Elizabeth I, Queen of England
ELIZABETH I, QUEEN OF ENGLAND
Reigned Nov. 17, 1558, to March 24, 1603; monarch of England's golden age and architect of its final break with the papacy; b. Greenwich, Sept. 7, 1533; d. Richmond. She was the daughter of henry viii and Anne Boleyn. In order to make Anne his wife and in the hope of securing a male heir, Henry repudiated Queen catherine of aragon, rejected papal authority, and became supreme head of the Church in England (1534). The birth of a daughter was a disappointment, and he tired of Anne, who was accused of adultery and executed. Nevertheless Elizabeth had a happy childhood and was educated in the New Learning by such brilliant English humanists as Roger Ascham. Under the rule of her half-sister Mary (1553–58), she was in considerable peril, but it could not be proved that she was implicated in Sir Thomas Wyatt's abortive attempt to overthrow the queen. She conformed to the Catholic religion, but it was fairly clear that she was not a Catholic at heart. The long reign of Elizabeth I was one of the most remarkable in English history, and the queen was a legend in her own lifetime. During these 45 years both English Protestantism and English nationalism achieved success, and England experienced new maritime supremacy, a strengthened economy, and a brilliant literary vitality.
When she became queen (1558) she was illegitimate by both English law and the canons of the Church. If she had wished, she could probably have come to terms with the papacy, but her personal inclinations and, still more, her assessment of the political situation were against it. Elizabeth had no desire to be dependent on either Spain or the papacy, and she decided to throw in her lot with the Protestant cause. The Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity in 1559 declared her Supreme Governor of the Church of England, required the use in all churches of the Book of Common Prayer, and imposed penalties on those who did not attend the parish church on Sundays and holy days. The form of religion that gradually took shape during her reign was uniquely English. It rejected the Church of Rome but retained a great deal of Catholic tradition, although not as much as the queen herself would have liked. Elizabeth was not very interested in theology and not particularly concerned about what men believed in their hearts, but she was determined that they should accept the royal authority in religion and conform outwardly. Though not personally cruel or vindictive, she, like most 16th-century rulers, Catholic and Protestant, was not prepared to tolerate two religions within the state.
In 1570 Pope Pius V excommunicated Elizabeth I and absolved her subjects from their allegiance to her. From Elizabeth further legislation against Catholics followed, but the most ferocious parts of the penal code in the 1580s and 1590s were the product of two other factors—the great success of the missionary priests who began to come into England from 1574 onward and the growing possibility of foreign invasion. The seminary priests and the laity were, with few exceptions, loyal to
the queen; but Cardinal William allen, the Jesuit Robert persons, and others were working for her overthrow. Persecution increased, and almost 200 priests and laymen were put to death. Many more were imprisoned and fined. (see england, scotland, and wales, martyrs of.) Elizabeth was generally successful in imposing her religious settlement and by the end of her long reign the Church of England enjoyed national prestige. A large Catholic and a strong Puritan minority survived, nonetheless, and the queen left to her successor, James I, a number of unresolved issues.
Bibliography: The best guide to the vast literature on Elizabeth is c. read, ed., Bibliography of British History: Tudor Period, 1485–1603 (2d ed. New York 1959); Mr. Secretary Walsingham and the Policy of Queen Elizabeth, 3 v. (Cambridge, MA 1925); Mr. Secretary Cecil and Queen Elizabeth (New York 1955). m. campbell, The English Yeoman under Elizabeth and the Early Stuarts (New Haven 1942). e. m. w. tillyard, The Elizabethan World Picture (New York 1944). m. creighton, Queen Elizabeth (London 1899). j. e. neale, Queen Elizabeth I (New York 1934; repr.1959); Elizabeth I and Her Parliaments, 2 v. (New York 1959). j.b. black, The Reign of Elizabeth, 1558–1603 (2d ed. Oxford 1959). e. p. cheyney, History of England from the Defeat of the Spanish Armada to the Death of Elizabeth, 2 v. (New York 1914–26). a. l. rowse, The Elizabethan Age, 2 v. (London 1950–55). j. hurstfield, Elizabeth I and the Unity of England (New York 1961). j. b. code, Queen Elizabeth and the English Catholic Historians (Louvain 1935). m. schmidt, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 1957–65) 2:432. p. hughes, The Reformation in England, 3 v. in 1 (5th, rev. ed. New York 1963). s. doran, Monarchy and Matrimony (New York 1996). s. frey, Elizabeth I (New York 1996). c. levin, The Heart and Stomach of a King (Philadelphia 1994). w. macaffrey, Elizabeth I (New York 1993). a. sommerset, Elizabeth I (London 1991).