• Why is Queen Elizabeth famous?

    Who was Elizabeth I?
    Elizabeth was Queen of England, Ireland and Wales from 1558 to 1603. She gave her name to the 'Elizabethan Age'. It was an exciting time in English history. This was the age of William Shakespeare's plays, Francis Drake's voyages, and the sea battles against the Spanish Armada.

    When did she live?
    Elizabeth was the daughter of King Henry VIII. She was born in 1533. Her grandfather Henry VII was the first Tudor king of England.

    Elizabeth became Queen of England in 1558. She died in 1603.

    Why is Elizabeth famous?
    Elizabeth I ruled England alone. She did not marry. So although she was queen, England had no king. This was unusual at the time.

    The Elizabethan Age was an exciting part of English history. There were new ideas, and arguments about religion. There were wars with Spain. English explorers sailed to new lands.

    Back to top

  • Her father and mother

    King Henry VIII
    Elizabeth's father was King Henry VIII. Henry became king in 1509. Henry's first wife was Catherine of Aragon, a Spanish princess. In 1511, Catherine had a son, but the baby died. In 1516 Catherine and Henry had a daughter, Mary.

    More than anything else Henry wanted a son, to be king after him.

    Henry chooses a new wife
    Henry decided to divorce Queen Catherine. Divorce was against the rules of the Catholic Church, but Henry wanted a new wife.

    Anne Boleyn, one of the ladies at court, caught his eye. First Henry had been in love with her sister Mary. Now he wanted to marry Anne.

    Who was Anne Boleyn?
    Anne Boleyn was born sometime between 1501 and 1507. Her father Sir Thomas Boleyn owned Hever Castle in Kent. Her mother Elizabeth was a daughter of the Duke of Norfolk.

    Anne had lived abroad, and spoke French well. She was tall, dark and clever. In January 1533 King Henry and Anne were married secretly. Anne was already pregnant.

    The baby princess
    King Henry was delighted Anne was having a baby. He made big plans to celebrate the birth of a son.

    On 7 September 1533 the baby was born at Greenwich Palace, near London. The baby was a girl. She was named Elizabeth.

    Henry was not pleased! He cancelled the celebrations.

    Back to top

  • Elizabeth's childhood

    What happened to Elizabeth's mother?
    Anne Boleyn and her family had enemies. They told the King that Anne had been seeing other men. Henry decided Anne would never have the son he wanted. So he had Anne locked up in the Tower of London. On 19 May 1536 she was beheaded.

    Little Princess Elizabeth was sent to live with her sister Mary. Elizabeth never really knew her mother. But she kept a tiny picture of Anne Boleyn in a ring.

    A baby brother
    King Henry married Jane Seymour. In October 1537 Jane had a son. Henry was very happy. But Jane died soon after the birth.

    Elizabeth now had a brother, Prince Edward. One day he would be king. First Edward, then next in line for the throne was Mary. Elizabeth did not expect to be Queen.

    Henry's wives
    Henry VIII married Anne of Cleves in 1540. His fifth wife was Catherine Howard, in 1542. In 1543, he married his sixth (and last) wife, Catherine Parr.

    Queen Catherine was kind to Elizabeth. King Henry hoped to marry Elizabeth off to a foreign prince when she was old enough.

    A clever girl
    Elizabeth had lessons with her governess, Kat Ashley. She and brother Edward also had tutors.

    Elizabeth was clever. She read books in Latin and English. She learned French and Italian.

    Back to top

  • Princess in danger

    Henry VIII dies
    In 1547 Henry VIII died. Elizabeth's brother Edward became king.
    Until Edward was old enough to rule, noblemen helped him govern England. Edward Seymour became Lord Protector.

    Elizabeth lived in Chelsea with Catherine Parr. Catherine had now married Thomas Seymour, brother of the Lord Protector.

    Rivals for power
    England's nobles were rivals for power. They plotted and schemed. Thomas Seymour may have planned to marry the young princess Elizabeth, and perhaps become king himself. Catherine sent Elizabeth away to the country.

    In 1549 Thomas Seymour was arrested for treason and beheaded. In 1552 Edward Seymour was also executed. Elizabeth was lucky to escape.

    Edward VI and Mary I
    In 1553 Edward VI died. There were more plots. Lady Jane Grey was queen for nine days. She too was executed. Elizabeth's sister Mary became queen.

    Mary was a Catholic. She decided to marry Philip of Spain, a Catholic prince. This upset many Protestants in England.

    Another lucky escape
    Sir Thomas Wyatt led a rebellion against Queen Mary. He failed, but Mary believed Elizabeth knew of his plan. Elizabeth was taken to the Tower of London. She was locked up for 8 weeks. After Wyatt was executed, she was set free. It was another lucky escape.

    Elizabeth is Queen
    Mary's reign was unhappy. Some Protestants were burned at the stake. The queen did not have the child she hoped for. Her husband went back to Spain.

    Mary I died in November 1558. Elizabeth was at Hatfield, in Hertfordshire. A fast rider brought the news. She was now queen.

    Back to top

  • Queen of England

    A good start
    Elizabeth's coronation was in January 1559. People lit bonfires, and 'made merry' with parties. Elizabeth was red-haired like her father Henry VIII. When they saw her, people shouted out 'Remember old King Henry!'.

    Everyone hoped Elizabeth would be a good queen. Most wanted no more arguments about religion. They wanted peace.

    What kind of queen was she?
    The Queen liked to get her own way. She had a quick temper. Yet she chose wise advisers to help her rule. William Cecil, Lord Burghley, gave her good advice for 40 years.

    In London, the Queen lived in fine palaces. Her court became the centre of fashion. She loved jewels, clothes, dancing and music.

    Touring the country
    Elizabeth travelled around England. She visited castles and great houses. With her went hundreds of servants, soldiers, ladies in waiting and gentlemen of the court.

    There were feasts, plays, jousting, dances and deer-hunts. A visit from the Queen cost a lot of money!

    Queen in danger
    The Catholic Church said Henry and Anne Boleyn had never been lawfully married. So Elizabeth wasn't England's Queen - Mary Queen of Scots was.

    This put Elizabeth in danger. She was the target for plots by enemies abroad and at home.

    Should the Queen marry?
    People wanted the Queen to marry. She must have children to be king or queen after her. Elizabeth was very cautious. A husband would expect to be king. Lots of husbands came forward including Philip of Spain, the Duke of Alencon and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. She was very fond of Robert Dudley but she did not marry anyone.

    Back to top

  • Plots, pirates and the Armada

    More plots
    In 1568 Mary Queen of Scots fled to England. Mary was a rival. So Elizabeth kept her a prisoner. Elizabeth and Mary never met.

    In 1569 Catholic nobles plotted to make Mary Queen of England. This plot failed, but there were others. Elizabeth's spy-chief, Francis Walsingham, was kept busy hunting down plotters. Plotters were caught, tortured and executed.

    Drake's voyage
    In 1580 Francis Drake sailed around the world. He returned in the ship Golden Hind. He had also attacked Spanish ships and stolen Spanish gold. The Spanish king was very angry. Elizabeth said she knew nothing about English 'pirates', but was pleased with her share of the gold.

    Mary loses her head
    In 1586 yet another plot was uncovered. It was led by Antony Babington, a young Catholic. The plotters were arrested. Letters were found. The letters seemed to link Mary Queen of Scots to the plot. In 1587 Mary was executed.

    The Armada
    In 1588 King Philip of Spain sent the Armada to attack England. He hoped to remove Elizabeth as queen.

    Spanish and English ships fought battles in the English Channel. Both sides fought bravely. A terrible storm scattered the Spanish ships. Half never reached home.
    England celebrated a great victory. Elizabeth was safe.

    Back to top

  • The Elizabethan age ends

    Royal pleasures
    During the Elizabethan age, London had its first theatres. From the 1590s, audiences packed The Globe theatre in London to see plays by William Shakespeare and other writers.

    Elizabeth enjoyed private shows. Shakespeare performed several times for the Queen.

    Losing old friends
    Elizabeth's last years were lonely. Old friends died. Robert Dudley died in 1588. William Cecil died in 1598. His son Robert became the Queen's chief adviser.
    Elizabeth's favourite at court was the young Earl of Essex. He was hot-headed. In 1601 he led a rebellion. Being the Queen's favourite did not save him. Essex was executed.

    Who will follow me?
    As the queen grew older, everyone wondered who would rule England after she died. Next in line was James VI of Scotland. He was the son of Mary Queen of Scots. He was also related to Elizabeth.

    The queen dies
    Elizabeth I died on 24 March 1603, at her palace at Richmond. She was buried in Westminster Abbey beside her grandfather Henry VII.

    King James VI came from Scotland to become James I of England. The Stuarts had taken over from the Tudors.

    Back to top

Fun Facts
  • Her nickname for Robert Dudley was 'Eyes'.

  • She called the Duke of Alencon her 'little frog'.

  • Elizabeth often swore and spat. She also picked her (black) teeth in public.

  • When she got cross (which was often) she threw her shoes at people.

  • When she got cross (which was often) she threw her shoes at people.

  • As her red hair faded, and thinned, she took to wearing a wig.

  • Shakespeare and his actors performed for Elizabeth at Christmas.

  • In the Armada battles, ships hurled 'fire-pots' of burning oil at one another.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Jump to: A-D | E-G | H-L | M-O | P-S | T-Z

A to D

someone sent to another country to represent their own country
Spain's invasion fleet of 1588
When someone had their head cut off, as a punishment
burned at the stake
executed by being burned alive in a bonfire
a member of the Roman Catholic Church, led by the Pope
ceremony for making a king or queen by crowning them
the followers and close advisers of a king or queen
when a marriage is ended by law
when a marriage is ended by law

E to G

a banquet, a celebration or party with lots to eat and drink
a woman who looked after and gave lessons to a child at home

H to L

hunting with trained hawks (birds of prey)
mock-fights by knights on horseback
ladies in waiting
noblewomen at Court who were friends and helpers of the Queen
the language of learning, law and the Christian Church
Lord protector
nobleman who ruled England while Edward VI was growing up

M to O

rich landowners with titles such as Lord or Duke

P to S

Christians belonging to a church that split from the Catholic Church in the 1500s
a revolt or uprising against a ruler or government
Scottish royal family, to which Mary Queen of Scots and James VI belonged

T to Z

the crime of plotting against a ruler or government
the royal family that ruled England from 1484 (Henry VII) to 1603 (Elizabeth I)
a private teacher who gave lessons at home