Elizabeth I (England) (1533–1603; Ruled 1558–1603)

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ELIZABETH I (ENGLAND) (15331603; ruled 15581603)

ELIZABETH I (ENGLAND) (15331603; ruled 15581603), queen of England and Ireland. The daughter of Henry VIII by his second wife, Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth was rendered a bastard by Henry's repudiation and execution of Anne in 1536. She was, however, reared as a princess and received the same education in the classical curriculum as her half-brother, Edward VI. In her father's will Elizabeth was placed third in succession to the throne after her two siblings, Mary and Edward. In her Catholic half-sister Mary's reign, Elizabeth fell under suspicion for her supposed Protestant sympathies and, in the wake of the 1554 revolt led by Sir Thomas Wyatt (in which she had refused to participate), she was imprisoned in the Tower of London. However, Philip II of Spain, Mary's husband, protected her. Freed from the tower and then confined at Woodstock House in Oxfordshire, she was finally released.


Elizabeth acceded to the throne on 17 November 1558. In her first Parliament she restored the Edwardian religious settlement reestablishing Protestant worship and doctrine, which the nation at large accepted, although many looked nostalgically to the past. Elizabeth, unwilling to force consciences, demanded only outward obedience, counting on the operation of time to dissolve old loyalties. This easygoing attitude continued until the Papal Bull of deposition (1570), the subsequent Jesuit missionary campaign, and plots against the queen's life led to harsh legislation, crushing fines on the Catholic laity, and prison or the scaffold for clerics. By 1603 all but a small percentage of the populace had accepted Protestantism, some with enthusiasm but many out of obedience to the regime.

For zealous Protestant reformers the queen's ecclesiastical policy was disappointing. For them the Edwardian program had been only half complete at the king's death. They looked in vain for further measures of change under his sister, but Elizabeth's prime concern was not for purity of doctrine or practice but public order, a goal that demanded religious uniformity. Continuing change in the religious establishment would unsettle the political order. The queen's opposition to further change led to (unavailing) Parliamentary agitation and ultimately to the formed opposition of the Puritan movement.


Elizabeth's greatest problem was, of course, male disbelief in the very possibility of a female sovereign. It was assumed she must find a husband to relieve her of an impossible burden by taking on the active exercise of rulership. For a while it looked as though she would respond to this call by marrying her favorite courtier, Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester (by her creation). This was unpopular in many circles. (Repeated Parliamentary appeals that she marry were skillfully evaded by the queen, and the match did not transpire.)

In the conduct of government Elizabeth showed her talent both in her choice of ministers and in their performance and the trust she reposed in them. Virtually all were to die in office, witness of her confidence and their ability. Although all of them felt the rough side of her tongue at times and wrung their hands at what they thought were wrong decisions (or lack of them), the underlying respect on both sides was not shaken.

The lively court worldwith its endless succession of masques, balls, plays, and jousting, all centered on a highly accessible royal presencefocused the social and political life of the English aristocracy, noble and gentle; but Elizabeth cultivated a wider public still. She reached out to the country at large in "progresses," her annual visits to a succession of aristocratic country houses, displaying herself en route to the country and townsfolk of much of southern England. By 1570 there had grown up spontaneously local celebrations on 17 November, her accession day, with bonfires, fireworks, and general jollitycelebrations that would continue long after 1603.

This was the regime that shaped itself in the first ten years of the reign. It was at the end of the decade that a testing time came. Various causes contributed to a crisisjealousy within the court of the dominant role of Sir William Cecil, the secretary of state, the alienation of the great northern earls, the Percies of Northumberland and the Nevilles of Westmoreland with their Catholic sympathies, but above all by the presence of the refugee queen of Scots, Mary Stuart, from May 1568.

At the beginning of Elizabeth's reign, Mary, then queen of France as the wife of Francis II, had asserted a claim to the English succession (if not to the throne itself), backed by a substantial French force in Scotland. Mary was the granddaughter of Henry VIII's sister Margaret Tudor, her descent untainted by the bastardy that her adherents claimed disqualified Elizabeth. That bid had been crushed by English arms. The widowed Mary's return to her homeland in 1562 had inaugurated a phase of uneasy but civil intercourse between the queens in which Elizabeth offered her favorite, Leicester, as a husband for Mary. When Mary's match to Henry, Lord Darnley, ended in bloody melodrama, she fled to England, hopefully seeking support for her restoration, but Elizabeth, faced with the dilemma of backing either Mary or the rebel regime in Edinburgh, chose the latter, retaining her unwanted guest in genteel confinement. Mary would spend the remaining nineteen years of her life in England. In 1572, she unwisely linked herself with the English malcontents, lending herself to a scheme for marrying the premier noble, Thomas Howard, duke of Norfolk. Elizabeth scotched this plot, but Norfolk foolishly engaged himself in a replay of the same plan, thereby losing his head while Mary became the target of an enraged Parliament that was clamoring for hers. Previous to these events the two northern earls organized a rising in 1569 that appealed to Catholic sentiment. They got no response to their appeal and fled without striking a blow; their followers were duly punished. The event had proved the strength of the Elizabethan regime and the acceptance of the new religious order. There followed a long epoch of domestic peace.


At the opening of the reign it was France that gave concern to the new government. In the 1540s Henry VIII had sought to match his son Edward with the infant queen of Scots. His "rough wooing"successive invasions of Scotlandthrew the Scots into the arms of the French; the young queen, spirited off to France, was married to the Dauphin, who succeeded his father as Francis II in 1559. As we saw above, the French then asserted Mary's rights in the English succession, backed by a French army; it was imperative it be expelled. The opportunity arose when a consortium of Protestant Scottish lords took up arms and sought English aid. Elizabeth, reluctant to support rebels against a fellow sovereign, grudgingly agreed to send an army in 1560. The action was successful; the traditional Scottish alliance with France was broken, and a Protestant regime dependent on English support was established at Edinburgh.

The next encounter with France came in 1562 in response to a French Huguenot plea for aid. Elizabeth sent money and an army that occupied Le Havre, the latter to be held as a security, for the return of Calais, lost by England in Mary Tudor's reign. The expedition was a failure. The Huguenots pocketed the English cash, reconciled themselves to the French crown and joined in expelling the English from Le Havre. This disaster confirmed the queen's distaste for aid to Protestant rebels in her neighbors' kingdoms. Henceforth she repelled emphatically all pleas to act as continental Protestantism's protector.

From the 1560s France, embroiled in religious civil war, ceased to be a threat. Attention gradually shifted to Spain. Here the religious difference counted since Philip II, wholly committed to the Catholic faith, regarded the English regime with intolerance and looked for opportunities to overthrow it. In addition there were clashes of interest in two theatersthe Low Countries and the Spanish West Indies. The former area, already stirring with religious discontent, was the main center of English trade. The latter was the scene of unwelcome English expeditions, half slave trade, half piracy. When in 1572 Dutch rebels under William of Orange organized large-scale, sustained revolt, Elizabeth resolutely opposed open assistance to them but turned a blind eye to English volunteers and encouraged Sir Francis Drake and Sir William Hawkins in their exploits in the Spanish New World.

Matters came to a head when French intervention in the Low Countries, headed by François, duke of Alençon/Anjou, the French king's brother, threatened. Elizabeth responded by encouraging the duke's courtship, hoping to tie him to her leading strings. The proposal aroused opposition; Elizabeth yielded to popular opinion, abandoning the match. Then in 1585 the plight of the Dutch rebels became so desperate that she reluctantly agreed to a military alliance with them. Philip in turn began to prepare an invasion fleet, the Great Armada.

The invasion threat and conspiracies against the queen's life brought patriotism to a pitch. Mary Stuart unwisely allowed herself to become involved in a plot against the queen. Its discovery led to a clamor for her death that Elizabeth found hard to resist. She sought to avoid signing Mary's death warrant by vainly encouraging private assassination. Her desperate ministers seized a momentary yielding to their pleas and beheaded Mary before Elizabeth's inevitable change of mind. All she could do was wither them with her impotent wrath.

In July 1588 the armada approached English shores; Elizabeth characteristically pushed herself to the fore, visiting her army stationed at Tilbury in Essex. Riding among her troops she addressed them, declaring herself to have the stomach of a king, "aye, and of a king of England."

The English victory of 1588 was in many ways the climax of the reign. A burdensome war continued to be fought to its end, in the Low Countries, in France (assisting the beleaguered Henry IV) and in Ireland, where a major rebellion was crushed with difficulty. Taxes were at record heights; Parliament had to be coaxed into new levies while the Commons complained vigorously about fiscal practices, and the queen, in an adroit speech, politely acceded to some of their demands. Her own generation of familiars, the trusted councillors on whom she had relied for decades, was dying off. Finally there was the Essex affair. Robert Devereux, earl of Essex, the favorite of her declining years, betrayed her doting indulgence and ended on the headsman's block in 1601, an event that darkened the last phase of her life. It was also, however, in these last decades of her life that the flowering of English literature, dramatic and poetic, began, thanks in part to the patronage of the queen and her court.

Elizabeth, against the odds posed by her gender and by the formidable problems facing her kingdom in 1558, had reigned for almost half a century, triumphantly surmounting one challenge after another. Well aware of the liabilities posed by her gender, she fashioned a complex personality that at once awed and charmed her subjects and impressed on the English historical memory an image that is still vital after four centuries.

See also Cecil Family ; Church of England ; England ; English Literature and Language ; Henry VIII (England) ; Mary I (England) ; Puritanism ; Stuart Dynasty (England and Scotland) ; Tudor Dynasty (England) .


Primary Sources

Camden, William. History of the Most Renowned and Victorious Princess Elizabeth, Late Queen of England. London, 1630, 1635, 1675, 1688. Selections from the work are edited by W. T. MacCaffrey. Chicago, 1970.

Elizabeth I. Collected Works. Edited by Leah S. Marcus, Janel Mueller, and Mary Beth Rose. Chicago, 2000. Contains poems, letters, and speeches.

The Letters of Queen Elizabeth. Edited by G. B. Harrison. London, 1968.

Strong, Roy C. The Portraits of Queen Elizabeth. Oxford, 1963.

Secondary Sources

Brigden, Susan. New Worlds, Lost Worlds: The Rule of the Tudors, 14851603. London, 2000. Best recent study of sixteenth-century England.

Doran, Susan. Monarchy and Matrimony: The Courtships of Elizabeth I. London and New York, 1996.

Dunlop, Ian. Palaces and Progresses of Elizabeth I. London, 1962.

Guy, John, ed. The Reign of Elizabeth I: Court and Culture in the Last Phase. Cambridge, U.K., 1995. A study of Elizabeth's declining years.

MacCaffrey, W. T. The Shaping of the Elizabethan Regime, 15581572. Princeton, 1968. An account of the first phase of the reign.

Neale, J. E. Elizabeth I and Her Parliaments. 2 vols. London, 1957.

. Queen Elizabeth. London, 1934; reprinted 1967, 1971. Best modern biography.

Read, Conyers. Lord Burghley and Queen Elizabeth. London, 1960.

. Mr. Secretary Cecil and Queen Elizabeth. London, 1955.

. Mr. Secretary Walsingham and the Policy of Queen Elizabeth. 3 vols. Oxford, 1925. Detailed accounts of politics and foreign relations.

Starkey, David. Elizabeth: Apprenticeship. London, 2000. Elizabeth's career up to her accession.

Wernham, R. B. The Making of Elizabethan Foreign Policy, 15581603. Berkeley, 1980.

Wallace MacCaffrey

Elizabeth I (1533–1603)

views updated Jun 11 2018

Elizabeth I (1533–1603)

Last of the Tudor monarchs, who ruled England for 45 years, establishing that island nation as a first-rate power in Europe. Name variations: Elizabeth Tudor, Good Queen Bess, the Virgin Queen, Gloriana. Born on September 7, 1533, at Greenwich, England; died on March 24, 1603, at Richmond upon Thames, Surrey; buried in Westminster Abbey; daughter of Henry VIII, king of England (r. 1509–1547) and his second wife, Anne Boleyn (1507–1536); half-sister of Mary I (1516–1558), queen of England; never married.

Inherited throne (1558); appointed William Cecil as principal secretary (1558); had coronation at Westminster Abbey (January 15, 1559); with Parliament, devised Elizabethan Settlement of Religion through Act of Supremacy and Act of Uniformity (1559); signed Treaty of Câteau-Cambrésis ending war with France (1559); supported Scottish Reformation and signed Treaty of Edinburgh with Protestant lords (1560); kept her Catholic cousin, Mary Stuart—who had assumed Scottish throne (1561) but was deposed and exiled to England—prisoner (1568–87); suppressed Northern Rebellion of English Catholic nobles (1569) and Ridolfi Plot (1571); branded a heretic and a bastard by Pope Pius V whose bull of excommunication (1570) invited English Catholics and European princes to depose her; reluctantly had Mary, Queen of Scots, executed for high treason (1587) after discovering her involvement in several plots; openly aided Dutch Revolt against Spain and licensed English privateers to prey on Spanish ships returning from the Americas (1580s); survived the major crisis of her reign when English naval forces led by Drake, Hawkins, and Howard defeated the Spanish Armada and prevented a Spanish invasion of England (1588); had latter years as queen marred by protracted and expensive war in Ireland (1595–1603), increased tension with Parliament, and betrayal by her last royal favorite, the earl of Essex, whom she had beheaded for leading a rebellion against the Crown (1601); at her death, the English throne passed peacefully to Mary Stuart's son, King James VI of Scotland.

Late in July of 1588, 130 well-armed galleons carrying 30,000 of King Philip II's seasoned veterans—the mighty Spanish Armada—was sighted off the southern coast of England. Across the Channel, a fleet of transport ships waited, ready to convey Alessandro Farnese, duke of Parma, and his army from Holland as the spearhead of a full-scale Spanish invasion of England. Two hundred smaller but highly mobile English ships sailed forth from Plymouth to meet the Spanish onslaught.

On land, Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, assembled at Tilbury in Essex an army of largely inexperienced English soldiers, hoping to bar Parma's route to London and Spain's prime target: Queen Elizabeth I. As yet, no one knew the outcome of the great sea battle when suddenly, on August 9, there appeared in camp a woman on horseback, wearing a silver breast plate over a white velvet dress. She carried a truncheon in her hand and addressed the troops:

I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a King, and a King of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain or any Prince of Europe should dare to invade the borders of my realm.… I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general.

When she finished, Elizabeth's audience "all at once a mighty shout or cry did give." According to Leicester, her words "so inflamed the hearts of her good subjects [that] the weakest among them is able to match the proudest Spaniard that dares land in England."

Sixtus V">

She is only a woman, only mistress of half an island, and yet she makes herself feared by Spain, by France, by the Empire, by all.

—Pope Sixtus V

They did not have to. The English navy, and tricky winds in the North Atlantic, wreaked havoc on the Armada Catholica; remnants of Philip's "great enterprise" straggled home to Spain that autumn, leaving Parma's army stranded on the Dutch coast.

Born in 1533, Elizabeth Tudor grew to maturity in a dangerous and turbulent era. Her father King Henry VIII had defied the pope, divorced his first wife Catherine of Aragon , and married the Lutheran-leaning Anne Boleyn in hopes of siring a male heir to the English throne. Instead, Anne Boleyn sired Elizabeth. Before Elizabeth reached age three, her mother was executed; her father married his third wife, Jane Seymour ; and Elizabeth and her older half-sister Mary (1516–1558), the future Mary I , were declared illegitimate. Seymour produced the much-sought-after son, Edward (the future Edward VI), but died in the process. Henry married three more times. His last wife, Catherine Parr , provided young Elizabeth with the only motherly guidance she experienced during childhood. Parr took an active interest in the education of her stepchildren, especially Elizabeth and Edward, both of whom proved to be highly intelligent, apt pupils. Tutored by some of the finest English Renaissance scholars of the age, Elizabeth acquired an exceptional grounding in Latin, Greek, French, and Italian as well as the traditional womanly arts of music, dance, and fine stitchery.

Upon the death of Henry VIII in 1547, nine-year-old Edward VI came to the throne. As usually happens when a minor inherits the crown, powerful magnates vied for control of the realm, and Elizabeth's affectionate relationship with her sickly brother did not shield her from danger.

The young king's Protestant uncle and Lord Protector, Edward Seymour, duke of Somerset, dominated the first half of the reign. Elizabeth rejected a marriage proposal from Somerset's brother, Admiral Thomas Seymour, who then promptly (and secretly) married the widow Parr with whom Elizabeth continued to live. There is evidence that the affable but vulgar Seymour may have molested Elizabeth during his brief marriage to her stepmother. Parr died in childbirth in 1548, whereupon Seymour immediately renewed his pursuit of 15-year-old Elizabeth. The Council arrested him, and Elizabeth had difficulty extricating herself from complicity in the affair. When Seymour went to the block for treason a few months later, Elizabeth remarked coldly: "This day died a man of much wit and very little judgment."

In 1550, Lord Protector Somerset lost his power struggle with the Duke of Northumberland, and in 1552 was likewise beheaded for treason. Radical Protestantism and naked ambition characterized Northumberland's government; none of Henry VIII's three children was free from danger while this greedy duke controlled the Council. In 1553, King Edward died of consumption. In an effort to exclude both Catholic Mary and Protestant Elizabeth from the throne, Northumberland proclaimed Lady Jane Grey , their cousin and his daughter-inlaw, as queen. The plot failed and Mary was crowned, leaving Elizabeth at the mercy of a bitter half-sister who despised and distrusted her.

Mary Tudor, daughter of Catherine of Aragon, was a fervent Catholic, determined to return England to the papal fold. Elizabeth conformed, attended mass, and tried to reassure the queen of her steadfast loyalty. But throughout "Bloody Mary's" tragic reign, Elizabeth faced constant peril. Most of England's Protestant leaders either escaped to the Continent or were burned at the stake for heresy. When Mary's unpopular marriage to King Philip II of Spain sparked Wyatt's Rebellion in 1555, Elizabeth found herself imprisoned in the Tower of London. Always under suspicion for both heresy and sedition, she kept a low profile and bided her time. Mary died childless in November of 1558, and 25-year-old Elizabeth Tudor became queen of England.

The kingdom Elizabeth inherited needed all her considerable talents—plus those of others—to establish external security and internal tranquillity. Thanks to her brother-in-law, Philip, England was in a losing war with his rival, France; trouble brewed on the Scottish border; the exchequer (treasury) was bankrupt; and religious divisions threatened to split the nation apart. In her first official act, she appointed Cambridge-educated Sir William Cecil (later Lord Burghley) as principal secretary of state. "This judgement I have of you," she told him, "that you will not be corrupted by any manner of gift and that you will be faithful to the state; and that without respect of my private gain will you give me that counsel which you think best." Thus began a 40-year political partnership—perhaps the most successful one in English history. Other Privy Council members also reflected Elizabeth's uncanny instinct for, in the words of Francis Bacon, "reading men as well as books"; like Cecil, they were intelligent, hard-working men, devoted to their new queen. The brilliance of her advisors has led some historians to underestimate the queen's role in creating policy. Most modern authorities now concede, however, that throughout her reign, Elizabeth I made most of the important policy decisions herself.

Unlike other female monarchs of the age, Elizabeth frequently acted as her own foreign minister. Her facility with languages, her astute grasp of European politics, and her insistence upon controlling her own government, all enabled her to deal directly with foreign princes and their ambassadors. Three countries—France, Spain, and Scotland—needed to be watched carefully, as each represented a danger to England's security as well as Elizabeth's hold on her throne.

In March of 1559, she signed the Treaty of Câteau-Cambrésis, ending a costly war with France. She preserved a nominal friendship with Spain, temporarily, via sisterly correspondence with Philip II, who even proposed marriage to her. But the real key lay in Scotland, whose absent queen, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (1542–1587), was married to Francis II, heir to the French throne. As Elizabeth's cousin, Mary Stuart stood first in line to the English throne; as a Catholic, she already claimed to be England's rightful queen. When Protestant Scottish lords revolted against an unpopular French Catholic regency

in 1560, Elizabeth prevented French reinforcements from landing in Scotland and signed the Treaty of Edinburgh recognizing the new Protestant government. In so doing, she secured England's northern border and broke up the longstanding alliance between Scotland and France.

In solving England's most urgent internal problem—that of religion—Elizabeth sought Parliament's help but designed a settlement suited to her own principles. Parliament moved quickly to restore the Henrician Act of Supremacy, ending papal authority and naming the queen as "supreme governor" of the Church of England in 1559. At the same time, the Act of Uniformity established a somewhat ambiguous English liturgy based on the 1552 Book of Common Prayer. Elizabeth then appointed the moderate and conciliatory Matthew Parker as archbishop of Canterbury. The Elizabethan Compromise combined Catholic ritual and episcopal governance with Protestant theology; it produced Anglicanism as the basis of a national church. Hardcore Papists and Puritans resisted throughout her reign, but the majority of English subjects—weary of both extreme Protestantism and Catholic persecutions—accepted the settlement. England was thus spared the divisive religious warfare that racked many other European countries in the late 16th century.

Elizabeth's heir until 1587 was her cousin, Mary Stuart. Widowed in 1560, Mary returned from France to Scotland where, as a Catholic, she quarreled bitterly with the Presbyterian Council of Lords. Marriage to her foppish Stuart cousin, Lord Darnley, provided Scotland with a male heir but ended disastrously when Mary, implicated in her husband's murder, was deposed in 1568. She fled to England where, though kept virtually prisoner for 20 years, she became the focus of numerous plots to depose Elizabeth and take the throne as queen of England. Elizabeth and Cecil quickly suppressed two early conspiracies, the Northern Rebellion in 1569 and the Ridolfi Plot of 1571. Meanwhile, Pope Pius V belatedly issued a Bull of Excommunication (1570) branding Elizabeth a heretic and a bastard, absolving English Catholics of their allegiance to her, and inviting European princes to invade England. Until Mary Stuart's trial and inevitable execution in February of 1587, Elizabeth had good reason to fear her Scottish rival.

For Parliament, the Privy Council, and the average English subject, the most perplexing question regarding their queen was her marriage. After Elizabeth contracted smallpox and nearly died in 1562, Parliament regularly petitioned her to marry and provide a Protestant heir to the throne. Instead, she used her eligibility as a tool in foreign policy, dangling marriage prospects before a dozen princely suitors for over 20 years. The Duke of Parma likened her marriage diplomacy to "the weaving of Penelope, undoing every night what was done before and then reweaving anew." Most biographers agree that she loved, and in 1559–60, really wanted to marry her court favorite, Robert Dudley (later earl of Leicester). Marriage to any Englishman, however, might sow the seeds of civil war; marriage to a foreigner risked having England dominated by another nation's interests, something the queen was determined to avoid. In the end, she rejected all proposals—the last one in 1581 from a much younger duke of Anjou—preferring to remain the Virgin Queen.

During the late 1560s and 1570s, Elizabeth used religious conflicts on the Continent to weaken England's two principal enemies, France and Spain. Both countries had Protestant rebel factions: the Huguenots in France and the Dutch Calvinists in Spanish-held Netherlands. She gave these Protestant causes just enough covert assistance to keep them viable, but not enough to drag England into war. Pressured by her Council to intervene directly, Elizabeth refused. War would interrupt England's thriving trade, force the queen to rely on Parliament for subsidies, and ultimately burden her subjects with unpopular taxes. Elizabeth's goal was the safety and prosperity of England, not the salvation of Continental Protestantism. By the 1580s, however, England's expanding sea ventures and Spain's emergence as Europe's Catholic superpower forced her into open conflict with Philip II.

For several years Francis Drake, John Hawkins, and other English privateers had been preying on Spanish treasure ships returning from the New World. As a prime investor in these acts of piracy, Elizabeth realized a handsome profit—as much as 4,700% on one voyage alone—a fact that infuriated King Philip. When she sent to the Netherlands an English army commanded by Leicester to prop up the failing Dutch revolt in 1585, all pretext of peace with Spain evaporated. Philip began in earnest to plan an all-out assault on England.

The long-dreaded Spanish Armada set sail in July of 1588 with orders to rendezvous with Spanish troops in Holland and support their invasion of England. Elizabeth now faced the supreme crisis of her reign—the 16th-century equivalent of the Battle of Britain. On the eve of the anticipated invasion, Elizabeth delivered to Leicester's troops at Tilbury one of the finest speeches in the English language.

My loving people, we have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety to take heed how we commit ourselves to armed multitudes for fear of treachery. Let tyrants fear. I have always behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and goodwill of my subjects. And therefore I am come amongst you … not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved, in the

midst and heat of the battle, to live or die amongst you all; to lay down for my God and for my kingdom and for my people my honour and my blood.… I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a King, and a King of England too.

Her performance at the Tilbury encampment was a public-relations triumph. Meanwhile, English ships built by Hawkins and led by Drake and Lord Howard out-sailed and out-gunned the Armada in a nine-day running battle up the English Channel. Those English mariners left unscathed encountered a "Protestant wind" off the Scottish coast; barely half the Spanish Armada survived to limp home in defeat. The English navy had come of age.

The defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 represented the zenith of Elizabeth's power and fame. The remainder of her reign was fraught with internal struggles with Parliament and the Puritans, and costly external warfare in Holland, France, and Ireland. Elizabeth quarreled regularly with Puritans whose demands for revisions in her 1559 religious settlement she angrily rejected; several Puritan MP's—including the outspoken free speech advocate, Peter Went-worth—ended up in the Tower in 1593 for their "insolence" to the Crown. In 1601, she gave in to rancorous parliamentary demands to end monopolies, but rising food prices, high taxes, and declining trade all combined to erode the aging queen's popularity.

Nothing drained royal coffers and disrupted Elizabeth's domestic tranquillity more than the Irish Rebellion of 1595 to 1603. Only nominally under English rule since Norman times, Ireland became fertile ground for Jesuit missionaries and Spanish intrigues late in the 16th century. In 1599, Elizabeth sent Robert Devereaux, earl of Essex, to crush the uprising. Instead, Essex negotiated a deal with rebel leader, the Earl of Tyrone, which he then haughtily demanded his queen accept. Banished from court for his disobedience, in 1601 Essex tried to raise a revolt against Elizabeth in London. Despite deep personal affection for her last royal favorite, Elizabeth did not hesitate to "teach him better manners" by way of the headsman's axe. Meanwhile, under new leadership—and at great cost—an English army finally harried and starved the Irish into submission.

As Elizabeth lay dying in March of 1603, Robert Cecil—Lord Burghley's son and successor as her principal secretary—quietly arranged for James VI of Scotland to become king of England. Following her death on March 24, Elizabeth I was interred in Westminster Abbey, in the crypt beside her grandfather, Henry VII.

Elizabeth Tudor ruled England by force of her own personality and by the tradition of absolute monarchy she inherited from her father. It is true that she was vain, fond of opulent displays of royal splendor, and possessed of a fiery and sometimes violent temper. It is equally true, however, that she put duty and patriotism ahead of private wants and desires. Her superb diplomacy, wily political sense, and regal bearing earned Elizabeth the respect of her enemies and the love of her subjects. She inspired poets, playwrights, composers and explorers and succeeded in identifying herself so completely with her times that historians still call the second half of the 16th century the "Elizabethan Age."


Neale, J.E. Queen Elizabeth. London: Jonathan Cape, 1934.

Read, Conyers. Mr. Secretary Cecil and Queen Elizabeth. NY: Alfred Knopf, 1960.

Ridley, Jasper. Elizabeth I: The Shrewdness of Virtue. NY: Viking Press, 1987.

Routh, C.R. Who's Who in Tudor England. London: Shepheard-Walwyn, 1990.

Somerset, Ann. Elizabeth I. NY: St. Martin's Press, 1991.

suggested reading:

MacCaffrey, Wallace. Elizabeth I. Routledge, 1993.

Mattingly, Garrett. The Armada. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1959.

McGrath, Patrick. Papists and Puritans under Elizabeth I. NY: Walker, 1967.

Neale, J.E. Elizabeth and Her Parliaments. 2 vols. NY: St. Martin's Press, 1958.

Plowden, Alison. Tudor Women: Queens and Commoners. NY: Atheneum, 1979.

Rowse, A.L. The Expansion of Elizabethan England. NY: St. Martin's Press, 1955.


Calendar of State Papers (Domestic Series) of the Reigns of Edward VI, Mary, Elizabeth (1547–1603) (ed. R. Lemon, Mary Everett Green, et al.). London, 1856–70; Calendar of State Papers (Foreign Series) of the Reign of Elizabeth (1558–1589) (ed. J. Stevenson, R. B. Wernham, et al.). London, 1863–1950.

related media:

"Elizabeth R" (540 min.), historically faithful six-part mini-series starring Glenda Jackson , BBC-TV and Time-Life Multimedia, 1976.

"The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex" (VHS; 1 hr. 46 min.), fictionalized account starring Bette Davis and Errol Flynn, Warner Bros., 1939.

"The Virgin Queen" (VHS; 1 hr. 32 min.), fictionalized account starring Bette Davis, Richard Todd, and Joan Collins , Twentieth Century-Fox, 1955.

Constance B. Rynder , Professor of History, University of Tampa, Tampa, Florida

Elizabeth I (1533–1603)

views updated May 11 2018

Elizabeth I (1533–1603)

Elizabeth I (1533–1603), queen of England and Ireland from 1558 to 1603. Elizabeth I preserved stability in a nation rent by political and religious dissension and maintained the authority of the Crown against the growing pressures of Parliament.

Born at Greenwich, on Sept. 7, 1533, Elizabeth I was the daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn. Because of her father's continuing search for a male heir, Elizabeth's early life was precarious. In May 1536 her mother was beheaded to clear the way for Henry's third marriage, and on July 1 Parliament declared that Elizabeth and her older sister, Mary, the daughter of Henry's first queen, were illegitimate and that the succession should pass to the issue of his third wife, Jane Seymour. Jane did produce a male heir, Edward, but even though Elizabeth had been declared illegitimate, she was brought up in the royal household. She received an excellent education and was reputed to be remarkably precocious, notably in languages (of which she learned Latin, French, and Italian) and music.

Edward VI and Mary. During the short reign of her brother, Edward VI, Elizabeth survived precariously, especially in 1549 when the principal persons in her household were arrested and she was to all practical purposes a prisoner at Hatfield. In this period she experienced ill health but pursued her studies under her tutor, Roger Ascham.

In 1553, following the death of Edward VI, her sister Mary I came to the throne with the intention of leading the country back to Catholicism. The young Elizabeth found herself involved in the complicated intrigue that accompanied these changes. Without her knowledge the Protestant Sir Thomas Wyatt plotted to put her on the throne by overthrowing Mary. The rebellion failed, and though Elizabeth maintained her innocence, she was sent to the Tower. After 2 months she was released against the wishes of Mary's advisers and was removed to an old royal palace at Woodstock. In 1555 she was brought to Hampton Court, still in custody, but on October 18 was allowed to take up residence at Hatfield, where she resumed her studies with Ascham.

On Nov. 17, 1558, Mary died, and Elizabeth succeeded to the throne. Elizabeth's reign was to be looked back on as a golden age, when England began to assert itself internationally through the mastery of sea power. The condition of the country seemed far different, however, when she came to the throne. A contemporary noted: "The Queen poor. The realm exhausted. The nobility poor and decayed. Want of good captains and soldiers. The people out of order. Justice not executed." Both internationally and internally, the condition of the country was far from stable.

At the age of 25 Elizabeth was a rather tall and well-poised woman; what she lacked in feminine warmth, she made up for in the worldly wisdom she had gained from a difficult and unhappy youth. It is significant that one of her first actions as queen was to appoint Sir William Cecil (later Lord Burghley) as her chief secretary. Cecil was to remain her closest adviser; like Elizabeth, he was a political pragmatist, cautious and essentially conservative. They both appreciated England's limited position in the face of France and Spain, and both knew that the key to England's success lay in balancing the two great Continental powers off against each other, so that neither could bring its full force to bear against England.

The Succession. Since Elizabeth was unmarried, the question of the succession and the actions of other claimants to the throne bulked large. She toyed with a large number of suitors, including Philip II of Spain; Eric of Sweden; Adolphus, Duke of Holstein; and the Archduke Charles. From her first Parliament she received a petition concerning her marriage. Her answer was, in effect, her final one: "this shall be for me sufficient, that a marble stone shall declare that a Queen, having reigned such a time died a virgin." But it would be many years before the search for a suitable husband ended, and the Parliament reconciled itself to the fact that the Queen would not marry.

Elizabeth maintained what many thought were dangerously close relations with her favorite, Robert Dudley, whom she raised to the earldom of Leicester. She abandoned this flirtation when scandal arising from the mysterious death of Dudley's wife in 1560 made the connection politically disadvantageous. In the late 1570s and early 1580s she was courted in turn by the French Duke of Anjou and the Duke of Alençon. But by the mid-1580s it was clear she would not marry.

Many have praised Elizabeth for her skillful handling of the courtships. To be sure, her hand was perhaps her greatest diplomatic weapon, and any one of the proposed marriages, if carried out, would have had strong repercussions on English foreign relations. By refusing to marry, Elizabeth could further her general policy of balancing the Continental powers. Against this must be set the realization that it was a very dangerous policy. Had Elizabeth succumbed to illness, as she nearly did early in her reign, or had any one of the many assassination plots against her succeeded, the country would have been plunged into the chaos of a disputed succession. That the accession of James I on her death was peaceful was due as much to the luck of her survival as it was to the wisdom of her policy.

Religious Settlement. England had experienced both a sharp swing to Protestantism under Edward VI and a Catholic reaction under Mary. The question of the nature of the Church needed to be settled immediately, and it was hammered out in Elizabeth's first Parliament in 1559. A retention of Catholicism was not politically feasible, as the events of Mary's reign showed, but the settlement achieved in 1559 represented something more of a Puritan victory than the Queen desired. The settlement enshrined in the Acts of Supremacy and Conformity may in the long run have worked out as a compromise, but in 1559 it indicated to Elizabeth that her control of Parliament was not complete.

Though the settlement achieved in 1559 remained essentially unchanged throughout Elizabeth's reign, the conflict over religion was not stilled. The Church of England, of which Elizabeth stood as supreme governor, was attacked by both Catholics and Puritans. Estimates of Catholic strength in Elizabethan England are difficult to make, but it is clear that a number of Englishmen remained at least residual Catholics. Because of the danger of a Catholic rising against the Crown on behalf of the rival claimant, Mary, Queen of Scots, who was in custody in England from 1568 until her execution in 1587, Parliament pressed the Queen repeatedly for harsher legislation to control the recusants. It is apparent that the Queen resisted, on the whole successfully, these pressures for political repression of the English Catholics. While the legislation against the Catholics did become progressively sterner, the Queen was able to mitigate the severity of its enforcement and retain the patriotic loyalty of many Englishmen who were Catholic in sympathy.

For their part the Puritans waged a long battle in the Church, in Parliament, and in the country at large to make the religious settlement more radical. Under the influence of leaders like Thomas Cartwright and John Field, and supported in Parliament by the brothers Paul and Peter Wentworth, the Puritans subjected the Elizabethan religious settlement to great stress.

The Queen found that she could control Parliament through the agency of her privy councilors and the force of her own personality. It was, however, some time before she could control the Church and the countryside as effectively. It was only with the promotion of John Whitgift to the archbishopric of Canterbury that she found her most effective clerical weapon against the Puritans. With apparent royal support but some criticism from Burghley, Whitgift was able to use the machinery of the Church courts to curb the Puritans. By the 1590s the Puritan movement was in some considerable disarray. Many of its prominent patrons were dead, and by the publication of the bitterly satirical Marprelate Tracts, some Puritan leaders brought the movement into general disfavor.

Foreign Relations. At Elizabeth's accession England was not strong enough, either in men or money, to oppose vigorously either of the Continental powers, France or Spain. England was, however, at war with France. Elizabeth quickly brought this conflict to a close on more favorable terms than might have been expected.

Throughout the early years of the reign, France appeared to be the chief foreign threat to England because of the French connections of Mary, Queen of Scots. By the Treaty of Edinburgh in 1560, Elizabeth was able to close off a good part of the French threat as posed through Scotland. The internal religious disorders of France also aided the English cause. Equally crucial was the fact that Philip II of Spain was not anxious to further the Catholic cause in England so long as its chief beneficiary would be Mary, Queen of Scots, and through her, his own French rivals.

In the 1580s Spain emerged as the chief threat to England. The years from 1570 to 1585 were ones of neither war nor peace, but Elizabeth found herself under increasing pressure from Protestant activists to take a firmer line against Catholic Spain. Increasingly she connived in privateering voyages against Spanish shipping; her decision in 1585 to intervene on behalf of the Netherlands in its revolt against Spain by sending an expeditionary force under the Earl of Leicester meant the temporary end of the Queen's policy of balance and peace.

The struggle against Spain culminated in the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. The Queen showed a considerable ability to rally the people around herself. At Tilbury, where the English army massed in preparation for the threatened invasion, the Queen herself appeared to deliver one of her most stirring speeches: "I am come amongst you . . . resolved in the midst and heat of battle, to live and die amongst you all. . . . I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king and of a King of England too."

That the Armada was dispersed owed as much to luck and Spanish incapacity as it did to English skill. In some ways it marked the high point of Elizabeth's reign, for the years which followed have properly been called "the darker years." The Spanish threat did not immediately subside, and English counteroffensives proved ineffectual because of poor leadership and insufficient funds. Under the strain of war expenditure, the country suffered in the 1590s prolonged economic crisis. Moreover, the atmosphere of the court seemed to decline in the closing stages of the reign; evident corruption and sordid struggling for patronage became more common.

Difficulties in Ireland. The latter years of Elizabeth's reign were marked by increasing difficulties in Ireland. The English had never effectively controlled Ireland, and under Elizabeth the situation became acute. Given Ireland's position on England's flank and its potential use by the Spanish, it seemed essential for England to control the island. It was no easy task; four major rebellions (the rebellion of Shane O'Neill, 1559–1566; the Fitzmaurice confederacy, 1569–1572; the Desmond rebellion, 1579–1583; and Tyrone's rebellion, 1594–1603) tell the story of Ireland in this period. Fortunately, the Spaniards were slow to take advantage of Tyrone's rebellion. The 2d Earl of Essex was incapable of coping with this revolt and returned to England to lead a futile rebellion against the Queen (1601). But Lord Mountjoy, one of the few great Elizabethan land commanders, was able to break the back of the rising and bring peace in the same month in which the Queen died (March 1603).

Internal Decline. The latter years of Elizabeth also saw tensions emerge in domestic politics. The long-term dominance of the house of Cecil, perpetuated after Burghley's death by his son, Sir Robert Cecil, was strongly contested by others, like the Earl of Essex, who sought the Queen's patronage. The Parliament of 1601 saw Elizabeth involved in a considerable fight over the granting of monopolies. Elizabeth was able to head off the conflict by promising that she herself would institute reforms. Her famous "Golden Speech" delivered to this, her last Parliament, indicated that even in old age she had the power to win her people to her side: "Though God hath raised me high, yet this I count the glory of my crown, that I have reigned with your loves. . . . It is my desire to live nor reign no longer than my life and reign shall be for your good. And though you have had, and may have, many princes more mighty and wise sitting in this seat, yet you never had, nor shall have, any that will be more careful and loving."

The words concealed the reality of the end of Elizabeth's reign. It is apparent, on retrospect, that severe tensions existed. The finances of the Crown, exhausted by war since the 1580s, were in sorry condition; the economic plight of the country was not much better. The Parliament was already sensing its power to contest issues with the monarchy, though they now held back, perhaps out of respect for their elderly queen. Religious tensions were hidden rather than removed. For all the greatness of her reign, the reign that witnessed the naval feats of Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Hawkins and the literary accomplishments of Sir Philip Sidney, Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, and Christopher Marlowe, it was a shaky inheritance that Elizabeth would pass on to her successor, the son of her rival claimant, Mary, Queen of Scots. On March 24, 1603, the Queen died; as one contemporary noted, she "departed this life, mildly like a lamb, easily like a ripe apple from the tree."


Elizabeth Fry

views updated Jun 27 2018

Elizabeth Fry

Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845) was a British reformer and Quaker lay evangelist, who worked for prison reform, particularly to relieve the physical misery and moral degradation of women prisoners.

An evangelist who relied on prayer and Bible-reading to inculcate virtue, Elizabeth Fry epitomized the reformer inspired by religious motives. She also relied on her access to the politically powerful, an advantage she enjoyed as a member of a well-connected Quaker family and enhanced by the celebrity status that she quickly attained through her prison visits. Her work on behalf of women prisoners caught the popular fancy, and she enjoyed a prestige in her country and in other European countries that few women in a society ruled by men could match. On the other hand, England soon rejected her approach to prison reform.

People worried about the increase in crime that had started with the Industrial Revolution; it had increased even more after the end of the long wars with France brought extensive unemployment. A combination of the 18th-century Enlightenment critique of traditional institutions and a humanitarianism largely rooted in Evangelical (and Quaker) religion encouraged a fresh look at crime and punishment.

Fry inspired confidence as a devout, motherly woman of unquestionable sincerity. Her prison visits belonged to a tradition of well-off, benevolent women visiting the unfortunate, a kind of unpaid social work. Helping women prisoners appeared to be a respectable philanthropy for pious women with time, energy, and money to spare. Although the Society of Friends had an English membership of less than 20,000 during Fry's lifetime, Quaker women took a disproportionate role in charity and reform.

Elizabeth Fry was born into a happy, prosperous family, the Gurneys, at Norwich in eastern England, blighted only by the early death of her mother. Her father's relaxed Quakerism abandoned many of the restrictions identified with that religion, such as the requirement to wear only simple clothing and to avoid worldly society. She grew up enjoying fashionable parties and dances that earlier Quakers would have avoided. Some of her sisters would eventually withdraw from Quakerism to join the state Anglican Church, and her banker brothers would greatly add to the family riches.

Fry was in her teens in 1798 when an American member of the Society of Friends attacked the luxurious "gayness" of the local Quakers and awakened in Fry a sense of God that began her conversion to a strict Quakerism. This was not the common Evangelical conversion experience— a realization of guilt, followed by a sense of God's forgiveness—but instead a mystical communion with God. She never desired religious ceremonies or theology or a highly organized church. Her religion was a very personal one, founded on silent meditation, aided by the reading of the Bible, that sometimes led to informal but eloquent sermons. Virtually alone among religious denominations of the early 19th century, the small Society of Friends allowed women and men an equal right to speak at religious services because of the Quaker principle of direct inspiration.

Fry gradually adopted the strict Quaker policies on dress and Quaker peculiarities of speech (such as saying "thee" and "thou" instead of "you"). She became what contemporaries called a plain Friend. By 1799, she rejected singing as a distraction from true piety. (Her younger brother Joseph John Gurney followed her in reviving many of the old distinctive practices of the Quakers that separated them from other people; although as the leader of the Evangelical Quakers, he encouraged good relations with all Evangelical Protestants.)

After her father's death in 1809, Fry began to speak at Quaker meetings and was recognized officially as a full minister two years later. Her marriage in 1800 to a London Quaker, Joseph Fry, delayed her wider public career; she bore ten children between 1801 and 1816 (and an 11th in 1822).

Although at the urging of an American Quaker she had visited Newgate Gaol (jail) in London during 1813, it was at the end of 1816 that Elizabeth Fry began her systematic work as a prison reformer. She visited many prisons in the British Isles during the following years, but she made her special mission the reform of the women imprisoned in Newgate. Approximately 300 women and children were crowded in a women's ward comprising 190 square yards. Hardened criminals guilty of serious crimes were mixed with those jailed for minor offenses. Children lived in the prison with their mothers, in rags, filth, and idleness. As the prison furnished no uniforms, many poverty-stricken women existed half-naked. Prison policy combined occasional brutality with a permissiveness that allowed inmates considerable freedom—tolerating drinking and fighting— and made no attempt at rehabilitation, such as training the women for jobs outside prison walls.

In 1817, Fry organized the Association for the Improvement of Female Prisoners in Newgate. Two members visited the prisoners everyday to read the Scriptures aloud. When Fry read from the Bible (and preached) at Newgate, so many people wanted to attend that the London magistrates authorized her to issue tickets. Association members adopted a personal approach toward women prisoners and tried to gain their active cooperation through kindness and persuasion. Fry's association put the women prisoners to work, sewing and knitting, under the supervision of prisoner monitors. With a prisoner as the instructor, it also organized a school for the women (and their children) to teach them to read the Bible. One of Fry's rules for the Newgate women declared "that there be no begging, swearing, gaming, card-playing, quarrelling, or immoral conversation."

Fry's work was not confined to Newgate. In 1818, she made a tour of prisons in northern England and Scotland with her brother Joseph John Gurney, described in a book published under his name, Notes on a Visit Made to Some of the Prisons in Scotland and the North of England in Company with Elizabeth Fry. Middle-class ladies' committees sprang up to visit prisons all over the country. In 1821, they joined together as the British Ladies' Society for Promoting the Reformation of Female Prisoners.

Fry was an activist, not in most respects an original thinker. Ironically, most of her ideas resembled that of Jeremy Bentham, an earlier prison reformer who often is contrasted with Fry because he despised religion. Like Bentham, Fry favored classifying prisoners (in contrast to the prevalent mixing of all types), providing productive work for them, and establishing healthful living conditions. Her more distinctive opinions favored the employment of matrons to supervise women prisoners, rejected capital punishment (and flogging) in principle, minimized the role of unproductive hard labor such as working the treadmill, and repudiated bread-and-water diets. She tried, with modest success, to mitigate the sufferings of the women sentenced to transportation to Australia, a form of penal exile. Above all, she insisted that women criminals could be redeemed.

For a few years, Fry had the ear of Cabinet ministers and parliamentary committees, but she soon lost her influence. Overestimating what she could do, she offended those whom she wanted to persuade. This was the case in 1818 when she lobbied the Home Secretary, Lord Sidmouth, to stop the execution of a Newgate prisoner.

By 1827, when she published the short book Observations on the Visiting, Superintendence and Government of Female Prisoners, based on her practical experience, her time of importance had already passed. She continued to argue for the importance of local ladies' committees; the influence of public-spirited women was needed to supplement and correct the laws and regulations established by men. For the prisoners themselves, she urged the women visitors to show a spirit of mercy: "Great pity is due from us even to the greatest transgressors among our fellow-creatures."

Fry lost prestige (and money for her prison charities) when her husband's businesses failed in 1828. As a bankrupt, he was excluded from the Society of Friends, and the Fry family became dependent on the financial generosity of the wealthy Gurneys.

By the mid-1820s, other prison reformers increasingly advocated policies contrary to Elizabeth Fry's. Many Quakers (including two of her brothers-in-law) were prominent in the Society for the Improvement of Prison Discipline and the Reformation of Juvenile Reformers (founded in 1818), but after a brief period when it supported her, the Society lobbied for a centralized professional prison administration and detailed bureaucratic rules that left no place for the visits of "meddlesome" ladies' committees. Fry's rivals campaigned for the harsh prison policies pioneered in the United States at Philadelphia, such as solitary confinement and exhausting hard labor. These principles became law when Parliament adopted the Prison Act of 1835.

Although lacking any practical influence, Fry remained a celebrity, particularly on the continent of Europe. Acclaimed in 1838 and 1841 when she visited France and the German states, she was also honored in 1842 by the king of Prussia who visited her Bible-reading at Newgate and lunched at her home.

Two years after Elizabeth Fry died in 1845, two of her daughters published a Memoir of the Life of Elizabeth Fry with Extracts from her Journal and Letters, an abridgment in two volumes of her 44 volumes of handwritten journals. The Memoir sought to make Fry a saint and left out whatever the daughters regarded as not fitting that image. Until 1980, Fry's biographers failed to read the original journals.

Fry was not the perfect woman that her daughters presented. She embodied many contradictions. She adhered to a strict Quakerism that required plain living and the rejection of worldly vanities; yet, as some fellow Quakers grumbled, her simple clothes were cut from expensive fabrics, and she rejoiced in her opportunities to mingle with politicians, aristocrats, and royalty. Nothing was more important for her than her religion, yet, to her great anguish, she failed to nurture a commitment to Quakerism among her children, nearly all of whom left the Society of Friends when they grew up.

Despite her limitations, Elizabeth Fry deserves to be remembered as a genuinely good woman, as her contemporaries acknowledged, and a much wiser one than the men who belittled her as a naive amateur realized. In the early 19th century, women reformers were loved more often than they were respected. Although far from perfect, Fry's philosophy of prison reform avoided numbing bureaucracy and dehumanizing brutality and encouraged the participation of members of the general public in the conduct of prison life.

Further Reading

Cooper, Robert Allan. "Jeremy Bentham, Elizabeth Fry, and English Prison Reform," in Journal of the History of Ideas. Vol. 42. (1981): 675-90.

Dobash, Russell P., R. Emerson Dobash, and Sue Gutteridge. The Imprisonment of Women. Basil Blackwell, 1986.

Kent, John. Elizabeth Fry. B.T. Batsford, 1962.

Rose, June. Elizabeth Fry. Macmillan, 1980.

Ignatieff, Michael. A Just Measure of Pain: The Penitentiary in the Industrial Revolution, 1750-1850. Pantheon, 1978.

Isichei, Elizabeth. Victorian Quakers. Oxford University Press, 1970.

McConville, Sean. A History of English Prison Administration, 1750-1877. Vol 1. Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981.

Prochaska, Frank K. Women and Philanthropy in Nineteenth-Century England. Clarendon Press, 1980.

Punshon, John. Portrait in Grey: A Short History of the Quakers. Quaker Home Services, 1984. □

Elizabeth I (1533–1603)

views updated May 23 2018

Elizabeth I (15331603)

Tudor dynasty queen of England from 1558 until her death in 1603. The daughter

of King Henry VIII and his second wife Anne Boleyn, she was educated at court and showed a talent for languages, learning several as a young girl. She lost her place in the succession when the king had Anne Boleyn executed on false charges in 1536. In 1544, however, she was restored to the succession by an act of the English Parliament. Her half brother Edward became king after Henry's death in 1547; the sickly Edward's reign was short-lived, however, and in 1553 Mary Tudor became the first reigning queen of England. A devout Catholic, Mary suspected the Protestant Elizabeth of harboring ill intentions toward her. In 1554, when a revolt led by Sir Thomas Wyatt challenged the queen, Mary had her sister thrown into the Tower of London, then held under house arrest at the royal palace of Hatfield, where Elizabeth continued her study with the scholar Roger Ascham.

In 1558, on the death of Mary, Elizabeth became the queen of England. The nation was militarily weak, struggling with debt, and the scene of violent conflict between Catholics and the supporters of the Church of England, the Protestant sect established by Henry VIII. Elizabeth also faced a threat from her cousin Mary, a Catholic grandniece of Henry VIII and the queen of Scotland. The wife of King Francis II (Francois) of France, Mary was supported in her claims to the English throne by several wealthy English nobles and a French army stationed in Scotland. Her claims were supported by the fact that Elizabeth refused all offers of marriage, throwing the succession into doubt. In 1568 Mary abdicated her throne during a rebellion and fled to England. Elizabeth held her prisoner for the next nineteen years, and finally in 1587, fearing Mary's plots against her, allowed her execution.

Elizabeth's enforcement of laws against Catholics inspired several plots against her life; in 1570 the pope officially declared her deposed from the English throne by a bull (proclamation) that sanctioned open rebellion among Catholics in England. The queen responded by enforcing harsh laws against Catholics and having several prominent clergy executed. In 1588, the Catholic king Philip II sought to bring England to heel and counter English support of Protestant rebels in the Spanish-held Low Countries. Philip sent a massive naval fleet, known as the Spanish Armada, against England. The fleet arrived in the English Channel but was soon at the mercy of stormy weather and the skillful assaults of the English captains. As the Armada fled, Elizabeth's prestige in Europe soared. With Elizabeth's encouragement, the English settled new colonies in the Caribbean and North America and English captains, including Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Hawkins, carried out raids and piracy against Spanish ports and ships. At home, Elizabeth held a lively court, engaging musicians and playwrights to entertain her and holding processions in towns throughout the realm. Elizabethan poetry and drama brought the English language to a peak of its expressive intensity. The end of Elizabeth's reign in 1603 also brought about the end of the Tudor dynasty, as Elizabeth had remained unmarried throughout her life and left no heirs. James I, the first of the Stuart dynasty, ascended the throne.

See Also: Henry VIII; Spanish Armada; Tudor dynasty

Elizabeth Fry

views updated May 09 2018

Elizabeth Fry


English Reformer

Elizabeth Fry was one of the most important prison reformers of the nineteenth century. She also helped to reform the British hospital system and the treatment of the mentally ill.

Fry was born Elizabeth Gurney, the daughter of a wealthy banker and merchant. The Gurneys were members of the Society of Friends, a religious group also known as Quakers. Upholding the belief that all humans are equal in the sight of God, the Quakers were the first religious group to denounce slavery. They were also concerned about the welfare of prisoners. Early Quakers had been imprisoned for their beliefs and experienced the horrible conditions of incarceration firsthand. They also believed that there is something of God in everyone, even in criminals, therefore the goal of prison should be reformation, not simply punishment. Fry's religious background had much to do with her enthusiasm for reform.

In 1798 Fry met with an American Quaker named William Savery, who inspired her to devote her energies to helping those in need. She began by setting up a Sunday school in her home, where she taught local children to read. Also in 1798, Elizabeth met her husband, Joseph Fry, who was from another wealthy Quaker family. They married in 1800 and their first child was born the next year. Between 1801 and 1812, Elizabeth had eight children.

In 1813 Stephen Grellet, a friend of the Fry family, visited Newgate, London's chief prison, where prisoners were held before execution or transportation. Grellet was shocked by conditions in the women's section, where he found prisoners sleeping on bare stone floors and newborn babies without clothing. He informed Fry, and she visited the prison the next day, taking warm clothing for the babies and clean straw for sick prisoners to lie on.

Fry's visit to Newgate was the beginning of her life's work, but for family reasons, including the birth of two more children, she did not visit Newgate again until 1816. During this visit, she suggested that the prisoners set up a school for the children. Although the women were eager to follow this suggestion, Fry could not obtain backing for the school until she established the Association for the Improvement of the Female Prisoners in Newgate, a committee of twelve women. As well as founding the school, the association appointed a woman matron to supervise the woman prisoners (formerly guarded by men) and provided materials and instruction for the women to sew quilts and other items they could sell to buy food, clothing, and fresh straw for bedding. Members of the association also took turns visiting the prison every day to read from the Bible.

Fry's brother-in-law, Thomas Fowell Buxton, joined the association in 1817, and published a book based on his investigations at Newgate. When he was elected to Parliament in 1818, he promoted Fry's work. She gave evidence to a parliamentary committee investigating London prisons, becoming the first woman asked to do so. Although impressed with her work, Parliament did not respond to Fry's concerns until 1823, when legislation was introduced to provide for regular visits from prison chaplains, women warders for women prisoners, and payment for jailers (who had depended on fees from prisoners).

Beginning in 1818, Elizabeth and the association also visited convict ships. Those convicted of minor crimes were often transported, or shipped to British colonies, especially Australia. The prisoners were held aboard ships in the Thames River for six weeks before sailing. During that time, members of the association visited the ship every day, set up a school, and supplied each prisoner with materials for making patchwork quilts during the voyage. Over the next 20 years, Fry visited and organized 106 convict ships, every ship that carried women prisoners.

Fry's reforms were not limited to prisons. She set up the Brighton District Visiting Society to provide help and comfort for the poor, and soon similar societies were established throughout Britain and in Europe. She campaigned for improvements in the treatment of mental patients. Fry also founded a training school for nurses, and her views on their training influenced Florence Nightingale.

Fry was unusually influential for a woman of her day. Even the Queen of England met with her and donated to her projects. And, unlike those of many other reformers, her suggestions were acted upon throughout most of Europe during her lifetime.


Elizabeth I (1533–1603)

views updated Jun 11 2018

Elizabeth I (1533–1603)

Queen of England. Name variations: Elizabeth Tudor, Good Queen Bess, the Virgin Queen, Gloriana. Born Sept 7, 1533, at Greenwich, England; died Mar 24, 1603, at Richmond upon Thames, Surrey; buried in Westminster Abbey; dau. of Henry VIII, king of England (r. 1509–1547) and his 2nd wife, Anne Boleyn (1507–1536); half-sister of Mary I (1516–1558), queen of England; never married.

Last of the Tudor monarchs, ruled England for 45 years, establishing that island nation as a first-rate power in Europe; inherited throne (1558); appointed William Cecil as principal secretary (1558); had coronation at Westminster Abbey (Jan 15, 1559); with Parliament, devised Elizabethan Settlement of Religion through Act of Supremacy and Act of Uniformity (1559); signed Treaty of Câteau-Cambrésis ending war with France (1559); supported Scottish Reformation and signed Treaty of Edinburgh with Protestant lords (1560); kept her Catholic cousin, Mary Stuart—who had assumed Scottish throne (1561) but was deposed and exiled to England—prisoner (1568–87); suppressed Northern Rebellion of English Catholic nobles (1569) and Ridolfi Plot (1571); branded a heretic and a bastard by Pope Pius V whose bull of excommunication invited English Catholics and European princes to depose her (1570); reluctantly had Mary, Queen of Scots, executed for high treason (1587) after discovering her involvement in several plots; openly aided Dutch Revolt against Spain and licensed English privateers to prey on Spanish ships returning from the Americas (1580s); survived the major crisis of her reign when English naval forces led by Drake, Hawkins, and Howard defeated the Spanish Armada and prevented a Spanish invasion of England (1588); had latter years as queen marred by protracted and expensive war in Ireland (1595–1603), increased tension with Parliament, and betrayal by her last royal favorite, the earl of Essex, whom she had beheaded for leading a rebellion against the Crown (1601). At her death, English throne passed peacefully to Mary Stuart's son, King James VI of Scotland.

See also Conyers Read, Mr. Secretary Cecil and Queen Elizabeth (Knopf, 1960); Jasper Ridley, Elizabeth I: The Shrewdness of Virtue (Viking, 1987); Ann Somerset, Elizabeth I (St. Martin, 1991); Wallace MacCaffrey, Elizabeth I (Routledge, 1993); "Elizabeth R," historically faithful 6-part miniseries starring Glenda Jackson (BBC-TV, 1976); and Women in World History.

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