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 Elizabeth the Great, as The Virgin Queen or as Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth I was the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty, succeeding her half-sister, Mary I. She reigned over a period of deep religious division in English history.
Elizabeth's reign is referred to as the Elizabethan era and was marked by several changes in English culture. Both William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe flourished during her reign. Francis Drake became the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe. Francis Bacon laid out many of his philosophical and political views during Elizabeth's reign. English colonisation of North America began under Sir Walter Raleigh. Elizabeth was a short-tempered, sometimes indecisive ruler. Like her father Henry VIII, she was a writer and poet. She granted Royal Charters to several famous organisations, including Trinity College, Dublin (1592) and the British East India Company (1600).
The reign was marked by stinginess in regard to 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 for Elizabeth I, the "Virgin Queen."
Elizabeth was the first daughter of Henry VIII by his second wife, Anne Boleyn. Henry was previously married to Catherine of Aragon, but she failed to provide him with a male heir. Only one of her children, the Princess Mary, survived infancy. When Henry married Anne, Parliament declared Mary illegitimate and removed her from the line of succession. Consequently, upon her birth, the Princess Elizabeth was heiress presumptive to the Throne.
Henry, however, was displeased with the Princess Elizabeth's birth (which occurred in the Palace of Placentia), as he had hoped for a son. After Queen Anne also failed to produce the male heir he desired, Henry had her executed on charges of treason and witchcraft. The Princess Elizabeth was declared illegitimate, and lost the title "Princess," becoming a mere "Lady." (It is said that she remarked to her governor, "How haps it, Governor, yesterday my Lady Princess and today but my Lady Elizabeth?") The issue of Henry's next marriage, to Jane Seymour, were put next in the line of succession. Queen Jane bore Henry a son, the Prince Edward, but then died.
After Queen Jane, Henry married three further women. His marriage with Anne of Cleves was annulled shortly after it had been contracted, perhaps because Henry found his wife aesthetically displeasing. The next Queen, Catherine Howard, was Anne Boleyn's cousin, and took an interest in the young Lady Elizabeth's life. Queen Catherine, however, was later executed for adultery.
Henry's last wife, Catherine Parr, helped reconcile the King with the Lady Elizabeth and the Lady Mary. The two were reinstated in the line of succession after the Prince Edward, Duke of Cornwall under the Act of Succession 1544. The Act, however, did not officially recognise them as legitimate children. Furthermore, the Act allowed Henry to further determine the line of succession in his will.
Henry VIII died in 1547, to be succeeded by Edward VI. Catherine Parr married Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley (Queen Jane's brother and Edward VI's uncle), and took the Lady Elizabeth into her household. There, she received her education under Roger Ascham; she came to speak six languages: her native English, as well as French, Italian, Spanish, Greek and Latin. Under her stepmother and Ascham, the Lady Elizabeth was raised a Protestant.
Whilst she lived with her stepmother, Lord Seymour may have sexually abused her; perhaps under her stepmother's direction, the Lady Elizabeth later left the household. Upon the death of his wife, Lord Seymour attempted to marry the Lady Elizabeth. If a marriage occurred without the permission of the Council of Regency (which supervised the realm whilst Edward still remained a child), then the Lady Elizabeth would have been deprived of her position in the line of succession and Lord Seymour would have been guilty of treason. The marriage never took place, and after Lord Seymour attempted to seize power from his brother, Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, the Lord Protector and head of the Council of Regency, he was executed.
As long as her Protestant half-brother remained on the Throne, the Lady Elizabeth's own position remained secure. In 1553, however, Edward died at the age of fifteen. Edward had penned a will which purported to abrogate Henry's; it, contravening the Act of Succession 1544, excluded both the Lady Mary and the Lady Elizabeth, and declared that the King's heiress was the Lady Jane Grey. The Lady Jane ascended the Throne, but less than two weeks later, she was deposed. Armed with popular support, Mary rode triumphantly into London, her half-sister, the Lady Elizabeth, at her side.
Once Mary I contracted an unpopular marriage with the Spanish prince Philip (later King Philip II), she worried that the people might depose her in order to put the Lady Elizabeth on the Throne. Wyatt's Rebellion in 1554 sought to prevent Mary from marrying Philip; after its failure, the Lady Elizabeth was imprisoned in the Tower of London. The Spanish demanded the Lady Elizabeth's execution, but few Englishmen desired to put a member of the popular Tudor dynasty to death. Mary attempted to remove the Lady Elizabeth from the line of succession, but Parliament would not hear of such a proposal. After two months in the Tower, the Lady Elizabeth was put under house arrest; by the end of the year, when Mary was falsely rumoured to be pregnant, she was allowed to return to court at Philip's behest. Philip worried that his wife might die in childbirth. In case she did, Philip wanted her to be succeeded by the Lady Elizabeth, rather than her next-closest relative, Mary Stuart (later Mary I, Queen of Scots), who was engaged to marry the Dauphin, or heir-apparent to the French Throne. Philip even wanted to cause war with France by marrying the Lady Elizabeth off to Emmanuel Philibert, Duke of Savoy, who was at the time engaged in conflict with the French. The Lady Elizabeth, however, refused to cooperate with these plans for marriage.
For the remainder of her reign, the staunchly Catholic Mary persecuted Protestants. She attempted to convert her half-sister, who, though feigning to be Catholic, actually retained her former religion.
Elizabeth I was crowned in 1559.In 1558, upon Mary's demise, Elizabeth ascended the Throne. Elizabeth was much more popular than her sister Mary; it is said that upon the latter's death, the people rejoiced in the streets, much to the repulsion of the Spanish delegation in London.
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.
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 grown under Mary I, but was curbed 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; anyone who refused was liable to be punished.
Many bishops were unwilling to conform the Elizabethan religious policy, and were consequently ejected from the ecclesiastical bench, and replaced by those more inclined to 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; as one writer notes, the prevailing theme was "Ireland for the English." The enforcement of English customs in the nation proved unpopular with its inhabitants, as did the Queen's religious policies.
Conflict with France and Scotland
Soon after her accession, many questioned whom Elizabeth would marry. Her reason for never eventually marrying is unclear. She may have felt repulsed by the mistreatment of Henry VIII's wives. Alternatively, she may have been scarred by her relationship with Lord Seymour. Contemporary gossip was that she had suffered from a physical defect that she was afraid to reveal. It is also possible that Elizabeth did not wish to share the power of the Crown with another, as her predecessor Mary I had done with Philip II, King of Spain.
The Queen was opposed by her cousin, the Catholic Mary I, 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 was represented by her mother, Mary of Guise, who attempted to increase French influence in Britain. After Mary of Guise allowed the French army to establish fortifications in Scotland, Scottish Lords, aided by Elizabeth, deposed her. Under pressure from the English, Mary I'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 the island of Britain.
Upon the death of her husband Francis II, Mary 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. Elizabeth, however, did not give up her claim to the French Crown, which had been maintained since the reign of Edward III during the fourteenth century, and was not renounced until the reign of George III during the nineteenth century.
Plots and rebellions
By 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 so as 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 (the Lady Jane Grey' 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, the Lady Catherine Grey had married without the Queen's consent and the Puritan Lord Huntingdon was unwilling to accept the Crown.
Mary I had suffered her own troubles in Scotland. Elizabeth had suggested that if she married the Protestant Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester (who was the Queen's favourite and may have been engaged in a relationship with her), then Elizabeth would "proceed to the inquisition of her right and title to be our next cousin and heir." She 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, the Lady 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. 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 of the aforementioned options.
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 was to aid the Catholic Rebellion by excommunicating Elizabeth and declaring her deposed in a Papal Bull. The Bull of Deposition, however, arrived in 1570, 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 privateer Francis Drake 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 Duke of Norfolk was also involved in the first of these plots, the Ridolfi Plot of 1570. 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), and afterwards with his younger brother François, Duke of Anjou and Alençon. During the latter's visit in 1581, Elizabeth is said to have "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 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 rebellion 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 King William I, England began to side openly with the Netherlands, who were at the time rebelling against Spanish rule. 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 was accused of complicity in the plot and executed in 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 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 conflict, meanwhile, reached a stalemate after Philip II died later in the year.
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 rebellion in Ireland. 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; Lord Tyrone surrendered a few days after Elizabeth's death.
Elizabeth I fell ill in February 1603, suffereing 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 has 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 the 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 (the 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 (becoming James I in England) 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.
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, Defender of the Faith, 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.
Eliabeth 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.
Bette Davis played Elizabeth opposite Errol Flynn's Lord Essex in the highly fictional Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939). Davis reprised her role in The Virgin Queen (1955). Glenda Jackson portrayed her in the BBC's blockbuster serial, Elizabeth R, and in the film Mary, Queen of Scots. In the popular historic fictional comedy series Blackadder II (1986), Elizabeth was portrayed by Miranda Richardson. The homosexual pioneer Quentin Crisp played her in the 1993 film Orlando, which is based on a novel with the same name by Virginia Woolf.
In 1998, Cate Blanchett was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of a young Queen in the movie Elizabeth. In the same year, Dame Judi Dench portrayed an aging Elizabeth in the movie Shakespeare in Love; she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, and the movie won the Academy Award for Best Picture.