Allegory of Elizabethan Europe
QUEEN ELIZABETH I
In the sixteenth century, the western world centred on Europe. America had only recently been discovered and was a land for adventurers and explorers to conquer and discover and bring back to Europe all kinds of wonders such as potatoes and tobacco. It was not a developed country architecturally or economically. The most important person in Europe was arguably the Pope who resided then, as now, in the Vatican at Rome. Roman Catholicism was still the dominant European religion and the Pope, as its head, wielded enormous power in Roman Catholic countries. Even in non-Roman Catholic countries such as England, the Pope had a great influence amongst those still adhering to the Roman Catholic faith.
Pope Pius V
The most powerful ruler, however, was Philip II of Spain. His father, Charles, had been one of the most powerful men ever to have lived in Europe. Not only was he King of Spain, but also governor of the Netherlands and Holy Roman Emperor, a very prestigious title indeed. Philip inherited the throne of Spain aswell as the Netherlands, was King of Portugal for a while, and owned lands in the Americas that were a source of great wealth. Unlike his father, Philip made Spain his central home and under his rule, Spain was at the height of its influence and recognized as the most powerful country in Europe, if not the world.
King Philip II
However, relations between Philip and his neighbours were poor. He was constantly in conflict with France, mismanaged the government of the Netherlands to the extent that there was open rebellion and eventual war there, and he came into conflict with Elizabeth. The powers of Europe were wary of Philip and Queen Elizabeth in particular tried to keep in check his wealth, and the potential threat Catholic Spain posed to Protestant England, by discretely authorizing her sailors to pirate his ships as they came from America. William Cecil, the Queen's chief minister, did not approve of this, so Elizabeth tried to keep knowledge of what was going on from him. Not only did capturing a Spanish ship laden with treasure improve her finances, but it depleted Philip's in the hope to stall his often threatened invasion of England, his so called "Enterprise of England."
For details on The Enterprise of England see the section on The Armada
England and Spain were officially at war in 1585 after years of underhanded conflict, and the war lasted until the Queen's death. Philip died in 1598, but his son, Philip III, continued the war, even though he did so half heartedly. He saw the conflict between Elizabeth and Philip as just that, a clash of personalities, and in many ways perhaps that was the case.
St Bartholomew's Day Massacre
France experienced a troubled time during the reign of Elizabeth. In 1559 it seemed that France was on the verge of rivalling Spain as the dominant power. When Henry II died in a jousting accident, his son, Francis, became King. He was the husband of the young Mary, already Queen of Scots. Thus Mary was Queen of Scotland and of France. This was a considerable danger to Queen Elizabeth. Mary claimed to be Queen of England, and England was vulnerable to an attack/invasion from both France and Scotland. However, this never happened as Scotland itself was a troubled land. Mary's mother, Mary of Guise, was regent of Scotland in Mary's absence, and she faced considerable opposition to her regency from the Protestant lords of the land. The French also had internal conflicts of their own that did not allow them to invest their resources into an invasion of England.
King Francis and Queen Mary
Francis died not long after becoming king and Mary was once again only Queen of Scotland. Her mother in law, Catherine de Medici, was hostile to her and Mary returned to Scotland. The French "wars of religion" plagued the country in the last half of the sixteenth century. France was officially Catholic, but there were many Protestants in the country who wanted the freedom to worship their own way. These were called Hugeunots. The conflict resulted in a brutal massacre of Hugeunots in 1572, the Massacre of St Bartholomew's Day. It was said that six thousand or more men, women, and children, were butchered to death on the streets of Paris until the roads ran with their blood. This act of brutality sent shock waves throughout Europe and Queen Elizabeth cancelled negotiations for the hand of King Charles's brother, Francis, Duke of Alencon.
Despite the problems in France, Queen Elizabeth was keen to foster an alliance with the French in order to protect England from the might of Spain. When the horror of the Protestant Massacre began to recede into history, negotiations were again made for Francis's hand. He was considered the most suitable candidate for Elizabeth's hand, despite being young enough to be her son, as he was known to have Protestant sympathies. When he became next in line to the throne, following the death of his brother, Charles, and the accession of Henry III, the marriage became even more appealing. But there was much opposition to the Queen marrying a French Catholic in England, and, perhaps for political reasons, the marriage never went ahead.
King Henry IV
France experienced more trouble with the death of Henry III. Francis was dead having died of a fever, and there was no direct heir. Henry of Navarre was recognized by many to be the rightful King, but he was a Protestant. French Catholics set up a counter King and it was only by becoming a Catholic, deeming "Paris to be worth a mass", that Henry was finally accepted as King Henry IV of France. He was assassinated in 1610.
The Holy Roman Empire was a vast territory of land made up of many provinces, each governed by their own ruler or prince. This Empire incorporated Germany, Austria, and stretched as far as Poland. The Holy Roman Emperor was elected by the princes and while the position was more honorary than having actual power, it was a very prestigious title.
The Scandinavian countries were monarchies, Sweden and Denmark having their own sovereign. Norway was under the rule of the Danish. Sweden was a Protestant country and so in a tacit form of alliance with England, but it was not a particularly wealthy country. King Eric of Sweden hoped to marry Queen Elizabeth for some years, but his suit was unsuccessful.
Hungary and Poland were larger than they are today and were on the edge of the Turkish states belonging to the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans were a considerable threat to Christian Europe (Christendom) and much effort was put into fighting them by Philip II who also governed Poland. For a century they had taken land after land and added it to their vast empire, but their strength was beginning to ebb as their internal government was slowly eaten by corruption. The Battle of Lepanto in 1571 was a turning point in European history, for after the defeat of the Ottomans by Philip, they never again posed such a threat to Christendom.
Battle of Lepanto
Russia was ruled by a Tsar and did not play a great part in the history of Elizabeth's reign. However, Elizabeth was on good terms with Ivan IV, "The Terrible". The Queen even once sent the Tsarina her own doctor.
The centre of European trade was Antwerp (in the Netherlands). However, with the outbreak of the rebellion against Philip II, the centre of trade slowly began to move to London. Many Protestants from the Netherlands fled to England during Elizabeth's reign and brought with them craftsmanship skills that the English could learn.