Heritage > Rulers

Elizabeth I, 'The Virgin Queen' 1558-1603

Elizabeth was born in 1533, was the half-sister of her predecessor Mary and daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.

Elizabeth's childhood was distressing, with her mother beheaded when she was three. She stayed at court, but was continually mocked with regards to her position as a bastard.

She was cautious in her politics before she was Queen, telling Mary that she was a Catholic, although when Elizabeth came to the throne, she appointed both Catholics and Protestants.

The politics of the time drove the Roman Catholic cause into the area of treason. The claimants to the throne were Catholic, Philip II of Spain (the husband of Queen Mary) and Mary Queen of Scots (Great grand-daughter of Henry VII).

Mary Queen of Scots immediately made her claim for the throne on the grounds of Elizabeth's illegitimacy. When Mary was expelled from Scotland, she took refuge with the English Catholics who wanted her immediate succession, as did many of the other European countries, purely for political reasons.

Many Catholics began to become involved in conspiracy against Elizabeth, and she promptly dealt with the offenders, as had her half- sister Mary. Elizabeth was also monitoring the Catholics in Ireland and was just as severe in her punishemnts of them.

Elizabeth was not a particularly good leader, her main weapon or asset that she could offer to anyone was herself, and she spent a great deal of time offering and then withdrawing herself to the four Kings of Europe.

She forced her navy to run itself down to the point where the victories gained by excellent seamanship could not be exploited. Her policies were mainly based on keeping peace, but she was involved in expeditionary wars with France and the Netherlands.

Elizabeth is always remembered for having Mary Queen of Scots beheaded, a move, which at the time was fairly popular, that is not remembered kindly.

Elizabeth's reign lasted 44 years, which was too long for a monarch like her. She spent time at home healing sectarian wounds and stabilising the country's economy.

Elizabeth never married and is often called the 'Virgin Queen'. By creating a cult of personality around herself she strengthened her personal rule. The nickname 'Good Queen Bess' is a reflection of her popularity with her subjects and the wealth which England enjoyed under her rule.

Whilst Elizabeth was still Princess, she was proposed to by Thomas Seymour, brother of Jane Seymour (Henry VIII's third wife). In the year of Henry VIII death his widow Catherine Parr married Thomas Seymour who was then the Lord Admiral of England. When Catherine died in child birth in September 1548, Thomas Seymour again proposed to the Elizabeth. He was executed in January 1549.

The plays of William Shakespeare, the poetry of Nicholas Hilliard are among the artistic highlights of the Elizabethan era. Spenser's The Faerie Queen is a well-known allegorical poem about Elizabeth.

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