QUEEN ELIZABETH I
Elizabeth finally succeed to the throne on 17th November 1558. It was a moment of supreme triumph for the unwanted daughter who had spent her life in the shadow of the court, cast aside and forgotten. The years following the death of her father had called for sobriety and caution, but now that she was Queen, Elizabeth was determined to enjoy her new found freedom and live life to the full. She loved all kinds of sports, especially horse riding, and in the early years of her reign spent many an hour riding. She also loved hunting, hawking, bear baiting, and watching the male courtiers excel at jousts or other sporting contests. She loved music and dancing, pageantry and masques, and could even play the virginals and the lute herself with skill. She had no time for the Puritan theologians who deemed such things impious. She also loved watching plays and created the atmosphere responsible for the flourishing of the literary masterpieces of the period against the Puritan demands for the closure of all theatres and playhouses.
Queen Elizabeth I
Elizabeth was crowned Queen on Sunday 15th January 1559 in Westminster Abbey, London. It was a very cold day winter's day, snow falling over the city, but crowds of people lined the streets to greet their popular new Queen. Elizabeth caught a chill, and was ill for a few days after the festivities, but was soon back at work establishing her rule. In the first days of her reign she had made William Cecil, later Baron Burghley, as her Chief Minister, and it proved to be a very successful appointment indeed. Not only was Cecil hardworking and loyal, but he and the Queen saw eye to eye on most matters. Further more, Elizabeth trusted him, and the success of her reign is largely due to their formidable working relationship, the longest and most successful in history between a monarch and a minister of state.
In the busy months that followed her coronation, Elizabeth restored England's debased coinage and re-established the Protestant Church Of England. Perhaps to appease Catholics or to appease those who did not believe a woman could become head of the church, Elizabeth became Supreme Governor of the Church of England, rather than Supreme Head as her father had been. While it is impossible to know what exactly the Queen's personal religious beliefs were, the Church she established is an indication of them. She was a committed Protestant, and reputedly spent time in prayer every day, but she was probably a conservative Protestant. She liked candles and crucifixes in her private chapel, liked church music, and enjoyed the more traditional style of worship in contrast to the sermon based service that was becoming popular in some Protestant circles. She did not like religious extremism and did not want to persecute any of her people for their religious beliefs. However, the tenacious political nature of the Catholic/Protestant split meant that her government had to take a harsher line towards Catholics than she wanted.
Earl of Leicester
Now that Elizabeth was Queen, proposals of marriage flooded in, but Elizabeth committed herself to none of them. In a genius of political wheeling and dealing, she managed to use her single state to benefit the country by using the bait of marriage to draw in enemies, or to frighten them by suggesting she would marry one of their foes. Whatever Elizabeth's personal feelings towards marriage, on two occasions she did come close to matrimony. For many years, the most serious contender for her hand was Robert Dudley, created Earl of Leicester in 1564. He and Elizabeth had known each other for years and had been imprisoned in the Tower of London at the same time. He was the only serious personal love interest of the Queen's life. Politically, however, marrying him would have been a disaster. He was unpopular as he was the son of the traitor Northumberland, and was loathed even more after his wife was found dead in mysterious circumstances. It was thought he had murdered her so he would be free to marry Elizabeth. The other serious contender for the Queen's hand was Francis, Duke of Alencon/Anjou, heir to the French throne. But again, political considerations made the match ultimately impossible.