Elizabeth I dies

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Elizabeth I dies

Richmond-upon-Thames, Surrey The 24th of March 1603 AD

With the death of Elizabeth the Tudor era came to an end. In the British psyche Elizabeth is revered as the queen who defied Catholic Spain, and presided over perhaps the greatest flowering of literature the country has ever experienced. The truth, as ever, is far more complicated.

Elizabeth undoubtedly provided a great symbol of national strength, a motivating force for the men who defeated the Armada in 1588 . That she should even have still been on the throne then was perhaps surprising: as the daughter of Anne Boleyn she had been declared illegitimate. When her sister Mary came to the throne Elizabeth faced personal danger as a potential rallying figure for those unhappy with Mary’s rule. And as a woman she faced the difficulty of persuading the political elite that she was fit to govern.

The flowering of literary talent in her reign was not caused by her direct patronage, though she was well read and supposedly a keen admirer of Shakespeare’s work. It was perhaps more the stability in the country that her long reign provided which saw the likes of Marlowe , Spenser , Raleigh and of course Shakespeare come to the fore.

Externally too England flourished in her reign, though the morality of the wealth brought by Drake and Raleigh (to all intents and purposes pirates) and Hawkins (a slaver) is debatable. The future Empire saw its beginnings with expeditions to and settlement in America, and voyages to the Spice Islands and Africa.

In the declining years of her reign, perhaps for as long as the last twenty years, her popularity suffered because of her failure to marry, the dragging on of war with Spain and problems in Ireland, and her descent into favouritism and economic abuses – the use of monopolies to reward her closest advisers and those to whom she took a shine. The threat of a contested succession hung over the country for years as she refused to acknowledge her chosen successor.

By 1602 and into the early months of 1603 Elizabeth was weakening physically, but more significantly she was losing her will to fight, suffering depression that was exacerbated by the deaths of many of her friends and companions, such as the Countess of Nottingham who died in February 1603. She no longer ventured out of her private apartments in Richmond Palace. Eventually she stopped eating, refused to allow her doctors to examine her, and drifted towards death, finally – and rather conveniently – said by her advisers to have acknowledged with a gesture King James VI of Scotland as the man to reign after her.

Elizabeth slipped into a coma, and according to those present had an easy death in the early hours of March 24. Her funeral five weeks later was a spectacular affair at the insistence of King James , with £11,000 spent on what was as much an ushering in of the new, as a farewell to the old.

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