The Tudor Society

Elizabeth I – The good, the bad and the ugly

In this week's Claire Chats talk, I am continuing my series on the Tudor monarchs, and examining their reigns for "the good, the bad, the ugly", i.e. their achievements and the not-so-good stuff, by looking at the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, who ruled from 1558 to 1603.

Now, I've already handled this topic, in regards to Elizabeth I, back in 2018, so below you will find my previous Claire Chats. But here's a bit about Elizabeth I from my book "Illustrated Kings and Queen of England":

Elizabeth I was born on 7 September 1533 at Greenwich Palace. She was the daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife Anne Boleyn. Her mother was executed for alleged adultery and treason in May 1536 and within two months of her mother's death Parliament had confirmed that Elizabeth's parents' marriage was invalid and that Elizabeth was illegitimate.

In 1547, following her father's death, Elizabeth moved in with her stepmother the Dowager Queen Catherine Parr, and her husband Thomas Seymour. There, she became involved in a scandal with Seymour, who would visit Elizabeth's chamber, dressed only in his night-gown, and proceed to tickle and stroke the teenaged girl. Eventually, Catherine arranged for Elizabeth to go and live with her good friends, Sir Anthony Denny and his wife at Cheshunt. Catherine died in September 1548, following the birth of her daughter, and Seymour was executed in March 1549 for allegedly plotting to control his nephew Edward VI and to remove his brother, Edward Seymour, Lord Protector, from power.

Although Elizabeth supported her half-sister Mary when she claimed the throne in July 1553, she was taken to the Tower of London on 18 March 1554 after being charged with being involved in Wyatt's Rebellion . She was released on 19 May 1554 and placed under house arrest at Woodstock. In April 1555 she was summoned to court to attend Mary I who was, allegedly pregnant. After spending a few months with Mary, she was finally given permission to leave court for Hatfield, her own estate, on the 18th October 1555.

Elizabeth inherited the throne from her childless half-sister on 17 November 1558. She ruled England for 44 years and made a huge difference to the country. England was in a depressing state when she inherited it from Mary I, yet when Elizabeth died England was a strong and prosperous country, a force to be reckoned with, and that is why her reign is known as “The Golden Age”. Her main achievements include defeating the Spanish Armada, following on from her father's work on the navy and turning England into a strong and dominant naval power, defending England from Scotland and actually turning the Scots into a permanent ally, increasing literacy in England, expanding England overseas by encouraging explorers like Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Drake, and Sir John Hawkins to discover new places and form colonies, founding the Church of England as we know it today, raising the status of England abroad, surviving and defeating plots and uprisings against her, helping the poor by her poor laws, ruling England in her own right as Queen without a consort, and promoting the Arts – her love of arts led to theatres being built and great poets and playwrights like Shakespeare, Spenser and Marlow emerging.

Elizabeth I died on 24 March 1603 and was buried at Westminster Abbey in the vault of her grandfather Henry VII. She was moved in 1606 to her present resting place, a tomb in the Lady Chapel of Westminster Abbey which she shares with her half-sister Mary I. King James I spent over £11,000 on Elizabeth I's lavish funeral and he also arranged for a white marble monument to be built. The tomb is inscribed with the words “Consorts both in throne and grave, here we rest two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary, in hope of our resurrection.”

She is known as the Virgin Queen, Gloriana and Good Queen Bess.

Here are the other Claire Chats talks in this series:

Sources and Further Reading

There are 16 comments Go To Comment

  1. R

    I agree the age saw wonderful literature and the arts and theatre as well as the age of discovery, but I don’t see the piracy of Francis Drake as an achievement. Why is Protestant faith more of an achievement than the Catholic Faith?

    Most people were still Catholic and therefore most people

    1. C - Post Author

      I can’t remember saying that piracy was an achievement or saying that the Protestant faith was more of an achievement than the Catholic faith. I know that I did this talk a while ago, but I’m 100% sure that I never said either of those things as I don’t believe that…

      1. C - Post Author

        Just looked at my notes and I talked about exploration being an achievement, and mentioned Drake’s raiding of Spanish treasure, which was obviously an achievement for him and Elizabeth, but I certainly wasn’t suggesting that piracy was good.
        Re Protestantism, I talked about her Religious Settlement, her re-establishment of her Church’s independence and Protestantism, and her desire to have a middle ground, and then I talked about her treatment of Catholics being one of the bad and ugly parts of her reign, so I’m not quite sure what you mean. I talked about Mary taking England back into the Catholic fold as an achievement last week, so I’m a but puzzled about what you mean. It sounds like you’re saying that I think the Protestant faith was more of an achievement than Catholic?? I’ve talked about both being achievements and made no judgement about which was “more of an achievement”, simply stating that Elizabeth was re-establishing, going back to her brother’s policies. I’m not into denominations, so have no judgement either way.

        1. R

          Sorry, now I get it. Yes, each it was an achievement for Mary to bring back the Catholic Faith after it was banished and for Elizabeth it was an achievement to introduce some kind of religious settlement. Yes, I see now. Thanks for clarification.

      2. R

        Hi, no, just wondering really how either of them were if there was no freedom.

        It was just that you said Drake plundered the Spanish in the same sentence as his discoveries. Mind you, I am guessing Elizabeth thought it was wonderful.

        1. C - Post Author

          Well, it was an achievement for him and Elizabeth lol! He brought home lots of treasure!

          1. R

            Did you see that big treasure chest they have in storage in one of the palaces a long time ago on a documentary? Absolutely full of gems and golden items? He brought back several more. They must really have been worth a fortune.

            Even though Francis Drake was a pirate and a slaver in his early days with Hawkins, his circumnavigation was an achievement in itself. He was a bold rogue and heroic. He was a national hero, just the same and I suppose these things were fine by people in England at the time because it was against Spain, then thought of as an enemy, even though we were not at war. I like rogues. I also love how he sailed into Cadiz and burned King Phillips ships in 1586, putting his invasion plans back. Singeing the King of Spain’s Beard it was called. Great stuff, but all very provocative. Elizabeth could not give consent publicly to all these things as they were likely to cause a war, but in private she was very pleased.

            Circumnavigation was very difficult as there was still a lot of uncharted territory and sea; the loss of two ships, mutiny, disease, thirst and loss of men all added to ploughing through mud and jungle and swamps, carrying boats across the land from sea to rivers and from coast to coast and even Drake had his share of problems. Drake was also given orders to bring back treasure more or less any way he could, which of course he did, in great quantities. No wonder the treasury of Queen Elizabeth was full.

          2. C - Post Author

            Yes! I can imagine Elizabeth’s delight with the bounty!
            All monarchs seem to have turned a blind eye to piracy or gave consent but not in a public way. I’m always amazed by just how far people managed to travel in those days, although it makes me feel sick just thnking about it!

  2. R

    Most people would disagree that enforcement of the Protestant Reformation was an achievement. Catholics were fined, imprisoned and killed, so her religious settlement failed. Yes, she did try a middle ground but she failed because both Puritans and Catholic traditional families could not agree. I also agree she had a stable and peaceful reign for the main but she relied on a police state, secret police to extend her authority, the weather played a big part in destruction of the Spanish Amarda, her sailors used fire ships and it was a great but lucky victory, she also had to put down two great northern rebellions and was constantly in conflict in Ireland.

    She had the usual bad famines and she found herself in conflict with those who wanted to get rid of her and she made several great speeches in order to get out of tricky situations. She had a lot of young lovers who admired her and controlled the men who wanted her crown very well, with great skill. Her diplomatic skills and language skills achieved many links with far more exotic places, Russia and Turkey as well as France and Spain and her Italian letters are well recorded. However, her failure to marry was also very costly and it was her choice of James right at the end of her life saved England from Civil War.

    A golden age? No, not for most people outside of the middle and noble classes and not for active traditional Catholic families in the North and East Midlands. Certainly not for the Irish.

    For those of the Reformation, yes, those involved in the Arts, yes, for discovery and privateers, yes, for planting colonies, not a golden age but one of adventure and hard work and sometimes tragedy, but they were inspired and investment helped them and for those who wanted to take an economic risk or entrepreneurs it was a great period. For absolutely free publication, again, no, censorship was in place.

  3. M

    Claire, I recently read The Temptation Of Elizabeth Tudor (and a subtitle I can’t remember right now), by Elizabeth Norton. This was really interesting. I had little no knowledge of this part of Elizabeth’s life and it explained it well. Thanks for such a detailed video. I enjoyed the whole series, too! Michelle t

    1. R

      This period in Elizabeth’s life is a very difficult one to document and if only half of what her servants testified to is true, an abusive period as well. Elizabeth was 14,_legally the age of sexual consent and marriage (don’t ask: the times were different) which made her a target for men of ambition as a very rich royal bride. Her stepfather, Thomas Seymour allegedly had the hots for her as she blossomed into young womanhood in Sudely Castle, living with her stepmother, Catherine Parr, who was very fond of her. He had actually proposed to her and Lady Mary before proposing to Queen Catherine and he doesn’t appear to have been fussy on who lined his influence with the crown. While being apparently in love with CP Tom Seymour was trying to seduce Lady Elizabeth and he made her an offer of marriage after his wife died. Elizabeth Norton goes into a lot of detail about this controversial period of Elizabeth ‘s life but much of the evidence was taken from the testimony of her two servants who were interrogated about an alleged plot involving Tom Seymour and his relationship with Elizabeth, aka his intentions to marry her without the consent of the Council. This testimony included a shocking litany of what we would call grooming and attempted sexual assaults. However, we have to be cautious given that the accusations were made under threats of torture and prison and may be no more than slanderous gossip. We just can’t really be certain but Elizabeth did testify to Tom Seymour making an offer of marriage but said she wouldn’t move to accept without the consent of the Council. If she was in any way groomed by him, it helps to explain her aversion to marriage during her long reign.

      1. M

        Yes. I do feel there was certain pressure on her that was truly abuse. And I was shocked at Kat Astley ‘s complicity in it, not fully accepting the excuse that she fell under the spell of Seymour’s charms. It was an eye opening book. I truly felt for her. And regardless of other valid reasons for her not to marry, I truly believe that Seymour business is a big reason why she didn’t.

        1. R

          It would be a truly disturbing, Tom Seymour, a man in his what 40s, 50s, coming into the room before she was up and sitting on her bed in his night shirt: the sight of him would be truly alarming. Then coming in when she was alone and tickling her and touching her, even in a playful manner, is very uncalled for behaviour. He was really inappropriate and if Kat was in on it as well; how could she treat her own favourite stepdaughter in such a way?

          Katherine Parr had invited Elizabeth to stay with her because she genuinely cared about her young ward and had a hand in her fully integration back into the centre of her father’s family. She was very much involved with her education and was more than a stepmother, she was a mentor and friend. I believe that she was genuinely shocked when she saw Tom, her husband whom she loved kissing Elizabeth and that he found her attractive. I really don’t believe the story of her assault on her stepdaughter in the garden, that was servants gossiping. I do have a problem in that Katherine did nothing to discourage things sooner and only sent Elizabeth away after the mutual kissing. She was trying to protect her and we have to remember that KP was pregnant when much of these allegations happened. The book is fascinating but the evidence isn’t backed up by anything independent of the interrogation that Blanche Parry and the man servants and Kat Ashley endured. The evidence is even contradictory. Elizabeth made no actual complaints and there are no independent witnesses. It all has to be read with caution. I am not saying it wasn’t going on, just that the evidence isn’t verifiable. If it was, though, it must have really shaken Elizabeth up, frightened her and definitely had a part to play in her decision not to marry.

        2. C - Post Author

          I think Katherine Ashley encouraged Seymour at the beginning, with the idea of marriage, but she was very much concerned about his subsequent behaviour and reprimanded him. She was just a servant, though.

    2. C - Post Author

      It was an awful time in Elizabeth’s life and it must have really affected her. The Seymour scandal is actually the subject of an article I’ve written for the November edition of Tudor Life. I get such a chill down my spine reading the confessions of Katherine Ashley and Thomas Parry about what Seymour did. It’s so disturbing.

      1. R

        It’s awful. Can you imagine waking up and there’s this much older guy sitting at the end of your bed in his night shirt, his bare legs showing?

        Totally frightening. It would affect her or anyone. What a real creep!

        A father who had beheaded her mum before she was three, four more stepmothers, another one beheaded, the loss of Katherine Parr who had been a real mother and mentor to her, a creepy stepfather, the possibility of grooming behaviour, the danger she faced when implicated in Mary’s reign of being imprisonment and fear of death; it’s a wonder Elizabeth remained sane. She couldn’t marry the one man she did love, Robert Dudley as he was married and unsuitable and although she entertained many suitors, I am sure all of this put her in a determined mind to be independent and not marry. It would certainly put me off and deeply affect me.

        Tom Seymour was after any woman who would keep him in power. Although Katherine Parr was the woman he had a relationship with and who was in love with him before she married King Henry, apparently he asked two others to marry him first, including Elizabeth. He moved on to KP after he was denied. It didn’t take him very long to move for Elizabeth again and Kat Ashley warned him: the Council warned him, but he may also have had ambitions beyond Elizabeth. I know one must not read too much into the fact he acquired the wardship of Lady Jane Grey, but with this reputation, perhaps he thought of marriage to her as well. He sounds like a power hungry madman; well that may be too strong and if the testimony is correct against him, a sex maniac. The testimony really is uncomfortable reading: it gave me the creeps, although it’s also something to be cautious about; this period certainly affected Elizabeth, which points to something inappropriate happening, something she never recovered from.

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Elizabeth I – The good, the bad and the ugly