Queen Elizabeth I

Not Just a Girl

Princess Elizabeth was born on September 7, 1533. She was the daughter of Henry VIII, the King of England, and his second wife, Queen Anne. 

For a little back story, Henry’s first wife, the dignified Catherine of Aragon, had one living daughter to him. She had born a son, though sadly, the little boy died days after his birth. Sadly, Catherine suffered several miscarriages, and by the time she went into menopause, she had not given Henry what he wanted most – a son. As these were Tudor times, this was considered a flaw on Catherine’s part. Henry began to seek a way out of his marriage. He divorced Catherine, breaking with the Catholic church to do so, and married the young, beautiful Anne Boleyn. 

A Royal Scandal

Anne Boleyn by Unknown artist, oil on panel, late 16th century (circa 1533-1536)

But all was not bliss for the newlyweds. Anne, too, suffered several miscarriages after Elizabeth’s birth and didn’t manage to give Henry a son either. When Elizabeth was just three years old, her father, the king, had her mother accused of high treason – of witchcraft and of sleeping with other men – and had her beheaded. 

Henry was getting very good at getting rid of wives.

Stripped of Her Title

Jane, his next wife, managed to give him a son, Prince Edward, though sadly, Jane died shortly after. The birth of a prince meant Elizabeth was no longer heir to the throne. And in fact, because of her mother’s treason, Elizabeth was stripped of her title and was no longer considered a princess. 

She had a tough life for the next few years and lived away from court. Only when her father married his sixth and last wife, Katherin Parr, that Elizabeth was allowed back into the family. Katherine Parr was clever and kind to Elizabeth. She made sure that Elizabeth had the best tutors and allowed her to be raised in the Protestant faith (Henry had broken from the Catholic church when the church would not allow him to divorce his first wife, so, at this time, England was struggling between two churches). Elizabeth was a bright young girl and learned to read and write in many different languages from various tutors.

The Death of Her Father

When Elizabeth was thirteen years old, her father died. King Henry’s heir was Elizabeth’s half brother, Edward. While Edward was king, Elizabeth lived happily at court and was a wealthy woman living off her father’s inheritance. But Edward was sickly and soon died at just fifteen years old, leaving the throne to King Henry’s first wife’s daughter. Queen Mary was a stern woman who modelled her reign after her mother. Mary was a devout Catholic and demanded that all of England convert back to the Catholic religion. Those who didn’t convert were thrown in prison or even killed. Because of this, the people of England didn’t like their new Queen. It seems that Mary became paranoid that Elizabeth was plotting to take over the throne and went as far as to put Elizabeth into the Tower of London prison.

The Tower of London still stands today.

Queen of England

When Elizabeth was 25 years old, Queen Mary of England died. Elizabeth was crowned Queen of England on January 15, 1559.

Elizabeth worked hard to bring peace to England, who had been at war with its neighbours for decades, and the battle for the crown had gone on just as long. Under her rule, England thrived.

Elizabeth set up a council of advisors called the Privy Council. The Privy Council helped her deal with her duties and offered her support so that no decision was made solely by the monarch – a flaw her father was known for. 

Elizabeth was very clever, had excellent skills of persuasion. She rarely failed to get her own way, even though she had a habit of leaving important decisions to the very last minute.

Not Just a Woman

Because this was the 16th century, many people believed that a woman wasn’t fit to rule. Elizabeth worked hard to prove them wrong. She could be as cunning and ruthless as any king. She was strong and formidable but was also strived to make England a fair and just country. 

Elizabeth had a weakness for flattery, and she could be extremely vain – the fashion under her reign was full of ruffles, braids, intricate embroidery, and jeweled cloth. Makeup was also fashionable, with white paint on the face being the height of beauty. Unfortunately, the lead in the paint was toxic, unknown by the courtiers who wore it, and many, including Elizabeth, ended up with yellowing, blistered skin.

Elizabeth was well-loved by most of her people. However, some English people believed England should be a Catholic country rather than Protestant (though Elizabeth didn’t throw people in prison for choosing Catholicism). There were several attempts to have her assassinated and to take over her throne. This included her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots. As Mary was Catholic, those English who wanted a Catholic ruler thought she should be crowned in place of Elizabeth. When Mary came to England, Elizabeth captured her and held her in a comfortable prison for 19 years before finally putting her to death. 

The Spanish Armada

The Spanish Armada

Elizabeth avoided war, though war eventually came to her. The King of Spain took issue with her sentencing the Scottish Queen to death and sent the Spanish Armada, a fleet of warships, to conquer England. Though they outnumbered the English navy, the English managed to defeat the Armada with the help of a vast storm that wiped out half the Spanish fleet. 

The defeat of the Spanish Armada brought England into an age of peace and prosperity. This time is often referred to as the Elizabethan Age and is considered England’s golden age. The Elizabethan Age is famous for the flowering of poetry, music, literature, and theater, especially the playwright William Shakespeare. 

England at Peace

It was also a time of peaceful exploration and the expansion of the British Empire by setting up new colonies overseas.

Elizabeth never married, preferring to be a woman alone, and therefore not beholden to a husband. She would not marry a foreign man for fear that her husband would put his own country’s needs ahead of England and would not marry an Englishman for fear of being seen to choose a favourite from the prestigious families of England’s royalty. And so, she remained single and free and married only to her country. 

Her Death

Queen Elizabeth died on March 24, 1603, and was buried in Westminster Abby. Her reign lasted 44 years. Though no cause for her death has ever been confirmed, it is thought that she died of the effects of lead poisoning from the white makeup she wore.

She was succeeded by James VI of Scotland, the son of Mary, Queen of Scots whom Elizabeth had put to death years before. James was already heir to the Scottish throne, and by inheriting the crown of England, he succeeded in uniting the countries under one rule, as it is still to this day.

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