Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Elizabeth I

The Greatest Queen of England - the Queen who refused to surrender her crown and submit to a man

Elizabeth was born at Greenwich Palace on September 7th 1533 - but she was not what her parents wanted. Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn had been convinced that their child was the much longed-for son but instead Elizabeth was born. Nevertheless, she was given a lavish baptism and - like most royal children - spent her first years with her own household. But when she was two 2½ years old her mother, Anne Boleyn, was executed and Elizabeth's life changed forever.

Elizabeth 1 - 2nd daughter of King Henry VIII (with Anne Boleyn)The former Princess Elizabeth was declared a bastard and was stripped of her grand household and her titles. She was allowed to carry the train of her half-brother Prince Edward at his baptism but was not welcome at court at the time - Henry VIII was still convinced that she was a bastard and she probably reminded him of Anne Boleyn.
Through her childhood she was taken care of by three different women in turn: Lady Bryant (who was transferred to her brother's establishment), Lady Troy (who retired between 1545-16) and finally Lady Catherine Ashley (who remained Elizabeth's friend till her death). Elizabeth was a very intelligent child and she soon learned French, Flemish, Spanish, Italian and was able to write Latin, English and Italian.

Though there have been many rumours of a 14-year old Elizabeth and Thomas Seymour it is most likely just rumours. The main reason for why Elizabeth was sent away was probably due to the gossip that emerged even at the time. But no matter the story, Elizabeth left her widowed step-mother's estate and from then on lived at Hatfield House - when Thomas Seymour was arrested and eventually beheaded, she would drive her interrogator mad by continuously denying the rumours.
Things changed again when Elizabeth's half-sister, Mary I, took to the throne in 1553. Elizabeth was now in even more danger than before because she was widely rumoured to be a Protestant which was not acceptable to her ardently Catholic sister. However, when Mary rode into London after defeating the supporters of Lady Jane Grey, Elizabeth was with her and they appeared to be friends.

When the Wyatt rebellion against Mary I broke out Elizabeth was immediately suspected of being a central part of it mainly due to the fact that she had become the Protestant counterpoint to the Catholic Queen. So, Elizabeth was taken to court and questioned for long periods of time but admitted nothing. In the end it was found that she had not taken part in the rebellion after all. But Queen Mary's Catholic courtiers were terrified of the idea of a Protestant Queen and worked on having her tried - had it worked, Elizabeth would most likely have been executed. Elizabeth was recalled to court to witness the Queen's confinement but it turned out to be another phantom pregnancy of her sister's and the court's faith in a childbearing Mary was dead. Instead, Elizabeth's succession seemed certain.

stunning artworkAnd it was. When Queen Mary died on November 17th 1558 and Elizabeth was not only the heir apparent but Mary's acknowledged heir.
So despite of her uncertain life until then, Elizabeth became Queen of England at 25 of age in 1558 and was officially crowned on January 15th 1559. She was wildly popular with her people from the beginning - something that would last throughout her reign.

Now came the moment that many people in England feared. If Elizabeth chose an aggressive religious politics England might experience another wave of mass-burnings as under Mary I. But Elizabeth combined the two counterparts by maintaining the Protestant faith and keeping certain Catholic symbols such as the crucifix. She too had seen the horrors of her predecessors reign and wanted to avoid another religious crusade and so the Heresy Laws were repealed and Elizabeth united Protestantism and Catholicism as far as it was possible.

From the very beginning of Elizabeth's reign, it was expected that the young, beautiful and intelligent Queen would take a husband and producing an heir. This led to a massive search for suitable matches for Elizabeth who at the time must already have known that she really intended on never marrying. While the search for a husband went on, Elizabeth was more interested in her childhood friend, Robert Dudley. They fell in love with each other and Elizabeth obviously favoured him above any other male courtier. It has been said that the Queen even considered marrying Robert Dudley for a while until she became aware of the fact that by doing so, she was most likely to loose her crown - and the crown came first. But even though Elizabeth did not intend on marrying Dudley herself, she could not stand his love affairs and when she later in life found out that he had married in secret, she became so furious that many thought the favourite would end up on the scaffold.

Mainly the marriage negotiations served a political purpose - if Elizabeth seemed interested in marrying a prince of a certain kingdom then that kingdom would not attack England. She turned down a marriage proposal from Philip II of Spain (her former brother-in-law) and then turned her eyes to the Austrian Archduke Charles of Austria. However this match never came to anything either, mainly because that Austria's power had deteriorated and no longer possessed the same benefits to her country. The next in line for the Queen's marriage "game" was two French Valois Princes: first Henry, Duke of Anjou and then his brother Francis, Duke of Anjou (formerly Duke of Alencon). Elizabeth considered marrying the latter as a political move against the Spanish in the Netherlands.

When Elizabeth got ill with small-pox, the pressure on the Queen to marry intensified. But a miraculous recovery meant that Elizabeth could once more avoid the question of marriage. She even told an imperial ambassador that she would rather be a beggar-woman and single than a queen and married. By 1570, most of her Parliament had accepted that she would neither marry nor name her successor. The main reason for why the Queen refused to marry is not hard to guess: having experienced her father execute not only her own mother but another wife as well taught her never to give in to a man. Besides, if she married she would no longer rule supreme and only be second in the kingdom. This refusal of marriage inspired the picture of "the Virgin Queen" which would dominate her portraits.

the Armada Portrait of Queen Elizabeth 1st attributed to George GowerA constant threat to her throne was her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots on the other side of the Scottish border. Since Mary was a Catholic and the next in line to the English throne, she was the centre-point of many plots to overthrow the Protestant Elizabeth. Elizabeth send a military force into Scotland to drive their French allies back and it worked. When Mary, Queen of Scots returned to Scotland, she would find her country Protestant and ruled by Protestant men - chosen by Elizabeth. She consequently refused to sign the treaty of Edinburgh.
Elizabeth tried to marry Mary, Queen of Scots off to none other than Robert Dudley. But neither of the two were happy about the idea and Mary decided to marry Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley instead. This was the first of many disastrous moves on behalf of Mary, Queen of Scots that would eventually lead to her imprisonment in an English castle.

Elizabeth was excommunicated by the Pope after a rebellion in the Catholic North that focused on freeing Mary and place her on the English throne. The Pope had mistakenly thought that the rebellion had been a success. While many of Elizabeth's Catholic subjects wanted a Catholic Queen, Mary herself might not have been implicated in every single plot against her cousin. But in the end it was the Babington Plot - of which Mary definitely had a great part in - that led to her execution - Elizabeth was far from happy at the thought of having to execute her own cousin but it was the safest thing for her realm.

Elizabeth's reign is known as "the Golden Age" due to the massive trade that brought large amounts of money into England who had suffered from a bad economy ever since Henry VIII. Elizabeth led a defensive foreign policy and did not like to partake in wars. But when she did it was through her fleet that she won. One of her highlights as a monarch was the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Spain possessed at the time the greatest Navy the world had seen and was backed by a great Spanish empire. But when Elizabeth refused to give way to Spanish demands, the fleet set sails against England.
Here a brilliant combination of extremely bad weather, bad decisions from the Spanish side and the attack by fire-ships meant that England defeated the infamous Spanish Armada.

After the defeat of the Armada, Elizabeth was extremely popular among her subjects - on her way to church to give thanks to the Lord, her people pulled together a show that resembled that of her coronation. Elizabeth had - somewhat reluctantly - been dragged into a conflict in the Netherlands to which she send Robert Dudley to solve. Twice did the English Queen refuse the offer of the Dutch crown when the Dutch people wanted her to take it. She did not want to throw England into more wars with Spain. Two other themes were important during her later years as Queen: her support of Henry VI as a Protestant King of France and her problems with Ireland.
Ireland was primarily Catholic and often plotted against their English Queen. When several revolts arose in Ireland, Elizabeth had to retort to more aggressive measures such as burning the fields. In 1599 she send the Earl of Essex to calm down an ongoing conflict in Ireland but he did not follow her orders and returned home to an extremely furious Queen. His replacement chose to negotiate a few days after Elizabeth's death.

Elizabeth's later years brought new troubles to the experienced Queen. The wars and failed harvests meant that the taxes were raised and living conditions for the people fell. Some of her popularity was lost in this period but she never became unpopular with her people. The main reason for the change of  times was the change of the government. Many of the men that Elizabeth had had with her in her most successful years were dead and replaced by men who lacked the skills of their predecessors. When price-fixing and the enrichment of the rich at the cost of the poor were becoming a serious problem, Elizabeth showed her skills as a monarch and gave the "Golden Speech" in which she denied having known the malicious deeds done by greedy courtiers - and she won the population over.

Elizabeth 1st. The textures layers colors and everything about itThough this was a time with a less shining economy, things in the Elizabethan society did not come to a hold. Elizabeth was a great patronage of the arts and during her reign the literature flourished; seeing the arrival of a certain William Shakespeare. As Elizabeth became older, her beauty naturally faded but the ever-charming courtiers kept on telling her that she was as beautiful as ever. Elizabeth - having inherited her father's vanity - wanted to belief them and soon had a new favourite now that Robert Dudley was dead. The Earl of Essex, Robert Devereux was Robert Dudley's stepson and she allowed him to be familiar with her - meaning that he could get away with comments that would have sent others to their deaths.
But the favourite fell out of favour when he deserted the place Elizabeth had given him in Ireland and returned without permission. She had him placed under house arrest and took away all his monopolies on certain goods that had made his fortune. As a revenge the earl tried to create a rebellion against the Queen in 1601 but in London, no one wanted to support him - the people still cared about their Queen. He had to flee the capitol but was caught and eventually beheaded.

Since the Queen would still not name her successor the matter had to be carried out with discretion. To Elizabeth's sorrow her advisor Lord Burghley died and his son Robert Cecil began a correspondence between Elizabeth and James VI of Scotland - James was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots and thereby also related to the Queen. Elizabeth's health remained fine until 1602 when many of her close friends died and she became depressed. At the very end, she refused to eat or drink anything and would not even sit down. She stood for hours on end until she had to collapse on the pillows her courtiers had placed behind her.

Elizabeth died on March 24th 1603 and was buried next to her half-sister Mary I. She was the last Tudor and with her died the Tudor-dynasty.

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