Elizabeth I of England is one of the most famous queens to have reigned over England and Ireland. Her reign, which lasted from November 17, 1558 until her death in 1603, had a profound effect on England, which at that time, thanks to her policies, had become one of the greatest world powers of the time. Even today, the British sovereign is still considered a high figure in English and Irish history, known for her severity and her policy in favour of Protestantism .
Elisabeth was born from the union of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Born out of wedlock, when Henry VIII was already married to Catherine of Aragon, Queen of Spain, Elizabeth was initially considered to be a bastard child… But fate decided otherwise, when Henry VIII decided to end his union with the Queen of Spain, and finally married his mistress, Anne Boleyn, who officially became Queen of England.
As protocol dictates, Elizabeth is quickly taken away from her mother, to be raised by a nanny at Hatfield House. There she receives a strict education, and learns music, theatre, Protestantism, and the precepts of propriety. Everything goes on as peacefully as possible until the wind turns for her mother, Anne Boleyn, who has many miscarriages and seems unable to give Henry VIII a male heir.
Things then get out of hand, and Anne Boleyn is accused of incest with her brother, adultery and high treason towards her husband the King. She was beheaded after a very approximate trial on May 19, 1536 in the Tower of London, and Henry VIII remarried in the same month to Joan Seymour, who would soon give him a son, named Edward.
Elisabeth was therefore once again considered a bastard and lost her status as a princess. She now lives in a more modest environment, but has been granted the favour of living with her half-brother Edward, future pretender to the throne of England.
On the death of Henry VIII, Edward VI was declared King of England, but died quickly of a childhood illness. The Lord Protector of the time, then takes power, waiting to appoint a new king. The question then arises: should Mary, daughter of Queen Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII, be crowned or Elizabeth, daughter of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII? A conspiracy was then born to remove the two pretenders to the throne, and Jeanne Grey was appointed queen in their place on July 10, 1553. Mad with rage, Mary sent her supporters to the throne, and managed to bring down Jeanne Grey after 9 days of coronation…
Mary Tudor then takes possession of the throne and becomes Queen of England. She dispensed with a deeply Catholic policy, and overturned the original alliances by serving the interests of Spain. During her reign, Mary Tudor had a tense relationship with her half-sister Elizabeth, and soon accused her of being the author of a plot to overthrow the government. Elizabeth I was imprisoned in Whitehall Palace and later in the Tower of London. Mary, however, refuses to execute her. But she tries to get rid of her half-sister by inviting her to marry, but Elizabeth I seems to refuse all of her suitors, assuring them that she prefers to remain a virgin forever.
However, Mary died on November 17, 1558, and it was Elizabeth I who took possession of the throne. She was 25 years old at the time, and her new status as queen, as an illegitimate daughter of King Henry VIII, was not without creating doubts within the kingdom. In addition, the religious crisis that has been raging for several years now, pitting Catholicism against Protestantism, has fuelled tensions within the island.
Elizabeth I was plunged into the heart of complex conflicts, and had to compete intelligently in order to get away with it, gain the respect of her peers, but also become involved in terribly dangerous plots that could threaten her throne. Elizabeth I soon publicly announces her categorical refusal to marry, and proclaims herself “Virgin Queen” for the entirety of her reign (she will, however, experience a few idylls with Robert Dudley, Robert of Essex and Thomas Seymour beforehand).
She adopts a most virginal appearance over the years, displays a pale complexion and is the object of much coquetry. However, age hardens her character, makes her angry and moody, and makes her a Queen feared by the Court. She therefore decided to advocate the values of Protestantism, and made Anglicanism a state religion as early as 1559: from then on, bishops were required to take an oath to the Queen, and not to the Papacy. A real scandal for the time! This policy gave rise to some Catholic and Puritan revolts, quickly quelled by the Queen, who was then excommunicated by Pope Pius V.
The Queen’s religious decisions were not without displeasure to the Irish, who were very attached to Catholicism at the time. In addition, England’s expansionist will to expand into Ireland and other countries aroused particularly strong tensions between the Irish and England.
Very quickly, Elizabeth I did not hesitate to threaten the Irish clergy and its supporters to convert, on pain of facing the British army. All these warnings then plunged Ireland and England into a most explosive climate: the clashes degenerated into bloodshed, and attempts at Irish revolt were constantly crushed by the British boot.
Even Spain’s help in assisting Ireland was not enough to repel the English assaults, and soon Ireland was faced with a situation in which English Protestant settlers were living haphazardly alongside Irish Catholics. We can still see traces of this age-old conflict today…
Elizabeth I died on Thursday, March 24, 1603, and with her the long line of Tudors died out. She is buried in Westminster Abbey in England in the royal vault alongside her half-sister Mary Tudor.
Following this death, it was the turn of James VI of Scotland, son of Mary Stuart, to take power. He then became James I of England.
Although her 45 years of reign were spent under a regime of violence, the reign of Elizabeth I was one of the most beneficial for England, which soon saw itself propelled to the rank of great power in the world. The country became a great political and economic force, gained in autonomy, and experienced a cultural influence of the most important (with Shakespeare’s English literature, the theatre, and the sciences). Even today, one can still observe a strong imprint of its actions in England, but also in Ireland…