On 7th September 1533, Anne Boleyn gave birth to King Henry VIII’s second child at Greenwich Palace. Disappointingly for him, it was another girl.
Elizabeth’s childhood was a somewhat difficult and complex one after losing her mother at the tender age of two. Elizabeth and her half-sister, Mary, were declared illegitimate as Henry VIII sought to create space for his male heir, Edward, after his third wife, Jane Seymour gave birth to him in 1537.
When King Henry VIII died in 1547, he was succeeded by his nine-year-old son, King Edward VI. During this time, Elizabeth was raised as ‘normally’ as she could be, receiving tutoring like any other Royal child. Elizabeth spent time under the care of her step-mother Catherine Parr, who took charge and oversaw much of her tutoring, hiring scholars such as William Grindal and Roger Ascham.
Edward VI died prematurely in 1553, leaving his Crown to his young cousin, Lady Jane Grey. After a brief reign of nine days, Elizabeth’s half-sister, Mary, rightfully took back her throne and became the next legitimate heir, as was stated in Henry VIII’s last will in testament. Life for Elizabeth during Mary’s reign was somewhat difficult. Mary was a devout Roman Catholic while Elizabeth was Protestant, although Elizabeth attempted to hide cleverly her religion and go along with the country’s change to Catholicism to save herself from persecution.
Elizabeth ascended the throne in 1558 after Queen Mary died childlessly. Her accession was not free from problems, however, as she inherited a realm that was still at war with France. There were also tensions between different religions throughout the country after Mary had attempted to restore Roman Catholicism to England.
Queen Elizabeth, I went on to rule for 44 years and her reign saw her preserve England’s borders through wars and religious and political turmoil. Some may claim that the defeat of the Spanish Armada was Elizabeth’s greatest success though one could argue that the entirety of the Elizabethan Era was a success. Elizabeth’s time on the throne saw playwrights such as William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe prosper; architecture flourished, and an English church was established. Even in the 20th century Elizabeth was a national symbol of resistance to foreign threats, giving support to her name of ‘Good Queen Bess’.
Although ‘Gloriana’ died over 400 years ago her legacy lives on. One has to agree with our 16th century forbears that the Elizabethan Era really was a ‘Golden Age’; and we should know, as we are experiencing one now ourselves and isn’t it great?!