Elizabeth I


Elizabeth has traditionally been seen as one of England's greatest monarchs - if not in fact the greatest.
Her reign witnessed widespread increase in literacy and great achievements in the arts (Shakespeare, Spenser, Marlowe, Ralegh) as well as expansion overseas (Drake, Ralegh, Frobisher) and military victory over threatened invasion.
Elizabeth herself was regarded as wise and just, able to choose good advisers yet not be dominated by them and to handle recalcitrant Parliaments without despotism; a ruler supremely skilled at compromise in both the religious and political spheres.
In recent years, however, interpretations of Elizabeth and her reign have been less favorable.



[Particular Elizabethan topics are dealt with in the next five lectures]

Since Elizabeth reigned for forty-five years, her reign is best considered in separate phases.

The early years:
 Religion and rebellion:
Invasion and recession:

 The early years 1558-67

Elizabeth is often favorably contrasted with Mary I, but Elizabeth was lucky to live so much longer than her half-sister. Elizabeth almost died from smallpox in 1562, and had she done so, civil war (between the Protestant supporters of Catherine Grey and the Catholic supporters of Mary, Queen of Scots) might well have followed.
When Elizabeth nearly died from smallpox, many of her advisers thought that she should marry and produce an heir as soon as possible. In fact, although Elizabeth entered into marriage negotiations with various foreign princes and flirted with some of her own subjects, she was never to marry.
Elizabeth's early years saw other problems, in particular, the wars in Scotland and France inherited from Mary.
English support for the successful Scottish Protestant rebellion of 1560 led by John Knox, combined with the outbreak in 1562 of the French Wars of Religion diminished both threats.
Unlike her bellicose father, Elizabeth made peace as soon as possible and tried to stay out of expensive wars; she even attempted to maintain peaceful relations with Spain (although she drew the line at marrying Philip as he proposed).
Elizabeth adopted a moderate religious policy. The Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity (1559), the Prayer Book of 1559, and the Thirty-Nine Articles (1563) were all Protestant in doctrine, but preserved many traditionally Catholic ceremonies. Moreover, Elizabeth did not persecute Catholics - the penalties for recusancy were mild and often not enforced.


Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley


Religion and rebellion 1568-1585

The Scottish rebellion of 1560 deprived Mary, Queen of Scots of effective power, but she never accepted this and plotted to regain full authority.
Mary also claimed the English crown. Roman Catholics regarded Elizabeth as a bastard (never recognizing the divorce of Henry VIII from Katherine of Aragon or the legitimacy of his marriage to Anne Boleyn). To strengthen her claim, in 1565 Mary married Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. Darnley was an alcoholic, capricious playboy, but he was the son of Margaret Douglas and therefore the grandson of Henry VII's eldest daughter, Margaret Tudor.
Darnley was a liability and Mary excluded him from influence, making her Italian Catholic secretary, David Riccio into her main counselor. Darnley conspired with the Protestant Lords to murder Riccio in 1566.

In 1567, Darnley himself was murdered (possibly with Mary's approval); and Mary then married the adventurer, James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, who had probably organized Darnley's homicide. The outraged Scottish nobility rose again, defeated Mary and Bothwell in battle and forced her to abdicate in favor of her infant son, James VI.


Mary fled to England (1568) where she became the focus of English Catholic plots to depose Elizabeth. Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, toyed with the idea of marrying Mary and was sent to the Tower of London.
In 1569, the earls of Westmorland and Northumberland led the Revolt of the Northern Earls, aimed at restoring Catholicism and placing Mary on the throne in place of Elizabeth. The rebellion was soon defeated.

" Elizabeth, the pretended queen of England and the servant of crime with whom as in a sanctuary the most pernicious of all have found refuge She has followed and embraced the errors of the heretics We declare her to be deprived of her pretended title to the crown We charge and command all and singular the nobles, subjects, peoples that they do not dare obey her orders, mandates and laws "

From Regnans in Excelsis, the papal bull deposing Elizabeth, 1570.


Pope Pius V heard of the revolt and (having despaired of Elizabeth restoring Catholicism) decided to help the rebels by deposing Elizabeth.

Pius V (Pope - 1566-72)
In fact the bull of deposition, Regnans in Excelsis did not arrive until after the Revolt's suppression and served only to anger Elizabeth and increase her distrust of Catholics.

The view that all Roman Catholics were potential traitors led to a series of measures against them from 1570 onwards:  Roman Catholic judges and Justices of the Peace were excluded from power, and it became increasingly dangerous to shelter priests.
The deterioration of relations with the Papacy went along with increasing tension with the "most Catholic" king of Spain, Philip II.
Philip II was faced with the rebellion in the Netherlands: Calvinist beliefs had spread in its northern provinces, and even the Catholic South feared that Philip would suppress local autonomy.
In 1567, Philip sent an army there to prevent an uprising, but Elizabeth was afraid that the army would be used against England. In 1568, she seized a shipment of bullion sent by Genoese bankers to pay the Spanish troops garrisoned in the Netherlands. Philip was furious, particularly as he was also suffering losses in the New World from English privateers.
In 1572, full-scale revolt broke out in the Netherlands, and Elizabeth sent them help in the form of money and supplies. (No English soldiers were sent until 1585).
In retaliation, Philip helped William Allen to establish  a seminary for training English priests at Douai in the Netherlands. These priests began arriving in England from about 1574 onwards.
Anti-Catholic feeling contributed to the growth of radical Puritanism. Many Protestants objected to the traditional ceremonies retained in the Church of England's worship. When Elizabeth and her bishops insisted that these rituals be observed, some puritans took their opposition further and adopted Presbyterian views. Led by Thomas Cartwright, these Presbyterians  wanted the church to be run by synods of clergy and elected laymen (as in Geneva and Scotland). Presbyterianism posed a serious threat to Elizabeth's control of the church.

Invasion and recession 1585-1603

From the moment of her arrival in England, Mary Queen of Scots schemed not only for her restoration to the throne of Scotland, but to seize the English crown. In 1586, Sir Francis Walsingham finally obtained compelling evidence that Mary had encouraged the assassination of Elizabeth, and Elizabeth reluctantly agreed to Mary's execution.

Mary was the obvious Catholic candidate to rival Elizabeth, but after her death Philip II of Spain was able to launch a (barely) plausible case for the claim of his daughter, Isabella. (She was descended from Edward III through the marriage of John of Gaunt to Constanza of Castile).

In 1588, Philip sent an Armada to the English Channel. This fleet of ships was to mount an invasion of England with the Spanish troops stationed in the Netherlands. The English navy (with some help from the weather) were able to defeat the Spanish Armada and prevent invasion. The English defeated further attempts at invasion in 1596 and 1597.

Philip II also assisted the Irish in their intermittent rebellions against the English, while Elizabeth helped the Netherlands resist Spain. By 1603, the Northern largely Protestant provinces of the Netherlands had obtained de facto independence from Spain.

Thomas Cartwright (1535-1603)


Before 1588, it was necessary to maintain Protestant unity in the face of the Catholic menace, but when this threat diminished Elizabeth was able to turn against the seditious elements within the English Church.

Archbishop John Whitgift (1530?-1603) and Richard Bancroft, Bishop of London (1544-1610) launched a propaganda campaign against the Presbyterians. Key puritan leaders such as Thomas Cartwright, Nicholas Udal, and  John Penry were silenced and imprisoned. By the 1590s, the Presbyterian movement was in complete disarray.


Before the reign of Elizabeth, England controlled only a small area of Ireland around Dublin, known as The Pale. The use of Ireland as a base by Spain forced England to take more active measures. Between 1593 and 1603 there was full-scale war in Ireland as England brought the whole country under its control. The campaign was successful but very expensive, and also provoked a nationalist and Roman Catholic reaction.
The high taxes required for the Irish campaign combined with an economic crisis between 1594 and 1597. Bad weather and poor harvests led to the highest food prices of the sixteenth century and even to famine.

Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex (1566-1601)


Throughout her reign, Elizabeth had balanced at court and in council the various political factions. But her final years saw increasingly bitter conflict between the Cecils (William and his son Robert) and Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex. Essex was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1599 and placed in charge of a large English army to suppress Irish rebels. Instead, Essex signed an unauthorized truce with the Earl of Tyrone - the greatest rebel. Elizabeth deprived Essex of his titles and ordered his arrest. He responded by attempting a coup against Elizabeth in January 1601.

Famously on the eve of his rebellion, Essex's followers arranged a special performance  of Shakespeare's Richard II, hoping that the play about the deposition of a monarch often associated with Elizabeth, would arouse support for their own scheme.

The coup was a complete failure, and he was executed for treason in February.

The Cecil faction remained dominant not only until Elizabeth's death in 1603, but even thereafter, as Sir Robert Cecil made a smooth transition to being the main adviser of James VI & I.


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