Thursday, January 12, 2012

How Queen Elizabeth I Ended Debt in England

With all the debt crisis’s going on in countries around the world, including my own, it seemed fitting to address the debt crisis in England when Elizabeth came to the throne, and how she solved the problem. Enjoy!

By a combination of remaining at peace with England’s enemies (even when tensions were high), making the most of her kingdom’s natural resources, and keeping state expenses at a minimum (for example, by choosing not to fund a standing army), Queen Elizabeth I was able to replenish the treasury that had been destroyed by the previous Tudor regimes, most notably during her sister Mary’s reign. Queen Mary had used her power to make England more or less a principality of Spain, and had depleted its treasury for Philip and his military whims. Her own subjects had protested against her for her choice of husband, and the country’s coffers paid dearly for her mistake.

The marriage portrait of Mary I of England and Phillip II of Spain. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons Image public domain.

Elizabethan Crown from 1601. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons Image public domain.

            By 1574, Queen Elizabeth and her financial policy had made England debt-free! The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Walter Mildmay, had addressed parliament in 1566, praising Elizabeth’s success, saying that she had “most carefully and providently delivered the kingdom from a great and weighty debt…begun four years at least before the death of Henry VIII” (quoted in Palliser, 108)
Elizabeth I presiding over Parliament c. 1580-1600. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons Image public domain.

            In the second half of her reign, Queen Elizabeth borrowed less than half as much money as she had been forced out of necessity to do in the first. Taxes, loans, and selling property and monopolies, helped her to replenish her countries finances. While the selling of monopolies (such as a monopoly over wine imports, for example) was not always popular (because sometimes the subjects who gained the monopoly were seen as unworthy, like the Earl of Essex) Elizabeth’s practices worked, and in the case of Essex and others, when she saw her error she revoked the privilege.
Elizabethan Crown from 1602. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons Image public domain.

            Queen Elizabeth’s solving of the debt crisis in England is just one of the many jewels in her crown of achievement. 

Palliser, D.M. The Age of Elizabeth: England Under the Later Tudor's. Print.


  1. The current UK government has a lot to learn from Elizabeth. Pity UK ministers would not know a good example it it was slapping them on the backside

  2. Hello Madame DeMerteuil! Thank you so much for visiting "Being Bess" and commenting!
    I could not agree with you more! Though American, I have a keen interest in all things British, past and present, and I do follow the current political events in the U.K.
    What you said could also be applied to the administration in my own country, which is currently in the midst of a significant financial crisis and recession.
    Those who are interested in lessons from Elizabeth I's administration, and how they can be applied to today's governments and businesses should read "Elizabeth I, CEO" by Alan Axelrod.

  3. During Elizabeth's reign the debt increased from £227,000 to £350,000. Far from "ending debt" she contributed to it and stored up problems for the future by not reforming the financial structure of the country.

    1. @Scott Moore - I listed my source above for the information on the debt crisis in England, D.M. Palliser's The Age of Elizabeth: England Under the Later Tudors. The book is an economic study of Elizabethan England.