Elizabeth the Great

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Elizabeth the Great

Elizabeth Jenkins 1958

Author Biography
Plot Summary
Key Figures
Historical Context
Critical Overview
Further Reading


Elizabeth the Great (1958), by Elizabeth Jenkins, is a biography of Queen Elizabeth I of England, "Good Queen Bess," who reigned from 1558 until her death in 1603.

Elizabeth I was born in 1533, the daughter of King Henry VIII of England and Anne Boleyn. When Elizabeth was only two years old, her father ordered the beheading of her mother. When Henry VIII died in 1547 he was succeeded by his son, Elizabeth's half-brother, the nine-year-old Edward VI. After Edward VI died in 1553, Elizabeth's half-sister became Queen Mary I of England. Mary, who was Catholic, earned the name Bloody Mary for her persecution of Protestants during her reign. Because Elizabeth was Protestant and because Mary feared Elizabeth might plot against her life, Elizabeth was imprisoned throughout most of Mary's reign.

Upon Mary I's death in 1558, Elizabeth was named Queen of England. Elizabeth was masterful at creating a public image for herself that appealed to the emotions of her citizens and allayed their concerns about being ruled by a female monarch. Elizabeth's refusal to marry, and therefore to bear heirs, was a significant point of conflict between herself and her Parliament throughout her reign. Meanwhile, she maintained a close companionship through much of her life with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, whom she also refused to marry.

Throughout her reign, Elizabeth was threatened by various plots to murder her and place the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots on the English throne. A number of conspiracies against her life and crown were uncovered, resulting in many executions for treason, including the execution of Mary Queen of Scots in 1587. However, upon Elizabeth's death, King James VI of Scotland, the son of Mary Queen of Scots, was named as her successor, making him King James I of England.

Author Biography

Margaret Elizabeth Heald Jenkins was born October 31, 1905, in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, England. She attended Newman College, Cambridge, from 1924 to 1927, where she studied history and literature. From 1929 to 1939, Jenkins taught English at King Alfred School. During World War II, she served as a British civil servant. After 1945, she became a full time writer.

Jenkins is best known for her two biographical works on Queen Elizabeth I of England and her biography of the writer Jane Austen. Elizabeth the Great, her biography of Elizabeth I, was first published in 1958. As a follow-up, Jenkins wrote a book about the relationship between Elizabeth I and the earl of Leicester in Elizabeth and Leicester (1961). Her book The Princes in the Tower offers a history of the controversy surrounding King Richard III of England and the imprisonment of his two young nephews in the Tower of London. Jenkins has written biographies of English novelists in Henry Fielding (1947) and Jane Austen: A Biography (1949). Her book Ten Fascinating Women (1968) provides information on ten notable English women in history, including Elizabeth I. Jenkins received the Femina Vic Heureuse prize in 1934 for her novel Harriet. Her other novels include Virginia Water (1930), Doubtful Joy (1935), The Winters (1947), Honey (1968), and Dr. Gully (1972). Jenkins lives in England.

Plot Summary

Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn

Elizabeth I was born in 1533, the daughter of King Henry VIII of England and Anne Boleyn, his second wife. Henry's first wife, Catherine of Aragon, had born him a daughter, Mary. When Elizabeth was two years old, Henry VIII ordered the beheading of Anne Boleyn, although Elizabeth did not learn of this fact until years later. Henry VIII's third wife, Jane Seymour, was the mother of his only surviving son, Edward. Henry VIII later married, in succession, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and Catherine Parr.

Although all three children were of different mothers, Mary, Elizabeth, and Edward were raised together and generally treated well by their various stepmothers. Important early influences on Elizabeth were her governess, Mrs. Ashley, and her private tutor, the scholar Roger Ascham. Ascham was impressed with Elizabeth's intelligence, eagerness for learning, and facility with learning foreign languages.

Reign of King Edward VI

In 1547, when Elizabeth was fourteen, Henry VIII died, leaving the nine-year old Edward as heir to the throne. Edward Seymour, duke of Somerset, was named Protector to the boy king. Soon afterward, Thomas Seymour (a brother of Edward Seymour), married Henry VIII's widow, Catherine Parr. When Edward became king, Elizabeth went to live with Catherine Parr (her stepmother) and Thomas Seymour. During this time, Thomas Seymour developed a pattern of sexually harassing the teenaged Elizabeth. After his wife died, Seymour hoped to marry Elizabeth in order to gain political power. However, in 1549, Thomas Seymour was arrested for various political intrigues and beheaded on the order of his brother Edward Seymour. In 1552, Edward Seymour was in turn beheaded for treason. With the downfall of Edward Seymour, John Dudley, earl of Warwick, took over control of the government as a regent to the child king.

In 1553, King Edward VI died of tuberculosis. After Edward's death, a conspiracy resulted in the reign of Lady Jane Grey as Queen of England for nine days. John Dudley had arranged the marriage of his son to Lady Jane Grey, and convinced the dying King Edward VI to name her heir to the throne. However, Elizabeth's sister Mary, the rightful heir to the throne, had the popular support to overthrow Lady Jane Grey. The fifteen-year old Lady Jane Grey, who had been forced into the arrangement against her will by her parents, was executed for treason, along with her father, her husband, and her husband's father.

Reign of Queen Mary I

The thirty-seven year old Mary was named Queen Mary I of England in 1553. In 1554, Sir Thomas Wyat organized an armed rebellion of some 3,000 men against Queen Mary I. The rebellion was swiftly put down, and Wyat was executed. These events, however, caused problems for Elizabeth, who was suspected of being an accomplice in the rebellion. Although there was no evidence against Elizabeth, Mary I's suspicion of her half-sister led to harsh treatment of the princess throughout her reign. Elizabeth thus spent most of Mary I's reign in various forms of imprisonment, first in the Tower of London, then as a prisoner in various households where she was held under constant suspicion of conspiracy.

In 1554, Mary I married King Philip II of Spain. The reign of Mary I created further difficulties for Elizabeth because, although they were half-sisters and had gotten along as children, Mary was a devout Catholic and Elizabeth was a Protestant. Mary's primary concern as queen was to restore England to Catholicism. During her five-year reign, Mary I earned the name Bloody Mary because of her harsh treatment of Protestants. In all, she over-saw the burning at the stake of some 300 Protestants, sometimes as many as eight at once.

Elizabeth Ascends the Throne

When Mary I died in 1558, the twenty-five year old Elizabeth was named Queen Elizabeth I of England. Upon gaining power, Elizabeth named William Cecil her secretary, and he remained her primary and most trusted advisor in affairs of state until his death. Throughout her reign, Elizabeth faced several recurring challenges. A significant threat to the reign of Elizabeth I was Mary Queen of Scots, the Catholic Queen of Scotland who repeatedly plotted against Elizabeth's life in efforts to secure the English throne for herself. Until her death, there was also constant struggle between Elizabeth and her parliament over the issue of producing an heir to the throne. Elizabeth never married or bore children, but cleverly kept her government and her nation guessing about whom she might choose to marry. Meanwhile, Elizabeth maintained a close romantic relationship with Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, who was not considered a suitable match for the queen in marriage.

Robert Dudley was soon named by Elizabeth to various positions of importance within the court and eventually granted various prestigious titles. Dudley seemed to think he might one day marry the Queen, although she never indicated that she would ever accept such a proposal. Dudley was already married but in 1560, his wife died by falling down a flight of stairs and breaking her neck. Dudley later secretly married another woman. Elizabeth remained close to Dudley until his death, although he sometimes angered her.

The Threat of Mary Queen of Scots

Mary Queen of Scots was considered by many Catholics to be the rightful Queen of England, rather than Elizabeth. Mary thus remained a constant threat to Elizabeth's life and throne. Throughout Elizabeth's reign, Mary was engaged in a number of plots and conspiracies to gain the English throne. In 1565, Mary married Henry Stewart, earl of Darnley. Controversy was sparked when Darnley was strangled to death and his house blown up in 1567. Mary was suspected of having plotted the murder of her own husband to marry the earl of Bothwell, which she did three months later. As a result of this controversy, Mary was deposed as queen of Scotland, and her one-year-old son named King James VI of Scotland in her place. In desperation, Mary fled to England, where Elizabeth kept her in prison for the next eighteen years.

During this time, many plots against Elizabeth to place Mary Queen of Scots on the English throne were discovered and put down, as were several small rebellions in the name of Mary Queen of Scots. In 1569, the rebellion of English Catholics in the north of England was crushed by military force. In 1570, Pope Pius V excommunicated Elizabeth I and encouraged English Catholics to rebel against their Protestant queen. This pronouncement led to harsher crackdowns on Catholics in England.

In 1571, the Ridolfi Plot was exposed. The Ridolfi Plot was attempted by the Florentine Roberto Ridolfi, who arranged to murder Elizabeth and coordinate a Spanish invasion of England to place Mary Queen of Scots on the throne. Although Ridolfi was safely out of England at the time the plot was discovered, Thomas Norfolk, the earl of Surrey, was implicated, leading to his execution.

In 1580, Pope Gregory XIII publicly encouraged the assassination of the Protestant Queen Elizabeth. In 1583, another plot against Elizabeth was discovered. Francis Throckmorton was at the head of a plot involving the invasion of England by France to put Mary Queen of Scots on the throne. After Elizabeth's secretary, Francis Walsingham, discovered the plot, Throckmorton was tortured on the rack until he confessed and was executed soon afterward.

In 1586, Walsingham was instrumental in foiling the Babington Plot against the queen. Anthony Babington coordinated an attempted plot to murder Elizabeth and place Mary Queen of Scots on the throne, with the help of Spain. Babington, along with six other conspirators, were executed for high treason. Later evidence implicated Mary Queen of Scots in the Babington Plot, which resulted in her execution for treason in 1587. Elizabeth made a show of opposing the execution, although she herself had ordered it.

Later Years

During the final ten years of her reign, Elizabeth's age began to show, and her popularity with the public decreased some. Beginning in 1586, Elizabeth's new favorite male companion was Robert Devereux, second earl of Essex, the stepson of Robert Dudley, who was some thirty-four years her junior. In 1600, Devereux failed in a military assignment to put down an Irish rebellion, as a result of which Elizabeth deprived him of his political post and put him under house arrest. Devereux, backed by 200 to 300 men, attempted a revolt against Elizabeth in 1601. His efforts failed and he was executed for treason.

Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603. She was the last monarch of the Tudor dynasty, which had begun in 1485 with the reign of King Henry VII. She named as her successor King James VI of Scotland (the son of Mary Queen of Scots) as King James I of England.

Key Figures

Anne of Cleves

Anne of Cleves (1515-1557) was the fourth wife of King Henry VIII. Henry married her for reasons of international diplomacy but soon found this to be politically ineffective. The marriage was annulled in 1540, after only six months.

Roger Ascham

Roger Ascham (1515-1568) was Elizabeth's private tutor in Greek and Latin from 1548-1550. During Elizabeth's reign, Ascham composed the queen's official letters to foreign political leaders and tutored her in Greek.

Anthony Babington

Anthony Babington (1561-1586) was the leader of the attempted Babington Plot to murder Elizabeth I and place Mary Queen of Scots on the English throne. The plot was uncovered in 1586, when Sir Francis Walsingham intercepted letters between Babington and Mary Queen of Scots. Babington, along with six others, was executed for high treason. The discovery of letters between Mary and Babington implicated her in the conspiracy and led to her own execution.

Bloody Mary

See Queen Mary I

Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn (1507-1536) was the second wife of Henry VIII and the mother of Queen Elizabeth I. Anne Boleyn was already pregnant with Elizabeth and secretly married to Henry VIII before his first marriage was officially annulled. When Elizabeth was only two years old, Henry VIII accused Anne Boleyn of adultery and had her tried and beheaded. Elizabeth did not learn of her mother's fate until many years later.

James Bothwell

James Bothwell (1535-1578) was the third husband of Mary Queen of Scots. Bothwell was suspected of plotting the murder of Mary's second husband, Lord Henry Darnley, in 1567, by having his house blown up and strangling him to death. Mary married Bothwell soon after this suspicious murder and both were implicated. This scandal lead to a Scottish revolt against Mary, as a result of which she was forced to abdicate the throne. Bothwell was eventually imprisoned and died five years later.

Catherine of Aragon

Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536) was the first wife of Henry VIII and the mother of Queen Mary I of England. Henry VIII wished to annul this marriage to Catherine so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. However, the pope refused to issue the annulment, as a result of which Henry VIII broke with the Catholic Church and procured the annulment through English clergy in 1533. This action led to the English Reformation. Catherine of Aragon lived out the rest of her life in material comfort but away from the public eye.

Baron Burghley William Cecil

William Cecil, Baron Burghley (1520-1598), was Elizabeth's chief advisor in matters of state throughout most of her reign. He remained her most trusted advisor and a skillful politician who successfully coordinated the queen's public image, foreign diplomacy, and domestic political struggles with Parliament.

Lord Henry Stewart Darnley

Lord Henry Stewart Darnley (1545-1567) was the second husband of Mary Queen of Scots. Darnley was murdered when his house was blown up and he was strangled to death. Mary and Bothwell, her husband-to-be, were implicated in the murder. A Scottish rebellion against the reign of Mary resulted from this suspicion, and Mary was forced to abdicate the throne. Darnley's son with Mary, James, eventually became King James VI of Scotland and later King James I of England.

Robert Devereux, Second Earl of Essex

Robert Devereux, second earl of Essex (1567-1601), was a favorite male companion to Queen Elizabeth in her later years, although he was some thirty-four years younger than she. Devereux was the stepson of Robert Dudley, Elizabeth's closest male companion throughout most of her reign. Devereux was often impudent with the queen and not afraid to talk back to her. Once during an argument, Devereux turned his back to the queen and she slapped him in the face. In 1599, he was sent to put down a rebellion in Ireland but utterly failed in this military assignment. The queen punished him by removing his post and putting him under house arrest. In 1601, he attempted a rebellion against Queen Elizabeth by riding into London with some 200 to 300 supporters. However, he did not receive the popular support he expected, and the rebellion was quickly put down. Devereux was executed for treason.

John Dudley, First Earl of Warwick, First Duke of Northumberland

John Dudley, first Earl of Warwick and first Duke of Northumberland (1502-1553), effectively ruled England from 1549 to 1553, during the reign of the child King Edward VI. In 1553, as Edward was dying, Dudley arranged the marriage between his son, Guildford Dudley, and Lady Jane Grey in a plan that placed Lady Jane Grey on the throne for nine days after Edward died. Supporters of Mary I deposed Lady Grey, and Dudley was executed.

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester

Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester (1532-1588), was Queen Elizabeth's favorite male companion throughout most of her reign. Dudley maintained hopes that the queen would want to marry him, although she made it clear that she would never do so. Early in their relationship, Dudley was already married, but scandal broke out when in 1560 his wife was found dead at the bottom of a flight of stairs with her neck broken. In 1578, Dudley secretly married another woman, although Elizabeth remained friendly with him even after she learned of this marriage. Throughout her reign, the queen's advisors were worried that she might marry Dudley even though he was deemed an unsuitable match for royalty.

King Edward VI

King Edward VI (1537-1553) of England was the son of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour (Henry's third wife), and the half-brother of Elizabeth. Upon the death of Henry VIII, the nine-year old Edward ascended the throne. During his short reign, the country was ruled by a regency, who easily manipulated him. Edward died of tuberculosis.

Queen Elizabeth I

Queen Elizabeth I of England (1533-1603) was the daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife Anne Boleyn. When Elizabeth was only two years old, her mother was beheaded on the order of her father, although Elizabeth did not learn this until many years later. Elizabeth was kept in prison during the reign of her half-sister Mary I because Mary feared Elizabeth would plot to depose her. Upon Mary's death, however, she named Elizabeth heir to the throne. Throughout Elizabeth's reign, she was constantly faced with the threat of plots to murder her and place Mary Queen of Scots on the English throne. Elizabeth's refusal to marry and produce an heir to the throne was a point of contention between her and her Parliament, as well as her citizens, throughout her reign. Elizabeth was an extremely popular queen and was masterful at creating a public image for herself, which placated the people's concern about being ruled by a female monarch. The success of her reign was also aided by her closest political advisor, William Cecil, who helped to coordinate her domestic and foreign policy. Upon her death, King James VI of Scotland, the son of Mary Queen of Scots, was named as the heir to the English throne, making him King James I of England. Elizabeth was the last in the line of the house of Tudor, which had ruled England since 1485.

Lady Jane Grey

Lady Jane Grey (1537-1554) was forced against her will at the age of 15 to participate in a royal conspiracy. She was made to marry Lord Guildford Dudley and then placed on the throne as Queen of England after the death of Edward VI in 1553. Edward's advisors, the father of Lady Jane and the father of Lord Dudley, had convinced Edward on his deathbed to name her his successor. However, popular opinion considered Mary (Elizabeth's sister) the rightful heir to the throne, and rose up against Lady Jane after only nine days on the throne. Queen Mary I ordered the beheading of Lady Jane Grey, her husband, and her father for high treason.

King Henry VIII

King Henry VIII (1491-1547) was the king of England from 1509 to 1547, and the father of Edward VI, Elizabeth I, and Mary I. Henry VIII was married six times. His wives were Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and Catharine Parr. Henry VIII's break with the Catholic Church started the English Reformation. Henry had wanted his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled so that he could marry Anne Boleyn, but the pope refused to grant him the annulment. Henry thus arranged to have the marriage annulled by his own English clergy and to name himself head of the Anglican church. When Henry VIII died, he named his son Edward and his daughters Mary and Elizabeth as the line of succession to the throne.

Catherine Howard

Catherine Howard was the fifth wife of King Henry VIII. They were married in 1540, but the king soon learned of Catherine's pre-and post-marital affairs. In 1542, Catherine was convicted of treason for marrying the king although "unchaste," and was beheaded.

King James I

King James I (1566-1625) of England was the successor to Queen Elizabeth I. James was the son of Mary Queen of Scots and Mary's second husband, Lord Darnley. When James was only one year old, his mother was forced to abdicate the throne, and he was named King James VI of Scotland. James never saw his mother again. In 1582, James was kidnapped by a Protestant faction, but escaped his captors. Upon her death in 1603, James was named her heir to the English throne. James was the first of the Stuart dynasty to rule England.

King James VI of Scotland

See King James I

Mary Queen of Scots

Mary Queen of Scots (1542-1587), also known as Mary Stuart, was Queen of Scotland from 1542-1567. Mary Queen of Scots posed a threat to Queen Elizabeth I of England throughout much of her reign. As Mary was Catholic and Elizabeth was Protestant, many considered Mary the rightful queen of England. During Elizabeth's reign, many plots were uncovered which involved conspiracies to kill Elizabeth and place Mary on the English throne. Some of these plots involved the cooperation of France and Spain, both Catholic nations. Mary's son James, by her second husband, the earl of Darnley, later became King James I of England. In 1567, Darnley was killed. Mary married Bothwell soon afterward, and both she and Bothwell were implicated in the murder. As a result, an uprising led to her forced abdication from the Scottish throne. Mary's one-year old son James was then named King James VI of Scotland. Mary fled to England, but Elizabeth, recognizing her as a threat, kept Mary imprisoned for the next eighteen years. During this time, Mary participated in various conspiracies against Elizabeth. After the discovery of the Babington Plot to murder Elizabeth and place Mary on the English throne, Mary was sentenced to execution.

Queen Mary I

Queen Mary I of England (1516-1558), also known as Mary Tudor, or Bloody Mary, was the daughter of King Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and the half-sister of Elizabeth I and Edward VI. Mary I was named heir to the throne at the age of thirty-seven, upon the death of Henry VIII in 1553. Mary I was Catholic, while Elizabeth was Protestant. Mary's five-year reign was characterized by her harsh efforts to restore England to the Catholic Church. She earned the name Bloody Mary because of her policy of burning Protestants at the stake, often in large groups. During her reign, she ordered the burning of some 300 Protestants. Although she and Elizabeth had amicable relations during their childhood, Elizabeth came to represent a threat to the reign of Mary I. After a conspiracy against Mary was discovered, Elizabeth was forced to live in imprisonment and under various forms of house arrest, although she was never implicated in any plot. Upon her death in 1558, Elizabeth was named heir to the throne.

Catherine Parr

Catherine Parr (1512-1548) was the sixth and last wife of Henry VIII. She married Henry in 1543 and took all three of his children from his former wives under her wing. After the death of Henry VIII, Catherine Parr married Lord Thomas Seymour of Sudeley. She died after giving birth to a daughter by this marriage.

Robert Ridolfi

Robert Ridolfi (1531-1612), an Italian, was a key conspirator in the Ridolfi Plot of 1571, by which he hoped to effect the murder of Queen Elizabeth I, the invasion of England by Spain, and the ascendance of Mary Queen of Scots to the English throne. Because Ridolfi was abroad during the discovery of the plot, he avoided capture or punishment and safely returned to Florence, where he became a senator in 1600.

Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset

Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset (1503-1552), was the brother of Jane Seymour, Henry's VIII's third wife, and of Thomas Seymour. He served as Protector of England for two-and-a-half years during the reign of the child King Edward VI. Due to opposition to his policies by wealthy landowners, Somerset was accused of treason and executed in 1552.

Jane Seymour

Jane Seymour (1509-1537) was the third wife of Henry VIII and mother of King Edward VI. Ten days after the execution of Henry's second wife, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour and Henry were secretly married. She has the distinction of being the only wife of Henry VIII to bear him a living son. However, she died twelve days after the birth of Edward. After the death of Henry VIII, Jane's two brothers, Edward Seymour and Thomas Seymour, became regents to the rule of the child king Edward VI.

Thomas Seymour

Thomas Seymour (1508-1549) was the brother of Jane Seymour (Henry VIII's third wife), and Edward Seymour. Thomas Seymour married Catherine Parr, the widow of Henry VIII, in 1547. Thomas Seymour wished to gain greater political power. After the death of Catherine Parr, he hoped to marry Elizabeth. He was arrested for conspiracy, and extensive questioning revealed that he had been sexually harassing the teenaged Elizabeth while she lived in his home under the care of his wife. Thomas Seymour was beheaded for treason, at the order of his own brother, Edward Seymour, protector of England during the reign of the child King Edward VI.

James Stuart

See King James I

Mary Stuart

See Mary Queen of Scots

Francis Throckmorton

Francis Throckmorton (1554-1584) was at the head of the Throckmorton Plot to depose Queen Elizabeth I and place Mary Queen of Scots on the English throne. In 1583, Elizabeth's secretary, Francis Walsingham, uncovered the plot, which included plans for an invasion of England by France. Throckmorton confessed under torture and was executed.

Edward Tudor

See King Edward VI

Elizabeth Tudor

See Queen Elizabeth I

Henry Tudor

See King Henry VIII

Mary Tudor

See Queen Mary I

Sir Francis Walsingham

Sir Francis Walsingham (1532-1590) was secretary of state to Queen Elizabeth I from 1573 until his death. From 1583, he was instrumental in uncovering plots against Elizabeth's life by Catholics hoping to place Mary Queen of Scots on the English throne. Walsingham uncovered both the Throckmorton Plot and the Babington Plot, which led to the execution of Mary Queen of Scots.


Female Monarchy

A major factor in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I was that Elizabeth was one of the first female monarchs to rule England. Both her government and her citizens were initially skeptical about being ruled by a woman in an era when women were considered inferior to men, particularly in the realm of politics. Historians generally agree that the success of Queen Elizabeth I's reign was due largely to her skillful rendering of her own public image so as to win the confidence of her nation, despite the fact that she was a woman.

Topics for Further Study

  • During Elizabeth's lifetime, members of the royal family in both England and Scotland exerted a significant influence on the course of her life and reign. Choose one of the following figures to learn more about: King Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, King Edward VI of England, Queen Mary I of England, Mary Queen of Scots, or King James VI of Scotland (who later became King James I of England). Provide information about the life and political career of this figure. What major political struggles did this figure encounter? What personal struggles did he or she encounter? What are the highlights of this figure's life and political career?
  • The Elizabethan Era is considered one of the highpoints in the history of English literature. Learn more about one of the following major writers of the Elizabethan Era: William Shakespeare, Edmund Spenser, Christopher Marlowe, Sir Philip Sidney, Richard Hooker, or Ben Jonson. Provide a biography of this writer. What are the major works of this writer? Describe key elements of this writer's style. What major themes and concerns did this writer explore and express in his writings?
  • A significant factor in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I was that she was a woman ruling a nation in a time when women were not considered suitable for political power. Learn more about the status of women (other than the queen) during the Elizabethan Era. In what ways were the lives of working women different from the lives of aristocratic women? What restrictions were placed on the lives of women and what was expected of women? One way to approach this assignment would be to write a fictional biography of a poor, peasant, or working-class woman during the Elizabethan Era.
  • The history of England during the Elizabethan Era was affected by the political and social history of other nations in Europe, particularly Scotland, Ireland, France, Spain, and the Netherlands. Learn more about the history of one of these nations during the Elizabethan Era. What form of government did this nation have in the sixteenth century? What major political and social conflicts arose in this nation during that period? What was the relationship of this nation to England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I?
  • The status of the royal family in England has changed dramatically between the reign of Queen Elizabeth I in the sixteenth century and the reign of Queen Elizabeth II during the second half of the twentieth century. Learn more about the royal family and their public role in Great Britain during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.

Elizabeth created an image for herself that included both masculine and feminine elements, to effectively play upon the emotions of her nation. On the one hand, Elizabeth frequently referred to herself as a prince or a king, thus instilling in the minds of the people an image of the queen as a political force as powerful as any man could be. She added to this image by reference to her father, King Henry VIII, who had been considered a strong masculine ruler. On the other hand, Elizabeth played up her feminine image so as to win the hearts of her citizens. She described herself as the wife of the English nation and often described her relationship to her government and citizens using the language of love. Through her effective self-publicity, Queen Elizabeth I earned the love and devotion of the nation, despite their concerns about being ruled by a woman.

Royal Lineage

Throughout Elizabeth's life and reign, questions of royal lineage continued to plague the nation. When Henry VIII died he named his only son, Edward VI, as heir to the throne, with his two daughters, Mary I and Elizabeth I, next in line. Since Edward was only nine years old when he ascended the throne, the nation was ruled during his five-year reign by a regency headed by a protector, designated by Henry VIII. Thus, Edward was easily manipulated, and those in charge of the nation schemed to place members of their own families on the throne. The teenaged Elizabeth was kept away from her half-brother, although they had always been close, because the regency feared her influence on Edward.

Meanwhile, Thomas Seymour attempted to seduce the young Elizabeth in hopes of marrying her and one day gaining the throne. Upon the death of Edward, his regents schemed to place their relative, Jane Seymour, on the throne in place of Mary I. However, popular opinion considered Mary the legitimate heir to the throne, and quickly defeated this scheme. As Mary I died without sons, she named her half-sister Elizabeth as heir to the throne.

The reign of Elizabeth I posed further questions of royal lineage, partly because she never married or bore children. Throughout Elizabeth's reign, she was under constant pressure by her Parliament to marry and produce an heir, so as to avoid political chaos upon her death. Also during her reign, many Catholics in England, Scotland, France, and Spain considered Mary Queen of Scots as the rightful queen of England. Many Catholics considered Elizabeth an illegitimate child because they did not recognize Henry VIII's annulment from his first wife as valid. Therefore, these Catholics did not consider Elizabeth to be a legitimate heir to the throne.

Elizabeth frequently came into conflict with Parliament over her refusal to marry and often cleverly allowed herself to be courted by foreign princes to appease them, but always backed out at the last minute. Upon her death, Elizabeth named King James VI of Scotland to become King James I of England, thus solving the problem of royal line-age caused by her lack of children. This decision meant that Elizabeth was the last ruler of the Tudor dynasty. James I became the first of the Stuart dynasty to rule England.

Treason, Conspiracy, and Execution

The reign of Elizabeth I was plagued by plots and conspiracies against her person and her rule, mostly on the part of Catholic supporters of Mary Queen of Scots. All of these efforts to depose Elizabeth I from the throne were discovered and thwarted before any decisive action had taken place, including the Ridolfi Plot of 1571, the Throckmorton Plot of 1583, and the Babington Plot of 1586. After Mary Queen of Scots was forced to abdicate the throne in Scotland and fled to England, Elizabeth kept her imprisoned for the next eighteen years in order to contain the threat she posed. However, Mary Queen of Scots was sufficiently implicated in the Babington Plot that Elizabeth had no choice but to order her execution. Many others were tortured, tried, and beheaded for treason and conspiracy in these plots against Elizabeth's life and reign.

Love, Relationships, and Marriage

Although she never married, Elizabeth I, engaged in various forms of courtship and romance throughout her reign. Her lifelong favorite male romantic companion was Robert Dudley. As soon as she was made queen, Elizabeth named Dudley Master of Horse, a position of some authority in the royal court. Dudley, however, was married already at this point. When his wife was found dead, controversy surrounded Dudley, as many believed he had killed his wife in order to marry Elizabeth. Elizabeth, however, indicated that she had no interest in marrying Dudley.

Many believed Dudley was still hoping to one day marry Elizabeth, although he secretly remarried without the knowledge of the queen. When Elizabeth learned of this secret marriage some time later, she did not display a strong reaction and continued her close association with Dudley. Nonetheless, her Parliament and advisors were deeply concerned that she would either marry Dudley, whom they considered unfit for a royal marriage, or that she would not marry at all, therefore depriving the throne of an heir upon her death. Elizabeth skillfully used courtship by various royalty, both English and foreign, for political diplomacy. She sometimes allowed a courtship with a foreign prince to go on for several years, before coming up with a reasonable excuse not to go through with the marriage.

In her later years Elizabeth took on Robert Devereux, the stepson of Dudley, as her favorite male companion. Devereux was still a young man at this time, while Elizabeth was some thirty-four years his senior. Devereux was not afraid to stand up to the queen, and often incurred her wrath, although she seemed perpetually willing to forgive him and continue their association. But poor performance of his military duties in a conflict with Ireland led the queen to remove him from his post and put him under house arrest. When he rose up in an attempted rebellion against the queen, he was executed for treason. No one knows the exact nature of Elizabeth's relations with Dudley and Devereux, and her personal romantic life remains a source of much speculation.


Genres: History and Biography

Jenkins's Elizabeth the Great can be categorized in the genres, or categories, of both history and biography. As biography, it focuses on the life of Queen Elizabeth I of England. Jenkins focuses particularly on the significance of Queen Elizabeth as a great woman in history, explaining her unusual status as a female monarch at a time in history when women were not expected to hold political power. Jenkins also offers some psychological analysis of the queen, explaining some of her political and personal decisions as consequences of traumatic events in her childhood. As a history of England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, Elizabeth the Great provides historical accounts of important events affecting the reign of Elizabeth. Jenkins also focuses on the element of cultural history in the life of Queen Elizabeth I, spending considerable space describing the lifestyles of the nobility and privileged classes in Elizabethan England.


An important element of any book of history is the sources from which the author obtained her or his information. In her three years of researching for Elizabeth the Great, Jenkins used only what are called "secondary sources"—that is, she herself did not delve into archives or original letters or other historical documents to gather historical information about Queen Elizabeth. Rather, Jenkins drew from already-published books of historical information. Jenkins states in the preface to Elizabeth the Great: "There is nothing in the book which has not already been published in some form," although she adds that some of the information is, "I believe, very little known."

Jenkins goes on to state that she has included various details of interest to the general reader which may not be considered significant information from the perspective of the academic scholarly historian. For instance, Jenkins goes into some discussion within the Preface of the commonly held notion that Queen Elizabeth was bald. Jenkins draws her own conclusions about these matters, based on both written material and observations of various paintings of the queen. Jenkins thus uses available secondary sources to weave an original narrative of the life of Queen Elizabeth I.

Narrative Perspective

Modern historians are well aware that any historical or biographical account can never be completely "objective," as the author inevitably represents her or his material from a particular perspective. Therefore, it is not accurate to say that even the best biography is "objective." Instead, the reader may determine both the method by which the author obtained the information included in the book and the particular perspective of the author. The author's perspective is expressed through her narrative voice—that is, the tone and manner in which she relates the factual information in her narrative.

Jenkins makes clear in her Preface to Elizabeth the Great that her narrative perspective in writing the book was aimed at portraying the life and personality of Queen Elizabeth in a manner which would be of interest to the general reader. As Jenkins states in the opening sentence of her Preface, "The aim of this book was to collect interesting personal information about Queen Elizabeth I." Within her Preface, and throughout the book, Jenkins indicates that she has written this historical biography of Queen Elizabeth I for the general reader, bringing to light various points of interest, while glossing over less interesting information which may be deemed important from a scholarly point of view.

Historical Context

Tudor England and the English Reformation

In the historical context of the Protestant Reformation throughout Europe, and the English Reformation at home, Elizabeth's life and reign were characterized by continual conflict between Catholics and Protestants.

King Henry VIII Breaks with the Catholic Church

For personal and political, rather than religious, reasons, King Henry VIII launched the English Reformation when he instigated England's break with the Catholic Church. From 1527 to 1533, Henry VIII tried unsuccessfully to obtain from the Pope an annulment of his first marriage, to Catherine of Aragon. Henry VIII wished to dissolve the marriage in order to marry Anne Boleyn. In 1533, Henry VIII obtained an annulment from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer. That year, Pope Clement VII excommunicated Henry VIII from the Catholic Church. In 1534, Henry VIII named himself, rather than the Pope in Rome, head of the Church of England, by the passage of the Act of Supremacy. This break was by no means religiously motivated on the part of Henry VIII, who had always been opposed to the Protestant Reformation launched by Luther in Germany. Nonetheless, Henry VIII inadvertently brought the Protestant Reforma tion to England, thereby creating a rift between Catholics and Protestants in England. Between 1536 and 1540, the monasteries throughout England were legally dissolved, a policy which inspired acts of rebellion on the part of adherents to the Catholic faith.

The Protestant King Edward VI

Because Henry VIII's three children were from three different mothers, they each had different religious affiliations and orientations. Edward VI was a devout Protestant, although his youthful age during his reign meant that he had little effect on the policies of the nation. Nevertheless, during the reign of Edward VI, from 1547 to 1553, those in charge of the English government enacted stricter enforcement of Protestantism throughout the land. These policies sparked further uprisings by Catholics against anti-Catholic religious policy.

Bloody Mary and the Persecution of Protestants

When Mary I ascended the throne she was determined to make England once again a Catholic nation. Mary earned the name Bloody Mary because she oversaw the burning of some 300 Protestants during her reign. Because her half-sister Elizabeth was Protestant, Mary I feared plots against her by Protestants to place Elizabeth on the throne. A Protestant insurrection against Mary I in 1554, led by Thomas Wyat, was put down and the instigators executed. Although it seems Elizabeth engaged in no such conspiracies, Mary kept her imprisoned for the rest of her reign. Despite these religious differences, however, Mary I named Elizabeth her heir to the throne.

Queen Elizabeth and Religious Conflict

Upon ascending the throne in 1558, Elizabeth immediately took action to restore England to Protestantism. In 1559, the Act of Supremacy and Act of Uniformity once again named the monarch as head of the Church of England, and imposed adherence to government religious policy upon all citizens. Elizabeth, though Protestant, was not a deeply religious person, and had an aversion to religious extremism. She understood the political need to enforce Protestantism throughout the nation, in order to maintain any rebellious impulses on the part of Catholics. Fines were imposed on those who did not attend Protestant church services on Sundays; however, Elizabeth was not concerned with the true inner beliefs of her citizens, as long as they maintained an outward appearance of complying with the Church of England. At the other extreme, Elizabeth was equally opposed to extremist Protestants, and considered the Puritans a threat to her sovereignty over religious matters within the church.

Throughout her reign, Elizabeth struggled to contain both Catholic and Protestant opposition to the Church of England. In 1569, a rebellion of Catholics in the north of England was put down. In 1570, Elizabeth was excommunicated by the Pope Pius V, who declared it an almost religious duty of English Catholics to oppose their queen. In 1572, the murder of many French Protestants (known as Huguenots) was carried out in the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, which began in Paris and spread throughout France.

Elizabeth responded to the perceived threat by imposing greater repression and punishment of Catholics in England. When Elizabeth's religious policy

Compare & Contrast

1500s: The population of England is approximately 50 percent Protestant and 50 percent Catholic.

1950s: In the post-World War II era there is a large-scale influx of immigrants from many nations to England, bringing a variety of religious faiths, especially Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh, into the predominantly Christian culture of the United Kingdom.

Today: The population of the United Kingdom is approximately 53 percent Protestant, 10 percent Catholic, 3 percent Muslim,. 5 percent Jewish,. 5 percent Hindu, and. 5 percent Sikh. Approximately 32.5 percent of the population either has no religious affiliation or is one of many other affililations.

1500s: Under the Tudor dynasty, the English monarchy is at the height of its power. The monarchy is served by a parliament consisting of a House of Lords and a House of Commons. The House of Lords holds greater power than the House of Commons. There is no prime minister. Although there are several female monarchs, women are not allowed as members of Parliament.

1950s: The United Kingdom is a parliamentary democracy. The monarchy now functions as a national figurehead, rather than a source of political power or decision-making. Parliament is headed by a prime minister, and the House of Commons, comprised of elected officials, now holds greater political power than the House of Lords, which is made up of appointed and hereditary officials. As of 1918, women can vote and be elected to political office. Queen Elizabeth II is crowned in 1952.

Today: Elizabeth II remains a national figure-head as queen of England and of the Commonwealth of Nations. Various legislation is passed during the 1990s to reduce the power of the House of Lords; effective in 1999, hereditary peers in the House of Lords are no longer allowed to vote in Parliament. Margaret Thatcher, who served as the first female prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990, has paved the way for women to become elected to the highest governmental post in the United Kingdom.

1500s and 1600s: The union of nations which later formed the United Kingdom are in a state of flux regarding their political relationship to one another. Under the rule of King Henry VIII, Wales is incorporated into England in 1536. In 1586, Scotland, under King James VI, concludes a league with England, promising cooperation and peace between the two nations. In 1603, King James VI of Scotland is also named King James I of England and Ireland. However, England and Scotland, although under one monarch, remain separate nations with separate parliaments and governmental structures. As of 1541, Ireland officially recognizes the English crown as its sovereign.

1950s: Scotland joins England and Wales to form Great Britain in 1707 and, in 1801, the United Kingdom is formed when Ireland joins. In 1920, Ireland is divided into Northern Ireland, which is under British rule, and the Republic of Ireland, a sovereign state. In the 1950s, the nations of Great Britain maintain a stable union while Northern Ireland continues to be a region of conflict over issues of national sovereignty.

Today: Various alterations in government structure during the 1990s tend toward granting greater political independence for each country within the United Kingdom. Referendums in 1997 provide for an independent national assembly for Wales and a separate parliament for Scotland, which are formed in 1999. In 1998, a peace agreement is signed between the prime minister of the United Kingdom and leaders of the Irish Republican Army providing for self-rule of Northern Ireland; however, conflict in Northern Ireland continues.

was opposed by Archbishop of Canterbury Edmund Grindal in 1576, the queen dismissed him from his post and named Whitgift the new Archbishop of Canterbury. In 1580, Pope Gregory XIII proclaimed that it would not be a sin for Catholics to rebel against the Protestant Queen Elizabeth in the name of Catholicism. Elizabeth responded by imposing a crackdown on Jesuit clergymen whom she saw as an increased threat to her authority. The constant threat posed by Mary Queen of Scots to Elizabeth's reign was due mainly to these ongoing religious conflicts. Catholics in England and Scotland, as well as in the Catholic countries of Spain and France, were continually plotting to depose Elizabeth and place a Catholic queen on the English throne. This threat was neutralized with the execution of Mary Queen of Scots for treason in 1586.

The problem of reconciling Catholics and Protestants continued to be a major political issue throughout the reign of Elizabeth's successor, King James I of England.

Critical Overview

Jenkins is known for her popular biographies of English monarchs and authors, as well as for her many novels. Elizabeth the Great is considered Jenkins's greatest work of nonfiction. The biography was both popular and critically acclaimed. Within three years of initial publication in 1958, the book had gone through seven printings. Critics praised Elizabeth the Great as an even-handed biography which appeals to the general reader. The work is considered historically accurate, without being bogged down by the dry, fact-laden histories often produced by academic scholars. She is also recognized for her restraint in not overly psychoanalyzing the subject of her biography in Elizabeth the Great. Jenkins maintains an even-handed representation of the queen's personality, as well as of the various figures in her court. Jenkins's ability to capture the flavor and texture of court life in Elizabethan England is attributed to her fine attention to detail.

Critics agree that Jenkins successfully maintains an entertaining, cohesive, well-paced narrative flow while touching on seventy years of English history. Charles Calder, in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, described what he called "the solidity of the author's technique" in Elizabeth the Great: [Jenkins] has a capacity for opening chapters in a brisk and arresting manner, for accommodating the elaborated incident or set piece, and for interweaving passages of analysis or summary. The incorporating of these ingredients within a firm and clear narrative assures that there is no risk of monotony or tedium.

Calder aptly sums up the reasons for the high regard in which critics hold Jenkins:

She has made a substantial contribution to English biography in this [the twentieth] century. She is a popular biographer in the sense that her books have a wide appeal; she displays the virtues—but not, happily, the vices—of scholarly writing.


Liz Brent

Brent has a Ph.D. in American Culture, specializing in film studies, from the University of Michigan. She is a freelance writer and teaches courses in the history of American cinema. In the following essay, Brent discusses the attitudes and policies of Queen Elizabeth I in regard to religion.

King Henry VIII inadvertently brought the Protestant Reformation to England in 1533, when Anne Boleyn was still pregnant with the future Queen Elizabeth I. For personal reasons, Henry VIII broke with the Catholic Church and named himself head of the Church of England. Elizabeth was thus raised Protestant and reigned as a Protestant queen during a period of great conflict in England between Catholics and Protestants, each of whom represented approximately half of the four million citizens of England at the time. In Elizabeth the Great, Jenkins pays special attention to the attitudes and policies of Elizabeth with regard to religion. Jenkins weaves direct quotes from Elizabeth and quotes from those who knew her with her own psychological and historical analysis of the queen's religious attitudes and policies.

Jenkins makes clear early in her biography that Elizabeth was never a deeply or ardently religious person, although she was undoubtedly a believing Christian. Jenkins asserts, "Elizabeth held the unquestioning belief in the Christian faith which was universal in Europe, but her mind was incapable of religious fanaticism." Jenkins points out that Elizabeth considered both Catholicism and Protestantism to be mere variations on the same Christian faith. Jenkins comments, "The famous saying of [Elizabeth's] later years, 'There is only one Christ Jesus and one faith: the rest is a dispute about trifles,' is an expression, not of experience, but of temperament."

Jenkins makes clear, however, that Elizabeth, though never passionately devout, did often turn to her faith in times of personal crisis. For instance, during the period in which her half-sister Queen Mary I kept her locked in the Tower of London as a potential conspirator against the throne, Elizabeth composed a note to herself expressing the solace she found in the reading of Scriptures. Jenkins observes that Elizabeth's "sense of abandonment and despair" during this period of imprisonment, "was reflected in what she wrote on the flyleaf of St. Paul's Epistles." Jenkins quotes:

August. I walk many times into the pleasant fields of the holy scriptures where I pluck up the goodlisome herbs of sentences … that having tasted their sweetness, I may the less perceive the bitterness of this miserable life.

Jenkins observes that, early in the reign of Mary I, Elizabeth struggled with her sister's insistence that she observe the Catholic faith. Elizabeth was at first inclined to plead her conscience, begging that she not be required to observe a faith in which she did not believe. When Elizabeth's brother, King Edward VI died, Elizabeth did not attend his funeral service because it was held at a mass in a Catholic Church. Jenkins notes that, at this point, Elizabeth "declined" to attend "any mass whatsoever." However, Queen Mary, angered by this, refused to see Elizabeth.

When Elizabeth was finally granted a meeting with Mary, Jenkins states, she "wept and asked if it were her fault that she could not believe." Mary responded that, if she attended mass, belief would come. Elizabeth, though probably not convinced by this assertion, recognized that she must begin attending Catholic mass to please her sister, on whose royal favor her life now depended. Jenkins observes that Mary was effectively placated by Elizabeth's outward show of observance of Catholicism. As Jenkins states, Mary was "pathetically pleased" by Elizabeth's compliance in going to mass and rewarded her with a jeweled brooch.

In 1555, Queen Mary I began the mass burning of Protestants which earned her the epithet Bloody Mary. Jenkins relates that, at this point, behaving as a Catholic was a means of survival for Elizabeth. Jenkins suggests that Elizabeth must have been warned ahead of time that this violent treatment of Protestants was in the workings; some five months before the burnings began, Jenkins notes, Elizabeth "took communion according to the Roman Catholic rites." Jenkins adds, this "capitulation" on the part of Elizabeth "was of extreme urgency, because … once the queen's morbid ferocity was aroused, recantation did not mean a reprieve from the fire." In other words, a Protestant could not save herself from Mary's punishments simply by claiming to be converted to Catholicism at the last moment. Mary wished to rout out the deeply held inner beliefs of her subjects and was not content with mere outward displays of compliance to Catholicism.

When Elizabeth ascended the throne in 1558, upon the death of Mary I, she immediately took action to restore England to Protestantism under the Church of England. By the Act of Supremacy and the Act of Uniformity, she revived the policy, initiated by her father King Henry VIII, that the monarch was the sovereign head (on earth) of the Church of England and that her subjects were expected to observe Protestant mass on Sunday. Unlike Mary, Elizabeth was not concerned with the inner beliefs—or even with the secret religious observances of Catholicism within the privacy of one's home—of her subjects.

Elizabeth did, however, believe that outward compliance with the Church of England on the part of her subjects was necessary in order for her to maintain her position of power and legitimacy on the English throne. The repression of Catholicism was particularly significant to Elizabeth's reign because many Catholics did not recognize Henry VIII's annulment of his first marriage and so con sidered Elizabeth, the child of Henry's second marriage, to be an illegitimate child and therefore not a rightful heir to the English throne.

As Jenkins makes clear, Elizabeth's religious policy early in her reign was emphatically one of tolerance. Jenkins quotes Elizabeth as having stated, "'Let it not be said that our reformation tendeth to cruelty."' Jenkins asserts that Elizabeth's religious policy was in "its spirit of tolerance and moderation in key with the queen's own attitude." Jenkins adds that Elizabeth said "she wished to open no window into men's consciences," and states that Elizabeth

declared that she intended no interference with anyone of the Christian faith "as long as they shall in their outward conversation show themselves quiet and not manifestly repugnant and obstinate to the laws of the realm which are established for frequenting of divine service in the ordinary churches of the realm."

What Do I Read Next?

  • Elizabeth and Leicester (1961), by Elizabeth Jenkins, is a historical account of the romantic relationship between Queen Elizabeth I of England and the Earl of Leicester.
  • The Faerie Queen (1590, 1596), by Edmund Spenser, is a mythological rendering of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, written in verse by one of the greatest poets of the Elizabethan age.
  • Queen Elizabeth I (1934), by J. E. Neale, is considered the standard biography of Queen Elizabeth I of England.
  • In Elizabeth I: The Shrewdness of Virtue (1988), Jasper Ridley offers a biography of Queen Elizabeth I focusing on the significance of religion in Elizabeth's political policies.
  • In The Cult of Elizabeth: Elizabethan Portraiture and Pageantry (1977), Roy Strong offers discussion of the public image of Queen Elizabeth I, based on portraits of the queen as well as her ostentatious public appearances during her reign.
  • Daily Life in Elizabethan England (1995), by Jeffrey L. Singman, provides an historical overview of social life and customs in England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
  • The Public and Private Worlds of Elizabeth I (1998), by Susan Watkins, with photographs by Mark Fiennes, provides photographic images of the homes, castles, and other locations in which Queen Elizabeth I lived and worked.
  • The Wives of Henry VIII (1992), by Antonia Fraser, provides biographical and historical information on the six wives of King Henry VIII, including Anne Boleyn, the mother of Queen Elizabeth I.
  • The Children of Henry VIII (1996), by Alison Weir, provides biographical information on Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I, the three children of King Henry VIII.

Jenkins explains the level of tolerance of private Catholic observance during most of Elizabeth's reign: "If by a moderate monthly fine they could contract out of going to the parish church, and celebrate mass in secret at home, a number of [Catholics] were prepared to do that." Jenkins explains that, legally, harsher penalties could be imposed upon Catholics, but were in general only brought to bear in regard to potential rebellion or political conspiracy against the queen. Jenkins concludes that, until 1570, "English Catholics as a whole" were willing to tolerate Elizabeth's religious policy without enacting rebellion against her authority.

However, later communications from the pope in Rome to English Catholics demanded a very different attitude toward the queen. In 1570, the pope excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I. The pope declared that English Catholics were thus freed from any "'duty, fidelity and obedience"' to the English crown. The pope added that English citizens "'shall not once dare to obey [Queen Elizabeth] or any of her laws, directions or commands."' Jenkins points out that, as of this declaration by the pope, "Henceforward, English Catholics were disobedient to the pope if they were loyal to the queen, and traitors to the queen if they obeyed the pope." Jenkins observes that these statements from the pope "abruptly shattered the compromise which had made the majority of Catholics find Elizabeth's system tolerable."

Elizabeth's response to this change of atmosphere was to crack down on Catholics almost as severely as Mary I had cracked down on Protestants. Jenkins makes clear that the queen was not squeamish about imposing extreme measures of torture against Catholic priests and Jesuits who were seen to be enemies of the state. Jenkins observes, "the government persecution" which followed "with all the horrors of sixteenth-century state punishments inflicted on Catholics who were suspected as traitors, had a parallel effect to the burning of Protestants under Mary Tudor: it inspired their fellow religionists and glorified the faith that produced such martyrs."

In 1580, the pope publicly declared that it would not be a sin to assassinate the Protestant queen Elizabeth, and would in fact be doing God's service. However, the pope altered his demands of English Catholics, stating that they could in good conscience continue to obey their Protestant queen as long as she held the throne. However, were an invasion of England by a Catholic nation, such as Spain or France, to occur, English Catholics were then required to rise up against the queen in support of such invasion. This at least provided English Catholics with the ease of not being required by the pope to openly rebel against the authority of the crown.

While violence raged throughout Europe as Catholics and Protestants came into conflict with one another and with their governments, Elizabeth maintained the personal attitude that such divisiveness within the Christian world was unfounded. Later in her reign, however, increased fears of Catholic uprising led the queen to institute horrific anti-Catholic policies on a par with religious repression in many parts of Europe. In the final decade of Elizabeth's reign, the queen's fears of Catholic rebellion became more extreme. Her original policy of toleration in regard to Catholics was largely overshadowed by the severe torture and gruesome execution of countless Catholic priests.


Liz Brent, Critical Essay on Elizabeth the Great, in Nonfiction Classics for Students, The Gale Group, 2002.

Raymond Warren

Warren is a freelance writer with a master of fine arts degree in writing from Vermont College at Norwich University. In this essay, Warren explores the complex task of documenting the life of Elizabeth I.

"When Elizabeth ascended the throne in 1558, upon the death of Mary I, she immediately took action to restore England to Protestantism under the Church of England."

Jenkins's portrait of Elizabeth I, queen of England from 1548 to 1603 is, at once, vivid and impressive. Elizabeth the Great reads like an eye witness account, time traveling through her life. Jenkins explains in her preface that the aim of the book "was to collect interesting personal information about Queen Elizabeth I." Almost as an apology, she says she "tried to focus attention all the time upon the queen," and, therefore, "the shape of the book is very irregular." Continuing, she says, "Sometimes events of great importance are only briefly mentioned or omitted while minor ones are dwelt on in detail." However, the historic events can hardly be separated from a literary portrait of the Queen, and the reader is impressed by the volume of history as much as by the intrigue and descriptions of Elizabeth. A. L. Rowse, a learned Elizabethan historian, wrote in the Chicago Sunday Tribune that Jenkins's biography was "quite the most perceptive" he had ever read. He calls it "a portrait that is unforgettable and very touching."

Jenkins's literary production of Elizabeth's life is no small task. It is a daunting endeavor to accurately record an incredibly active life of one of the most important, and colorful, women in world history without some irregularities. The many facets of her life; her associations and dealing with those close and dear to her, and with her enemies; the historic, social, and religious implications involved; and her own psyche, create a web of intricate lace for displaying her many qualities. She is not a bland and simple person, nor is her story a bland or simple story.

Not surprisingly then, Elizabeth the Great requires diligence, focus, and a certain amount of patience to read and absorb. From its opening page there are many names, personalities, and intrigues that add to the stage setting of a courtly monarch. At a time when kingdoms, provinces, and townships were frequently awarded with new titles, and names were constantly changed through marriage, there were more names than people. Much of the predicament is due to the number of players involved and their interchangeable names. In Jenkins's effort to introduce the characters to the reader and keep upto-date on the changes, she may refer to them by either of their names. The reader must pay attention to the changes and to the author's use of names and titles which quite often confuse the issue of who is who. An unclear understanding of the genealogy and blood connections of the major players will make for a confusing read. For instance, the origin of Mary Queen of Scots is not clear, though she has an important and prominent role in the book. A helpful addition to the book, with its existing bibliography and index, would have been a family tree and a timeline, to give the reader a clearer understanding of the relationships of the various participants.

The action between the key figures also requires close attention. There are suitors, conspirators, friends, and enemies who continually have an impact on one another. The real-life intrigues are as curious as they are marvelous to read—in an English Renaissance, docudrama sort of way. It would seem from Jenkins's writing that much of the order of politics and government in the British Isles and Western Europe of the sixteenth century relied upon mating, matching, sexual and/or physical attractions, and other forms of courtship. Each country, or throne, tried to lay claim to another, first through marriage, then treachery, and lastly, invasion. Elizabeth once exclaimed—while in the presence of the Spanish ambassador, Mendoza, after he had proposed a marriage between Elizabeth and the King of Spain as an alternative to a Spanish invasion—"Would to God that each had his own and all were content."

The Scottish queen, Mary Queen of Scots, sought the English throne, claiming to be its only legitimate heir. The French royalty courted Elizabeth toward their stake in the English claim. The Spanish were in pursuit. Even the Netherlands, Italy, and Sweden had their eyes on Elizabeth's realm. It is no wonder that the book falls short of a perfect novel. For, though the story is no less compelling than a historic novel, there is just too much information crossing both time and space, and it cannot be easily told in a strictly linear fashion.

Jenkins has still given us a superb, accurate picture of the "Virgin Queen." Her splendid portrait is taken from firsthand accounts, offering the reader a clearly illustrious personality in Elizabeth I. Although some of the scenes are footnoted as to their origin, many are not. But Jenkins's bibliography is extensive, and the reader is most assured that she has done her homework. The reader is brought personally to each scene as if it came straight from the eyes and ears of the author. What increases this illusion is Jenkins's familiarity with the language of Elizabethan English. Jenkins is a British writer, born in 1905, and educated at Cambridge just after the turn of the twentieth century. Jenkins was raised on Elizabethan English, and she can be quite poetic at times. Her choice of descriptions and other writings about Elizabeth are well chosen.

The many descriptions of Elizabeth throughout her life describe a woman both frail and strong, beautiful and plain, compassionate yet cruel, patient yet irrational, chaste though frivolous, and with a keen eye for men. She loved to dance and ride horses. But this was not a simple woman. She was highly intelligent and complex. She spoke all the romance languages, as well as Welsh and Latin. She had a solid grasp of mathematics, economy, and history, and a well-studied knowledge of running a monarchy from her father, and those before him. Although she was quite capable of thinking for herself, she relied on her many councilors and advisors throughout the early days of her reign. In later years, after a number of mistakes and plots against her, she took to her own council as the more trusted view.

Elizabeth's maturing appearance and demeanor remain current throughout the book. When she was two years old, King Henry VIII, her father, accused Elizabeth's mother, Anne Boleyn, of adultery with five men and condemned her to death either by burning or beheading. She was beheaded. Jenkins describes Elizabeth at two, as "a lively little creature with reddish golden hair, a very white skin, and eyes of golden-brown with brows and lashes so fair to be almost invisible. Though headstrong she was remarkably teachable." Within the same year, after the king had married Jane Seymour, it was decided that Elizabeth was no longer to be addressed as princess. To this she replied—while still ignorant that her father had killed her mother—"How haps it Governor, yesterday my lady Princess, and today but my Lady Elizabeth?"

When Elizabeth was eight years old, another important event occurred that Jenkins believes may have had a significant bearing on the rest of Elizabeth's life. Catherine Howard, Henry VIII's fifth wife—not twenty years old, and only eighteen months into the marriage—was accused of adultery, and beheaded. She had shown great kindness towards Elizabeth, and Elizabeth was fond of her. Shortly after this, Elizabeth said, "I will never marry." And she never did. She is reported to have had many amorous escapades, suitors, and a few serious considerations for marriage, usually in the name of diplomacy and national security, but she never did share her throne or her life with one single man. For Elizabeth, to marry was to lose her head.

A portrait of Elizabeth at thirteen still hangs in Windsor Castle, and Jenkins describes it thus: "The smooth red-gold hair is worn straight down her back, she holds a book with hands whose fingers are so long and delicate they look inhuman, her expression is watchful and disillusioned." The general view, writes Jenkins, is that Elizabeth was a "very witty and gentyll young lady." At twenty-five, she is described as "indifferent, tall, slender and straight." Jenkins describes an illustration of Elizabeth at thirty-seven with "the small head whose limp hair is dragged back under a jeweled net," that her skin was pure white.

A wonderfully full description of Elizabeth at the age of sixty-four gives a captivating glimpse of the queen. It had been recorded by the French ambassador, de Maisse, and is here told through Jenkins's words:

He saw her first in a large chamber where a great fire was burning. She wore a dark red wig decorated with jewels and though her face looked old and her neck was wrinkled, her bosom was delicate and white and her figure still beautiful in its proportions. She wore a white taffeta gown lined with scarlet, ornamented with pearls and rubies. She was most gracious and very talkative. She complained of the heat of the fire and had it damped down, and she was perpetually twisting and untwisting the long hanging ends of her red-lined sleeves. De Maisse gazed intently at that face.

"She is not a bland and simple person, nor is her story a bland or simple story."

Jenkins continues by saying that the "queen's conversation when she got upon men and affairs held him spellbound." There are numerous references to all aspects of Elizabeth's person, her coloring, her demeanor, and the rest of her. She was constantly scrutinized by all—and judged by her enemies. She was both held in awe and feared. Jenkins does well to show the reader a well-rounded view of this queen. She does not shy from the hangings, tortures, mutilations, and other punishments that Elizabeth dealt to those who came against her—whether intentionally or mistakenly. At the same time, the queen is shown to be compassionate and generous, caring immensely for her subjects and her England. Elizabeth's is truly a portrait that is unforgettable and very touching.

Elizabeth's actions as monarch and protector are frequently brought into the fray due to the continual struggle between the Catholics and Protestants. This is the one piece of important history that Jenkins appears not to have minimized. Most of the punishments the queen imposed had a direct relation to this. The various Catholic-ruled countries were constantly pursuing the English throne, France and Spain in particular. Even Scotland and half the population of England were attempting to overthrow Elizabeth. There were those among her own government who wished to see a unified Catholic England and tried their best to create it. Elizabeth did not have a vendetta against the Catholics. She had once exclaimed that it was not her intention to look into the souls of men, and allowed English Catholics to practice their religion in the safety of their own homes. Nonetheless, in 1570, Pope Pius V issued his Bull of Excommunication against Elizabeth. It "freed [Catholics] from their oath and all manner of duty, fidelity and obedience" to Elizabeth. Catholics were ordered under fear of damnation and excommunication to never obey any of Elizabeth's laws or commands. This created quite a stir, and lost more than a few lives to religious persecution and attempted Catholic domination of "the heretics," the non-Catholics. But Elizabeth persevered. England remained, at least in government, Protestant. Elizabeth used all of her faculties in her effort to protect the realm. Her physical beauty and genteel demeanor, her spirit and intellect, her shrewd political savvy, and her dedication at all costs the protection and maintenance of her throne and the sovereignty of England and its people.

Upon reading Elizabeth the Great most readers will surely conclude that Jenkins was successful in her aim. She describes a complete and real person in Elizabeth I. She does not force issues, and does not proselytize. She simply and honestly records much of what is actually known and written about this queen, about this woman, Elizabeth.


Raymond Warren, Critical Essay on Elizabeth the Great, in Nonfiction Classics for Students, The Gale Group, 2002.

Michelle Prebilic

Prebilic writes analytical essays, prepares technical publications, and publishes children's books. In this essay, Prebilic contemplates Jenkins's book through the concept of free will, the power of choosing within limitations.

Elizabeth Jenkins reveals the spirit and psyche of Elizabeth Tudor, Queen Elizabeth I, in Elizabeth the Great. From Elizabeth's birth (September 7, 1533) to her death (March 24, 1603), Jenkins reveals this extraordinary woman's daily life; her living conditions, conversations, and meals; her illnesses and distresses; her travels and suitors; and her triumphs and catastrophes. Insight into her exercise habits, her emotional states, even how she referred to her little dog, convey Elizabeth's life as a human being as well as a queen. These minute details position this book a classic amongst the plentiful biographies on library shelves. Jenkins unearths how Queen Elizabeth's spirit emerged to acquire the throne, capture the adoration of a nation, and leave behind the remarkable Elizabethan Era.

Jenkins opens the historical book with the events that may have shaped young Elizabeth's mind-set and eventually formed her into a successful, yet temperamental, queen. The earliest significant event occurred before Elizabeth turned three years old. Elizabeth's father, Henry VIII, beheaded her mother, Anne Boleyn, for committing adultery. This verdict of high treason came after Ann failed to give him a son. She gave birth to Elizabeth, and then suffered two miscarriages. When again pregnant Anne discovered Henry VIII committing adultery with Jane Seymour, her lady-in-waiting, Anne's rage induced premature labor. She delivered a dead boy. Henry VIII declared Elizabeth illegitimate. Anne's promiscuity and failure to birth a son led to her execution.

Jenkins reveals that written records do not show when Elizabeth understood her mother's execution but believes that it deeply affected her attitudes. Maybe Elizabeth began to understand how men held the power in marriages. Jenkins states that Elizabeth, "in the fatally vulnerable years … had learned to connect the idea of sexual intercourse with terror and death."

By the age of eight, Elizabeth told her childhood friend, Robert Dudley, that she would never marry. This could scarcely have been coincidental; it followed the beheading of her stepmother, Catherine Howard, for adultery. Elizabeth again lost love to the ax at the hands of her father. Henry VIII seldom visited Elizabeth and removed her title of princess. She moved between palaces due to a lack of sanitation common in the sixteenth century, and her cherished caretakers changed all too often. Perhaps these experiences confirmed to Elizabeth that even the closest relationships could be tentative.

In any event, Elizabeth shared this instability with her stepbrother Edward, creating a bond that would last throughout Edward's life. Yet, Elizabeth felt a great attachment to her father, admiring "him with her whole heart," as Jenkins comments. Could it be that Elizabeth understood at an early age that men can be confidants, but letting them too close can be deadly?

Despite Elizabeth's tragic childhood, fashion and appearance came naturally. Jenkins describes toddler Elizabeth as a "lively little creature with reddish-golden hair, a very white skin, and eyes of golden-brown with brows and lashes so fair as to be almost invisible." Her remarkable taste for fashion carried through her years. She spent precious time buying make-up and applying it precisely to give herself the look she desired. She became known as a stylish queen who loved jewels, elaborate outfits, decorative Persian and Indian carpets, and beautiful portraits. As Jenkins states, "the queen's frugal habits and hard work were thrown into contrast by her undying passion for visual splendor."

Jenkins successfully reveals the queen's depth of character. For example, she summarizes the political empire and how Elizabeth began to stabilize her country—an extraordinary feat, particularly for a woman, since this had never been accomplished before. In the sixteenth century, women gained power and prestige through marrying and giving birth to a male child to be the throne's heir, not managing a country. Elizabeth's sovereignty shows the struggle she confronted in balancing her free will with the people and the legislative groups. Her psychological and emotional opposition to marriage met with constant personal and political conflict, a tug-of-war that lasted throughout Queen Elizabeth's life.

Due to Queen Elizabeth's refusal to marry and bear an heir, religious leaders and monarchs believed they had a chance at the crown and intensified efforts to eliminate her, resulting in routine threats against the queen's life. Jenkins describes the queen beneath the crown; her capacity to remain logical, the rituals she adopted to protect herself, the ability to keep an open mind, and her courage to execute a cousin or a suitor for treason. She illustrates Elizabeth's vulnerability, describing her as weeping deeply when a friend died, as well as her capacity to explode in rage, her playfulness to laugh with children, and her joy in the arts.

The story of Queen Elizabeth's lovers captures the attention of women and men alike. Analogous to a world fascinated with the twentieth-century fairy tale of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, a sixteenth-century London kept an eye on Queen Elizabeth's romantic interludes. From her coronation, wild speculation kept people gossiping and hoping that she'd choose a husband and produce an heir. The Privy Counsel, a body of officials chosen by the British monarch to advise the queen, agonized about it. She entertained the suitors presented to her by the council. She seriously considered marriage proposals. She walked that fine line of courtship and rejection without aggravating her men to the point of hatred. Moreover, she continued to exercise her free will. She responded to the council's concerns diplomatically, informing them that, according to Jenkins, "If God directed her not to marry, no doubt He would provide for the succession in other ways."

During her lifetime, Queen Elizabeth loved many men including her favorite childhood friend Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, as well as Sir Christopher Hatton, Lord Chancellor, and Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex. As Elizabeth Abbott states in A History of Celibacy, as a "wealthy and secure" queen, Elizabeth could have the awe of any man. "Marriage could only compromise her independence, diminish her power, and tax her … patience."

Elizabeth Tudor's virginity became such a striking feature of her reign that, as she neared fifty, she agreed to Walter Raleigh's suggestion that "a new American colony be named in her honor—Virginia." Although Elizabeth regularly considered marriage, she remained single and a virgin. Rosalind Miles in "The Women's History of the World," states that when women firmly established that "sex was not on their agenda" they "gained an almost mystical power … played with confidence and success by Elizabeth I." Despite times that discouraged celibacy and disrespected women, she managed to gain power, prestige, and respect.

As nuns affirm to be Christ's brides, Elizabeth seemed to be England's bride. Throughout the book, Jenkins shows Elizabeth's deep compassion towards her people, her profound ability to follow her instincts, and her strength not succumb to pressure. It was within this structure that Elizabeth operated effectively, and won the people's lasting admiration.

Three principles drove Queen Elizabeth's successful reign: supporting the Reformation—a religious movement to establish Protestant churches and to modify Roman Catholic doctrine; avoiding war; and re-establishing the national credit. Consequently, England became an unparalleled power with a strong navy; commerce, industry, and the arts burgeoned. The recipient of a notable education, Elizabeth excelled in creative, expository, and persuasive writing. She became fluent in numerous languages as a child. Her heritage included an enormous collection of poems, correspondence, prayers, and speeches.

Yet, the magnitude of her stature could not detract from her life as a human. Queen Elizabeth argued with her suitors, sometimes over difficult issues that took months to resolve. Her emotional worries caused illnesses like headaches, and gave way to mental collapse. She suffered toothaches. Grief overcame her repeatedly. When her beloved companion the Lord of Leicester died, she locked herself in her quarters for days and came out when a nobleman took the liberty of breaking the door. Queen Elizabeth experienced regret for some political decisions, particularly the execution of her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots. Although Mary caused Elizabeth distress for many years and planned her murder, and although Elizabeth ordered the execution, Jenkins depicts how Mary's execution caused Elizabeth to "burst into a passion of weeping such as she had never given way to in her life."

Queen Elizabeth rose above the limitations of her time to carve a place in history. Perhaps the rules of censorship illustrate this. Before her reign, rulers, governments, and the Church suddenly realized that the printed word could cause rebellion and dissent. Announcements against dissenting and rebellious books began in England under Henry VIII in 1529. In 1538, the Privy Council and other royal nominees licensed books for printing. The Star Chamber, a governmental court with authority to censor publications, regulated the English book trade. Censorship also controlled the theatre, plays, and performers.

As a writer, however, Elizabeth supported creative growth and enjoyed the printed word. Writers introduced poetry like the sonnet, Spenserian stanza, and dramatic blank verse. Shakespeare's rousing dramas appeared on stage. A diversity of marvelous prose made its debut. Despite the fact that the civic authorities of London feared and discouraged creative growth, Queen Elizabeth enjoyed plays at court. With all its rules of censorship, the Elizabethan Era became known for its creative activity. The queen had diplomatically claimed her free will to enjoy the burgeoning creativity of the time.

"With all its rules of censorship, the Elizabethan Era became known for its creative activity. The Queen had diplomatically claimed her free will to enjoy the burgeoning creativity of the time."

Elizabeth governed England for forty-five years. "Towards the end of her life," Abbott says in AHistory of Celibacy,"the virgin who had loved and been loved … flirted, teased, courted, quarreled … bade farewell to her greatest love … the English people." According to Susan Bassnett in Elizabeth I: A Feminist Perspective, by the time of her death at the age of seventy, Elizabeth was heralded as a "rival to the Virgin Mary, as a second Queen of Earth and Heaven, as a woman more than mortal women." Perhaps it's symbolic that experts had to file off the Coronation ring she had worn for forty-three years.

The legacy of Queen Elizabeth lives on. Numerous biographies portray the Queen; some focus on the political achievements, others on her relationships with men, and still others offer insights into her life, each slant as unique as the queen herself. However, Elizabeth the Great receives rave reviews. As Richard Church explains in the Bookman, this "uncommonly beautiful" biography gets presented in "its colorful, savage, fastidious, filthy, exquisite, and wholly paradoxical distinction."

Jenkins's sophistication in revealing sovereign relationships, religious mind-sets, and political complexities make it hard to settle into the pace of the details. The structure feels loosely woven as she discloses facts randomly to illustrate her points. However, Jenkins does a superb job in presenting the history. Once its pace gets underway, the book captivates readers. Jenkins "varies the pace of her narrative for the sake of maintaining interest," says Charles Calder in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. Calder continues, Jenkins preserves "a sense of proportion in depicting relationships."

In the final analysis, Jenkins's historical biography honors the beauty of the impressive Queen Elizabeth I. As a recognized classic and one of the first books to bring an all-encompassing view of this unique individual, it continues to bring the Elizabethan Era back to life.


Michelle Prebilic, Critical Essay on Elizabeth the Great, in Nonfiction Classics for Students, The Gale Group, 2002.


Abbott, Elizabeth, "Defying the Natural Order: Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen," in The History of Celibacy, Da Capo Press, 2001, pp. 239-45.

Bassnett, Susan, "Introduction," in Elizabeth I: A Feminist Perspective, Berg Publishers Limited, 1988, pp. 1-15.

"The British Question 1559-69," in The New Cambridge Modern History, Vol. 3, The Counter-Reformation and Price Revolution 1559-1610, edited by R. B. Wernham, Cambridge University Press, 1968, pp. 210-21.

Calder, Charles, "Elizabeth Jenkins," in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 155, Twentieth-Century British Literary Biographers, edited by Steven Serafin, Gale Research, 1995, pp. 180-85.

Erickson, Carolly, The First Elizabeth, Summit Books, 1983.

"The Famous History of the Life of King Henry the Eighth," in Great Books of the Western World, Vol. 27, The Plays and Sonnets of William Shakespeare, edited by William George Clarke and William Aldis Wright, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1952, pp. 549-85.

Jenkins, Elizabeth, Elizabeth the Great, Coward-McCann, 1958.

Miles, Rosalind, "A Little Learning," in The Women's History of the World, Salem House Publishers, 1988, pp. 104-05.

Morton, Andrew, "Such Hope in My Heart," in Diana: Her True Story—In Her Own Words, Simon & Schuster, 1997, pp. 119-31.

Rowse, A. L., Chicago Sunday Tribune, March 1, 1959.

Williams, Neville, "Sovereigns of England, Genealogical Tree," in Elizabeth the First Queen of England, E. P. Dutton Company, Inc., 1968, p. 355.

Further Reading

Bruce, Marie Louise, Anne Boleyn, Coward, McCann and Geoghegan, 1972.

Bruce provides a biographical account of the life of Anne Boleyn, the mother of Queen Elizabeth I and second wife of King Henry VIII.

Dickens, A. G., The English Reformation, Schocken Books, 1964.

Dickens provides an historical account of the English Protestant Reformation which results from the reign of Henry VIII (the father of Queen Elizabeth I).

Fraser, Antonia, Mary Queen of Scots, Delacorte, 1969.

Fraser provides a biography of Mary Queen of Scots, the Catholic Queen of Scotland who posed a threat to Queen Elizabeth I throughout her reign. Mary Queen of Scots was implicated in many plots against the life and crown of Elizabeth, and as a result she was eventually executed.

Greenblatt, Stephen, Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare, University of Chicago, 1980.

Greenblatt offers an analysis of the public image of major figures from Renaissance England, including a discussion of Queen Elizabeth I.

Loades, D. M., The Reign of Mary Tudor: Politics, Government, and Religions in England, 1553-1558, Ernest Benn, 1979.

Loades provides a comprehensive history of the reign of Queen Mary I of England, also known as Bloody Mary, Elizabeth I's half sister.

Scarisbrick, J. J., Henry VIII, University of California Press, 1968.

Scarisbrick's Henry VIII remains the standard biography of Henry VIII.

Strong, Roy, Gloriana: The Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I, Thames and Hudson, 1987.

Strong examines the iconography of the public image of Queen Elizabeth I, based on portraits and other images of the queen.

Wilson, Elkin Calhoun, England's Eliza, Harvard University Press, 1939.

An examination of representations of Queen Elizabeth I in English literature.

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