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Elizabeth I was born on September 7, 1533 at Greenwich Palace near London. Her
father was England's King Henry VIII; her mother was the king's second wife,
Anne Boleyn. Elizabeth had an older half-sister, Mary, who was the daughter of the
king's first wife, Catherine of Aragon.
King Henry had moved heaven and earth to marry Anne Boleyn. He had parted
from the Catholic church, established the Church of England, and annulled his
twenty-four year marriage to Queen Catherine - partly because he loved Anne, and
partly because he wanted the male heir Catherine could not give him. Henry and
Anne were convinced that their first child would be a boy. The new queen even had
a document drawn up ahead of time that announced the birth of a prince. When the
prince turned out to be a princess, her parents were dismayed.
Over the next few years Anne had three miscarriages, and Henry - who had become
disenchanted with her even before Elizabeth's birth - decided to be rid of her. In
1536 he had Anne arrested on false charges of adultery. The Archbishop of
Canterbury bowed to the king's will by declaring that Henry's marriage to Anne
had never been valid. Like her half-sister Mary, two-year-old Elizabeth was now
considered illegitimate. Anne was executed, and two weeks later the king married
In 1537 Queen Jane died after giving birth to a son, Edward. Elizabeth and Mary
participated in his christening ceremony. As Edward grew older, he and Elizabeth
became close; although they lived in separate households, they wrote to each other
When Elizabeth was four, Katherine Champernowne became her governess. The
well-educated Champernowne - known as Kat Ashley after her marriage in 1545 -
began teaching Elizabeth astronomy, geography, history, math, French, Flemish,
Italian, Spanish, and other subjects. Elizabeth was an excellent student. Her tutor
Roger Ascham later wrote, "She talks French and Italian as well as she does
English. When she writes Greek and Latin, nothing is more beautiful than her
In 1540 Elizabeth's father married Anne of Cleves. Repelled by what he perceived as
his bride's ugliness, Henry quickly had the marriage annulled and instead married
Anne Boleyn's first cousin Katherine Howard. Katherine was very young - about
fifteen - and something of a featherbrain, but she was kind to Elizabeth, who was
surely appalled when, in a repetition of the past, the queen was arrested and
charged with adultery. This time the charges were true. Queen Katherine was
beheaded in 1542, when Elizabeth was seven years old.
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Katherine Howard's violent death seems to have had a lasting impact on Elizabeth.
At the age of eight she met one of Prince Edward's classmates, Robert Dudley, and
told him of an important decision she had made. "I will never marry," she said. It
was a decision that would shape her life.
In 1543 Elizabeth gained yet another stepmother when Henry married his sixth and
final wife, Katherine Parr. Four years later Henry VIII died, leaving his crown to
Edward. According to Henry's will, if Edward died without heirs he would be
succeeded by Mary. If Mary died without heirs, Elizabeth would become queen.
Soon after Henry's death, Elizabeth received a marriage proposal from handsome
Thomas Seymour, who was England's Lord Admiral and the brother of the late
Queen Jane. Knowing that Seymour was simply seeking the power that marriage to
the king's sister could bring him, Elizabeth turned him down. So Seymour proposed
to the widowed Queen Katherine, who had been in love with him before her
marriage to Henry VIII. Unaware of Seymour's previous proposal to her
stepdaughter, Katherine happily accepted. They were quickly married, and the
following year Elizabeth went to live with them at the royal Old Manor House in
Thomas Seymour still had designs on pretty red-haired Elizabeth. He took to
visiting her bedroom in the morning before she was dressed. During these visits he
sometimes tickled her or slapped her bottom; once he tried to kiss her. Elizabeth
giggled and seemed to enjoy his attention, but Kat Ashley was disturbed by the
Lord Admiral's behavior, and the servants began to gossip. Queen Katherine was
aware of what was going on, but saw it all as innocent romping. Once she even
joined in the "joke," holding Elizabeth in the garden while her husband cut off
Hoping to further deceive his wife, Seymour told her that he had seen Elizabeth
with her arms around a man's neck. Concerned, the queen questioned Elizabeth,
who cried and insisted it wasn't true. Now Katherine began to suspect that her
husband, not some mystery man, had been making advances to her stepdaughter.
She started watching the Lord Admiral more carefully. One day Katherine went
looking for him and Elizabeth and, according to one account, "came suddenly upon
them, where they were all alone, he having her in his arms." Understandably upset,
Katherine banished Elizabeth from the Old Manor House.
A few months later Katherine died after childbirth and Seymour resumed plotting
to marry Elizabeth. Elizabeth knew that she could not legally marry without the
permission of the king's council, and she refused to be drawn into the Lord
Admiral's schemes. In 1549 Seymour was arrested on charges of conspiring to marry
Elizabeth and take over the government. Kat Ashley was also arrested, along with
another of Elizabeth's employees, and Elizabeth herself was closely interrogated. She
kept her wits about her and denied any involvement in Seymour's treasonous
activities. In the end she convinced the Council of her innocence, and her servants
were released from prison.
When Elizabeth heard that Seymour had been beheaded for his crimes she said
only, "This day died a man of much wit and very little judgement." She had learned
that she must keep her feelings to herself if she hoped to survive.
Elizabeth continued to get along well with her brother, King Edward, but in 1553
Edward died. On his deathbed he was persuaded by the duke of Northumberland to
name Lady Jane Grey to succeed him. Lady Jane tried to refuse the crown, but
Northumberland (who was her father-in-law) proclaimed her to be the new queen.
Meanwhile, Henry VIII's daughter Mary was proclaimed queen by her supporters.
Northumberland surrendered to Mary's forces. He and Jane Grey were imprisoned
and later executed.
Queen Mary was determined to restore Catholicism as the country's official religion.
She pressured Elizabeth to convert. Elizabeth obediently attended one Mass, but
complained the whole time of feeling ill. Because this and Elizabeth's popularity
with the English people, Mary grew wary of her half sister.
When Sir Thomas Wyatt led an uprising against Mary, the queen suspected that
Elizabeth was involved. Elizabeth was taken to London and confined at Whitehall
Palace. Eventually, although no evidence against her could be found, she was sent to
the Tower, where Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard, Jane Grey and so many others
had awaited execution. When Elizabeth saw that she was being brought into the
Tower via the Traitor's Gate, she panicked and begged to be brought through some
Told that she must enter this way, she cried, "O Lord, I never throught to come in
here as a prisoner . . . I come in as no traitor but as true a woman to the Queen's
Majesty as any as is now living; and thereon will I take my death." She sat down on
the stairs and refused to move. When told that it wasn't healthy to sit in the rain,
she replied tearfully, "It is better sitting here than in a worse place!"
One of her servants started to sob and Elizabeth told him angrily that he shouldn't
cry, saying, "I thank God that I know my truth to be such that no man can have
cause to weep for me!" With that she continued into the Tower.
Despite her very reasonable fears, she was released from the Tower two months
later, on the eighteenth anniversary of her mother's death. She remained a prisoner,
however. In 1555 she was moved under heavy guard to Hampton Court, where the
queen was staying. Mary refused to see her, but Mary's new husband Philip of
Spain met with Elizabeth and fell under her spell. At his encouragement Mary
finally reconciled with Elizabeth.
The following years were fraught with peril for Elizabeth. Over 250 Protestants were
burned at the stake during the reign of "Bloody Mary," and Elizabeth's failure to
truly convert to the Catholic faith put her in constant danger, as did other people's
conspiracies to overthrow Mary and place Elizabeth on the throne.
Finally, on November 17, 1558, Mary died and Elizabeth's years of peril came to an
end. She was now the queen of England.
Elizabeth's advisors urged the twenty-five-year old queen to quickly marry some
foreign prince and produce heirs so that the throne would not pass to Henry VIII's
great-niece, Mary Stuart, the queen of Scotland. Elizabeth stood by her early
decision never to marry. (One of the many proposals she rejected was from Mary's
widower, Philip of Spain.)
Elizabeth had a romantic nature, and may already have been in love her childhood
friend, Robert Dudley, whom she later made the Earl of Leicester. Although
Elizabeth was a hard-working monarch, like her father she had a great appetite for
entertainment. She enjoyed archery, dancing, hunting, riding, and tennis. Whatever
she did, Leicester was usually nearby. He was given a bedroom near hers, and
rumors about the nature of their relationship were rampant.
Leicester had a wife named Amy. In 1559, while Leicester was at court, Amy fell
down the staircase of her country home, broke her neck, and died. She had been
alone in the house at the time of her accident, and it was whispered that she had
been murdered so that Elizabeth and Leicester could marry. But Elizabeth did not
marry Leicester. Twenty years later he infuriated the queen by secretly marrying
her cousin Lettice Knollys, but Elizabeth forgave him, and he remained her favorite
until his death.
Elizabeth made conservative Sir William Cecil, Lord Burleigh, her chief minister
and relied on his advice for forty years. Early in her reign she reformed English
currency, encouraged foreign trade, and signed treaties with France and Scotland.
She used her single state to her diplomatic advantage, often pretending to consider
marriage to one foreign royal or another.
Although she returned the Church of England to power, she showed tolerance
toward Catholics at first. Despite Catholic conspiracies to overthrow her and place
Mary Stuart on the English throne, Elizabeth hesitated to execute her fellow queen.
Mary became Elizabeth's prisoner in 1568, but it was not until 1587 that Elizabeth,
confronted with evidence of Mary's participation in the Babington Plot to
assassinate Elizabeth, signed Mary's death warrant. By this time Elizabeth had
become more brutal in suppressing Catholics, although she continued to believe, in
her words, "There is only one Christ Jesus and one faith; the rest is a dispute about
In 1588 Spain's King Philip II, Elizabeth's brother-in-law and one-time suitor,
assembled a great fleet of ships, the Armada, and tried to invade England. The
ensuing battle between the Spanish and English fleets lasted nine days. At last the
English routed their enemy, and most of the fleeing Spanish ships were destroyed by
a storm. The defeat of the Armada was one of the greatest triumphs of Elizabeth's
Elizabeth was glorified by poets and artists as Gloriana, the Virgin Queen. With the
help of fine clothes, jewels and cosmetics, the vain queen maintained a glamorous
image despite her advancing age. In her mid-fifties she fell in love with Robert
Devereux, Earl of Essex, son of Lettice Knollys. Essex was in his early twenties,
good-looking, and extremely arrogant. Although he reigned as the queen's favorite
for many years, he did not always show Elizabeth the deference she demanded.
Once, when Elizabeth slapped him during an argument, Essex threatened to draw
his sword on her. Elizabeth sent him to Ireland to quell a rebellion; while there,
Essex ignored the queen's orders and pursued his own agenda. When he defied her
by returning to England without permission, Elizabeth placed him under house
arrest. After his release Essex attempted to lead an uprising against the queen, and
the heartbroken Elizabeth had no choice but to sentence him to death. Essex was
executed in 1601.
Two years later Elizabeth became very ill. Perhaps she did not want to live without
Essex; when her doctors offered her medicine, she refused to take it. She died on
March 24, 1603 at the age of 69.
Elizabeth once told Parliament, "Though God has raised me high, yet this I account
the glory of my crown, that I have reigned with your loves." She is regarded by
many as the greatest monarch in English history.
(reigned 1558-1603), daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, returned England to
Protestantism while still managing to secure order. She refused to marry or name her
successor as marriage could have created foreign alliance difficulties or encouraged
factionalism at home. Her rightful heir was her cousin, , who, threatened by rebellion in
Scotland, fled to England. Imprisoned by Elizabeth in 1567, Mary plotted with English
Roman Catholics and with Spain, France and the Pope. The threat to the English throne
which this posed resulted in Mary's execution in 1587 and led to outright war with Spain.
In 1588 , the 'Armada', was defeated. There were two further Armadas in the 1590s, and
an Irish revolt in 1595, assisted by Spain, which was eventually put down in 1601.
The financial strains caused by the war against Spain (made worse by poor harvests)
meant that Elizabeth did not try to put the Crown on a permanently solvent basis. In
addition to sharp debates over revenue-raising measures such as monopolies, Parliament
continued its pressure on the Queen to deal with the question of the succession. However,
Elizabeth died in 1603 still refusing to name her successor.
1603 Death of Elizabeth
On 24 March 1603, at Richmond Palace, Elizabeth I died. To the end, she had resolutely
refused to name her heir. The administrators around her, however, were in no doubt as to
her intended successor and James VI, King of Scots, was proclaimed as James I, King of
1584 Elizabeth and the Low Countries
From 1584, Elizabeth played an active role in assisting the Protestant Dutch rebels of the
Low Countries (modern Netherlands and Belgium) to oppose their monarch, Philip II of
Spain. A treaty of alliance with the Dutch, under William of Orange, had been signed as
early as 1579, but it was not until 1584 that English troops were dispatched. In 1585,
Elizabeth formally took the Netherlands under her protection (following the assassination
in July 1584 of Protestant leader, William of Orange), ten years after she had refused an
offer of full sovereignty. Beside the official English troops under leaders such as the Earl of Leicester, there were also a number of English, Irish and Scottish mercenaries who
fought in the Dutch wars both on the Protestant side and the Catholic side (and when the
situation merited, both sides!).
1569-86 Plots against Elizabeth
Although Elizabeth was the last of the Tudor monarchs, she was occasionally under threat
from dissident factions who sought to depose her and place an alternative monarch
(usually, Mary, Queen of Scots), in her place. In 1569, the Duke of Norfolk was
imprisoned in the Tower for plotting to marry himself to Mary, Queen of Scots, and thus
provide a strong Catholic phalanx within England; a month later, Durham was seized by
the Catholic earls of Westmorland and Northumberland, thus giving substance to the idea
of Catholic plotting; in September 1571, the Ridolfi plot - to depose Elizabeth, replace her with Mary and restore Catholicism - was revealed; in 1583, the Throckmorton plot (with
similar aims but the backing of the King of Spain and the Duke of Guise) was exposed;
and, in 1586, the Babington Plot, which ultimately led to the execution of Mary, was
'discovered' by Walsingham, only a matter of weeks after the Scots had signed the Treaty
1558 Accession of Elizabeth I
(1558-1603), the Protestant daughter of Anne Boleyn, acceded to the throne on Mary's
death in 1558. After she was crowned, her first task was to bring about a broad religious
settlement, accepting those aspects of Protestant doctrine which were consistent with
order, and rejecting those which were not. It was not until the 1580s that the Reformation
gained general acceptance. Elizabeth did not condemn the contemporary stereotype of
women as inferior to men - in 1558, John Knox (a Scottish minister) had published the
wonderfully titled 'First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women'
(Monstrous Regiment meaning unnatural rule) - but instead claimed that she was an
exceptional woman, chosen by God as his instrument.