Elizabeth was born on 7 September 1533 at the Palace of Placentia in Greenwich, daughter of King Henry VIII of England and his second wife Anne Boleyn.
She had an older half-sister Mary (future Mary 1 of England) by her father’s first marriage to Catherine of Aragon and would soon have a half-brother Edward (future Edward VI of England) by her father’s third marriage to Jane Seymour.
When Elizabeth was only two years-old her mother was beheaded for adultery, and Elizabeth was declared illegitimate.
Twelve days after her mother was executed, her father married for a third time to Jane Seymour and she did give Henry the son he cherished, Edward, however she died shortly after the birth.
Elizabeth was raised by governesses and received an extensive education, being able to speak at least six languages.
During her youth, she was placed in the household of her half-brother Edward, and when her father died in 1547 and Edward, aged nine took the throne as Edward VI, she went to live with her father’s six wife and widow Katherine Parr who had recently married again to Thomas Seymour, Edward VI’s uncle.
Elizabeth was only fourteen when Katherine Parr observed inappropriate behaviour between her and Thomas Seymour who at that time was around forty years of age. Katherine was unhappy with both her husband’s and Elizabeth’s behaviour and in 1546 Elizabeth was sent away.
Following Katherine Parr’s death in 1548, Thomas Seymour renewed his advances to Elizabeth and plotted to have his brother Edward Seymour removed as Lord Protector of the Crown. This resulted in Thomas Seymour being executed in 1549.
Edward VI died in 1553 and instead of naming his elder sister Mary as his heir, he excluded both her and Elizabeth from the line of succession and declared Lady Jane Grey, granddaughter of Henry VIII’s sister Mary Tudor as his successor, however support for her was small, and although she was proclaimed queen, her reign did not last long. After only nine days, she was deposed in favour of Edward’s sister Mary. On 3 August 1553 Mary, with Elizabeth at her side rode triumphantly into London.
Many believed Mary’s throne would never be safe while Elizabeth live, as she was a staunch Protestant, while her sister Queen Mary was a devout Catholic; and when Wyatt’s Rebellion took place in January 1554, Elizabeth was implicated in it and on 18 March she was imprisoned in the Tower of London, then moved in May 1554 to Woodstock to serve almost a year under house arrest.
While queen, Mary suffered two phantom pregnancies, but was to die childless on 17 November 1558, to be succeeded by her sister Elizabeth, becoming Elizabeth I of England.
England had become a Catholic country under Mary, however Elizabeth was a staunch Protestant and determined to return England to a Protestant nation, however to not alienate her Catholic subjects she retained many of their traditions as well.
As soon as Elizabeth became queen at the age of twenty-five, requests for her hand in marriage flooded in, but none ever led to anything. In fact, Elizabeth never married and became known as the ‘Virgin Queen’, although she was to use the inducement of marriage in negotiations to gain allies in times of strife.
It is believed she was in love with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, whom she had known since her childhood, but he was already married. Even when his wife died, they may have married, but any union between them was unpopular with the nobles and may have led to a rising against Elizabeth.
In her early reign Elizabeth was persuaded to deal with the threat to her throne from Mary, Queen of Scots who was considered to have a legitimate right as heir. Scotland were also supported by France, and Elizabeth believed that France were planning to invade England and place Mary, Queen of Scots on the throne of England.
A force was sent to Scotland and the campaign resulted in the signing of the Treaty of Edinburgh in July 1560, agreeing a new Anglo-Scottish accord, and continuing the peace between England and France as agreed by the Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis. Mary, returning to Scotland in 1561 refused however to ratify the treaty.
In 1567 Mary, Queen of Scots was forced to abdicate the Scottish throne in favour of her one year-old son James. This caused rebellion and the imprisonment of Mary, however she escaped and fled across the border into England, believing she would gain the support of Elizabeth.
When arriving in England, Elizabeth did not know what to do with Mary; she was still a threat to England; would it be better to restore her to the Scottish throne? A decision had to be made. In the end Mary was imprisoned.
In 1569, there was a large Catholic uprising in the north (Northern Rebellion), that was hoping to release Mary and put her on the throne of England. The rebels were defeated and Elizabeth ordered the execution of over seven hundred and fifty of the rebels.
Following the rebellion, Pope Pius V issued a Papal Bull (Decree/Charter) in 1571 releasing Elizabeth’s subjects from any allegiance to her, however her government later enacted laws in 1581 making it a treasonable offence to attempt to convert subjects to Catholicism thereby withdrawing allegiance to her; this was punishable by death.
More Catholic rebellions took place with plans to execute Elizabeth and place Mary, Queen of Scots on the English throne including the Ridolfi Plot of 1571 and the Babington Plot of 1586. Mary had been imprisoned for nineteen years and now following these plots a case had been assembled against her. She was beheaded at Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire in 1587.
Elizabeth mainly avoided military expeditions, however she did send an army to assist Protestant Dutch Rebels against Philip II of Spain in 1585, leading to the start of the Anglo-Spanish War.
In 1588 Philip II of Spain sent a large fleet of ships (Spanish Armada) across the channel intending to invade England, however they were defeated by the smaller English naval force and the inclement weather.
Elizabeth had constantly suffered defiance to her authority in Ireland, the severest test being the ‘Nine Years War’ between 1594 – 1603. She sent Robert Devereaux, 2nd Earl of Essex to Ireland to quell the rebellion but he badly managed his army and they were largely ineffectual. Having signed a truce with the rebellion leader, Essex, against Elizabeth’s orders, returned to England in September 1599. He was then replaced by Charles Blount, Lord Mountney, who finally defeated the Irish forces in 1603.
Elizabeth’s health started to deteriorate in 1602 and she became heavily depressed following the deaths of many of her friends. As she would never name a successor to her throne, Robert Cecil, leader of the government entered in to secret negotiations with James VI of Scotland who had a strong claim to the English throne through his mother.
The later years of Elizabeth’s reign is remembered as the ‘Golden Age’ of the Elizabethan Era. A time when English literature, poetry, music and theatre came to the fore.
At a time when it was seen, as necessary to produce a male heir to succeed the throne, Elizabeth has shown that a woman can be a good, committed and formidable ruler.
Elizabeth, the last Tudor monarch, died on 24 March 1603 at Richmond Palace. Her funeral took place on 28 April 1603 and she is interred at Westminster Abbey with her sister Mary.
James VI of Scotland, now also became James I of England, finally uniting the English and Scottish kingdoms and beginning the reign of the Stuarts.