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Elizabeth I

Key Dates

1533 Birth of Elizabeth I, 7 September
1536 Execution of Anne Boleyn
1547 Death of Henry VIII
1547 Edward VI becomes King of England at age 9, a Regency Council rules for him
1553 Death of Edward VI
1553 Mary I becomes Queen of England
1554 Wyatt’s Rebellion
1558 Death of Mary I
1558 Elizabeth I becomes Queen of England
1559 The Elizabethan Settlement
1563 The Thirty-Nine Articles
1568 Mary Queen of Scots seeks exile in England
1569 The Northern Rebellion
1570 Regnans in Excelsis
1571 Ridolfi Plot
1580 Sir Francis Drake becomes the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe
1583 Throckmorton Plot
1586 Babington Plot
1587 Execution of Mary Queen of Scots
1588 Spanish Armada
1598 Death of Sir William Cecil, Baron Burghley
1603 Death of Elizabeth I, 24th March

William Shakespeare

On 23rd April 2016 William Shakespeare died 400 years ago.

Find out here how his life and works were heavily influenced by Queen Elizabeth I the Elizabethan era.

Early Life

Elizabeth was born on the 7 September 1533. She was the daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife Anne Boleyn. Henry had been disappointed when Elizabeth was born as she was not the son he desperately wanted. Elizabeth spent her early years at Hatfield House with her own household. Lady Margaret Bryan was appointed as her first governess. Anne Boleyn took a great interest in her upbringing.

In 1536 at the age of two years and eight months, her mother Anne Boleyn was executed. Anne had been accused of adultery, witchcraft and treason. Elizabeth was declared illegitimate.

After this Elizabeth seems to have been forgotten, as Lady Bryan had to write to Thomas Cromwell asking him to be good to Elizabeth and ask for clothes for her to wear.

Elizabeth did not see much of her father Henry until he married his sixth wife Catherine Parr. Elizabeth was fond of Catherine and went to live with her after the death of Henry. Elizabeth left their household after inappropriate behaviour between her and Catherine’s new husband Thomas Seymour.

Elizabeth was very well-educated and spoke several languages including Latin, French and Spanish. Elizabeth was raised in the Protestant faith.

Elizabeth got on well with her brother Edward but had a more troubled relationship with her Catholic sister Mary, particularly after she became Queen.

Mary I

Mary I became Queen of England in 1553. Edward VI had named Lady Jane Grey as his successor. Elizabeth supported Mary in her claim to the throne.

Upon her succession Mary ordered that the country become a Catholic nation once more.  Discontent at Mary’s religious reforms and her intention to marry the Catholic Prince Phillip of Spain led to Wyatt’s Rebellion in 1554. In an effort to protect her throne, Lady Jane Grey was executed. Elizabeth was questioned on her role in the plot and sent for a short time to the Tower of London. From there she was sent to Woodstock and placed under house arrest. Elizabeth was later recalled to Court and returned to live at Hatfield House.

In November 1558 Queen Mary died and named Elizabeth as her successor.

Sir William Cecil, Baron Burghley (Lord Burghley)

William Cecil had previously served Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and had had a brief spell in the Tower of London when Seymour fell from grace as Lord Protector during the reign of Edward VI. Cecil served as Secretary of State under the new Lord Protector John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. He was also in charge of the estates of Princess Elizabeth. Cecil signed the ‘Devise’ naming Lady Jane Grey as Edward’s successor. He remained in contact with the household of Princess Elizabeth during the reign of Mary I.
William Cecil was appointed by Elizabeth as Secretary of State upon her accession to the throne in 1558. Cecil was made Baron Burghley in 1571 and he was appointed Lord Treasurer in 1572. Cecil was also elected Chancellor of Cambridge University.

For the majority of Elizabeth’s reign William Cecil was one of her chief ministers. Elizabeth relied on his counsel and considered him to be one of her most able and trusted advisors.  He always gave well thought out advice, often listing all the pros and cons of a particular course of action.

William Cecil was extremely influential in England’s domestic and foreign affairs and was at the centre of Elizabeth’s government. He was an able politician and had stood as an MP before being elevated to the Lords. He was diligent, knowledgeable and a talented administrator.

Foreign policy centred on protecting England from the potential threat of invasion particularly by Spain and France. William Cecil tried to achieve a good relationship with leading Scottish Protestants. In 1560 he persuaded the Queen to sign the Treaty of Edinburgh. This was to break Scotland’s traditional alliance with France and so safeguard England’s northern border from a possible Scottish/French invasion. Cecil also tried to form an alliance with France to persuade them to fight against Spain in the Netherlands. One of the reasons for this was to remove a large Spanish army from England’s doorstep. Cecil’s foreign policy was largely a defensive one, preferring to choose diplomacy over costly wars.

Mary Queen of Scots was a threat to Elizabeth and England so Cecil advocated her execution.  He was temporarily banished from Court when Elizabeth claimed that although she had finally signed the death warrant she had not intended it to be acted upon.

William Cecil was a Protestant. However, he placed loyalty and service to the Queen and England above all else and he expected everyone to do the same. Cecil told his son Robert to ‘serve God by serving the Queen’.

William Cecil remained in the service of Elizabeth until his death forty years later in 1598 at the age of 77.


Elizabeth I had been raised as a Protestant. During Elizabeth’s reign the basis of the Anglican Church was established. It would be moderately Protestant and would attempt to include the majority of the population in England.

The Elizabethan Settlement

In 1559 the principles of the state religion were set out in two Acts. The Act of Supremacy made Elizabeth the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, not the Pope. The Act of Uniformity made church attendance and the use of the modified 1552 Book of Common Prayer compulsory.

Recusancy fines would be levied for failure to attend Church on Sundays and holy days. The heresy laws were repealed.

Matthew Parker, a moderate Protestant and former chaplain to Anne Boleyn, was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury.

In the early years of Elizabeth’s reign the penalties and restrictions placed on Catholics in England were restrained. There was an end to the burning of heretics as there had been under Mary I. Elizabeth did not wish to ‘make windows into men’s souls’.

The Thirty-Nine Articles

In 1563 the Thirty-Nine Articles laid down the basis of the Church in England.  They set out the position of the Church in relation to Roman Catholic and Protestant beliefs and practices.  Some Catholic beliefs were disapproved of such as transubstantiation. It allowed the clergy to marry. The Articles are often ambiguous so that as many people as possible could be included in the national church.  In 1571 Parliament made them compulsory. Committed Roman Catholics and Puritans (extreme Protestants) were still hostile towards this new Church.

Mary Queen of Scots

Mary was the daughter of King James V of Scotland and became Queen of Scotland at six days old in 1542. Mary was a devout Catholic. She had been brought up in France and married the Dauphin who became King Francis II. When Francis died in 1560, Mary returned to Scotland the following year. In 1565 Mary married Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley who was her cousin.  Their marriage was not a happy one. Lord Darnley and his men murdered her Italian personal secretary David Rizzio. In 1567 Lord Darnley was found murdered in the garden after an explosion at the house he was staying in.

James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell was acquitted of Lord Darnley’s murder. Shortly after, Mary Queen of Scots married the Earl of Bothwell. This led to a rebellion in Scotland. Mary was forced to abdicate in favour of her and Lord Darnley’s infant son James (future James I of England). In 1568 Mary escaped from Scotland and sought refuge in England with her cousin Elizabeth I.

Elizabeth placed her under house arrest. Mary had previously laid claim to the English throne as she was the granddaughter of Henry VIII’s elder sister, Margaret Tudor.  Many Catholics believed that Elizabeth was illegitimate and that Mary was the true heir to the throne of England. Mary was to remain imprisoned for the next 19 years.

Read our full fact file on Mary Queen of Scots

Catholic Plots

During the reign of Elizabeth I several Catholic plots were discovered. Most of these involved placing Mary Queen of Scots on the throne instead of Elizabeth.  The Papal Bull (1570) excommunicating Elizabeth, the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (1572) and numerous Catholic plots led to much tougher laws being instated against Catholics.

Jesuits and Seminary Priests

Jesuits and seminary priests were banned from England by Act of Parliament in 1585. Seminary or missionary priests were Englishmen who had been trained and ordained as Roman Catholic priests at English seminaries (colleges) established abroad, such as at Douai. Jesuits were priests sent by Rome to administer the sacraments to practising Catholics and to gain new converts.
They were persecuted by Elizabeth’s government as they believed the Pope had sent them to spread sedition and incite rebellion.

Priests were forced to work undercover often hiding in priest holes from the authorities. Many were arrested, tortured and executed for treason.

The Northern Rebellion 1569

In 1569 there was an uprising by Catholic rebels in the north of England, who wanted to free Mary Queen of Scots and have her marry Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk.  Elizabeth had Thomas Howard sent to the Tower of London. The rebel force was defeated, several hundred were executed, the Earl of Northumberland among them.

Regnans in Excelsis

In 1570 the Pope, Pius V issued a Papal Bull, Regnans in Excelsis (Reigning on High). It called Elizabeth a heretic and released all subjects from any allegiance to her. The Pope threatened to excommunicate anyone that followed Elizabeth’s orders and laws.

The Ridolfi Plot 1571

Roberto di Ridolfi was a wealthy Italian banker. He was also a Roman Catholic and wanted to place Mary Queen of Scots on the English throne. Ridolfi sought foreign aid to assassinate Elizabeth, rescue Mary and have her marry Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk. The Pope Pius V, the Duke of Alba and King Phillip II of Spain were implicated in the plot.

Thomas Howard was sent to the Tower of London. At his trial he was accused of ‘traitorously conspiring’ to kill the Queen and cause a civil war to bring in a change of religion.  He was found guilty and executed a few months later due to Elizabeth’s reluctance to sign his death warrant. The Spanish Ambassador, Guerau de Espes, was expelled from the country. Ridolfi was abroad at the time of the plot’s discovery and escaped.

The Throckmorton Plot 1583

Sir Francis Throckmorton confessed under torture that he had been seeking Spanish assistance to depose Elizabeth and place Mary on the English throne. He revealed plans for an invasion led by the Duke of Guise. The Spanish Ambassador Bernadino de Mendoza was expelled from England. Sir Francis Throckmorton was executed. Mary was placed under tighter security.

Bond of Association

The Bond of Association was an oath taken by the signatories of the document that they would put to death anyone who attempted to assassinate the Queen and any claimant to the throne on whose behalf the act was committed. The Bond was the work of Sir William Cecil and Sir Francis Walsingham. The intentions of the Bond were made more formal and subject to due legal process by the Act for the Surety of the Queen’s Royal Person (1584) passed by Parliament in 1585. Any claimant to the throne who took part in or knew about a plot against the Queen could be legally tried and officially removed from the succession.

The Babington Plot 1586

Sir Francis Walsingham used the Babington Plot to entrap Mary Queen of Scots. Walsingham employed a number of double agents including Gilbert Gifford. Walsingham’s agents arranged for letters between the conspirators and Mary to be sent in beer barrels.  They deceived them into believing this to be a secure and secret method of sending their correspondence. The letters were intercepted by Walsingham’s agents, deciphered and then sealed into the barrels.

A letter was intercepted from Anthony Babington, a Catholic noble, outlining a plot to assassinate Elizabeth and rescue Mary. When Mary replied, Walsingham’s cryptographer (decoder) Thomas Phelippes added a postscript to the letter asking for the names of the conspirators.

The fourteen conspirators, including Anthony Babington and John Ballard, a Catholic priest, were charged with treason and sentenced to being publically hung, drawn and quartered.

Trial of Mary Queen of Scots

Mary was put on trial at Fotheringhay Castle under the Act for the Surety of the Queen’s Royal Person in October 1586.  The letters were used as evidence that Mary was complicit in conspiring to assassinate Queen Elizabeth. Mary protested her innocence, “I would never make shipwreck of my soul by conspiring the destruction of my dearest sister”.   Mary also stated that she had never written any letters to Babington or received any from him. It was Mary’s Secretary Gilbert Curle who wrote her correspondence in cipher. She also claimed never to have met Babington.

The commissioners left Fotheringhay Castle and reconvened at the Star Chamber (an English Court) at Westminster where they pronounced their sentence.  Mary was found to have been privy to the Babington Plot and of having ‘compassed and imagined… divers matters tending to the hurt, death and destruction of the royal person ‘. Parliament accepted the decision of the commissioners.
Queen Elizabeth finally signed the death warrant. Mary Queen of Scots was executed at Fotheringhay Castle on February 8th 1587.

Sir Francis Walsingham

Francis Walsingham was a staunch Protestant. During the reign of Mary I he lived in exile in Europe. Walsingham had studied law at Cambridge and in Europe. He returned from exile after Mary’s death and was elected as an MP in Elizabeth’s Parliament.

Walsingham was appointed England’s ambassador in Paris. He witnessed the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in August 1572. The assassination of a number of prominent Huguenots (French Protestants) on the orders of King Charles IX, triggered several days of Roman Catholic violence and the slaughter of over a thousand Protestants in Paris. The massacre of Huguenots continued as the violence spread to other French towns.

Shortly after his return to England in 1573, Walsingham was made a member of the Privy Council and appointed as a Secretary of State to Queen Elizabeth. He was knighted in 1577.

Walsingham worked closely with William Cecil to stop Catholic plots and conspiracies against Queen Elizabeth. He is most famously known as Elizabeth’s ‘Spymaster’. A network of spies, double agents and informers in England and Europe was created to monitor the political situation.

Walsingham successfully entrapped Mary Queen of Scots with the Babington Plot. Like William Cecil, Walsingham believed that Queen Elizabeth and England would not be safe from Catholic plots and the threat of rebellion while Mary was still alive.

Walsingham actively supported the opening of new trade routes. He also wanted England to play a more aggressive role in aiding Protestant communities in Europe.

Sir Francis Walsingham died in April 1590.


King Phillip II of Spain had previously been married to Mary I.  In 1559 Phillip had proposed marriage to Elizabeth, who declined the offer.

English ships frequently attacked Spanish merchant ships travelling between Spain and South America. The English sea captains were privateers who had the support of Queen Elizabeth and were known as ‘Sea Dogs’. They included Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir John Hawkins. Queen Elizabeth often took a share of the plundered Spanish treasure.

Francis Drake had previously conducted a successful raid on the Spanish Main. In 1577 Queen Elizabeth sent Drake to attack Spanish ports and trading ships on the Pacific coast of South America. The Spanish considered him to be a pirate and called him El Draque (the Dragon). Elizabeth had Drake knighted on board the Golden Hind after his return to England.

Elizabeth I had made alliances with some of Spain’s enemies. In 1585 Queen Elizabeth signed the Treaty of Nonsuch with the United Provinces (Dutch Republic). A military force under the command of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester was sent to the Netherlands to aid the Dutch rebels in their revolt against Spanish rule.

Spain was a Roman Catholic nation and England was Protestant.  Phillip considered it his Catholic duty to restore Catholicism to England. The Pope gave his blessing for a religious crusade, having already excommunicated Elizabeth.

“Singeing the beard of the King of Spain”

King Phillip II of Spain had already been preparing for an invasion of England before the execution of Mary Queen of Scots.

In 1587 Sir Francis Drake launched a pre-emptive strike on the Spanish fleet at Cadiz. The purpose of the raid was to destroy the Spanish naval forces and so prevent an invasion of England. Several ships and large quantities of supplies were destroyed. Drake then sailed his fleet along the coast of Spain and Portugal, destroying all the ships they encountered.
Drake captured a Portuguese trading vessel returning from the Indies fully laden with a valuable cargo of gold and spices.

King Phillip II of Spain was also the King of Portugal.

The Spanish Armada 1588

In 1588 the Spanish Armada sailed from Lisbon, reaching the English Channel at the end of July. They were sailing towards the Spanish Netherlands where they would rendezvous with the Duke of Parma and his invasion force of Spanish troops and then provide escort for them to England.

The English fleet was under the command of Lord Howard of Effingham, a cousin of Queen Elizabeth. Sir Francis Drake was Vice Admiral. The Armada was commanded by the Duke of Medina Sidonia, who had no naval experience. The English ships were faster and more manoeuvrable than the large Spanish galleons.

The English fleet at Plymouth sailed out towards the Spanish Armada which was travelling in a crescent formation. Over the next few days the English fleet pursued the Armada up the English Channel, expending lots of ammunition but inflicting little damage. Accidents caused the loss of two Spanish ships.

The Spanish Armada anchored off Calais.  Lord Howard sent fire ships into the midst of the Spanish fleet. Many ships cut their anchor lines and ended up scattered in the English Channel.  The following day the English fleet battled the Armada off the coast at Gravelines (near Dunkirk) inflicting significant damage on the Spanish ships. Forced to abandon their plans to rendezvous with the Duke of Parma, the Armada escaped northwards. They attempted to return to Spain by sailing around Scotland and Ireland. Several ships were wrecked in storms or ran aground.

An army under the command of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester had been stationed at Tilbury, Essex in order to protect London and the Thames Estuary from invasion. On 19 August Elizabeth made a speech to the assembled troops. ”… I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king…” (This version of Elizabeth’s speech was written in a letter by Dr. Lionel Sharp to the Duke of Buckingham).

The English fleet had followed the Armada up the east coast of England and then returned to port.  The English Fleet was ordered to remain in the harbour in case the Spanish returned. After two months of waiting almost half the English sailors were dead from sickness and disease. They had also not been paid.

The defeat of the Spanish Armada was seen as a great military triumph. It increased Elizabeth’s popularity in England and promoted a patriotic spirit.
Phillip of Spain attempted to launch more invasions but without success.


The Battle of Gravelines – 28th July 1588

Elizabethan Era

Trade and exploration

Trade greatly expanded during the reign of Elizabeth I. There was an increase in the export of English goods to Europe. Exploration led to the discovery of new markets and trading opportunities. Re-coinage which replaced debased coins with newly minted coins of a higher gold and silver content restored confidence in English currency.

Trade was strictly regulated. The export of some goods, such as cloth over a certain value, was prohibited without a licence. Most imports and exports were subject to custom duties (tonnage and poundage) which went to the Crown.  Some products such as wool were subject to specific export duties. Most items had duties based on their value (poundage). These were listed in the Book of Rates. Foreign merchants paid higher duties. Wool and woollen cloth were the main exports during Elizabeth’s reign and many rural communities relied on the income it generated.

London prospered becoming a leading centre of commercial enterprise.  The Royal Exchange in London was founded by Sir Thomas Gresham and officially opened by Queen Elizabeth in 1571. The original building was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666.

With the Spanish in control of much of South America, English explorers looked to the east coast of North America. Sir Martin Frobisher attempted to find a Northwest Passage to China and India.

Sir Humphrey Gilbert, half-brother of Sir Walter Raleigh had been granted a Royal patent of exploration and claimed Newfoundland in the name of Queen Elizabeth. He drowned on the return voyage. Sir Walter Raleigh was granted the patent after Gilbert’s death. Raleigh sponsored attempts to establish a colony at Roanoke Island.

In 1580 Sir Francis Drake sailed into Plymouth on the Golden Hind (the re-named Pelican) having become the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe. He carried a valuable cargo of plundered Spanish treasure.

Joint stock companies were formed to spread the financial risk of trading overseas. The Crown granted monopoly charters to many of these companies to limit competition and help them establish. The Eastland Company was granted a charter to trade with Scandinavia and the Baltic. The Levant (Turkey) Company was granted a charter in 1581 to trade with Turkey and the eastern Mediterranean. In 1600, Elizabeth granted a charter creating the English East India Company.

The Arts

Literature, theatre, and the other Arts reached a high point during the Elizabethan era.

At the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign most actors were touring actors. These travelled the country performing in a wide variety of places from great houses to open spaces. The first purpose built theatre ‘The Theatre’ was built in 1576.  In 1599 The Theatre became The Globe when it was dismantled and moved to the Bankside following a dispute over property rights.

William Shakespeare was an actor, poet and playwright.  Plays such as Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream were written during Elizabeth’s reign. Shakespeare was one of The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, as was the actor Richard Burbage. The Lord Chamberlain’s Men are known to have performed for Queen Elizabeth at her Court.

Another acting company was The Admiral’s Men based at The Rose theatre in Bankside. Edward Alleyn was one of their principal actors. He played the lead role in Tamburlaine a play written by Christopher Marlowe.

Acting companies usually named themselves after their patron. The Lord Chamberlain’s Men became The King’s Men during the reign of James I.

Scripts had to be submitted to the Master of the Revels before they could be performed.  Inappropriate or politically sensitive material could be removed. The playwright Ben Jonson was arrested and imprisoned after a performance of the ‘lewd’ and ‘slanderous’ The Isle of Dogs.

The poet Edmund Spenser published the first three parts of his allegorical poem the Faerie Queene in 1590. Three more sections were published in 1596, although the work remained unfinished at his death. The Faerie Queen, called Gloriana, represents Queen Elizabeth and Spenser dedicated the book to her.

In the Elizabethan era paintings were mostly portraiture especially in the form of miniatures. The Drake Jewel was presented to Sir Francis Drake by Queen Elizabeth. Inside is a miniature portrait of Elizabeth painted by Nicholas Hilliard. The pendant is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Two of the greatest composers of the Elizabethan age were William Byrd and Thomas Tallis. They were both members of Elizabeth’s Court as Gentleman of the Chapel Royal, despite being Roman Catholics. Elizabeth I granted them an exclusive patent to print and publish music.

Tudor mansions

Many mansions were built during the Elizabethan era. These mansions were not built for the nobility but were mainly constructed for the gentry and those whose wealth came from new money.

The English stonemason and architect Robert Smythson designed several of the great Elizabethan country houses. These include Hardwick Hall which was built for Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury, more commonly known as Bess of Hardwick; Wollaton Hall which was built for Sir Francis Willoughby, financed with money he made from the coal industry.  Smythson worked as a stonemason on Longleat which was built for Sir John Thynne, a former steward of Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset.

Another Elizabethan mansion is Burghley House which was built for Sir William Cecil, Baron Burghley.

Poor Laws

Poverty had become a major issue during the Tudor era. Population growth, debasement of the coinage, bad harvests and spending on wars had all contributed to push up prices. There was also rising unemployment. People were leaving their homes to search for employment in other towns and villages. The Dissolution of the Monasteries had removed a traditional source of aid for the poor.

In 1597/98 and 1601 Acts of Parliament were passed to try and aid those in poverty. Overseers of the poor would collect the Poor Rate from the wealthier residents in the parish. This would go to help those poor people considered to be deserving of charity because they were unable to work. Those who could work but were unwilling to, the idle poor, would be sent back to their own parish and made to work or sent to a House of Correction. Those who continued to live as vagrants or beggars were often publically whipped and could be hanged. These Acts formed the basis of the English poor law system until 1834.

Virgin Queen

Queen Elizabeth I never married. Elizabeth declined a proposal from King Phillip II of Spain in 1559.  Marrying foreign royalty was the traditional way to form political alliances. However, Elizabeth would have had to share her throne and risked public unrest or rebellion if her marriage proved unpopular. This was the case when her half-sister Mary I married King Phillip II of Spain.
There were also religious considerations. While a marriage would produce an heir to the throne, should Elizabeth marry a Catholic there were concerns over how this would affect the established Church of England.

Another concern would be if Elizabeth pre-deceased her husband. England and its territories could come under the control of a foreign, possibly Catholic, power.

Elizabeth considered a marriage to Charles, Archduke of Austria, and cousin of Phillip II. This was to form a political alliance with the Habsburgs. These negotiations failed, with religion being one of the main points of contention as Charles was a Catholic.  Elizabeth looked for a possible alliance with France. Marriage negotiations were first entered into with Henry, Duke of Anjou who later became King Henry III of France. These discussions did not come to anything.  Elizabeth negotiated to marry his brother Francis, Duke of Anjou who was considerably younger than Elizabeth. Francis was to be the last official foreign suitor.

Elizabeth’s most famous English suitor was Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. Robert Dudley became a favourite of Elizabeth and he was one of her chief advisors. He organised a series of impressive festivities for the Queen when she stayed at Kenilworth Castle in July 1575. After the death of his first wife Amy Robsart, Dudley did not re-marry for 18 years.  When Elizabeth discovered that Robert Dudley had secretly married (without permission) Lettice Knollys in 1578, Elizabeth did not disguise her displeasure.

The decision not to marry Robert Dudley may have been to avoid rebellion amongst the English nobility. At the same time it was also useful for diplomatic purposes. An offer of marriage to England’s Queen was a powerful bargaining tool when negotiating treaties with foreign powers.
Elizabeth refused to discuss with Parliament her marriage plans or name an heir.

When it became clear that Elizabeth would never marry or produce an heir, the image of the Virgin Queen was cultivated. Elizabeth was portrayed as the Queen who did not marry as an act of self-sacrifice for the benefit of her country. This theme appeared in poetry and writing and in portraits of the Queen. The pelican was a symbol that represented Elizabeth’s motherly love for her subjects and her self-sacrifice. The ermine, sieve and pearls were used as symbols of purity. Elizabeth declared herself to be married to England and her subjects.

After the defeat of the Spanish Armada, Queen Elizabeth was also portrayed as Gloriana.

Legacy and Death

By the end of her reign Elizabeth was losing popularity. A costly war with Spain, rebellion in Ireland and poor harvests led to a period of high inflation and economic depression. There was political infighting at Court.  Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex launched a rebellion against Elizabeth in 1601, though few supported him. Robert Devereux was arrested and executed for treason.
Elizabeth fell ill, made worse by the death of some of her closest friends including Katherine Howard, Countess of Nottingham. Katherine had been Elizabeth’s first Lady of the Bedchamber and they were also related as she was the granddaughter of Mary Boleyn.

Queen Elizabeth I died at Richmond Palace on the 24 March 1603. She was buried at Westminster Abbey in the same tomb as her half-sister Mary I. The Tudor dynasty had come to an end.
Elizabeth had ruled for 45 years and introduced a period of political and religious stability to England.

Elizabeth had a mainly good relationship with Parliament. In her Golden Speech of 1601, her last address to Parliament, Elizabeth claimed ‘There is no jewel, be it of never so high a price, which I set before this jewel; I mean your love.’

During her reign the basis for the Anglican Church was established. Puritans and Roman Catholics were still hostile to the new Church of England. Many Catholic Plots were discovered and prevented. Catholics were subject to greater penalties and more restrictions towards the end of Elizabeth’s reign. However, England did not suffer the destructive religious wars that were fought in other areas of Europe at this time. This religious problem would continue into the Stuart Era.

The English navy had successfully thwarted an invasion by Spain with the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Later Spanish campaigns were less successful.

Global trade had expanded bringing wealth from foreign lands and with it the rise of the merchant classes. Exploration had claimed territories in the New World, which would provide the basis for colonisation and expansion during the reign of James I.

Theatre, literature and the arts had all prospered during Elizabeth’s reign thanks to wealthy patrons such as Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester.

The reputation of Elizabeth as the triumphant ‘Gloriana’, the ‘Virgin Queen’ and ‘Good Queen Bess’ the ruler of a golden age became idealised during later years.

King James I

As Queen Elizabeth had never married she left no heir to the throne. Elizabeth had also not named a successor. Robert Cecil, the son of William Cecil, and the Privy Council had opened negotiations with King James VI of Scotland prior to Elizabeth’s death. Upon her death, James VI was declared King James I of England.

James I was the son of Mary Queen of Scots and Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. James laid claim to the throne as both Mary and Henry were grandchildren of Margaret Tudor, daughter of Henry VII.

James was the first of the Stuart Kings. The crowns of England and Scotland were united.

Elizabeth I