Queen Elizabeth I

Queen Elizabeth I

r 1558-1603

Famous for being a royal virgin

Elizabeth I never married, preferring to avoid the political consequences of making a choice. It allowed her greater freedom while playing off a succession of suitors against each other.

Elizabeth I at the Tower of London

As a princess, Elizabeth was sent to the Tower of London by her half-sister, Queen Mary I. She was suspected of involvement in a plot against the Queen, led by the traitor Sir Thomas Wyatt. ‘Oh Lord!’ said Elizabeth, as she entered the Tower, ‘I never thought to have come here as a prisoner.’

In 1559, Elizabeth returned to the Tower under very different circumstances. On 14 January, after the traditional celebrations, she left the fortress to ride through the City of London to her coronation at Westminster Abbey.

Elizabeth has become an admired, national heroine. She single-handedly rallied troops to inspire victory over the invading Spanish Armada. She nurtured a golden age of playwrights and poets and steered the country towards its Protestant destiny.

Despite her iconic status, Elizabeth I can also be seen as a parsimonious, dictatorial, inconsistent prevaricator whose financial incompetence plunged the country toward economic ruin toward the end of her reign.

Elizabeth was also, quite possibly, not a virgin after all. Scandalous rumours of her liaison with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, existed at the time, and are not just the product of ratings-seeking latter-day TV dramas. In 1561, such rumours were fuelled by the Queen moving Dudley into a room close to her own at Hampton Court Palace.

Elizabeth was the last of the Tudors and when she died James VI of Scotland (I of England) came to the throne.

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