QUEEN ELIZABETH I
Not marrying and having a child of her own meant that the succession was unsettled. Elizabeth did not like to talk about the succession and tried to have talk of it suppressed, but people were anxious about what would happen to the country when she died. However, having a child of her own may not have been an end to all problems. In the eyes of Catholics, Elizabeth was illegitimate and had no right to the throne. To them, Mary, Queen of Scots was the rightful Queen of England. Plots were made to make Mary queen and these would have been formed regardless of whether Elizabeth had a child or not. This is perhaps especially so when Mary was Elizabeth's prisoner following her disastrous reign in Scotland.
Mary, Queen of Scots
Forced to flee her own country, having abdicated her throne in favour of her infant son, James, Mary landed in England, seeking Elizabeth's help in restoring her to her kingdom. She was immediately imprisoned. This was as much to protect her as to minimize the danger she posed to Elizabeth. Mary was kept a prisoner for almost twenty years. In that time, Elizabeth refused to hear about executing her cousin, but Mary's complicity in the Babington plot of 1586 made the execution, in the eyes of many, unavoidable. It was a traumatic time for Elizabeth, and for a while it seemed that she would not have the strength to go ahead with the execution, but she did, and Mary was executed at Fotheringay Castle on 8 February 1587.
King Philip II
Relations between Queen Elizabeth and Philip, now King of Spain, had begun amicably, but had deteriorated over the years as their different political and religious agendas clashed. By 1588 they were enemies of the first-rate. Philip had spoken of invading England and dethroning Elizabeth for years but the execution of the Queen of Scots gave him an added incentive. Now he could claim the English throne for himself and not for her. In the summer of 1588 he sent his mighty Armada fleet against England. But by superior tactics, ship design, and sheer good fortune, the English defeated them. Elizabeth's popularity reached its zenith. It was also another personal triumph as she had proved that she, a woman, could lead in war as well as any man.
Elizabeth was dedicated to her country in a way few monarchs had been or have been since. Elizabeth had the mind of a political genius and nurtured her country through careful leadership and by choosing capable men to assist her, such as Sir William Cecil and Sir Francis Walsingham. Elizabeth was a determined woman, but she was not obstinate. She listened to the advice of those around her, and would change a policy if it was unpopular. In appearance she was extravagant, in behaviour sometimes flippant and frivolous, but her approach to politics was serious, conservative, and cautious. When she ascended the throne in 1558, England was an impoverished country torn apart by religious squabbles. When she died at Richmond Palace on the 24th March 1603, England was one of the most powerful and prosperous countries in the world.