Elizabeth I

(Elizabeth I of England, Queen Bess)


Elizabeth I is one of the most famous monarchs of England, and one of the most curious and complicated women in history. Her long reign was one of the most important transitional periods in English history, and was a relatively peaceful and prosperous one—this in spite of the fact that all of Europe was reeling from the dislocations of the Reformation at the time, and that England's relationship with Spain, the most powerful country in Europe, was highly antagonistic. Although Elizabeth is not generally recognized as a bastion of personal virtue, she shepherded England through a very treacherous period quite effectively.

Elizabeth was the daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn. Her mother fell out of favor with Henry soon after her birth, however, so for her early life Elizabeth was neglected. Henry's sixth wife, Catherine Parr, helped restore her fortunes, and before Henry's death she was named third in line to the throne after her younger brother Edward VI and her older sister Mary I. Although Elizabeth was raised as a protestant, she was too politic to make her personal beliefs a major issue. She therefore remained on reasonably good terms with both the Protestant advisors during her brother's reign, and the Catholic advisors during her sisters reign. She was however, suspected of being involved with a protestant rebellion that occurred early in Mary's reign, and was imprisoned on that account. She denied wrong-doing however, and on Mary's recommendation, was eventually released.

When Elizabeth ascended to the throne, she proceed to govern as a Protestant, but did not actively persecute Catholics, and in some cases allowed Catholics to hold high positions in government. Her toleration of religious differences is one of the finer points of her administration and helped unify the country at a time when civil war would have been disastrous.

In many other matters of administration, Elizabeth played both sides of an issue, and it was often exceedingly difficult to tell where she really stood on a matter. This was probably her most striking personality trait, but her ambivalence often worked out well for England. For example, she kept many of the princes of Europe who courted her on their best behavior for years, while never agreeing to marry of them. She publicly condemned the free-booters who attacked Spanish ships while privately supporting them, and encouraging their enterprises. She supported the war of Independence in the Netherlands without provoking a full-scale war with Spain, and most strikingly, she feigned shock and horror when she found that her rival Mary, Queen of Scots had been executed, and blamed the "miscommunication" on the attendant who had delivered the warrant which she herself had signed.

Instead of marrying, Elizabeth had a series of "favorites" and courtiers who competed for her favor. The most famous of these were Robert Dudley, (a.k.a the Earl of Leicester), Sir Walter Raleigh, and the Earl of Essex. The later two came to bad ends, but all three benefited greatly from her favor during most of their lives. She never, however, granted much power to any of her favorites, and left much of the government of the realm in the capable hands of Lord Cecil. Elizabeth's court was also known for its daring seaman, the most notorious being Sir Francis Drake. Sir Richard Grenville, Sir Martin Frobisher, and Sir Humphrey Gilbert were also important explorers of the Elizabethan age. English literature also thrived under her reign, during which William Shakespeare, Edmund Spenser, and Ben Jonson wrote many of their masterpieces.

Although Elizabeth managed to avoid a war with Spain for the early part of her reign, eventually, the two countries came into open conflict. By the time Anglo Spanish Wars broke out however, England was in a good position to defend itself, and had a great many daring sea-men ready to meet the Spanish in battle at sea. The Great Armada was one of the most important naval battles in history because by destroying almost the entire Spanish fleet, England ended Spain's domination of the seas. This not only freed England from the threat of invasion by Spain, but also opened up the possibility of English settlement in the New Worlds.

The other war of significance near the end of Elizabeth's reign was the Nine Years War in Ireland. England and Ireland had been at war for much of the 16th century, but it was not until the final years of Elizabeth's reign that the Irish overlords were driven entirely out of Ulster. Elizabeth died after a reign of forty-four years, and was succeeded by her grand-nephew, James VI of Scotland (later James I of England).

Key events during the life of Elizabeth I of England:

Elizabeth is born
Execution of Anne of Boleyn
Death of Henry VIII
Death of Edward VI; Mary ascends to the throne
Elizabeth accused of conspiring against Mary
Death of Mary; Elizabeth ascends to the throne
Becomes involved with Robert Dudley
Catholic rebellion under Thomas Howard is put down.
Desmond Rebellion in Ireland
Drake returns form voyage around the world
Elizabeth makes the acquaintance of Sir Walter Raleigh
Founding of Roanoke Colony in Virginia
English army sent to support the Netherlands against Spain.
First Battle of Cadiz
Great Armada
Deaths of sea-farers Hawkins and Drake
Nine Year's War in Ireland
Death of Lord Cecil
Death of Earl of Essex
Death of Queen Elizabeth

Book Links
Queen Elizabeth  by  Jacob Abbott
In the Days of Queen Elizabeth  by  E. M. Tappan

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Long Captivity  in  Mary Queen of Scots  by  Jacob Abbott
Elizabeth of Tudor  in  Historic Girls  by  E. S. Brooks
Rival Queens  in  Stories From English History, Part Second  by  Alfred J. Church
Progress of Liberty in England  in  The Story of Liberty  by  Charles C. Coffin
Heirs of Henry VIII—continued  in  Christian Persecutions  by  Asa Craig
England under Elizabeth  in  The Story of England  by  Samuel B. Harding
Kings and Queens  in  Back Matter  by  books/lord/westminster/_back.html
How the Princess Elizabeth Became a Prisoner  in  Our Island Story  by  H. E. Marshall
How the Imprisoned Princess Became a Queen  in  Our Island Story  by  H. E. Marshall
Golden Days of Good Queen Bess  in  The Awakening of Europe  by  M. B. Synge
Elizabeth Queen of England and Mary Queen of Scots  in  The Tudors and the Stuarts  by  M. B. Synge

Image Links

Elizabeth in the Tower
 in Queen Elizabeth

Elizabeth's Progress to London
 in Queen Elizabeth

Portrait of Queen Elizabeth
 in Queen Elizabeth

Elizabeth in her Last Hours
 in Queen Elizabeth

Portrait of Queen Elizabeth
 in Mary Queen of Scots

I myself will make him a knight.'
 in Thirty More Famous Stories Retold

Without your help, my lords! Without your help!'
 in Historic Girls

Queen Elizabeth
 in Cambridge Historical Reader—Primary

Queen Elizabeth
 in Stories From English History, Part Second

Portrait of Queen Elizabeth
 in The History of Russia

Queen Elizabeth knighting Drake on board the Golden Hind at Deptford
 in The Story of Sir Francis Drake

Queen Elizabeth
 in  The Story of the English

Raleigh and Queen Elizabeth
 in Story of the Thirteen Colonies

Raleigh erects Queen Elizabeth's standard in America
 in Famous Men of Modern Times

Shane O'Neill and his clansmen interviewing Queen Elizabeth
 in Ireland: Peeps at History
Elizabeth, Queen of England
Elizabeth, Queen of England
 in Back Matter
Elizabeth defied by Mary Stuart
Elizabeth defied by Mary Stuart
 in Back Matter

Walter sprang forward and spread his handsome cloak on the muddy spot.
 in The Men Who Found America

Stepping gently on the cloak, she passed on
 in The Story of Sir Walter Raleigh

Quickly pulling off his cloak he threw it upon the ground.
 in Our Island Story

Raleigh and Queen Elizabeth
 in Great Englishmen

Elizabeth receiving the news of her accession
 in The Tudors and the Stuarts

Queen Elizabeth knighting Drake on board the Golden Hind.
 in The Tudors and the Stuarts

Queen Elizabeth at Tilbury
 in The Tudors and the Stuarts

The last moments of Queen Elizabeth
 in The Tudors and the Stuarts

Elizabeth, Queen of England
 in In the Days of Queen Elizabeth

Princess Elizabeth of England
 in In the Days of Queen Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth
 in In the Days of Queen Elizabeth

Elizabeth signing death warrant of Mary Stuart.
 in In the Days of Queen Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth at Greenwich
 in In the Days of Queen Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth
 in European Hero Stories

Queen Elizabeth Carried in State
 in European Hero Stories

Short Biography
Henry VIII King of England famous for marrying and dispensing with six wives.
Anne Boleyn Second wife of Henry VIII. Executed when she fell from grace.
Mary Tudor Eldest daughter of Henry VIII. Tried to restore Catholicism to England.
Robert Dudley Favorite courtier of Queen Elizabeth. Granted many favors, but not much power.
Francis Drake Greatest sea adventurer. Sailed around the world, harassed Spanish ships. Fought in Armada.
Walter Raleigh Courtier of Queen Elizabeth. Explorer, mastermind of the Jamestown colony in Virginia.
Earl of Essex Favorite of Queen Elizabeth. Involved in a conspiracy and died in prison.
Philip Sidney Favorite of Queen Elizabeth's court. Was a poet, soldier, courtier, and adventurer.
Edmund Spenser Elizabethan era poet. Wrote The Fairy Queen.
Richard Grenville One of Elizabeth's famous sailors. Involved in War with Spain and settlement of colonies. Died defending the Revenge.
William Shakespeare Greatest dramatist in the history of the English language.
William Cecil Minister of Queen Elizabeth throughout her entire reign.