Queen Elizabeth I: The golden age of Tudor England

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Queen Elizabeth I: The golden age of Tudor England

Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, was beheaded when Elizabeth was less than three years old and, like her elder half-sister Mary, she was declared illegitimate (私生児). However, thanks to the efforts of her attendants and governesses, Margaret Bryan, Blanche Parry and Katherine Champernowne, she was not totally neglected. She also received an exceptional education. Champernowne taught the young Elizabeth French, Flemish, Italian and Spanish. At the age of eleven she came under the tutelage (師門) of William Grindal and, after his death in 1548, of Roger Ascham, one of the most famous educators of his age. By the time she was 18, Elizabeth was known as one of the most intelligent and best-educated women in Europe.

Childhood traumas: Elizabeth’s mother died when she was two years and eight months old. She “would…never be able to remember a time when she had not known that her mother had died because her father ordered it” (Alison Plowden, The Young Elizabeth, p. 63). Elizabeth was probably too young to remember much about her mother’s death, but it was all brought back to her when she was eight years old and her father once again beheaded the woman he was married to (Katherine Howard). After her father’s death in 1546 Elizabeth went to live with his widow (Katherine Parr) and her new husband, one Thomas Seymour who, it seems, abused her sexually. There are many reasons why Elizabeth never married, but these experiences must surely have had a profound effect on her.

Dangerous times: Katherine Parr, while she lived, was a powerful protector of the young Elizabeth. On her death in 1548 Elizabeth was in a vulnerable position, particularly since Katherine’s husband continued to show a sexual interest in Elisabeth, this time aiming perhaps to marry her. At the same time he was involved in a plot to replace his brother, Edward Seymour, the Duke of Somerset, as Royal Protector of the boy king, Edward VI. Thomas Seymour was put to death for treason in 1549. Some suspicion fell on Elizabeth, but nothing could be proved against her. Elizabeth was also suspected of involvement in Thomas Wyatt’s rebellion against Queen Mary in 1554. Once again, though, nothing could be proved. Elizabeth survived these years by being cautious and conforming outwardly, even accepting Mary’s demand that she declare herself a Catholic.

Accession to the throne (即位): Mary’s failure to have a child left two main claimants to the English throne after her death. One was Mary Stuart, better known as Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary was the grand-daughter of Henry VIII’s sister Margaret, who had married James Stuart (James IV of Scotland). The other claimant was Elizabeth. Mary was championed by Catholics and Elizabeth by Protestants. Mary was only 17 at the time, and was in France, where she had spent most of her life. Scotland was moving in a Protestant direction, which led to closer ties with England, and France – basically a Catholic country – was busy putting down a Protestant uprising (暴動), so Mary did not get enough support and Elizabeth became queen.

The Elizabethan Settlement: Elizabeth became queen on Mary’s death (November 17, 1558), and was formally crowned in a triumphal ceremony on January 15, 1559. By all accounts, her accession was popular, and she was warmly received by the people. Elizabeth’s first move on becoming queen was to consolidate her position through the Act of Supremacy, by which anyone holding a public position had to accept Elizabeth both as queen and as the head of the Church of England. This was followed by the Act of Uniformity, which established the prayers to be used in church services. Together, these two Acts (which were proposed in 1588 and enacted in 1589) are called the Elizabethan Settlement.

The Elizabethan Church: One major difference between the treatment of religious dissidents (反体制派) under Mary and under Elizabeth is that Mary punished people for heresy (異端), whereas Elizabeth accepted that people could not change what they believed in their hearts and, in theory, allowed people to believe whatever they wanted as long as they remained loyal (忠実). From now on, religious dissidents were punished, not for heresy but for treason (反逆). Richard Hooker’s eight-volume work Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (the first four volumes of which were published in 1593) is considered to be the definitive statement of the theology of the Church of England during Elizabethan times, and still carries weight today.

The marriage question: From the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign, the supposition was that she would marry and the only question was whom she would marry. The main contestant – and probably the man who remained closest to Elizabeth’s affections over the years – was the Earl of Leicester, Robert Dudley. However, there was scandalous gossip over the cause of death of Dudley’s first wife (she fell downstairs, but the rumour was she was pushed so that he would be free to marry Elizabeth) and there was strong opposition among Elizabeth’s advisors. Foreign royals also vied for her hand. Philip II of Spain, Eric XIV of Sweden, Archduke Charles of Austria and Henry and Francis, the Dukes of Anjou in France. Robert Dudley was locked up in the Tower of London at the same time as the young Elizabeth. They remained close all their lives. Philip II of Spain had been husband to Elizabeth’s half-sister, Mary I. He also played an important role in the time of Queen Elizabeth.

Mary, Queen of Scots: One of the biggest problems of Elizabeth’s reign was her Scottish cousin, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots. Mary had been made queen of Scotland in 1542, when she was just one week old, and as a six-month old baby she had been promised in marriage to Henry VIII’s son Edward (later Edward VI). However, pro-Catholic forces broke the match and reasserted Scotland’s ties to France, where she spent most of her childhood. In 1558, she married Prince Francis of France, who became King Frances II the following year and died the year after that. After her husband’s death, Mary decided to return to Scotland, of which she was still queen. This was a dangerous move, since she was Catholic and Scotland was moving towards Protestant reform through the efforts of the Scottish Protestant reformer, John Knox.

Mary then married her cousin Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. In a series of complicated moves, Darnley murdered Mary’s private secretary, an Italian by the name of David Rizzio. Darnley was then himself murdered and, in May of 1567, Mary married James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, the man accused of murdering Darnley. The marriage was deeply unpopular and in July of the same year she was forced to abdicate (退位). She fled to England, leaving the throne of Scotland to her one-year-old son, James VI, her child with Darnley.

Mary expected Elizabeth to help her get back her throne as queen of Scotland, but Elizabeth was more worried about the risk that Mary posed to her own position as queen of England. There were numerous plots to kill Elizabeth and as long as Mary was alive she was the champion of the Catholics, who wanted her as queen instead of Elizabeth. It was too dangerous for Elizabeth to let Mary go free, though she seems to have done her best to treat her well, keeping her in England from 1568 onwards, basically a prisoner, but living in quite luxurious circumstances. Eventually, though, she was implicated in a Catholic plot to kill Elizabeth and condemned to death in 1587. Mary was beheaded on February 8, 1587. The executioner missed her neck on the first stroke, killing her on the second. When he held up her head, her hair fell away and was seen to be a wig.

War with Spain: King Philip II of Spain had been patient with Elizabeth for a long time. He was patient when she refused to marry him. He was patient when English ships attacked and plundered (略奪) Spanish ships returning from the Americas. He was even patient (up to a point) when she made an alliance with Protestant rebels in the Netherlands (at that time under Spanish control). But when Mary was beheaded he finally accepted that there was no chance of putting a Catholic on the throne of England and decided that war was his only option. When the “Invincible Armada” set off to attack England in 1588, Spain was the greatest power in Europe and England was of fairly minor importance. When England, against all the odds, defeated the Spanish Armada the balance of power in Europe shifted. Spain began to lose its grip, and England became steadily stronger.

The last years: Relations with Spain had been worsening since 1585, and hostilities continued until 1604, the year following Elizabeth’s death. In the year after the defeat of the Spanish Armada, Elizabeth sent support to Henry IV, the new Protestant king of France. As in her support for the Protestant rebels of the Netherlands, Elizabeth was unwilling to provide the resources necessary for her soldiers to be successful. Spain supported Ireland, which continued to be a Catholic country and to resist English rule. After one uprising, in 1582, some 30,000 Irish people starved to death, and from 1594 to 1603 (the year of Elizabeth’s death) England and Ireland were in open warfare. Elizabeth’s last years were marked by foreign wars and a decline in her popularity at home.

English Catholics were persecuted (迫害) more severely during these later years, which were also marked by crop failures (不作) and social unrest. Elizabeth suffered a severe personal disappointment when the young and charming Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, a favourite of hers, tried to raise a rebellion against her and was beheaded in 1601. Elizabeth sank into depression the following year and died on March 24, 1603. Arrangements had already been made for James VI of Scotland (the son of Mary, Queen of Scots) to take the throne after she died. Most English people could not remember a time when Elizabeth had not been queen, and her death was an occasion for great national mourning.

Winkers: 1. Elizabeth I. 2. Mary, Queen of Scots. 3. Richard Hooker. 4. Robert Dudley. 5. King Philip II of Spain. 6. Lord Darnley.
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