Elizabeth I

Portrait of Elizabeth I in coronation robes, 17th century copy of a lost original. Image Credit: WikiCommons.

By Johanna Strong

Elizabeth I was born on 7 September 1533 at the Palace of Placentia at Greenwich in England. Her mother, Anne Boleyn, had recently married Elizabeth’s father Henry VIII and Anne had been crowned queen consort only a few months before Elizabeth’s birth.

Throughout her childhood, Elizabeth was taught by some of the great scholars of the age, including Roger Ascham. By a young age, she was fluent in Latin and was praised for her linguistic and musical abilities. Influenced by the reformers around her, Elizabeth remained a committed Protestant throughout her brother Edward VI’s reign and was imprisoned at the Tower of London – partly for religion, partly for suspected dynastic ambitions – during her sister’s reign. 

Portrait of Elizabeth I: WikiCommons.

On 17 November 1558, Elizabeth became queen. At her ascension, she re-introduced elements of the reformed faith, but remained relatively neutral in the religious discussions in England. One of the defining moments of her reign was England’s defeat of the Spanish Armada, led by Philip II of Spain in 1588. While the Elizabethan Religious Settlement remained rather neutral, the Armada and suspicions of Catholic plots against Elizabeth led to harsher measures against English Catholics. Often known as the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth had many suitors both domestic and international, but she never married. Throughout her marriage negotiations, though, Elizabeth was adept at creating, maintaining, and dissolving alliances as necessary.

Armada portrait of Elizabeth I. Image Credit: WikiCommons.

Elizabeth died on 24 March 1603 at Richmond Palace, leaving her throne to James VI of Scotland (who would become James I of England). She is buried at Westminster Abbey over the body of her sister and predecessor Mary I in the tomb built for them by order of James VI/I in 1606. Though both women are buried in the same tomb, it is Elizabeth alone who appears in effigy on their shared tomb.

Recommended Reading

Carole Levin, The Reign of Elizabeth I (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002)

Estelle Paranque, Elizabeth I of England Through Valois Eyes. Power, Representation, and Diplomacy in the Reign of the Queen, 1558–1588 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018)

Susan Doran, Queen Elizabeth I (London: British Library Publishing, 2003).

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