Elizabethan England: 1568-1603


Elizabeth's Background/ Succession

- Father was Henry VIII and mother was Anne Boleyn- she came from one of the strongest families in England; Henry broke with the Roman Catholic Church to marry Anne; some people believed Elizabeth was therefore illegitimate.

- Elizabeth's brother, Edward VI, succeeded the throne after his father instead of her sister, Mary, as the Succession Law stated that the oldest son succeeded the crown.

- Elizabeth came to the throne after her sister Mary I's reign as she had no children; she ruled for 45 years, between 1559 and 1603, and the Tudor Dynasty ended with her as she never married and had children.

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Tudor Catholics and Protestants

- Catholic Churches were decorated ornately with stained glass windows, gold statues, decorations, crosses and crucifixes; the services and prayer books were in Latin and its leader was the Pope; people were told they would get to Heaven by giving money to the Church.

- Protestant Churches were decorated plainly and simply, with no statues, crucifixes or stained glass- they had wooden crosses; the monarch was head of the Protestant Church and people were told they would get to Heaven by praying to God, reading the Bible, and leading a good life.

- When Henry VIII wanted to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, the Pope refused; Henry ignored him and made himself the Head of the Church of England, closing monasteries, which had lots of wealth, using the money for himself.

- Edward VI was a strong Protestant and removed features such as the rood screen from Churches, wanting everyone to worship together; all Bibles were written in English so everyone could understand it.

- England was made a Catholic country again when Mary I married the Catholic King Phillip of Spain; Churches were redecorated and the Pope controlled religion again; Mary also declared Protestants were heretics, which was a crime punishable by death.

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Problems Elizabeth Faced at her Succession


  • England was at war with France and had no allies
  • she had to decide who to appoint as her advisors
  • her people were living in poverty and liable to rebel
  • people questioned her legitimacy and right to be Queen
  • her government inherited huge debts from Mary I


  • people questioned her ability to rule as she was a woman
  • she was unmarried and had no children
  • she was young and inexperienced


  • she wanted to turn the country's religious policy upside down and re-establish Protestantism as England's official religion
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Elizabethan Parliament

- Elizabeth decided when and the length of Parliament's meetings; she relied on them as she wanted to pass laws or raise taxes, which could help the country's financial problems.

- MPs became more confident at speaking their mind as they had guaranteed freedom from arrest and believed, as they were now better educated, that they should have more freedom of speech; they also believed Elizabeth should get married.

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Elizabeth's Government


  • a mobile operation that went wherever the Queen was made up of 500 nobles, advisors, officials and servants
  • helped Elizabeth be able to be seen by everyone as she was very image-conscious
  • there were too many people in the court, some becoming upset that the Queen wasn't taking their advice, which led to plots against her


  • they were tours of the country the Queen took with her court in the summer
  • they helped her be seen by the whole country
  • they were very expensive and the Queen didn't have a lot of money; also at risk of attacks


  • the Queen and her courtiers were given entertainment, enabling her to meet with nobility and foreign guests
  • they boosted her image as a strong and powerful monarch
  • they were very expensive as Elizabeth wanted to throw the biggest parties
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Elizabeth's Government II


  • Elizabeth showing favouritism by giving important jobs to particular men
  • they helped her reign as everyone was loyal to her and she remained at the heart of the political system
  • some people became upset if Elizabeth didn't take their advice


  • Elizabeth's closest advisors and most trusted people who made the important decision; they made the rules for the country and met every day
  • helped her reign as she didn't have to make the important decisions for the country every day and they worked very efficiently
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Elizabeth's Suitors

- Phillip II of Spain was very wealthy, having a lot of money from the New World; a good match for England as he was friendly with the Pope and had a large army, which would be in alliance with England; he was, however, Catholic so he wanted a Catholic England, which had caused rebellion when he married Mary I, making him very unpopular.

- Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, owned huge estates and had the monopoly over importing sweet wine in England; he was a good match as he was Protestant and had no foreign alliances, making people less likely to be suspicious of him; he was, however, 33 years younger than Elizabeth and reckless.

- Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester had lots of money from trade and due to Elizabeth's generosity; he was Protestant, leaving no arguments over religion, and was Elizabeth's childhood friend; there were, however, rumours that he was in love with Elizabeth when he was still married to Amy Robsart and killed her for that reason, also coming from a family of traitors.

- Francis, Duke of Alencon came from a wealthy family and owned lots of estates but wasn't wealthy himself; he would've brought an alliance with France, against Spain, and didn't mind marrying a Protestant Queen, despite being Catholic himself- Elizabeth also nicknamed him 'Frog'; he was, however, a lot younger than Elizabeth and was Catholic, which made England angry.

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Elizabeth's Opposition to Marriage

- Marriage would've limited her personal freedom

- She would've had to share her power

- Most of her suitors were Catholic whereas she was Protestant

- Despite a foreign marriage bringing a powerful alliance, it might've made enemies with countries who felt rejected

- Her sister's marriage had caused rebellion

- An English husband would've unbalanced the different groups at Court, causing problems

- Her father's marriages had gone badly, with him killing her own mother

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Essex's Rebellion

- Essex was a very impulsive and arrogant man, rivalled with Robert Cecil; he once turned his back on Elizabeth and also made a truce with the Irish leader, knighting some of his army leaders in Ireland, which Elizabeth had forbidden him from doing.

- He also had his sweet wine tax revoked, which put him in a lot of debt.

- After Essex drew his sword at her, Elizabeth hit him and put him under house arrest, removing his titles; he believed that the other privy council members were advising the Queen badly so he got thousands of men to march into London and 'rescue' her; this was seen as an attempt of kidnapping Elizabeth, however, so Essex was executed.

- The rebellion ultimately failed because one of Essex's servants had been secretly working for Cecil and told him about the plot; the followers also abandoned the rebellion and released the hostages.

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Poverty in Elizabethan England

- The population had grown by 40% so there were fewer jobs available, meaning wages decreased; enclosures had been introduced, so not many people were needed to rear the animals, and people were put out of work.

- As landowners had enclosures and didn't grow as many crops, there wasn't enough food for people, which therefore meant the price of food went up as it was in higher demand; the low wages meant people didn't have enough money to buy many goods, including food.

- In the Reformation of the Church, Henry VIII had closed all the monasteries in England, which were a place for the poor to go, meaning there was nowhere for them to get support; the Government was now responsible for the poor, rather than the Church, and it didn't know how to handle the poverty issue.

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Elizabethan Architecture

- The wealthy had many decorative chimneys and huge windows as glass was expensive and showed wealth; inside, there would be elaborate fireplaces, square panelling and ceilings decorated with strapwork.

- They liked symmetrical floorplans and built many of their houses in the shape of 'E's, commemorating Elizabeth; they also had subtle Renaissance influences, such as columns, round-head arches, gables and pediments.

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Elizabethan Theatre

- The first theatres were started in the courtyards of inns and were attended by around 500 people; James Burbage, an actor, constructed the first purpose-built theatre (The Theatre), which was based on the style of the Roman and Greek open-air amphitheatres.

- The Elizabethan theatres were octagonal or circular, with an open-air section, the 'pit' or 'yard', and a stage projected halfway into that section. At one end there was a raised stage surrounded by three tiers of galleries, which had rooves and balconies overlooking the stage.

- These purpose-built theatres had an audience capacity of 1500-3000 people and their plays were performed in the afternoon; wealthy people sat in the balconies in order to avoid pickpockets in the Groundlings, and the women often wore masks to hide their identities.

- William Shakespeare was a favourite of Queen Elizabeth, performing at her court more frequently than any other dramatist at the time; he wrote 154 sonnets, 2 long narrative poems and 38 plays, with his plays giving him unrivalled popularity in Elizabethan England.

- The Government opposed the theatre as they believed it would spread anti-government messages; they put limits on the theatre, censoring what playwrights could write and show.

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