The government of Elizabeth I


bullet Elizabeth I was  twenty-five years old when she acceded to the throne on 17 November 1558.
bullet She had been declared illegitimate in 1536, but restored to the succession by Henry's will.

When still only fifteen, Elizabeth had been wooed by the ambitious Sir Thomas Seymour (uncle of Edward VI), who had died a traitor's death for his temerity.
bullet Elizabeth herself had been briefly imprisoned in the Tower of London after Wyatt's rebellion, and Stephen Gardiner had spoke in favor of her execution.
bullet It was hardly surprising that Elizabeth exclaimed "a Domino factum est istud et est mirabile in oculis nostris" (This is the Lord's doing: and it is marvelous in our eyes), when she finally heard the news of her succession to the throne.
bullet Elizabeth was the last surviving child of Henry VIII, but she relatives on both the maternal and paternal sides.

 Elizabeth's advisers

bullet Elizabeth's longest and closest adviser was William Cecil (later Lord Burghley), whose son Sir Robert Cecil, also became very important in the later years of Elizabeth reign and the early years of James I's.
bullet Sir Nicholas and Sir Francis Bacon were another father and son team, who served Elizabeth in senior positions for many years.
bullet Two convinced Protestants in Elizabeth's service were Sir Francis Knollys (husband of her cousin, Catherine) and Sir Francis Walsingham.

Longleat House, Wiltshire
(built 1568)



Elizabeth was influenced by courtiers as well as bureaucrats. the most important favorite of her early years was Robert Dudley (who became Earl of Leicester). He was one of the younger sons of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland -  Elizabeth was infatuated with Dudley for some time, but followed her own and William Cecil's better judgment and refrained from marrying him.


Another favorite courtier was Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex (grandson of Elizabeth's cousin, Catherine). Devereux had military skills, but his vanity and reckless ambition led to his downfall. He was beheaded 25 February 1601.

bullet Other handsome young courtiers who charmed Elizabeth were Sir Christopher Hatton and Sir Walter Raleigh. Hatton was an important opponent of the puritans, and Sir Walter Raleigh played a key role in the settlement of America.

Although some courtiers fell from favor (notably Essex and Raleigh), for the most part Elizabeth's advisers served for long periods for she was a good judge of character and ability.

bullet At the beginning of her reign, Elizabeth retained many of Mary's councilors. William Paulet, Marquis of Winchester, for example, had served in succession Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas Cromwell, Northumberland, and Mary. He continued to serve Elizabeth until he died in 1572, aged about eight-eight.

bullet Yet Elizabeth could also dispense with the services of those whose loyalty or competence she doubted:  Of Mary's 39 Privy Councilors, Elizabeth only retained ten, She added nine of her own choice.

William Paulet,


bulletIt was more difficult for Elizabeth to maintain continuity in church government, as every bishop (except Anthony Kitchen, Bishop of Llandaff) refused to comply with the new Protestant religious settlement and were deprived of their sees. Their firm stance was not typical of the clergy as a whole - the vast mass of parish priests conformed to the new dispensation).
bulletThe majority of Justices of Peace in the localities were continued in their offices, as were Mary's judges.



bullet Unlike today, the early-modern state had few permanent employees:  it had no police force, almost no civil service or bureaucracy except for a few central officials, and no standing army.
bullet Lacking a state school system or a pliable media, propaganda was disseminated by the Church. The government ordered its parish priests to read Homilies against rebellion and preach sermons condemning crime and disorder.

bullet The government also did its best to impress it subjects with its power and authority by elaborate ceremonies. The pomp of a coronation or royal procession were designed to impress the populace with the mystique of monarchy.
bullet A more material way for the crown to command obedience was by patronage. Many rewards were at the queen's command - titles, profitable offices, eligible heiresses, bishoprics, monopoly rights, bargain leases of royal lands.
bullet The queen dispensed these favors to her chief courtiers and ministers, and these patrons passed the benefits on to their own clients. In modern developed countries, such relationships are condemned as corrupt nepotism, but in early-modern England (and Europe as a whole), the patron-client relationship was the foundation of political relationships.
bullet For most of her reign, Elizabeth was singularly skilful in ensuring that no single courtier or minister monopolized royal patronage. William Cecil and Robert Dudley both had large networks of clients, but it was Elizabeth who decided ultimately who got what. Struggles between the two main factions grew more intense after Robert Devereux succeeded as head of the Dudley bloc and Robert Cecil inherited his father, William's clients.
bullet However, it was only in the 1590s that the system collapsed. Then, Devereux responded to his marginalization by revolt, and Cecil was effectively able to control all patronage after his execution.
bullet Elizabeth's distribution of patronage in many quarters and through different sources increased political stability, since gentlemen of varying opinions and connections felt that they might obtain access to power and wealth.