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Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603)

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Queen Elizabeth I

Image source: Wellcome Library, London (Cropped to fit) | License

Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603)

Elizabeth I was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn and born at Greenwich Palace on 7 September 1533. She had a very difficult early childhood as her mother was executed by the king on 19 May 1536 and later, when she was just three years old, her half-sister Mary had her imprisoned. After her mother's death Elizabeth was declared illegitimate by an Act of Parliament which meant that she was no longer an heir to the English throne. She was a very clever and intelligent child and was fluent in many languages as during her time away from court she was being taught by an extremely capable governess named Catherine Champernowne who remained Elizabeth's friend until her death in 1565. This was to benefit Elizabeth for the rest of her life.

At 10 years old Elizabeth was reinstated in the order of succession as her step-mother, Catherine Parr, managed to reunite the royal family. Elizabeth was then permitted to return to court. She even attended her half-sister Mary's coronation when she was accompanied by Henry VIII's fourth wife, Anne of Cleeves. However, Mary was a devout Catholic and became increasingly concerned that Elizabeth might plot to overthrow her and take the throne so Mary had her imprisoned in the Tower of London.

After her release she lived at Hatfield House in Hertfordshire and it was here that she received the news of Mary's death in 1558. Elizabeth was now queen at the age of 25 by right of succession and was crowned at Westminster Abbey on 15 January 1559. During her reign, Elizabeth was credited with several great achievements such as the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 and the discoveries of new lands, known then as the New World, across the seas by Francis Drake, Walter Raleigh and many other privateers. But there were moments of great controversy which included the execution of her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots. This was something Elizabeth did not want to do but was eventually persuaded by advisors that Mary was involved with plots against her so she reluctantly signed the death warrant. On 8 February 1587, Mary was beheaded at Fotheringhay Castle, Northamptonshire. For the rest of her life, Queen Elizabeth I was overcome with grief and constantly maintained that she did not want the warrant acted upon.

Elizabeth never married although she had many suitors and she was under great pressure to marry and produce an heir to the throne. One particular suitor who Elizabeth fell in love with was a childhood friend, Robert Dudley but he was now already married. She is known throughout history as the 'Virgin Queen'.

Queen Elizabeth I achieved many great things for England and was a hugely popular queen with the people, and her reign is frequently called the 'Golden Age' by historians. Sadly, her health began to deteriorate at the end of 1602 and she started to suffer from depression. She died on 24 March 1603 at Richmond Palace in the early hours of the morning. Her coffin was taken on the River Thames to Whitehall during the night. Queen Elizabeth's funeral was held on 28 April and she was interred in Westminster Abbey in a tomb shared with her half-sister Mary.

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