ELIZABETH I

(1533-1603)
Henry VIII* broke with the Catholic church to marry Anne Boleyn in 1533, hoping that the child she carried would be a boy. Instead, it was his second daughter, Elizabeth. Though Henry was deeply disappointed and had Anne ex­ecuted for adultery in 1536 and Elizabeth declared illegitimate, in 1558 Elizabeth became queen and was to rule England for nearly forty-five years. Elizabeth's intellectual and literary abilities are evident in her letters and speeches as well as her poetry and translations.
Only days after Anne's execution, Henry married Jane Seymour and finally had a son, the future Edward VI. Though he never reversed the illegitimacy of either Elizabeth or her older sister Mary, he did place them in the succession after Edward. Elizabeth received an excellent humanist education with Roger Ascham.* Ascham placed great emphasis on literary and rhetorical studies and on language study. In her teens Elizabeth became fluent in Italian, French, and Latin and had a working knowledge of Greek. When Elizabeth was queen, Ascham was her Latin secretary, and they continued to do translations as a means of relaxation for her.
After Henry VIII's death in January 1547, Elizabeth lived with his last wife, Catherine Parr. Parr became upset with the familiarity that developed between Elizabeth and her new husband, Thomas Seymour, and suggested that Elizabeth leave and set up her own household. Elizabeth and Parr parted on good terms, however. After Parr's death in childbirth, Seymour was arrested and executed for his treasonable activities, which included the plan to marry Elizabeth. Eliz­abeth herself was subjected to a rigorous examination and spent the rest of Edward's reign living quietly.
Elizabeth survived the dynastic crisis of 1553 in support of Lady Jane Grey,* but her Catholic sister, Mary I,* began to doubt Elizabeth's loyalty, and Eliz­abeth was imprisoned in the Tower after Thomas Wyatt's failed rebellion of 1554. There was no evidence of Elizabeth's involvement, however, and in No­vember 1558 Elizabeth peacefully ascended the throne upon Mary's death.
Though Elizabeth was Protestant, she did all she could to heal the religious wounds in England caused by the previous reigns and looked for as broadly based a religious settlement as possible. As her reign progressed, however, she found herself with problems both from Catholics and from the growing Puritan movement, which had support in Parliament and among her advisors. She had loyal men in service to her, including William Cecil, eventually Lord Burghley; Sir Francis Walshingham; and Sir Robert Dudley.
As well as religion, another significant issue for Elizabeth was the succession. At the beginning of her reign her Council hoped that she would solve this problem, and the anomaly of a woman ruler, by marrying and then having a son. But while Elizabeth used courtship as a political tool, she refused to either marry or name an heir. Elizabeth had many suitors, including the Habsburg Archduke Charles and the sons of Catherine de' Medici,* both Henri, duke of Anjou (later Henri III), and Francois, duke of Alencon, later duke of Anjou. Robert Dudley, to whom Elizabeth eventually gave the title earl of Leicester, was also a forceful suitor for her hand. For years rumors swept around Elizabeth and Dudley, particularly after the mysterious death of his wife, Amy Robsart, in 1560.
The problems of religion and the succession became more acute as the reign progressed, especially in 1568, when Mary Stuart,* by right of primogeniture the next heir, who had been forced to abdicate the throne of Scotland in 1567, fled to England. Elizabeth kept Mary in confinement for the next nineteen years as plots to assassinate Elizabeth, free Mary, and place Mary on the English throne in a Catholic revival continued. The Babington plot of 1586 finally con­vinced Elizabeth to sign Mary's death warrant; she was executed on 8 February 1587. The execution of Mary Stuart and Elizabeth's support of the Protestants in the Netherlands convinced Philip II* of Spain to send his armada in an attempt to conquer England in 1588, but English naval skill and bad weather defeated the Spanish.
The final fifteen years of Elizabeth's reign were difficult. The English econ­omy suffered from bad harvests, inflation, and the long and expensive struggle to dominate Ireland. At Elizabeth's court, as her advisors died off, there was a power struggle between Robert Devereux, earl of Essex, and Robert Cecil, son of William. In 1599 Essex led a disastrous campaign in Ireland. Disgraced by that failure, he staged a rebellion against Elizabeth in 1601. Its failure led to Essex's execution.
But Elizabeth's reign in its final years was also marked by the great literature and drama of such men as William Shakespeare,* Christopher Marlowe,* and Edmund Spenser.* Music, art, and architecture were also flourishing. Interest in expansion, colonization, and overseas trade began to develop, though this would eventually mean England's involvement in the slave trade.
Elizabeth aged visibly after the Essex rebellion. Her health began to fail, and she died on 24 March 1603. She had never named an heir, claiming that God would take care of England, and indeed there was a peaceful transition to her cousin, James VI* of Scotland, the son of Mary Stuart. Under Elizabeth, En­gland had survived and strengthened as an independent country, not dominated by any foreign power and not wracked by civil war. Though her reign had problems, most historians agree that Elizabeth, one of the best known of all English monarchs, will be remembered more for her successes than her failures.
Bibliography
C. Levin, The Heart and Stomach of a King: Elizabeth I and the Politics of Sex and Power, 1994.
W. MacCaffrey, Elizabeth I, 1993. A. Somerset, Elizabeth I, 1991.
Carole Levin

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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