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Elizabeth I of England

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Elizabeth I of England by George Gower, 1575

Elizabeth I of England (7 September 1533 – 24 March 1603) was Queen of England, Ireland, and nominal claimant to Queen of France from 17 November 1558 until she died in 1603. She was the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty.

She never married and had no children. She has been called The Virgin Queen and Good Queen Bess. Her reign was a great era in the history of England. At her death, she named James IV of Scotland as her successor to the English throne.

Literature and the arts flourished during her reign and her greatest accomplishments include stabilizing religion in her realm, promoting the colonization of North America, and defeating the Spanish Armada.

Early life[edit | edit source]

Elizabeth was the daughter of King Henry VIII of England and his second wife, Anne Boleyn. Boleyn was executed in 1536. After Anne's death, the king said she should no longer be treated as his daughter. Her half-sister, Mary, daughter of Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry, was in the same position.

King Henry married Jane Seymour who had a baby son. He was named Edward. According to the Salic Law, the throne could not pass to a female descendant if there was a male heir, even if the female was older or had a more direct claim to the throne, so Edward became heir to the throne.

Elizabeth was the only child of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.


Elizabeth was taken away from the royal court. She was given a good education. She could speak and read English, as well as French, Italian, Spanish, Greek, and Latin.

In 1547, King Henry died. Elizabeth's younger half-brother, Edward, became King Edward VI of England. Because King Henry had no other children, he left a will saying that, if Edward had no children of his own, Mary would be queen after him, and Elizabeth would be queen after Mary. Edward died in 1553, when he was only fifteen. Mary then became Queen Mary I of England.

During Mary's reign, life became difficult for Elizabeth. Mary was a Roman Catholic and she married King Philip II of Spain, also a Roman Catholic. This marriage made her unpopular because Spain and England were old enemies. Mary wanted everyone else in England to be Roman Catholic again, so she tried to make Elizabeth attend Roman Catholic services. Because of the argument over religion, many people in the country preferred Elizabeth to Mary and wanted to make her queen. She was accused of trying to take Mary's throne, and was briefly put into the Tower of London.

Queen of England[edit | edit source]

Virgin Queen[edit | edit source]

Portrait of Elizabeth to commemorate the defeat of the Spanish Armada (1588)

At Mary's death, Elizabeth became the Queen of England in 1558. Elizabeth has been called the "Virgin Queen", because she never married. As Mary's marriage to Philip of Spain had caused a lot of problems, Elizabeth did not want to make the same mistake in marrying a foreign ruler. She played the political games with the prospect of marrying one prince or another.

Most people believe that she was in love with Robert Dudley, the 1st Earl of Leicester. Elisabeth and Dudley were both prisoners in the Tower of London during Queen Mary's reign. Robert Dudley was married to Amy Robsart but she died in an accident not long after Elizabeth became queen. Some people said that her husband had arranged for her to be killed so he would be free to marry Queen Elizabeth. This gossip made it impossible for Elizabeth to marry him. She decided that she would not marry at all.

Rivalry with Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland[edit | edit source]

Mary with her second husband, Lord Darnley

The person with the most legitimate claim to follow Elizabeth to the throne of England was her cousin, Mary Stuart, who was Queen of Scotland. But Mary was a Catholic and Elizabeth was a Protestant. Mary married a French prince and in 1560, became Queen of France, for only one year, as well as Queen of Scots. Some people wanted to force Elizabeth off the throne and replace her with Mary. Mary was a danger to Elizabeth's bid for power.

Because many Scottish people were Protestants, they did not like Mary and revolted against her. She was put in prison and her infant son James was made King of Scotland in her place. He became James VI. In 1568, Mary escaped and fled to England, to ask for help from Elizabeth.

Elizabeth kept her as a prisoner for many years. In 1578, Elizabeth was told that Mary had been plotting to kill her to become queen in her place. Mary was put on trial and found guilty, and Elizabeth agreed to put Mary to death.

End of Elizabeth's reign[edit | edit source]

Earl of Essex[edit | edit source]

Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, by William Segar, 1588

After the death of Roberth Dudley, Elizabeth turned to Dudley's stepson, the Earl of Essex, who was a young man and not always very sensible. He disappointed Elizabeth several times. She sent him away from the royal court.

Essex rebelled in 1601. He planned to take over the royal court by coup, raising 300 men and some out-of-favour nobles like himself. Not many people supported them, and Essex was executed.

Death[edit | edit source]

Elizabeth I fell ill in February 1603. She was suffering from physical weakness and insomnia. She had no children, and named James VI of Scotland her successor. Elizabeth I died at the age of 69, on 24 March 1603. She is buried in Westminster Abbey.

Legacy[edit | edit source]

There have been many movies about Elizabeth I.

  • The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939) - Bette Davis
  • Young Bess (1953) - Jean Simmons
  • The Virgin Queen (1955) - Bette Davis
  • Elizabeth R, a BBC television series - Glenda Jackson
  • Elizabeth – Cate Banchett played Elizabeth I and received the Academy Award nomination for Best Actress


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