Queen Elizabeth I
7th September 1533 - 24th March 1603
Elizabeth acceded to the throne in 1558; when England was in a period of great turbulence, fraught with religious tensions, internal political struggles and later threats from the Spanish and Ottoman Empires. She would eventually oversee major developments in travel, trade, science and wealth in a golden age of English expansion, culminating in an historic victory over the greatest superpower of the age.
Her rule saw England expand its overseas trade and exploration with pioneering figures such as Francis Drake, Martin Frobisher, Thomas Cavendish and Walter Raleigh establishing new trade routes and conducting commercial ventures for the Crown. It was also a time of great achievement in the arts, an English Renaissance, particularly in theatre and poetry where the likes of Marlowe, Spenser and Shakespeare flourished.
I may have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm.
Elizabeth Tudor (Queen of England & Ireland 1558-1603) speaking at Tilbury, 9th August 1588
The greatest threat to Elizabeth's throne came from King Philip
II of Spain, a Catholic monarch who considered Protestant Elizabeth unfit to rule. In 1588 Philip sent a great fleet, an armada, of Spanish ships to England on a holy mission to conquer the country and return it to the Catholic faith. They were famously defeated by the defending English fleet, partly commanded by Sir Francis Drake. Prior to the encounter Elizabeth made clear her opinion on threats to her throne whilst delivering a stirring speech to the troops at Tilbury. Her celebrated words and the manner in which the enemy met defeat in English waters sent a message to the world, one which could not be ignored.
On 23rd March 1603 Elizabeth Tudor died having never wed nor produced an heir. Her forty-four years on the throne saw England's reputation and influence as a seafaring nation, rich in culture and the arts, greatly expand. Elizabeth would be known forever as the Virgin Queen who defeated all threats to her nation and established an English identity, which would continue long after her death. Her successor to the throne was James VI of Scotland, the son of her beheaded cousin Mary. James VI of Scotland became James I of England, the first monarch to bring England and Scotland together into one United Kingdom.