Queen Elizabeth I

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Queen Elizabeth I - The Virgin Queen edit

Elizabeth I, "Darnley Portrait", c. 1575

Elizabeth I, otherwise known as "The Virgin Queen", Queen of England and Ireland, born on Sunday the 7th of September 1533, and, like all the Tudors except Henry VII, at Greenwich Palace, was the only surviving child of W:Henry VIII by his second queen, W:Anne Boleyn. Both her parents were bitterly disappointed that she was not a son and heir. She represented from her birth the principle of the religious revolt from Rome initiated by her father. Elizabeth was the second of three children born to Henry the VIII. Her elder sister Mary, was born to Catherine of Aragon on February 18, 1516. Elizabeth was given precedence over Mary at the time of her birth, and Mary never forgave the infant's offense. Even this dubious advantage only lasted three years until Elizabeth's mother was beheaded. Her younger brother Edward the VI, was born to born to Jane Seymour October 12, 1537. Edward was crowned king on 28th of January 1546 at the ago of nine. His reign lasted only seven years.

After the death of Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth thus lost all hereditary title to the throne, and her legitimacy never legally established; but after Jane Seymour's death and the birth of Edward VI, she was by act of parliament placed next in order of the succession after Edward and Mary and their issue. This statutory arrangement was confirmed by the will which Henry VIII who was empowered by statute to make. Queen Catherine Parr introduced some humanity into Henry's household, and Edward and Elizabeth were well and happily educated together, principally at old Hatfield House.

When Henry's death called Edward VI away to greater dignities, and Elizabeth was left in the care of Catherine Parr. After Henry's death she married in haste Thomas, Lord Seymour, brother of the protector Somerset. This unprincipled adventurer, even before Catherine's death in September 1548, paid indelicate attentions to Elizabeth. Any attempt to marry her without the council's leave would have been treason on his part and would have deprived Elizabeth of her contingent right to the succession. Accordingly, when Seymour's other misbehavior led to his arrest, his relations with Elizabeth were made the subject of a very trying investigation, which gave Elizabeth her first lessons in the arts of self-defense. She proved equal to the occasion, partly because she was in all probability innocent of anything worse than a qualified acquiescence in Seymour's improprieties and a girlish admiration for his handsome face.

For the rest of Edward's reign Elizabeth's life was less tempestuous. She was hardly thought of as the ideal Puritan maiden, and was regarded as a foil to her stubborn Catholic sister. She thus avoided the enmity and the still more dangerous favor of Northumberland. For a time she was safe enough, although she would not renounce her Protestantism until Catholicism had been made the law of the land.

It was not so much Elizabeth's religion as her nearness to the throne and the circumstances of her birth that endangered her life in Mary's reign. While Mary was popular Elizabeth was safe; but as soon as the Spanish marriage project had turned away English hearts Elizabeth inevitably became the centre of plots and the hope of the plotters. Had not Lady Jane still been alive to take off the edge of Mary's indignation and suspicion Elizabeth might have paid forfeit for Wyat's rebellion with her life instead of imprisonment. She may have had interviews with French agents who helped to foment the insurrection; but she was strong and wary enough to avoid Henry II's toils; for even in case of success she would have been the French king's puppet, placed on the throne, if at all, merely to keep it warm for Henry's prospective daughter-in-law, Mary Stuart. This did not make Mary Tudor any more friendly, and the Spaniards cried loud and long for Elizabeth's execution.

She was sent to the Tower in March 1554, but few Englishmen were fanatic enough to want a Tudor beheaded. The great nobles, the Howards, and Gardiner would not hear of such a proposal; and all the efforts of the court throughout Mary's reign failed to induce parliament to listen to the suggestion that Elizabeth should be deprived of her legal right to the succession. After two months in the Tower she was transferred to Sir Henry Bedingfield's charge at Woodstock, and at Christmas, when the realm had been reconciled to Rome and Mary was expecting issue, Elizabeth was once more received at court. In the autumn of 1555 she went down to Hatfield, where she spent most of the rest of Mary's reign, enjoying the lessons of Ascham, and planting trees which still survive.

She had only to bide her time while Mary made straight her successor's path by uprooting whatever affection the English people had for the Catholic faith, Roman jurisdiction and Spanish control. The Protestant martyrs and Calais between them removed all the alternatives to an insular national English policy in church and in state; and no sovereign was better qualified to lead such a cause than the queen who ascended the throne amid universal, and the Spaniards thought indecent, rejoicings at Mary's death on the 17th of November 1558. "Mere English" she boasted of being, and after Englishmen's recent experience there was no surer title to popular favor. No sovereign since Harold had been so purely English in blood; her nearest foreign ancestor was Catherine of France, the widow of Henry V, and no English king or queen was more superbly insular in character or in policy.

She was the unmistakable child of the age so far as Englishmen shared in its characteristics, for with her English aims she combined some Italian methods and ideas. "An Englishman Italianate," ran the current jingle, "is a devil incarnate," and Elizabeth was well versed in Italian scholarship and statecraft. It is clear enough that, although, like her father, she was fond of ritual, she was absolutely devoid of the religious temperament, and that her ecclesiastical preferences were dictated by political considerations. She was sincere enough in her dislike of Roman jurisdiction and of Calvinism; a daughter of Anne Boleyn could have little affection for a system which made her a bastard, and all monarchs agreed at heart with James I's aphorism about "no bishop, no king." It was convenient, too, to profess Lutheran sympathies, for Lutheranism was now an established, monarchical and comparatively respectable religion, very different from the Calvinism against which monarchs directed the Counter-reformation from political motives. Lutheran dogma, however, had few adherents in England, though its political theory coincided with that of Anglicanism in the 16th century. The compromise that resulted from these conflicting forces suited Elizabeth very well; she had little dislike of Catholics who repudiated the papacy, but she was forced to rely mainly on Protestants, and had little respect for any form of ecclesiastical self-government. She valued uniformity in religion, not as a safeguard against heresy, but as a guarantee of the unity of the state.

Mary Stuart (Mary Queen of Scots) as a constant thorn in Elizabeth's side. The Catholic Queen was a cousin to Elizabeth on her father's side, and her Catholic opposers felt that Mary Stuart was the true heir to Mary Tudor's throne. The reason given was that Elizabeth had been declared illegitimate, however the main reason for the Catholic outcry was to restore England to the Catholic church. After many ill-conceived marriages, decisions, and alliances, Mary Stuart was forced to abdicate her Scottish crown and flee to England. For 20 years she tried to gain assistance from Elizabeth in reclaiming her crown, all the while being accused of treason against the queen (real or imagined). In 1587, enough damning evidence against Mary was discovered to seal her fate with the executioner.

It was not personal enmity on Elizabeth's part that brought Mary to the block. Parliament had long been ferociously demanding Mary's execution, not because she was guilty but because she was dangerous to the public peace. She alone could have given the Spanish Armada any real chance of success. Elizabeth resisted the demand, not from compassion or qualms of conscience, but because she dreaded the responsibility for Mary's death. She wished Paulet would manage the business on his own account, and when at last her signature was extorted she made a scapegoat of her secretary Davison who had the warrant executed.

The outlines of her foreign policy are sketched elsewhere, and her courtships were diplomatic. Contemporary gossip said that she was debarred from matrimony by a physical defect; and her cry when she heard that Mary queen of Scots had given birth to a son is the most womanly thing recorded of Elizabeth. Her features were handsome, and in spite of her many suitors no man lost his head over Elizabeth. She was far too 'masculine' in mind and temperament, and her extravagant addiction to the outward trappings of femininity was probably due to the absence or atrophy of deeper feminine instincts. Howevershe had many flirtations, and she carried some of them to lengths that were considered scandalous. She also had to convince other courts that she could and would marry if the provocation were sufficient. She could not marry Philip II, but she held out hopes to more than one of his Austrian cousins whenever France or Mary Stuart seemed to threaten. Later in her life she encouraged two French princes, but nothing became of it. Her other suitors were less important, except Leicester, who appealed to the least intellectual side of Elizabeth and was always a cause of distraction in her policy and her ministers.

Elizabeth was terribly handicapped by having no heirs of her body and no obvious English successor. In addition to the issue of succession, arose the problems resulting from the exuberant aggressiveness of England, which she could not, and perhaps did not want to, repress. Religion was not really the cause of her external dangers, but no state could long tolerate the affronts which English seamen offered Spain. The common view that the British Empire has been won by purely defensive action is not tenable, and from the beginning of her reign Englishmen had taken the offensive, partly from religious but also from other motives. They were determined to break up the Spanish monopoly in the new world, and in the pursuit of this endeavor they were led to challenge Spain in the old. For nearly thirty years Philip put up with the capture of his treasure-ships, the raiding of his colonies and the open assistance rendered to his rebels. Only when he had reached the conclusion that his power would never be secure in the Netherlands or the New World until W:England was conquered, did he dispatch the Spanish Armada. Elizabeth delayed the breach as long as she could, probably because she knew that war meant taxation, and that taxation was the most prolific parent of revolt.

With the defeat of the Spanish Armada Elizabeth's work was done, and during the last fifteen years of her reign she got more out of touch with her people. That period was one of gradual transition to the conditions of Stuart times; during it practically every claim was put forward that was made under the first two Stuarts either on behalf of parliament or the prerogative, and Elizabeth's attitude towards the Puritans was hardly distinguishable from James I's. But her past was in her favor, and so were her sex and her Tudor tact, which checked the growth of discontent and made Essex's rebellion a ridiculous fiasco. He was the last and the most willful but perhaps the best of her favorites, and his tragic fate deepened the gloom of her closing years. The loneliness of a queen who had no husband or children and no relatives to mention must at all times have been oppressive; it grew desolating in old age after the deaths of Leicester, Walsingham, Burghley and Essex. Elizabeth died, the last of her race, on the 24th of March 1603.

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