Advice to Elizabeth

450 years ago this month, the young Elizabeth became queen of England. Norman Jones looks at evidence from the state papers, newly available online from Cengage, to show how those close to her viewed the challenges faced in the early days by Elizabethan England.

Mary Tudor (r.1553-58), the last Catholic monarch of England, died early on the morning of November 17th, 1558, at St James’s Palace in London. Several miles away at Hatfield House in Hertfordshire, her half-sister Elizabeth was expecting word of Mary’s death but she could not be sure of her passing until her own servant brought her the ring Philip II had given his wife, removed from the late queen’s finger.

As soon as Elizabeth was certain that she had inherited the kingdom, a carefully prepared succession plan swept into action.

That Elizabeth would survive as queen to gain her glorious reputation required luck, a great deal of political skill and self-assured action in the first months of her reign. Conservative, imperious and frugal from the outset, Elizabeth knew who she was and what her duties were. Only twenty-five, she was sure of her God-given place as queen, of her responsibilities as the ‘handmaiden of the Lord’, and of the monarch’s prerogatives. Responsible to God for her people, she would be careful never to let them challenge her authority, even though many, seeing her as a weak woman in need of male guidance, tried.

As wife of Philip II of Spain, Mary had involved England in Spain’s conflict with France and Scotland, costing England Calais, its last French possession, in January 1558. Since the twelfth century the main Staple Port for wool, the loss of Calais seriously disrupted the export of this mainstay of the economy.

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