“I do assure you that there is no prince that loveth his subjects better, or whose love can countervail our love. There is no jewel, be it of never so rich a price; which I prefer before this jewel, I mean your love, for I do more esteem it than any treasure or riches: for that we know how to prize, but love and thanks I count inestimable…And though you have had and may have many princes more mighty and wise sitting in this seat, yet you never had or shall have any that will be more careful and loving” (Abrams 598). Addressing Parliament on November 30, 1601, in the famous “Golden Speech,” Elizabeth I was certainly right. There were not many after her death as deeply concerned with the English as she was. Through her entire reign, the Queen was constantly expressing her love and maternal care for the people of England. Her principal jewel was the love for the English., and her sole desire was to see their prosperity. Very popular with the vast majority of her subjects, Elizabeth I never married nor did she give birth; however, the Queen constantly stated that she was a “mother to her people” (Weir 219). Presenting herself as a loving and intensely caring figure, Elizabeth impressed herself more vividly on the memory of England than any other monarch. Her accomplishments include restoring Protestantism, and www.corbis.com therefore unifying the English, encouraging the country’s commerce and enterprise, transforming the nation from an impoverished island into a world power, defeating the Spanish Armada, and many more achievements, all of them for the well-being of her subjects.
Elizabeth herself did not have an easy childhood. Being the daughter
of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, she was a disappointment to her father,
who had hoped for a male heir to inherit
the throne. When Anne Boleyn was suspected of adultery and treason, and eventually beheaded, the young Princess was declared illegitimate. Being two at the time, Elizabeth not only lost her mother, but also lost her father’s favor. She was no longer called the ‘Princess’ but the ‘King’s’ daughter or simply Lady Elizabeth. Raised in Hatfield House in Hartfordshire, the girl lived in very poor conditions. In a letter to Lord Cromwell, Elizabeth’s governess painted a clear picture of the little girl’s status by writing, “She hath neither gown, nor kirtle, nor petticoat, nor no manner of linen nor smocks, nor kerchiefs, nor rails, nor body stitchets, nor handkerchiefs, nor sleeves, nor mufflers, nor biggens” (Bassnett 19). Elizabeth’s life was difficult from infancy, especially after Henry VIII’s remarriage to Jane Seymour. Henry VIII continuously hoped for a son, and when his dream eventually came true with the birth of Edward, Elizabeth was no longer expected to govern. Her life turned upside down again; however, her cruel childhood shaped the woman she later became.
Even though Henry VIII seemed to have neglected his daughter, he ensured
that she would be well educated. Roger Ascham, Elizabeth’s tutor,
trained her as a potential heir to the throne rather than as an insignificant
daughter of the monarch. Elizabeth underwent rigorous training
in Greek, Latin, French, Italian, rhetoric, philosophy, and theology. Being an intellectually gifted student, she received an extensive Renaissance education not only in learning modern languages, but also in the domestic arts, such as handwriting and needlework. Moreover, music was her passion. She played the lute and the lyre; she danced and composed ballets. Later, as a queen, Elizabeth cared deeply about education, founding numerous grammar schools and Jesus College in Oxford (Weir 230). Very much like her mother, Anne Boleyn, who wanted monasteries to be converted into educational institutions, Elizabeth cared about education, people attending schools, and their becoming literate.
Elizabeth’s dream of governing England finally became a reality.
After Edward’s reign,
her half-brother, and then his sister, Mary, Elizabeth’s right to the crown was unquestioned.
She became the next queen of England on January 15, 1559; however, her path to fame was
not an easy one. When Mary occupied the English throne, she attempted forcibly to reestablish Catholicism after Edward’s Protestant England. Because of Queen Mary’s prosecuting of Protestants and reestablishing the power of the Pope in the country, Elizabeth faced some dangers. She was thought to lead Protestant conspiracies, for she had been brought up a Protestant. Being the center of suspicion, and suspected of plotting against Mary, Elizabeth was imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1554. Even though nothing could be proven against her, Mary remained convinced of Elizabeth’s guilt and constantly threatened her with execution.
The only wish Elizabeth had, besides to be freed, was “to be executed by a swordsman, as her mother had been, rather than by the axe” (Hibbert 50). She wanted to die like a noble person, with dignity rather than as a humble and submissive prisoner. Elizabeth I always seemed to be a powerful woman, not afraid of anything or anybody.
These qualities added to the Queen’s image as a great ruler. In her
concern about the
country and its people, she made sure to select and work with the most competent of counselors. Sir William Cecil, also known as Lord Burghley, was appointed immediately her secretary of
state, and Thomas Gresham was chosen to be her financial counselor. By opening the Royal Exchange in London, he built a central trading place for the city’s merchants and bankers, therefore enlarging England’s trade, restoring the country’s credit, and rescuing it from its near bankruptcy (Hibbert 108). As trade flourished, industry expanded. The Statute of Apprentices of 1563 helped to bring stability to industry and farming. Passed in 1598, the Poor Law Act made every local parish responsible for its own poor, created workhouses, and severely punished homeless beggars. Parliament also passed bills to ensure fair prices in times of shortage and to regulate wages in times of unemployment. Due to all of these, England’s economy flourished. Elizabeth cared so much about the interest of her country and its people that she even defrayed her own expenses to lift England out of its tremendous debt. As a famous historian, Alison Weir, pointed out, “she had inherited the financial acumen” of her ancestors (Weir 225). Elizabeth sat on the English throne when the country was in a state of deep economic crisis, yet she did bring it from its poverty. Many would agree that being able to achieve so much with very limited resources is a great accomplishment.
Another noted achievement of the Queen was reestablishing Protestantism
A Protestant at heart, Elizabeth wished to reestablish the country’s Protestant religion after Mary Tudor, who governed under the Roman Catholic faith. When Parliament was called, the main question considered a settlement of religion. After many debates, The Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity were passed on April 29, 1559, making Protestantism the official religion of the state. Elizabeth reinstated the English Book of Common Prayer and maintained the royal supremacy over the church as her father and brother had done. The religious settlement was a controversial and very difficult subject to resolve, but a very significant one. It helped to hold the vast majority of Elizabeth’s people together.
Besides being concerned with England’s religion, Parliament turned its
attention to a matter of Elizabeth’s potential marriage. Many thought
that she should find a husband as soon as possible in order to produce
an heir. Elizabeth, however, had no intention of marrying anyone.
There were many candidates, yet Elizabeth had many reasons to remain single.
She valued her independence, as well as wanting to be desired without being
possessed. As a single woman,
she could remain in control of her relationships. She once said, “I am already bound unto a husband, which is the Kingdom of England (Hibbert 78). Moreover, looking at her sister Mary’s marriage with Philip of Spain, Elizabeth’s refusal to marry was clearly a question of foreign policy. She believed that if she had chosen a foreign prince, he would be drawn to England for
his own advantages instead of England’s. Marrying a fellow countryman, however, could cause dangerous rivalries at court and in the country. She knew that if she married, she would lose her power to her husband and thereby hand over England. Through her entire life, Elizabeth promoted her image as the Virgin Queen by staying single and being wedded to her kingdom and people. She sacrificed her personal happiness for the good of the nation. She even once said to her subjects, “Every one of you, and as many as are English-men, are Children and Kinsmen to me”(Thomas 95).
The problem posed by Elizabeth's refusal to marry was that of the succession.
The chief claimant to the British throne was Mary Queen of Scots, but her
Catholicism made her a threat
to Elizabeth. Mary was in fact involved in number of Catholic conspiracies against Elizabeth. Mary’s intrigues included the Northern Rebellion of 1569, the Ridolfi Plot of 1571, Throckmortal Plot and the Babington Conspiracy. Throughout these years, there were demands that she should be executed, but Elizabeth was very reluctant to put Mary on trial and execute her. However,
after finding out her cousin’s plans with Anthony Babington to murder Elizabeth, the Queen chose to have her killed on February 8, 1587. This was an act to save England from a Catholic rebellion. The religious welfare, as well as England’s safety, were far more important to Elizabeth than her rebellious cousin’s life.
Another fanatic Catholic posing a great threat to Elizabeth and her kingdom was Philip II. The Spanish King thought he was God’s appointed champion of the Roman Church. He saw Elizabeth as his greatest enemy, and in 1587, he began organizing an immense naval fleet upon England, calling it the Invincible Armada. His objectives were to destroy the English navy, stop Elizabeth from interfering in the Netherlands, and gain concessions for English Catholics. At that time, Elizabeth, highly concerned about her people’s well-being, went down to Tilbury, and addressed her troops in one of the most famous speeches of her reign. She made a powerful emotional address to her subjects:
I assure you, I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving
I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest
strength and safeguard in the loyl hearts and good will of my subjects, and
therefore I am come amongst you as you see, at this time, nt for my recreation
and disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live or
die amongst you all, to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and for my
people, my honour and my blood, even in the dust.
is a clear example of Queen Elizabeth’s deep concern about England and
the faith she had in the military men. The defeat of the Spanish Armada was the high point of
her reign, and it certainly united England. The victory brought new glory to the nation, and it demonstrated Spain’s powerlessness to defeat England.
Although Elizabeth solved England’s problems very effectively, she never
believed it was the most important aspect of governing the country.
For her, being a successful ruler meant having the popular support of her
subjects. It was very important for Elizabeth that she reigned with
her people’s love. She once said, “Be ye well assured, I will stand
your good Queen. I wish neither prosperity nor safety to myself which
might not be for our common good” (Weir 38).
According to Weir, Elizabeth “proudly pointed out that she was ‘mere English,’
as they were, and constantly proclaimed that she was as a mother to her
people, and cared deeply for the ‘safety and quietness of [them] all’”
219). She certainly was very caring and deeply concerned with
their well-being. Love she had for her subjects was seen in every
step she took, in every word that came out of her mouth, www.luminarium.org
in everything she even thought about.
The Queen never forgot about her ‘jewel,’ and the English never forgot
about her. The day
of her accession became a national holiday for the next two hundred years. When she passed away on March 23, 1603, Elizabeth I left her people in a deep mourning. The crowds of Londoners groaned and wept, seeing the coffin carrying the Queen. It was a tragic time for many, especially those who loved her (Weir 486).
The Queen of England succeeded at a time when careers for aristocratic
women outside the home were forbidden. Even though many thought that
Elizabeth’s femininity disqualified her for
the position of the English ruler, her dear teacher, Roger Ascham, said, “The constitution of her mind is exempt from female weakness, and she is endued within a masculine power of application” (Bassnett 23). Elizabeth always believed in herself and her strength, and was well aware that ruling the country by a woman caused problems. She even stated herself, “I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a King, and of a King of England too” (Ridley 286). The Queen never doubted herself, and as a successful female monarch, she refused to bow to the wishes of those believing no woman was fit to occupy the English throne. Being able to flourish in a world that would have easily crushed a weaker person, she showed them all it was not true.
Elizabeth I was on of the most influential sovereign England had even known.
Commanding throughout her reign with the unwaving respect and allegiance
of her subjects, she achieved much for England and its people. Her
own life was a mixture of luxury and pain with a cruel childhood and no
parents at her side. Being aware of the nation’s poverty, she tried
to improve the lives of the English. Sacrificing her own happiness
by not getting married, the Queen considered herself 'the mother to them.'
Despite hostility to her gender, she established and maintained her power
and unified her people through a religious compromise, providing England
with a stable and orderly government, eliminating the dangerous possibility
of war with France and Spain, and many others. Her 45-year rule decisively
shaped the future of England as a stable monarchy governed through the
cooperation of crown and local elites. Elizabeth’s religious compromise
had avoided the bloodshed that washed many countries of Europe. At
the turn of the century the English were unified as they had never been
before. The defeat of Spain established the glory of the English navy and
portrayed Elizabeth as a successful female monarch ruling with the best
interest of her kingdom. Under the Queen’s leadership, it had grown
into a respectable power with a prosperous commerce and powerful navy.
Elizabeth I, Queen of England, was a remarkable woman, in whom the people
were able to find an ambiguous symbol holding their hearts and their minds.