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Bulat Tretyakov
Bulat Tretyakov

Queen Elizabeth I: A Life From Beginning To End



William Wallace; if ever there was a champion in the annals of Scottish history, he was it. Known as a proud Scot who rose through the ranks to challenge the English king, Wallace was a mere man who became larger than life - large enough even for the likes of Mel Gibson to play him in Braveheart for movie-going audiences on the silver screen. But who was William Wallace? What separates the real man from the myth?




Queen Elizabeth I: A Life From Beginning to End



However, Elizabeth's reign was one of considerable danger and difficulty for many, with threats of invasion from Spain through Ireland, and from France through Scotland. Much of northern England was in rebellion in 1569-70. A papal bull of 1570 specifically released Elizabeth's subjects from their allegiance, and she passed harsh laws against Roman Catholics after plots against her life were discovered.


March 20, 1995: Queen Elizabeth II and South African President Nelson Mandela walk from the president's office to parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, during the queen's week-long celebratory visit to the country. Walter Dhladhla/AFP/Getty Images hide caption


In government, Elizabeth was more moderate than her father and half-siblings had been.[3] One of her mottoes was "video et taceo" ("I see and keep silent").[4] In religion, she was relatively tolerant and avoided systematic persecution. After the pope declared her illegitimate in 1570 and released her subjects from obedience to her, several conspiracies threatened her life, all of which were defeated with the help of her ministers' secret service, run by Francis Walsingham. Elizabeth was cautious in foreign affairs, manoeuvring between the major powers of France and Spain. She half-heartedly supported a number of ineffective, poorly resourced military campaigns in the Netherlands, France, and Ireland. By the mid-1580s, England could no longer avoid war with Spain.


Elizabeth's first governess, Margaret Bryan, wrote that she was "as toward a child and as gentle of conditions as ever I knew any in my life".[13] Catherine Champernowne, better known by her later, married name of Catherine "Kat" Ashley, was appointed as Elizabeth's governess in 1537, and she remained Elizabeth's friend until her death in 1565. Champernowne taught Elizabeth four languages: French, Dutch, Italian and Spanish.[14] By the time William Grindal became her tutor in 1544, Elizabeth could write English, Latin, and Italian. Under Grindal, a talented and skilful tutor, she also progressed in French and Greek.[15] By the age of 12 she was able to translate her stepmother Catherine Parr's religious work Prayers or Meditations from English into Italian, Latin, and French, which she presented to her father as a New Year's gift.[16] From her teenage years and throughout her life she translated works in Latin and Greek by numerous classical authors, including the Pro Marcello of Cicero, the De consolatione philosophiae of Boethius, a treatise by Plutarch, and the Annals of Tacitus.[17][16] A translation of Tacitus from Lambeth Palace Library, one of only four surviving English translations from the early modern era, was confirmed as Elizabeth's own in 2019, after a detailed analysis of the handwriting and paper was undertaken.[18]


After Grindal died in 1548, Elizabeth received her education under her brother Edward's tutor, Roger Ascham, a sympathetic teacher who believed that learning should be engaging.[19] Current knowledge of Elizabeth's schooling and precocity comes largely from Ascham's memoirs.[15] By the time her formal education ended in 1550, Elizabeth was one of the best educated women of her generation.[20] At the end of her life, she was believed to speak the Welsh, Cornish, Scottish and Irish languages in addition to those mentioned above. The Venetian ambassador stated in 1603 that she "possessed [these] languages so thoroughly that each appeared to be her native tongue".[21] Historian Mark Stoyle suggests that she was probably taught Cornish by William Killigrew, Groom of the Privy Chamber and later Chamberlain of the Exchequer.[22]


Edward VI died on 6 July 1553, aged 15. His will ignored the Succession to the Crown Act 1543, excluded both Mary and Elizabeth from the succession, and instead declared as his heir Lady Jane Grey, granddaughter of Henry VIII's younger sister Mary Tudor, Queen of France. Jane was proclaimed queen by the privy council, but her support quickly crumbled, and she was deposed after nine days. On 3 August 1553, Mary rode triumphantly into London, with Elizabeth at her side.[d]The show of solidarity between the sisters did not last long. Mary, a devout Catholic, was determined to crush the Protestant faith in which Elizabeth had been educated, and she ordered that everyone attend Catholic Mass; Elizabeth had to outwardly conform. Mary's initial popularity ebbed away in 1554 when she announced plans to marry Philip of Spain, the son of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and an active Catholic.[33] Discontent spread rapidly through the country, and many looked to Elizabeth as a focus for their opposition to Mary's religious policies.


In the spring of 1559, it became evident that Elizabeth was in love with her childhood friend Robert Dudley.[63] It was said that his wife Amy was suffering from a "malady in one of her breasts" and that the queen would like to marry Robert if his wife should die.[64] By the autumn of 1559, several foreign suitors were vying for Elizabeth's hand; their impatient envoys engaged in ever more scandalous talk and reported that a marriage with her favourite was not welcome in England:[65] "There is not a man who does not cry out on him and her with indignation ... she will marry none but the favoured Robert."[66] Amy Dudley died in September 1560, from a fall from a flight of stairs and, despite the coroner's inquest finding of accident, many people suspected her husband of having arranged her death so that he could marry the queen.[67][h] Elizabeth seriously considered marrying Dudley for some time. However, William Cecil, Nicholas Throckmorton, and some conservative peers made their disapproval unmistakably clear.[70] There were even rumours that the nobility would rise if the marriage took place.[71]


Among other marriage candidates being considered for the queen, Robert Dudley continued to be regarded as a possible candidate for nearly another decade.[72] Elizabeth was extremely jealous of his affections, even when she no longer meant to marry him herself.[73] She raised Dudley to the peerage as Earl of Leicester in 1564. In 1578, he finally married Lettice Knollys, to whom the queen reacted with repeated scenes of displeasure and lifelong hatred.[74] Still, Dudley always "remained at the centre of [Elizabeth's] emotional life", as historian Susan Doran has described the situation.[75] He died shortly after the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. After Elizabeth's own death, a note from him was found among her most personal belongings, marked "his last letter" in her handwriting.[76]


In 1587, a young man calling himself Arthur Dudley was arrested on the coast of Spain under suspicion of being a spy.[98] The man claimed to be the illegitimate son of Elizabeth and Robert Dudley, with his age being consistent with birth during the 1561 illness.[99] He was taken to Madrid for investigation, where he was examined by Francis Englefield, a Catholic aristocrat exiled to Spain and secretary to King Philip II.[98] Three letters exist today describing the interview, detailing what Arthur proclaimed to be the story of his life, from birth in the royal palace to the time of his arrival in Spain.[98] However, this failed to convince the Spanish: Englefield admitted to King Philip that Arthur's "claim at present amounts to nothing", but suggested that "he should not be allowed to get away, but [...] kept very secure."[99] The king agreed, and Arthur was never heard from again.[100] Modern scholarship dismisses the story's basic premise as "impossible",[99] and asserts that Elizabeth's life was so closely observed by contemporaries that she could not have hidden a pregnancy.[100][101]


Elizabeth's foreign policy was largely defensive. The exception was the English occupation of Le Havre from October 1562 to June 1563, which ended in failure when Elizabeth's Huguenot allies joined with the Catholics to retake the port. Elizabeth's intention had been to exchange Le Havre for Calais, lost to France in January 1558.[120] Only through the activities of her fleets did Elizabeth pursue an aggressive policy. This paid off in the war against Spain, 80% of which was fought at sea.[121] She knighted Francis Drake after his circumnavigation of the globe from 1577 to 1580, and he won fame for his raids on Spanish ports and fleets. An element of piracy and self-enrichment drove Elizabethan seafarers, over whom the queen had little control.[122][123]


The expedition was led by Elizabeth's former suitor, the Earl of Leicester. Elizabeth from the start did not really back this course of action. Her strategy, to support the Dutch on the surface with an English army, while beginning secret peace talks with Spain within days of Leicester's arrival in Holland,[126] had necessarily to be at odds with Leicester's, who wanted and was expected by the Dutch to fight an active campaign. Elizabeth, on the other hand, wanted him "to avoid at all costs any decisive action with the enemy".[127] He enraged Elizabeth by accepting the post of Governor-General from the Dutch States General. Elizabeth saw this as a Dutch ploy to force her to accept sovereignty over the Netherlands,[128] which so far she had always declined. She wrote to Leicester:


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