Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I in her coronation robes, patterned with Tudor Roses, c. 1600.

Born: 7th September 1533, Palace of Placentia, Greenwich

Daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn

Reigned: 17th November 1558 – 24th March 1603

Died: 24th March 1603, Richmond Palace Surrey

Buried: Westminster Abbey, 28th April 1603

Elizabeth I can be argued as the Greatest monarch in British history. She dominated European royal affairs for half a century using the skills of diplomacy and statesmanship which paved the way for future Queens. One of her main successes was making England the focus of the modern trading world with the help from Drake and Raleigh. This time was known as ‘Elizabethan Age’

Elizabeth’s birth was a disappointment for both her parents who greatly desired a son. Nevertheless she was made Henry’s heir despite having an older half-sister Mary as she had her legitimacy removed after her parents annulment. Elizabeth was named after her two Grandmother’s, Elizabeth of York and Elizabeth Howard, both strong willed and influential women. When Princess Elizabeth was only two and a half, her mother was executed for treason. She was subsequently declared illegitimate like Mary and her position with her family was strongly questioned.

Princess Elizabeth by William Scrots, 1546.

Elizabeth became Queen in 1558 after her half sister Mary’s death. She was 25-years-old and had experienced more hardship than most people twice her age. The execution of her mother and her legitimacy being questioned; her adolescence had been marred by royal advisors using their favour to get to her, which resulted in sexual harassment by Thomas Seymour when she was only a teenager. And to top this off, her own sister imprisoning her for two months as traitor in the Tower of London.  All these events shaped her into the capable monarch she would become.

One of her main successes as Queen was her clever appointment of advisors, the best being Sir William Cecil as Secretary of State. He was not the most ambitious or charismatic but was wise and loyal and led the creation of a protestant British Isles. This was carefully done, after the religious catastrophes of her siblings reigns, Elizabeth knew that caution and tolerance were essential for a Queen to be accepted. 

However, Elizabeth could not allow anyone to undermined her, even her own cousin Mary, Queen of Scots who also happened to be a Catholic. Cecil’s main direct advice was for Elizabeth to act and she agreed, reluctantly signing the warrant for the deposed Scottish Queen’s death sentence. Mary’s young son James would be Elizabeth’s heir and unite England and Scotland as a Protestant nation. 

The question of an heir has constantly dominated the lives of monarchs throughout history, and for Elizabeth the question of marriage was debated and contested by many for years. As much as it was her main insecurity, it was also her trump-card, used skillfully to maintain the upper-hand when dealing with statesmen. Perhaps it was seeing her father’s six messy marriages that prevented her, or most likely her sister Mary’s disastrous marriage to Philip of Spain, who was determined to wield more control in England than his blood born wife. Either way, Elizabeth was very much aware of the power struggle she would fight if she did marry. The intrigue over who would she marry remained one of her strongest assets as she remained the Virgin Queen. Elizabeth personified this through her choice of dress, wearing extravagant ruffs and corsets dripping in pearls, the symbol of virginity.

armada-portrait-elizabeth-1-min (2)
Portrait commemorating the defeat of the Spanish Armada, 1588.

Having viewed her sex as a weakness, history has come to greatly admire and revere the Tudor Queen who bravely led her nation to victory during the Spanish Armada of 1588. Elizabeth’s impassioned speech at Tilbury to her forces has to be one of the greatest ever made by a monarch.

I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm

Elizabeth died at the age of 69 in March 1603. She had reigned for 45 years. This was almost 10 years loner than her father had, and 20 years longer than her Grandfather who had started the Tudor dynasty.  Elizabeth’s death ended the dynasty on a high which was not matched until another Queen of England would die having reigned for a considerable time, 300 years later. 

Elizabeth is buried with her sister in Westminster Abbey.

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