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Elizabeth I

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Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I ruled England for 44 years with relative stability and prosperity, a period known as the Elizabethan era. During her reign, she earned the nicknames Virgin Queen, Good Queen Bess, and Gloriana. What did she do to earn these nicknames, how did she become Queen in the first place, what challenges did she face, and what was her legacy? Read on to find out.

Elizabeth I’s Early Years and Siblings

Elizabeth I was born at Greenwich Palace on 7 September 1533 to King Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn. She got her name from her grandmothers, Elizabeth of York and Elizabeth Howard.

Since Henry divorced his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, Elizabeth’s half-sister Mary became illegitimate. As a result, Elizabeth became heir presumptive at birth, which meant she would inherit the throne unless an heir apparent were born. The heir apparent was usually a boy who was first in the line to the throne and could not be replaced unless he died.

Heir presumptive

An heir (someone legally entitled to inherit a position, in this case, the throne) whose right could be defeated

Heir apparent

An heir whose right the birth of another heir could not defeat

Elizabeth did not remain heir for long. On 19 May 1536, Anne Boleyn was beheaded, and Elizabeth became illegitimate with the end of her marriage to Henry VIII. In 1537, her half-brother Edward was born to Henry VIII’s third wife, Jane Seymour, and he became heir apparent.

Elizabeth’s education

Elizabeth received a good education in English, Latin, Italian, French, Greek and music. When her formal education ended in 1550, Elizabeth was considered one of the best-educated women of her generation.

Did you know?

Elizabeth translated many works from Latin and Greek into English throughout her life.

Elizabeth I Portraits

Let us take a look at some of the portraits of Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I, Portrait of Princess Elizabeth, StudySmarterPortrait of Princess Elizabeth, Flickr

Elizabeth I, Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I after she defeated the Spanish Armada, StudySmarterThe Armada Portrait did after Queen Elizabeth I had defeated the Spanish Armada, Flickr

When Henry VIII died in 1547, Edward VI became King at the age of nine. What happened to Elizabeth at this point?

  • She lived with her stepmother Katherine Parr, who married Thomas Seymour.

  • Seymour acted flirtatiously with Princess Elizabeth, who was fourteen at the time, and this inappropriate behaviour eventually led to Elizabeth being sent away.

  • Thomas Seymour was incredibly jealous of his brother Edward, who was made King Edward VI’s Lord Protector.

  • He was arrested for treason and accused of plotting to marry Elizabeth to rule the kingdom after the death of Katherine Parr. Elizabeth was cleared of all charges, but Thomas Seymour was not so lucky and was beheaded.

Lord Protector

The person who ruled on behalf of a monarch when they were unable, in this case, due to age

Did you know?

Thomas and Edward Seymour were the brothers of Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s third wife.

Edward VI died in 1553, aged 15 and named his cousin Lady Jane Grey as his successor. She only ruled as Queen for nine days before she gave up the throne to Mary I. Mary and Elizabeth were close for a time, but this changed as Mary was a devout Catholic and Elizabeth a Protestant.

Wyatt’s Rebellion

Wyatt’s Rebellion was a popular uprising in 1544, arising from concern over Queen Mary I’s decision to marry Philip of Spain, a foreigner.

The rebels wanted to dethrone Mary and replace her with Elizabeth. Although Thomas Wyatt proclaimed her innocence when he was captured, Elizabeth was imprisoned, and Mary placed her under house arrest.

Mary I died on 17 November 1558, and Elizabeth became Queen at age 25.

Elizabeth’s reign was eventful and saw a lot of change in England. She tackled the issue of religion, oversaw an era of global exploration and trade, and faced threats from Mary Queen of Scots and the Spanish Armada.

Upon becoming Queen, Elizabeth immediately began to form her government. She reduced the size of the Privy Council considerably, partly to get rid of the Catholic members and partly to make it more efficient.

Privy Council

A body of advisors to the monarch

Elizabeth I and the marriage question

Elizabeth I never married or had any children, hence her nickname ‘The Virgin Queen’. It is a mystery why she never got married as she had plenty of suitors, but one theory is that she wanted to protect England’s security. She wanted to stay independent of any foreign influence by marrying a foreign prince.

Queen Elizabeth I and Religion

Ever since Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII had left the Catholic Church in 1534 and founded the Church of England, religion began to cause many problems in England with a divide between Catholics and protestants. The religious policies of her siblings had intensified this turmoil, especially as Mary I reversed the country’s religious policy, prosecuting protestants and reviving Catholicism.

Elizabeth aimed to end this religious upheaval through what is known as the Elizabethan Religious Settlement – a collective name for the policies she passed on the issue of religion. Let’s look at some of the critical elements of the Religious Settlement below.

  • The 1559 Act of Supremacy made Elizabeth Supreme Governor of the Church of England – those who worked in the church had to take an oath of supremacy. It prohibited any foreign leadership of the church, and not recognising Elizabeth as Supreme Governor was treason.

  • The 1559 Act of Uniformity laid the foundations of Elizabethan church services. Everyone was expected to attend Anglican services once a week or be fined one shilling, equivalent to three days of wages.

  • The Act of Uniformity restored Edward VI’s 1552 Book of Common Prayer but with a few revisions to appease Catholics, such as removing a prayer against the Pope.

  • The 1559 Royal Injunctions Act reinforced the Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity, banning ‘superstition’ from religious services and requiring clergymen to report recusants – those who refused to attend church services.

  • The Thirty-Nine Articles of 1563, finalised in 1571, laid down the doctrines of the Church of England. They were quite ambiguous to allow for people of different Christian faiths but were against many aspects of Catholicism.

Notably, Elizabeth became Supreme Governor of the Church rather than Supreme Head of the Church, which is the title Henry VIII had held. Reasons for this difference in the title include the fact that Elizabeth was a woman so people felt she could not be the ‘head’ of the church. It also reflects the idea that the head of the church should be Jesus rather than the monarch.

So, was the Religious Settlement a success?

SuccessesFailures
Most of the clergymen took the Oath of Supremacy. Out of around 9000 priests, only about 250 refused. Those that refused lost their jobs, meaning they provided less significant opposition to Elizabeth.In 1570, the Pope excommunicated Elizabeth, which meant she was completely expelled from the Catholic Church. Her people were no longer required to be loyal to her, which could have led to a major Catholic uprising in England. After this point, Elizabeth did face more Catholic plots, but many Catholics were happy to continue practising their religion in private.
Some elements of Catholicism were allowed, such as limited church decoration, choral music, and colourful robes. A Latin edition of the prayer book was also printed as well as the English version, as Catholic services had traditionally been in Latin.Elizabeth I did face Catholic plots during her reign, which aimed to remove her from the throne and replace her with the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots. We will look more in detail at this in the next section.
Elizabeth I was fairly tolerant of Catholicism, as shown in the ambiguity of her religious settlement. As long as people seemed to be obeying the settlement, she was happy to turn a blind eye as she disliked extremism.Although Elizabeth was fairly tolerant, she still executed Catholics during her reign in response to the attempting uprisings she faced.

Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots

Mary Stuart, or Mary, Queen of Scots, had always been an issue for Elizabeth. Mary was the granddaughter of Henry VIII’s elder sister, Margaret Tudor, and she was Catholic. Many English Catholics considered Mary to be the rightful heir to the English throne.

Elizabeth I, Portrait of Mary Queen of Scots, StudySmarterPortrait of Mary, Queen of Scots, Wikimedia Commons

Mary united Scotland with France when she married the future French King Francis II in 1558. When he died, she returned to Scotland, where mistakes led to Mary’s imprisonment. Mary escaped, but after being defeated at the Battle of Langside in 1568, she was forced to flee to England, where Elizabeth held her captive for 19 years.

Mary became the centre of four plots against Elizabeth:

  1. The Northern Earls’ Rebellion in 1569: a group of Catholic earls (type of noble) rallied an army of 6000 men to break Mary out of prison. Elizabeth’s army crushed the rebellion, and around 800 rebels were executed.

  2. The 1571 Ridolfi Plot: a banker named Roberto Ridolfi, supported by Spain and the Duke of Norfolk, planned to place Mary on the throne by killing Queen Elizabeth – Elizabeth learnt of the plot and arrested Ridolfi.

  3. The 1583 Throckmorton Plot: a man named Francis Throckmorton coordinated a plan, supported by Spain and the Pope, for the French army to invade England to place Mary on the throne. He was executed.

  4. The 1586 Babington Plot: Sir Anthony Babington intended to place Mary on the throne and kill the current Queen.

The Babington Plot eventually led to Mary’s execution. She was beheaded on 8 February 1587.

Queen Elizabeth I and Foreign Policy

The Elizabethan era saw a shift in the way England interacted with the world concerning trade and exploration.

Trade in the Elizabethan Era

Until the 15th century, luxury goods such as spices and silk were transported from China to England via land routes. Things changed when long(er) sea journeys became possible in the 15th century. Elizabethan adventurers changed English trade enormously as they discovered sea routes that opened up new markets.

Thus, four new trading companies emerged:

Year foundedCompany nameTrading
1555The Muscovy CompanyTraded furs and timber with Russia
1581The Eastland CompanyTrade timber, tar and canvas with the Baltic
1581The Levant CompanyTraded dyes, dried fruit, wine, and silk with the Eastern Mediterranean
1600The East India CompanyTraded silk, cotton, spices, and tea with India and the Far East

Global Exploration in the Elizabethan Era

The Elizabethan era was a time of global exploration for many countries. The Spanish and Portuguese empires were the first to colonise the New World of the Americas, followed by the Dutch, French, and English. The English had their sights set on North America, where no Europeans had yet colonised.

Let’s have a look at the progress made under Queen Elizabeth I.

The lost colony of Roanoke

Elizabeth I granted Sir Walter Raleigh the right to explore the New World. He led two expeditions and then sent a team to colonise Roanoke Island in present-day North Carolina in 1585. The colonisation failed, but another attempt was made in 1587. The governor of this new colony John White returned to England to stock up on supplies and report on the colony’s progress but upon his return, the entire colony had vanished, which is why it is known as the lost colony of Roanoke.

The failure of the Roanoke Colony in the area which Raleigh named Virginia after Elizabeth (the Virgin Queen) ended colonisation attempts for nearly two decades. The colony pathed the way for future colonisation after Elizabeth’s death when the Virginia Colony flourished.

Sir Francis Drake

Sir Francis Drake was an English explorer, sea captain, privateer, slave trader, naval officer, and politician during Elizabethan times.

Privateer

A private person or ship engaging in maritime warfare under a commission of war; often referred to as pirates.

Francis Drake’s key achievements included:

  • Discovery of the Straits of Magellan, a sea route at the tip of South America connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans

  • Discovery of Tierra del Fuego, islands south of the Magellan Strait

  • Discovery of America’s north coast; Drake sailed further than any other European before him and landed in what is now San Francisco, naming it Nova Albion (New England).

  • He was the first person to sail around the globe.

Queen Elizabeth I and the Spanish Armada

The greatest threat during Elizabeth I’s reign was Spain.

Sir Francis Drake had undertaken major voyages against Spanish ports in the Caribbean in 1585 and 1586, and he made a successful raid on Cádiz (southwestern Spain) in 1587. With his raid on Cádiz, he destroyed a Spanish fleet of warships that were to attack England.

Nevertheless, on 12 July 1588, the Spanish Armada set sail from the Netherlands to England’s southeast coast with a great fleet of ships. Sir Francis Drake was second-in-command to Admiral Charles Howard, who commanded the English fleet against the Spanish.

Due to a combination of miscalculation, misfortune, bad weather, and an attack of English fire ships, on 29 July 1588, the Spanish Armada was defeated, and with it, the threat of Spain to England.

Before the English attack on the Spanish Armada, Elizabeth gave an impressive speech at Tilbury in 1588. A famous quote from this speech read:

I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and a king of England too, and think foul scorn that... any prince of Europe should dare to invade the borders of my reals. … I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.

Queen Elizabeth I’s Death and Succession

Elizabeth died at Richmond Palace on 24 March 1603. Her health declined in autumn 1602 when a series of friends’ deaths plunged her into a deep depression. She died without having any children, ending the 118 year Tudor reign.

Many believe that Elizabeth’s cosmetic concoction, which gave her the infamous pale appearance, was made from a mixture of lead and vinegar that may have affected her health. However, the cause of death is still unknown and highly disputed.

So, who would succeed Elizabeth given she had no children? The government, directed by Robert Cecil, the son of Elizabeth’s senior adviser William Cecil, placed James Stuart, the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, on the throne. James Stuart was already James VI King of Scotland, and on 24 March 1603, he also became James I, King of England and Ireland.

Elizabeth I’s Legacy and Accomplishments

  • The Elizabethan Era is called the ‘Golden Age’, represented by the English Renaissance with poetry, literature, and music.

  • Elizabeth thoroughly established the Church of England with the Religious Settlement, which helped shape today’s national identity.

  • Many voyages and discoveries took place in the Elizabethan era.

  • Several trading companies, such as the East India Company, were established.

  • Under Elizabeth’s rule, England defeated the Spanish Armada.

  • In 1586–87, Queen Elizabeth I paid Sir Francis Walsingham to set up England’s first counterintelligence network and a school to teach cypher-breaking and forgery, which was the forerunner of today’s intelligence services.

  • In 1601, the Elizabethan Poor Law was introduced, requiring every parish to care for the ‘lame, impotent, old, and blind’. This law evolved and the modern welfare state of the 20th century replaced it.

The image of Elizabeth’s reign is one of triumph and success, hence why she was often called ‘Gloriana’ or ‘Good Queen Bess’.

Queen Elizabeth I Facts

  • Elizabeth had a sweet tooth. She had a particular fondness for candied violets. The sugar cane eventually caused her teeth to turn black.

  • Elizabeth spoke and read at least seven languages: English, Welsh, Greek, Latin, Spanish, Italian, and French.

  • Elizabeth was somewhat Catholic. Not only did she sometimes wear a crucifix, but she was also Catholic during Mary I’s reign, at least outwardly.

  • Elizabeth survived smallpox as a young woman. However, the scars on her face don’t ever show in portraits, which may be one of the reasons she always wore a lot of makeup.

  • At the time of her death, Elizabeth I was 69 years old, making her the oldest monarch in English history at the time.

Elizabeth I - Key Takeaways

  • Elizabeth was born on 7 September 1533 to Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn. Although she was born heir presumptive, she did not become Queen on 17 November 1558.
  • Elizabeth reversed the Catholicism of Mary I’s reign, and her religious settlement strengthened the Church of England whilst making some concessions to Catholics.
  • Four Catholic plots against her aimed to place Mary, Queen of Scots, on the throne. The fourth eventually led to Elizabeth executing Mary.
  • The Elizabethan era was a time of global exploration, with new trading companies and a precursor to the successful colonisation of North America.
  • On 12 July 1558, Elizabeth defeated the Spanish Armada and made England a world superpower.
  • Elizabeth died on 24 March 1603, aged 69. She ruled for 44 years but died without a successor ending the Tudor era. King James VI of Scotland also became King of England and Ireland upon her death.

Frequently Asked Questions about Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I was 25 when she became Queen.

Elizabeth I was 69 when she died.

Elizabeth I is buried in Westminster Abbey, in London.

She became queen on 17 November 1558.

No, she never had any children.

Final Elizabeth I Quiz

Question

When was Elizabeth I born?

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Answer

Elizabeth was born on 7 September 1533.

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Question

What is the name of the 1544 rebellion that led to Mary putting Elizabeth I under house arrest?

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Answer

Wyatt’s Rebellion.

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Question

When did Elizabeth I become Queen of England and Ireland, and how old was she?

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Answer

She became queen on 17 November 1558, upon Mary I’s death. She was 25 years old.

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Question

The middle ground did not work out as expected. What happened?

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Answer

  • In 1570, the pope excommunicated Elizabeth.
  • Catholics plotted against Elizabeth. Many of their leaders were executed.
  • Catholic priests who held services in secret were tortured and executed. Elizabeth even had as many Catholics executed as Mary burned Protestants.

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Question

What title did Elizabeth I get after the Act of Supremacy was passed?

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Answer

Supreme Governor of the Church of England.

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Question

Name the four main suitors for Elizabeth I’s hand in marriage.

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Answer

1. Robert Dudley.

2. Philip, King of Spain.

3. Archduke Charles, Archduke of Austria. 

4. Francis Duke of Alencon.

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Name and explain the four trading companies Elizabeth I established.

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Answer

  1. Muscovy Company, founded in 1555. England traded furs and timber with Russia.
  2. Eastland Company, founded in 1581. England traded timber, tar, and canvas with the Baltic.
  3. Levant Company, founded in 1581. England traded dyes, dried fruit, wine, and silk with the Eastern Mediterranean.
  4. East India Company, founded in 1600. England traded silk, cotton, spices, and tea with India and the Far East.

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Question

To whom did Elizabeth I grant the right to explore the New World?

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Answer

Sir Walter Raleigh

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Question

What was the name of the colony set up in North America in 1587?

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Answer

Roanoke Colony.

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What happened to the Roanoke colony, and by what name is it still known today?

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The colony was deserted. It was intact, the buildings were intact, and there was no sign of a struggle or fight. The colonists had vanished, and no one knows what happened to them to this day. The colony became known as ‘the lost colony of Roanoke’.

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Question

What was the first permanent English settlement in North America, and after whom was it named?

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Answer

Virginia, named after Elizabeth’s nickname, ‘the Virgin Queen’.

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What was the most notable moment from Sir Francis Drake’s career?

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Answer

He was the first person to sail around the world. 

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When was the Spanish Armada defeated?

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Answer

On 29 July 1588.

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When did Elizabeth I die, and who was her successor?

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Answer

Elizabeth I died on 24 March 1603. Her successor was James Stuart, the son of Mary, Queen of Scots. He had already been James VI, King of England, and became James I, King of England and Ireland.

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Where is Elizabeth I buried?

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In London, she is buried in Westminster Abbey in a tomb shared with her half-sister Mary I.

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Question

What is the definition of the Renaissance?

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It was a period of European cultural, artistic, and economic rebirth, or re-discovery.

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When did the English Renaissance start?

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There is no general consensus and it depends on which view you share. It either starts in 1485 or around the 1520s.

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What are the three main differences between the English and the Italian Renaissance?

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  1. The dominant art forms in England were literature and music.
  2. Visual arts, such as drawing and sculpting, were less significant in England than in Italy.
  3. The Renaissance period in England began much later than in Italy. By the 1550s, when the English Renaissance had barely started, the Italian Renaissance had already moved into Mannerism, known as the Late Renaissance, and the Baroque style.

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Which notable writer published his own Bible translation in 1526?

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Answer

William Tyndale

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Who was ‘the father of prose’?

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Answer

Roger Ascham

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Name a poem that Elizabeth I wrote.


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Answer

On Monsieur’s Departure

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Name four writers that flourished under the reign of Elizabeth I.

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1. Sir Philip Sidney

2. Edmund Spenser

3. Roger Ascham

4. William Shakespeare

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Name three famous examples of Shakespeare's works.

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Any three of:

1. Hamlet

2. Romeo and Juliet

3. Macbeth

4. A Midsummer Night’s Dream

5. Othello

6. King Lear

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What are the three types of literature that were most common during the English Renaissance?

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Answer

  1. Poetry
  2. Prose
  3. Drama

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What is the name of the period that comes after the end of the Renaissance in the seventeenth century?

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Answer

Age of Enlightenment

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Which different genres of theatre emerged during the English Renaissance?

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  • History plays
  • A renewed interest in tragedy
  • Revenge dramas

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Which four tragedies Shakespeare composed are considered his greatest?

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Answer

  1. Hamlet
  2. Othello
  3. King Lear
  4. Macbeth

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Name a famous portrait painter from the Tudor reign.

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Answer

Hans Holbein the Younger

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What type of portrait painting was invented in England?

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Answer

Portrait miniature, where a miniature portrait would be worn in a locket.

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Question

Name two leading English composers of the time.

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Answer

Any two of:

  1. William Byrd
  2. Thomas Tallis
  3. Thomas Morley
  4. John Dowland

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Question

Who was the English composer that composed in the polyphonic music style?

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Answer

John Dunstaple (also spelled John Dunstable).

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Question

What is humanism?

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Answer

It is a philosophical view that focuses on life in the present rather than the afterlife. It led to a revival of classical education.

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When was Mary Stewart born?

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Answer

On 8 December 1542

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Who were Mary, Queen of Scots' parents?

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James V, King of Scotland and his French wife Mary of Guise (in French: Marie de Guise).

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How was Mary, Queen of Scots related to the Tudors?


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Her grandmother was Margaret Tudor, the older sister of Henry VIII. This made Mary the great-niece of Henry VIII.

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How old was Mary when she became queen?


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She was six days old.

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Question

The Treaty of Greenwich consisted of two sub-treaties. What were they?

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  1. To establish peace between England and Scotland.

  2. The marriage proposal between Mary, Queen of Scots and Henry VIII's son Edward, the future Edward VI, King of England and Ireland.

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What led to the Rough Wooing?


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In the Treaty of Greenwich it was stated that Mary, Queen of Scots would marry Henry VIII's son, Edward. The Scots ultimately rejected the treaty. Henry VIII was enraged and the eight-year conflict that followed was called the Rough Wooing.

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When did the English defeat the Scots, and what was the name of the battle?

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On 10 September 1547 at the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh.

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Which treaty was signed on 7 July 1548, and what did the treaty entail?


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The Treaty of Haddington. It entailed that Mary, Queen of Scots would marry Dauphin Francis, who would later become Francis II, King of France.

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Who were Francis II's parents?


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Henry II, King of France and Catherine de' Medici.

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What name change happened when Mary went to live in France?


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Her surname of Stewart was changed to Stuart, to suit the French conventional spelling.

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When were Mary, Queen of Scots, and Francis II married?


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On 24 April 1558

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When did Francis II die and what happened to Mary, Queen of Scots afterward?


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Francis II died on 5 December 1560. Since he died childless, the French throne went to Francis' younger brother Charles IX. Mary returned to Scotland nine months later.

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Why was it dangerous for Mary, Queen of Scots to return to Scotland?


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Answer

Mary was a Catholic and Scotland was becoming more and more Protestant.

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Question

After Francis II, Mary, Queen of Scots married two more times. To whom?


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Answer

  1. Henry Stewart, Earl of Darnley
  2. James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell

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When was Mary, Queen of Scots forced to abdicate and in favour of whom?


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Answer

On 24 July 1567 she was forced to abdicate in favour of her one-year-old son, James.

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Mary, Queen of Scots was imprisoned after her abdication. When did she escape and where did she go?


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Answer

She escaped on 2 May 1568, and after she was defeated at the Battle of Langside, she fled to England.

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Question

what did Queen Elizabeth I do when Mary, Queen of Scots arrived in England?


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Answer

Queen Elizabeth I imprisoned Mary, Queen of Scots for 19 years.

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Question

Mary, Queen of Scots was implicated in three plots against Queen Elizabeth I. Which ones?

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Answer

  1. Ridolfi plot of 1571
  2. Throckmorton plot of 1583
  3. Babington plot of 1586

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