Elizabeth the Great (1958), by Elizabeth Jenkins, is a biography of Queen Elizabeth I of England, ‘‘Good Queen Bess,’’ who reigned from 1558 until her death in 1603.
Elizabeth I was born in 1533, the daughter of King Henry VIII of England and Anne Boleyn. When Elizabeth was only two years old, her father ordered the beheading of her mother. When Henry VIII died in 1547 he was succeeded by his son, Elizabeth’s half-brother, the nine-year-old Edward VI. After Edward VI died in 1553, Elizabeth’s halfsister became Queen Mary I of England. Mary, who was Catholic, earned the name Bloody Mary for her persecution of Protestants during her reign. Because Elizabeth was Protestant and because Mary feared Elizabeth might plot against her life, Elizabeth was imprisoned throughout most of Mary’s reign.
Upon Mary I’s death in 1558, Elizabeth was named Queen of England. Elizabeth was masterful at creating a public image for herself that appealed to the emotions of her citizens and allayed their concerns about being ruled by a female monarch. Elizabeth’s refusal to marry, and therefore to bear heirs, was a significant point of conflict between herself and her Parliament throughout her reign. Meanwhile, she maintained a close companionship through much of her life with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, whom she also refused to marry.
Throughout her reign, Elizabeth was threatened by various plots to murder her and place the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots on the English throne. A number of conspiracies against her life and crown were uncovered, resulting in many executions for treason, including the execution of Mary Queen of Scots in 1587. However, upon Elizabeth’s death, King James VI of Scotland, the son of Mary Queen of Scots, was named as her successor, making him King James I of England.
Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn
Elizabeth I was born in 1533, the daughter of King Henry VIII of England and Anne Boleyn, his second wife. Henry’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, had born him a daughter, Mary. When Elizabeth was two years old, Henry VIII ordered the beheading of Anne Boleyn, although Elizabeth did not learn of this fact until years later. Henry VIII’s third wife, Jane Seymour, was the mother of his only surviving son, Edward. Henry VIII later married, in succession, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and Catherine Parr.
Although all three children were of different mothers, Mary, Elizabeth, and Edward were raised together and generally treated well by their various stepmothers. Important early influences on Elizabeth were her governess, Mrs. Ashley, and her private tutor, the scholar Roger Ascham. Ascham was impressed with Elizabeth’s intelligence, eagerness for learning, and facility with learning foreign languages.
Reign of King Edward VI
In 1547, when Elizabeth was fourteen, Henry VIII died, leaving the nine-year old Edward as heir to the throne. Edward Seymour, duke of Somerset, was named Protector to the boy king. Soon afterward, Thomas Seymour (a brother of Edward Seymour), married Henry VIII’s widow, Catherine Parr. When Edward became king, Elizabeth went to live with Catherine Parr (her stepmother) and Thomas Seymour. During this time, Thomas Seymour developed a pattern of sexually harassing the teenaged Elizabeth. After his wife died, Seymour hoped to marry Elizabeth in order to gain political power. However, in 1549, Thomas Seymour was arrested for various political intrigues and beheaded on the order of his brother Edward Seymour. In 1552, Edward Seymour was in turn beheaded for treason. With the downfall of Edward Seymour, John Dudley, earl of Warwick, took over control of the government as a regent to the child king.
In 1553, King Edward VI died of tuberculosis. After Edward’s death, a conspiracy resulted in the reign of Lady Jane Grey as Queen of England for nine days. John Dudley had arranged the marriage of his son to Lady Jane Grey, and convinced the dying King Edward VI to name her heir to the throne. However, Elizabeth’s sister Mary, the rightful heir to the throne, had the popular support to overthrow Lady Jane Grey. The fifteen-year old Lady Jane Grey, who had been forced into the arrangement against her will by her parents, was executed for treason, along with her father, her husband, and her husband’s father.
Reign of Queen Mary I
The thirty-seven year old Mary was named Queen Mary I of England in 1553. In 1554, Sir Thomas Wyat organized an armed rebellion of some 3,000 men against Queen Mary I. The rebellion was swiftly put down, and Wyat was executed. These events, however, caused problems for Elizabeth, who was suspected of being an accomplice in the rebellion. Although there was no evidence against Elizabeth, Mary I’s suspicion of her half-sister led to harsh treatment of the princess throughout her reign. Elizabeth thus spent most of Mary I’s reign in various forms of imprisonment, first in the Tower of London, then as a prisoner in various households where she was held under constant suspicion of conspiracy.
In 1554, Mary I married King Philip II of Spain. The reign of Mary I created further difficulties for Elizabeth because, although they were halfsisters and had gotten along as children, Mary was a devout Catholic and Elizabeth was a Protestant. Mary’s primary concern as...
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