Saturday, March 24, 2012

On this Day in Elizabethan History: The Death of Queen Elizabeth I, and the End of the Elizabethan Era

The Funeral Procession of Queen Elizabeth I, 1603. Elizabeth's funeral effigy is now part of the Westminster Abbey effigy collection.
On this Day in Elizabethan History, March 24th 1603, Queen Elizabeth I passed away at the age of 69. When Elizabeth knew she was dying, she refused to take to her sick bed, despite the urging of her councillors that she should rest. Elizabeth was recorded as saying, "if you knew what awaited me in my bed, you would not go and lie down either." Queen Elizabeth would leave this world only when she deemed it acceptable to do so herself, and through the sheer willpower that she had become famous for, Elizabeth remained standing for weeks on end with very little food or water to sustain herself as she contemplated the many episodes of her life. When Elizabeth finally laid her head down on her pillow, she had Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester's last letter with her, and supposedly she called out his name as she was dying.

"His Last Letter" as Elizabeth titled it in her own hand; this was the last letter she had received from her lifelong friend and only love, Robert Dudley when he was away from her recovering from his infirmities. Dudley thanks Elizabeth for the medicine that she has sent him, informing her that the tonic's are much better than anything else he has been given. He inquires as to her health, and jokes "I humbly kiss your foot".Any places in the letter where two o's are together, Dudley doodled them into eyes, a nod to Elizabeth's nickname for him. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

After 44 years on the throne of England, Elizabeth had earned herself the nicknames of "Gloriana" and "Good Queen Bess" because of the fame, fortune, peace and prosperity she had brought to her realm.  The last of the Tudor's, Elizabeth was also undoubtedly the greatest.

Elizabeth inherited a country on the brink of disaster in 1558. Her legitimacy and thus her right to rule was in question by those who did not wish to see her succeed. Despite the odds being against her, Elizabeth got straight to work solving the many problems of the country was to serve.

The Coronation Portrait of Elizabeth I. This portrait depicts Elizabeth at 25, holding the orb and scepter of a sovereign of England, and clad in an ermine-trimmed robe (ermine being a symbol of royalty). It is a 17th century copy of a 16th century original. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
Queen Elizabeth selected men whom she knew she could trust to give her honest council and a variety of opinions, to serve in the various positions of her government. No one doubts that Elizabeth was an expert in politics and statesmanship. As queen she would always make the final decisions on matters of state using her own sound judgement. Elizabeth would weigh the input of her council against her own beliefs, and sometimes prudently stall making a decision up until the eleventh hour (this tactic being much to her council's frustration); but for all her procrastination her choices were always right in the end. 

Elizabeth's adoption of a moderate religious policy appeased the majority of her subjects, both Catholic and Protestant, and allowed them to see themselves unified as English first, rather than divided by religious faction. Elizabeth was able to keep her people from the countless religious and civil wars that were destroying the rest of Europe.

Queen Elizabeth stimulated a bleak economy by encouraging at-home trade and industry, and as a result England would become mostly independent for the first time during her reign. Elizabeth's practice of granting religious asylum to individuals and families with special skills would only contribute to England's economic strength. Toward the end of her reign, Elizabeth had effectively solved the debt crisis that had been left to her by her predecessors.

The Clopton Portrait of Elizabeth I, c. 1560-1565.

Queen Elizabeth's value of education originated from a childhood where learning was her only solace; she mastered the history of the world, seven languages, translation, religion, science and astronomy, along with the more traditional pursuits of musical composition, dance and singing. This enjoyment and mastery of her education motivated Elizabeth to become a benefactress of both Cambridge and Oxford University; in fact, she would visit the students there personally many times throughout her reign. During the Elizabethan era, an alarming amount of grammar schools were established, which gave educational opportunities to more of England's people than ever before. In Ireland, Queen Elizabeth would found Trinity College, which is still in operation to this day.

The embroidered book cover of Elizabeth's translation of The Mirror of the Sinful Soul. This translation of the French text into English (and the book cover itself) was done by the Princess Elizabeth as a gift to her stepmother Queen Katherine Parr.

Queen Elizabeth Playing the Lute, a miniature attributed to Nicholas Hilliard, c. 1580. This miniature was commissioned by the Queen's cousin Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon. Elizabeth composed many original pieces of music, and she was praised for her skill at playing the virginals. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
Queen Elizabeth and her courtiers brought England into the "Golden Age", promoting theatre, music, art, and literature. Shakespeare, Marlowe, Spenser, Johnson, Byrd, Hilliard, Teerlinc, Lanyer, and the Sidney's are just some of the many remarkable talents that hailed from Elizabeth's court. Elizabeth made England a superpower, using her "Sea Dogs" to explore, plunder, settle and trade in the New World. The dominant power in the 16th century had been Spain up until the 30th year of Elizabeth's reign, when the Elizabethan Navy destroyed the Spanish Armada when it dared to invade England in 1588. With the founding of the East India Trading Company, Elizabeth was able to leave her mark on the next two centuries of England as Empire.

The Armada Portrait, attributed to George Gower. This painting was commissioned to commemorate the English's defeat of the Spanish Armada. Elizabeth is shown with her hand resting on a globe, symbolizing that she is a world power. The windows behind her reveal episodes of the English Navy and the Armada's battle at sea. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
 There never has been a woman nor a monarch like that of Queen Elizabeth I. Elizabeth survived a significant amount of childhood trauma and evaded death twice at the hands of her own family to become the greatest ruler of the Western World. Never has there been a love affair like that of Elizabeth Tudor and her people. Elizabeth sacrificed her chance of having a husband and her own children to be married to England, and to become a mother to her people. And I know that in the end she never regretted that decision.

Eliza Triumphans, a woodcut print from 1589 celebrating Queen Elizabeth as the savior of the English people. Attributed to William Rogers. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

"And though you have had and may have many mightier and wiser Princes sitting in this seat, you never had nor shall have any that will love you better."-the words of Elizabeth Regina, from The Golden Speech, delivered to her last Parliament in 1601.

Queen Elizabeth Presiding Over Parliament, c. 1580-1600.Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Elizabeth Tudor, Queen of England lives on in the heart's and minds of all who study her. I am one of those people. I will never know enough or understand enough about this fascinating, multidimensional woman and icon to ever be satisfied. If I can get one child to fall in love with Elizabeth as I did at the age of 12, I will have done what I set out to do.

Rest in Peace, Elizabeth Tudor, Queen of England. Your legend lives on...