Last Updated 19 Dec 2022

England’s Greatest Monarch – Queen Elizabeth

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People often say that the most respected and effective leaders are those that emulate the leader that they themselves would follow. Throughout the history of mankind, there have been many different forms of leadership and authority. Some leaders have been worshiped and remembered for centuries while others have been and continue to be protested and loathed by the majority of a nation. Certain leaders are often influenced by specific ideologies and will even create their own. They will often use these ideologies to unite a nation and to achieve certain goals. Under absolute monarchies, many rulers would often use religion to legitimize their rule and to gain respect or obedience from their people. Queen Elizabeth I of England used religion not only to unify both Catholics and Protestants in her kingdom, but to assert her power as a female ruler. Her establishment of a Church of England helped create a national identity and unified a once divided nation. During a time of territorial expansion, religious division, and blatant sexism, Queen Elizabeth’s strategic use of religious symbolism made her respected and glorified as a powerful woman. Additionally, her unwavering devotion to England and her nationalist attitudes brought about a new wave of self-confidence that led to an era of artistic creativity and scientific advancement. These accomplishments made Great Britain one of the leading military and economic powers of the world, giving her the title “England’s greatest monarch”.

The religious division between Catholics and Protestants living in England was the most prominent and threatening challenge Queen Elizabeth I faced during her reign. When she came into power in 1558 at age twenty-five, many people believed that she identified as a Protestant sympathizer. The population of Protestants was increasing dramatically after the execution of many innocent Protestants during the reign of her half-sister, Queen Mary I. During Queen Mary’s reign, Elizabeth outwardly presented herself as Catholic, even though she was raised under the Protestant faith. However, when she came into power, she was well aware of the fact that there needed to be an extreme change in order to keep the peace between the two groups. She knew that she could not directly identify herself as Catholic due to the fervent reactions that would transpire from her own people, nor Protestant due to the Catholic population in her own nation and significant foreign relations with Catholic Spain, France, and Scotland. The unity and strength of Great Britain was more important to Queen Elizabeth than her own religious beliefs. She wanted her reign to be an era of political stability and peace.

Therefore, she was a very religiously tolerant ruler for her time. However, when Catholics threatened this peace, her government took action and became much stricter towards them. Her main goal was to establish a church that could appeal to both religious groups. Queen Elizabeth I made the Church of England the official religion, yet she issued the 29 Articles of 1536 which adopted some Roman Catholic traditions into the church, such as bell ringing, ban choral music, and ostentatious design. She became the Supreme Governor of the Church of England—a role that no one thought a woman would ever hold. In 1559, the New Act of Supremacy Law forced public officials to decree an oath of loyalty to Queen Elizabeth I as the supreme governor. Under Queen Elizabeth’s reign, the heresy laws were also repealed in order to avoid more religious persecution. She hoped that many Catholics would gradually and naturally accept her established church. She accomplished this goal-- by the time of her death, Catholics were the minority. Queen Elizabeth I ultimately avoided a potential English Civil War that could have destroyed the nation.

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Queen Elizabeth I also used religious symbolism to gain the obedience, respect, and acceptance of her subjects as a female leader during a time in which females where subservient to their male counterparts. During this era women were seen as wives, child bearers, and mothers. Only a few noble and wealthy women were able to receive an education. Queen Elizabeth I was likely the most educated woman of her time. She had numerous private tutors and was proficient in six languages. Most women during the Elizabethan Era were expected to marry, have children, and run the households. The Church also believed that it was a woman’s responsibility to obey the man. Protestant leader John Knox wrote “Women in her greatest perfection was made to serve and obey man.” The reign of Queen Elizabeth I dramatically changed the people’s perception of a female monarch. She created a sort of multi-personality that would ultimately gain the respect and affinity of her subjects. She was able to preserve her own femininity while still establishing herself as a powerful ruler. She also was granted the name “the Virgin Queen” because of her reluctance to marry. Therefore, she did not need to obey to any man nor did she have to yield her power to a king. Most of her subjects thought that she would eventually marry and produce an heir to the throne. However, she knew that she did not need a man by her side to effectively rule the nation. Although she had many romantic suitors, she claimed she was married to England and that her people were her children. The use of these metaphors helped her gain respect as a queen and made her one of the most honored and beloved monarchs of all time. In her Spanish Armada speech she stated, “I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king – and of a King of England too”.

Queen Elizabeth I also possessed nationalist attitudes, which fostered a stronger sense of identity and unity among her subjects. Her main concern was always the wellbeing and success of the nation. She longed to see the country prosper economically, creatively, and militarily. Strong English patriotism was born during the Elizabethan Era. Under her reign, England defeated Spain in the Spanish Armada, which brought a huge wave of national pride. Territorial expansion, literary creativity, and artistic creativity were pivotal aspects of the Elizabethan Era. Queen Elizabeth I appreciated the arts and encouraged creativity amongst her people. The first theatres in England opened during her reign. Perhaps the most famous author of all time, William Shakespeare, thrived under her rule. The economy was booming and painters, architects, writers, musicians and sculptors flourished. This new wave of creativity made England artistically respected by other nations. Under Queen Elizabeth’s reign, English people felt a sense of pride in their fellow citizen’s accomplishments. England was more confident and self-sufficient than ever before. Queen Elizabeth I also acknowledged the fact that a monarch governed by popular consent—no Tudor had ever recognized that before. Therefore, she worked with trustworthy advisors and members of parliament to govern. In 1572, the Britannia symbol was first used and it represented a period of renaissance, military triumph, and national pride during Queen Elizabeth’s rule.

In conclusion, Queen Elizabeth I of England exhibited religious toleration, religious symbolism, and nationalist attitudes in order to see a prosperous and united nation under her reign. She also asserted herself as a powerful woman and effective ruler. Through her many accomplishments, she put England on the path to power and success. Even though she faced many obstacles and limitations, she earned the respect, trust, and love of her people. The strategic expressions of her ideologies made her respected throughout the globe, and ultimately made England one of the most powerful nations in the world.

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