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Useful Notes / Elizabeth I

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"She certainly is a great queen and were she only a Catholic she would be our dearly beloved. Just look how well she governs; she is only a woman, only mistress of half an island, and yet she makes herself feared by Spain, by France, by the Empire, by all."
Pope Sixtus V

Elizabeth I (7 September 1533 – 24 March 1603) was Queen of England from 17 November 1558 until her death. Also known as "The Virgin Queen," "Gloriana," "Good Queen Bess," and (by her detractors) "Bloody Bess", among a great many other titles, more or less flattering, Elizabeth was the last monarch of The House of Tudor.

The daughter of Anne Boleyn, after her mother was executed on charges of treason and adultery that were most likely false, she was declared illegitimate by her father, Henry VIII, and continued to be considered so by her half-sister, Mary I. Elizabeth had a normal royal childhood sharing a household with her sister Mary and visiting the court from time to time. She displayed the natural brilliance in her lessons that seems to have been characteristic of the Tudor family. (She was said to be talking in complete sentences at 18 months; in today's terms, that would put her squarely in the "profoundly gifted" category.) Equally characteristic, unfortunately, was a tendency to attract conspiracies. Her stepmother Catherine Parr's husband made advances on her when she was only thirteen; after Catherine died the next year, he was executed for plotting to marry Elizabeth and put her on the throne in place of her brother Edward VI.note  After Edward died and her Roman Catholic half-sister Mary I came to the throne (following the abortive attempt to ensure a Protestant succession by placing Lady Jane Grey on the thronenote ), Elizabeth prudently conformed to the Catholic religion but was nonetheless kept in captivity as a focus for a possible Protestant coup attempt. Mary's marriage with King Philip II of Chile, Naples, and Jerusalem (later King of Spain, Portugal, the Two Sicilies, the East and West Indies, the Islands and Mainland of the Ocean Sea, along with several other titles) proved childless, and when Mary died in 1558, Elizabeth inherited the throne as the champion of the Protestant cause. In the eyes of Catholics, indeed, she could not validly inherit the throne, as they held Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn to have been adulterous and invalid.

She seems to have been by nature sensual, affectionate, and charming, fond of proverbs, aphorisms, puns and quips; during her reign, England was "soaked in proverbs", and their usage was considered a sign of wisdom and sharp wit. However, her era was an age of plots, conspiracies, and assassinations, and Elizabeth's character as queen reflected that reality. She showed herself cautious, secretive, suspicious, moderate, and opportunistic in her principles, shrewd and devious in applying them. Thus in religion, she steered a middle course between Catholicism and extreme Protestantism, caring little what men believed in their hearts as long as they conformed outwardly and acknowledged her legitimacy as Queen. In 1570, however, Pope St. Pius V. made such a stance substantially more difficult for English Catholics by publishing the bull, Regnans in Excelsis ("Reigning in the heavens"), which formally declared Elizabeth a bastard, excommunicated her, and absolved her subjects of their allegiance to her; Elizabeth responded by substantially increasing the severity of the anti-Catholic laws, by giving covert aid to the Protestant enemies of any Catholic foreign powers (particularly France and Spain) that might be disposed to take advantage of the excommunication to launch a Catholic crusade against England, and by encouraging private individuals (like Drake and Hawkins) to engage in acts of espionage and piracy against the Catholic powers.

Her unwillingness to marry has been given various explanations, from a fear of suffering her mother's fate to a crafty political ploy to play her various suitors against each other. Among her many suitors were her half-brother-in-law, Philip of Spain; King Frederick of Denmark; King Charles of France; King Eric of Sweden; Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, the brother of the Holy Roman Emperor; Archduke Charles; Don Carlos, the son of Philip of Spain; the Duke of Anjou; the Duke of Ferrara; the Duke of Florence; the Duke of Holstein; the Duke of Savoy; the Duke of Segorbe; the Margrave of Baden; the Earl of Arran; the Earl of Arundel; the Earl of Devonshire; and the son of the Duke of Saxony; none of these political flirtations ever amounted to much. More emotionally satisfying, perhaps, were her relations with François, the Duke of Alençon and later of Anjou; she called him her "little frog" (the English composer Dowland wrote a popular "Frog Galliard" ("Now o now I needs must part") about him), with whom she seemed genuinely taken, despite his deformity and reputed sexual perversity. Still more important, romantically and politically, was her intimacy with Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, thought to have been the Queen’s lover. Many believed that Robert would marry the Queen should his wife Amy Dudley (who was sick with breast cancer) die, and it’s believed that Elizabeth might have been interested in a marriage to Robert. However, any hope of Elizabeth marrying Robert was ruined when Amy Dudley was found dead at the bottom of a small staircase. Many believed that Robert and Elizabeth might have murdered Amy (however historians have come to doubt this). The two most modern beliefs over Amy’s death are not linked to murder. One of the most common beliefs is that Amy simply fell down the stairs by accident (because she had been suffering from breast cancer and it could have caused her to collapse or have caused her spine to break as when Amy was found it was said that she died having broken her neck, but it may have broken before she had her fall). The other most common theory is that Amy committed suicide. Amy is thought to have suffered from depression as her husband was frequently away from her due to Elizabeth calling Robert to court very often. Suicide was a sin back in Tudor times, so if Amy did choose to end her life, then she must have been suffering badly. Whatever happened to Amy, the public were aware of how fond Elizabeth and Robert were of each other and rumours soon spread that the lovers had murdered Amy. As such, no marriage came through with Robert and Elizabeth, and Robert remarried another woman.

Despite her almost definitely intimate relationship with Robert Dudley, Elizabeth was nevertheless devoted to and a patriotic patron of Protestantism; most historians agree that, if there hadn't been the incident with his wife and he'd been free to marry, she'd've taken him as he is known to have loved her even when she didn't look anywhere close to becoming Queen - a rare feat for a man at that time! In fact, despite the fact Robert cheated on his wife with Elizabeth, he and Amy Dudley (who had a very small dowry) are thought to have wed in the first place because of love. For the early years of their marriage, Robert and Amy were relatively happy (it wasn’t until Elizabeth’s fondness for Robert became very clear to the public).

Late in Elizabeth's life, her infatuation with Robert Devereaux, Earl of Essex, came to a bad end when he tried to lead a rebellion against her (or at least against the influence on her of her powerful minister, Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury) — a rebellion which cost Essex his head (and William Shakespeare the temporary closing of his playhouse, when it was discovered that Essex's followers had paid the company for the performance of Richard II, a play depicting the deposition of a bad king).

While historians have raised questions about Elizabeth's personal abilities as a ruler and the constant plotting and miserliness of her regime, her reign was nonetheless a period of great significance. During her reign, the first English colonies in the New World were settled, the East India Company received its royal charter, and the funding and sponsoring of privateers planted the seed of England's naval domination. Culturally, her reign coincided with the age of William Shakespeare and his fellow dramatists who remain enduring triumphs of language and art. Her regime was not exactly a sponsor of the arts and the theatre was rigidly censored, but nonetheless, the association with Shakespeare greatly added to the popular memory of her reign as England's Golden Age, the moment when The Renaissance truly arrived in England and took root at a time when the Continent was mired in religious wars.

She is related to Elizabeth II through Henry VII as a first cousin 13 or 14 times removed.

Works associated with Elizabeth I include:

  • Since the 17th century, biographies have been written about Elizabeth I, examining and re-examining her character, some reviews more glowing than others. The earliest of these was written by William Camden in 1615-17.
  • John Ernest Neale's Queen Elizabeth (1934)
  • Alfred Leslie Rowse's Queen Elizabeth and Her Subjects (1935)
  • In 2016, John Guy wrote his own biography that attempts to Deconstruct the "Gloriana" mythos, called Elizabeth: The Forgotten Yearsnote . Guy claims that in the years since he wrote his biography on Mary Queen of Scots, he gained a tolerance and respect for Elizabeth I. In practice, the only good things he says about Elizabeth is that she had beautiful hands and was a keen dancer. Other than that, he demonizes Elizabeth so completely it leaves one wondering how anyone went on to yearn for the days of "Gloriana" in the first place. So much for this being "the real Elizabeth"!

    Comic Books 
  • Alan Ford: one of the Number One's tales recounts the story of Elizabeth the First's rise to power and her struggle with Mary Queen of the Scots, with the old man playing both like a violin to make money out of them. Elizabeth is portrayed as a beautiful, no-nonsense competitive woman, though the concept of "Virgin Queen" is mercilessly thrown out of the window when we see a row of large muscular guys entering her bedroom one at a time and leaving utterly exhausted.
  • Requiem Vampire Knight depicts a hellish version of the British Empire called Dystopia that is ruled by Queen Perfidia, who strongly resembles Elizabeth I if she was a gorgon. Given that in this setting, people reincarnate as monsters after their deaths, it's strongly implied that Perfidia might as well be Elizabeth.
  • Marvel 1602 has a very frail Elizabeth I with an Incurable Cough of Death, with Stephen Strange as a John Dee analogue and Nick Fury as her spymaster. Although unlike real life, she's assassinated - by the very much non-historical Count Otto von Doom.

    Fan Works 
  • Elizabeth appears in the Puella Magi Madoka Magica fic A History of Magic. Notably, unlike Lady Jane Grey and Mary I, she did not contract to become a Puella Magi, vowing that she would never be beholden to anyone for her power. A dying Mary believes Elizabeth will be better off for it, though concludes that Jane Grey was the happiest of the three because she died so young.
  • In the The Tudors fanfic Handmaid, because Anne Boleyn is serving as Henry and Katherine's handmaid (essentially, she bears Henry's children on Katherine's behalf), Elizabeth's legitimacy is never questioned. However, she was also born with a twin brother, so never inherits the English throne. In the epilogue, it's revealed she initially married the Duke of Orleans (who died not long into the marriage), and with older sister Cecily's help, convinces her brother Edmund (by then King of England) to let her marry Robert Dudley.

  • In 1912, Elizabeth made her first screen appearance in the form of Sarah Bernhardt in the French film Les amours de la reine Élisabeth (The Loves of Queen Elizabeth)
  • The following year, Violet Hopson played the Queen in Drake's Love Story.
  • In 1914, Aimee Martinek played her in The Life of Shakespeare, anticipating their cinematic association in Shakespeare in Love by a good eighty years.
  • Diana Manners played her in The Virgin Queen in 1923.
  • Ellen Compton began Elizabeth's long run of playing second viol to Mary Stuart in 1923's The Loves of Mary, Queen of Scots.
  • In 1924, Elizabeth appeared both in the form of Gladys Ffolliott in Old Bill Through The Ages and of Claire Eames in Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall.
  • Florence Eldridge played a perfectly beastly Elizabeth in the 1936 John Ford film Mary of Scotland, somehow managing to overact both Katharine Hepburn's simpering Mary, Queen of Scots and Frederic March's horrendous Scotch caricature of Bothwell—though not quite Moroni Olsen's thunderous John Knox.
  • In the 1937 Alexander Korda film, Fire Over England, Flora Robson played the Queen, using a great many quotations from her actual words—a truly majestic performance.
  • In the 1939 Warner Bros. film, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, Bette Davis plays the Queen, and Errol Flynn the ill-fated Earl.
  • In the 1940 Warner Bros. film, The Sea Hawk (reputedly one of Winston Churchill's two favorite films). Flora Robson reprised her part as Elizabeth, with considerably less striving for pedantic authenticity.
  • Another 1940 film, made in Nazi Germany, titled Das Herz der Königin ("The Heart of the Queen"), viewed by many critics as an anti-British propaganda movie, portrays Elizabeth as a malicious ice cold Rich Bitch who has nothing better to do than cause all the misery she can upon her saintly and beautiful cousin Queen Mary of Scotland.
  • Jean Simmons played her in the 1953 film Young Bess, which is about her life before she became Queen.
  • Bette Davis played her again in the 1955 film The Virgin Queen.
  • She's mentioned a lot but never seen in The Fighting Prince of Donegal.
  • Glenda Jackson played her in the 1971 film Mary, Queen of Scots (1971).
  • Jubilee, the 1978 avant-garde film by Derek Jarman has Elizabeth, played by Jenny Runacre, transported to 70s England of Punk Rock, invoked as a mythical figure from the Golden Age.
  • Lalla Ward played her in the 1979 film of The Prince and the Pauper — making the Doctor Who references below even more amusing for Doctor / Romana shippers.
  • Quentin Crisp played her in 1992 film version of Virginia Woolf's Orlando: A Biography. Crisp was cast by director Sally Potter partly because he resembled portraits of Elizabeth later in her life, and partly because Potter believed Crisp to be "the true Queen of England". Much later, Crisp came out as a transgender woman, meaning the Queen had still been played by a woman all along.
  • Judi Dench won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Elizabeth in the 1998 film Shakespeare in Love (a One-Scene Wonder, as she was on screen for less than six minutes).
  • Cate Blanchett played the part in the 1998 film Elizabeth and its 2007 sequel, Elizabeth: The Golden Age.
  • Helen Mirren played her in the 2005 Hallmark TV movie, Elizabeth I. It was more down-to-earth and less theatric that the Blanchett version.
    • Mirren later played Elizabeth's namesake in The Queen (winning an Oscar for Best Actress in the process), making Mirren the only actress to play both queens of that name.
  • The 2008 film The Other Boleyn Girl ended with a young Bess playing with her cousins in a meadow (one of whom is really her half-sibling).
  • The historically ridiculous but nonetheless quite entertaining 2011 film Anonymous (about the supposed conspiracy to attribute plays written by the Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, to William Shakespeare) has her played by the mother-and-daughter team of Vanessa Redgrave and Joely Richardson at different points of her life. The movie portrays the younger Queen as having an affair with de Vere and later bearing an illegimate son (later to become Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton), only for it to be revealed by Robert Cecil that de Vere himself was also one of Elizabeth's bastard children, unbeknownst to both of them. Understandably, the movie was largely raked over the coals by historians.
  • Margot Robbie portrays her in Mary, Queen of Scots (2018), opposing Saoirse Ronan as Mary Stuart.

  • Mercedes Lackey's Doubled Edge series follows Elizabeth's life from birth to right before Mary's death.
  • Beware, Princess Elizabeth of the Young Royals series tells the story of the conflict between her and her sister during Mary's reign. A very young Elizabeth is also a supporting character in the previous book in the series, Mary, Bloody Mary.
  • Elizabeth I: Red Rose of the House of Tudor of The Royal Diaries series tells the story of the princess's youth during the final years of Henry VIII's reign, ending about a week after Edward VI's coronation.
  • The Virgin's Lover by Philippa Gregory tells of the early years of Elizabeth's reign and her relationship with Robert Dudley. She's also a supporting character in The Queens Fool, Gregory's novel set during Mary's reign.
  • Orlando: A Biography starts in the latter part of her reign and the title character is her boytoy for a little while.
  • Appears as a young girl in The Prince and the Pauper.
  • Legacy by Susan Kay is a fictionalized account of her life, from birth to death, and illustrates her relationships with everyone around her.
  • I, Elizabeth by Rosalind Miles is a novel of Elizabeth's life from her own point of view.
  • The Tournament by Matthew Reilly features a 13-year-old Elizabeth, relaying a fictitious tale of her visit to Constantinople for a grand chess tournament, and her involvement in helping to solve a murder plot that occurs at the Sultan's palace. The events of the book end up being critical in shaping her subsequent worldview, particularly her unwillingness to marry.
  • A Column Of Fire by Ken Follett (set in France and England between 1558 and 1605) features Elizabeth as a supporting character, and the conflict between Elizabeth and Queen Mary of Scotland plays a great part in the plot. The main character, Ned Willard, becomes one of Elizabeth's spies over the course of the story.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Alicia von Rittubrg plays Princess Elizabeth during her tumultuous teenage years in the series Becoming Elizabeth (2022).
  • Elizabeth (called "Queenie" by fans) was memorably played by Miranda Richardson as a Royal Brat and a Psychopathic Womanchild in 1986's Blackadder II.
    "Sometimes I've thought of having you executed, just to see the look on your face!"
  • Elizabeth, played by Dorothy Black, returned to television in 1946's The Dark Lady of the Sonnets.
  • Doctor Who: She makes a cameo at the end of "The Shakespeare Code" (2007), and is referenced in both "The End of Time" (2009) and "The Beast Below" — in the first she recognises the Doctor as her mortal enemy, but in the latter the Doctor mentions having married her and rendering her nickname inaccurate.
    Liz X: And so much for the Virgin Queen, you bad, bad boy!
    • The Doctor's off-screen romance with Elizabeth events are portrayed in the 50th anniversary special "The Day of the Doctor", where Elizabeth I plays a major supporting role in fending off the Zygon threat in Britain.
    • And in "The Wedding of River Song", the Doctor kinda explains, in an offhand remark, why Bessie is so angry with him:
      The Doctor: Liz the First is still waiting in a glade to elope with me.
  • In the BBC series Elizabeth R of 1971 she was played superbly by (again) Glenda Jackson. This series was acclaimed for its attempts at historical accuracy.
  • Horrible Histories, being what it is, has a lot of appearances by Elizabeth I, although she appears slightly less often than her father. She's portrayed as a vain Fiery Redhead and a Mean Boss to her advisors.
  • She was the #7 "Greatest Briton" on One Hundred Greatest Britons.
  • A central character in the third season of The CW's Reign played by Rachel Skarsten.
  • She's played by three different actresses (Kate Duggan, Claire McCauley and Laoise Murray) as a child and then a teenager in Showtime's miniseries The Tudors.
  • In the 2005 BBC series The Virgin Queen, Elizabeth was played by Anne-Marie Duff. In some ways this was a remake of the 1971 series, but focused heavily on the relationship between the Queen and the Earls of Leicester and Essex.
  • In one of the earliest television broadcasts, Nancy Price appeared as Queen Elizabeth in Will Shakespeare in 1938.

  • Elizabeth's christening is being celebrated at the end of William Shakespeare's Henry VIII.
  • In A Midsummer Night's Dream, Oberon recounts the origin of the story of the magical flower, which was a failed attempt by Cupid to get Elizabeth I in love. This is happening, by the way, in mythological era Greece.
  • In The Pirate Queen, she shows up as an antagonist to the protagonist, Gráinne (Grace) O'Malley. Which is a matter of Truth in Television, since the two women were often at odds with one another.

    Video Games 
  • In Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego?, Elizabeth I appears in the case which involves Shakespeare's plays being stolen. She is one of the characters in the game whom you have a Dialogue Tree conversation with. (This version of Elizabeth I apparently doesn't mind commoners walking up to her and initiating a conversation!)
  • The Rider class Servant in Fate/EXTRA is, formally identified as Sir Francis Drake, even though they are quite clearly a woman. However, there are hints that Rider is infact Queen Elizabeth, having switched places with the Privateer and commandeered the Golden Hind. Rider's red hair and noticable facial wound, alongside information from side materials, helps to solidify this theory. Fate/Grand Order may have retconned this, though, as an alternate explanation as to why Drake is female but written in history books as male is given.
  • She is the go-to leader for England in the Civilization series until the sixth game, where she's replaced by Victoria.