July 21st, 2009 at 5:03 pm (Women)
Name: Elizabeth I (Elizabeth Tudor, Elizabeth Regina, Queen of England)
Dates: September 7, 1533 – March 24, 1603
Place of Birth: Greenwich Palace, England
Why is she interesting?
Elizabeth was born the daughter of King Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn. Her mother was beheaded for treason when she was just a small child. Elizabeth was brilliant, something women weren’t supposed to be in the 1500s. Because she was the daughter of Henry VIII and, ostensibly, in line for the throne she had excellent tutors and loved learning new things. She spoke a number of languages and is known to have written prayers and notes for herself in several different tongues.
Although no one really expected her to, Elizabeth did become the queen of England in 1558 after the death of her sister, Mary. From the outset, the expectation was that her reign would not be hers alone. As queen, it was understood that she should marry and provide royal heirs. As a woman, it was somewhat expected that she would defer to the wisdom of the men around her in important things. None of this happened.
Elizabeth entertained marriage proposals for the majority of her reign, using the possibility of marrying her as a tool for international diplomacy, but she never intended to accept any of them. She appointed brilliant advisers, not least among them Cecil who would be her right-hand man for nearly the whole of her life, but she always made up her own mind. She enjoyed playing at romance with courtiers, but none of them ever had the influence they might wish over her (and a few found that out the hard way). She always remained in control.
As a result of her incredible intelligence and devotion to her kingdom, Elizabeth’s reign was one of incredible peace and prosperity for England. The borders of the empire stretched as England became the prime power to be reckoned with at sea, and even the religious turmoil that had plagued the country largely came to an end. Despite threats from Mary of Scotland, Phillip and his Spanish Armada, and even the Irish rebels, England remained strong and independent. Elizabeth is widely considered to be one of the greatest rulers the world has ever known, and rightly so.
Why do I admire her?
I admire Queen Elizabeth because she was able to hold up to incredible pressures, probably not least of all from herself, and accomplish great things. She suffered from physical and psychological ailments all her life, periodically suffering from all sorts of things caused by stress and who knows what else. She suffered from chronic migraines in a time when they didn’t know how to deal with such a thing. But through it all, she managed to rule an empire.
I’m in awe that she was so able to maintain her power base, not least of all by keeping herself out of marriage. Her councilors all pushed so hard for her to get married, but she stuck to her guns and never did, knowing the mess it made of the royal line of succession that she didn’t have children. But what would marriage have meant for her? A loss of personal power, probably personal freedom, possibly having to just grin and bear it as she was abused either physically or otherwise, and all because she lived when she did. Marriage always represented a loss of power, from her point of view, so why should she, who had all the power in the world, submit to it?
Elizabeth was smart, very smart, and she not only knew it and nurtured her intellect, but she freely let the people around her see it. Women weren’t supposed to be smart (to some extent, they still aren’t), but she didn’t care. She spoke at length and with great intelligence to her court, her councilors and visiting foreign dignitaries. Clearly she wasn’t concerned about intimidating anyone (if they found her intimidating, presumably that was their problem). A prince was supposed to be intelligent in order to rule his land, so why should she not be? But she wasn’t just a bookworm – she danced and played instruments and did embroidery and rode horses like a master and had any number of other hobbies and accomplishments. She about as well-rounded as they come!
I don’t imagine that I will ever make the kind of difference in the world that Elizabeth did. It’s a one in a million person who can, but I do admire the woman and the ruler that she was and I would hope that women everywhere could hear about her and aspire to be as independent, strong and self-assured as she was.