2. How accurate was the 1998 film Elizabeth?
This is the question I get asked the most, so I felt I had to include it.
It was not the intention of the film's producers to create an accurate portrayal of Queen Elizabeth's life or reign, but to create a fantasy around the actual historical events. I recommend that those who have seen the film and wish to separate the fact from fantasy read a reputable biography of the Queen, such as the book by Alison Weir, Elizabeth the Queen or David Starkey's Elizabeth.
I will list some inaccuracies below, but this list is not comprehensive.
1. When Elizabeth was taken to the Tower in 1554, Robert Dudley was already incarcerated there for his part in his father's attempt to usurp the throne for his daughter in law, Lady Jane Grey.
2. The Duke of Norfolk was not a key character in English political history until Elizabeth had been on the throne for some years, and it was 14 years into the reign before he was executed for treason.
3. Francis Walsingham likewise was not a key figure in English politics until the second decade of the Queen's reign. He began his political career as a servant of William Cecil and in the early 1570's was recalled from France to be made Secretary of State on Cecil's elevation to the Treasury.
4. Sir William Cecil was only in his thirties when Elizabeth became Queen, and remained her chief advisor for 40 years. Elizabeth never allowed him to retire. He was made Lord Burghley 13 years into the reign.
5. It is unlikely that Robert Dudley and the Queen had a sexual relationship, for various reasons, and their love affair had not begun at the time of her coronation. In all probability, the Queen was the virgin she claimed to be.
6. Mary of Guise was not killed by Francis Walsingham, but died of natural causes. Walsingham was not homosexual. Neither did he murder a young boy. Walsingham was happily married, a very religious man, and his daughter married firstly the famous poet Sir Philip Sidney, and secondly Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex.
7. France did not send a poisoned dress to kill the Queen, and none of her maids of honour were murdered.
8. The cross dressing Duke of Anjou did not come to England. It was his brother who came to England 20 years later, Francis, Duke of Alencon. He was not a cross dresser, and the Queen seriously considered marrying him.
9. The assassination attempt against Elizabeth that occurs on the river during the pageant did not take place until 1578, and then in very different circumstances. It was not an assassination attempt at all, but a salute to the Queen that went wrong. No one was killed.
10. Robert Dudley did not hide his first marriage from the Queen. Elizabeth knew that he was married, having attended the wedding in 1550. Legend has it that 20 years later he hid his marriage to Lettice Knollys Devereux, Dowager Countess of Essex, from the Queen, but in recent years the truth of this tale has been questioned.
11. Robert Dudley was never involved in a treasonous plot to kill the Queen. He was her closest friend throughout her life, and did all that he could to preserve her life, even formulating the Bond of Association, and commanding the land army during the Armada. He was involved in the plan for Norfolk to marry Mary, Queen of Scots, but this had the backing of other reputable courtiers also, and it was not to begin with a plot to kill Queen Elizabeth. When it turned that way, Robert abandoned it immediately and told the Queen exactly what was going on. It is possible that he was actually working on the Queen's behalf, and he certainly lost no favour over the incident. Norfolk was not executed for his involvement in this plot, but for a plot to assassinate the Queen formulated by Ridolfi. Robert had no involvement in this whatsoever.
12.The Earl of Sussex was never executed for treason. He was a devoted subject of the Queen and remained so until his death.
13. Kat Ashley was a lot older than Elizabeth, and became her governess when Elizabeth was only four years old. She was the only mother-figure Elizabeth knew, and died in 1565 when she was in middle age.
14. Queen Elizabeth did not decide early in her reign to cut off her hair and paint her face to make herself like the Virgin Mary. While she always took great care over her public image, the association of her with virginity was a slow process and one that developed over time. It is not until about 20 years into her reign, when it is certain she would not marry, that the legend of the Virgin Queen really begins to emerge. In 1562, the Queen was very ill with small pox, and she may have used heavy cosmetics to hide the faint scars on her face left by the disease. Wearing wigs was merely fashionable.
15. Elizabeth and Robert remained close throughout their lives, and contrary to the postscript of the movie, she saw him in private many times. For several years she contemplated marrying him, but it was not politically expedient to do so. When he died in 1588, the Queen was devastated. There is no evidence that she whispered his name on her death bed. She was probably beyond speech at that time, her illness being an ulcerated throat.
16. Most of the film's interiors and exteriors were two or three centuries out of date, reflecting more what life may have been like in the 12th or 13th centuries rather than the 16th. The Tudor monarchs lived in glorious palaces such as Nonsuch, Hampton Court, Whitehall, and Greenwich. The interiors and exteriors in the film Shakespeare in Love give a better example of how the Tudor nobility lived.