Elizabeth I (7 September 1533–24 March 1603) was Queen of England and Queen of Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death. Sometimes referred to as The Virgin Queen or Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth I was the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty, having succeeded her half-sister, Mary I. She reigned during a period of great religious turmoil in English history.
Elizabeth's reign is referred to as the Elizabethan era or the Golden Age and was marked by many changes in English culture. Playwrights William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, and Ben Jonson all flourished during this era. In addition, Francis Drake became the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe; Francis Bacon laid out his philosophical and political views; and English colonization of North America took place under Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Humphrey Gilbert. Elizabeth was a short-tempered and sometimes indecisive ruler. 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 organizations, including Trinity College, Dublin (1592) and the British East India Company (1600).
The reign was marked by prudence in the granting of honours and dignities. Only eight peerage dignities, one earldom and seven baronies in the Peerage of England, and one barony in the Peerage of Ireland, were created during Elizabeth's reign. Elizabeth also reduced the number of Privy Counsellors from thirty-nine to nineteen, and later to fourteen.
Virginia, an English colony in North America and afterwards a member of the United States, was named after Elizabeth I, the "Virgin Queen".
Elizabeth was the only surviving child of King Henry VIII of England by his second wife, Anne Boleyn, Marchioness of Pembroke. She was born in Greenwich Palace, on September 7, 1533. Henry would have preferred a son to ensure the Tudor succession, but upon her birth, Elizabeth was the heiress presumptive to the throne of England. After Queen Anne failed to produce a male heir, Henry had her executed on false charges of treason (adultery against the King was considered treason) and witchcraft. Elizabeth was three years old at that time was also declared illegitimate and lost the title of princess. Thereafter she was addressed as Lady Elizabeth and lived in exile from her father as he married his succession of wives. Henry's last wife Catherine Parr helped reconcile the King with Elizabeth, and she, along with her half-sister, Mary, daughter of Catherine of Aragon, was reinstated in the line of succession after Prince Edward under the Act of Succession 1544.
Elizabeth's first governess was Lady Bryan, a baroness whom Elizabeth called "Muggie". At the age of four, Elizabeth had a new governess, Catherine Chapernowne, who was often referred to as "Kat". Chapernowne developed a close relationship with Elizabeth and remained her confidante and good friend for life.
In terms of personality, Elizabeth was far more like her mother than her father: neurotic, glamorous, flirtatious, charismatic and religiously tolerant. Elizabeth also inherited her mother's delicate bone structure, physique and facial features. Luckily, she also inherited her mother's onyx black eyes and petite girth and not her father's enormous weight. However, from her father she did inherit her red hair.
Henry VIII died in 1547 and was succeeded by Edward VI. Catherine Parr married Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley, Edward VI's uncle, and took Elizabeth into her household. There, Elizabeth received her education under Roger Ascham. She came to speak or 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, having left a will which purported to supersede his father's. Contravening the Act of Succession 1544, it excluded both Mary and Elizabeth from succeeding to the throne and declared Lady Jane Grey to be his heiress. 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.
Once Mary I contracted an unpopular marriage with the Spanish prince Philip, later King Philip II of Spain, she worried that the people might depose her and put Elizabeth on the throne in her stead. Wyatt's Rebellion in 1554 sought to prevent Mary from marrying Philip. After its failure, Elizabeth was imprisoned in the Tower of London. The Spanish demanded Elizabeth's execution, but few Englishmen wished to put a member of the popular Tudor dynasty to death. Mary attempted to remove Elizabeth from the line of succession, but Parliament would not allow it. After two months in the Tower, Elizabeth was put under house arrest under the guard of Sir Henry Bedingfield; by the end of that year, when Mary was falsely rumoured to be pregnant, Elizabeth was allowed to return to court at Philip's behest, as he worried that his wife might die in childbirth, in which case he preferred Lady Elizabeth to succeed rather than her next-closest relative, Mary Stuart, later Mary Queen of Scots. For the remainder of her reign, the staunchly Catholic Mary persecuted Protestants. She attempted to convert Elizabeth, who pretended to be Roman Catholic but actually retained her Protestant beliefs.
In 1558, upon Mary I's death, Elizabeth ascended the throne. She was far more popular than her sister, and it is said that upon Mary's death, the people rejoiced in the streets.
Elizabeth was crowned on 15 January 1559. There was no Archbishop of Canterbury at the time; Reginald Cardinal Pole, the last Roman Catholic holder of the office, had died shortly after Mary I. Since the senior bishops declined to participate in the coronation (since Elizabeth was illegitimate under both canon law and statute and since she was a Protestant), the relatively unimportant Owen Oglethorpe, Bishop of Carlisle had to crown her. The communion was celebrated not by Oglethorpe, but by the Queen's personal chaplain, to avoid the usage of the Roman Catholic rites. Elizabeth I's coronation was the last one during which the Latin service was used; future coronations used the English service. She later persuaded her mother's chaplain, Matthew Parker, to become Archbishop. He only accepted out of loyalty to Anne Boleyn's memory, since he found working with Elizabeth difficult at times.
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 required the use of the Protestant Book of Common Prayer in church services. Papal control over the Church of England 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. The Act of Supremacy 1559 required 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. These were removed from the ecclesiastical bench and replaced by appointees who would submit to the Queen's supremacy. She also appointed an entirely new Privy Council, removing many Roman 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, a Secretary of State, and Sir Nicholas Bacon, the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal.
Elizabeth also reduced Spanish influence in England. Though Philip II aided her in ending the Italian Wars with the Peace of Cateau Cambrésis, Elizabeth remained independent in her diplomacy. 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.
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. Alternatively, she may have been psychologically scarred by her rumoured childhood relationship with Lord Seymour. Contemporary gossip was that she had suffered from a physical defect that she was afraid to reveal, perhaps scarring from smallpox. It is also possible that Elizabeth did not wish to share the power of the Crown with another.
Conflict with France and Scotland
The Queen found a dangerous rival in her cousin, the Catholic Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots and wife of the French King Francis II. In 1559, Mary had declared herself Queen of England, supported by the French. In Scotland, Mary Stuart's mother, Mary of Guise attempted to increase French influence in Britain by allowing French army fortifications in Scotland. A group of Scottish lords allied to Elizabeth deposed Mary of Guise. Under pressure from the English, Mary's representatives signed the Treaty of Edinburgh, under which French troops were to be withdrawn from Scotland. Though Mary vehemently refused to ratify the treaty, it had the desired effect, and the French threat was removed from Britain.
Upon the death of her husband Francis II, Mary Stuart returned to Scotland. In France, meanwhile, Catholic persecution of 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.
Plots and rebellions
At the end of 1562, Elizabeth had fallen ill with smallpox, but later recovered. In 1563, alarmed by the Queen's near-fatal illness, Parliament demanded 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, but Elizabeth still refused.
Different lines of succession were considered during Elizabeth's reign. One possible line was that of the Margaret Tudor, Henry VIII's elder sister; it 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 Stuart refused, and in 1565 married a Catholic, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. Lord Darnley was murdered in 1567 after the couple had several disputes, and Mary then married the alleged murderer, James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell. 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 a son, but he was deemed illegitimate. 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; forcefully 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.
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 could hardly continue her policy of religious toleration. She instead began the persecution of her religious enemies, leading to various Roman Catholic conspiracies to remove her from the Throne.
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 Francis Drake and John Hawkins in 1568, Elizabeth ordered the seizure of a Spanish treasure ship in 1569. Philip was already involved in putting down a rebellion in the 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. In 1572, Lord 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. St Bartholomew's Day Massacre, in which thousands of French Protestants 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 is in any case said to have preferred men to women, returned to France and died in 1584 before he could be married.
Conflict with Spain and Ireland
In 1580, Pope Gregory XIII sent a force to aid Desmond Rebellions in Ireland, but failed; the rebellion itself was put down by 1583. Meanwhile, however, Philip II conquered 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, 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. Despite the Act further scheme against Elizabeth, the Babington Plot, was made, but was revealed by Sir Francis Walsingham, who headed the English spy network. Mary Stuart was accused of complicity in the plot and executed at Fotheringhay Castle on 8 February 1587.
In her will, Mary had left Philip her claim to the English Throne; Philip began making plans for an invasion. In April 1587, Sir Francis Drake burnt 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 hopes of helping the Spanish army under the Duke of Parma in the Netherlands cross the English Channel and invade England. Elizabeth attempted to encourage her troops with a notable speech, known as the Speech to the Troops at Tilbury. 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".
The Spanish plan was foiled by the English fleet under Charles Howard, 2nd Baron Howard of Effingham and Sir Francis Drake. The Armada was forced to return to Spain; the victory tremendously increased Elizabeth's popularity. The battle, however, was not decisive, and war with Spain continued. The war was also waged in the Netherlands, which continued to fight for its independence from Spain, and France, where a Protestant, Henry IV, claimed the Throne. Elizabeth sent 20,000 troops and subsidies of over £300,000 to Henry IV, and 8,000 troops and subsidies of over £1,000,000 to the Dutch. Although Henry broke his promises and converted to Catholicism, Elizabeth remained beside him.
English privateers continued attacking 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 both Sir John Hawkins and Sir Francis Drake. Also in 1595, a Spanish force under Don Carlos de Amesquita landed in Cornwall. They burnt some villages, seized supplies and then returned.
In 1596, England finally withdrew from France, with Henry IV firmly in control, and the Holy League, which opposed him, demolished. Elizabeth sent a further 2,000 troops to France after the Spanish took Calais. England attempted to attack the Azores in 1597, but their plan was foiled. Further battles continued until 1598, when France and Spain finally made peace. The Anglo-Spanish War, meanwhile, reached a stalemate after Philip II died later in the year. In part because of the war, Raleigh and Gilbert's overseas colonisation attempts failed, and North American settlement thus did not proceed until James I negotiated peace in the Treaty of London, 1604.
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. Parliament continued to demand the abolition of monopolies. 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. Hugh O'Neill, 2nd Earl of Tyrone had proclaimed himself King, and was declared a traitor in 1595. Seeking to avoid further war, Elizabeth made a truce with Lord Tyrone, who promptly sought Spanish aid in his rebellion. Spain attempted to send two further Armadas, but both expeditions were foiled. In 1598, Lord Tyrone offered a truce; upon its expiry, the English faced their worst defeat in the Irish rebellion at the Battle of the Yellow Ford.
One of the leading members of the navy, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and put in charge of the attempt to crush the Irish rebellion in 1599. He failed utterly, and returned to England without the Queen's permission in 1600, and was punished by the loss of all political offices. In 1601, Lord Essex led a revolt against the Queen, but was executed. Charles Blount, 8th Baron Mountjoy was sent to Ireland to replace Lord Essex. Lord Mountjoy attempted to blockade Lord Tyrone's troops and starve them into submission. The Spanish, meanwhile, sent over 3,000 troops to aid the Irish. The Spanish felt that they were justified in intervening, since Elizabeth had previously aided the Dutch rebellion against Spain. Lord Mountjoy defeated both the Spanish and the Irish troops at the Battle of Kinsale; Lord Tyrone surrendered a few days after Elizabeth's death.
Elizabeth I fell ill in February 1603, suffering from frailty and insomnia. She died on 24 March at Richmond Palace . At the age of sixty-nine, she was the oldest English Sovereign ever to reign; the mark was not surpassed until George II died in his seventy-seventh year in 1760. Elizabeth was buried in Westminster Abbey, immediately next to her sister Mary I. The Latin inscription on their tomb translates to "Partners both in Throne and grave, here rest we two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary, in the hope of one resurrection".
The will of Henry VIII 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 Scots. Still other claimants were possible. They included Edward Seymour, Baron Beauchamp (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, the only viable successor, was proclaimed King of England as James I a few hours after Elizabeth's death. James I's proclamation broke precedent because it was issued not by the new Sovereign him or herself, 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.
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.
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 supporting the English slave trade. Her problems in Ireland also serve to blemish her record.
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. 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.
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 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) and The Lion Has Wings (1939), Bette Davis in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939) and The Virgin Queen (1955) and Jean Simmons in Young Bess (1953). In recent years, the story of Elizabeth has been filmed more than ever. In 1998 Australian actress Cate Blanchett made her big break and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for her critically acclaimed performance in Elizabeth. The same year British actress Judi Dench won an Academy Award for her supporting performance as the Virgin Queen in the popular Shakespeare in Love, a performance of only eleven minutes (the shortest ever to win an Oscar). In television, the actresses Glenda Jackson (in the BBC drama series Elizabeth R in 1971, and the 1972 historical film Mary Queen of Scots) and Miranda Richardson (in the 1986 classic BBC sitcom Blackadder ~ a comic interpretation of Elizabeth known fondly as Queenie) both played the role with consummate talent, creating memorable (if wildly contrasting) portraits of Elizabeth I.
Style and arms
Like her predecessors since Henry VIII, Elizabeth used the style "Majesty", as well as "Highness" and "Grace". "Majesty", which Henry VIII first used on a consistent basis, did not become exclusive until the reign of Elizabeth's successor, James I.
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.
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 also adopted one of her mother's mottoes, Semper Eadem ("Always the Same").
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