The Reign of Elizabeth I – The Virgin Queen – The Last Tudor Monarch


Accession of Elizabeth – 1558-1603.

At the time of her sister Mary’s death, Elizabeth was living quietly at Hatfield House, near London, spending most of her time studying Greek and Latin. On hearing the news of her accession to the throne, she said “It is the Lord’s doings; it is marvelous in our eyes.” Days later, she travelled to London along the same road over which she had traveled in previous times when she was being carried as a prisoner on her way to the Tower of London.

The Question of the Queen’s Marriage.

It wasn’t long before Parliament broached the subject of marriage because the welfare of the country largely depended on whom the Queen should marry. She replied by saying that she had resolved to live and die a maiden queen. Her ministers never received a straight answer even when they continued to press her on the subject, for Elizabeth was clever and used words that could be interpreted in many ways.

The Flirting Queen.

Although, she never married, Elizabeth I was an incorrigible flirt and the court constantly buzzed with scandals about her love life. When Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, was first her favourite, Elizabeth was still a young woman. She called him “Robin” and arranged for him to have apartments next to her own – there were even rumours at court that the queen intended to marry “her Robin”. But, when Dudley’s wife died in mysterious circumstances, Elizabeth was led by her head and not by her heart. In later life, the Earl of Essex became her favourite and although she was over thirty years his senior, for a long time this headstrong young man could do no wrong in her eyes – it is his name that is forever inter-linked with hers.

Vanity and Adulation

Elizabeth was so vain that she issued a proclamation forbidding any one to sell her picture, lest it should fail to do her justice. Even when she was past sixty, she still demanded flattery and a willing court provided her with it. Her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots wrote to her, saying, “Your aversion to marriage proceeds from your not wishing to lose the liberty of compelling people to make love to you.” The great writers and the great men of that time competed with each other in their compliments to Elizabeth’s wisdom, beauty and wit. Spenser composed his poem, the “Faerie Queen,” for her, Shakespeare is reported to have written the “Merry Wives of Windsor” to amuse her and he addresses her as the “fair vestal in the West.” in his “Midsummer Night’s Dream”. Her common subjects loved to sing the praises of their “good Queen Bess.”

Mary, Queen of Scots beheaded. 1587.

Elizabeth signed her cousin’s execution warrant and then seemingly blanked this act from her mind. When the news of Mary’s execution was brought to Elizabeth, she became afraid of how the act might be viewed in Europe so With her usual duplicity she angrily blamed the minister who had advised it and threw Davidson, her secretary, into the Tower of London. Elizabeth even had the nerve to write to Mary’s son, James VI of Scotland, telling him his mother had been beheaded by mistake!

Elizabeth’s Death (1603).

As Elizabeth’s brilliant reign was coming to an end many things had changed. Most of her counselors and old friends were dead, her subjects no longer welcomed her with the same warmth as they had in the past but most of all the death of her favourite, Essex, who had been beheaded for leading a rebellion against her, led to her becoming very sad and heavy-hearted. From that time she grew weaker and stayed in her palace. In her final days she sat muttering to herself “Mortua, sed non sepulta!” (Dead, but not buried). The queen died at Richmond and her body was conveyed down the River Thames to Westminster. Her recumbent effigy is placed on the tomb she shares with her half sister, Mary I (Bloody Mary) in Westminster Abbey’s Henry VII’s Chapel. Nearby, is the effigy and tomb of her cousin and rival, Mary Queen of Scots.


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