Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

Who Are All These Kings?: Elizabeth I

[An image showing Who Are All These Kings?: Elizabeth I]Elizabeth I was Queen of England for most of the second half of the 16th century, and one of the country`s longest reigning monarchs.

She was born at Greenwich Palace in 1533, the daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife Anne Boleyn. But Henry, who had hoped for a son, had the marriage to Anne declared void, and she was executed on trumped up charges in 1536. Elizabeth, like her elder half sister Mary, now became illegitimate, and she was sent away to Hatfield Palace.

Athough he did not recognise Elizabeth`s legitimacy, Henry was prepared to use her in negotiations for her possible marriage to Charles, Duke of Angouleme and second son of the King of France. Nothing came of this, however.

As a child, Elizabeth was well educated and intelligent, excelling in riding, hunting, dancing, archery and languages. She first saw any real form of family life in 1543, when her father`s sixth wife Catherine Parr brought all his surviving children, Mary, Elizabeth and Edward, to live together.

During her half brother Edward VI`s short reign she was supportive of his policies, but when Mary became Queen and embarked on the widespread burnings of Protestants, Elizabeth was seen as a dangerous conspirator and confined first in the Tower of London and later at Woodstock.

Mary died in 1558, and was succeeded by Elizabeth, who heard the news at Hatfield. She commented that "this is the Lord`s doing", and was crowned at Westminster Abbey in 1559. A complex character, unsurprisingly in view of her background, Elizabeth swung between jealousy, cruelty and a vicious temper, and beauty and joyfulness in life.

Elizabeth knew that she must resolve the terrible religious differences in her realm. She brought back Protestantism as the state religion, but was prepared to accept the sincerity of those who wished to practise Catholic rites in private. This was of course not enough for the Pope, who excommunicated her in 1570.

Another constant problem was England`s relationship with Scotland, against whom the kingdom had been at war off and on for many centuries.

The teenage Mary Queen of Scots, grand daughter of Henry VIII`s sister Margaret, had been the nominal queen in Scotland since 1542, but lived in France, where she was the Queen Consort. Her mother, Mary of Guise, exercised power in Scotland, and moreover wanted her daughter to become queen in England. But many Scottish Protestants were uneasy about the possibility of Scotland becoming subservient to France, and Elizabeth secretly gave them support.

Mary of Guise died in 1560, and shortly afterwards Francois II of France also died, leaving Mary Queen of Scots a widow. Her power eclipsed by Catherine de Medici, mother of the new king Charles IX, Mary returned to Scotland, and began to plan for a possible succession to the English throne, although Elizabeth refused to name a successor, even when coming close to death from smallpox in 1560.

After a series of scandals, Mary was deposed in 1567, and was driven out of Scotland in 1568, throwing herself on Elizabeth`s mercy. But she was clearly a likely focus for Catholic revolution, and while Elizabeth was prepared to let her live in England she was not prepared for her to have any degree of freedom. Mary thus remained imprisoned for the rest of her life, firstly at Carlisle, and then in a succession of castles in the North and Midlands.

After several plots, another in 1586 to assassinate Elizabeth and replace her on the throne with Mary became known as the Babington Plot, after Anthony Babington, the minor nobleman whose vanity allowed his name to be used. Mary was aware of the plan, and as a consequence of this was tried and found guilty of treason, then beheaded at Fotheringhay Castle.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth went through life without marrying. Indeed, she became famous as "the Virgin Queen". Whether this was strictly correct will probably never be known, but it seems to have been generally accepted, and she never had a husband.

There is little doubt that she would have married Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. He, however, was already married and the untimely death of his wife Amy Robsart in 1560 caused many to suspect that he had murdered her. In the unlikely event that this was so, it was a remarkably silly action, as it ensured that he and the Queen could not possibly take advantage of the situation and marry.

Others who were at some point regarded as possibilities for her hand included Sir Christopher Hatton and the charismatic Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex. Approaches had been made as soon as he was widowed by Philip II of Spain, her half sister`s former husband, and other early contenders were Charles, Archduke of Austria and younger son of Ferdinand, the Holy Roman Emperor; the Earl of Arran, who subsequently became insane; and Erik of Sweden, who was deposed after becoming a homicidal maniac.

Negotiations began with Henri, Duke of Anjou, the younger brother of Charles IX of France, but interest cooled when she realised that he was bisexual and a transvestite.

Interest then passed to Henri`s younger brother Francois, Duke of Alencon. He came to England in 1579 and met Elizabeth, who was many years his senior, at a house in Canterbury. She was much taken with him and gave him the nickname "Frog". In 1581 she announced that she would marry Francois, although this was probably to improve her standing with the French, and anyway he died in 1584.

By this time Elizabeth was 51 years old, so thoughts of producing an heir would no longer have been seriously entertained, and it was at this point that the Virgin Queen title gained currency. Sir Walter Raleigh even named the territory that he annexed in North America in her honour, naming it Virginia.

Elizabeth, who was obviously ageing by this time, refused to acknowledge the fact. She wore a wig, having lost most of her own hair; she whitened her face in order to hide the effects of smallpox; she rubbed urine into her face, believing that this would remove wrinkles; and she even showed a startled ambassador her breasts to demonstrate her youth. She could not, however, hide her blackened teeth, which had arisen from her deep love of sugar.

Since early in her reign, relations with Spain had been hostile. The much admired English sea dogs, such as Drake and Hawkins, were in reality little more than pirates and felt that Spanish vessels were fair game. When Philip II became King of Portugal in 1580 in addition to Spain, he came to control virtually all of known America.

Having been encouraged in his piratical acts by Elizabeth, Drake set off on what was to become his historic voyage around the world in 1577, plundering Spanish vessels along the way in both the East Indies and the Americas. He returned to a hero`s welcome in England in 1580 and was knighted in 1581.

Philip II became more and more frustrated with England, and the last straw for him was England`s support of the rebellious Netherlands. In 1587 he obtained the approval of the Pope for an invasion of England, provided he restored the country to Catholicism. He sent the Spanish Armada, believed to be invincible, in 1588, but this was roundly defeated by superior English seamanship, superior design of vessels and by the weather, which was very much on England`s side. Elizabeth had delivered her famous speech to her forces at Tilbury while the Armada`s arrival was awaited.

In 1596 another attempt was made by Philip to invade England from Calais, but this was countered by a joint Anglo-Dutch fleet, under the command of Essex, which plundered Cadiz, destroyed many of the Spanish vessels and returned with a great deal of booty.

Another Armada was sent in 1596, but this again fell foul of the weather, which this time caused much damage to the English fleet as well. Philip died in 1598, although hostilities continued sporadically thereafter.

This was the period when English dominance of the sea became a reality, with such sea captains as Francis Drake, Martin Frobisher, John Hawkins and Walter Raleigh all in their prime.

It was also a period of much literary flowering, when Christopher Marlowe, Sir Philip Sidney, Edmund Spenser and of course William Shakespeare came into their own. Spenser`s "The Faerie Queen" was dedicated to Elizabeth. The composers William Byrd and Thomas Tallis also flourished in her reign.

Statesmen who came to power were the wise William Cecil, who became Lord Burghley and built the magnificent Burghley House just outside Stamford, and his son Robert.

The rebellion of Hugh O`Neill, the Earl of Tyrone, in Ireland, had been going on for some years but reached a climax in 1598 when O`Neill massacred an English force which had been sent to relieve a fort at Blackwater. Essex, who had been out of favour with Elizabeth after quarrelling with the Cecils over an alleged plot by the Portuguese Jew Rodrigo Lopez, saw a way to get back in the Queen`s good books by successfully putting the rebellion down.

Although Elizabeth hoped that Essex would be successful, he achieved little and negotiated terms with O`Neill after losing more than half his army to the harsh Irish environment, then returned to England without permission. Far from being welcomed as a hero, he was treated with contempt, censured and humiliated.

Attempting his own revolution against the Queen he had hoped to marry, he was captured, tried for high treason and finally executed in 1601.

Elizabeth died from blood poisoning at Richmond Palace in 1603, aged 69, and was buried at Westminster Abbey. She made no will, but had let it be known that she wished to be succeeded by James VI of Scotland, the son of Mary Queen of Scots, who thereupon became James I of England.

Elizabeth never married, and had no children. She loved England very much, and was greatly loved in return.