Elizabethan England 1

Elizabeth I

The Elizabethan Era, also known as the ‘The Golden Age’, is the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603). She reigned for 45 years from 1558-1603, and she was the only daughter of Henry VIII (previous King of England) and his lover/possibly second wife Anne Boleyn. The Elizabethan era is considered the height of the English Renaissance, which took place approximately 1500-1650. Renaissance literarily means rebirth and it led to a new interest in antique architecture, sculpture and drama among other things. The sonnet form is for instance from the antiquity. The early works of William Shakespeare were typical for the English Renaissance, and that’s why The Elizabethan Era is also known as “Shakespeare’s England”, since the period was defined by flowering culture both in music, poetry and literature. Yet another theatre, “The Rose”, was built in 1588 as a sign of the growing importance of the theatres, and some of the most famous plays were written and performed during The Elizabethan Era. That’s why the term “The Elizabethan Theatre” was invented, since it covers all the plays written during this “Golden Age”. Furthermore, the English Renaissance meant that playwrights such as William Shakespeare broke free of England’s past style of theatre and composed plays about the English take on subjects such as life and death.

William Shakespeare

The Renaissance was furthermore defined by Luther’s reformation in Gemany, and the English Reformation was most likely inspired by Luther. Elizabeth’s father Henry VIII had a fall out with the Catholic Church and broke off relations with the Roman Pope, because he couldn’t get divorced from his Catholic wife Catherine of Aragon. Henry VIII established the Protestant dominated “Church of England”, with himself as Supreme Head. This meant that his marriage to Anne Boleyn was never acknowledged by the Catholic Church, and Elizabeth’s royal heritage was therefore considered illegitimate by the Catholic Church. This caused problems for Elizabeth’s reign due to the Catholic authorities in Europe.

Humanism was another outlook, or maybe rather a new ideal, linked to antiquity which puts man in centre, and incites people to use their own reason/common sense. Besides, the renaissance was defined by exploration and expansion abroad. New parts of the world such as America were discovered (by Columbus), and the first English colony in America was actually named after Elizabeth (Virginia), since she remained unmarried her entire life. Science too made giant leaps, especially concerning astronomy, which lead to new discoveries such as the shift from a geocentric to a heliocentric worldview.

Bloody Mary

Elizabeth’s half-sister and the only surviving daughter of Catherine of Aragon, Mary Tudor (“Bloody Mary”), who reigned from 1553 until her death in 1558, tried to reinstate Catholicism, after Henry VIII's reign. In 1554 Mary Tudor married Phillip II, the prince of Spain, properly at that time the most powerful monarch in Europe. However, this led to the development of an anti-Spanish and anti-Catholic feeling among the English citizens. When Mary I died in 1558, the two rivals for the thrown were Elizabeth and Mary Stuart, her cousin. Elizabeth, who had Protestant tendencies, was supported by the Catholic Spain nonetheless. This was due to the fact that Mary Stuart wasn’t only the Queen of Scotland, but by marriage also the Queen of France; therefore a Catholic. Spain feared to see England and France united, since this would be a great threat to Spanish dominance in some parts of Europe. Accordingly, Elizabeth was crowned in 1558, even though her way to the throne was long and problematic, as well as England being in deep crisis at that point. Elizabeth was excommunicated (no rights and privileges of the Church) by the Pope in 1570, and she had already made a two-piece settlement in 1559 known as The Elizabethan Settlement. Later on, the previous rival for the thrown, Mary Stuart, was put on trial for treason; more specifically it was discovered in some letters that she had approved the attempted assassination of Elizabeth. In 1587 Elizabeth was persuaded to have Mary executed, seeing as Elizabeth hesitated to actually order Mary’s execution, because she feared the consequences it might have. Mary Stuart had, in spite of the earlier Spanish support of Elizabeth, cooperated with Phillip II of Spain, since Spain wanted Mary Stuart on the throne, because she was a Catholic and a mostly Spanish ally.

Elizabeth was right to be concerned as not long after Spain heard of the news about the execution of Mary Stuart, in 1588, Philip II of Spain saw this as a challenge and attempted to invade England with the Spanish Armada. Even though it was also known as the “invincible Spanish Armada”, the fleet of about 30000 men stood no chance against the English military ships, which met them in the Channel. The Spanish Armada was defeated, and this finally secured Elizabeth’s position on the thrown. This also meant the beginning of England as a powerful world power/superpower, which – amongst other things – dominated the seas. This along with the victory itself created a new feeling of national pride among the English citizens.

Philip II, The Spanish Armada & Elizabeth I

The reign of Queen Elizabeth I was a period with primarily internal peace even though there was a religious conflict between Protestants and Catholics and a very aggressive parliament. In her time, the influence of the Parliament in political matters was reduced, and the Church did not have any decisive influence on religious and administrative matters (the settlement). Elizabeth’s reign meant that England in the late 16th century was the leading maritime nation of Europe, with a booming export. She left a nation of wealth. Besides, the previous period (with her father and half-sister as monarchs) makes the Elizabethan Era highly viewed, and that’s also why it’s considered ‘The Golden Age’ of English history. She left no heirs which meant that she was the last monarch from the Tudor Dynasty. Her reign was therefore the last period with a separate English Monarchy, before the royal union of the English and Scottish crown. It meant that her successor was Jacob I (known as James) – Mary Stuart's son. James was consequently the first monarch in England from the House of Stuart, and of course a Catholic.

Charlotte & Mathilde