Elizabeth I of England

Queen regnant of England and Ireland (1533-1603)

Elizabeth I (7 September 153324 March 1603) was Queen of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death. Sometimes called The Virgin Queen, Gloriana or Good Queen Bess, the childless Elizabeth was the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty.

Elizabeth I of England (1533–1603, ascended in 1558)

Elizabeth was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, his second wife, who was executed two and a half years after Elizabeth's birth. Anne's marriage to Henry VIII was annulled, and Elizabeth was declared illegitimate. Her half-brother, Edward VI, ruled until his death in 1553, bequeathing the crown to Lady Jane Grey and ignoring the claims of his two half-sisters, Elizabeth and the Roman Catholic Mary, in spite of statute law to the contrary. Edward's will was set aside and Mary became queen, deposing Lady Jane Grey. During Mary's reign, Elizabeth was imprisoned for nearly a year on suspicion of supporting Protestant rebels.

In 1558, Elizabeth succeeded her half-sister to the throne and set out to rule by good counsel. She depended heavily on a group of trusted advisers, led by William Cecil, Baron Burghley. One of her first actions as queen was the establishment of an English Protestant church, of which she became the Supreme Governor. This Elizabethan Religious Settlement was to evolve into the Church of England. It was expected that Elizabeth would marry and produce an heir to continue the Tudor line. She never did, despite numerous courtships. As she grew older, Elizabeth became famous for her virginity. A cult grew around her which was celebrated in the portraits, pageants, and literature of the day.


  • Master Tyrwhit and others have told me that there goeth rumors abroad which be greatly both against mine honor and honesty, which above all other things I esteem, which be these: that I am in the Tower and with child by my lord admiral. My lord, these are shameful slanders, for the which, besides the great desire I have to see the king’s majesty, I shall most heartily desire your lordship that I may come to the court after your first determination, that I may show myself there as I am. Written in haste from Hatfield this 28 of January. Your assured friend to my little power, Elizabeth.
    • Letter to Edward Seymour, Lord Protector (28 January 1549), quoted in Leah Marcus, Janel Mueller and Mary Rose (eds.), Elizabeth I: Collected Works (The University of Chicago Press, 2002), p. 24.
  • Much suspected by me,
    Nothing proved can be,
    Quoth Elizabeth prisoner.
    • Written with a diamond on her window at Woodstock (1555), published in Acts and Monuments (1563) by John Foxe.
  • This is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes.
    • Her reaction when she was told she was Queen (17 November 1558).
  • Kings were wont to honour philosophers, but if I had such I would honour them as angels that should have such piety in them that they would not seek where they are the second to be the first, and where the third to be the second and so forth.
    • Response to Parliament (October 1566).
  • Though I be a woman yet I have as good a courage answerable to my place as ever my father had. I am your anointed Queen. I will never be by violence constrained to do anything. I thank God I am endued with such qualities that if I were turned out of the Realm in my petticoat I were able to live in any place in Christendom.
    • Response to Parliament (October 1566).
  • I will make you shorter by the head.
    • Response to Parliament (October 1566).
  • Was I not born in the realm? Were my parents born in any foreign country? Is there any cause I should alienate myself from being careful over this country? Is not my kingdom here? Whom have I oppressed? Whom have I enriched to others' harm? What turmoil have I made in this commonwealth, that I should be suspected to have no regard to the same? How have I governed since my reign? I will be tried by envy itself. I need not to use many words, for my deeds do try me.
    • Speech to a joint delegation of the House of Lords and the House of Commons (5 November 1566), quoted in Leah Marcus, Janel Mueller and Mary Rose (eds.), Elizabeth I: Collected Works (The University of Chicago Press, 2002), p. 95.
  • The use of the sea and air is common to all; neither can a title to the ocean belong to any people or private persons, forasmuch as neither nature nor public use and custom permit any possession thereof.
    • To the Spanish Ambassador (1580).
  • Brass shines as fair to the ignorant as gold to the goldsmiths.
    • Letter (1581).
  • I grieve and dare not show my discontent,
    I love and yet am forced to seem to hate,
    I do, yet dare not say I ever meant,
    I seem stark mute but inwardly do prate.
    • "On Monsieur's Departure" (February 1582).
  • My care is like my shadow in the sun,
    Follows me flying, flies when I pursue it,
    Stands and lies by me, doth what I have done.
    His too familiar care doth make me rue it.
    No means I find to rid him from my breast,
    Till by the end of things it be supprest.
    Some gentler passion slide into my mind,
    For I am soft and made of melting snow;
    Or be more cruel, love, and so be kind.
    Let me or float or sink, be high or low.
    Or let me live with some more sweet content,
    Or die and so forget what love ere meant.
    • "On Monsieur's Departure" (February 1582).
  • Amyas, my most careful and faithful servant, God reward thee treblefold in the double for thy most troublesome charge so well discharged.
    • Letter to Amias Paulet (August 1586), the gaoler of Mary, Queen of Scots, quoted in Leah Marcus, Janel Mueller and Mary Rose (eds.), Elizabeth I: Collected Works (The University of Chicago Press, 2002), p. 284.
  • For even our enemies hold our nation resolute and valiant, which though they will not outwardly show, they invariably know. And whensoever the malice of our enemies should cause them to make any attempt against us, I doubt not but we shall have the greatest glory, God fighting for those that truly serve Him with the justness of their quarrel.
    • Speech to Parliament (10 April 1593), quoted in Leah Marcus, Janel Mueller and Mary Rose (eds.), Elizabeth I: Collected Works (The University of Chicago Press, 2002), p. 332.
  • Must is not a word to be used to princes! Little man, little man, if your late father were here he would never dare utter such a word.
    • To Robert Cecil when he said, in her final illness (March 1603), that she must go to bed.
  • Anger makes dull men witty, but it keeps them poor.
  • If thy heart fails thee, climb not at all.
    • Rhyming response written on a windowpane beneath Sir Walter Raleigh's writing: "Fain would I climb, yet fear I to fall." As quoted in The History of the Worthies of England (1662) by Thomas Fuller
  • I would not open windows into men's souls.

Speech to the Troops at Tilbury (1588)Edit

Delivered at Tilbury, Essex on August 19, 1588. Full text at Wikisource.
  • Let tyrants fear, I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good-will of my subjects.
  • I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm.
  • Rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field. I know already, for your forwardness you have deserved rewards and crowns.
  • By your concord in the camp, and your valour in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory over those enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people.

The Golden Speech (1601)Edit

Delivered to the House of Commons on November 30, 1601. Full text at Wikisource.
  • Though God hath raised me high, yet this I count the glory of my Crown, that I have reigned with your loves.
  • I do not so much rejoice that God hath made me to be a Queen, as to be a Queen over so thankful a people. Therefore I have cause to wish nothing more than to content the subject and that is a duty which I owe. Neither do I desire to live longer days than I may see your prosperity and that is my only desire.
  • I know the title of a King is a glorious title, but assure yourself that the shining glory of princely authority hath not so dazzled the eyes of our understanding, but that we well know and remember that we also are to yield an account of our actions before the great judge. To be a king and wear a crown is a thing more glorious to them that see it than it is pleasant to them that bear it.
  • There will never Queen sit in my seat with more zeal to my country, care to my subjects and that will sooner with willingness venture her life for your good and safety than myself. For it is my desire to live nor reign no longer than my life and reign shall be for your good. And though you have had, and may have, many princes more mighty and wise sitting in this seat, yet you never had nor shall have, any that will be more careful and loving.
  • "I shall be thy name in Christ as I emerge through these walls in vein"

Quotes about Elizabeth IEdit

  • Perhaps no figure in English history has inspired more myth than Queen Elizabeth I (reigned 1558-1603). She had many personas: the Virgin Queen, Gloriana, Good Queen Bess to her supporters; the bastard and heretic daughter of the whore, Anne Boleyn, to her detractors. In her day, scores of poets and artists promoted these various images. Since then, legions of writers, some scholarly, some popular, as well as playwrights and film-makers, have sought to relate the achievements of her reign and explain the mystique she exercised over her people. She herself was well aware of that mystique, cultivating it so effectively that it is almost impossible to pin down the "real" Elizabeth. Still, it is necessary to try, if only because so many of the age's triumphs and failures were intimately bound up with her words and actions.
    • Richard Bucholz and Newton Key, Early Modern England, 1485-1714: A Narrative History (2009), p. 116
  • Like her father, Henry VIII, with whom she identified publicly, she was a larger-than-life personality. As with King Hal, this makes it difficult to separate fact from fiction. This much is inarguable. Elizabeth was young when she took the throne: 25 years old. She was also good-looking- an advantage that she was not reluctant to exploit. In addition, the new queen was highly intelligent, witty, hardworking, and well educated. She was fluent in Latin, French, Spanish, Italian, and, of course, English. She wrote poetry and could speak effectively when she chose to do so. Elizabeth was also, like her father, something of a scholar: she once translated Boethius' On the Consolations of Philosophy into English for her own amusement. She also took after her father in being both musical and athletic. She played the virginals (a primitive keyboard instrument), danced, and hunted with enthusiasm. A final, crucial similarity to Henry VIII was that Elizabeth I was vain and imperious. Men could flirt with her- indeed, she encouraged them- but they had to be careful not to go too far, for she never forgot that she was queen.
    • Richard Bucholz and Newton Key, Early Modern England, 1485-1714: A Narrative History (2009), p. 118
  • If even Mary's good qualities proved to be counter-productive, Elizabeth's bad ones sometimes worked in her favor. For example, her imperious nature, quick temper, and sharp tongue did much to counter any assumptions that she was weak because she was a woman. The most common charge leveled against her, also linked to contemporary assumptions about her gender, is that she was indecisive. Thus, Robert Devereaux, earl of Essex (1565-1601), complained to the French ambassador in 1597 that "they labored under two things at this Court, delay and inconsistency, which proceeded from the sex of the queen."
    • Richard Bucholz and Newton Key, Early Modern England, 1485-1714: A Narrative History (2009), p. 118
  • Indeed, Queen Elizabeth was capable of making her Privy Council and parliaments wait an agonizingly long time while she made up her mind. In some crucial cases (marriage, what to do about Mary Queen of Scots), it could be argued that she never did so. But it could also be argued that she had been taught by hard experience the dangers of committing herself too early or too definitely. After all, Elizabeth had grown up in a perilous environment in which overt commitment to one side or the other- in politics or religion- could lead to disgrace, even death. As queen, she ruled a country which was seemingly at the mercy of bigger, more powerful neighbors. What often struck her subjects (and later male historians) as indecisiveness now looks like prudence, even a mastery of herself and of the situation at hand. In particular she was a virtuoso at playing two sides off each other, so that they would not turn against her- or England.
    • Richard Bucholz and Newton Key, Early Modern England, 1485-1714: A Narrative History (2009), p. 118
  • Elizabeth, again like her father, learned to use the possibility of matrimony as a diplomatic trump card or, more crudely, as bait: after all, marriage to the queen of England would be a peaceful and inexpensive way for Spain or France to win that country into an alliance and, perhaps, even back to Catholicism. Throughout the first half of the reign, especially during foreign policy crisis, she entertained a steady stream of French princes and German dukes, all of whom offered undying love- and diplomatic alliance. Unlike her father, however, she knew that marriage was a card that she could only play once. Once played, her freedom of maneuver and, with it, that of her country, would be virtually eliminated. Instead, she preferred to play potential suitors against each other in a brilliant game of amorous, albeit duplicitous, diplomacy.
    • Richard Bucholz and Newton Key, Early Modern England, 1485-1714: A Narrative History (2009), p. 120-121
  • Elizabeth, unlike Mary, born of both an English mother and an English father, seems to have felt real affection for her people. Certainly, she had the common touch, frequently going out amongst them on summer-long cross-country progresses, or being carried in an open chair through the streets of London. At such moments Elizabeth played to the crowd, ordered "her carriage... to be taken where the crowd seemed thickest, and stood up and thanked the people."
    • Richard Bucholz and Newton Key, Early Modern England, 1485-1714: A Narrative History (2009), p. 121
  • With 1588 the crisis of the reign was past. England had emerged from the Armada year as a first-class Power. She had resisted the weight of the mightiest empire that had been seen since Roman times. Her people awoke to a consciousness of their greatness, and the last years of Elizabeth's reign saw a welling up of national energy and enthusiasm focused upon the person of the Queen. In the year following the Armada, the first three books were published of Spenser's Faerie Queene, in which Elizabeth is hymned as Gloriana. Poets and courtiers alike paid their homage to the sovereign who symbolized the great achievement. Elizabeth had schooled a generation of Englishmen.
    • Winston Churchill, A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Volume Two: The New World (1956), p. 133
  • Victory over Spain was the most shining achievement of Elizabeth's reign, but by no means the only one. The repulse of the Armada had subdued religious dissension at home. Events which had swung England toward Puritanism while the Catholic danger was impending swung her back to the Anglican settlement when the peril vanished in the smoke of the burning Armada at Gravelines.
    • Winston Churchill, A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Volume Two: The New World (1956), p. 137
  • The expansive notions of religious authority and godly activism that found expression in Knox and Goodman's resistance theories would also continue to shape Protestant thought and activism under Elizabeth. English Protestants literally saw Elizabeth's accession as a godsend, and when James Pilkington called for reformation in 1560, he depicted the monarch as playing an important and helpful role in establishing true religion. Rather than making the prince the necessary source of religious authority in England, however, he cast the monarch as a powerful partner in a task that God Himself laid upon all His people, a task that must proceed, with or without the monarch's assistance. Elizabeth completely rejected this limited view of her authority- just as she rejected the notion that even her most exalted subjects could demand that she name a successor or execute a fellow monarch- but to her great consternation, many of her most fervent subjects did not.
    • Karl Gunther, Reformation Unbound: Protestant Visions of Reform in England, 1525-1590 (2014), p. 157
  • So the development of the galleon enabled the rich and powerful colonial empire of Spain to plot the destruction of Elizabeth’s reign and the restoration of a Catholic English state. In 1582, Spain began construction of a new Armada.
    In light of Spain’s new military project, and with no imminent Turkish threat to English soil, Elizabeth I made the daring move to send the first English ambassador to Constantinople to bargain with Sultan Murad III of the Ottoman Empire. William Harborne was chosen for the task, having travelled to Constantinople throughout the 1570s with British merchants in the Levant Trading Company. Through her ambassador, Elizabeth and Murad corresponded back and forth in Latin, each concerned with Spanish and Habsburg dominance. Murad was quite beguiling in his treatment of the sovereign of England, referring to Elizabeth as:The pride of women who follow Jesus, the most excellent of the ladies honored among the Messiah’s people, the arbitress of the affairs of the Christian community, who trails the skirts of majesty and gravity, the queen of the realm of Ingiltere, Queen Eliz’ade. Ambassador Harborne, in turn, referred to Murad as “the most august and benign Caesar”—illustrating Elizabeth’s view that England did not perceive the Ottomans as conquerors, while also diplomatically casting Murad as the rightful successor of the Byzantine Empire. Elizabeth’s ultimate goal was to persuade Murad to attack Spain as a diversion, so that England would have time to prepare for Spain’s assault of the English coast. While Elizabeth’s proposed Anglo–Ottoman alliance was never quite realized, trade between England and the Ottoman Empire flourished under the Levant Company.
  • So it was that in 1585, with the Anglo–Spanish War nearly upon Elizabeth’s shore, Elizabeth and Murad discussed an Anglo–Ottoman alliance against Catholic Spain grounded in religious commonality. Though the alliance never came to fruition, the resulting trade agreements between the two peoples gave England the impetus to become a worldwide empire of its own. Because England was a Protestant state, outside of papal authority, it was in a favored position to seek an alliance with the Ottoman Empire. Further, as a consequence of ignoring the 1578 papal ban on Christians dealing in arms with Muslims, England was in an ideal position to trade prosperously with the Ottomans—to the neglect of the Catholic states.
  • She certainly is a great queen, and were she only a Catholic she would be our dearly beloved. Just look how well she governs; she is only a woman, only mistress of half an island, and yet she makes herself feared by Spain, by France, by the Empire, by all.
    • Pope Sixtus V (in the autumn of 1585), as reported in Walter Walsh, The Jesuits in Great Britain (1903), p. 111.
  • Queen Elizabeth of famous memory,—we need not be ashamed to call her so! ...that Lady, that great Queen.
    • Oliver Cromwell's speech to Parliament (17 September 1656), quoted in Thomas Carlyle, Oliver Cromwell's Letters and Speeches with Elucidations. Volume III (London: George Routledge and Sons, n.d.), p. 101.

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