Queen Elizabeth I
Queen Elizabeth I ruled from 1558 to 1603. She was the last of the Tudor monarchs. Elizabeth was lucky to become queen, she had, after all, both a brother and a sister before her in the line to the throne. Yet Queen she became and to many historians she is the greatest monarch that England has ever had. Elizabeth was the daughter of Anne Boleyn. She was the daughter that Henry didn’t want: he was desperate for a son, and the offspring of a wife who Henry saw fit to execute.
Elizabeth’s status within the court was at times very low and the treatment she received, like her sister, was also very mixed. Through the reign of her sister, Mary, Elizabeth lived in fear. She was considered to be a threat by Mary, as she was a protestant and there were many plots against Mary. Elizabeth was, for a time, imprisoned for her part in conspiracies.
When Elizabeth became Queen she was faced with several dilemmas. Firstly she was not married: again the question of the succession rises. Should she marry? and if so to whom?
There was still a lot of religious tension. Would Elizabeth be the Queen Elizabeth who persecuted the Catholics or be a peacemaker and allow people to have personal choice?
There was also the problem of her dead sisters husband, Phillip. As King of Spain he was a fearsome foe and he had a very good claim to the throne. More worryingly he was intent on keeping England Catholic. This meant that war was likely.
Elizabeth’s success as a Queen is a measure of how well she overcame each of these problems.
There was war with Spain. England defeated the Spanish Armada and became a world power as a result. Explorations into the Americas and a great deal of legitimised piracy saw England become wealthier.
The Religious persecutions ended: Elizabeth’s reign saw just 4 executions for heresy as compared to to the 280 in Mary’s reign.
The problem of marriage and the succession was one that was not overcome. There are many theories as to why Elizabeth chose not to marry and many names of supposed husbands to be. Elizabeth did manage to use these for political advantage however, playing the Spanish off against other major powers.
Elizabeth also managed to contain the catholic threat to her monarchy. Mary Stuart, queen of Scotland and a claimant to the English throne, was forced to beg Elizabeth to protect her. She was later executed after being implicated in a plot to overthrow Elizabeth. At the end of her reign Queen Elizabeth ruled over an England that was stronger politically and wealthier than it had been for hundreds of years. England ‘ruled the waves’ and was a major world force.