Elizabeth I (September 7, 1533 – March 24, 1603) was Queen of England and Ireland from November 17, 1558 until her death. Sometimes called The Virgin Queen, Gloriana or Good Queen Bess, the childless Elizabeth was the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty.
Elizabeth, Princess of England was born on September 7, 1533 at Greenwich Palace and was named after both her grandmothers, Elizabeth of York and Elizabeth Howard. She was the second child of Henry VIII of England born in wedlock to survive infancy. Her mother was Henry's second wife, Anne Boleyn. At birth, Elizabeth was the heiress presumptive to the throne of England. Her older half-sister, Mary, had lost her position as a legitimate heir when Henry annulled his marriage to Mary's mother, Catherine of Aragon, to marry Anne and sire a male heir to ensure the Tudor succession. Elizabeth was baptized on September 10; Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, the Marquess of Exeter, the Duchess of Norfolk and the Dowager Marchioness of Dorset stood as her godparents.
Loss & Displacement
When Elizabeth was two years and eight months old, her mother was executed on May 19, 1536. Elizabeth was declared illegitimate and deprived of her place in the royal succession. Eleven days after Anne Boleyn's death, Henry married Jane Seymour, but she died shortly after the birth of their son, Prince Edward, in 1537. From his birth, Edward was undisputed heir apparent to the throne. Elizabeth was placed in his household and carried the baptismal cloth at his christening.
Elizabeth's first governess or Lady Mistress, Margaret Bryan, wrote that she was "as toward a child and as gentle of conditions as ever I knew any in my life".By the autumn of 1537, Elizabeth was in the care of Blanche Herbert, Lady Troy, who remained her Lady Mistress until her retirement in late 1545 or early 1546. Catherine Champernowne, better known by her married name of Catherine "Kat" Ashley, was appointed as Elizabeth's governess in 1537, and she remained Elizabeth's friend until her death in 1565, when Blanche Parry succeeded her as Chief Gentlewoman of the Privy Chamber. Mistress Ashley taught Elizabeth four languages: French, Flemish, Italian and Spanish. By the time William Grendel became her tutor in 1544, Elizabeth could write English, Latin, and Italian. Under Grendel, a talented and skilful tutor, she also progressed in French and Greek. After Grendel died in 1548, Elizabeth received her education under Roger Ascham, a sympathetic teacher who believed that learning should be engaging. By the time her formal education ended in 1550, she was one of the best educated women of her generation. By the end of her life, Elizabeth was also reputed to speak Welsh, Cornish, Scottish and Irish in addition to English. Historian Mark Stoyle suggests that she was probably taught Cornish by William Killigrew, Groom of the Privy Chamber and later Chamberlain of the Exchequer.
Henry VIII died in 1547; Elizabeth's half-brother, Edward VI, became king at age nine. Catherine Parr, Henry's widow, soon married Thomas Seymour of Sudeley, Edward VI's uncle and the brother of the Lord Protector, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset. The couple took Elizabeth into their household at Chelsea. There Elizabeth experienced an emotional crisis that some historians believe affected her for the rest of her life. Seymour, approaching age 40 but having charm and "a powerful sex appeal", engaged in romps and horseplay with the 14-year-old Elizabeth. These included entering her bedroom in his nightgown, tickling her and slapping her on the buttocks. Parr, rather than confront her husband over his inappropriate activities, joined in. Twice she accompanied him in tickling Elizabeth, and once held her while he cut her black gown "into a thousand pieces." However, after Parr discovered the pair in an embrace, she ended this state of affairs. In May 1548, Elizabeth was sent away.
However, Thomas Seymour continued scheming to control the royal family and tried to have himself appointed the governor of the King's person. When Parr died after childbirth on September 4, 1548, he renewed his attentions towards Elizabeth, intent on marrying her. The details of his former behavior towards Elizabeth emerged, and for his brother and the council, this was the last straw. In January 1549, Seymour was arrested on suspicion of plotting to marry Elizabeth and overthrow his brother. Elizabeth, living at Hatfield House, would admit nothing. Her stubbornness exasperated her interrogator, Sir Robert Tyrwhitt, who reported, "I do see it in her face that she is guilty". Seymour was beheaded on March 20, 1549.
Rebellions & Prison
Edward VI died from tuberculosis on July 6, 1553, aged 15. His will swept aside the Succession to the Crown Act 1543, excluded both Mary and Elizabeth from the succession, and instead declared as his heir Lady Jane Grey, granddaughter of Henry VIII's sister Mary, Duchess of Suffolk. Lady Jane was proclaimed queen by the Privy Council, but her support quickly crumbled, and she was deposed after nine days. On August 3, 1553, Mary rode triumphantly into London, with Elizabeth at her side.
The show of solidarity between the sisters did not last long. Mary, a devout Catholic, was determined to crush the Protestant faith in which Elizabeth had been educated, and she ordered that everyone attend Catholic Mass; Elizabeth had to outwardly conform. Mary's initial popularity ebbed away in 1554 when she announced plans to marry Prince Philip of Spain, the son of Emperor Charles V and an active Catholic. Discontent spread rapidly through the country, and many looked to Elizabeth as a focus for their opposition to Mary's religious policies.
In January and February 1554, Wyatt's rebellion broke out; it was soon suppressed. Elizabeth was brought to court, and interrogated regarding her role, and on March 18, she was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Elizabeth fervently protested her innocence. Though it is unlikely that she had plotted with the rebels, some of them were known to have approached her. Mary's closest confidant, Charles V's ambassador Simon Renard, argued that her throne would never be safe while Elizabeth lived; and the Chancellor, Stephen Gardiner, worked to have Elizabeth put on trial. Elizabeth's supporters in the government, including Lord Paget, convinced Mary to spare her sister in the absence of hard evidence against her. Instead, on May 22, Elizabeth was moved from the Tower to Woodstock, where she was to spend almost a year under house arrest in the charge of Sir Henry Bedingfield. Crowds cheered her all along the way.
Elizabeth becomes Queen
On November 17, 1558 Elizabeth became queen at the age of 25, and declared her intentions to her Council and other peers who had come to Hatfield to swear allegiance. The speech contains the first record of her adoption of the mediaeval political theology of the sovereign's "two bodies": the body natural and the body politic:
"My lords, the law of nature moves me to sorrow for my sister; the burden that is fallen upon me makes me amazed, and yet, considering I am God's creature, ordained to obey His appointment, I will thereto yield, desiring from the bottom of my heart that I may have assistance of His grace to be the minister of His heavenly will in this office now committed to me. And as I am but one body naturally considered, though by His permission a body politic to govern, so shall I desire you all ... to be assistant to me, that I with my ruling and you with your service may make a good account to Almighty God and leave some comfort to our posterity on earth. I mean to direct all my actions by good advice and counsel.
As her triumphal progress wound through the city on the eve of the coronation ceremony, she was welcomed wholeheartedly by the citizens and greeted by orations and pageants, most with a strong Protestant flavor. Elizabeth's open and gracious responses endeared her to the spectators, who were "wonderfully ravished". The following day, January 15, 1559, Elizabeth was crowned and anointed by Owen Oglethorpe, the Catholic bishop of Carlisle, in Westminster Abbey. She was then presented for the people's acceptance, amidst a deafening noise of organs, fifes, trumpets, drums, and bells.
The Queen will not marry
From the start of Elizabeth's reign, it was expected that she would marry and the question arose to whom. She never did, although she received many offers for her hand; the reasons for this are not clear. Historians have speculated that Thomas Seymour had put her off sexual relationships, or that she knew herself to be infertile. She considered several suitors until she was about fifty. Her last courtship was with Francis, Duke of Anjou, son of Henry II & Catherine de Medici who was 22 years her junior. While risking possible loss of power like her sister, who played into the hands of King Philip II of Spain, marriage offered the chance of an heir. However, the choice of a husband might also provoke political instability or even insurrection.
In the spring of 1559, it became evident that Elizabeth was in love with her childhood friend Robert Dudley. It was said that Amy Robsart, his wife, was suffering from a "malady in one of her breasts", and that the Queen would like to marry Dudley if his wife should die. By the autumn of 1559 several foreign suitors were vying for Elizabeth's hand; their impatient envoys engaged in ever more scandalous talk and reported that a marriage with her favorite was not welcome in England: "There is not a man who does not cry out on him and her with indignation ... she will marry none but the favored Robert". Amy Dudley died in September 1560 from a fall from a flight of stairs and, despite the coroner's inquest finding of accident, many people suspected Dudley to have arranged her death so that he could marry the queen. Elizabeth seriously considered marrying Dudley for some time. However, William Cecil, Nicholas Throckmorton, and some conservative peers made their disapproval unmistakably clear. There were even rumors that the nobility would rise if the marriage took place.
Among other marriages being considered for the queen, Robert Dudley was regarded as a possible candidate for nearly another decade. Elizabeth was extremely jealous of his affections, even when she no longer meant to marry him herself. In 1564 Elizabeth raised Dudley to the peerage as Earl of Leicester. He finally remarried in 1578, to which the queen reacted with repeated scenes of displeasure and lifelong hatred towards his wife, Lettice Knollys. Still, Dudley always "remained at the center of Elizabeth's emotional life", as historian Susan Doran has described the situation. He died shortly after the defeat of the Armada. After Elizabeth's own death, a note from him was found among her most personal belongings, marked "his last letter" in her handwriting.
Elizabeth's unmarried status inspired a cult of virginity. In poetry and portraiture, she was depicted as a virgin or a goddess or both, not as a normal woman. At first, only Elizabeth made a virtue of her virginity: in 1559, she told the Commons, "And, in the end, this shall be for me sufficient, that a marble stone shall declare that a queen, having reigned such a time, lived and died a virgin". Later on, poets and writers took up the theme and turned it into an iconography that exalted Elizabeth. Public tributes to the Virgin by 1578 acted as a coded assertion of opposition to the queen's marriage negotiations with the Duke of Alençon. Putting a positive spin on her marital status, Elizabeth insisted she was married to her kingdom and subjects, under divine protection. In 1599, she spoke of "all my husbands, my good people".
Trouble with cousin Mary
Elizabeth's first policy toward Scotland was to oppose the French presence there. She feared that the French planned to invade England and put Mary, Queen of Scots, who was considered by many to be the heir to the English crown, on the throne. Elizabeth was persuaded to send a force into Scotland to aid the Protestant rebels, and though the campaign was inept, the resulting Treaty of Edinburgh of July 1560 removed the French threat in the north. When Mary returned to Scotland in 1561 to take up the reins of power, the country had an established Protestant church and was run by a council of Protestant nobles supported by Elizabeth. Mary refused to ratify the treaty.
In 1563 Elizabeth proposed her own suitor, Robert Dudley, as a husband for Mary, without asking either of the two people concerned. Both proved unenthusiastic, and in 1565 Mary married Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, who carried his own claim to the English throne. The marriage was the first of a series of errors of judgment by Mary that handed the victory to the Scottish Protestants and to Elizabeth. Darnley quickly became unpopular in Scotland and then infamous for presiding over the murder of Mary's Italian secretary David Rizzio. In February 1567, Darnley was murdered by conspirators almost certainly led by James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell. Shortly afterwards, on 15 May 1567, Mary married Bothwell, arousing suspicions that she had been party to the murder of her husband. Elizabeth wrote to her:
"How could a worse choice be made for your honor than in such haste to marry such a subject, who besides other and notorious lacks, public fame has charged with the murder of your late husband, besides the touching of yourself also in some part, though we trust in that behalf falsely."
These events led rapidly to Mary's defeat and imprisonment in Loch Leven Castle. The Scottish lords forced her to abdicate in favor of her son James, who had been born in June 1566. James was taken to Stirling Castle to be raised as a Protestant. Mary escaped from Loch Leven in 1568 but after another defeat fled across the border into England, where she had once been assured of support from Elizabeth. Elizabeth's first instinct was to restore her fellow monarch; but she and her council instead chose to play safe. Rather than risk returning Mary to Scotland with an English army or sending her to France and the Catholic enemies of England, they detained her in England, where she was imprisoned for the next nineteen years.
Mary was soon the focus for rebellion. In 1569 there was a major Catholic rising in the North; the goal was to free Mary, marry her to Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, and put her on the English throne. After the rebels' defeat, over 750 of them were executed on Elizabeth's orders. In the belief that the revolt had been successful, Pope Pius V issued a bull in 1570, titled Regnans in Excelsis, which declared "Elizabeth, the pretended Queen of England and the servant of crime" to be excommunicate and a heretic, releasing all her subjects from any allegiance to her. Catholics who obeyed her orders were threatened with excommunication. The papal bull provoked legislative initiatives against Catholics by Parliament, which were however mitigated by Elizabeth's intervention. In 1581, to convert English subjects to Catholicism with "the intent" to withdraw them from their allegiance to Elizabeth was made a treasonable offence, carrying the death penalty. From the 1570s missionary priests from continental seminaries came to England secretly in the cause of the "reconversion of England". Many suffered execution, engendering a cult of martyrdom.
Later Years, Death & Burial
Elizabeth's senior adviser, 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. He therefore entered into a coded negotiation with James VI of Scotland, who had a strong but unrecognized claim.
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 Howard, Countess of Nottingham, the niece of her cousin and close friend Lady Catherine Knollys, came as a particular blow. In March, Elizabeth fell sick and remained in a "settled and irremovable melancholy". 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 James I of England.
Elizabeth's coffin was carried downriver at night to Whitehall, on a barge lit with torches. At her funeral on April 28, the coffin was taken to Westminster Abbey on a hearse drawn by four horses hung with black velvet. Elizabeth was interred in Westminster Abbey in a tomb she shares with her half-sister, Mary. The Latin inscription on their tomb translates to: "Consorts in realm and tomb, here we sleep, Elizabeth and Mary, sisters, in hope of resurrection".