Elizabeth I

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Elizabeth I,

1533–1603, queen of England (1558–1603).

Early Life

The daughter of Henry VIIIHenry VIII,
1491–1547, king of England (1509–47), second son and successor of Henry VII. Early Life

In his youth he was educated in the new learning of the Renaissance and developed great skill in music and sports.
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 and Anne BoleynBoleyn, Anne
, 1507?–1536, second queen consort of Henry VIII and mother of Elizabeth I. She was the daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn, later earl of Wiltshire and Ormonde, and on her mother's side she was related to the Howard family.
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, she was declared illegitimate just before the execution of her mother in 1536, but in 1544 Parliament reestablished her in the succession after her half-brother, Edward (later Edward VI), and her half-sister, Mary (later Mary IMary I
(Mary Tudor), 1516–58, queen of England (1553–58), daughter of Henry VIII and Katharine of Aragón. Early Life

While Mary was a child, various husbands were proposed for her—the eldest son of Francis I of France (1518), Holy Roman
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). Elizabeth was well educated by a series of tutors, most notably Roger AschamAscham, Roger
, 1515–68, English humanist and scholar, b. Yorkshire. Ascham was a major intellectual figure of the early Tudor period. His Toxophilus (1545), an essay on archery, proved him a master of English prose; in it he urged the importance of physical
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In 1553 she supported the claims of Mary I over Lady Jane Grey. After Mary was crowned, Elizabeth was careful to avoid implication in the plot of the younger Sir Thomas WyattWyatt, Sir Thomas,
c.1520–54, English soldier and conspirator; son of the poet Sir Thomas Wyatt. In Jan., 1554, when Queen Mary's intention to marry Philip II of Spain was announced, Wyatt joined a planned insurrection against the queen.
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 (1554). Nevertheless, since Elizabeth's potential succession to the throne inevitably furnished a rallying point for discontented Protestants, she was imprisoned. She later regained a measure of freedom through outward conformity to Roman Catholicism.


When Elizabeth succeeded her sister to the throne in 1558, religious strife, a huge government debt, and failures in the war with France had brought England's fortunes to a low ebb. Elizabeth came to the throne with the Tudor concept of strong rule and the realization that effective rule depended upon popular support. She was able to select and work well with the most competent of counselors. Sir William Cecil (Lord BurghleyBurghley or Burleigh, William Cecil, 1st Baron
, 1520–98, English statesman.
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) was appointed immediately, and Sir Francis WalsinghamWalsingham, Sir Francis
, 1532?–1590, English statesman. A zealous Protestant, he went abroad during the reign of Queen Mary I but returned on the accession (1558) of Elizabeth I.
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 in 1573.

At her death 45 years later, England had passed through one of the greatest periods of its history—a period that produced William ShakespeareShakespeare, William,
1564–1616, English dramatist and poet, b. Stratford-upon-Avon. He is widely considered the greatest playwright who ever lived. Life
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, Edmund SpenserSpenser, Edmund,
1552?–1599, English poet, b. London. He was the friend of men eminent in literature and at court, including Gabriel Harvey, Sir Philip Sidney, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Robert Sidney, earl of Leicester.
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, Francis BaconBacon, Francis,
1561–1626, English philosopher, essayist, and statesman, b. London, educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, and at Gray's Inn. He was the son of Sir Nicholas Bacon, lord keeper to Queen Elizabeth I.
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, Walter RaleighRaleigh or Ralegh, Sir Walter
, 1554?–1618, English soldier, explorer, courtier, and man of letters. Early Life

As a youth Raleigh served (1569) as a volunteer in the Huguenot army in France.
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, Martin FrobisherFrobisher, Sir Martin
, 1535?–1594, English mariner. He went to sea as a boy, and spent much of his youth in the African trade. He later gained the friendship of Sir Humphrey Gilbert, through whom he became interested in the Northwest Passage.
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, Francis DrakeDrake, Sir Francis,
1540?–1596, English navigator and admiral, first Englishman to circumnavigate the world (1577–80). Early Career

He was born in Devonshire, the son of a yeoman, and was at an early age apprenticed to a ship captain.
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, and other notable figures in literature and exploration; a period that saw England, united as a nation, become a major European power with a great navy; a period in which English commerce and industry prospered and English colonization was begun.

Although Elizabeth has been accused, with some justice, of being vain, fickle, vacillating, prejudiced, and miserly, she was nonetheless exceedingly successful as a queen. Endowed with immense personal courage and a keen awareness of her responsibility as a ruler, she commanded throughout her reign the unwavering respect and allegiance of her subjects.

Domestic Developments

One of Elizabeth's first acts was to reestablish Protestantism (see England, Church ofEngland, Church of,
the established church of England and the mother church of the Anglican Communion. Organization and Doctrine

The clergy of the church are of three ancient orders: deacons, priests, and bishops.
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) through the acts of Supremacy and Uniformity (1559). The measures against Roman Catholics (see Penal LawsPenal Laws,
in English and Irish history, term generally applied to the body of discriminatory and oppressive legislation directed chiefly against Roman Catholics but also against Protestant nonconformists.
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) grew harsher over the course of her reign, particularly after the rebellion of the Catholic earls of NorthumberlandNorthumberland, Thomas Percy, 7th earl of,
1528–72, English nobleman. He was the nephew and heir of the childless 6th earl but did not succeed on the latter's death (1537) because his father had been attainted for
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 and WestmorlandWestmorland, Charles Neville, 6th earl of
, 1543–1601, English nobleman. A Roman Catholic by birth and connected with the powerful Howard family by marriage, he joined the rebellion (1569) led by Thomas Percy,
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 (1569), Elizabeth's excommunication by the pope (1570), and the coming of the Jesuit missionaries (1580). But the persecution of the Catholics was due, at least in part, to a series of plots to murder Elizabeth and seat the Catholic Mary Queen of ScotsMary Queen of Scots
(Mary Stuart), 1542–87, only child of James V of Scotland and Mary of Guise. Through her grandmother Margaret Tudor, Mary had the strongest claim to the throne of England after the children of Henry VIII.
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 on the throne. English Puritans, like the Catholics, objected to the Established Church, and a severe law against conventicles (unauthorized religious assemblies) in 1593 kept the separatist movement underground for the time.

At the beginning of her reign, Elizabeth's government enacted needed currency reforms and took steps to mend English credit abroad. Other legislation of the reign dealt with new social and economic developments—the Statute of Apprentices (1563) to stabilize labor conditions; the poor laws (1563–1601) to attempt some remedy of widespread poverty; and various acts to encourage agriculture, commerce, and manufacturing.

Foreign Affairs and the Spanish War

Elizabeth had many suitors, including King Philip IIPhilip II,
1527–98, king of Spain (1556–98), king of Naples and Sicily (1554–98), and, as Philip I, king of Portugal (1580–98). Philip's Reign
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 of Spain; FrancisFrancis,
1554–84, French prince, duke of Alençon and Anjou; youngest son of King Henry II of France and Catherine de' Medici. Although ill-shapen, pockmarked, and endowed with a curiously formed nose, he was considered (1572–73) as a possible husband for Queen
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, duke of Alençon and Anjou; and her own favorite, Robert Dudley, earl of LeicesterLeicester, Robert Dudley, earl of
, 1532?–1588, English courtier and favorite of Queen Elizabeth I. A younger son of John Dudley, duke of Northumberland, he was early brought into the society of Edward VI and Princess (later Queen) Elizabeth.
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. For a combination of personal and political reasons, she was reluctant to choose a husband and remained unmarried, although she often used the lure of marriage as a weapon of diplomacy. Elizabeth engaged in a long series of diplomatic maneuvers against England's old enemy, France, and the new enemy, Spain, but for 30 years she managed to keep the country at peace.

In 1559 she concluded a treaty ending her sister's unfortunate war with France and refused the marriage offer of Philip of Spain. The next year the Treaty of Edinburgh initiated a policy toward Scotland, successful in the long run, of supporting the Protestant lords against the Catholic party. By lending unofficial aid to French HuguenotsHuguenots
, French Protestants, followers of John Calvin. The term is derived from the German Eidgenossen, meaning sworn companions or confederates. Origins

Prior to Calvin's publication in 1536 of his Institutes of the Christian Religion,
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 she managed for some time to harass France and Spain without involving England in an actual war. As part of her marriage negotiations she later supported the duke of Alençon's participation in the Dutch war against Spain.

The major problem posed by Elizabeth's refusal to marry was that of the succession. The chief claimant was Mary Queen of Scots, but her Catholicism made her a threat to Elizabeth. In 1568 after Mary's forced abdication from the Scottish throne, Elizabeth gave her refuge but then kept her prisoner for nearly 19 years. Despite the numerous plots, both real and alleged, on Mary's behalf, Elizabeth resisted until 1587 her counselors' advice that Mary be executed.

By that time Spain had emerged as England's main enemy. English sailors had been unofficially encouraged to encroach on Spanish monopolies and raid Spanish shipping. In 1588, Philip launched the long-planned expedition of the Spanish ArmadaArmada, Spanish
, 1588, fleet launched by Philip II of Spain for the invasion of England, to overthrow the Protestant Elizabeth I and establish Philip on the English throne; also called the Invincible Armada.
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 as a great Catholic crusade against Protestant England. The Armada was defeated by the skill of such leaders as John HawkinsHawkins or Hawkyns, Sir John,
1532–95, English admiral. In 1562–63 and in 1564–65 he led extremely profitable expeditions that captured slaves on the W African coast, shipped them across the Atlantic,
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 and Francis DrakeDrake, Sir Francis,
1540?–1596, English navigator and admiral, first Englishman to circumnavigate the world (1577–80). Early Career

He was born in Devonshire, the son of a yeoman, and was at an early age apprenticed to a ship captain.
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 and by storms, rather than planning on Elizabeth's part, but the victory strengthened English national pride and lowered the prestige of Spain. An indecisive war with Spain dragged on until Elizabeth's death. From the beginning of the reign Ireland had been the scene of civil wars and severe rebellions, culminating with that of the earl of TyroneTyrone, Hugh O'Neill, 2d earl of,
1540?–1616, Irish chieftain. He was the son of Matthew O'Neill, the illegitimate son of the 1st earl.
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, which was suppressed by the campaigns of Lord Mountjoy from 1600 to 1603.

Declining Years

After the Armada, Elizabeth's popularity began to wane. Parliament became less tractable and began to object to the abuse of royally granted monopolies. The rash uprising of Elizabeth's favorite, Robert Devereux, 2d earl of EssexEssex, Robert Devereux, 2d earl of
, 1567–1601, English courtier and favorite of Queen Elizabeth I. Succeeding to the earldom on the death (1576) of his father, he came under the guardianship of Lord Burghley and
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, darkened her last years. She refused until on her deathbed to name her successor—the son of Mary Queen of Scots, James VI of Scotland, who became James I of England.


See biographies by T. Maynard (1940), E. Jenkins (1958), P. Johnson (1974), A. Somerset (1992), and A. Weir (1998, repr. 2008); biography of her later years by J. Guy (2016); A. L. Rowse, The England of Elizabeth (1950) and The Expansion of Elizabethan England (1955); J. E. Neale, Elizabeth I and Her Parliaments (2 vol., 1953–57); J. Hurstfield, Elizabeth I and the Unity of England (1960); N. Williams, The Life and Times of Elizabeth I (1972); A. Plowden, The Catholics under Elizabeth I (1973).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Elizabeth I


Born Sept. 7, 1533, at Greenwich Palace; died Mar. 24, 1603, at Richmond Palace. Became queen of England in 1558.

Last of the Tudor dynasty, the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I was a typical representative of British absolutism. Her reign saw central administration greatly strengthened; the exchequer set in order; Protestantism, in its moderate Anglican form, conclusively established (the church moreover having been fully subordinated to the state and becoming an important pillar of absolutism); the navy enlarged; and cruel new laws issued against vagrants and beggars, thus furthering the primitive accumulation of capital, a process then fully under way in England.

The foreign policy of Elizabeth I was marked by intensified commercial and colonial expansion, the systematic conquest of Ireland, and successful contention with Spain for dominance on the seas, seen in the crushing defeat of the Invincible Armada in 1588. Toward the end of her rule, British absolutism began turning into a brake on the country’s further capitalist development. Efforts in defense of “parliamentary privileges” and against the “prerogatives of the crown,” initiated under Elizabeth I, proved a prologue to a subsequent contest between the parliamentary opposition and absolutism under the first Stuarts.


Shtokmar, V. V. Ekonomicheskaiapolitika angliiskogo absoliutizma v epokhu ego rastsveta. Leningrad, 1962.
Semenov, V. F. “Problemy politicheskoi istorii Anglii XVI v. v osveshchenii sovremennykh angliiskikh burzhuaznykh istorikov.” Voprosy istorii, 1959, no. 4.
Neale, J. E. Elizabeth I and Her Parliaments, vols. 1–2. London, 1953–57.
Black, J. R. The Reign of Elizabeth: 1558–1603, 2nd ed. Oxford, 1959.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Elizabeth I

1533--1603, queen of England (1558--1603); daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. She established the Church of England (1559) and put an end to Catholic plots, notably by executing Mary Queen of Scots (1587) and defeating the Spanish Armada (1588). Her reign was notable for commercial growth, maritime expansion, and the flourishing of literature, music, and architecture
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603), 1576-78, attributed to Nicholas Hilliard (1547-1619), oil on panel, 81.5x61,2cm.
The Armada Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I features the Queen in a gold embroidered and jewelled dress with her hand resting on a globe, while the English fleet enjoys calm waters and the approaching Spanish fleet is wrecked in a storm.
There is a huge arched window from which Elizabeth I would have looked over Robert's wooded hunting park and the artificial lake - known as the mere - surrounding the castle.
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His has been a stifled childhood, adopted into the house-hold of Queen Elizabeth I's chief adviser William Cecil (David Thewlis), blackmailed into a loveless marriage and forbidden to do the one thing he loves--to write--even though he surreptitiously does so, penning A Midsummer Night's Dream at not yet 10 years old.
William Cecil, Elizabeth I's most favoured adviser, drew up the execution warrant for Mary Queen of Scots here, and it's still kept at Burghley.
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In 2001 Donald Stump asked me if I would like to help him create an organization for people studying Queen Elizabeth I. So much thoughtful and innovate scholarship had been done about Elizabeth I in the last decades of the twentieth century by people in a variety of disciplines that it seemed like the perfect time for a society to be formed.
This is the first full-length study of one of the most popular books of Elizabeth I's reign: The Whole Booke of Psalmes.
He describes the interactions between humanist education and political, cultural, and intellectual life; explores the connection between English humanism and practical politics; recreates the network of intricate relationships and activities that began in their early days as students at Cambridge University and lasted through their maturity as public officials in Queen Elizabeth I's government; and places the phenomenon in the wider context of the European Renaissance.

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