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The Elizabethan era was marked by a great cultural, political, and economic flowering of England. The defeat in 1588 of the Spanish Armada, considered one of the leading military achievements of Queen Elizabeth's long and prosperous reign, marked the emergence of England as a major military (naval) power. Nonetheless, despite the magnificence of the court and the great achievements in the arts, life was far from easy.
First, Elizabeth's succession was far from peaceful, and court intrigue was rife (and often violent). Henry VIII had created the Church of England as the established (Protestant) church of the land, and begun the process of creating an English liturgy (the Book of Common Prayer) and Bible (completed with the Authorized Version of King James), but under "Bloody Mary" England had returned to Roman Catholicism and many of the leading founders of the Church of England, including Cranmer, Latimer, and Ridley. According to Foxe, before being burned at the stake, Latimer is held to have said: "Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out." When Elizabeth I came to the throne, the Protestants hunted down "recusant" Catholics. Religious tolerance, and many of the personal liberties we now take for granted, were unknown.
Elizabethan culture is magnificent, with plays of Shakespeare and Marlowe, poets such as Lyly and Campion, and composers such as Tallis and Byrd. Life for ordinary people was precarious, with infectious diseases, drought, and famine never being far away.
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