Queen Elizabeth I
According to the history of the monarchy Elizabeth I - the last
Tudor monarch - was born at Greenwich on 7 September 1533, the daughter
of Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn. She was then third in
line behind her Roman Catholic half-sister, Princess Mary. Roman
Catholics, indeed, always considered her illegitimate and she only
narrowly escaped execution in the wake of a failed rebellion against
Queen Mary in 1554.
Elizabeth succeeded to the throne on her half-sister's death in
November 1558. She was very well-educated (fluent in six languages),
and had inherited intelligence, determination and shrewdness from both
parents. She was twenty-five years old, a survivor of scandal and
danger, and considered illegitimate by most Europeans. She inherited a
bankrupt nation, torn by religious discord, a weakened pawn between the
great powers of France and Spain. She was only the third queen to rule
England in her own right; the other two examples, her cousin Lady Jane
Grey and half-sister Mary I, were disastrous.
Elizabeth was thirteen years old when her father died. They were never
particularly close though he treated her with affection on her few
visits to his court. He even occasionally discussed the possibility of
her marriage for, in the 16th century, royal bastards were common and
often used to great advantage in diplomacy. Under the 1536 'Second Act
of Succession', which declared both her and the 19 year old Mary
illegitimate, Parliament gave Henry the ability to determine his
children's status, as well as the actual succession. Typically for
Henry, he simply let both his daughters live as princesses and gave
them precedence over everyone at court except his current wife. But
they had no real claim to the title of 'princess' and were known as
'the lady Elizabeth' and 'the lady Mary'. This was often followed by
the explanatory 'the king's daughter.' It was an awkward situation
which the king saw no reason to resolve. His will did recognize his
daughters' crucial place in the succession. If Edward died without
heirs, Mary would inherit the throne; if Mary died without heirs,
Elizabeth would become queen. He also left them the substantial income
of 3000 pds a year, the same amount for each daughter.
Her 45-year reign is generally considered one of the most glorious in
English history. During it a secure Church of England was established.
Its doctrines were laid down in the 39 Articles of 1563, a compromise
between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.
Elizabeth's reign also saw many brave voyages of discovery, including
those of Francis Drake, Walter Raleigh and Humphrey Gilbert,
particularly to the Americas. These expeditions prepared England for an
age of colonization and trade expansion, which Elizabeth herself
recognized by establishing the East India Company in 1600.
The arts flourished during Elizabeth's reign. Country houses such as
Longleat and Hardwick Hall were built, miniature painting reached its
high point, theatres thrived - the Queen attended the first performance
of Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'. Composers such as William
Byrd and Thomas Tallis worked in Elizabeth's court and at the Chapel
Royal, St. James's Palace.
The image of Elizabeth's reign is one of triumph and success. The Queen
herself was often called 'Gloriana', 'Good Queen Bess' and 'The Virgin
However, the 'Virgin Queen' was presented as a selfless woman who
sacrificed personal happiness for the good of the nation, to which she
was, in essence, 'married'.
Late in her reign, she addressed Parliament in the so-called 'Golden
Speech' of 1601 when she told MPs: 'There is no jewel, be it of never
so high a price, which I set before this jewel; I mean your love.' She
seems to have been very popular with the vast majority of her subjects.
Overall, Elizabeth's always shrewd and, when necessary, decisive
leadership brought successes during a period of great danger both at
home and abroad. She died at Richmond Palace on 24 March 1603, having
become a legend in her lifetime. The date of her accession was a
national holiday for two hundred years.
For more on Queen Elizabeth I and to read her speech at Tilbury