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The Reign of Elizabeth I

Info: 1820 words (7 pages) Essay
Published: 10th Nov 2021 in History

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After the reign of "Bloody Mary," Queen Elizabeth I ascended to the throne in an England changed by Queen Mary's violent devotion towards restoring England to the Roman Catholic faith. Queen Elizabeth was swift with a series of government changes right after her ascension. One of her proclamations was reducing the size of the Privy Council. She especially targeted some of the Catholic members that had sat on the council during Mary's reign.[1] One of the most competent actions of a great ruler is making sure to have educated and experienced advisors to help you govern. Elizabeth exemplified this practice by assembling brilliant advisers such as Nicholas Throckmorton, Francis Walsingham, Nicholas Bacon, and William Cecil. Cecil was especially bright and was invaluable to Queen Elizabeth as principal secretary.[2] Elizabeth I's early reign was not a failure, especially considering who she inherited the throne from. As Queen, Elizabeth established relatively peaceful times for her people through diplomatic maneuvering, definitely established Protestantism in England, and did all this while harboring a cousin that plotted to take her throne.

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Unlike many women at the time, Elizabeth received detailed education consisting of history, moral philosophy, classical languages, and rhetoric. Her Cambridge educated tutor Roger Ascham once said of Elizabeth, "Her mind has no womanly weakness, her perseverance is equal to that of a man, and her memory long keeps what it quickly picks up."[3] Quite useful for her future diplomatic endeavours, Elizabeth even learned French and Italian. Elizabeth's studying of theology also helped shape her Protestant views.[4]

One of Elizabeth's greatest strengths during her early reign was her international diplomacy. Elizabeth I inherited a country from Mary that was at war with France. During the course of her marriage to Philip, Mary allowed England to be dragged into the war raging on in the European continent and even lost the long-held territory of Calais to the French in January 1558. During her reign however, Elizabeth and her trusted advisor Cecil engineered peace when they signed the The Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis with France. Although Calais was never returned to the English, France did reverse their support to the claims of Mary, Queen of Scots (Elizabeth's rival) to the English throne.[5] Additionally, Elizabeth did gain some value from losing Calais. After a failed invasion of the French port of Le Havre in 1561, the Treaty of Troyes was signed in 1564 between France and England. England agreed to recognize French claims to Calais and received a sizeable payment of 120,000 crowns.6 Fixing her sister's mistakes was a central part of Elizabeth's reign. Scotland's religious conflict was also a problem faced​ by Elizabeth. However, Elizabeth signed the The Treaty of Edinburgh in 1560 that ended bloodshed of French and English soldiers in Scotland. Truly remarkable about Elizabeth's signing of this treaty was that she was able to agree to terms with the husband of Mary (who refused to give up her claim to English throne), King Francis II of France.[6]

Elizabeth longest lasting legacy was her restoration of England to Protestantism. Elizabeth's Act of Supremacy, passed in 1559 by Parliament, reestablished the queen as the leader of the church and not the pope. The Queen's actions to restore the church were wide and rooted out much of the Roman Catholicism dogma left by her sister. The Act of Uniformity reestablished the second prayer book of Edward VI as the official order of worship after Mary had removed it in 1559. Elizabeth also enforced that ministers were obligated to conduct services with Edward's prayer book and penalties were even enacted for families that did not participate in parish church on holy days. Furthermore, the act decreed that the ornaments of the church and its rites and ceremonies were to be regulated by the Queen and her ecclesiastical commissioners. Perhaps most definitely, all men, temporal officers, and priests studying at university were required to swear fealty to the new church order or be removed from their school. Purging of the old faith wasn't completely successful due to many nobles and a majority of the common people still remained loyal to the old faith. Importantly however, Elizabeth had put in place Protestants in all the key positions in the church and government.[7]

Despite Queen Elizabeth's seemingly unwavering dedication to rooting out Roman Catholicism, she made the wise decision to ignore the whims of the more militant Protestants she ruled over. Exiles from the reign of Mary returned during Elizabeth's reign and demanded actions such as removing Catholic elements from the prayer books and the arrest and prosecution of those still loyal to the old faith. However, the queen did not want to make the same mistake her older sister had made. She denied the exiles requests because she feared more drastic reforms could cause violent outbreaks from Catholics. Although not a non-believer, Elizabeth tried to limit overtly religious acts in a country that had felt the damages of the religious zealot Mary.[8]

Not surprisingly, Elizabeth's reforms were not without opposition. A rebellion occurred in 1569 when Northern England nobles backed Roman Catholic Mary, Queen of Scotts as the true queen. In order to maintain her power and claim to the throne Elizabeth had over 700 supporters of the rebellion executed after her military defeated their forces. An additional threat to Elizabeth arose in 1571 when the "Ridolfi Plot" occurred. Banker Roberto Ridolfi was at the center of a plot to assassinate Elizabeth, replace her with Mary, Queen of Scotts, and wed Mary to the 3rd Duke of Norfolk Thomas Howard. Spies and advisors of Elizabeth uncovered the plot and she either executed or exiled the conspirators.[9] Elizabeth's actions towards Catholics were only intensified by the leader of Catholic church's actions. In 1570 Pope Pius V, "issued the bull Regnans in Excelsis, excommunicating Elizabeth, absolving her subjects of allegiance to her, and calling for her deposition in favor of Mary Queen of Scots."[10] Elizabeth's reservations about the threat of Catholicism was unequivocally warranted after this papal bull.

Mary, Queen of Scots acted as a thorn to Elizabeth throughout her reign. Some rulers would have just executed her and some of Elizabeth's advisors did recommend this course of action. Perhaps out of caring for her cousin, it took the queen decades to finally have her sister executed. What was a much more likely reason for Mary's many second chances was Elizabeth's understanding of ramifications of Mary's death. She knew that Catholics throughout England would resent the Queen for ordering the death of the Catholic Mary.[11]

The cult of the "virgin queen" that surrounds Queen Elizabeth was a unique strategy by Queen Elizabeth. Many suitors were almost married to the Queen, but something always prevented the nuptials from occurring. Elizabeth's Privy Council,​ Parliament, and people urged her repeatedly to get herself married, but Elizabeth, 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."[12] Early in her reign she had a slew of French princes and German dukes that she kept in limbo regarding her decision to get married. Wisely, Elizabeth never actually married because unlike kings of the time, she could only be married once unless her husband died. She never did get married and instead, "she preferred to play potential suitors against each other in a brilliant game of amorous, albeit duplicitous, diplomacy."​


[1] Bucholz, Robert, and Newton Key. Early modern England 1485-1714: A narrative history. John Wiley & Sons, 2009. 121

[2] Bucholz, Early Modern England 1485-1714 2009. 119

[3] Rogers, Lisa. "An Imperial Intellect: Elizabeth's Legacy 400 Years Later." National Endowment for the Humanities. July/August, 2003

[4] Bucholz, Early Modern England 1485-1714 2009. 118

[5] Bucholz, Early Modern England 1485-1714 2009. 126 6 Rickard, J (12 January 2011), Peace of Troyes, 11 April 1564, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/peace_troyes.html

[6] Bucholz, Early Modern England 1485-1714 2009. 128

[7] Bucholz, Early Modern England 1485-1714 2009. 120-22

[8] Bucholz, Early Modern England 1485-1714 2009. 123

[9] Bucholz, Early Modern England 1485-1714 2009. 134

[10] Bucholz, Early Modern England 1485-1714 2009. 135

[11] Bucholz, Early Modern England 1485-1714 2009. 138-39

[12] Bucholz, Early Modern England 1485-1714 2009. 120

 

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