Anne Boleyn, Elizabethan Era, Henry VIII of England and Ireland, House of Tudor, James VI of Scotland, Mary I of Scotland, Pope Pius V, Queen Elizabeth I of England and Ireland, Regnans in Excelsis, Robert Cecil
Elizabeth I (September 7, 1533 – March 24, 1603) was Queen of England and Ireland from November 17, 1558 until her death in 1603. Sometimes referred to as the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth was the last of the five monarchs of the House of Tudor.
Elizabeth was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, his second wife, who was executed when Elizabeth was 2 and a half years old. Anne’s marriage to Henry was annulled, and Elizabeth was declared illegitimate. Her half-brother Edward VI ruled until his death in 1553, bequeathing the crown to Lady Jane Grey and ignoring the claims of his two half-sisters, the Roman Catholic Mary and the younger Elizabeth, in spite of statute law to the contrary.
Edward’s will was set aside mostly because it never had Parliamentary approval and Mary became queen, deposing Lady Jane Grey. During Mary’s reign, Elizabeth was imprisoned for nearly a year on suspicion of supporting Protestant rebels.
Upon her half-sister’s death in 1558, Elizabeth succeeded to the throne and set out to rule by good counsel. She depended heavily on a group of trusted advisers led by William Cecil, whom much later she created 1st Baron Burghley.
One of her first actions as queen was the establishment of an English Protestant church, of which she became the supreme governor. This Elizabethan Religious Settlement was to evolve into the Church of England.
It was expected that Elizabeth would marry and produce an heir; however, despite numerous courtships, she never did. She was eventually succeeded by her first cousin twice removed, James VI of Scotland; this laid the foundation for the Kingdom of Great Britain. She had earlier been reluctantly responsible for the imprisonment and execution of James’s mother, Mary I, Queen of Scots.
In government, Elizabeth was more moderate than her father and half-siblings had been. One of her mottoes was “video et taceo” (“I see and keep silent”). In religion, she was relatively tolerant and avoided systematic persecution.
By means of the papal bull of 1570, Regnans in Excelsis, Pope Pius V excommunicated Elizabeth I of England for heresy and persecution of English Catholics during her reign. The Pope also released her subjects from obedience to her, several conspiracies threatened her life, all of which were defeated with the help of her ministers’ secret service, run by Francis Walsingham.
Elizabeth was cautious in foreign affairs, manoeuvring between the major powers of France and Spain. She only half-heartedly supported a number of ineffective, poorly resourced military campaigns in the Netherlands, France, and Ireland. By the mid-1580s, England could no longer avoid war with Spain.
As she grew older, Elizabeth became celebrated for her virginity. A cult of personality grew around her which was celebrated in the portraits, pageants, and literature of the day. Elizabeth’s reign became known as the Elizabethan era.
The period is famous for the flourishing of English drama, led by playwrights such as William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe, and for the prowess of English maritime adventurers such as Francis Drake and Walter Raleigh.
Some historians depict Elizabeth as a short-tempered, sometimes indecisive ruler who enjoyed more than her fair share of luck. Towards the end of her reign, a series of economic and military problems weakened her popularity.
However, Elizabeth is acknowledged as a charismatic performer and a dogged survivor in an era when government was ramshackle and limited, and when monarchs in neighbouring countries faced internal problems that jeopardised their thrones. After the short reigns of her half-siblings, her 44 years on the throne provided welcome stability for the kingdom and helped to forge a sense of national identity.
Elizabeth’s senior adviser, William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, died on August 4, 1598. His political mantle passed to his son, Robert Cecil, who soon became the leader of the government. One task he addressed was to prepare the way for a smooth succession. Since Elizabeth would never name her successor, Cecil was obliged to proceed in secret.
Robert Cecil therefore entered into a coded negotiation with James VI of Scotland, who had a strong but unrecognised claim. Cecil coached the impatient James to humour Elizabeth and “secure the heart of the highest, to whose sex and quality nothing is so improper as either needless expostulations or over much curiosity in her own actions”.
The advice worked. James’s tone delighted Elizabeth, who responded: “So trust I that you will not doubt but that your last letters are so acceptably taken as my thanks cannot be lacking for the same, but yield them to you in grateful sort”. In historian J. E. Neale’s view, Elizabeth may not have declared her wishes openly to James, but she made them known with “unmistakable if veiled phrases”.
The Queen’s health remained fair until the autumn of 1602, when a series of deaths among her friends plunged her into a severe depression. In February 1603, the death of Catherine Carey, Countess of Nottingham, the niece of her cousin and close friend Lady Knollys, came as a particular blow.
In March, Elizabeth fell sick and remained in a “settled and unremovable melancholy”, and sat motionless on a cushion for hours on end. When Robert Cecil told her that she must go to bed, she snapped: “Must is not a word to use to princes, little man.”
She died on March 24, 1603 at Richmond Palace, between two and three in the morning. A few hours later, Cecil and the council set their plans in motion and proclaimed James VI of Scotland as the new King of England and Ireland.
One interesting fact is that Queen Elizabeth I actually never lived to see the year 1603.
While it has become normative to record the death of the Queen as occurring in 1603, following English calendar reform in the 1750s, at the time England observed New Year’s Day on March 25, commonly known as Lady Day.
Thus Elizabeth died on the last day of the year 1602 in the old calendar. The modern convention is to use the old calendar for the date and month while using the new for the year.