Biography of Elizabeth I of England

 The reign of Elizabeth I of England, prototype of the authoritarian monarch of the Five Hundred, has a historical interest of the first magnitude because it was the foundation of the greatness of England and laid the foundations of the British preponderance in Europe, which would reach its zenith in the 18th centuries. and XIX. But the protagonist of this golden age, who we know by the name of "Elizabethan era", stands out before us for her no less unique private life, full of enigmas, dramatic moments, dangers and extravagances. Elizabeth I, sovereign of overwhelming character and talent, felt an almost pathological aversion to marriage and wanted to be remembered as the "Virgin Queen", although of her many virtues, virginity was the only one that was absolutely questionable.

Elizabeth I of England



After repudiating the first of his six wives, the devout Spanish Catherine of Aragon, in 1533 King Henry VIII of England married his mistress, the haughty and ambitious Ana Bolena, who was in an advanced stage of pregnancy. This long-awaited offspring had to solve the problem derived from the lack of male descent of the monarch, to whom Catherine of Aragon had only given one daughter, Maria, who would reign as Maria I. In time, the new marriage had not been recognized by the Church. of Rome and Henry VIII had just been excommunicated for his sinful rebellion, the forthcoming and long-awaited birth of the prince filled all hearts with joy and that of the king in the first place. All that remained was for the sovereign to fulfill her mission by giving birth to a living and healthy son who was to be called Enrique, like his father. On September 7, 1533, the happy event took place, but it turned out that Anne Boleyn gave birth not to a boy but to a girl, the future Elizabeth I of England.

The monarch suffered a terrible disappointment. The fact of having given birth to a female considerably weakened the queen's situation, even more so when the disenchanted father was forced to definitively break with Rome and declare the independence of the Anglican Church, all for a prince who had never been conceived. When two years later Ana Bolena gave birth to a dead son, her fate was sealed: she was accused of adultery, put on trial and beheaded at the age of twenty-nine. His daughter Isabel was declared a bastard and was left in the same situation as her half-sister María, daughter of Henry VIII's first marriage with Catherine of Aragon and seventeen years older than her. Both were dispossessed of their legitimate hereditary rights to the throne of England.

A troubled family

Anne Boleyn was replaced on the thalamus and the throne by the sweet Joan Seymour, the only wife of Henry VIII who gave him a male heir, the future King Edward VI. With the death of Juana Seymour, the grotesque Ana de Cleves and the frivolous Catherine Howard successively wore the crown, being finally relieved by a lady (twice a widow at thirty) who was to be for the decrepit monarch, already in the last stage of her life, more nurse than wife: the kind and kind Catherine Parr. In 1543, shortly before the king's sixth wedding, the bastardy decrees of Mary and Elizabeth were revoked and both were called to court; Catherine Parr's wishes had for the old sovereign rank of law and she wanted those girls, daughters after all of her husband and therefore her responsibility, to be in his company.

Elizabeth was ten years old when she returned to Greenwich, where the court was born and installed. She was a beautiful girl, awake, red-haired like all Tudors and slim like Anne Boleyn. There, from the hands of mentors undoubtedly close to Protestantism, he received a careful education that led him to have a solid humanistic training. He read Greek and Latin and spoke perfectly the main European languages ​​of the time: French, Italian and Spanish. Catherine Parr was like a mother to her until the death of Henry VIII, who before his expiration officially arranged the order of succession: first Eduardo, her male heir; then María, the daughter of Catalina de Aragón; finally Isabel, daughter of his second wife. Catherine Parr had the funerals rushed and fifteen days later she married Thomas Seymour, brother of the late Queen Juana, whose love she had renounced three years earlier at the call of duty and royalty. This hasty wedding to Seymour, a reputed seducer, was the first and only folly committed by the prudent and discreet Catherine Parr in her entire life.

Thomas seymour

Thomas Seymour had an ambition to be king and had studied all his possibilities in detail. For him, Catherine Parr was nothing more than a stepping stone to the throne. Since Edward VI was a sickly boy and his immediate heir, Maria Tudor, was also in delicate health, he set out to seduce young Elizabeth, whose vigor heralded a long life and whose head seemed the strongest candidate for girdling the crown in a near future. The sweet words, the kisses and the apparently paternal caresses did not take long to make Isabel fall in love; one day, Catalina Parr surprised her husband and stepdaughter hugging; the princess was confined in Hatfield, north London, and the sensual familiarities of the libertine began to circulate through the mouths of the courtiers.

Catherine Parr died in September 1548 and the English began to wonder if she had not been "helped" to travel to the other world by her unfaithful husband, who was soon accused of "maintaining relations with Her Grace Princess Elizabeth" and of " conspire to marry her, since, as sister of His Majesty Eduardo, she had the possibility of succeeding him on the throne. " The subsequent process found Seymour's bones in the gloomy Tower of London, the prelude to a brief but definitive visit to the scaffold; The fifteen-year-old princess, fallen from grace and about to follow in the footsteps of her ambitious lover, defended herself with unusual energy from the slanders that accused her of carrying a son of Seymour in her womb and, displaying a regal pride and intelligence far superior to his years, he emerged unscathed from the scandal. On March 20, 1549, Thomas Seymour's head was separated from his body by the executioner; Upon hearing this, the precocious Isabel limited herself to saying coldly: "A man of great ingenuity and poor judgment has died."

For the first time, a quality had been shown that the future queen retained throughout her life: an exceptional talent for coping with problems and getting out of the most difficult situations. While her dislike for marriage seemed to stem from the tragic Seymour episode, Isabel also learned from the event the art of quick counterattack and clever concealment, essential to surviving those turbulent days.

Mary I

When Edward died in 1553, Elizabeth supported Mary I in front of Juana Gray, Henry VIII's great-granddaughter who was proclaimed queen on July 10, 1553, shortly after being arrested and sentenced to death in the process for the conspiracy of Thomas Wyatt, a movement aimed at preventing the marriage of María I with her nephew Felipe (the future Felipe II of Spain), in order to avoid the foreseeable ultra-Catholic reaction of the queen. During the investigation of this case, Isabel was imprisoned for some months in the Tower of London, since her inclination for the Protestant doctrine made her suspicious in the eyes of her stepsister, despite the support that Isabel had given her.

The reign of Mary I of England was unfortunate. Her persecution against the Protestants earned her to be known as María la Sanguinaria; and his alliance with Spain outraged the English, mainly because it led to a disastrous war against France in which England lost Calais and the economic evolution of the country was quite unfavorable. In 1558 Maria died without descendants and, according to the testament of Enrique VIII, Elizabeth was to succeed her. The Catholic party once again used its arguments about the illegitimacy of the heir and supported the claims of her cousin Mary Stuart of Scotland. However, the errors of the previous reign and the well-known indifference of Isabel in the religious controversy caused that it ended up being accepted willingly by both Protestants and the majority of Catholics. His young, beautiful and healthy appearance also influenced his acceptance, which was in marked contrast to that of his two stepbrothers: one sickly, the other aged and bitter.

The Elizabethan era

Daughter and sister of kings, used to facing adversity and staying away from conspiracies, Elizabeth I occupied the throne at the age of twenty-five. She was the Queen of England and she was going to be intransigent with everything related to the rights of the crown, but she would continue to be prudent, calculating and tolerant in everything else, with no other objective than to preserve her interests and those of her country, which he lived in full religious, intellectual and economic turmoil and had an exacerbated nationalist sentiment. One of his first acts of government was to appoint Sir William Cecil, a man from the gentry and who shared the prudence and tolerance of the queen, as first secretary of state. Cecil maintained the full confidence of Isabel I during forty years; when he died, his position as counselor was filled by his son.

Elizabeth I before Parliament

In the religious field, Elizabeth I reestablished Anglicanism and placed it in the middle between the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic tradition. In the political field the most important threat came from Scotland, where Mary I Stuart, Catholic and Francophile, proclaimed her rights to the throne of England. In 1560, the Scottish Calvinists asked Elizabeth for help, who saw the opportunity to weaken her adversary, and in 1568, when the Scottish queen had to take refuge in England, she had her locked up in prison. On the other hand, Isabel I indirectly helped the Protestants of France and the Netherlands, while English sailors and merchants became aware of the Atlantic possibilities and faced the Spanish monopoly in America.

The clash between England and Spain was, therefore, inevitable, the old ally in the time of María I. While Felipe II of Spain gave credit to his ambassador in London and to María Estuardo herself, who claimed that in England there were conditions for a rebellion Catholic Church that would give the throne to María Estuardo, Queen Elizabeth and her adviser William Cecil supported privateering actions against Spanish interests, promoted the construction of a modern naval fleet and tried to delay the confrontation between the two kingdoms. After being the center of several unsuccessful conspiracies, in 1587 María Estuardo was sentenced to death and executed. Philip II, having lost the trump card of the replacement of Elizabeth by Mary, meticulously prepared and announced from the rooftops the invasion of England.

In 1588, after Francis Drake attacked the Galician coasts to avoid the concentrations of ships, 130 warships and more than 30 accompanying boats, manned by 8,000 sailors and almost 20,000 soldiers, went to sea: it was the Invincible Armada, to which later, according to the plans, the 100,000 men that Alexander Farnese had in Flanders had to support. The Spaniards raised a battle to boarding and a landing; the English, on the other hand, had worked to perfect the war at sea. Its 200 ships, lighter and more maneuverable, were manned by 12,000 sailors, and its cannons had a greater range than those of the Spanish. All this, combined with the fury of the elements (since the Spanish ships were not the best suited to withstand the storms of the ocean) led to the English victory and the Spanish disaster.

The Queen in front of the Invincible Armada

Queen Elizabeth I, who had personally harangued her troops, was considered the personification of the English triumph and increased the high degree of rapport she already had with her people. After this culminating moment of 1588, the last years of the reign of Isabel I appear quite gray; In them, only the queen's concern to put order in the skinny English finances stands out; the Irish rebellion, soon put down; and the growth of Protestant radicalism.

Despite the fact that one of the constants of England in the time of Elizabeth I was dynastic conflicts, the queen never married. Many theories have been developed about this fact, from those that attribute their single status to physical malformations to those that seek psychological explanations derived from their childhood traumas. In any case, Isabel I carried out several marital negotiations, in all of which she played the diplomatic card to the bottom to obtain advantages for her country. On the other hand, she had numerous favorites, from her great squire Lord Robert Dudley to Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, twenty years her junior and who paid with his life for his attempt to mix political influence with love affairs, something that Elizabeth I never allowed the men to whom he granted his favors.

The humanistic training of Elizabeth I led her to be interested in the important manifestations that occurred during her reign in the field of art. The so-called "Elizabethan Renaissance" manifested itself in architecture, in music and especially in literature, with writers such as John Lyly, Christopher Marlowe and mainly William Shakespeare, authentic creators of English national literature. As for the economy, during his reign the development of modern England began. His religious policy allowed numerous refugees fleeing repression in the Netherlands to settle in his domains, which, together with government protectionism, boosted the cloth industry. The growth of commercial activity and the rivalry with Spain resulted in a great development of the naval industry.

Towards the year 1598, Isabel seemed, in the words of a scathing courtier, "a gaunt, jeweled mummy." Bald, withered and grotesque, she pretended to still be to her subjects the embodiment of perfect virtue, justice, and beauty. Little by little he sank into the shadows that prelude death. The agony was pathetic. Although her body was covered with ulcers, she continued to order that she be dressed luxuriously and adorned with her ostentatious jewels, and she did not stop smiling, showing her scrawny gums every time an ambitious and flattering courtier wooed her with a poorly disguised grin of disgust in his lips. He died on March 24, 1603, after appointing James I of England and VI of Scotland, son of Mary I Stuart, as his successor, which began the process of unification of the two kingdoms. His last gesture was to place on his chest the hand in which he wore the coronation ring, testimony of the union, stronger than marriage, of the Virgin Queen with her kingdom and with her beloved people.

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Chronology of Elizabeth I of England