Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Elizabethan Fact Of The Day: Protecting the Queen

Queen Mary I had reigned directly before her sister Elizabeth I for a brief and disastrous five years, bequeathing her a bankrupt Treasury, along with a myriad of other problems. One of the ways Elizabeth cut costs and thus expedited replenishing the Treasury was by choosing not to keep a standing army during her reign. The costs of employing a standing army were astronomical, as the powers on the Continent who kept them had demonstrated. Standing army's with nothing to do also bred anxiety in the population, especially when they caused disturbances of the peace, as they were known to do. The immediate safety of England fell to the local magistrates, who were entrusted with ensuring peace within their own districts (Palliser). And the overall safety of Elizabeth and her realm would be ensured by a network of spy's and informants, overseen by Elizabeth's "spymaster" Sir Francis Walsingham.

A detail of a 16th century portrait of Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth's "spymaster".Walsingham's ability to protect the Queen was never doubted, although sometimes she greatly disliked his methods. Elizabeth nicknamed him her "Moor". Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Queen Elizabeth prided herself on being accessible to all of her subjects; her practice of walking amongst throngs of people when she exited and entered buildings, often stopping to speak with them, was something that made her Councillors fear for her, and they often told her so. On Elizabeth's progresses throughout her realm, which we know she very much enjoyed, she would always stop and speak with villagers and tradesmen, without a retinue of guards to protect her. Like her mother Queen Anne Boleyn had done so many years before, Good Queen Bess would distribute coins in exchange for poesy's of meadow flowers from village children (Denny).

An Elizabethan Maundy, a miniature by female court painter Leevina Teerlinc depicting Queen Elizabeth I meeting with her subjects. Image public domain.
Elizabeth had good faith in her subjects, and they in her. These were her people, who along with God she believed had preserved her and guided her to become Queen of England. Unlike her father, whose paranoia in the latter half of his reign compelled him to order the locks of his personal apartments changed every time he moved his court to a new castle, Elizabeth would remain tangible to her people up until her death at age 69 in 1603.

Queen Elizabeth used her image (clothes, appearance of perpetual youth due to heavy makeup) and the good faith she demonstrated with her people  to build nationalism and loyalty to the crown. This "Cult of Gloriana" made Elizabeth semi-divine, and thus her people invincible.

A painting of Queen Elizabeth en route to the wedding of Lady Anne Russell, c.1600. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.