It is not clear that Queen Elizabeth I was truly a great leader. This is because it is never easy to determine what role governmental leaders play in bringing about good or bad consequences for their people. My own view is that Elizabeth I helped her people mainly by being clever enough to remain as queen for a long time, thus giving the country the stability that it needed to prosper.
The reign of Elizabeth I was a good time for the United Kingdom. The country’s economy improved during her reign. Rates of literacy rose and some of the country’s greatest literary figures (Shakespeare being the most famous of these) wrote during her time. England’s power increased as it became richer and as it defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588. All of these were things that were good for the people.
However, it is not clear how much Elizabeth I actually had to do with creating any of these conditions. She is not famous for handing down any laws to promote literacy or to help the economy. She did not lead the military in its fight against the Spanish Armada. Therefore, it is not at all certain that England had good times because of anything in particular that she did.
I would argue that what she really did was to stay in power for a long time. This may not seem like much of an accomplishment, but at the time it was no mean feat. It was not clear that the English people would accept being ruled by a woman. It was not clear that England could find religious peace at a time when there was a great deal of tension between Catholics and Protestants. It was not clear that England could survive when other countries like Spain seemed more powerful and might have been hostile to England. If any of these factors had gone the wrong way, Elizabeth I could have faced rebellions or invasions and could have ended up being overthrown.
Elizabeth’s major accomplishment was to use her intelligence and political skill to avoid these pitfalls. She managed to make the English people in general love her through her political skill and her talent for dealing with people. She used great finesse on the issue of religion in that she made the country Protestant (making most people happy) but did not act in very anti-Catholic ways (thus making rebellions or invasions by Catholic countries less likely). She refused to marry but led foreign royalty on, acting as if she were considering marrying them. By doing this, she kept other countries from being overtly hostile to England while they still thought they had a chance to form an alliance through marriage with her. By doing all of these things, Elizabeth I allowed her realm to stay relatively peaceful. She acted in ways that made sure that she would remain on the throne. Because she stayed in power for so long, England was able to have a long period of stability and relative prosperity. This is what helped her people and made her (at least arguably) a great leader.