Elizabeth I of England

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Elizabeth I
Queen of England and Ireland
Template:House of Tudor

Elizabeth I (7 September, 153324 March, 1603) Queen of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death. Sometimes referred to as The Virgin Queen (since she never married), Gloriana, or Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth I was the fifth and final monarch of the Tudor dynasty, having succeeded her half-sister, Mary I. She reigned during a period of turmoil in English history.

Elizabeth's reign is referred to as the Elizabethan era or the Golden Age and was marked by increases in English power and influence worldwide. 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 colonisation of North America took place under Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Humphrey Gilbert. 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 founding member of the United States, was named after Elizabeth I, the "Virgin Queen."


Early life

Elizabeth was the only surviving child of King Henry VIII by his second wife, Anne Boleyn. Henry's first marriage to Queen Catharine had produced one heir, Mary. Henry and Anne had been pursuing an affair for many years, probably since 1527 but due to the impediment of Henry's existing marriage and Papal opposition to its disolution, they were not married until a secret ceremony late in 1532. This set the scene for the development of state-controlled Church detached from papal authority by Henry, who had once been invested by the Pope with the title Defender of the Faith years earlier for his fervent defence of Catholicism. Henry's insistence for a strange mixture of personal hedonism, cussedness and dynastic concerns on obtaining a dissolution of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon led him to precipitated a schism with the Catholic Church.

Anne was crowned queen in the early summer of 1533, by which time she was pregnant with her first child. This child, born in the Palace of Placentia in Greenwich, on September 7, 1533, was the first stepping stone on Anne's path to ruin in that it was a girl. The child was then named Elizabeth, ostensibly for her two grandmothers, Elizabeth of York and Lady Elizabeth Boleyn. The child Elizabeth became the heiress presumptive to the throne of England as her sister, Mary, had been displaced from the succession and declared illegitimate because of Henry's divorce. Henry was desperate for a son so as to ensure the Tudor succession, but Anne was still young and the son would have to wait.

Her only surviving paternal aunt was the dowager Queen of Scotland, Margaret Tudor. Her maternal aunt was Lady Mary Boleyn, who rumour suggested had been the king's mistress several years before he met Anne. The princess's maternal uncle was George Boleyn, created Viscount Rochford, a particularly enthusiastic supporter of the new Protestant religion.

Elizabeth's first years were surrounded by every luxury, and her mother was particularly indulgent towards her. This happiness ended just before Elizabeth's third birthday in 1536 when Queen Anne was beheaded on charges of treason, adultery, incest and witchcraft. These charges, possibly false (see the article on Anne Boleyn for the various theories on why she was beheaded) were in essence of a sexual nature. Henry showed no grief at his wife's death, having already lost sexual interest in her. He married one of her Maids of Honor, Jane Seymour, eleven days after Anne's death. Elizabeth's uncle was also beheaded, only two days before Queen Anne. He was charged with adultery and incest, as was Queen Anne. Elizabeth was declared illegitimate, losing the title of Princess Royal, and was thereafter addressed as Lady Elizabeth. She lived in exile from her father during the years that he married his succession of wives.

Jane Seymour died in 1537 after she had borne Henry the much sought son, Edward VI. She was replaced three years later by a German princess, Anne of Cleves, who Henry quickly divorced. He then married a young Catholic aristocrat named Lady Catherine Howard, who was a cousin of Elizabeth's Boleyn relatives. Catherine was particularly kind to the young Elizabeth, but after only two years of marriage she too was executed on charges of adultery. Elizabeth was eight years old at this time and, after hearing of Catherine's death, she is reported to have said, "I will never marry."

Elizabeth's first governess was Lady Margaret Bryan, whom Elizabeth called "Muggie". At the age of four, Elizabeth had a new governess, Katherine Champernowne, who was often referred to as "Kat". Champernowne developed a close relationship with Elizabeth and remained her confidante and good friend for life. She had been appointed to Elizabeth's household before Anne Boleyn's execution. The Protestant Matthew Parker, her mother's favorite clergyman, also took a special interest in Elizabeth's well-being, particularly since a fearful Anne had entrusted her daughter's spiritual welfare to Parker before her death. Later, Parker would become the first Archbishop of Canterbury after Elizabeth became queen in 1558. Another companion, to whom she referred with affection throughout her life, was the Irishman Thomas Butler, later 3rd Earl of Ormonde (ob.1615), who was related to the Boleyn family.

In terms of personality, Elizabeth inherited many traits from both her mother and her father: being glamorous, flirtatious, and charismatic. Henry was, in his youth a vital and attractive man, a notorious womanizer and Anne was known as a beauty and flirt. Elizabeth inherited her mother's delicate bone structure, onyx black eyes, and petite figure. She inherited from her father her auburn hair, passion for learning that was evidenced by a vital and gifted intellect, as well as his ability to sustain common popular support and a shared passion and vigor for ruling the people of England.

Henry's last wife Catherine Parr was a kindly, sensible and mature woman who helped reconcile the King with Elizabeth, and under the Act of Succession 1544 Elizabeth and her half-sister, Mary, daughter of Catharine of Aragon, Henry's first wife, were reinstated in the line of succession after Prince Edward.

Henry VIII died in 1547 and was succeeded by Edward VI. Catherine Parr, newly widowed, then married Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley, Edward VI's uncle, the brother of Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, who assumed effective control as Lord Protector of England. Thomas Seymour and Catherine Parr took Elizabeth into their household, where there was a lively intellectual culture. There Elizabeth furthered her education under the humanist Roger Ascham. She came to speak and read seven languages: her native English, as well as French, Italian, Spanish, Greek, and Latin. She had an outstanding intellect, like her father and mother. 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 and having left a will which purported to supersede his father's.

Disregarding the Act of Succession 1544, his will excluded both Mary and Elizabeth from succeeding to the throne and declared Lady Jane Grey, ward of Thomas Seymour, to be his heiress. The plot was formed by Seymour and John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland, whose son Guilford was married to Jane. Lady Jane ascended to the throne but was deposed nine days later. Backed by popular support, Mary rode triumphantly into London, her half-sister Elizabeth at her side.

Mary I contracted a marriage with King Philip II of Spain, 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 suspected involvement in it. There were demands for Elizabeth's execution, but Mary did not wish to put her sister to death - it would have set a worrying precedent for regicide. Mary did attempt to remove Elizabeth from the line of succession, but Parliament could not be persuded to allow it. After two months in the Tower, Elizabeth was released but kept under house arrest in the care of Sir Henry Bedingfield at Hatfield; 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. If Mary died in childbirth, he preferred that Lady Elizabeth, under his tutelage, succeed rather than Mary I of Scotland (who was Henry VIII's grand niece by his sister's marriage to the King of Scotland) who was next in line. Mary, Queen of Scotland was openly hostile to Spanish interests because she was of French descent, her mother being Mary of Guise. For the remainder of her reign, Mary Tudor, who was devoutly Catholic, devoted her energies to reviving traditional Catholicism in England, and gave free reign to the persecution of Protestants by the usual means of the day. Later government propaganda was to make of this the image of "Bloody Mary", though she caused the death of barely a few hundred people as against the estimated 75,000 for which Elizabeth was later responsible. Mary pressured Elizabeth to take up the Catholic faith, but the princess, while appearing to conform skilfully avoided giving away her personal position.

Early reign

In 1558, upon Mary I's death, Elizabeth ascended to the throne. During her procession to the Tower of London, she was welcomed whole-heartedly by the common people, who performed plays and read poetry exclaiming her beauty and intelligence. She was crowned on January 15 1559. There was no Archbishop of Canterbury at the time; Reginald Pole, the last Catholic holder of the office, had died only a few hours after Queen Mary. Because the 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, who alone of the Bishops was willing to crown her. After the rite of coronation Oglethorpe and the other Catholic Bishops, who had been present, withdrew. The Eucharist was celebrated the Queen's personal chaplain, substantially according to the Roman rites but with minor vriants ordered by Elizabeth, a clear sign of her intention to continue her father's and her brother's interference in religious matters. Elizabeth I's coronation was the last one during which the Latin service was used; future coronations used an 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.

One of the most important concerns during Elizabeth's early reign was religion; she relied primarily on Sir William Cecil, later Lord Burghly, for advice on the matter. Her first act, 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 execution for treason.

With one exception, the bishops were unwilling to conform to the Elizabethan religious policy. They were removed from the ecclesiastical bench, imprisoned and replaced by appointees who would submit to the Queen's policies. 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 silenced. Elizabeth's chief advisors were Sir William Cecil, with the title of Secretary of State, and for a time Sir Nicholas Bacon, as 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." Ireland, another country under England's rule, never benefited from such a philosophy. The enforcement of English customs in an effort to eradicate Catholicism from Ireland met with strong popular resistence.

Soon after her accession, many posed the question as to whom Elizabeth would marry. Her reasons for never marrying were many. It has been suggested she may have felt repulsed by the mistreatment of Henry VIII's wives, her mother's death always in her mind or perhaps she was psychologically scarred by the rumoured attentions she suffered from Lord Thomas Seymour, while was in his household as a child. Contemporary gossip was that she had suffered from a physical defect that she was afraid to reveal, perhaps scarring from smallpox, although this seems unlikely as she did not contract smallpox until several years into her reign. There were also contemporary rumors that she would only marry one man, Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, with whom she was deeply in love, but with whom her council refused to sanction a marriage, partly due to his family's participation in the Lady Jane Grey affair, and partly due to what was viewed in some circles as the suspicious death of his first wife. A few historians have speculated that she was perhaps homosexual, but these have generally been dismissed. It is also possible that Elizabeth did not wish to share the power of the Crown with another, or given the unstable political situation, she feared an armed struggle among aristocratic factions, if she married someone not seen as equally favorable to all factions. Or, she could have remained unmarried and instead used the hint of marriage to her country's benefit when dealing with powerful suitors from Europe. Further, 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 only hers until she was married.

Conflict with France and Scotland

The Queen found a rival for her throne 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 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 with 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, which her sister Mary Tudor had all but lost during her reign, after the defeat of an English expedition at Le Havre. She did not, however, 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 fell 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 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 of Scots 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, and Mary then married the alleged murderer of Lord Darnley, 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.

The succession question was becoming a heated issue in Parliament and 30 MPs were assigned to a special committee to debate the matter. 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". Bell would revisit this matter in 1575, as Speaker of the House of Commons, where he humbly petitioned Elizabeth "to make the kingdom further happy in her marriage, so that they might hope for a continual succession of benefits in her posterity", this event having been preceded by the last viable English heir to the throne, Catherine Grey passing on in 1568. Catherine had left a son, but he was deemed illegitimate. Catherine's 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 was 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 would create political problems; 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 excommunicated Elizabeth for apostasy and for her persecution of Catholics; he declared 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.

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 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. The Duke planned to wed Mary and overthrow Elizabeth. 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 Lord Burghley; a shrewd 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 many 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 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 the Desmond Rebellions in Ireland; but by 1583, the rebellion had been put down after a campaign waged by fire, sword and famine, in which a large part of the population of the western part of the province of Munster appears to have 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).

In the same year Philip II of Spain and the Netherlands was crowned king of Portugal, thereby increasing his 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 Bond 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. Having put the court on full proof of the charge, Mary Stuart was convicted of complicity in the plot on production of evidence produced by one of the earliest non-trivial code-breaking endeavours. It is likely, however, that Mary was framed. When Mary's enemies realized that deciphering the code did not provide enough proof, the decipherer was instructed to add statements that were not in the original coded document. The result was the "proof" used to convict her. Because this "proof" and conviction were presented to Elizabeth, she had no choice but to allow Mary’s execution to proceed. It was therefore against Elizabeth's wishes that the execution occurred at Fotheringhay Castle on 8 February, 1587.

Elizabeth had stalled on the question of Mary's execution until this final, undeniable, evidence because she feared that establishing the principle that a monarch theoretically chosen by God could be tried—much less executed—for temporal crimes could lead to the end of the monarchy. In this she was to be proven correct and it was less than fifty years after her own death that Charles the First was executed by a parliament of "commoners".

File:Elizabeth I (Armada Portrait).jpg
The above portrait was made in approximately 1588 to commemorate the defeat of the Spanish Armada (depicted in the background). Elizabeth I's international power is reflected 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."

The Spanish attempt was defeated by the English fleet under Charles Howard, 2nd Baron Howard of Effingham and Sir Francis Drake, aided by bad weather. The Armada was forced to return to Spain, with appalling losses on the north and west coasts of Scotland and Ireland; the victory tremendously increased Elizabeth's popularity.

The battle, however, was not decisive, and the war continued in the Netherlands, where the Dutch Estates were seeking independence from Spain. The English government was also concerned with the conflict in France and the claim to the throne of a protestant heir, Henry (later Henry IV). 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. Emboldened by the defeat of the ominious Armada, a massive English expedition in 1589, the Drake-Norris Expedition, was repulsed by Spain, with great losses.

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 aging Sir John Hawkins and Sir Francis 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 several 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, commenting with double-edged irony that, "Paris is worth a mass;" the Holy League, which opposed him, had been demolished, and Elizabeth's diplomacy was beset with new problems. At the same time, the Spanish had landed a considerable force of tercios in Brittany, which had 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, 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 came to nothing, and the English settlement of North America was stalled, until James I negotiated peace in the Treaty of London, 1604.

Religious Persecution

The Elizabethan religious "settlement" much vaunted by an older historiography calls for a more objective reconsideration. For while the times did not contemplate religious liberty after the manner of modern Western society, Elizabeth's public order and religious policies went well beyond traditional state policy in England. In the religious sphere Elizabeth's government, with the undoubted personal support of Elizabeth herself, successively introduced harsh restruictions on civil liberties which have not entirely been removed even in the third millennium. The issue is not Elizabeth's personal religious beliefs, to which modern opinion would judge her to be entitled, but her resolute restriction of the religious beliefs of others in the interests of her own political strategies.

These restrictive measures began with the enactment of the two Statutes of Supremacy and Uniformity by which Elizabeth, in 1559, initiated her religious settlement; and her legislation falls into three divisions corresponding to three definitely marked periods:

  • 1558-1570 when the Government trusted to the policy of enforcing conformity by fines and deprivations;
  • 1570-1580 from the date of the excommunication to the time when the Government responded to Catholic initiatives in organizing a clandestine clergy in the form of the "seminary priests" and Jesuits;
  • from 1580 to the end of the reign.

To the first period belong the Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity (I Eliz. 1 and 2) and the amending statute (5 Eliz. c. 1). By the Act of Supremacy all who maintained the spiritual or ecclesiastical authority of any foreign prelate were to forfeit all goods and chattels, both real and personal, and all benefices for the first offence, or in case the value of these was below 20 pounds, to be imprisoned for one year; they were liable to the forfeitures of Praemunire for the second offence and to the penalties of high treason for the third offence. These penalties of Praemunire were: exclusion from the sovereign's protection, forfeiture of all lands and goods, arrest to answer to the Sovereign and Council. The penalties assigned for high treason were:

  • drawing, hanging and quartering;
  • corruption of blood, by which heirs became incapable of inheriting honours and offices; and, lastly
  • forfeiture of all property.

These first statutes were made stricter by the amending act (5 Eliz. c.1) which declared that to maintain the authority of the pope in any way was punish able by penalties of Praemunire for the first offence and of high treason, though without corruption of blood, for the second. All who refused the Oath of Supremacy were subjected to the like penalties. The Act of Uniformity, primarily designed to secure outward conformity in the use of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, was in effect a penal statute, as it punished all clerics who used any other service by deprivation and imprisonment, and everyone who refused to attend the Anglican service by a fine of twelve pence for each ommission. It should be remembered that the amount must be greatly multiplied to give their modern equivalent.

Coming to the legislation of the second period, there are two Acts directed against Pope Pius V's Bull of Excommunication.:

13 Eliz. c.1, which, among other enactments, made it high treason to affirm that the queen ought not to enjoy the Crown, or to declare her to be a heretic or schismatic, and 13 Eliz. c. 2, which made it high treason to put into effect any papal Bull of absolution, to absolve or reconcile any person to the Catholic Church, or to be so absolved or reconciled, or to procure or publish any papal Bull or writing whatsoever. The penalties of Praemunire were enacted against all who brought into England or who gave to others Agnus Dei or articles blessed by the pope or by any one through faculties from him.

A third act, 13 Eliz. c. 3, which was designed to stop Catholics from taking refuge abroad, declared that any subject departing the realm without the Queen's licence, and not returning within six months, should forfeit the profits of his lands during life and all his goods and chattels. The third and most severe group of statutes begins with the "Act to retain the Queen's Majesty's subjects in their obedience" (23 Eliz. c. 1), passed in 1581. This made it high treason to reconcile anyone or to be reconciled to "the Romish religion", prohibited Mass under penalty of a fine of two hundred marks and imprisonment for one year for the celebrant, and a fine of one hundred marks and the same imprisonment for those who heard the Mass. This act also increased the penalty for not attending the Anglican service to the sum of twenty pounds a month, or imprisonment till the fine be paid, or till the offender went to the Protestant Church. A further penalty of ten pounds a month was inflicted on anyone keeping a schoolmaster who did not attend the Protestant service. The schoolmaster himself was to be imprisoned for one year.

The climax of Elizabeth's religious persecution of Catholics was reached in 1585 by the "Act against Jesuits, Seminary priests and other such like disobedient persons" (27 Eliz. c. 2). This statute, under which most of the English martyrs suffered, made it high treason for any Jesuit or any seminary priest to be in England at all, and felony for any one to harbour or relieve them. The penalties of Praemunire were imposed on all who sent assistance to the seminaries abroad, and a fine of 100 pounds for each offence on those who sent their children overseas without the royal licence.

So far as Catholic priests were concerned, the effect of all this legislation may be summed up as follows: For any priest ordained before the accession of Elizabeth it was high treason after 1563 to maintain the authority of the pope for the second time, or to refuse the oath of supremacy for the second time; after 1571, to receive or use any Bull or form of reconciliation; after 1581, to absolve or reconcile anyone to the Church or to be absolved or reconciled. For "seminary priests" it was high treason to be in England at all after l585. Under this statute, over 150 Catholics died on the scaffold between 1581 and 1603, exclusive of Erizabeth's earlier victims.

The last of Elizabeth's laws was the "Act for the better discovery of wicked and seditious persons terming themselves Catholics, but being rebellious and traitorous subjects" (35 Eliz. c. 2). Its effect was to prohibit all recusants from removing more than five miles from their place of abode, and to order all persons suspected of being Jesuits or seminary priests, and not answering satisfactorily, to be imprisoned till they did so. The hopes of the Catholics on the accession of James I were soon dispelled, and during his reign (1603-25) five heavily oppressive measures were added to the statute-book. In the first year of his reign there was passed the "Act for the due execution of the statue against Jesuits, seminary priests, etc." (I Jac. 1, iv) by which all Elizabeth's statutes were confirmed with additional aggravations. Thus persons going beyond seas to any "Jesuit seminary" were rendered incapable of purchasing or retaining any lands or goods in England; the penalty of 100 pounds on everyone sending a child or ward out of the realm, which had been enacted only for Elizabeth's reign, was now made perpetual; and Catholic schoolmasters not holding a licence from the Anglican bishop of the diocese were fined forty shillings a day, as were their employers. One slight relief was obtained in the exemption of one-third of the estate of a convicted recusant from liabilities to penalties; but against this must be set the provision that retained the remaining two-thirds after the owner's death till all his previous fines had been paid. Even then these two-thirds were only to be restored to the heir provided he was not himself a recusant. It was to be many years before these measures were relaxed.

Later years

In 1598, Elizabeth's chief advisor, Lord Burghley, died. His political mantle was inherited by his son, Robert Cecil, who had been appointed Secretary of State in 1590. Elizabeth's popularity declined, partly because of her practice of granting royal monopolies, the abolition of which Parliament continued to demand. In her Golden Speech Elizabeth promised reforms, and shortly thereafter twelve royal monopolies were ended by royal proclamation; nevertheless, the reforms were superficial, and the granting of royal monopolies continued.

During the Anglo-Spanish war Elizabeth also faced a rebellion in Ireland (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, but Elizabeth was determined to minimise expenditure from her treasury and accordingly authorised a series of truces with the earl. At the same time, Spain attempted two further armada expeditions against northern Europe, although both failed owing to adverse weather conditions. In 1598, Tyrone offered a truce, while benefitting from Spanish aid in the form of arms and training; upon expiration of the truce, the English suffered their worst defeat in Ireland at the Battle of the Yellow Ford.

In 1599, one of the queen's leading noblemen, 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 Tyrone—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, an offence for which he was punished by the loss of all political offices and of the trade monopolies, his principal source of income.

The succession to the throne had been the ultimate political concern in England since Mary Stuart's arrival in Scotland in the 1560's, 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 was sent to Ireland to replace Essex. With ruthless intent, Mountjoy attempted to blockade Tyrone'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 3,500 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; Tyrone 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) p.?). 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.


File:Statue Of Queen Elizabeth I.jpg
Statue Of Queen Elizabeth I at The Church Of St Dunstans In The West London

Elizabeth I fell ill in February 1603, suffering from frailty and insomnia. After a period of distressing remorse at the course of her life, she died on March 24 at Richmond Palace, aged 69; at the time she was the oldest English Sovereign ever to have reigned. This mark was not surpassed until George II turned 70 in 1753; he would die in his seventy-seventh year in 1760. Elizabeth was buried in Westminster Abbey, immediately next to her half-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. Had the will been upheld, Elizabeth would have been succeeded by Lady Anne Stanley. Alternative successors included James VI, King of Scots, first in line by the rules of male primogeniture, and potential claimants such as 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 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 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.


Elizabeth proved to be posthumously 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. She also ranked #94 on Michael H. Hart's list of the most influential figures in history.

Her achievements, however, were greatly magnified during her life and after her death by a careful propaganda operation conducted by the English Protestant establishment. Yet, though depicted in later years as a great defender of Protestantism in Europe, she often in reality wavered before coming to the aid of Protestant allies. As Sir Walter said in relation to her foreign policy, "Her Majesty did all by halves." In the end her policies were not so much motived by religious principle as by pragmatic self-interest.

Elizabeth did, however, help to steady the nation even after inheriting an enormous national debt from her sister Mary. Under her, England managed to avoid a crippling Spanish invasion. She was also able to prevent the outbreak of a religious civil war on English soil, though at the price of instituting a police state. She has also been presented as an emblematic figure for women, on the view that all she did was often done in the face of an all-male council and parliament which was often openly hostile to the idea of a female monarch. In reality she in many ways sold out on her feminity to manipulate men and took little heed of feelings when it came to political expediency.

Later Representation

Already in her lifetime, many artists glorified Elizabeth I and masked her age in their portraits. She was often painted in rich and stylised gowns, and often depicted with an ermine or holding a sieve, which are both symbols of virginity.

Benjamin Britten wrote an opera, Gloriana, about the relationship between Elizabeth and Lord Essex, composed for the coronation of Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom.

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

In recent years, the story of Elizabeth has been filmed more than ever.

There have been many novels written about Elizabeth. They include: 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. Decades ago, Margaret Irwin produced a trilogy based on Elizabeth's youth: Young Bess, Elizabeth, Captive Princess and Elizabeth and the Prince of Spain. Lytton Strachey's "Elizabeth and Essex", is a reliable romantic reconstruction of the Queen's last political amour. Most fictional accounts of the reign "share too much" of the authors' private enthusiasms.

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.

The graphic novel Marvel 1602 by Neil Gaiman is set near the end of Elizabeth's reign.

Style and arms

File:QEI arms.jpg
Coat of Arms of Elizabeth I

Like her predecessors since Henry VIII, Elizabeth used the style "Majesty," as well as "Highness," and "Grace." "Majesty," which Henry VIII was the first to use 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.

She has been retroactively known as Queen Elizabeth I since the accession of Elizabeth II in 1952. Prior to that time she was generally referred to as Queen Elizabeth, though there were Queen consorts called 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 also adopted one of her mother's mottos, Semper Eadem ("Always the Same").

See also


  • Eakins, Lara E. (2004) Elizabeth I.
  • Haigh, Christopher (1988) Elizabeth I. London: Longman.
  • Jokinen, Anniina (2004). Elizabeth I (1533–1603).
  • Neale, J. E.. (1934). Queen Elizabeth I: A Biography London: Jonathan Cape.
  • Perry, Maria. (1990). The Word of a Prince: A Life of Elizabeth I from Contemporary Documents Woodbirdge: Boydell Press.
  • Ridley, Jasper Godwin (1987). Elizabeth I. London: Constable.
  • Somerset, Anne (1991). Elizabeth I. London: Knopf. ISBN 0385721579.
  • Starkey, David (2000). Elizabeth : The Struggle for the Throne. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
  • Thomas, Heather (2004). Elizabeth I.
  • Weir, Alison. (1998). The Life of Elizabeth I. (1st American edition) New York: Ballantine Books.
  • The History of Parliament, House of commons 1558-1603, Sir Robert Bell, Hasler, P.W., p.421-424, HMSO 1981
  • Mannings, Speakers, p.244 p. 1850, Sir Robert Bell
  • Elizabeth I : Red Rose of the House of Tudor by Kathryn Lasky
  • Richard Bagwell, Ireland under the Tudors 3 vols. (London, 1885–1890)
  • John O'Donovan (ed.) Annals of Ireland by the Four Masters (1851).
  • Calendar of State Papers: Carew MSS. 6 vols (London, 1867-1873).
  • Calendar of State Papers: Ireland (London)
  • Nicholas Canny The Elizabethan Conquest of Ireland (Dublin, 1976); Kingdom and Colony (2002).
  • Steven G. Ellis Tudor Ireland (London, 1985) ISBN 0582493412.
  • Hiram Morgan Tyrone's War (1995).
  • Standish O'Grady (ed.) "Pacata Hibernia" 2 vols. (London, 1896).
  • Cyril Falls Elizabeth's Irish Wars (1950; reprint London, 1996) ISBN 0094772207.

External links

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