Good Queen Bess

Happy coronation day, Elizabeth! That’s right: on January 15, 1559, Elizabeth I, last monarch of the House of Tudor, was crowned Queen of England in Westminster Abbey, following her accession on November 17, 1558.

After a highly unstable childhood, the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn somehow managed to weather the reign of her devoutly Catholic half-sister, Mary, who was a little too fond of burning Protestants at the stake. She had Elizabeth imprisoned in the Tower for a while after Wyatt’s Rebellion in 1554, and she was placed under house arrest for nearly a year. Her fortunes improved a bit once it became apparent Mary would never bear an heir (despite being married to King Philip of Spain), and at age 25 Elizabeth finally inherited the throne.

Elizabeth was enormously popular with the people, many of whom were relieved to be rid of Mary. Elizabeth was much more tolerant, religiously, than Mary had been (plus, she and her advisors were eager to avoid offending England’s Catholics, and the many powerful Catholics abroad). Although Elizabeth wouldn’t tolerate the more extreme Protestant sects, like the Puritans, she did establish England as a Protestant country, albeit with many Catholic-style trappings, like fancy priestly garments.

Elizabeth’s reign is now looked back on fondly as a golden age of English history, and in some ways it was. The country became wealthier and more powerful and expanded its borders as explorers ventured overseas to the Americas, and the defeat of the Spanish armada in 1588 was a huge PR boost for England and Protestantism, as it was seen as a sign of God’s favor. However, several wars fought during the last portion of her reign proved a drain on the country’s resources, and religious tolerance fell away as, in the 1590’s, Elizabeth and her government started to actively monitor and persecute Catholics. Part of the reason for this abrupt change in policy may have been a change in Elizabeth’s privy council during this period, as the older councilors who had been with her since the beginning of her reign started to die and be replaced. On the upside, the 1590’s was an excellent period in literary history, with many of the most acclaimed works of the Elizabethan period being published.

Perhaps one of the things Elizabeth is most well known for is her lifelong commitment to bachelorettehood. Although she had no lack of suitors for her hand amongst the crowned heads of Europe and the English aristocracy, Elizabeth preferred to remain unmarried, instead playing the suitors off one another, when necessary. It’s been suggested that the deaths of her mother, Anne Boleyn, her mother’s cousin (and Elizabeth’s stepmother) Catherine Howard, and Elizabeth’s final stepmother, Catherine Parr (to whom Elizabeth was especially close) put Elizabeth off marriage, which in her mind may have inexplicably become linked with death.

Aside from a brush with smallpox in 1564, Elizabeth enjoyed fairly robust health up until almost the end of her life. Then, in 1602, a series of friends’ deaths plunged her into a deep depression. In March 1603 she became ill and she died on the 24. She was buried in the Henry VII Chapel at Westminster Abbey, right next to Mary I, facing her tragic cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, who’s just on the other side of the chapel. She was succeeded by Mary’s son, James VI of Scotland, who became James I of England, first monarch of a united England and Scotland and starting point of the ill-fated Stuart dynasty.



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