Queen Elizabeth I: Frequently Asked Questions

Facts about Queen Elizabeth I

With a reign that spanned more than four decades, not only is Queen Elizabeth I one of the longest-reigning English monarchs, she’s also one of the most influential and most famous persons in human history. She earns this honor simply because of her moderate stance on religion which in turn ushered England into its golden age, i.e. the Elizabethan Age.

In the article below World History Edu presents 15 frequently asked questions about the life, reign, accomplishments, and religious views of Queen Elizabeth I.

Where was Queen Elizabeth I born?

Queen Elizabeth I was born on September 7, 1533 and baptized three days later, on September 10, 1533. | Image: A rare portrait of Elizabeth prior to her coronation in 1559, attributed to William Scrots.

Known as the last monarch to hail from the House of Tudor (1485-1603), Queen Elizabeth I was born on September 7, 1533 at a place called Greenwich, near London, England. She was the second legitimate child of her father Henry VIII, and the first and only child of her mother Queen Anne Boleyn.

Did you know: Elizabeth I was named after both grandparents of hers: Elizabeth Howard and Elizabeth of York?

How was the relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and her father Henry VIII like?

Anxious to have a male heir after his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, had failed several times to bring forth a male child, the Tudor king Henry VIII parted ways with the Roman Catholic Church in 1534. He took such drastic actions because the pope had turned down his request to sanction an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, the mother of Princess Mary (later Queen Mary I or “Bloody Mary”).

The lady that Henry VIII had set his eyes upon was Anne Boleyn. However to his disenchantment Anne gave birth to a girl, Princess Elizabeth. The king, however, quickly recovered from this slight disappointment, hoping that Anne Boleyn would be able to produce a male heir to succeed him to the throne. Therefore, Elizabeth’s first couple of years was quite pleasant. She was even Henry VIII’s heir presumptive owing to fact that her older half-sister Mary had been stripped off her rights following the king’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon.

After a number of miscarriages and stillbirths, Anne soon found herself in a similar situation as her predecessor Catherine. Not only did Anne have to grapple with a divorce from King Henry VIII, but she was also accused of infidelity, a charge that carried the death sentence.

Queen Elizabeth I - Family tree

When and why was Elizabeth I’s mother beheaded?

Following a series of miscarriages and stillbirths suffered by Queen Anne, King Henry’s advisers Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer and Thomas Cromwell began putting plans in place to have his marriage to Anne annulled. Henry claimed that Anne had bewitched him into the marriage.

Henry tasked his officials to have Flemish musician Mark Smeaton arrested and charged for having an affair with Anne. Obviously after a quick dose of torture, Smeaton confessed to those charges.  A number of other courtiers and noblemen were arrested for allegedly having very close relationships with Queen Anne. Some of those men that were charged with treason and adultery, including Sir Henry Norris, Sir William Brereton, and Sir Francis Weston. All three men maintained that they were innocent of those charges.

On May 15, 1536, Elizabeth’s mother and maternal uncle, George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford, a courtier and nobleman, were tried before a jury of 27 peers. The two siblings were found guilty of having incestual relationship. They were also found guilty of high treason for planning to murder the king.

On May 17, 1536, George and all the other four men were executed on Tower Hill, a high ground north of the Tower of London. That same day, Archbishop Cranmer, under duress from the king, declared Elizabeth’s parent’s marriage null and void.

Queen Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I’s mother, was executed on Friday, 19 May, 1536. Under what was undoubtedly a farce trial, she was condemned to death by her own husband King Henry VIII. | Image: Henry VIII and Queen Anne

Two days after the death of her maternal uncle, Elizabeth’s mother Queen Anne, who had been locked up in the Tower of London since May 2, 1536, was beheaded. Perhaps not wanting to inflict more pain on her, Henry commuted Anne’s sentence from burning to beheading. The king also called for a well skilled swordsman from France to carry out the execution of Anne.

Read More: Biographies and Major Facts about the Six Wives of Henry VIII of England

How and why did Elizabeth temporary lose her titles and privileges as a princess?

At the time of her mother’s execution, Elizabeth was two years and eight months old. The young princess was stripped off her titles and declared an illegitimate child. She was also removed from the line of succession to King Henry VIII.

Less than a fortnight after the death of her mother, her father married Jane Seymour, the mother of Edward VI who was born in 1537. Elizabeth spent the large parts of her childhood in the household of her half-brother Edward.

Elizabeth I of England

What kind of education did Elizabeth I receive as a child?

Even though she spent most of her childhood living as an obscure princess, she was still given the best of treatment from her father. Luckily for her Catherine Parr, her father’s sixth and last wife, was able to convince Henry to restore both Elizabeth and her half-sister Mary back in the line of succession. Her stepmother Catherine Parr was also very kind to her.

In 1537, Catherine Champernowne (Catherine “Kat” Ashley) was appointed governess of Elizabeth. Right from an early age, Elizabeth started receiving lessons in many languages, including Dutch, Spanish, French and Italian. Her educational needs were also complemented by William Grindal and Roger Ascham. The latter, who also tutored Edward, described Elizabeth’s mind as having “no womanly weakness”.

By the age of 11, she had developed fluency in Latin, Italian and English. She famously translated the religious work of her stepmother Catherine Parr – Prayers or Meditations – from English into French, Latin and Italian. She could also translate into Greek by her mid-teens. What all that meant was that Elizabeth was considered one of the most educated young women in all of England at the time.

In addition to her language lessons, Elizabeth was educated in the Protestant faith that her father had made the official religion of the kingdom in 1534. This explains why she was so keen on restoring Protestantism in England shortly after becoming queen in 1558.

Did you know: Queen Elizabeth I could speak Welsh, Scottish, Irish and Cornish in addition to Spanish, French and Italian?

Why was Elizabeth imprisoned in the Tower of London?

Less than month after the death of Edward VI on July 6, 1553, Mary, the half-sister of Elizabeth, was crowned queen. For a brief period before Mary’s ascent to the throne, Lady Jane Grey was queen but her reign ended after just nine days due to overwhelming support for Mary and the Succession to the Crown Act of 1543.

In the first few months of Queen Mary I’s reign, public support for her was very high as she had a very cordial relationship with Elizabeth. However, the relationship between Mary and Elizabeth turned sour when the former passed an order for everyone to partake in Catholic Mass. Mary, a devout Catholic, broke with the policy of her father and half-brother and brutally suppressed Protestantism in England. Fearing for her life, Elizabeth dutifully complied with Queen Mary’s orders.

Queen Mary I (“Bloody Mary”) imprisoned her younger half-sister Princess Elizabeth at the Tower of London over suspicion that Elizabeth schemed to have her overthrown. | Queen Mary I of England’s Portrait by Antonis Mor, 1554

Less than a year on the throne Queen Mary’s approval rating plummeted as she agreed to tie the knot with Catholic Philip of Spain, the son of Holy roman Emperor Charles V. This and her excessive use of force to crush Protestantism in England resulted in the break out of the Wyatt’s rebellion in early 1554.

Suspicious of her half-sister Elizabeth, Mary alleged that Elizabeth was behind the rebellion. After a series of interrogations, Elizabeth was locked up in the Tower of London on March 18, 1554. Many of Mary’s advisors recommended that Elizabeth be eliminated so as to ensure that safety of Mary’s rule.

Had it not been for some very good words put in by supporters of Elizabeth in the court of Mary, Elizabeth would most likely have been executed.

For the remainder of Mary’s 5-year reign, Elizabeth was in effect constantly put on surveillance. However, as it became increasingly apparent that Mary was not going to bear any child, Elizabeth’s position in the kingdom became a bit more secured. A few weeks before her death, Queen Mary I acknowledged her half-sister Elizabeth as her successor. The childless Mary, aged 42, died on November 17, 1558.

Elizabeth and Thomas Seymour

In 1549, about two years after death of her father Henry VIII, Elizabeth’s stepmother tied the knot with Thomas Seymour, the brother of Jane Seymour. As uncle to King Edward VI, Thomas hoped to undermine the influence his brother, Edward Seymour, had on Edward VI. Edward Seymour was Lord Protector of the realm during the minority years of Edward VI.

Following the death of Catherine Parr in 1549, Thomas Seymour was arrested for making sexual advances at Elizabeth and plotting to marry the young princess in a bid to consolidate his power in the kingdom. The 14-year-old Elizabeth and her servants were called to give testimonies.

Some historians have stated that the experiences that the young Elizabeth had with Thomas Seymour while living in her stepmother Catherine Parr’s household at Chelsea had a life-altering effect on her. Seymour was found guilty and beheaded on March 20, 1549.

How and when did Elizabeth I get crowned queen of England?

Considering the fact that she had two older half-siblings – her half-brother Edward (later King Edward VI) and half-sister Mary (Queen Mary/Bloody Mary), Elizabeth I grew up in a household and a country where no one gave her the remotest chance of one day becoming queen of England.

Her father Henry VIII not only had his marriage to her mother Queen Anne Boleyn annulled, but he also had Anne executed under what was undoubtedly trumped charges of high treason and infidelity.

The execution of Elizabeth’s mother in effect relegated the young Princess to a status of an illegitimate child of the King. She was also stripped off her title as princess and then downgraded to the life of a lady in the king’s court. She thus spent some time of her childhood not included in the line of succession.

Following the death of her father King Henry VIII in 1547, two half-siblings of hers – King Edward VI and Queen Mary I (“Bloody Mary”) – reigned for six years and five years respectively.

During her half-sister’s brutal five-year reign, Elizabeth had to exercise a lot of caution as she was constantly placed on surveillance. Queen Mary I was said to have a very unhealthy suspicion of Elizabeth. As a result, a network of spies were placed all around Elizabeth. One wrong word or move would most likely have resulted in the execution of Elizabeth.

Upon the death of the childless Mary on November 17, 1558, the English crown passed on to the next of kin, Elizabeth, who was 25 years old by then. As it had been done since the coronation of William the Conqueror in 1066, Westminster Abbey hosted the coronation ceremony of Elizabeth on January 15, 1559. The ceremony was officiated by Owen Oglethorpe, the Catholic bishop of Carlisle.

Crowned on January 15, 1559, Queen Elizabeth I had an illustrious 44-year reign on the English throne. | Image: Queen Elizabeth I in her coronation robes, designed with Tudor roses and trimmed with ermine

What were the gravest threats that Queen Elizabeth I of England had to deal with?

Queen Elizabeth I inherited a kingdom that was blighted by the brutal five-year reign of Queen Mary I. What this meant was that Elizabeth I simply had a mountain of issues to deal with, ranging from England’s war with France to the religious turmoil that was on the verge of tipping England into complete chaos.

Luckily for the new monarch France’s War of Religion (1562-1598) broke out shortly after her coronation, making England’s war with France less of a priority to the French.

Unlike her predecessor Mary I who hunted down Protestants, so to speak, Queen Elizabeth I did not deploy brutal means to reverse the religious landscape of England back to Protestantism. As a matter of fact, some aggrieved radical Protestants took a strong disliking of Elizabeth over her inability to clamp down strongly on Catholicism. Instead she tasked the English Parliament to enact laws that would make Protestantism the official faith of England, thus building upon the Church of England that was started during the reign of her father Henry VIII.

Queen Elizabeth I also had to contend with an enormous amount of pressure on her to find a husband in order to produce a successor. There was a palpable fear that should the issue remain unsolved then England could descend into a succession crisis after the death of Elizabeth. The Queen stood her grounds, stating that she was married to her people. The truth of the matter was that Elizabeth refused getting married because she did not want to share power with anyone.

Perhaps the greatest problem that Elizabeth I faced came in her 30th year as queen when the Spanish Armada mounted an invasion of England in 1588. A year prior to the naval invasion, Elizabeth had her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots executed. The continued existence of the deposed Scottish queen was viewed as a threat to Elizabeth’s reign as many English Catholics considered Mary the rightful sovereign of England.

For about 18 and a half years, Elizabeth had Mary placed under house arrest. The English monarch, who lived in constant fear of the support Mary had from Catholics, ultimately gave in to the words of her advisors and proceeded to behead the former Scottish monarch on February 8, 1587 at Fotheringhay Castle.

About a year following the horrific execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, the largely Catholic-centric Spanish monarch sought to avenge the death of the beheaded Scot. Spain sent its very powerful Naval Fleet (i.e. the Spanish Armada) in a bid to end not just Queen Elizabeth I’s reign but also end her Protestant restoration policies. When all things seemed dark and gloomy for England, Elizabeth is said to have given a very moving speech to her forces and commanders, inspiring them to claim a well-fought victory over the Spanish Armada.

Pope Pius V excommunication of Elizabeth in 1570 made the religious situation in England even more perilous. The head of the Roman Catholic Church issued a proclamation which absolved all English Catholics from their oaths of allegiance to Queen Elizabeth. As a result, Catholics in England came to be perceived as disloyal Englishmen. They were also suspected of working to undermine Elizabeth’s reign and authority. In 1585, the anti-Catholic sentiments from radical Protestants were so great that Elizabeth sent some bit of aid to Protestant rebels fighting Spain in the Netherlands.

Queen Elizabeth I of England

What triggered the frosty relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots?

Upon becoming queen, Elizabeth introduced mild reforms that hard line Protestants and dissidents considered ineffective to rid England off Catholicism. However, the queen stuck to her moderate reforms and religious programs. Initially, it all seemed good until Catholic aristocrats in the north of England rebelled in 1569. The queen was decisive and quickly crushed the rebellion.

Elizabeth’s spies, led by Sir Francis Walsingham, later revealed that Mary, Queen of Scots was indirectly related to the rebellion. Rumors of assassination plots against Elizabeth emerged. Many a time, those plots were linked to Mary, a devout Catholic, who was considered by Rome and France as the rightful heir to the throne of England. As a result, Elizabeth held Mary prisoner in England for almost two decades.

After close to two decades under house arrest, Mary, Queen of Scots, was executed by Queen Elizabeth. The English monarch gave in to the words of her advisors as her Scottish cousin was considered a threat to her reign. | Image: Portrait by François Clouet, c. 1558–1560

Advisors to Elizabeth remained constantly vigilant as they were uneasy about the support Mary had from the Roman Catholic Church and countries like France and Spain. Ultimately Elizabeth gave in to the words of her advisors and proceeded to behead the former Scottish monarch on February 8, 1587 at Fotheringhay Castle. Perhaps overtaken by grief and remorse, Elizabeth wrote a heartfelt letter to Mary’s son, James VI of Scotland, informing him of how deeply sorry she was and how she never intended carrying out the death sentence.

Read More: Elizabeth I of England versus Mary, Queen of Scots

How Queen Elizabeth I defeated the Spanish Armada

A naval confrontation between England and Spain’s armada off Calais, northern France

About a year following the horrific execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, Philip II of Spain, also known as Philip the Prudent, sought to avenge the death of the beheaded Scot. The devout Roman Catholic, the Spanish monarch regarded himself as the protector of Catholic Europe. Philip II sent its very powerful Naval Fleet (i.e. the Spanish Armada) to invade England. His goal was to end not Queen Elizabeth I’s reign and prevent the Elizabeth’s Protestant Reformation policies from taking any further root.

Luckily for Protestant England, Elizabeth had spent quite a lot in the previous decade revamping her naval strength. She had given the order for very maneuverable and steady ships to be constructed. Those ships were then armed with the latest firepower of the time. Upon entering the naval waters of England, the Spanish Armada was given the biggest shock of its existence. Completely overpowered by Queen’s naval prowess, the Spanish fleet retreated only for them to suffer more loses due to very bad storms.

With the victory over the Spanish Armada, Queen Elizabeth I of England in effect announced to other European powers that England was a force to be reckoned with.

Queen Elizabeth I defeated Philip II’s fleet at Gravelines in northern France | Queen Elizabeth I, the Armada Portrait at Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire.

How did Queen Elizabeth I go about restoring England to a Protestant faith?

In 1534, the Protestant Reformation began in earnest in England (spearheaded by Elizabeth I’s father Henry VIII). Elizabeth’s younger half-brother Edward VI would continue those reforms his father put in place.

However, Edward’s successor, Queen Mary I, a devout Catholic, broke with the policy of her father and half-brother and brutally suppressed Protestantism in England. Mary’s successor, Queen Elizabeth I, took a slightly moderate approach to restore England back to Protestantism.

Compared to her predecessor, Elizabeth’s religious suppression tactics were less violent. Such were her moderate stance on the suppression of Catholicism that many of her radical Protestant lords and advisors viewed her efforts as grossly inadequate to rid England of Catholicism.

Queen Elizabeth I instead focused on a pragmatic and sustainable way to lift England out of the lawlessness and bloodshed that were so prevalent in her predecessor’s reign. In order to do this, she used parliamentary acts such as the Act of Uniformity and the Act of Supremacy (passed by Parliament in 1559) to arm herself with enough power of the Church of England.

Was Queen Elizabeth I admired by her people?

Compared to other Tudor monarchs, Elizabeth I was certainly the most admired of them all. She also had the longest stay on the throne, having ruled for 44 years, from 1558 to 1603. During her lifetime, she was viewed as a very pragmatic ruler who avoided the usage of extreme violence to implement her reforms.

No doubt she executed a bunch load of people (mostly Catholics and some radical Protestants) in order to restore her country to Protestantism. However, compared to the bloody reign of her half-sister Mary I, Elizabeth could be seen as a saint.

Another reason why she was admired during her reign was her deep appreciation for the arts and literature. Under her reign, the careers of many English writers like William Shakespeare, Edmund Spenser, and Christopher Marlowe grew in leaps and bounds. New theaters and art centers sprang up as more people began to take interest in arts and culture.

Her representation to the public was also buoyed on by her very good taste in fashion. In terms of portraits, she ranks as the most painted English monarch. Elizabeth wore fancy and exquisitely designed gowns that had a tremendous influence on the fashion world at the time. It’s been stated that although she was very thrift when it came to money, she was not afraid to spend on jewels and clothes. Elizabeth often toured the kingdom, visiting wealthy subjects who showered her with expensive gifts and the highest of honors.

In the decades and centuries after her death, Elizabeth still remained very popular considering the fact that her reign was known for placing England in its golden age (i.e. the Elizabethan Age).

However it was not all roses and sunshine for Elizabeth towards the end of her reign. Blighted by slight economic inflation and unemployment, which were even made worse by poor harvests, the Queen’s approval ratings, so to speak, dropped a bit. She was able to stave off the declining public image by properly handling the issue of succession.

Even as she aged, she took to wearing more and more expensive jewels in her attempt to still appear as Gloriana – the eternally young and beautiful queen of the ferries in Edmund Spenser’s poem. She hoped that the jewels would take people’s gaze away from the frailties that came with aging. Regardless, she continued to get the usual lofty praises and gifts from staunch admirers of hers.

Read More: 8 Greatest Accomplishments of Queen Elizabeth I

What were some examples of Queen Elizabeth I’s nicknames?

Frequently Asked Questions about Queen Elizabeth I | Image: The Pelican Portrait by Nicholas Hilliard. The pelican was believed to feed its young with its own blood, by so doing Elizabeth was seen as the provider of England as well as the “mother of the Church of England”.

Queen Elizabeth I was known for expertly using rhetoric to communicate her vision for her country. She came to be affectionately called “Good Queen Bess” for her good relationship with members of Parliament. She was also known as the “Virgin Queen” due to her refusal to get married or bring forth any child. The Queen successfully convinced her nation that she needed no husband as she was married to the people, so to speak. By place the well-being of her people above hers, the Queen became even more beloved.

Queen Elizabeth I and Diana, the chaste Roman goddess of the hunt and the moon

Having built such a well-crafted image among her people, Queen Elizabeth I’s unwavering commitment and service were celebrated by a cross section of intellectuals and famous English artists like Nicholas Hilliard and poet Edmund Spenser.

The Queen was praised for her unbridled devotion to her people, with some authors of the era describing her as the ancient Roman mythical goddess Diana, the goddess of the hunt and the moon. In Roman mythology, Diana was one of the three maiden goddesses; the other two were Vesta (goddess of the hearth) and Minerva (goddess of war and strategic warfare).

Read More: 3 major reasons why Queen Elizabeth I stayed unmarried all her life

Who succeeded Queen Elizabeth I?

Virtually throughout her reign, her advisors and close courtiers were worried about the Queen’s refusal to get married. Towards the later part of her life, a lot of concerns were raised about her lack of an heir as well. In the end, those fears were allayed when she tapped her cousin King James VI of Scotland to succeed her.

Without any child of her own, or an immediate nuclear family member to succeed her, Queen Elizabeth I’s death on March 24, 1603 meant that curtains closed in on the rule of the Tudor dynasty (1485-1603).

Did you know: The House of Tudor produced five English monarchs, starting from Henry VII in 1485 and then ending with death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603? The other three monarchs were Henry VIII (1509-1547), Edward VI (1547-1553), and Mary I (1553-1558).

In 1603, James VI and I succeeded the last Tudor monarch of England and Ireland, Queen Elizabeth I, who died childless March 24, 1603.

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