A summary of Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I surrounded by icons of religion, plots, arts, image control and navy.

Elizabeth came to power in 1558, inheriting problems with religion, poverty and foreign policy. Historians in the 1970s thought that, when Elizabeth came to the throne, the country was about to collapse. Elizabeth restored the stability and the status of the monarchy:

  • She solved the religious tensions by following a 'middle way' which allowed Catholics and Puritans to keep their private beliefs as long as they went to the Church of England in public. However, she hunted, tortured and executed Catholic priests who came into England to undermine her power.
  • She survived plots and rebellions, and executed Mary Queen of Scots in 1587 because she saw her as a threat to her throne.
  • At the time women were seen as weak and inappropriate leaders of a nation. To combat this perception she tried to use her unmarried status as a way of strengthening her political control in England and abroad.
  • Elizabeth encouraged the 'Gloriana' myth, and commissioned portraits which presented her as pure and powerful. Her reign was a time of art, music and literature.
  • She defeated the Spanish Armada - a vast fleet of warships from the then world super power. By defeating Spain, England was on the way to being a world power by her death and one which had set up its first colony.

The darker side of Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I is regarded by many as one of England's greatest monarchs, whose reign laid the foundations of England's greatness. But is this true?

  • She could be as 'bloody' as Mary and executed many more people for religion than her father, Henry VIII. She established a network of spies and informers to ensure her safety.
  • Far from encouraging Parliament, she bullied and controlled it, ran the government as she wished and even arrested an MP when he complained.
  • The King of Spain raised a huge fleet of ships to invade England. It was known as the Armada. That the Armada was largely destroyed and failed to invade England was a triumph for Elizabeth – but it was also a very lucky escape.