March is Women’s History Month. There are many who made their mark in history and one of my favorites is Elizabeth I of England (1533–1603, reigned from 1558 to death).
Elizabeth’s greatness lies in two parts. The first that she survives to become Queen, and second that she guided England from the disastrous state she inherited to a wealthy and stable country.
As the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth was born a princess, but as Henry progressed through his six wives, she was declared illegitimate, shifted from pillar to post and eventually reinstated third in the succession after her younger half-brother Edward, her older half-sister Mary (who also went through the legitimate/illegitimate back and forth).
Nine year old Edward VI succeed at Henry’s death and he pushed the English church further into Protestantism. To maintain the change in religion started under Henry, Edward and his advisers changed the order of succession leaving out both Mary and Elizabeth. He left the throne to Lady Jane Grey, a great-grand daughter of Henry VII and Edward’s cousin. However on Edward’s death, the country, however, supported Mary Tudor.
Unfortunately, Mary tried to bring England back into the Catholic fold. While Mary was queen there were several rebellions as protest against the reinstatement of Catholicism or against the marriage to Philip of Spain. As the Protestant heir to the throne, Elizabeth was the focus of any attempt to end Mary’s reign. Mary had Elizabeth in and out of the tower or under house arrest with these rebellions.
Her early childhood and her confinements taught Elizabeth to keep her innermost thoughts and feelings to herself, and she continued to do so throughout her queen ship. She managed to survive a stint of house arrest as she was a focus point for those against Mary’s policies. Then with Mary’s death, Elizabeth came to the throne.
The second part of the Elizabeth’s greatness was her forty-four year reign that brought stability to England.
At the time of her ascension Scottish preacher John Knox published “The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Reign of Women”, predicting disaster in France with the regency of Catherine de ’Medici, in Scotland with Mary, Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I in England.
France was racked by religious wars under Catherine and her sons, Mary was forced from Scotland and lived as a prisoner in England. Only Elizabeth and England prospered. She became the Supreme Governor of the English Protestant church, saying she did not want to make windows into men’s souls, only requiring their outward conformity. This evolved into today’s Church of England.
Early in her reign she refused to marry, for to do so would tie England to another country. Her predecessor Mary had married Philip of Spain which tied England to the Spanish war with the Low Countries. This resulted in the loss of Calais, the last English possession on the continent. Elizabeth was pressed by her advisers to marry and produce an heir. Although she was often ‘engaged’ to various European royalty, these were more in the area of an alliances that helped the country. She often spoke of England as her child.
Other major events under her reign included the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, which let England rule the seas and develop her colonies in the Americas. This was the time of the Elizabethan Renaissance as under her reign prosperity and stability bought forth a burst of literary figures such as William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlow and Edmund Spenser.
Not too bad for a women born, grew up and came to reign in a man’s world.
I’ll be giving a workshop at the California Dreamin’ Conference http://caldreaminwritersconf.org/ titled STEP BACK IN TIME: Creating Realistic Historical Heroines which brought Elizabeth I to mind.
Terry Irene Blain was lucky enough to grow up in a large Midwestern family with a rich oral tradition. As a child she heard stories of ancestor’s adventures with Indians, wild life, weather and frontier life in general. So she naturally gravitated to the study of history completing a BA and MA in History and taught History at the college level. Married to a US Navy sailor, now retired, she’s had the chance to live in various parts of the United States as well as travel to foreign places such as Hong Kong, Australia, England and Scotland. She currently writes contemporary as well as historical romance based in the American west.