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Queen Elizabeth I paved the way for religious and social reform in England and gave the country one of the most prosperous eras it has ever known. She was born 7 September 1533 and died on 24 March 1603.
Although the daughter of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth's future as a princess, let alone as queen, was a shaky one. The times demanded a son as heir to the throne, and Henry was looking for a woman who could give him one. Elizabeth was his second daughter. His first child, Mary, was born to Catherine of Aragon, whom he divorced in favor of Anne Boleyn. When he had Boleyn executed in 1536 for adultery and treason, Henry married Jane Seymour, who gave him his only son to survive babyhood - Edward.
Elizabeth's life as a bastard child was quiet, and Mary suffered the same fate. However, when Henry died in 1547, her life was immediately more complicated. She was soon implicated in several plots to overthrow the boy King Edward, but was exonerated.
Life became much harder when Elizabeth's older sister, Mary, ascended the throne. The battle between the Catholics and Protestants still raged in England, and staunch Catholic Mary was deeply suspicious of her Protestant sister. Elizabeth was imprisoned in the Tower of London for a while, but was eventually kept under what amounted to house arrest in Hatfield.
Mary died and Elizabeth succeeded to the throne on 17 November 1558. As Queen Elizabeth I, she faced no small problems in her kingdom. England was impoverished, rife with religious battles, and a tempting target for neighboring nations — and Queen Elizabeth had no husband. In 1558, this was considered a serious disability. Although her advisers and Parliament clamored for her to marry, she remained single throughout her life.
Under Elizabeth's rule, England gained prosperity, since she financed exploration and commerce. She took a harder line on Catholics than she probably wanted to, because Parliament forced her hand in the matter, but England became a solidly Protestant country and the religious strife was calmed. She was a great patroness of the arts, and painting, drama, and literature flourished. She brought England into the Renaissance, and before she died, the English court had become a center of culture.
Queen Elizabeth fended off repeated attacks from France and Spain — old enemies. The Armada victory against Spain in 1588 ended their ambitions against England for many years. Her later reign was spent shoring up the country politically and defending her throne from inside enemies.
One of the most notable of these was Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary had her throne in Scotland, but wanted Elizabeth's as well, and was at least implicated in a number of plots to take her throne. Eventually, Mary fled her enemies in Scotland, and Elizabeth had her imprisoned in England. Mary's possible involvement in the Babington plot in 1586 made Elizabeth realize her throne was not safe as long as Mary lived. She had Mary executed in 1587.
Since Elizabeth had no children, the succession was an issue as long as she lived. She finally settled on James, King of Scotland and Mary's son. He was a Protestant and the nearest living male relative. Her death marked the end of the House of Tudor and ushered in the House of Stuart.
@MrsPramm - It might only be symbolic, but when you look at how much speculation and reverence surrounds the monarchy and Queen Elizabeth in particular today, you realize they do still have some power. I think if they put their weight behind something, it would happen.
The history is more appealing to me. There are so many bizarre stories to be found in the different royal courts of the world. Elizabeth I was just coming into the era where news could be more widely spread and recorded, so there is a lot of information about her and her descendants. Before her time it gets a bit murkier.
I think it's really wonderful that England has finally put through legislation that means that the first born child of the monarch will be the heir, regardless of whether or not it's a boy or a girl.
I mean, when you consider how many wonderful queens they have had over the years, it gets a bit ridiculous to be worrying over whether or not there's a male heir to the throne. It sounds like Elizabeth I was both stronger and better suited to the throne than anyone else who was in the running, male or female.
The monarchy is basically only symbolic now, but it's still a really nice bit of progress to make it equal opportunity.