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Elizabeth I - 1558-1603

Key Facts about Elizabeth I

The dangers of political life must have imprinted themselves in Elizabeth's mind early in her childhood. Her mother, Anne Boleyn, was beheaded when she was three years old. After Wyatt's rebellion against her half sister, Mary, she was imprisoned in the Tower of London, then kept at Woodstock under house arrest.

Soon after her coronation in 1559 Elizabeth, who had been well educated in the classics and spoke French, Spanish and Italian, took a firm hold of the reins of government. Strong willed, she was also diplomatic and made friends with the Lords at court. Though she tried to avoid a confrontation on the religious issue, she confirmed England's position by the Act of Supremacy, which made her head of the English church.

By 1559 all Catholic bishops had been replaced by Protestant ones. Where foreign policy was concerned she tried to avoid entanglements, but followed her father in building up the strength of the fleet. She also encouraged the half piratical, exploits of her sailors, Drake and Hawkins. She made Howard of Effingham the commander of the ships that routed the Armada, in 1588.

Elizabeth's most disturbing problem was the existence of Mary Queen of Scots. She was the daughter of James IV of Scotland, whose mother was a granddaughter of Henry VII and was herself, widow of the Dauphin of France.

These connections gave Mary loyal supporters in both England and France and threatened Elizabeth's difficult position with the Catholic Scots and Continental Catholic rulers. Things came to a head when a page in Mary Stewarts household hatched a plot to kill Elizabeth. Reluctantly Elizabeth signed Mary's death warrant in 1587.

Elizabeth's last years were darkened by the revolt of her once favourite Earl of Essex, who was consequently executed. Her reputation remained intact, however, and was immortalized by the poet Edmund Spenser in his poem The Faery Queen.

Her reign was noted for the English Renaissance, an outpouring of poetry and drama led by William Shakespeare, Edmund Spenser, and Christopher Marlowe that remains unsurpassed in English literary history. She was the last of the Tudor monarchs, never marrying or producing an heir, and was succeeded by her cousin, James VI of Scotland.

Key Events during the Reign of Elizabeth I

1558 - Elizabeth accedes to the throne on the death of her half-sister Mary.

1559 - Act of Supremacy makes Elizabeth head of the Church of England.

1560 - Treaty of Berwick, between Elizabeth I and the Scottish reformers.

1562 - John Hawkins and Francis Drake make first slave-trading voyage to America. Elizabeth gives aid to the Protestant Huguenots in the French Wars of Religion.

1563-4 - 17,000 die of the Plague in London.

1577-80 - Francis Drake sails round the world.

1586 - Mary Queen of Scots is brought to trial.

1587 - Mary Queen of Scots is executed (8 February). Drake attacks the Spanish fleet in Cadiz Harbour.

1588 - The English navy and bad weather defeat the Spanish Armada (21-29 July).

1595-6 - Sir Walter Raleigh makes his first expedition to South America.

1601 - Earl of Essex is executed for leading a revolt against Elizabeth's government (25 February).

1603 - Elizabeth I dies at Richmond Palace, Surrey.

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