Even though past queens such as Empress Matilda, Lady Jane Grey, and Mary I had all ruled England in their own right, Elizabeth was truly the first crowned queen to successfully rule with absolute power. She never married and has often been referred to as the “Virgin Queen.” Elizabeth is best remembered for bringing the Renaissance to England. She is also remembered for defeating the Spanish Armada and establishing Protestantism in England, replacing Roman Catholicism. Elizabeth was the daughter of King Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn and she ruled from 1558 until her death in 1603. She was last monarch of the Tudor Dynasty and her reign is known as the “Elizabethan Era.”
Elizabeth was a true intellectual and she was educated by renowned scholar, Roger Ascham. As a student, she studied Greek, Latin, rhetoric, and philosophy; she mastered all of these subjects. Not surprisingly, when Elizabeth came to power, she transformed the English court into a center for poets, writers, musicians, and scholars. She had connections to literary figures such as William Shakespeare, Edmund Spenser, and Christopher Marlowe.
Elizabeth also transformed England from a Catholic nation to a Protestant one. Despite her Protestant sympathies, Elizabeth was known to be tolerant of all religions in England. Her reign and religious transformation were highly contested by other Catholic European nations. For years, Elizabeth’s cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, had felt she was the rightful heir to the English throne. Mary had plotted for Elizabeth to be assassinated for years. As a result, Mary lived much of her life in England under house arrest. Finally, however, enough was enough and Mary was executed in 1587.
Mary’s execution and England’s longtime support for the Protestants in the Spanish Netherlands, was the last straw. In 1588, Elizabeth’s former brother-in-law, Phillip II of Spain, sent out his navel fleet, the Spanish Armada, to invade England, dethrone Elizabeth, and reestablish Roman Catholicism as the official religion. Elizabeth, however, proved to be no shrinking violet; she retaliated and won. The defeat of the Armada left Spain bankrupt and Phillip II humiliated. Elizabethan England, however, moved toward prosperity and gradually replaced Spain as a World Power.