Elizabeth's Government


Conciliar Government Under Elizabeth

Often been thought that factional rivalries (particularly Cecil and Dudley) effected government by Stephen Alford and John Guy say Dudley and Cecil were able to agree on most things except religion as Cecil was very radical.

Structure of government stopped factional rivalry getting out of hand during the first stages. No single minister had control over the patronage, many of the councillors held significant offices, councillors wives and daughters often served in Elizabeth's Privy Chamber.

John Guy: keynote of the Elizabethan system was homogeneity which contributed to a stability reinforced by numberous family connections.

Relatives of the Boleyns were given senior Crown services as well as the relatives of Elizabeth's stepmother Catherine Parr. Family connections transcended religious differences and even Dudley's appointment to the council didn't upset the equilibrium.

Cecil and Dudley did argue over the Queen's potential marriage but managed to cooperated over most other issues. Stephen Alford: they were able to work together most of the time wtih a common purpose. In the final analysis, they needed each other.

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The Elizabethan Privy Council

Since the fall of Thomas Cromwell in 1540, the Privy Council operated as a corporate board: letters and warrants were signed by the councillors collectively. John Guy: there was a collective responsibility.

The Privy Council had a fixed membership. It could issue proclamations and administrative orders in the name of the monarch and it could govern by State paper through the issue of letters and warrants signed by the board of the Privy Council.

During Elizabeth's reign, the nature of the Privy Council and the role of individual councillors changed. Increasingly, Cecil saw himself as a public servant or a servant of the State rather than as a personal servant of the monarch.

It is a mistake to focus on the Privy Council as an institution. Elizabeth mainly relied on individuals, regardless of their place in court.

Simon Adams and Natalie Mears played down the Council's role as an institution.

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The Functions of Parilament

Parliament had to be called to allow for the creation of law, to grant taxation and to advise the monarch. In Elizabeth's reign, Parliament was only called 3 times.

Haigh: Elizabeth saw MPs as little boys- sometimes unruly, usually a nuisance and always a waste of an intelligent woman's time.

The management of the Privy Council was much more important that the parliament. Most councillors were also MPs and the Speaker was always a member of the Privy Council. Cecil was important to the parliament's deliberations before his raise to peerage and was assisted by the council's 'floor managers' Sir Francis Knowllys and later Sir Christopher Hatton.

Sometimes the Queen adopted a much less subtle approach to her manipulation of parliament. In 1563 and 1566 she restricted herself to outburts of irritation after the Commons tried to debate her marriage and succession. Her wrath against specific MPs was easily predicted and Privy Council made sure William Strickland was removed from the Commons after he introduced a bill to reform the Book of Common Prayer in 1571.

Sometimes Elizabeth's intervention seemed trivial. In 1563 she prevented the passing of a bill dealing with the expenses caused by sheriffs as she thought it was part of the royal prerogative.

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Problems Elizabeth Faced at Her Succession

Elizabeth was an inexperienced Queen and many saw her as weak.

England was weak compared to France and Spain, who greatly threatened national security.

Mary's attempts to colonise Ireland caused unrest, they already didn't accept Henry VIII as the Head of the Church.

Most people lived in the countryside while population and prices began rising.

Trade with Antwerp had broken down in 1550 so many spinners and weavers were unemployed.

Elizabeth had to find a way to end the war with Spain and many saw the loss of Calais a national disgrace.

England was religiously divided. There were many Protestants in London and the South-East but Catholicism wa strong in the North.

Her succession was disputed. Catholics saw her as illegitimate and France supported Mary Queen of Scot's claim to the throne.

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Establishment of Elizabeth's Authority

Her accession was initially smoothed by people who could have been her enemies. On 17th November, Nicholas Heath (Mary's Lord Chancellor) announced Mary's death and proclaimed Elizabeth's succession. He had no legal right to do so.

Elizabeth was cautious, remaining at Hatfield for 6 days. On 20th November she appointed Sir William Cecil as Principle Secretary and made Robert Dudley her Master of the Horse.

Elizabeth kept Mary's councillors guessing about her intentions and considering their chance of retaining some royal favour. 

Thomas Parry was made Comptroller of the Household.

Elizabeth set her corononation date as 15th of January.

She moved into the Tower of London on 28th of November for ten days, and then moved to Whitehall for Christmas.

The only Marian bishop who was willing to coronate her was Owen Olgethorpe, Bishop of Carlisle.

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Relationships between Elizabeth and her Ministers

John Guy: Elizabeth controled her own policy more than any other Tudor. She knew her mind and her instict to rule was infallible.

Elizabeth was intelligent, politically skilled, sophisticated and determined to retain the royal prerogative.

William Cecil was a key member of the council along with a few of his close associates Sir Nicholas Bacon and Francis Russell, Earl of Bedford.

Some of the aristocrats were part of the first council that served under Mary.

The Kenninghall Group, who were close to Mary were excluded from the council.

Lord Paget was forced out of the council

Cecil realised that the council couldn't compromise its own allies and it needed to make a working relationship with members of the conservative aristocracy.

Some members of the conservative aristocracy may have regarded Cecil with suspicion as he was for religious reforms.

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William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley

Cecil owed his original prominance in court to the Duke of Somerset and was briefly imprisonned after the coup against Somerset.

Declined a public office during the reign of Mary I and waited for Elizabeth's acession.

Elizabeth had complete faith in Cecil's loyalty.

Elizabeth's first royal appointment was to make Cecil her Principle Secretary.

He remained by her side for 40 years and was politcally active until shortly before his death.

Cecil was strongly conservative and a workaholic.

Saw Mary Queen of Scots as a great threat to Elizabeth and did everything in his power to have Mary executed.

Strongly influenced Elizabeth's politics and supported intervention in Scotland and was infuriated with the policies of King Henry IV.

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The Act of Supremacy, 1559

Predictable Aspects

Restored the royal supremacy in the Church. Papal supremacy rejected.

Henrician Reformation Legislation restored while Heresey Laws were repealed.

Communication in Both Kinds were re-established. The act outlined an Oath of Supremacy that clergymen and Church Officials had to take. Revived powers of royal visitation of Churches.

Less Predictable Aspects

Allowed the Crown to appoint a commissioner to vist, reform, order, correct and amend errors found in Church.

Described Queen as the Supreme Governor- interpretated as a reflection of the misogynistic attitudes of the time.

Most Marian bishops couldn't take the Oath of Supremacy and 1/4 of all bishops were deprived of their posts.

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Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester

The youngest son of John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland but managed to survive Northumberland's downfall.

He was an old, childhood friend of Elizabeth. He was accused of over familiarity with the Queen after he publically wiped his sweat with her handkerchief at a jousting match.

He was a strict Protestant in regards to religion and foreign policy.

While there was an occasionally fractious rivalry between Cecil and Dudley, they managed to work well together when they needed to.

When Elizabeth was ill in 1562, she asked the Privy Council to make him Protector of the Realm after her death.

Elizabeth once called Dudley "another ourself". 

Leicester died in 1588, Elizabeth was so upset she locked herself in her room for days until Burghley had the boor broken down.

Starkey: Leicester was the closest thing Elizabeth ever had to a lover

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The Ideas and Policies of Elizabeth

Elizabeth clearly believed that she entitled to rule the kingdom directly from the begining of her reign.

In 1558, the Spanish Ambassador, the Count of Feria wrote that Elizabeth was more feared than Mary and gave orders "as absolutely as her father did".

Elizabeth often invoked her father's memory, in 1559 she said "we hope to rule, govern and keep out our realm in good justice, peace and rest, in like wise as the king my father held you in."

Elizabeth DIDN'T want to associate herself with the actions of her grandfather Henry VII.

She took an informed interest in decision-making processes and was determined to protect the prerogative powers of the Crown, meaning she insisted on making the most important decisions herself.

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Mary Stewart, Queen of Scots

Mary was originally married to Francis II of France but was forced to return to Scotland after his death in 1560. She then married Lord Darnley, a grandson of a Tudor with a distant claim to the throne.

In 1567, Darnley was found dead and Mary married the main suspect Earl of Bothwell. The Scottish lords raised a coup against her and Mary was forced to abdicate and imprisonned at Loch Leven. Mary escaped in 1568 but fled to England.

At first, Elizabeth wanted to meet Mary and help her regain her throne. The Privy Council knew helping Mary would affect England's relations to the Scottish Lords and that Mary posed a threat to Elizabeth's throne.

At the York Conference 10th Januaryb 1569, Moray (earl of bothwell) and Mary were declared not innocent but not guilty. Mary refused to answer the charges against her making her guilty by implication and Elizabeth kept Mary under virtual house arrest without doing anything decisive.

Elizabeth refused to act against Mary after the 1571 Ridolfi Plot but the Babington Plot 1586, meant action was inevitable. Most of the Catholic Plots wanted to replace Elizabeth with Mary.

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Was Mary a Major Threat to English Security?

Mary was involved in the Babington Plot 1586, which wanted to assassinate Elizabeth. She was willing to go to any extreme.

Elizabeth couldn't act rashly against Mary. She had the time to gain support from other Catholic countries and become involved in plots.

Mary had connections to France and Spain who were both powerful enough to invade England. With Anglo-Spanish relations so sour, this was a real risk.

The French Guise's and Phillip II of Spain were distracted by their own issues. Some of the plots against Elizabeth had required their support but they didn't become involved. Phillip II didn't want to place the francophile Mary on the English throne.

English Catholics were mainly loyal to Elizabeth, despite their private doubts. They would not have risen in support of Mary.

The Privy Council (especially Cecil) knew Mary was a threat and did everything in their power to have her executed in 1587.

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Marriage and Sucession

Succession was a big concern for ministers who wanted Elizabeth to marry. Elizabeth saw it as the royal prerogative so didn't want to discuss it in the Council.

She really wanted to marry Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. 

Simon Adam: Elizabeth had an emotional dependency on Dudley

Idea of Elizabeth marrying Dudley horrified Cecil as it would erode his power and cause too many political risks. 

Simon Adams: it is conventionally argued that the winter of 1560-1561 was the moment when Elizabeth might have married Leicester, but it can equally be suggested that the nature of Amy Dudley's death actually provided her with an excuse not to do so.

A significant suitor was Prince Erik of Sweden. He was Protestant and there was little fear of Sweden influencing English policy, However, there was very little to gain for an alliance with Sweden.

House of Commons also took an interest in succession as they pressured Elizabeth to marry.

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The Crisis of 1562

In Autumn 1562, Elizabeth caught smallpox and it seemed unlikely that Elizabeth would survive. This caused a sucession crisis. 

Privy Council worried that civil war, foreign invasion and religious strife could occur if Elizabeth died. 

No consensus as to who should be named Elizabeth's successor. Lady Catherine Grey had been disgraced and no one wanted Mary Queen of Scots as Queen. 

Elizabeth wanted Leicester to be her Protector of the Realm but Cecil was alarmed. 

When Elizabeth got better in January 1563, Parliament still pressured her to marry. In Autmn 1563, she entered marriage negotiations with Archduke Charles but this broke down after Emperor Ferdinand's death in 1564 and then totally because of religion.

In 1566, the succession was raised again but Leicester and Pembroke were banished from the Presence Chambver. Elizabeth thought Parliament had no right to talk about marriage without her blessing.

Christopher Haigh: it was never Elizabeth's intention to marry.

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The Role of Ministers 1571-88

William Cecil remained the most influential of Elizabeth's ministers. However, in 1572 he was raised to peerage as Lord Burghley and Lord Treasure which changed his status. At one level, it meant he didn't have the cope with the bureaucratic pressures of being Principle Secretary. He still played an important role coordinatining the Privy Council, managing Parliament and supervising the Exchequer and the Court of Wards.

As Lord Treasure, Burghley was conservative which payed off in the mid-1580s when wars became more expensive. His failure to reform the Crown's system of raising revenue would cause serious problems later on but this wasn't entirely his fault.

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The Privy Council in 1570

Reshaping of the Privy Council took place in the 1570's. The influence of conservative aristocracy decreased after Norfolk's execution and the death of Lord Treasurer Winchester. Firmly Protestant councillors were appointed: Sir Francis Walsingham, Sir Walter Mildmay, Sir Ralph Sadler, Sir Thomas Smith, Sir Henry Sidney and the Earl of Leicester's brother the Earl of Warwick. Balanced with appointment of conservatives Sir James Crofts and Sir Christopher Hatton.

Dispite changes, effectiveness of the Privy Council also changed little. John Guy & Penry Willaims: the council offered cohesive decision making.

Simon Adams: in the 1570s, the Council showed a political homogeneity that had been previously unknown.

Religious conservatives were dealt a severe blow after Norfolk's death and were marginalised in decision making. There were disputes in foreign policy, whether the Queen should marry into France and whether England would intervene in the Netherlands.

Most importantly, there was a breakdown in relations between Elizabeth and her Privy Council brought about by the execution of Mary Queen of Scots in 1587.

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The 1570 Problem of Succession

The issue of succession didn't disappear after the controversies of the 1560's. There was no attempt to risk angering the Queen and while the Queen seemed healthy, the matter could be put aside.

It became clear that the Queen would not be able to produce a child after she turned 40 in 1573. Burghley tried to exclude Mary QOS from the succession and her son James VI of Scotland was a mystery at this time.

The Privy Council was worried about having a child as Elizabeth's successor after the failure of Edward VI. The list of other potential heirs hadn't changed, appart from Lady Catherine Grey who was dispised by Elizabeth and had died in 1568. 

The succession became more critical in 1579 when Elizabeth began contemplating marriage to Francois, Duke of Anjou. Elizabeth was declared able to produce a child, much to the alarm of the Privy Council. No one wanted Elizabeth to die in childbirth leaving a French controlled child as king. 

The failure of the marriage negotiations meant this small possibility was removed but the short term relief couldn't disguise the long term succession problem.

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Relations between Crown and Parliament

The 1570's saw no reduction in the skills of parliamentary management. The Queen demonstrated a subtle approach that contrasted the way she treated the MPs. Relationships were positive as evidenced by Elizabeth's dispelling of Parliament for Christmas 1584. 

The Queen rarely had to adopt a harsh approach and the House sometimes took action against MPs who stood against her. Peter Wentworth was arrested when his upholding of freedom of speech in the House of Commons was seen as an infringement on royal prerogative. The Queen decided to arrest Anthony Cope and his 4 supporters in 1587 for discussing the 'Bill and Book' outside of parliament.

At a less personal level, Elizabeth prevented the passage of bills she disliked. In 1587, Elizabeth carefully examined Cope's bill before rejecting it, before it was discussed in parliament. Sometimes it wasn't until after the bill had passed both Houses that she stood against them. Across her reign, she refused to pass over 60 bills, which 15 being rejected in 1585 alone.

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The Quality of Elizabeth's Government 1588-1603

The death of the Earl of Leicester in September 1588 was a massive blow for Elizabeth.

Many ministers died in quick succession: Ralph Sadler 1587, Sir Walter Mildmay 1589, Sir Francis Walsingham & James Croft & the Earl of Warwick & the Earl of Shrewsbury all in 1590. Sir Christopher Hatton in 1591. By 1597, the Council only had 11 members.

Burghley quickly secured the appointment of his son Robert Cecil to the Privy Council, who quickly took up his ill father's adm administrative burden. This angered the Earl of Essex, stepson to the Earl of Leicester and a favourite of the Queen.

Paul Hammer: the dearth of aristocrats suggested that Elizabeth's council no longer included the most important English families.

War with Spain stretched England's scarce resources to the limit and it was difficult to achieve the strategic objectives. 

Factional rivalry between Essex and Cecil almost destroyed the effectiveness of the government. Essex managed to recover his relationship with Elizabeth despite many troubles. In the 1590's Essex became paranoid about Cecil, clouding his judgement; paranoia was justified in 1600.

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Sir Robert Cecil

A conscientious bureaucrat

Able to exploit the power and influence of his father William Cecil, Lord Burghley to enhance his career.

His influence in court was enchanced through his appointments as the Secretary of State in 1596 and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in 1597.

Cecil was mostly supported by the new generation of councillors like Buckhurst, Howard of Effingham and Heneage.

Initially, he was much less hostile towards Essex than Essex was to him.

Elected to the House of Commons in 1584 and was promoted to the Privy Council in August 1591. 

The downfall of the Earl of Essex in 1601 left Cecil in a position of near autonomous dominance in government. By 1601 he was a regular corespondant of James VI and helped ease the succession.

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Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex

A solider and a man of action. He dispised Cecil, who was neither.

Resented Cecil's influence over the patronage and exaggerated Cecil's animosity towards him.

Quarrelled with Elizabeth over the anti-Spanish strategy and over the appointments in 1596. 

Lost influence with the Queen on account of his impulsive personality, tendency to disobey orders and his failure in Ireland. The situation was made worse by the serious financial problems and the increasing paranoia of the period.

Some of his key followers like Francis Bacon, Anthong Bacon and William Knollys lost faith in his ability in order to further their own career. Essex still retained some support from some disillusioned aristocrats like the Earl of Southampton and the Earl of Rutland.

He was disgraced when he burst into the Queen's bedchamber after his return from Ireland, sparking off the events that led to his downfall.

After riding into London on 8th February 1601 to secure an audience with Elizabeth, Cecil managed to charge and execute him for treason.

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Essex's Faction

Essex viewed the increase of Burghley and Cecil's power as alarming, even though there is no evidence they were trying to form their own faction. Essex wanted to emulate the role of his stepfather Leicester (Robert Dudley) and was convinced Cecil sought to stop him.

Essex's supporters included the brothers Anthony and Francis Bacon, who had switched loyalty to Essex because they felt they were getting no encouragement from the uncle Burghley, who may have seen them as rivals to Cecil. 

Essex built up a following but he had no way to really satisfy their ambitions. Elizabeth favoured him as a courtier but didn't want to politically advance him. When he tried to appoint Francis Bacon as Attorney-General in 1593, he was directly refused by the Queen. 

It was rumoured that in some quarters, even by Bacon's mother, that Essex had only damaged his cause by pushing for Bacon's appointment. 

The Queen had no intention of being bullied into appointing Bacon who annoyed her. Even though Essex gained a short term advantage by causing the downfall of the physician Dr Lopez, this was reversed when Cecil was appointed Secretary of State while Essex was in Cadiz.

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Increasing Cecil-Essex Tensions

Antagonism between Cecil and Essex increased after the Queen sent Cecil to make an inventory of the Cadiz plunder. 

It was clear, even to the Essex faction, that Cecil and Burghley were winning. Some of Essex's followers knew he was doing little to help himself.. Essex was unable to win any offices for his followers, most notably Sir Robert Sidney when there were numerous positions available after hte death of Lord Cobham.

Essex political failure coincided with financial failure after his gamble of a 1597 expedition had failed. He abandoned the Crown's objectives for his own gain, leading to more rocky relations with Elizabeth. Essex was only tempted back to court after he was made Earl Marshal. 

Essex supported a fullscale war with Spain, which neither Cecil or the Queen wanted. Elizabeth was also more suspicious of Essex's attempts to control court. 

In 1597, Sir George Carew (a Cecil supporter) was appointed Deputy in Ireland. When Essex found out, he turned his back on the Queen, she slapped him and he automatically went for his sword. Essex left the court in a rage and took 3 months to apologise. Essex hopes of succeeding Burghley were in ruins.

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The Crown and Parliament, 1588-1603

The management of Parliament became more difficult for Elizabeth in the last decade of her reign. It was unfortunate that this decline in Parliament coincided with financial uncertainty and bad harvests.

Many of Elizabeth's best councillors had died, leaving her men who became less active as age took its toll. A.G.R.Smith: Elizabeth's new councillors were mediocrities.

Problems with Parliament weren't evident during the session of February and March 1589 as they had been successful against the Spanish Armada and so agreed to continue funding the war.

When the parliament met again in 1593, many of the traditional methods of parliamentary management were tried but with little success.

In 1593, Sir Edward Coke was named the Crown's Speaker after an election. 

One disruptive event was the imprisonment of Peter Wentworth in Spring 1593 after he argued with Elizabeth about her succession. Elizabeth was infuriated by the attack on her royal prerogative. 

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The Monopolies Issue

Ill feelings between the Crown and Parliament increasing in 1597 as a series of poor harvests, increased food priced, starvation, increased taxes to pay for wars and a continued conflict with Spain led to the issue of patents of monopoly (people's rights to control selling of certain products). 

The reign continued and financal troubles made it more dependent on the sale of monopolies. Faced with criticism from MPs, the Crown was forced to examine the existing patents. This quietened the criticisms in 1597-1598 but the Crown granted more patents so the issue was discussed in 1601. 

Despite quarrells, Penry Williams said Parliament had an impressive record of achievement in 1597. The new Poor Law was prompted by fear of law and order during a time of socio-economic troubles. By 1601, Parliament became more resentful about the monopolies that was the most fractious issue of Elizabeth's government, according to John Guy.

For the first time, Elizabeth's critics controlled Parliamentary action and the MPs got their way. The scale of complaint was so big that the Crown decided to compromise to save the subsidy bill. Unpopular monopolies were revoked and antagonism was reduced after Elizabeth's flattering 'Golden Speech' a few days later. Williams: wounds were healed but councilors were scared.

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The Essex Rebellion

Essex deserted his Irish post in September 1599, returned to the court and burst into the Queen's bedchamber. Suspended from the Privy Council and his positions as the Earl Marshall and the Master of Ordnance. His response was disasterous.

Essex was accused of treason after John Hayward dedicated his critical book about Richard II to him. Charges were absurd: accused of conspiring with the Pope and Phillip II to restore the Netherlands to Spanish control and place Phillip on the throne. Essex's position was worsened by his finacial situation. Francis Bacon and Sir William Knollys deserted him. 

Essex held Cecil responsible for his downfall and begun a coup, making potentially treasonable contact with James VI. Shortly after Christmas 1600, Essex had planned an armed coup against his enemies. He would secure the Palace of Whitehall, storm the Tower and purge the Privy Council of Cecil's influence. Details of the plan were discovered and Essex's revised plan to stage a demonstration in London was a fiasco. 

300 of Essex supporters gathered on 8 February. Four Privy Councillors were sent to ask him to return to court for a royal audience but Essex held them hostage. He had little support. Essex returned he found the Councillors had been released. Cecil ensured Whitehall was fortified and Essex forced to surrender. Essex executed but some of his key supporters were spared.

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Continuing Doubts Over the Succession

All late-Tudor politicians were obsessed about Elizabeth's succession. This couldn' be discussed too openly because it infringed on the royal prerogative. 

Elizabethan politicians wanted to remain in royal favour once Elizabeth's successor was on the throne. Essex had been in talks with James VI of Scotland. After Essex's death, Cecil was in regular contact with James and ensures his untrouble succession. 

Public discussion began in 1595 after a publication about Elizabeth's succession was published in the Netherlands. The book discussed who might be Elizabeth's replacement. 12 people had a claim.

In the end, few doubted James VI would be Elizabeth's successor. James dealt with the matter carefully and Cecil smoothed his path to the throne. Right up to the end, Elizabeth refused to name a sucessor. Nethertheless, her authority had vanished and plans for the succession were in place before her death. 

Elizabeth's final illness was evident in February 1603. Her decline was gradual which meant Cecil could organise a smooth succession. On March 17th, The Earl of Northumberland told James that Elizabeth was going to die. She finally died on March 24th. 

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