Queen Elizabeth I
Who was Queen Elizabeth I?
Elizabeth I was one of the most famous queens England ever had. She was the last Tudor monarch (a monarch is a king or queen).
Elizabeth I was King Henry VIII’s youngest daughter, and her mother was Anne Boleyn.
The 44 years in which Elizabeth I ruled England are called the Golden Age, because England was very prosperous.
Top 10 facts
- Elizabeth was born on 7 September 1533. Her mother was Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife.
- Elizabeth had a half-sister, Mary, and a half-brother, Edward. Both ruled England before she became queen.
- Elizabeth I was the last Tudor monarch – she never married.
- Elizabeth I is famous for having red hair, like her father Henry VIII.
- During Elizabeth I's reign lots of English explorers searched for new lands and treasures. The explorer Sir Francis Drake was knighted by Elizabeth for services to his country.
- The time when Elizabeth I was Queen is known as England’s Golden Age.
- In 1588 the King of Spain, Philip I, sent a fleet of ships called the Armada to invade England, but they were defeated. Elizabeth gave a famous speech to encourage her troops at Tilbury.
- Elizabeth I wore thick white makeup to cover up scars on her face leftover from when she had smallpox.
- There were quite a few plots to assassinate Elizabeth I and put her cousin Mary Queen of Scots on the throne instead. The most famous is the Babington Plot.
- Elizabeth I died on 24 March 1603. She is buried in Westminster Abbey.
- 7 September 1533Elizabeth I was born in Greenwich
- 17 November 1558Queen Mary I died
- 15 January 1559Elizabeth I was officially crowned queen (coronated)
- 1562Elizabeth I became very ill with smallpox
- 1577-1580Sir Francis Drake sailed around the world
- 1581Elizabeth I knighted Francis Drake, making him Sir Francis Drake
- 1583The Throckmorton Plot was discovered
- 1584The Bond of Association became law, meaning that anyone involved in a plot to assassinate Elizabeth I and rule England instead would be put to death
- 1586The Babington Plot was organised, and discovered by Sir Francis Walsingham
- 11 August 1586Mary Queen of Scots was arrested for being part of the Babington Plot
- 8 February 1587Mary Queen of Scots was executed at Fotheringay Castle in Northamptonshire
- 1588The Spanish attempted to invade England via an Armada, and were defeated at sea
- 1596-1597The Spanish sent two more Armadas, and both were defeated
- 30 November, 1601Elizabeth I gave her Golden Speech to Parliament
- 24 March 1603Elizabeth I died
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Did you know?
- Elizabeth I did a lot of travelling around England. You may spot signs saying ‘Queen Elizabeth I slept here’ around the country!
- Elizabeth could speak six languages!
- Elizabeth I had red hair. She wore a wig because that’s what rich people in Tudor times did, and even her wig was red.
- Elizabeth I is also called the Virgin Queen because she never married. Her other nickname is Good Queen Bess.
- The time when Elizabeth I was queen is also called the Elizabethan Era.
- The state of Virginia in America is named after Queen Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen.
- Elizabeth I signed her name in a very pretty way, with lots of zigzags at the end of the first ‘e’ and ‘z’ and an uppercase ‘R’ at the end – the R stands for ‘regina’, which is the Latin word for queen.
- None of Queen Elizabeth I’s dresses are still around today, but we know what she wore because of what we can see in paintings. Her clothes were very beautiful, and decorated with jewels and pretty designs.
- Smallpox was a very serious disease in Tudor times that gave people blisters all over their face and skin. Elizabeth I caught it too – she got better, but had scars on her face that she covered with white makeup for the rest of her life.
Have a look through the gallery and see if you can spot all the following:
- A painting of Queen Elizabeth I around 1565-1570
- A portrait of Queen Elizabeth I around 1573-1575
- Queen Elizabeth I, painted by an unknown artist around 1585-1595
- Queen Elizabeth I in 1588, painted after the Spanish Armada victory
- Queen Elizabeth I around 1600
- King Henry VIII
- Anne Boleyn
- Queen Mary I
- King Edward VI
- Sir Francis Drake
Elizabeth I’s mother, Anne Boleyn, was put to death by Henry VIII, Elizabeth’s father. Princess Elizabeth was only three years old when this happened, so she didn’t really know her mum.
Elizabeth I led England into a Golden Age. Explorers set up colonies overseas, and claimed land in the name of England. There was more trade with foreign countries, which brought in foods and goods that people had never seen before. English literature, music and art also flourished.
Elizabeth I was very interested in helping poor people have a better life. She passed laws that gave poor people and children a chance to work or to learn a new trade, and set up hospitals and orphanages to look after poor people who were too young, old or sick to work. But, if people who were poor, healthy and didn’t want to do any work at all would be punished and sent to prison!
Elizabeth I was known for being a good public speaker. Two of her most famous speeches are:
- The Speech to the Troops at Tilbury in 1588 during the attacks by the Spanish Armada
- The Golden Speech in 1601, which was like a farewell speech to government leaders – she spoke about how she much she loved working with them, and serving England.
The Throckmorton plot in the early 1580s was a plan to have Elizabeth I assassinated, and put her cousin Mary Queen of Scots on the throne instead. Mary was Catholic, and had important Catholic nobles helping her in this plan – King Philip II from Spain, Henry I from France, and even the Pope. Sir Francis Throckmorton was a Spaniard who sent messages between Mary Queen of Scots and King Philip II’s ambassador.
It was thanks to Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth I’s secretary of state, that the Throckmorton Plot was discovered. He also organised for the Bond of Association to become law in 1584, meaning that anyone who plotted to assassinate Elizabeth I or try to rule England instead would be put to death.
In 1586, Sir Francis Walsingham discovered another plot that also involved assassinating Elizabeth I and having Mary Queen of Scots rule instead. It was also supported by Philip II from Spain, and led by a man called Sir Anthony Babington. Sir Francis discovered the Babington Plot by reading secret letters between Mary and the plotters – they were written in code, so he had to decipher that first. Mary and the plotters didn’t know that Sir Francis was reading their letters, which were sent back and forth in waterproof cases inside beer barrels.
Because of the Bond of Association, everyone involved with the Babington Plot was arrested and executed in 1586, including Mary Queen of Scots in 1587. Elizabeth I had to approve her cousin’s death warrant, which wasn’t easy.
In 1588, the Spanish sent a fleet of ships to England to try to start a war, but they were defeated by the English at sea. One way that the English fought against them was to set fire to some of their own boats and push them straight into where the Spanish boats were. It meant that the Spanish Armada had to sail in all different directions to protect themselves, which gave English warships a chance to organise themselves for battle.
Sir Francis Drake was the second person to sail around the world, also called circumnavigation. Ferdinand Magellan from Portugal was the first person we know of to sail around the world.
Sir Francis Drake (1540-1596) – Sir Francis Drake was the first English person to sail around the world. He helped to defeat the first Spanish Armada in 1588.
Sir Walter Raleigh (c. 1554-1618) – Sir Walter Raleigh was a famous explorer and trader, and began colonies in America. He named the state of Virginia after Elizabeth I.
Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587) – Mary Stuart was Queen Mary I of Scotland, and more famously known as Mary, Queen of Scots. She was involved in plots to assassinate Elizabeth I and take the throne instead. It was because of the last plot – the Babbington Plot – that she was arrested and put to death.
Robert Dudley (1532- 1588) – Robert Dudley was a very close friend of Elizabeth I, and was a trusted advisor. Some people thought Elizabeth I wanted to marry him.
Sir Francis Walsingham (c. 1532-1590) – Sir Francis Walsingham was Elizabeth I’s secretary of state, and is known as her spymaster for his role in stopping plots to have Elizabeth I assassinated. The most famous is the Babington Plot, when he decoded secret messages sent between Mary Queen of Scots and the plotters.
Robert Cecil (1563-1612) – Robert Cecil was William Cecil’s son, and one of Elizabeth I’s advisors. Sir Francis Walsingham trained him to be a spymaster, as he was, and keep the queen safe.
William Cecil (1521-1598) – William Cecil was Elizabeth I’s main advisor. He helped Sir Francis Walsingham stop plots to assassinate Elizabeth I, such as the Babington Plot.
Just for fun...
- There are lots of myths about Elizabeth I. Are any of them true?
- Who is wooing Elizabeth I in a Horrible Histories video?
- Find out about the lives of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I and learn a ceremonial tune inspired by the rhythm of a Tudor pavan with a KS1 song
- Follow a step-by-step guide to drawing Elizabeth I
- Take a quiz to see how much you've learned about Elizabeth I
Best children's books about Elizabeth I
Find out more
- Read an introduction to Tudor England and find out about family life, education, work, city life, religion and court life in Tudor times
- Watch the BBC Bitesize introduction to Elizabeth I for KS1 and the BBC Bitesize videos about the Elizabethan era and the life of Elizabeth I
- A children's guide to Elizabeth I's reign
- Read detailed biography of Elizabeth I
- Barney Harwood presents a brief guide to the action-packed reign of Elizabeth I in a BBC Schools Radio programme
- Look through an interactive timeline of Elizabeth I's life from the BBC
- Watch an animated video about the life of Elizabeth I
- The National Portrait Gallery has 135 different portraits of Elizabeth I; you can also see a portrait of Elizabeth I when she was a Princess in 1546
- Queen Elizabeth I’s Golden Speech
- Read children's books about the Tudors and the reign of Elizabeth I
- Elizabeth I, Queen of England
- Listen to Queen Elizabeth I's famous Tilbury speech rallying her troops before the invasion of the Spanish Armada in 1588
- Find out about Elizabeth I and Shakespeare
- Investigate the issues faced by England’s most famous Tudor Queen, find out about Elizabeth I in her own words and read a collection of documents from Elizabeth I's reign
- Examine Elizabeth I's clothes to find out more about her
- See a 1590 map of England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I
See for yourself
- Visit Hatfield House, where Elizabeth I grew up
- Elizabeth I was imprisoned by her sister Mary I in the Tower of London
- See the famous Armada Portrait of Elizabeth I, on public display in the Queen's Presence Chamber in the Queen's House in Greenwich