Queen Elizabeth I of England

(b. 1533, r. 1558 - d. 1603)


Often considered by many historians as England’s greatest monarch, Queen Elizabeth I ruled during an age that saw the expansion of the British monarchy to North America through voyages of discovery by men such as Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh. It witnessed the accomplishments of  playwrights such as William Shakespeare and would change history by defeating  the Spanish Armada. Although her reign saw many accomplishments that pushed Britain forward as one of the leading economic and military powers in the world, it was also made up of plots and assassinations that were intended for or falsely accused the queen and controversies, such as her claims of being a virgin and the amount of influence that her privy council had over her.

Elizabeth's birth dramatically altered the course of English history.  Although King Henry VIII of the Tudor dynastyhad an illegitimate son, he needed an heir from a queen to properly continue the dynasty.  His first child to survive was, Mary, born to Catherine of Aragon, Henry’s first wife. After it was clear that Catherine could give him no more children, he ended his marriage, which provoked the English Reformation.  Henry married the already pregnant Anne Boleyn, who gave birth to Elizabeth on September 7, 1533.  At the age of two she became motherless as the accusations of adultery, which were drummed up by Henry, sent her mother to the guillotine.  She had a younger brother, Edward by Henry’s third wife, Jane Seymour, and who would follow his father as king.  With two older siblings, no one at the time expected Elizabeth to matter much. 

Still, being the daughter of a king, Elizabeth had educational opportunities that were not available for most women of her age. At the hands of private tutors, she learned six languages: French, Spanish, Greek, Italian, Latin and Flemish along with her native English, studied theology, astronomy, physics, and other subjects in which she performed remarkably.    

After the early death of her brother Edward VI, her sister Mary inherited the throne. “Bloody” Mary, as she would become known, was a Roman Catholic and her reign saw the persecution of many Protestants. In an attempt to dethrone Mary, Protestants led by Thomas Wyatt started a rebellion. Mary insisted that her sister was active in the uprising and had her imprisoned in the Tower of London. After a few treacherous months she was released and sent away to an estate under the constant watch of her sister. However, Elizabeth never gave in to her sister’s demand of converting to Roman Catholicism.   

In 1558, Mary died and Elizabeth became queen. Faced with a country that was reeling from religious differences, Elizabeth once again made the Church of England the official religion, although retaining some Roman Catholic traditions in the church by issuing the 39 Articles of 1563, which was designed to prevent the country from further turmoil. Her tolerance of Roman Catholicism would wane in her later years as assassination plots were uncovered that originated in at the hands of Roman Catholics that sought to reestablish a Roman Catholic queen. Pope Pius V excommunicated her in 1570 in hope of an uprising that would allow a Roman Catholic to once again restore the faith to England. During the 1580’s her tolerance ran out and sent  many to their death.                                                      

The figure in the conspiracies that was to take Elizabeth’s position as monarch was Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots. After the suspicious death of her second husband, Lord Darnley, in 1566, Mary, along with the Earl of Bothwell whom she had grown very close to had been accused of assassinating the King. She was forced to leave Scotland and sought the protection of Elizabeth in England. During a nearly twenty-year stay, she was more than once suspected of conspiring to overthrow Elizabeth, but Elizabeth refused to have her executed. Only after her role in the Babington Plot was uncovered did Elizabeth send her to her death in 1587.   

In Parliament, Elizabeth ruled through her Privy Council. This included men such as the earl of Leicester, Lord Burghley, and later the Earl of Essex. They were her council in times of decision and had influence over the queen. Throughout her reign, Elizabeth was pressured to marry by Parliament in hope of producing an heir to the crown. Although she never married, Elizabeth received proposals from many prominent men in Europe. Throughout her life she defended her virginity, but rumors circulated that she was in love with Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester. After the suspicious death of his wife, Amy, Elizabeth was accused of plotting to kill her in order to be with her childhood love. The two never married, although Leicester would wed her cousin several years after the death of his wife.   

In 1588, Spain attempted to invade England, partially prompted by the execution of Mary Stuart. During their invasion, the grand armada engaged the Royal Navy. After bad weather and a series of defeats, the armada was repulsed and England emerged as the prominent naval force in the world. England also expanded its commerce and companies like the British East India Company were established to enhance trade             

On March 24, 1603, Elizabeth died as the oldest monarch to rule England until King George III. Her era saw the advancement of England as a military might, restored the Anglican faith, and ruled her country effectively through council for 45 years in a time when women were still being looked upon as being inferior to men.. Although plots and conspiracies plagued her reign, her unification of the England is the reason for the label that is commonly attached to her as England’s greatest monarch. 


 Annotated Bibliography         

Anonymous. “History of the Monarchy- Elizabeth I <http://www.royal.gov.uk/output/Page46.asp> (22 December 2005). 
This article highlights Elizabeth’s life and does not go into great detail about the monarch. It provides an accurate depiction of the queen, but more information is needed to have a better picture of what life was like during her reign. The article is easy to read and provides some interesting information about her life, especially her dealings with Catholics and possible suitors for marriage. The website is the official government website of the Royal Family and also has links to other monarchs that have reigned over Britannia

Anonymous “Queen Elizabeth I”  available from <http://www.royalty.nu/Europe/England/Tudor/ElizabethI.html> (22 December 2005).
This article begins by discussing the marriages of her father, King Henry VIII, and gives some information about Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth’s mother. It then focuses on her childhood and the fondness showed to her by her stepmother’s newest husband, Thomas Seymour, brother of Jane. The article ends by discussing the assassination plots on her life by Mary, Queen of Scots, her treatment of Catholics, the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, and her relationship with Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex. The article has a vast amount of links at the bottom of the site and arranges the links by its appropriate subject, such as Men in Elizabeth’s life to the writings of the queen. I recommend the site to researchers that need to find quality links on Queen Elizabeth I.

Briscoe, Alexandra. “Elizabeth I: An Overview” BBC available from <http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/state/monarchs_leaders/elizabeth_i_01.shtml> (22 December 2005).Briscoe’s article gives a brief description of the life of Queen Elizabeth. She touches minutely her early years, coronation, marriage proposals, the plots of Mary, Queen of Scots, and her final years. The article is well written and is suitable for students from the high school level and up. The last section of the site provides valuable links to a variety of web sites dealing with major figures and themes that were present during the life and historical work after her death. Briscoe’s main occupation is assisting in the production of documentaries for the BBC and specializes in the Elizabethan Era.  

Halsall, Paul. ed. “Queen Elizabeth I of England” Internet Modern History Sourcebook July 1998. available from 
<http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/elizabeth1.html>   (accessed 22 Sep 2005).

This website provided by Paul Halsall is a collection of primary sources of speeches and letters by Elizabeth. They include responses to marriage proposals, religion, her farewell speech, and two responses to Parliament regarding their thoughts about her marrying. There is background information given before each response that allows the reader to understand the situation Elizabeth is responding to. I recommend the site for researchers in need of a quality primary source by the queen. Paul Halsall once instructed at Fordham University and now teaches at the University of North Florida. 

Hammer, Paul E.J. “The Last Decade” History Today May 2003. 53:5  available from Academic Search Premier  accessed 29 Sep 2005.
Paul Hammer’s article looks at the major figures that made up Elizabeth’s Privy Council and their ability to  influence her during her reign, especially in the 1590's, due to the close relationships she had wit some of the members.. The article examines individuals such as William Cecil (Lord Burghley), The Earl of Essex, and the impact of the earl of Leicester’s death in 1588 and the void that it created. The article also examines the power struggles that emerged between Essex and Robert Cecil, Burghley’s son, for control of the Privy Council and favor from Queen Elizabeth. The article is well written and is most suitable for a researcher who has prior knowledge of Elizabeth and her life. Hammer is an instructor of history at the University of St. Andrews in England.

Hibbert, Christopher. The Virgin Queen: Elizabeth I, Genius of the Golden Age. New York: Addison-Wesley, 1994. 
Hibbert’s book offers a chronological look at the life of Queen Elizabeth in great detail. Throughout the book are colorful illustrations of the virgin queen and contains a genealogy of the Tudor Dynasty. I recommend the book to an experienced reader since the language used may bring about confusion due to its vast array of words that may be uncommon to the average reader. The bibliography of the book contains a vast amount of primary and secondary sources that may aid further research about Queen Elizabeth. 

Klein, Arthur Jay. Intolerance in the Reign of Elizabeth. Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press Inc., 1968. 
Klein’s work focuses on the way Elizabeth handled the religious differences that England was facing during her reign, as well as her handling of Mary Stuart’s assassination plot and the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Klein uses as sources many acts of Parliament and proclamations to show how the Elizabethan government treated Catholics and Protestants in restoring the Anglican Church after the reign of her sister, Mary. The book is very detailed and should be used by serious scholars attempting to find out more on the way Elizabeth handled the religious questions of her day. Klein was a professor of history at Wheaton College in Massachusetts and wishes that the American student looking to research the religious history of the period use his bibliography as a way to guide their research to prevent confusion in the vast amount of sources that are available on the subject.

Loades, David. Elizabeth I. New York: Hambledon and London, 2003. 
Loades' book attempts to describe Elizabeth’s role in the events that marked her reign with more clarity than previous authors. The book covers Henry’s marriages and the span of Elizabeth’s life chronologically, from her childhood and reign up to her death in 1603. Loades arranges the chapters according to certain era’s of the queen’s life, such as the threats she faced, the war with Spain, her relations with her sister, Queen “Bloody Mary,” and other topics that characterize her reign. The book contains illustrations of Elizabeth and prominent individuals who Elizabeth interacted with throughout her life. The end of the book contains several pages of notes to clarify what is being discussed as well as a bibliography full of primary and secondary sources he uses that can be used as tools for further research. The author admits that his thinking of Elizabeth has been influenced by other writers on the subject through interactions and conferences. I highly recommend the book for someone doing research about the queen due to its scholarly work and recent publication that shows current thinking about Elizabeth’s reign.

O’Malley, John W. “Excommunicating Politicians.” America 27 Sep 2004. available from Academic Search Premier  Accessed 29 Sep 2005.
O’Malley’s article examines the history of the excommunication of leading politicians and leaders beginning in the eleventh century with emperor Henry IV by Pope Gregory VII up to action by New Orleans Bishop Joseph Rummel against three Catholics who protested his plan to end the racial segregation that existed in New Orleans schools. The article briefly mentions Elizabeth and describes that the reason she was excommunicated was to start a rebellion to overthrow the queen and allow a Catholic to become England’s monarch. It is a very well written article, but the reader will not find much about Elizabeth or Henry’s excommunication. O’Malley is a professor of church history at the Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass., and is also an author who released a book in 2004, The Four Cultures of the West.

Plowden, Allison. Two Queens In One Isle: The Deadly Relationship Between Elizabeth I & Mary Queen of Scots. Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing, 1999.
Plowden’s book examines the rise to power of Queen Elizabeth and Mary, Queen of Scots and the relationship that they had that ended with Mary losing her head in 1587. Plowden thoroughly describes Mary’s assassination plots of Elizabeth as well as Mary’s suspected role of the killing of her second husband, Lord Darnley, with the Earl of Bothwell as an accomplice, that ultimately caused a revolt and sent Mary in exile to England protected by Elizabeth. She also describes the jealousies that the Queens had for one another as well as a glimpse into Elizabeth’s personal thoughts on the situation, imprisonment, and eventual execution of Mary. Allison Plowden is a former script writer and editor for the BBC turned author and has several publications on Queen Elizabeth. This book is a very good source on the relationship between the two queens. 

Saunders, Will. “Faction in the Reign of Elizabeth I.” History Review March 2004 Issue 48 accessed 29 Sep 2005. available from Academic Search Premier.
The article written by Will Saunders examines the role that factions played in the decision-making that occurred under Queen Elizabeth. The article describes what a faction is then looks at different interpretations of her reign and how she ruled her court by twentieth century writers such as John Neale, Simon Adams, Susan Doran, and John Guy and Steven Alford (together). Their descriptions of Elizabeth differ dramatically, with Doran defending that Elizabeth was a strong monarch that ruled very assertively while Neale argues that she was highly influenced and manipulated by her advisors. Saunders is the head of history at the Persy School for Girls in Cambridge. 


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URL: http://departments.kings.edu/womens_history/elizabeth.html
Revised Version by Mike Galli, 7 December 2005
Original written in 1998, Revised by Karen Woods, 2005
Last Revision: 22 December 2005

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