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Queen Elizabeth I
Many people were skeptical if Elizabeth I could overcome the problems that were inherent in becoming the new queen of England. However insurmountable the problems were, she was able to overcome them and establish a stable and secure government and was capable of achieving financial stability throughout the country. Queen Elizabeth was an extremely private person, keeping her own counsel and sharing secrets with no one- not even her closest, most trusted advisors. The reign of Queen Elizabeth I is considered to be one of the greatest periods in English history. During her reign of forty years she supported and attended many theatrical productions by famous authors such as Edmund Spencer, Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare. Their works portrayed the way in which people lived during the Renaissance.
Queen Elizabeth I reigned form 1558 until her death in 1603. In those forty years she became a powerful image of female authority. Elizabeth s father, Henry VIII had been of royal Plantaganet stock, and had some Welsh blood from his father Henry VII. Her mother, Anne Boleyn, had been an English commoner whose ancestors had been Norfolk farmers and merchants. Her parents rose to prominence because of wealth and through a series of advantageous marriages with daughters of the nobility. After being married for seventeen years the Spanish Princess, Katherine of Argon, had only given birth to a daughter, Mary, but had failed to provide Henry with the male heir he so desperately needed. Henry, upset with Katherine, began to feel a passion for Anne Boleyn, but she had made it clear that she would not be his mistress. Henry had become involved in a serious controversy with the church over his divorcing Katherine, and eventually declared himself head of the Church of England. After having his marriage declared void he was able to marry Anne. He did this as soon as she became pregnant in 1533. Henry and Anne had anticipated that their child would be a son and were disappointed when it turned out to be a girl. She was named after her grandmothers, Elizabeth of York and Elizabeth Howard. Elizabeth was a healthy baby and her parents were hopeful of providing her with a brother. After many unsuccessful pregnancies and one stillborn son Henry fell out of love with Anne and started having affairs. Anne was later charged with plotting to murder the king and with twenty-two counts of adultery. After being found guilty and having her marriage annulled and her daughter declared a bastard she was beheaded on May 19, 1536. In 1537, Henry s third wife gave birth to a son named Edward. Elizabeth faded more into the background, but was not neglected. Elizabeth was present at state ceremonies and was regarded as third in line to the throne. Catherine Parr, Henry s sixth and final wife, gave Elizabeth loving attention.
Elizabeth was given a rigorous education in languages, history, rhetoric, and moral philosophy. Her tutors claimed that she had intelligence, an acute mind and a remarkably good memory (Weir 1-14). She was fluent in Greek, Latin, French, and Italian. She studied theology and became a strong Protestant. Her father died in 1547 when she was fourteen. Her brother, Edward, advanced to the throne and became King at the tender age of ten. Catherine Parr married Thomas Seymour. When Catherine died in 1549, Seymour was accused of wishing to marry Elizabeth in order to rule England. Seymour was beheaded for treason. Edward, a Protestant, died in 1553 and was replaced by his older half-sister, Mary. Mary was a Catholic and was determined to restore Catholicism to England even if it took violence. Elizabeth and Mary s relationship had not been easy and soon deteriorated when Mary began to suspect Elizabeth of being a secret Protestant.
After her sister Mary died, Elizabeth took the throne at the age of twenty-five on November 17, 1558. Her character was something of a mystery to most people. She had learned early on to keep her own counsel, control her emotions, and behave discreetly, thus giving the lie to any rumors about her. She could also be vain, willful, dictatorial, temperamental and imperious. Her sense of humor sometimes had a malicious edge to it, but not cruel. The need to economize had made her so careful with money she appeared to be parsimonious, not cautious. Elizabeth had appointed William Cecil, a friend she had known since her early teens, to be her chief advisor. He served Elizabeth for forty years. Elizabeth never married and it was said she refrained from marriage to gratify her lusts with numerous lovers. No one knows if this was true or what exactly her attitude was towards marriage. For much or her reign Elizabeth s subjects prospered economically. Landowners, who already had some wealth, prospered to the greatest extent. Even the lower classes benefited. However this wealth would not last to the end of her reign. There was much hostility between the Spanish and English. The Spanish particularly resented the English interference with their slave trade. By the mid 1580 s it became apparent that a war between England and Spain was inevitable. It was widely anticipated that the Spanish fleet, the Armada, would sail to the Netherlands pick up the large Spanish army fighting there and transport the army to England. The Queen s ships defeated the Armada.
Elizabeth s reign after the defeat of the Armada was beset by troubles. Her control over her country s religious, political and economic problems, as well as her presentation of herself began to show severe strains. Bad harvests, inflation, and unemployment caused a loss of public morale. Corruption and greed led to a popular widespread hatred for Elizabeth. Shortly before she died on March 24, 1603, she designated James VI of Scotland as her successor (Elizabeth I 1-5). Queen Elizabeth was one of England s most powerful rulers and left a life long lasting impression.
Elizabeth s reign also saw a flowering of the arts that would be impossible for almost any other period of English history to match. It was an era of expansion, not just politically but with the literary arts. Edmund Spencer, Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare are great names not only in English literature, but also in world literature.
Edmund Spencer was born in 1552 to a poor family. He went to Cambridge and received his Masters Degree in 1576. By 1578 he was serving as secretary to Bishop John Young in Kent. It is the landscape there that is frequently mentioned in The Shepheardes Calender. The Shepheardes Calender served as propaganda for the Leicester position on the Queen s proposed marriage with Duc d Alencon. Spencer and his friends, Philip Sidney, Edward Dyer, and Fulke Greville formed a literary group called the Areopagus. Spenser loaded his poems with a plethora of religious and political issues (Spencer 1). His works brought to life the simple lives that people led at that time. Most people during this time were not kings and queens but instead were hard working and led normal lives. He is famous for his complex and deep moral vision. He died in 1599 in Westminster and was buried in Westminster Abbey (Jokinen 1).
Christopher Marlowe set the foundation upon which William Shakespeare was to build. He was born in 1564, the same year as Shakespeare. He was educated at Cambridge and received his Master of Arts degree in 1587. From 1587 to 1593 Marlowe wrote and produced his plays. He established himself as a major dramatist with Tamburlaine, Parts I and II, The Jew of Malta, Edward the Second and Doctor Faustus (Biographical Sketch of Christopher Marlowe 1). He is famous for introducing blank verse as the medium for drama (Jokinen 2). His plays were filled with violence, brutality, passion and bloodshed Marlowe s death involved considerable intrigue. He was killed on May 30, 1593 in a tavern brawl, which may have been part of a deliberated plot to assassinate Marlowe.
William Shakespeare is by far the most famous author of all time; his plays are read and seen by more people than the dramas of any other poet dead or alive. Shakespeare was born in 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon. He married Anne Hathaway in 1582. She gave birth to a daughter and then later to twins in 1585. In 1599 the Globe Theater was built. It was here where Shakespeare performed most of his plays and where he received ten percent of the profits. His plays reflected the irony, comedy and drama that people experienced in their own lives (Jokinen 3). His plays often portrayed historical references like the French Civil War in The Comedy of Errors and also the Essex s Irish campaign in Henry V. On April 23, 1616 Shakespeare died and was buried at the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford (Shakespeare Timeline 1-5).
On the whole, this time period endured many changes that left lasting impacts. It was truly an era of expansionism in every possible way. Timeless Universal questions were asked and are still being answered. The era flourished with literature and theatre that we still value today. The reign of Queen Elizabeth I is one of the most celebrated monarchs not only of English history but world history as well.