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About this book

The reign of Elizabeth I was marked by change: England finally became a protestant nation, and England's relations with her neighbours were also changing, in part because of religious controversies. Elizabeth's reign was also significant in terms of changing gender expectations, and in terms of attitudes towards those considered different. While a woman ruled, others, often at the bottom of the social scale, were condemned as witches.
Levin evaluates Elizabeth and the significance of her reign both in the context of her age and our own, examining the increasing cultural diversity of Elizabethan England and the impact of the reign of an unmarried queen on gender expectations, as well as exploring the more traditional themes of religion, foreign policy, plots and conspiracies. Levin's fresh perspective will be welcomed by students of this exceptional reign.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
Elizabeth I chose as her motto the Latin phrase, Semper Eadem, which means “Always the same.” It is an ironic statement in many ways. During her reign many perceived Elizabeth as indecisive and changeable; after her death historians have regarded Elizabeth and her reign from a variety of different perspectives. As we move into the twenty-first century, we need to re-evaluate this enigmatic sixteenth-century Queen and the significance of her reign. Elizabeth I is one of the most famous women in history and one of the best known British monarchs. It is difficult to separate the myth from the reality of her reign, and each age brings its own values to an evaluation of her and her significance. The recent film Elizabeth, as well as the characterization of the Queen in Shakespeare in Love, have given a new generation ideas about Elizabeth and her age, some of which are interesting but have doubtful historical value. Certainly Elizabeth I was far more complex and effective than her depiction in the recent film that bore her name.
Carole Levin

1. Overview of Elizabeth’s Life and Reign

Abstract
In early September 1533 Henry VIII was not the only one to eagerly anticipate the birth of his child by his second wife, Anne Boleyn, nor the only one to hope that this child would be a son. Everyone in England, and, indeed, Western Europe, was waiting. Henry would eventually have a son, Edward, but his short, unhappy reign would be eclipsed by the long and far more successful reign of his sister, Elizabeth. Her success demonstrated that Henry’s belief that he must have a son to secure England’s safety was misplaced. Nonetheless, Henry’s desire for a male heir was understandable; we may, however, question if his anxiety justified his six marriages and the beheading of two of his wives.
Carole Levin

2. Religious Divides and the Religious Settlement

Abstract
When Elizabeth became Queen in 1558, English Christians experienced their fourth religious upheaval in a generation. Once Henry VIII had broken with the Pope, for the rest of his reign there had been a pendulum swing from the conservatives, who had wanted England to be Catholic in ceremony and doctrine but without allegiance to the Pope, to the reformers, who wanted to use the opportunity to see real change in liturgy and doctrine. With the death of Henry, the reformers had been given free rein, and the official church was extremely Protestant under Edward VI, only to return to Catholicism and obedience to the pope under Mary, though Mary’s regime could not obliterate all reformist thought and action.
Carole Levin

3. England’s Relations with Others in the First Part of the Reign

Abstract
When Elizabeth became Queen in 1558 she not only had to deal with religion and with balancing a religious settlement that throughout her reign was poised between Catholics and Puritans, but she also had to keep England safe and independent, a balance between the two powers on the Continent, France and Spain. Elizabeth’s reign was a watershed in Anglo-Continental relations. Throughout the Middle Ages France had been England’s traditional enemy, and since the reign of the first Tudor king, Henry VII, Spain had been the traditional ally. By the time Elizabeth’s reign ended, England was the uneasy ally of France and the enemy of, and at war with, Spain. England’s dealings with both these countries were further complicated by its relations within the British Isles with Scotland, made even more difficult because of Elizabeth’s cousin Mary Stuart, and with Ireland, which England was determined to control at all costs, no matter how brutal and expensive such an undertaking might be. One of England’s main strategic goals was to prevent foreign interference in both Scotland and Ireland, perceived as the gates to England.2
Carole Levin

4. England’s Relations with Others in the Last Part of the Reign

Abstract
The mid-1580s were a time of crisis for the English that in many ways continued for the rest of the reign. Elizabeth’s efforts to keep England out of foreign entanglements, which could be both dangerous and costly, failed. The difficulties and problems of continental Europe deeply influenced English policy. As the conflicts with Spain became more intense, the English perceived Spanish involvement in both the Netherlands and France as dangerous to their own security. Threatening in a different way was the possibility of foreign domination in Scotland and Ireland. Even after the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, there was great concern for the rest of the reign that Philip might mount another armada. Fear of Spanish intervention in Ireland led to heightened problems there. Trying to counter Spanish influence and support for the Catholic League also meant money and English military involvement in France. The cost of these foreign policy involvements were difficult for England to bear and darkened the final decades of Elizabeth’s rule. Philip II’s perception of himself as “his Most Catholic Majesty” pushed religion into foreign policy for England in a way that made Elizabeth, only reluctantly a leading Protestant ruler, most uncomfortable. Spain was becoming more and more powerful, especially after 1580 when Philip had seized Portugal. In April 1581 the Portuguese Cortes formally recognized Philip as king. Catholic Spain was a serious and threatening power to Elizabeth’s England.
Carole Levin

5. Plots, Conspiracies, and the Succession

Abstract
The rebellion led by the desperate Earl of Essex in 1601 was only the last in a series of plots and conspiracies against Elizabeth that had punctuated the reign. Elizabeth always claimed that she ruled with the love of her subjects and Elizabeth was for the most part a well-loved and popular Queen. A discussion of the plots and attempts against her should not suggest that most of the English people wanted Elizabeth off the throne or dead; in fact, they rallied loyally around her and were infuriated by the conspiracies against their Queen. When they heard about Dr William Parry’s plan to murder Elizabeth in 1585, members of Parliament tried to conceive of an even more horrible death sentence for him than the usual punishment of being hanged, drawn, and quartered. But her Council and Parliament were also well aware of the dangers that could surround Elizabeth, that Catholics could see Elizabeth as a target who, once she was out of way, would allow England to be restored to the true faith. Members of Parliament, especially once word was out about the plots to assassinate Elizabeth and place Mary Stuart on the throne, were vehement about the need to protect the Queen; they passed the Queen’s Safety Act and signed a Bond of Association binding them to kill Mary Stuart should an assassin murder their Queen.
Carole Levin

6. Culture and Difference at the End of the Reign

Abstract
In Jean Paul Sartre’s play, No Exit, one of the characters exclaimed, “I died too soon!” but another replies that everyone either dies too soon — or too late. In the case of Elizabeth I, perhaps it was the latter. Wallace Mac-Caffrey describes the two decades that ranged from the mid-1560s to the mid-1580s as the golden years of Elizabeth’s reign, with peace and prosperity and a highly popular Queen. MacCaffrey believes that Elizabeth had earned this love and respect of her people through her commitment to the policies of peace abroad and sound economy at home: in her view, the sovereign as active political manager. “Had she died then,” MacCaffrey argues, “Elizabeth would have retained among her contemporaries the image of Astraea, the golden age goddess of peace and plenty.”1 The events of the 1580s and 1590s drove Elizabeth into a policy that went against her instincts and England into a period of war that had grave repercussions, and made the English people far more critical of their monarch. Many of those who fought for England and their Queen were never paid and in the 1590s suffered a life of poverty. It was also a time when outsiders were more recognized and more persecuted. The 1590s was the harshest decade in the reign in terms of witchcraft trials, and the targets of the trial were often poorer women. The charge that Dr Roderigo Lopez, an Anglicized Iberian Jew, planned to poison Elizabeth in 1594 gave voice to strong anti-Jewish sentiments, and though the few Africans in England had been brought there against their will, English anxiety over them caused Elizabeth to attempt to expel them in 1601, on the excuse that they were taking jobs away from the English who needed them.
Carole Levin
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