Key Facts & Summary:
- Her reign was marked by the controversy of her celibacy.
- Her mother was killed when she was only three years old.
- She was the second in the list of succession.
Marked by the marital difficulties of her father, she decided to do without a husband. And then, to which man to swear obedience when one is Queen of England?
Why did a woman who was one of the most beautiful parties of the Renaissance refuse to marry? For a long time, Elisabeth I’s obstinate celibacy intrigued her contemporaries. The Queen of England took the risk of not giving an heir to the lineage of the Tudors, even though her father, Henry VIII, had done everything to obtain one. The keys to this political enigma are to be found in the tortuous path that led Princess Elizabeth to her coronation at the age of 25.
She had so many enemies and they nicknamed her called “the bastard heretic” first knew the humiliation and relegation, the intrigues and the prison. She was only 3 years old in 1536 when her mother Anne Boleyn was decapitated. The legal necessity for Henry VIII to invalidate this marriage to consort with his third wife had the consequence of depriving Elizabeth of all her titles – even of that of a legitimate girl.
After remarrying Jane Seymour, who finally gave him a male heir – the future Edward VI – the capricious king took little interest in a child whose birth had been ill-received. On the list of succession, Elisabeth now figured behind Edouard but also after Marie Tudor, daughter of Catherine of Aragon, first wife of the king. Wedged between a legitimate son and the granddaughter of Catholic kings, what was the girl whose mother had been found guilty of high treason? A cannonball.
His house train was reduced to a minimum. It was nevertheless up to the compassion of the last wife of Henry VIII, Catherine Parr, to be a little considered. The sixth and last wife of the king took care indeed to have raised the three heirs of the Crown by giving them the humanist education promoted by the writings of Thomas More (“Utopia”, 1516) and Baldassare Castiglione ( “The Book of the Courtier”, 1528).
After the death of the king, Elisabeth, 13, was at the heart of the intrigues led by the Seymour family. Catherine Parr had soon remarried Lord Admiral Thomas Seymour, the uncle of the sickly young king. Edward Seymour, elder brother of Thomas and lord-protector of England, dominated him, the Council of Regency. After the untimely death of Catherine in September 1548, Thomas wanted to marry Elizabeth this time.
He made a habit of appearing lightly in the teenager’s room. He boasted to go back to his bed in his bed where he taught him the gaudriole. Libels circulated, mocking the pregnant bastard. The princess had to submit her virginity to a humiliating examination to counter the rumours. The admiral braggart, who was trading with British privateers and diverting beautiful shares of loot, finally lost his head in 1549.
She succeeded Marie Tudor, nicknamed “the Bloody”
In 1553, Edward VI died of pneumonia at the age of 15 years. Second, on the list of succession, it is thus Marie Tudor who girded the crown of England and Ireland. She too had hardly been considered by her father. A fervent Catholic, she had not been allowed to join her mother, Catherine of Aragon, in agony. Emotional exile and humiliation had marked his youth, Henri and Anne Boleyn making him pay the price of the interminable lawsuit for annulment of the first marriage of the king.
Upon the accession to the throne of Mary I, the country plagued by religious quarrels plunged into dark hours. The queen sealed the reconciliation of the English crown with the papacy and married the son of Charles V, the future Philip II of Spain. The pyres for the heretics were rekindled, which earned the sovereign the sinister nickname “Bloody Mary”. Then, at the end of a nervous pregnancy, which turned out to be the first sign of ovarian cancer, she went into agony on November 15, 1558.
In 1558, the Duke of Norfolk attempted to behead her
At that moment, Elisabeth’s fate was suspended by a royal signature. Under the reign of Mary, the bastard and Protestant Elisabeth had become a symbol of the fight against the papist reaction. Suspecting at least two plots, the queen had her imprisoned in the Tower of London. It had to be eliminated in order to restore the old order and definitely bring the rebel England back into the bosom of Catholicism. The Duke of Norfolk attempted to snatch from the dying queen the initials authorizing the decapitation of Elizabeth. But Mary refused to commit this sin against a half-sister.
On January 15, 1559, Anne Boleyn’s daughter was crowned in Westminster Abbey. A monstrosity for many subjects. Bernard Cottret, author of an illuminating analysis of this “female royalty” (Fayard, 2009), underlines the scandal that then represented the reigns of women: “For the time, it is an anomaly in a natural order dominated by the males.
It was necessary to prevent the kingdom from falling down, in the words of the sixteenth-century lawyer Etienne Pasquier. In France, jurists had avoided this risk by promulgating the Salic law, which only homologated the succession from father to son, or even to a more distant relative, provided he was a male.
The reason for this “sexual discrimination” was a dilemma: the sovereign must perpetuate the lineage. But with who? The Queen in obedience to her husband, if she were to marry a foreign prince, what would happen if it was a Habsburg or a Valois, these false friends of England, a small kingdom caught between Spain and France? Marie Tudor was well aware of this risk when she married Philip II. She had specified that the territorial rights of the sovereign would be extinguished with the death of the queen.
A cultural explosion
Like her father before her, Elisabeth Ire had received a high-quality education. Brilliant, she spoke, besides English, Latin, Greek, Italian and French. The practice of ancient languages was then virtuosity: they translated Titus Live into English after having translated it into Greek.
Then we went back to his Latin version after the English translation. Elisabeth transcribed from French to English “The Mirror of the Sinful Soul” of Marguerite de Navarre, the sister of Francis I, to make a gift to her stepmother Catherine Parr in 1545. She had only 12 years … Recluse under the reign of Mary Tudor, she read the “Psalms of David” and Cicero in the text.
She also wrote poetry. In this, Elisabeth was the worthy representative of her kingdom, upset during her reign by an unprecedented cultural explosion, which first passed by the affirmation of a language, declaimed at the theatre and sung at mass.
The Anglican reform caused a rise of religious music through the psalms sung the “Book of Common Prayer”, the official book, in English, for the daily worship of all. William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons, Robert White, and Thomas Tallis were thus the glorious composers of Elizabeth’s reign. At the same time, the art of the sonnet, coming from Italy, found new masters in the person of John Lily, Philip Sidney, Edmund Spenser and, of course, William Shakespeare.
But the most striking manifestation of the “Elizabethan Golden Age” was undoubtedly the birth of modern theatre. How to explain the emergence in a generation of genius playwrights such as Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe (the author in 1588 of “The Tragic History of Dr. Faust”) and Shakespeare? By an extraordinary demographic and economic convergence first.
The population of London had increased from 50,000 in 1520 to 200,000 in 1600. Focusing on the country’s commercial activity, the capital of the kingdom drained the forces of the countryside. Half of the urban population was under 20 years old. And if life expectancy remained low, ambitions were raised, especially in a merchant class that began to challenge the privileges of the old nobility. As a tool of social climbing, education became a valued value. In certain colleges, around the sons of the gentry, the aristocracy, there was now a considerable proportion of offspring of lawyers, merchants, but also labourers and other lower classes.
There was a Boom in the Printing Industry
The boom in printing was obviously paramount. Some 5,000 titles had been published in the eighty-seven years preceding Elizabeth’s accession. He printed 7,130 during the forty-five years of his reign (1558-1603). Private libraries were growing. In Latin, Greek, and French remained essential subjects of instruction, many scholarly works were also translated into the national language.
Because the new culture was primarily English. And it was at the theatre, which then took its modern form, that it was crowned. This sentence of Elizabeth is related: “We, the princes, are installed on a stage at the sight of the world” – echo the famous “the world is a scene” (“the world is a stage”) of Shakespeare.