England under Elizabeth I

Term Paper, 2002

19 Pages, Grade: 2,0



I. Introduction

II. Main Part
2.1 England before Elizabeth’s accession in 1558
2.2 Elizabeth’s childhood
2.3 The Protestant Kingdom
2.4 Elizabeth and England’s home affairs
2.5 Elizabeth’s rival Mary Stuart
2.6 Foreign Policy
2.6.1 The Spanish Armada
2.6.2 Evaluation of Elizabeth’s Foreign Policy
2.7 Arts and Literature of the Elizabethan Age
2.8 The last years of Elizabeth’s reign
2.9 The myth of Elizabeth I

III. Conclusion

IV. Bibliography

I. Introduction

This assignment should give an overview of the most important events during the time of Elizabeth as the Queen of England – the Elizabethan Age. At first it must be said that it is only possible to give a survey of the most decisive aspects and facets of this long period which was of such detail that it cannot be captured in full detail in a rather short assignment. Thus, I will concentrate on the most significant chapters of Elizabeth’s life and her time.

When working on the subject of the Elizabethan Age, it becomes obvious that the reign of Elizabeth I. is not clearly distinguishable from the years before. Thus, it is necessary to take a brief look on the family background in order to understand Elizabeth’s life, her attitude and position in life. Here it is also important to shed light on her childhood and her position at court as an illegitimate child of Henry VIII..

Although historians still argue about Elizabeth’s own attitude towards religion and religious beliefs, it is known that she was hated by the Catholics but fully and truly loved by the Protestants.[1] In order to shed light on the religious conflicts of the 16th century, an analysis requires a detailed description of Elizabeth’s policy with regard to the conflict between Protestants and Catholics, but also her own religious belief and her motives for the establishment of the state church in England.

As the policy concerning religious interests is closely linked to the home affairs of England during Elizabeth’s reign, this assignment will take a look on Elizabeth’s policy which helped England to rise again from the economical and political valley in which it was brought by her ancestors.

In addition to that, England’s role in Europe between 1558 and 1603 should be emphasized and therefore I will also analyse Elizabeth’s foreign policy and its consequences for England’s position in Europe as well as the consequences for the European continent in general.

Closely linked to this aspect is the difficult relationship between Elizabeth and Mary Stuart, the Queen of Scotland. Mary has always been considered as a threat or a rival for Elizabeth and it is therefore important to recognize why Elizabeth in the end succeeded.

When portraying the Elizabethan Age, it is furthermore important to shed light on the cultural and artistic life in England, in particular in England’s capital London. This assignment will therefore give an impression of how the cultural life in England looked like and how important the reign of Elizabeth was for its development, in particular for William Shakespeare.

To finish with this assignment I will give a brief analysis of how Elizabeth I. is seen today and how influential her reign was for Europe.

2. Main part

2.1 England before Elizabeth’s accession in 1558

Under Henry VIII. England was entangled in several wars with France, Scotland and again with France and he fundamentally changed the structure of the church in England. Henry had forced back the Pope’s influence on the English Church but the people were discontented with the conditions of the Church in England. Henry nevertheless prevented every reformation movement because of his alliance with Charles V., King of the Habsburg Empire, against his old enemy France.[2]

Henry split from Rome because the Pope did not want to annul his marriage with Catherine of Aragon. Thus, Henry became by way of the Act of Supremacy the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. Everyone who did not accept the Anglican Church was executed, Protestants and Roman Catholics were persecuted.[3]

What remains unclear is Henry’s own belief. Perhaps he was not very religious at all. But due to his marriages with six wives of different confessions, he was influenced by both, Catholic and Protestant confessions, and left England badly divided concerning religious beliefs.[4] After his death in 1547, his only legitimate son, Edward, became king at the age of ten. During his reign England was exposed to both Lutheran and Swiss Reformed influences but though England was reformed under Edward VI. the main part of the population remained Catholic and conservative in their beliefs.[5]

After Edward’s death in 1553, his half-sister Mary, the daughter of Henry’s first wife Catherine of Aragon, became queen. Mary was a Catholic, and she married Phillip II. of Spain, the leading Catholic in Europe, one year after her accession.

During her reign, Mary was restoring Catholicism to England which was not very difficult for her because most of the people were still Catholic in their beliefs. Mary’s reign was nevertheless characterised by brutal burnings of Protestants and military confrontations.[6]

Although Mary’s reign did not last very long, the English state was poor and weak, when Elisabeth took the throne. It did not have a standing army, nor any sufficient police force and the bureaucracy was working inefficiently. Furthermore, the religious situation was difficult. The state was not only divided between Catholics and Protestants, but also the Protestants were not in agreement on how the reformed church should be constituted.[7]

2.2 Elizabeth’s childhood

Elizabeth was born September 7, 1533 as the daughter of Henry VIII. and Anne Boleyn. Henry had married Anne Boleyn because his first wife, Catherine, had not borne him a male heir after 20 years of marriage.

When Elizabeth was two years and eight months, her mother Anne Boleyn was beheaded for adultery and treason. Henry had the Parliament make his marriage with her invalid which made Elizabeth illegitimate.

Elizabeth had a dangerous and tough childhood and because she was a bastard she was not raised at court but spent most of her childhood in London. There she received an excellent education. She learnt to write Greek, Latin and Hebrew and to speak as well as to write French, German and Italian. She was also educated in history, rhetoric and moral philosophy. In addition to that, she was musically gifted and had a passion for dancing.

Henry’s sixth wife, Catherine Parr, gave Elizabeth much attention and brought her back to court. After her father’s death in 1547, Elizabeth stayed in Catherine’s care and was raised together with her half-brother Edward, who became king at the age of ten.[8]

Elizabeth had a close relationship to her half-brother Edward who also had to grow up without his mother. In addition to that they were both of the same religion and they both enjoyed learning. The relationship between Mary and Elizabeth was rather complicated. Not only that they were of a different confession, but Mary was also half Spanish, whereas Elizabeth’s roots were purely English, why she was also later on so deeply admired by the English population. Until Mary’s death, she had not accepted Elizabeth as the legitimate heir of her throne and Mary has always considered Elizabeth as a danger and rival.[9] Although Elizabeth outwardly conformed to Catholicism under Mary, she was nevertheless seen as a danger for Mary’s reign, and therefore she was locked up in the Tower of London.

Soon before Mary’s death on November 17, 1558, Mary realised that there was no possibility to deprive Elizabeth of the crown and she appointed her as her legitimate successor.

From then on Elizabeth was the new emperor of England.

2.3 The protestant kingdom

Still today, historians cannot agree on Elizabeth’s own religious views. Few historians argue that she only wanted an ‘interim Church Settlement in 1559’, which would turn England again to Catholicism without the Pope, but that she changed her mind because she was forced by the Protestant members of Parliament. Many historians today have agreed on the view that she wanted to impose the Protestant religion on her subjects.[10]

Nevertheless, it is still not obvious which form of Protestantism she was striving for and which Prayer Book she actually wanted to introduce. In addition to that, her own attitude towards religion remained quite unclear. Although she was rather characterised as being Protestant, she also wanted to retain some Catholic ceremonial and traditions within her Church. But she was convinced that every religious change should be planned and carried out in accordance with the law and that she as the queen would be in charge of it. She did not want any revolts, destruction of churches or attacks on catholic priests committed by protestant fanatics.[11]

When Elisabeth was acceded to the throne, almost everybody believed her to return the religion of the country to Protestantism. This was due to the fact that the marriage of her parents had brought the break with the Pope in Rome and the declaration of the royal supremacy under Henry VIII., who was seen as Supreme Head of the Church.

In 1559 Elisabeth’s government wanted to introduce a ‘religious settlement’ which would ‘enforce a Protestant form of service through an Act of Uniformity’. But not only these Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity gave the legal basis of the English church but also the Royal Injunctions of 1559 and the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion. Together they made Elisabeth the new Supreme Governor of the Church of England and she then had the same rights over the Church and religion as her father had who was also determined to keep the Church under the political control.[12]


[1] Jasper Ridley, Elizabeth I. The shrewdness of virtue (New York: Viking Penguin Inc.,1987) 9.

[2] Susan Doran, Elizabeth I and Religion (London: Routledge, 1994) 1-5.

[3] James Anthony Froude, History of England from the Fall of Wolsey to the Death of Elizabeth. Volume II. Reign of Henry the Eight (New York: AMS Press,1970) 342-349.

[4] Weltgeschichte Seite 90-93

[5] A. F. Pollard , The History of England. From the Accession of Edward VI. to the Death of Elizabeth (1547-1603) (New York: Greenwood Press,. 1969) 66-79.

[6] http://cyberschool.4j.lane.edu/about/history/1995-1996/globalhistory/globalhistorymaterials/cybertexts/eliz.html

[7] Ridley 79-83.

[8] Ridley 24-33.

[9] Neale 19-22; 42-45.

[10] Doran , Elizabeth and Religion 6-9.

[11] Ridley 80-81.

[12] Doran, Elizabeth and Religion 11-17.

Excerpt out of 19 pages


England under Elizabeth I
University of Hannover  (Englisches Seminar )
Einführungsseminar: Literaturwissenschaft
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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England, Elizabeth, Einführungsseminar, Literaturwissenschaft
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Alke Eilers (Author), 2002, England under Elizabeth I , Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/56992


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