Elizabeth the Great by Elizabeth Jenkins

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(Nonfiction Classics for Students)

Female Monarchy
A major factor in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I was that Elizabeth was one of the first female monarchs to rule England. Both her government and her citizens were initially skeptical about being ruled by a woman in an era when women were considered inferior to men, particularly in the realm of politics. Historians generally agree that the success of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign was due largely to her skillful rendering of her own public image so as to win the confidence of her nation, despite the fact that she was a woman.

Elizabeth created an image for herself that included both masculine and feminine elements, to effectively play upon the emotions of her nation. On the one hand, Elizabeth frequently referred to herself as a prince or a king, thus instilling in the minds of the people an image of the queen as a political force as powerful as any man could be. She added to this image by reference to her father, King Henry VIII, who had been considered a strong masculine ruler. On the other hand, Elizabeth played up her citizens. She described herself as the wife of the English nation and often described her relationship to her government and citizens using the language of love. Through her effective self-publicity, Queen Elizabeth I earned the love and devotion of the nation, despite their concerns about being ruled by a woman.

Royal Lineage
Throughout Elizabeth’s life and reign, questions of royal lineage continued to plague the nation. When Henry VIII died he named his only son, Edward VI, as heir to the throne, with his two daughters, Mary I and Elizabeth I, next in line. Since Edward was only nine years old when he ascended the throne, the nation was ruled during his five-year reign by a regency headed by a protector, designated by Henry VIII. Thus, Edward was easily manipulated, and those in charge of the nation schemed to place members of their own families on the throne. The teenaged Elizabeth was kept away from her half-brother, although they had always been close, because the regency feared her influence on Edward.

Meanwhile, Thomas Seymour attempted to seduce the young Elizabeth in hopes of marrying her and one day gaining the throne. Upon the death of Edward, his regents schemed to place their relative, Jane Seymour, on the throne in place of Mary I. However, popular opinion considered Mary the legitimate heir to the throne, and quickly defeated this scheme. As Mary I died without sons, she named her half-sister Elizabeth as heir to the throne.

The reign of Elizabeth I posed further questions of royal lineage, partly because she never married or bore children. Throughout Elizabeth’s reign, she was under constant pressure by her Parliament to marry and produce an heir, so as to avoid political chaos upon her death. Also during her reign, many Catholics in England, Scotland, France, and Spain considered Mary Queen of Scots as the rightful queen of England. Many Catholics considered Elizabeth an illegitimate child because...

(The entire section is 1,126 words.)