Elizabeth I of England

Elizabeth I ruled England during a period of major political and social turmoil. Yet she managed to keep the country stable, successfully repulsed the external threats, strengthened the national identity, paved the way to today’s Church of England and laid the foundations to the future British Empire as the dominant world power. Her reign, known as the Elizabethan era is often referred to as the golden age in British history for the above mentioned reasons as well as advances in science, exploration and major accelerations in high culture, most notably theatre which reached its height with William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe.

Early Life

Elizabeth was born in 1533 to Henry VIII of England and his second wife Anne Boleyn. However, less than 3 years old Elizabeth lost her mother who was executed by her father. She was brought up by several Lady Governesses (an equivalent to today’s nannies) and was well educated although she was deprived of the right to succession. Her father was upon his death in 1547 succeeded by her younger half-brother as Edward VI who died after 6 years of reign, aged only 15. Before his death, Edward declared Lady Jane Grey as his successor but she was deposed only after nine days. The English crown went to Elizabeth’s older half-sister (Bloody) Mary I who had her imprisoned for almost a year, fearing that Elizabeth was supporting the Protestant rebels.

Accession to the Throne and Reign

Elizabeth succeeded Mary upon her death in 1558. One of the first things she did upon accession to the throne was the establishment of the English Protestant church and declaring herself as the Supreme Governor. This move also helped her eliminate the threat posed by Mary, Queen of Scots who was the great-niece of Henry VIII through her grandmother Margaret Tudor, the King’s sister. As a result, many considered Mary as the heir to the English crown. But by the time Mary came to Scotland, there was a well established Protestant church and the nobles supported Elizabeth. In 1568, she had Mary imprisoned and eventually executed.

Elizabeth’s government was much more moderate than that of her predecessors and the Queen was relatively tolerant in religious matters. Nevertheless, there were several conspiracies against her but all were exposed. In foreign policy, Elizabeth tried to keep out the country from conflicts with France and Spain. She succeeded with the first but in the mid-1580s, Spain declared war as a response to Sir Francis Drake’s harassment of the Spanish ships and ports in the Caribbean. The attempt of the Spanish Armada to invade England, however, failed and Elizabeth achieved one of the greatest victories in English history.

Death and Succession

The last English monarch from the Tudor House never married and died childless in 1603. She was succeeded by James I, son of Mary, Queen of Scots and her second husband Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley.