Queen of Englandby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
“So shall this my kingdom through thee be established with peace; so shall thy Church be edified with power; so shall thy Gospel be published with zeal; so shall my reign be continued with prosperity; so shall my life be prolonged with happiness; and so shall my self at thy good pleasure be translated into immortality”.1 - -Elizabeth I
Elizabeth, who sometimes is referred to as “The Virgin Queen” and “Good Queen Bess”, was the fifth and final monarch of the Tudor dynasty. By the time Elizabeth I took the throne in 1558, England had experienced over twenty-five years of religious upheaval. With the desire to fulfill God’s will, Elizabeth I led England through a period of great change spiritually and economically.
When Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII, came to realize that he would not have a son by his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, he changed the religion of England from Catholicism to Protestantism in order to divorce her and remarry. Therefore when his second wife, Anne Boleyn, gave birth to Elizabeth on September 7, 1533 in Greenwich Palace, it was hardly a joyous occasion. Since her mother failed to provide a male heir, her marriage to Henry VIII was declared null and void. When Elizabeth was two, her mother was beheaded after being wrongfully accused of adultery. Elizabeth, like her half sister Mary, was exiled from the court. Her father then married Jane Seymour, who died giving birth to a son, Edward.
Eventually Elizabeth and her half-brother Edward were placed under the protection of Henry’s sixth wife, Catherine Parr. Both children were raised as Protestants. Elizabeth received her education from her tutor, Roger Ascham. She was intellectually gifted, with a special knack for languages. She became fluent in six different languages: English, French, Italian, Greek, Latin and Spanish. The ability to read Greek and Latin had a huge impact on Elizabeth’s spiritual development. She was able to read and interpret the Bible for herself, something most people during those days were unable to do, and grew in her conviction that salvation comes by faith alone, not by works.2
As a final act before he died in 1547, King Henry VIII reinstated Mary and Elizabeth in the line of succession: Mary to follow Edward and Elizabeth to follow Mary. At the age of nine Edward became King. During his reign the Church of England became more thoroughly Protestant. However, Edward died when he was only 16 and Mary became Queen. Mary was a devoted Catholic and from the very beginning of her reign was determined to return England to the Catholic faith. Mary later became known as “Bloody Mary” because of the persecution of Protestants under her rule. Hundreds of people were burned to death for not adhering to the Catholic form of worship. The people of England began to long for Elizabeth to come into reign. “When these with violence were burnt to death, we prayed to God for our Elizabeth”.3
Mary died childless in 1558 and her half sister Elizabeth ascended to the throne. It is apparent that a major concern Elizabeth had at the beginning of her reign was to restore the Protestant faith in England in such a way that the “new” church would appeal to both Protestants and Catholics. Although her religious tolerance was not liked by many, she simply stated that she had “no desire to make windows into men’s souls”.4 Elizabeth had a private chapel in which she prayed daily. “She saw herself as God’s vessel on earth, and would pray to determine God’s will so that He would reveal it to her, and she could implement it”.5
Elizabeth’s religious views affected the way she handled many things throughout her reign. Instead of naming herself "Supreme Head of the Church" as her father had done, Elizabeth took the title “Supreme Governor”. The main reason for this is most likely because many people felt that a woman should not be head of the Church. In fact, many people felt that a woman should not rule the country alone. However, it is said from very early on, Elizabeth knew she would never marry. There were a few times she came close to marriage, but for political and religious reasons, she never went through with it. The major problem that came from Elizabeth never marrying was that she was without an heir. Even after nearly dying from smallpox in 1562, she would not name a successor.
Plots and invasions were formed in an effort to overtake the throne. Although her advisors wanted Elizabeth to execute her Catholic rival, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, Elizabeth did not sign her death warrant till 1587, when her guilt could not be denied. Among the other problems, Elizabeth had to deal was her late half-sister’s husband Philip, King of Spain. Spain at that time was the strongest western nation. In an effort to maintain the political relationship between Spain and England, Philip had been trying to get Elizabeth to marry him soon after Mary died in 1558, but was rejected. “England became a thorn in Philip’s side”6 and in 1588 Philip sent a fleet of 130 ships to invade England. His hopes were to gain control of the throne and restore the Catholic Church. England, with God’s help in the form of a storm, was able to defeat the mighty Spanish Armada. This victory was not only politically important for England but also important in the sense that it proved Elizabeth, “the woman in a man’s world”7, was capable of leading the country.
Elizabeth's reign, often referred to as “The Golden Age”, was during one of the more affluent periods in English history. Literature and the performing arts were taken to a whole new level. People like Shakespeare, Spenser and Marlowe flourished during this time. Elizabeth encouraged men such as Francis Drake and Walter Raleigh in foreign trade and the exploration of the New World.
By devoting herself as “God’s vessel on earth”8 , Elizabeth accomplished things no woman before her ever had. Even though she did not have as much affect on the world around her as other monarchs, Elizabeth was able to unite her people in a country previously torn by poverty and religious conflict. Her death in 1603 brought an end to a memorable and prosperous forty-five year reign as well as to the Tudor dynasty. Elizabeth’s impact on politics, the economy, social and religious life will be felt for generations to come.
1Haugaard W P 1981 ‘Elizabeth Tudors Book of Devotions’,
Sixteenth Century Journal 12:pg 103
2Haigh , Christopher 1988, Elizabeth I, Profiles in Power, pg. 32
3http://www.elizabethi.org/us/elizabethanchurch/marian.html: A poem dedicated to Elizabeth, author unknown, paragraph 3
4http://www.elizabethi.org/us/elizabethanchurch/queenandchurch.html, paragraph 1
5http://www.elizabethi.org/us/elizabethanchurch/queenandchurch.html, paragraph 3
6Lowman, Michael R., George Thompson and Kurt Grussendorf, United States History: Heritage of Freedom, Second Edition, pg. 16
7David Starkey, Elizabeth, flyleaf
8http://www.elizabethi.org/us/elizabethanchurch/queenandchurch.html, paragraph 3
Haigh, Christopher. Elizabeth I (2nd Edn), Profiles in Power. New York: Longman Publishing, 1998
Neale, J.E. Queen Elizabeth I. London: Pimlico, 1998
Starkey, David. Elizabeth: Apprenticeship. London: Chatto and Windus, 2000
Haugaard, W P. Elizabeth Tudors Book of Devotions, Sixteenth Century Journal 12. Unknown, 1981
Loman, Michael R., George Thompson, Kurt Grussendorf. United States History: Heritage of Freedom (2nd Edn). USA: Pensacola Christian College, 2002
Unknown, “Elizabeth I” <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_I>, Unknown, Unknown, August 27, 2004
Unknown, “Elizabeth I”, Unknown, <http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761555497/Elizabeth_I.html>, Unknown, Unknown, August 27, 2004
Thomas, Heather. “Elizabeth I”, August 17, 2004, <http://www.elizabethi.org/us/>, Unknown, Unknown, August 27, 2004