Elizabethan Era

The Elizabethan Era

The reign of Elizabeth I spanned the years 1558 to 1603. Her lengthy reign is considered by many to be a Golden Age. In the Elizabethan era, England and the wider world saw much change. Elizabeth’s England saw the Religious Settlement, challenges to it and the ongoing Protestant Reformation. Law, Order, Government and Society were adapted on a large scale. Relationships with other major powers dominate histories of Elizabethan England. The famous defeat of the Spanish Armada being an example of growing English dominance of the seas. Elizabeth’s reign saw conflict, victory, discovery, wealth and the beginnings of colonisation.

Elizabeth I in her Coronation Robes. Beginning of the Elizabethan Era


The Elizabethan era began with her accession to the throne on the 17th November 1588. Elizabeth inherited a government that was financially exhausted and a country torn apart by religious divides. With religion causing war overseas and plots, revolts and general disruption at home, it was clear that an early priority would be establishing a strong government and tackling religious disagreements.

Who should Elizabeth I marry?

One of the main concerns of a monarch is to ensure continuity after their death. For this to happen, monarchs need to have legitimate marriages and have children. The issue of succession had posed a great deal of issues for Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII and the legitimcacy of children had been questioned during the wars of the roses. The Privy Council and population in general were well aware of the problems that an unclear succession could bring. Pressure was on Elizabeth to marry. There were several suitors suggested to Elizabeth, some taken more seriously than others. In this less by Roy Huggins, the question of Who should Elizabeth I marry? is tackled through the medium of ‘Love Island’. It’s a quirky approach but one that students seem to like!

Who should Elizabeth I marry?

Threat of Conflict

However, Elizabeth’s Era began with foreign affairs as a concern as well. The voyagers of discovery were exploring the new world. A variety of trades, including that of slaves, was growing in importance. These brought economic and diplomatic clashes with other leading powers. With Elizabeth taking the throne, England became Protestant once more and combined with her sisters marriage to the King of Spain made the threat of war a very real one.

This issue was compounded by the fact that her heir was Mary, Queen of Scots. The young Mary had a claim to the throne of England. At the time she was married to the King of France and encouraged by their advisors, laid claim to the English throne. At roughly the same time, Scottish lords who were Protestant revolted. They invited English troops to Scotland to support their claim. Scotland was at the time under the rule of Mary’s mother, Mary of Guise. The Regents untimely death brought to a settlement of sorts between the English, French and Scottish nobles. It was not agreed by the young Queen Mary though. For Elizabeth’s court this meant that they would need to keep a careful watch on Scotland.

Elizabethan Society in 1588

Elizabeth’s reign began at time when the population was growing. The growth of international trade saw more families moving into towns, cities and ports. With the growth of trade came the increased number of both the number of seasonal workers and the number of people with some disposable income. At the same time, the country faced a poverty issue and the growth of arts, culture, literature and interest in science.

Elizabeth and her advisors were then faced with several very large issues to contend with at the beginning of her reign. As her reign progressed, her lack of marriage and subsequent lack of a suitable heir to the throne became a more pressing issue.

This mass of issues, conflicts, ideas and developments combine to make the Elizabethan Era one of the best known periods in English History.

Links: British HistoryThe Tudors (KS2)National Archives: Was it the rule of a ‘Weak and Feeble’ monarch?

Elizabethan Era - Homepage

England in 1588: Society and GovernmentReligious SettlementChallenges to Elizabethan Religious Settlement
Mary, Queen of ScotsPlots and Rebellions in the Elizabethan AgeAnglo-Spanish Relations in the Elizabethan Age
Spanish ArmadaEducation, Culture and LeisureElizabethan Poor Law
Voyages of DiscoverySir Walter Raleigh and the Virginia Colony