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Elizabeth I

Ruins of Kenilworth Castle
Kenilworth Castle ©Shutterstock / DAvid Hughes

Elizabeth I is looked back on as one of the greatest monarchs in English history.

During her reign she turned the bankrupt nation of England into a supreme naval power; established the English Protestant Church; overcame the military threats from Spain and France, fought her own family battles and had her own cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, executed after claiming her guilty of treason.

Black and White print of Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I

The Tudor dynasty ended with Elizabeth's death but it ended on a high note, at the pinnacle of what is known as the Golden Age.

Elizabeth was the second daughter of Henry VIII and she was born at the Palace of Placentia in Greenwich in 1533. Her mother was Anne Boleyn who was executed just 2½ years later to make way for wife number three, Jane Seymour.

Elizabeth was never expected to succeed to the throne as her mother's alleged betrayal made Elizabeth illegitimate. On her father's death, her half-brother Edward VI was crowned king at the age of nine, but he died just six years later.

Queen Mary I, her elder half-sister then ruled for five years. Seeing Elizabeth as a threat to her sovereignty, Mary had Elizabeth imprisoned in The Tower of London.

Upon Mary's death in 1558, Elizabeth was crowned Queen Elizabeth I in a ceremony at Westminster Abbey. She was 25 years old and her protestant faith and evident love of her people endeared her to her subjects.

Throughout her reign she managed to be decisive and wise, using her diplomacy to avoid many problems. She chose her Privy Council advisors carefully - Lord Burghley, Sir Francis Walsingham and Sir Christopher Hatton who was her Lord Chancellor. Incidentally, he built Holdenby House, the largest private house in England at the time, to honour his Queen and refused to live in it until she had visited.

Although Elizabeth lived in London, the Loseley Estate was built specifically for her to stay in and has some exquisite architectural features.

During the Elizabethan Era, literature and English drama blossomed under the penmanship of William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe. Elizabeth I is known to have attended plays at the original Shakespeare's Globe Theatre.

The seafaring prowess of England flourished under Francis Drake, who made constant voyages to the Caribbean and also made a successful raid on the Spanish port of Cadiz. In retaliation, the Spanish Armada - a huge fleet of ships - set sail for England but was outmaneuvered and soundly defeated.

This led to one of Elizabeth's most famous addresses at Tilbury when she inspected her troops. The conflict however was not over and brought new difficulties in her reign, not least the tax burden of the cost of war.

Elizabeth I was known to have many admirers and suitors including Robert Dudley and Francis Duke of Alencon, but she never married, eventually being nicknamed the Virgin Queen. She was fond of Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester and gave him Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire which she visited several times.

Another of her favourite haunts was Cobham Hall, in Kent and Hedingham, which was built by the de Vere family in 1140.

Elizabeth died in 1603 at Richmond Palace at the age of 70. Her coffin was transported down the River Thames and taken to Westminster Abbey where her reign had begun 45 years earlier.

As she died without an heir, she was succeeded by James I, the son of Mary Queen of Scots, and direct descendant of Henry VII. The kingdoms of Scotland and England were finally united under one crown and the Stuart dynasty began.

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