but by a Council of Accession, as James was in Scotland at the time. Accession Councils, rather than new sovereigns, continue to issue proclamations in modern practice.


Statue of Elizabeth I at the Church of St Dunstan-in-the-West London
Statue of Elizabeth I at the Church of St Dunstan-in-the-West London

Elizabeth proved to be one of the most popular monarchs in English or British history. She placed seventh in the 100 Greatest Britons poll, which was conducted by the British Broadcasting Corporation in 2002, outranking all other British monarchs. In 2005, in the History Channel documentary Britain's Greatest Monarch, a group of historians and commentators analysed twelve British monarchs[1] and gave them overall marks out of 60 for greatness (they were marked out of 10 in six categories, such as military prowess and legacy). Elizabeth I was the winner, with 48 points.

Many historians, however, have taken a far more dispassionate view of Elizabeth's reign. Though England achieved military victories, Elizabeth was far less pivotal than other monarchs such as Henry V. Elizabeth has also been criticised for her problems in Ireland.

Elizabeth was a successful monarch, helping steady the nation even after inheriting an enormous national debt from her sister Mary. Under her, England managed to avoid a crippling Spanish invasion. Elizabeth was also able to prevent the outbreak of a religious or civil war on English soil. Elizabeth's Accession Day of November each year was celebrated for many years after her death by Pope-burning processions.[6] Her achievements, however, were greatly magnified after her death. She was depicted in later years as a great defender of Protestantism in Europe. In reality, however, she often wavered before coming to the aid of her Protestant allies. As Sir Walter said in relation to her foreign policy, "Her Majesty did all by halves".

Many artists glorified Elizabeth I and masked her age in their portraits. Elizabeth was often painted in rich and stylised gowns. Elizabeth is often shown holding a sieve, a symbol of virginity.

In the arts, Gioacchino Antonio Rossini wrote his first Neapolitan opera on the subject of Elizabeth I, Elisabetta, regina d'Inghiliterra, in 1814-15, ultimately based on a three-volume Gothic romance novel, The Recess, by Sophia Lee. Elizabeth also appears in two operas by Gaetano Donizetti, Maria Stuarda from 1834 and Roberto Devereux from 1837 about her affair with the Earl of Essex. Benjamin Britten wrote an opera, Gloriana, about the relationship between Elizabeth and Lord Essex, composed for the 1953 coronation of Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. Henry Purcell wrote a 1692 semi-opera adaptation of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream called The Fairy Queen, named to honour Elizabeth, one of whose nicknames was the Faere Queene. The musical instrument called the virginal was not named after Elizabeth, as it was known before her time. Queen Elizabeth Hall, opened in 1967 as part of the South Bank Centre arts complex in London, is named after Elizabeth II.

There have been many novels written about Elizabeth. They include: Legacy by Susan Kay, I, Elizabeth by Rosalind Miles, The Virgin's Lover and The Queen's Fool by Philippa Gregory, Queen of This Realm by Jean Plaidy, and Virgin: Prelude to the Throne by Robin Maxwell. Elizabeth's story is spliced with her mother's in Maxwell's book The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn. Maxwell also writes of a fictional child Elizabeth and Dudley had in The Queen's Bastard. In the early 1950's, Margaret Irwin produced a trilogy based on Elizabeth's youth: Young Bess, Elizabeth, Captive Princess and Elizabeth and the Prince of Spain.

A historical fantasy of Elizabeth's life, featuring elven guardians, is recounted in This Scepter'd Isle, Ill Met by Moonlight and By Slanderous Tongues by Mercedes Lackey and Roberta Gellis.

In children's and young adults' fiction, Elizabeth's story is told in Elizabeth I, Red Rose of the House of Tudor, a book in the Royal Diaries series published by Scholastic, and also in Beware, Princess Elizabeth by Carolyn Meyer.

Elizabeth's own writings, which were considerable, were collected and published by the University of Chicago Press as Elizabeth I: Collected Works.

Popular culture

Notable portrayals of Queen Elizabeth in film and television have been plentiful; in fact, she is the most filmed British monarch. Those who have made an impression in the role of Elizabeth in the last 100 years, have included:

Film classics

  • French actress Sarah Bernhardt in Les Amours de la reine Élisabeth (1912)
  • Florence Eldridge in Mary of Scotland (1936)
  • Flora Robson in Fire Over England (1937), The Lion Has Wings (1939) and The Sea Hawk (1940)
  • Bette Davis in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939) and The Virgin Queen (1955)
  • Jean Simmons in Young Bess (1953)
  • Agnes Moorehead in The Story of Mankind (1957)

Contemporary films

Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth I
Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth I
  • Quentin Crisp portrayed Elizabeth I in the 1993 film Orlando. Although he found the role taxing, he won acclaim for his performance.
  • Cate Blanchett received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for her performance in Shekhar Kapur's 1998 film Elizabeth. Its sequel, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, began filming in April 2006.
  • Judi Dench won an Academy Award in 1998 for her supporting performance as the Virgin Queen in the popular Shakespeare in Love, a performance of only eleven minutes (among the shortest ever to win an Oscar). 1998 became the first year in which two actors were nominated for playing the same role -Elizabeth I- in different films.


Glenda Jackson as Elizabeth I
Glenda Jackson as Elizabeth I
  • Glenda Jackson won an Emmy Award portraying Elizabeth I in the BBC drama series Elizabeth R in 1971. It followed Elizabeth from vulnerable princess to ageing queen in 6 ninety minute episodes. Jackson reprised the role for the 1972 historical film Mary Queen of Scots.
  • Miranda Richardson gave a comic interpretation of Elizabeth (known as Queenie) in the second season (Blackadder II) of the 1980s BBC situation comedy Blackadder as well as in the feature-length millennium special Blackadder: Back and Forth.
  • Anne-Marie Duff portrayed the Queen in the BBC's lavish and expensive production The Virgin Queen (2005), featuring state-of-the-art makeup to show the Queen's journey through life.
  • Helen Mirren also won an Emmy Award portraying Elizabeth I in the two-part HBO/Channel 4 drama Elizabeth I in 2005/06. The drama focused on her relationships with the Earl of Leicester, portrayed by Jeremy Irons, and the Earl of Essex, played by Hugh Dancy.

Style and Arms

Elizabeth I used the official style "Elizabeth, by the Grace of God, Queen of England, France and Ireland, Fidei defensor, etc.". Whilst most of the style matched the styles of her predecessors, Elizabeth I was the first to use "etc.". It was inserted into the style with a view to restoring the phrase "of the Church of England and also of Ireland in Earth Supreme Head", which had been added by Henry VIII but later removed by Mary I. The supremacy phrase was never actually restored, and "etc." remained in the style, to be removed only in 1801.

She has been retroactively known as Queen Elizabeth I since the accession of Elizabeth II in 1952. Prior to that time she was referred to as Queen Elizabeth.

Elizabeth's arms were the same as those used by Henry IV: Quarterly, Azure three fleurs-de-lys Or (for France) and Gules three lions passant guardant in pale Or (for England). Whilst her Tudor predecessors had used a gold lion and a red dragon as heraldic supporters, Elizabeth used a gold lion and a gold dragon. Elizabeth adopted one of her mother's mottoes, Semper Eadem ("Always the Same") and also her mother's emblem as her emblem (The eagle on top of a tree trunk).

See also

  • Anglo-Spanish War (1585)
  • Church of England
  • Eighty Years' War
  • English Renaissance
  • List of British monarchs
  • Military Revolution
  • Protestant Reformation
  • Tudor re-conquest of Ireland


  1. ^ Day Keeper journal.
  2. ^ See A. Weir The Children of England, for Elizabeth's comments on the matter and J. Denny Anne Boleyn: A new life of England's tragic queen and D. Starkey Six Wives, for the arguments that Anne and Henry were probably married on 14 November 1532.
  3. ^ E.W. Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn.
  4. ^ R.M. Warnicke's The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn offers a different timetable of events.
  5. ^ K. Lindsey's Divorced, Beheaded, Survived, a more critical interpretation of Henry's actions, arguing that Henry, not Anne's enemies, deliberately orchestrated her death.
  6. ^ G. M. Trevelyan, England under the Stuarts (Routledge, 2002), pp. 393-4.


  • Eakins, Lara E. (2004) Elizabeth I.
  • Thomas, Heather (2004). Elizabeth I.
  • Hasler, P. W., History of Parliament, House of Commons 1558-1603, HMSO 1981. [2]
  • Jokinen, Anniina (2004). Elizabeth I (1533–1603)
  • Perry, Maria. (1990). The Word of a Prince: A Life of Elizabeth I from Contemporary Documents Woodbirdge: Boydell Press.
  • Roanoke Heritage Education Program;


Books by Elizabeth Tudor

  • Elizabeth I: The Collected Works (2002) Eds. Leah S. Marcus, Mary Beth Rose & Janel Mueller ISBN 0-226-50465-4

Non-fiction books about Elizabeth Tudor

  • Elizabeth I (1st edition 1988, 2nd edition 2000) by Christopher Haigh ISBN 0-582-47278-4
  • Queen Elizabeth I: A Biography by J.E. Neale (1957) ISBN 0-89733-362-4
  • Elizabeth I: The Shrewdness of Virtue by Jasper Godwin Ridley (May 1989) ISBN 0-88064-110-X
  • Elizabeth I by Anne Somerset (1991) ISBN 0-385-72157-9.
  • Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne by David Starkey (2000) ISBN 0-06-095951-7
  • Historical Dictionary of the Elizabethan World: Britain, Ireland, Europe, and America by John A. Wagner (July 1999) ISBN 1-57356-200-9
  • The Life of Elizabeth I by Alison Weir (August 1998) ISBN 0-345-40533-1
  • Elizabeth I — A Tudor Queen (Focus on Tudor Life S.), by Liz Goglery (March 2006) ISBN 0-7496-6449-5
  • Elizabeth I CEO: Strategic Lessons from the Leader Who Built an Empire by Alan Axelrod (April 2002) ISBN 0-7352-0357-1
  • Behind the Mask: The Life of Queen Elizabeth I by Jane Resh Thomas (October 1998) ISBN 0-395-69120-6
  • Elizabeth I: Queen Of Tudor England by Myra Weatherly (August 2005)
  • The Virgin Queen: Elizabeth I, Genius of the Golden Age by Christopher Hibbert (May 1992) ISBN 0-201-60817-0
  • All the Queen's Men: The World of Elizabeth I by Peter Brimacombe (July 2000) ISBN 0-312-23251-9
  • Elizabeth Tudor: Portrait of a Queen by Lacey Baldwin Smith (February 1977) ISBN 0-316-80153-4
  • Elizabeth and Leicester by Elizabeth Jenkins (October 2002) ISBN 1-84212-560-5
  • Elizabeth Tudor and Mary Stuart: Two Queens in One Isle by Alison Plowden (October 1984) ISBN 0-389-20518-4
  • Elizabeth and Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens by Jane Dunn (January 2005) ISBN 0-375-70820-0
  • England's Elizabeth: An Afterlife in Fame and Fantasy by Nicola J. Watson and Michael Dobson (November 2002) ISBN 0-19-818377-1
  • Gloriana: The Years of Elizabeth I by Mary Irwin (July 1996) ISBN 0-8317-5612-8
  • The Reign of Elizabeth (1558-1603) by J. B. Black (Second edition, 1959, reprinted 1994) ISBN 0-19-285293-0 (Part of the standard Oxford History of England series, edited by Sir George Clark)
  • The Later Tudors: England 1547-1603 by Penry Williams (May 1998) ISBN 0-19-288044-6 (Part of the New Oxford History of England series, which aims to replace Sir George Clark's Oxford History of England series as the standard history of England)
  • The Long Reign of Elizabeth I by David Hume (The History of England, volume IV, 1754-62, reprinted 1984) ISBN 0-86597-031-9 (David Hume was an 18th-century English philosopher, author of the standard History of England until that of Thomas Babbington Macaulay)
  • Elizabeth and Essex: A Tragic History by Lytton Strachey (2002) ISBN 0-15-602761-5

Elizabeth Tudor in historical fiction

  • Legacy by Susan Kay (1985) ISBN 0-517-56064-X
  • To Shield the Queen, a series of books featuring Ursula Blanchard, Lady in waiting to Elizabeth (8 in all) by Fiona Buckley
  • I, Elizabeth by Rosalind Miles (1994) ISBN 0-385-47160-2
  • Virgin: Prelude to the Throne: by Robin Maxwell (2001) ISBN 0-7432-0485-9
  • The Virgin's Lover by Philippa Gregory (November 2004) ISBN 0-7432-5615-8
  • The Queen's Fool by Philippa Gregory (February 2004) ISBN 0-7432-4607-1
  • My Enemy the Queen by Victoria Holt (December 1982) ISBN 0-449-20239-9
  • Much Suspected of Me by Maureen Peters (July 1991) ISBN 0-7451-1345-1
  • The Queen and the Gypsy by Constance Heaven (July 1991) ISBN 0-7451-1345-1
  • Elizabeth I: Red Rose of the House of Tudor, England, 1544 (The Royal Diaries Series) by Kathryn Lasky (June 1999) Juvenile Fiction (ages 9-12) ISBN 0-590-68484-1
  • Queen Elizabeth I: A Children's Picture Book by Richard Brassey (April 2005) ISBN 1-84255-233-3
  • Queen Elizabeth I: and Her Conquests by Margret Simpson (2006) ISBN 0-439-95575-0
  • Beware, Princess Elizabeth (Young Royals series) by Carolyn Meyer (2001) ISBN 0-15-204556-2

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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