Reading History: The Reign of Elizabeth I

Christopher Haigh outlines the historiography of the reign of the first Elizabeth.

The formative account of the achievements of Elizabeth I was written in the 1610s. In his Annales, William Camden constructed the historiographical agenda of the reign. He stressed the chaos Elizabeth inherited and the domestic and foreign challenges she faced, and credited her with systematic and unifying solutions for the ills of the realm. Camden's Elizabeth was frugal, moderate and wise: she inspired her nation to greatness and checked its dangerous enthusiasms. This picture, of a golden Queen tending her people in a golden age, was to be reproduced by copyists time after time.

The 'Camden version' has dominated Elizabethan history over the last hundred years, and was the theme of most of the seventy-odd biographies of the Queen published since 1890. By 1960, this romantic and nationalist interpretation had been given substantial scholarly foundations, mainly through the creative skills of Sir John Neale and the labours of Conyers Read.

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