Monday, January 16, 2012

Queen Elizabeth I: Queenship

Aged 25 and Queen of England
On this day in 1559, Queen Elizabeth I was crowned Queen of England at Westminster Abbey (I'm not joking on this one; her coronation really was on this day in history). When she first came to the throne, England was surrounded by much more powerful neighbours; hence, the speculation of her capability to govern a country such as this. Also, many people had thought that not only she had no right to the throne, but she was a gullible woman who can easily be manipulated.

Yet, she proved them all wrong: she eventually won the support of the ordinary citizens by avoiding the cruelty that had gone on during the reign of her predecessors. More importantly, she is best known for keeping her thoughts to herself, making her mind an unfathomable realm from her councillors and subjects. Throughout Queen Elizabeth I's life, she had strongly held on to this principle:-

Her mantra was:
Video et taceo-- I see and keep silent.

 In Elizabeth's first parliament meeting, the issue of her marriage was brought up by the MPs. Despite urging the Queen to rule with a King, Elizabeth was determined to die a virgin.

Everyone thought that she should marry for the good of the kingdom too: at that time, the young Queen was thought to be the best marriage prize (this is because of obvious, political reasons). Many suitors lined up to woo her for their masters too. More importantly, they strongly believed that she needed an heir to the throne of England for she was the last of the Tudor monarch.

However, due to her past, she was strongly against marriage. Looking at her father, who married 6 times, she may have feared that the outcome would have been just the same-- or worse-- as her mother's premature death. In fact, her first love, Thomas Seymour had also proved to her that these men were only after her power, and not exactly her. To solidify her stance against matrimony, if she had married a foreigner, trouble may repeat itself (for example, her sister Mary's notoriety for marrying a Spanish King), and if she married one of her subjects, jealousy among others may stem and civil rivalry might occur.

But this does not mean that she was never in love.

Her romantic interest was her Master of Horse, a married man named Rob Dudley. Nobody liked the idea of such a star-crossed pair what more coming from their Queen. In fact, Lord Robert's wife mysteriously died not long after that. Up till today, nobody really knows how she died. She was found dead by the stairs of her house. Rob Dudley remained as her Master of Horse and it was widely known that she didn't want him to be marrying anybody else-- including herself of course, for she knew that her marriage with anybody was bound to brew more trouble.

Mary Queen of Scots
Everyone was happy during Queen Elizabeth I's reign, and everything seemed to be going rather well. However, Queen Elizabeth I was faced a serious threat by her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots. Mary Queen of Scots had claimed to be the rightful heir to the English throne, and Elizabeth was not very pleased with such pretension. During that time, there was a Protestant revolution in Scotland. Although Scotland was becoming more Protestant (Mary was a Catholic), her subjects were happy to have a young and charming Queen to be their leader. Especially since Mary became a widow at the age of 19: she was keen on finding a husband. Elizabeth was envious of her cousin's popularity and was afraid that her cousin might induce a Catholic rebellion like how she induced a Protestant rebellion during her elder sister's reign. Therefore, she wanted Rob Dudley (the man she love) to marry Mary Queen of Scots, for she had to ensure that all other marriage possibilities would not solidify Mary's claim to the throne. Unfortunately for Elizabeth, Mary had already fallen in love and secretly married a man with a claim to the English throne. Elizabeth was outraged by the secret marriage but luck was soon on Elizabeth's side.

Mary's husband was a very spoilt man. He accused Mary of committing adultery with her secretary, and murdered him in front of Mary when she was seven months pregnant. Soon after that, Mary gave birth to a son named James. Three months later, Mary's husband was found dead due to an explosion at the house he was living. The Earl of Bothwell seemed culpable but Mary acquitted all charges against him. Four months later, Mary had married Bothwell! Mary became infamous among the Scots and was soon defeated in the civil war that followed. After her defeat, Mary decided to go to England. It was a rather daft decision because instead of going to France, where her friends and family are, she chose to be in a country where she knew no one. Since she was not found innocent nor guilty of her husband's murder, Queen Elizabeth made her a prisoner of the Queen of England.

Mary Queen of Scots was a very dangerous prisoner to Queen Elizabeth. When Mary was in prison, she became Elizabeth's big threat. The Pope even excommunicated Elizabeth due to the prospects of having a Catholic Queen. Elizabeth, The Parliament, and the council were outraged. Laws were then enforced to clamp down the Catholics (though not as harsh as what Queen Mary I and King Henry VIII had done). Mary was seizing every opportunity to plot against Elizabeth. Her biggest asset/weapon was her charm. Even the chairman of her inquiry had fallen for her. Elizabeth soon sentenced him to death, for plotting against the Queen.

Elizabeth wanted to execute Mary Queen of Scots, but she couldn't find a legal way to do it. In the end, Mary was on trial for plotting against the Queen. She was then found guilty and sentenced to death.

Speaking of threats, Philip of Spain had also been getting more narked with Queen Elizabeth I. Elizabeth soon realised that she needed a powerful ally-- such as a French Prince. Since Elizabeth was outraged when she found out that her "Eyes" (Duke of Leicester, the man she loved called Rob Dudley) was married, she had decided that she might want to marry after all: to the French prince's younger brother, the Duke of Alencon, for she was also quite taken with him. Her councillors and the Parliament strongly dissent the idea because they did not like the idea of having a Frenchman marrying their English Queen. In the end, she fell out of love and wanted him out of her sight. Even before then, was she confusing her subjects on whether or not she was going to marry him, due to her contradicting actions.

Elizabeth was nearly fifty by the time it was finally over with Alencon. It was now unquestionable of her ever producing a baby who would be the heir to the throne of England. Philip of Spain had now hated Elizabeth more than ever and wanted to avenge Mary Queen of Scots' death, because he had been plotting for years to put Elizabeth's cousin on the English throne (ironically he was the one who made her Queen-- remember that he is Mary Tudor's husband) . He sent an armada (Spanish for 'large fleet') to conquer England. However, Elizabeth's army soon defeated his armada. It was a great victory that Elizabeth was triumphant. The English people celebrated such glory because no matter Catholic or Protestant, all the English people did not want the Spanish King ruling them. The people still remembered the terrible days when Philip had been married to Mary Tudor. One of Elizabeth's greatest speech during the Spanish Armada threat is as follows:-

"My loving people, we have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety to take heed how we commit ourselves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery; but I do assure you that I do not wish to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear. I have always so behaved myself that under God I have placed my chiefest strength in the loyal hearts and goodwill of my subjects, and therefore I am come among you, as you see at this time, not for my creation and disport, but being resolved in the midst and heart of the battle to live or die for my people, and my honour and my blood, even i' the dust. I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but i have the heart and the stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and to think it foul scorn that Parma, or Spain, or any prince in Europe, should dare invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge and rewarder of every one of your virtues."

This is the portrait mentioned
Despite her victory, Elizabeth was in mourning because Rob Dudley had passed away. Her heart wasn't really in the celebrations because she was devastated by the news. She had loved him, even though she never married him. Now she had lost her best friend. She was so grieved that for some days she hurt herself in her chamber alone and refused to speak to anyone until the treasurer and other councillors had the door broken open and entered to see her. It didn't make Elizabeth any more sympathetic to Rob Dudley's widow though. The Duke of Leicester (Rob Dudley) had died owing the Queen a lot of money, and Elizabeth 'conveniently' wanted it back. She made his widow auction her furniture to pay the debt, as well as taking back the house the Queen had given to him. All this, despite the fact that Rob Dudley had left Elizabeth a spectacular necklace of 600 pearls to add to her vast collection of jewels. She wore it for the portrait that was painted to celebrate the English victory over the Spanish Armada.  

Elizabeth was more popular than ever after the Armada, and she finally won the respect of her own councillors. All the same, she wasn't getting any younger and her problems didn't go away. Philip of Spain kept plotting till his death, and on top of that, the 1590s were a sad time for her. All her old friends and councillors were getting older too. Her loyal servants right from the time she was a child were dead. Even her most loyal friend, William Cecil, wanted to retire-- but she denied. She soon made Rob Dudley's widow's son as her new Master of Horse to take revenge on his mother. She felt that by stealing her loved one, she would steal her son. However, this new Master of Horse was rebellious and was soon tried for treason and found guilty. He was then executed. That day, when she signed the death warrant of her lover's step-son, she sat in her chamber, weeping. It was widely known that she hated executing people (unlike her sister and father) what more executing someone she had been fond of.

By this time, Queen Elizabeth was having trouble with her physical appearance. Her teeth were falling out and her hair was getting thin. Because she didn't want anyone to notice, she painted her face and stuffed her cheeks with rags so that she didn't look haggard. She wore red wigs with long curls hanging down her neck. She was in good health right up to February 1603. On her death bed, Elizabeth named James, King of Scots (son of Mary Queen of Scots) as her successor. After ruling England for 45 years, the Queen drew her last breath, and James was now James I of England. The Elizabethan Age was over and the Jacobean Age was about to begin.

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