Key themes of the Early Elizabethan era

The key themes include:

  • government
  • religion
  • economy and society
  • law and order
  • foreign affairs


Queen Elizabeth I was sovereign of England, meaning she had upmost authority and rule, compared to the monarchy today. She surrounded herself with a loyal group of advisers (called the Privy Council) to guide her.

Elizabeth tightly controlled Parliament and set the agenda of what it was allowed to discuss and pass laws about. However, during her reign Parliament did become more influential and was in conflict with Elizabeth over issues such as religion, marriage and her monopoly licences.


Portrait of King Henry VIII
King Henry VIII

In the 16th century England was divided by religion. The country had been a Roman Catholic country for nearly a thousand years until Henry VIII’s reign where, over a 20 year period, the country’s religion had changed three times, causing tension and divisions.

When Elizabeth ascended to the throne she changed the official religion to Protestantism, but also outlined a religious settlement that allowed some Catholic traditions to be practiced. Parliament helped by passing the Act of Supremacy and the Act of Uniformity.

Elizabeth’s tolerant ‘middle-way’ had broad support, but she did face threats and plots from Catholics and Puritans, with Mary, Queen of Scots becoming a figure head for Catholic plots, such as the Babington Plot in 1586.