A Queen who led a nation from the throes of divisiveness to world might, Elizabeth I’s life is a legend steeped as much in history as mythology.
Elizabeth was born on September 7, 1533 in Greenwich Palace, to Henry VIII of England and Henry’s second wife, Anne Boleyn. Henry VIII was the King of England and Ireland and was desperately seeking a male heir to his throne when Anne Boleyn gave birth to Elizabeth. However, since she became his only legitimate child at birth, she became the heiress presumptive to the throne of England. After Elizabeth’s birth, Anne Boleyn suffered two miscarriages and fell out of favor of King Henry. She was arrested and beheaded on fabricated charges to make way for the King to marry again. So, at the age of two, Elizabeth was declared illegitimate after Anne’s execution. Soon after, Henry married Jane Seymour, who gave birth to his first legitimate son, Edward VI. However, she died 12 days after giving birth. Elizabeth was sent to live in Edward’s household and was taken care of by a succession of governesses who took care of her early education. She finished her formal education in 1550 and by then was the best educated woman of her time with command over English, Latin, Italian, French and Greek.
Elizabeth was only 13 when Henry VIII died in 1547 and was succeeded by Edward VI as the King, who was 9 at the time. Catherine Parr, Henry's sixth and last wife, married Thomas Seymour of Sudeley, after Henry’s death. Catherine took Elizabeth into her household where she stayed for just about a year. The reason for her short tenure there was an incident involving Thomas Seymour. He made several undue advances towards Elizabeth and on one such occasion was caught in an embrace with her by Catherine. Elizabeth was sent away to Hatfield House where she stayed till she was appointed Queen. Catherine did not live for long after and died in September 1548, a few days after childbirth. Her death made Thomas Seymour renew his interest in Elizabeth and he became intent on marrying her. The Lord Protector of the time was Edward Seymour who headed the Regency council, which took care of the King’s affairs since Edward VI had not reached maturity. He was Thomas’ brother and perceived this interest in Elizabeth as a challenge to his seat of power and had his brother arrested and Elizabeth interrogated. Elizabeth came out clean from this interrogation but Thomas was convicted and beheaded. It is alleged that the experience with Thomas made Elizabeth cautious about her interactions with men in later life.
Path To Accession
King Edward VI died at the age of 15 on July 6, 1553. The Third Succession Act of 1543 had brought Mary I, daughter of Henry VIII from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and Elizabeth back into the line of succession. So Mary I was the legal heir to the throne. However, owing to her Catholic faith, her succession was out of favor of the dying Protestant King and his council. There was also the issue of legitimacy and male inheritance, which kept Elizabeth out of the picture despite her being a Protestant. Thus, Edward drafted a will at his deathbed along with his council instating his niece, Lady Jane Grey as the next Queen who had married the son of the present head of Edward’s council, Duke of Northumberland. Jane’s reign was short-lived however, as Mary I rode into London along with Elizabeth on a wave of popularity just nine days after Jane was proclaimed Queen. Mary I became the country’s first unquestionable Queen regnant. Mary I was a Catholic and tried to crush Protestantism in England with her policies and soon began losing public support, earning the nickname ‘Bloody Mary’. She was also much criticized for her decision to marry Spain’s Prince Philip which people feared could have had England reduced to a Spanish Dependency. When she finally did marry him, rebellions broke out in England in 1554 led by Thomas Wyatt who pledged support to Elizabeth, even though, Elizabeth herself had nothing to do with them. Upon the collapse of the uprising, Elizabeth was imprisoned in the Tower of London and put on trial. Elizabeth managed to survive the trial owing to her supporters within the government. She was however, put in a house arrest for a year. When Mary appeared to have become pregnant, Elizabeth was no longer perceived as a threat and was sent back to Hatfield. Soon after though, it became clear that the pregnancy was false and no heir was forthcoming. This made Elizabeth’s path to accession to the throne devoid of any hurdles. Mary was on her deathbed when she recognized Elizabeth as the heir and upon her death on 17 November 1558, Elizabeth I became the Queen regnant of England at the age of 25.
Elizabethan Policies And Achievements
Unlike Mary, Elizabeth adopted moderate religious policies and did not persecute Catholics. Elizabethan Religious Settlement which included the Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity (1559), the Prayer Book of 1559, and the Thirty-Nine Articles (1563) was principally Protestant, but preserved many traditional Catholic ceremonies. Elizabeth’s pro-Protestant policies and support to English privateers who attacked Spanish ships in the Atlantic and Caribbean along with her support of the Dutch Rebellion against Spanish control brought England in conflict with Philip II’s Spain, which was fiercely Catholic. However, she was a leader who was loved by her subjects as she led from the front. This was seen when war with Spain finally broke out in 1588 and she rallied her troops by giving an inspiring and impassioned speech at Tilbury Fort, which ultimately resulted in the defeat of the Spanish Armada of 132 ships by the English fleet of 34 ships, and 163 armed merchant vessels. The English navy further repelled Spain’s attempts at invasion in 1596 and 1597. One more major achievement of her reign was English support for the successful Scottish Protestant rebellion of 1560 led by John Knox, which ended the French rule there and reformed the Scottish Church to Protestantism. This caused Elizabeth some hardship as the deposed Queen of Scots, Mary came to England and got involved in various Catholic plots and conspiracies to challenge Elizabeth’s throne before she was finally prosecuted and beheaded. Before Elizabeth’s reign, England controlled only a small area of Ireland. However, as Spain began using Ireland as a base for rebellion against Elizabeth, England was forced to take more active measures. Between 1593 and 1603, England waged a full-scale war in Ireland and brought the whole country under its control. Elizabeth’s reign was called the ‘Golden Age’ as it was the age of exploration and discovery. She promoted exploration by merchants and expansion of trade overseas. She was a learned woman and promoted arts and literature. Many great playwrights and poets such as William Shakespeare, Edmund Spenser, Christopher Marlowe, and Sir Walter Raleigh belonged to this era. Elizabeth established the ‘Poor Law’ by which she achieved a new framework for support of the needy. Elizabeth surrounded herself with highly intelligent and loyal advisors such as Sir William Cecil, Sir Francis Walsingham, and Sir Robert Cecil who gave her sound political advice but she continued to keep a firm grip on her subordinates and kept the conflicting factions at her court muted.
After Elizabeth’s encounter with Thomas Seymour early in life, she became rather wary of getting intimate with men. Being in line to the throne as a teenager and then becoming the queen made her an attractive prospect for many a suitor. However, she only ever had a serious courtship with Lord Robert Dudley who was her childhood friend. They had an intimate relationship and she considered him a marriage prospect for nearly a decade. Even after relinquishing him as a love interest she was emotionally attached to him and after her death, a note from him was found among her most personal belongings, marked by her as ‘his last letter’. The prospect of marriage was often used as a diplomatic ploy by her and the Parliament petitioned frequently for her to get married. She turned down the offer of Philip II with whom she would later fight many battles. Among the other notable suitors were Archduke Charles of Austria, Henri, Duke of Anjou, and later, his brother François, Duke of Anjou. As Elizabeth aged, her marriage prospects seemed unlikely. She was projected as the eternally youthful virgin queen.
Queen Elizabeth I has had a lasting legacy with many myths getting irrevocably mixed with facts. She was a strong woman who was a leader amongst men. She was also epitomized as the ‘Virgin Queen’ who loved her subjects and the nation like her husband. For such reasons, she has been the subject of innumerable books, plays, operas, and films. Her love life has often been fictionalized and romanticized and her virtues continue to make her a compelling topic for a story. Her speeches were used to great effect as a propaganda tool in her reign and served to build her legend. Her lasting contribution was the protection of Protestantism in England, which led to England rising to become a major world power and paving the way for her colonial conquests in the coming centuries.
More from iloveindia.com