The life of Elizabeth I was anything but expected.
On 7 September 1533, Henry VIII was preparing to announce the birth of a son – his long-awaited male heir – when a second daughter, Elizabeth, arrived instead. Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, soon fell out of favour with her husband and the young princess’s life changed forever when the king executed her mother on 19 May 1536.
Living in a world dictated by the whims of her father, Elizabeth could never be too certain of her position –or her life. But despite all this, she rose to become known as one of England’s greatest rulers, a legacy that continues today. Here are 10 facts about this extraordinary monarch.
1. She was multilingual
Elizabeth was highly educated by numerous governesses and tutors. Alongside calligraphy and music, she also learnt languages and was fluent in English, French, Latin and Italian.
Henry’s final wife, Catherine Parr, took an interest in Elizabeth’s education. Under Catherine’s care, Elizabeth learned the art of public speaking – something that was highly unusual for women at that time. Elizabeth, however, excelled at it and would go on to become known for her captivating and inspiring speeches.
2. She was nearly executed by her half-sister
Following the sudden death of Elizabeth’s younger brother, Edward VI, in 1553, no one was quite certain who would succeed him. Both Elizabeth and her elder sister, Mary, each had supporters for their claim to the throne. After Mary, a strident Catholic, ascended to the throne in July 1553, Protestants continually rebelled.
In 1554, Mary imprisoned Elizabeth for two months following Wyatt’s Rebellion, which sought to overthrow the queen. Elizabeth escaped execution by assuring Mary that she did not know anything about the rebellion. Mary kept her sister under house arrest for nearly a year before recalling her to court in 1555.
3. She was a patron of the arts
A major factor in Elizabeth I’s reign becoming known as England’s “Golden Age” were the major artistic works being produced at that time. Elizabeth enjoyed music and theatre and in 1583 created Queen Elizabeth’s Men – a royal troupe that went on to entertain her court frequently.
Meanwhile, playwrights William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe and composers Thomas Tallis and William Byrd were all entertaining audiences during Elizabeth’s reign.
4. She was concerned with her public image
During her reign, Elizabeth took 25 royal progresses throughout England. This helped to endear the Queen to her people. Elizabeth refused to ride in a carriage during these progresses, and, instead, rode on horseback.
5. She executed her cousin
English Roman Catholics wanted a Catholic monarch on the throne and many rebellions during Elizabeth’s reign were attempts to make the country Catholic again. When support turned to her Catholic cousin Mary, Queen of Scotland, Elizabeth acted to defend her position, imprisoning her rival.
After keeping Mary imprisoned for 19 years, Elizabeth eventually had her cousin executed at Fotheringhay Castle on 8 February 1587.
6. She inspired her men to defeat one of the greatest naval powers of the time
Elizabeth gave a rousing speech at Tilbury in 1588, right before her men set out to meet the Spanish Armada.
I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and a king of England, too, and think foul scorn that… any prince of Europe should dare to invade the borders of my realm. … I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.
Following this speech, her men destroyed half of the Spanish Armada.
7. She helped develop the Church of England
Following Henry VIII’s split from the Roman Catholic Church, Elizabeth was raised Protestant and went on to rule as a Protestant queen, also serving as Supremer Governor of the Church of England. During her reign, she introduced a new Book of Common Prayer and had an English translation of the Bible published.
8. She defied parliament and never married
Elizabeth is famously known as the “Virgin Queen”. Yet in 1566, parliament attempted to force her to marry. Elizabeth refused, declaring that she had married her country and had no intention of marrying a man in the future.
The queen was true to her word and never did marry, though rumours circulated about an affair between Elizabeth and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester.
9. Sir Walter Raleigh named an American colony after her
During the reign of Elizabeth, European nations sent explorers across the Atlantic Ocean in search of land and riches. In 1585, Sir Walter Raleigh reached the shores of North America and named the colony Virginia after his Virgin Queen.
10. She was the last Tudor monarch
Succession problems plagued nearly every Tudor monarch. Choosing to remain unmarried, Elizabeth had no children to succeed her. After her death in 1603, she was succeeded by James VI of Scotland – son of her executed cousin Mary – who began the Stuart dynasty.