Elizabeth I ruled England from 1558-1603. Like many other monarchs, she had to deal with many problems during her reign. The major ones were her image, marriage, religion, her cousin Mary Queen of Scots and the Spanish Armada. Most of the problems were interlinked. Therefore, when she tried to solve one problem, she had to consider the others as well. In my opinion, Elizabeth was pretty successful in tackling the problems of her reign. In the following paragraphs, I shall discuss her problems and how she dealt with them in detail.
Elizabeth I ruled for 45 years. Throughout her reign, she faced the problem of maintaining a powerful image. When she was young, it was vital for her to look strong to respect her subjects. When she got old and weak, she needed to make people think she was still solid and reliable. As a result, historians say that Elizabeth was ugly with black teeth. Knowing this, she chose to use portraits to impress her subjects.
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The portraits depicted her as she wanted to be seen by her subjects and foreign powers, rather than how she looked. Many portraits of the Queen are instantly recognizable, for she is usually painted wearing a crown, showing that she was the Queen. Like the “Ditchley portrait,” painted when she was 59, Elizabeth I looked young in the picture. Her right hand is holding a fan, which represents England’s overseas expansion. Her left hand is holding a glove, which symbolizes elegance. The thorn-less rose symbolizes the Virgin Mary. It suggested that Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen, was married to the country in the same way that Mary was married to the church.
I think Elizabeth was highly successful in projecting a strong image. As a result, people think they had a powerful and beautiful monarch without suspecting old and weak. Another problem that Elizabeth faced was that many people thought Elizabeth would not last long without a powerful husband and an heir. Therefore, everyone expected her to get married after she became queen so that she had a husband to make decisions for her and an heir to secure the line of succession.
Elizabeth received many marriage proposals from foreign rulers and English nobles. She could have married Philip II of Spain or Charles of Austria. But marrying a Catholic European ruler might drag the English into wars with other countries and annoyed Protestants at home. She could have married Robert Dudley, but his father was a traitor. Finally, she could have married an English nobleman. But this might upset other noblemen who would stage a rebellion. Also, she was afraid that her husband would take over the control of the country.
To resolve the problem, she chose not to marry. She did not have a man ruling over her by not getting married, and she kept her proposers guessing and loyal to her. Elizabeth was quite successful in handling her marriage problem. The only drawback was that she failed to produce an heir and crown James, her cousin Mary Queen of Scots’ son, as king on her deathbed. Religion was one of the thorny issues Elizabeth had to face. During her reign, England was bitterly divided by religion. Protestant extremists and Catholic extremists both posed a considerable threat to Elizabeth, and civil war might erupt.
On the one hand, Protestant extremists called Puritans wanted to wipe out all traces of the country’s Catholic past. On the other hand, Catholic extremists wanted to restore Catholicism in England and place a Catholic monarch on the throne. Also, Catholic countries in Europe could wage war on Elizabeth. To appease both groups, she adopted a policy of moderation called the ‘Middle Way.’ To please the Protestants, she allowed the priests to marry and conduct the services in English. In addition, she promoted the construction of more unadorned churches and had the Bible translated into English.
To please the Catholics, Elizabeth proclaimed herself as the ‘Governor,’ which meant the Catholics would still look up to the Pope as the ‘Head of Church.’ She did not persecute strict Catholics for not going to church but fined them for staying at home. She also kept some aspects of old Catholic churches. For example, she kept bishops and cathedrals and allowed churches to continue using crosses and candles. Although the extreme Protestants and Catholics were not particularly happy, she could please the majority of the English people. The Middle Way worked to a large extent during her reign.
One of Elizabeth’s main threats was her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots. She was next in line for the throne if Elizabeth did not provide an heir. Mary was a devout Catholic, and many Catholics saw her as the rightful queen. Protestants and Puritans in England did not like this. After the Battle of Langside, Mary fled to England to seek refuge from Elizabeth. But Elizabeth imprisoned Mary for the next 19 years to keep her aloof from her Catholic supporters even though this encouraged plots from the Catholics. The most famous ones were: the Ridolfi Plot (1571), the Throckmorton plot (1583), the Parry plot (1585) and the Babington Plot (1586).
The failure of the Babington plot led to the execution of Mary. I think Elizabeth was successful in eliminating a rival, although it made the Catholics revolt. The death of Mary safeguarded Elizabeth’s reign and the Protestant faith in England. In the latter half of her reign, Elizabeth was threatened by the King of Spain, Philip II. Phillip II was pushed over the edge when Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded on Elizabeth’s order. He decided to send his Armada of a hundred and thirty ships to invade England, hoping to restore Catholicism there. To intercept the Spaniards, Elizabeth appointed a competent general Francis Drake in charge of the sea battle.
To raise the morale of her army, Elizabeth made her inspiring Tilbury speech. Eventually, England won the battle with pride due to excellent military tactics and more advanced ships. One being they were smaller, which meant that they were more maneuverable. Secondly, their guns fired faster and further. England survived as a Protestant country, while Spain’s reputation was weakened in Europe. Since then, England started to explore overseas and began to build a ‘British Empire.’ The defeat of the ‘invincible’ Spanish Armada was one of Elizabeth’s biggest successes in her reign.
To conclude, Elizabeth successfully dealt with threats to her throne, thanks to her advisors such as Lord Burghley. She was also a determined and clever woman who always made wise decisions, as evidenced by how she handled her marriage. Her decision to use ‘Middle Way’ to deal with the conflict between the Protestants and Catholics had saved her from the possibility of a civil war. The victory over the ‘invincible’ Spanish Armada was another proof of her intelligence. She was able to maintain her image as a solid female monarch through the portraits. Elizabeth’s reign was known as the Elizabethan Age. However, many historians believed that it was the ‘Golden Age of England.’ Known as “one of England’s strongest monarchs,” Elizabeth cradled the country of England in her arms as they successfully overcame a very rough time.
- Go to Lionel- courses – History: Year 8- Elizabeth I: How successfully did she tackle the problems of her reign?
- Adobe reader ‘Portrait symbols’ in the section ‘What were the problems Elizabeth faced as a young female monarchy.’
- Adobe reader ‘Elizabeth marriage info sheet’ in the section ‘Why didn’t Elizabeth get married.’
- Religion and the ‘Middle Way
- Adobe Reader ‘Elizabeth Middle Way’ in the section ‘How did Elizabeth solve the problems of religion.’
- Mary Queen of Scots
- Powerpoint ‘Mary Queen of Scots – Background and problems of Elizabeth’ in the section ‘Why was Mary Queen of Scots such a problem to Elizabeth’
- The Spanish Armada