Elizabeth, Queen of England, was the daughter of Henry VIII and the unfortunate Anne Boleyn, and was born on the 7th of September, 1533. While she was yet in her third year, her mother was beheaded. After her mother's execution, she was sent to the country, where, in comparative poverty and seclusion, under the care of ladies who leaned to the new learning; and sometimes, though seldom, with the companionship of Edward, or her sister Mary, the greater part of her early youth was spent. When Catharine Parr became queen, Elizabeth, who was a favorite with her, was more seen at court, but from some unknown cause, she incurred her father's displeasure, and was again sent to the country. Her father died when she was twelve years old. During the reign of her brother Edward, her life passed quietly and peacefully. She was then remarkable for her great demureness and sobriety of manner, discoursing with her elders with all the gravity of advanced years. Edward used to speak of her as his "sweet sister Temperance." During her sister's reign, her Protestantism, and the way in which court was paid to her by the Protestant nobility, caused uneasiness to Mary and her council. On her sister's command, she conformed to papacy, but the insincerity of the conformity imposed on no one. Upon the pretext of having been concerned in Wyatt's rebellion, she was sent in 1554 to the Tower. In daily fear for her life, many months passed. Indeed. the warrant for her execution was at one time prepared; and it is unqestionable that the stern bigotry of Mary and her councilors, Gardiner and Bonner, would have sacrificed Elizabeth, but for fear of popular commotion.
When Mary died (November 17th, 1558), Elizabeth was twenty five years of age. Her accession was welcomed alike by Catholic and Protestant. The former were, outwardly at least, the majority in Mary's reign; but among them there were few who really cared for the doctrines of the Roman Church; and there were many who were weary of priestly interference, foreign dictation, and cruel persecution. The Protestants, of course, who had never believed in the sincerity of Elizabeth's conformity, welcomed her to the throne. Elizabeth then began, amidst dangers and difficulties, a reign which, contrary to the expectations of all, was of unexampled length and prosperity.
How the government influence was to be directed was not long in being shown. Till parliament should meet, Elizabeth issued a proclamation that the English language should be used in the greater part of the church service, and that the host should not be elevated by the priest during mass. This sufficiently indicated into what hands power had passed, and was enough to throw the mass of the indifferent to the side of the Protestants, and to cause a Protestant majority to be returned to Elizabeth's first parliament. The acts of this parliament must be ever memorable in English history. It was then that England took its position as a Protestant power. The Book of Common Prayer, retaining, doubtless, some mixture of mediaeval thought but still vivid with new energy, was appointed to be used in all the churches; the Thirty-nine Articles were settled as the national faith, the queen was declared to be the head of the church. Thus all allegiance to Rome was thrown off. This revolution was soon accomplished, and with little turmoil. The bishops, with one exception,, refused to conform; but as a sign of the times marking how thoroughly the priesthood must have become demoralized before their power was lost, it is noteworthy that of the 9,000 clergymen who held livings in England, there were fewer than 200 who resigned, rather than obey the new order.
The policy of Elizabeth's ministers was one of peace and economy. They found the nation at war with France and Scotland, and one of their first acts was to secure peace upon favorable terms. Ever afterwards they followed the same path. No wars were undertaken in her reign for the sake of territorial conquest.
The one great blunder of England's policy was the treatment of Mary Queen of Scots. Had Elizabeth pursued a straightforward course, when her rival was thrown into her hands, much evil might have been spared. Some of the English ministers were prepared to take effectual measures to remove a life which might be turned into a dangerous tool in the hands of the Catholics. Elizabeth shrank from that course, but had not the courage and generosity to set Queen Mary at liberty. As it was, Elizabeth retained her as a prisoner, and thus for years gave cause to conspiracy after conspiracy among the English Catholics. The discovery of every new plot led to demands on the part of parliament, for the execution of Mary. With reluctance and hesitation, the sincerity of which need not be questioned, Elizabeth consented; and Mary after long years of confinement was condemned and executed.
This led to new evils. The participation of the Catholic party in the plots was retaliated by persecution. Many suffered under an act passed in 1585, making it treason for a Catholic priest to be in England, and felony to harbor one. These cruel measures were the ultimate means of bringing upon England the most menacing foreign attack which she had suffered. Philip of Spain had long meditated revenge against England. The greatest state in Europe, enriched by splendid acquisitions in the New World, could ill brook that a power of the second rank should incite rebellion among her subjects in the Netherlands, should aid the Protestants in their desperate struggle, against Alva, and allow its ships (little better than pirates, it must be confessed) to enter the Spanish harbors, and cut out the rich laden galloons. These were the real reasons: to restore the Catholic faith, and to avenge the death of a Catholic queen, furnished ostensible reasons. Years had been spent in preparation. In 1588, the "Invincible Armada" sailed from the Tagus, manned by 8,000 sailors and carrying 20,000 soldiers. To aid these a land army of 100,000 men was to be transported from the Netherlands under the Duke of Parma. The news roused all England, and every man who could carry arms - Protestant and Catholic, from eighteen years of age to sixty - was enrolled in the forces. The queen herself rode at Tilbury, energetically encouraging the army. A fleet of 200 vessels and 15,000 seamen gathered itself on the southern coasts, and waited the attack. Superior skill and courage gained the victory for the English; and what these had begun, the force of the elements completed. The splendid Armada was broken and destroyed before it could join the land-army, not a soldier of which ever left foreign ground; while not a seaman of the fleet, save those whom shipwreck sent, ever set foot, on English ground.
Elizabeth died on the 24th of March, 1603, having lived nearly seventy, and reigned forty-five years. What makes her name so famous was the splendor of her times. In her long reign, the true greatness of England began. Freed from the possession of those French provinces which rather harassed than enriched - with little domestic commotion - with no great foreign wars - with an almost complete immunity from religious persecution, the nation turned to the arts of peace. An unequalled literature arose. The age that produced Spencer, Shakespeare, and Bacon, could not be other than famous. Under Frobisher and Drake, maritime adventure began, and the foundations of England's naval force were laid. Commerce, from being a small matter, in the hands of a few foreign merchants, developed itself largely. The exchange of London was opened in Elizabeth's time; and in the charter which she granted to that company of merchant adventurers, which afterwards took the name of the East India Company, may be seen one of the small beginnings of the British enterprise.