Elizabeth I – the last Tudor monarch – ruled for 45 years and left a long and lasting legacy. Discover more about the voyages of discovery that she supported during her reign and how she helped pave the way for an age of expansion, colonisation and trade.
Elizabeth I’s reign
The England that Elizabeth inherited was on the verge of bankruptcy. The country was at war with itself and others, and had little international standing. Elizabeth's immediate challenge was to reassure her subjects and re-establish the credibility of the Tudor monarchy at home and abroad. This involved reinstating the Reformation, building a Church of England that was neither Catholic nor extreme Protestant, and reinvigorating the nation’s economy.
When she died, England was a comparatively stable country, with an expanding economy and power on the international stage. That she succeeded is attested to by the achievements listed on her tomb, religious settlement, maintenance of peace and re-coinage. The Elizabethan era is now referred to in history as a 'Golden Age'.
Elizabeth I timeline
7 September 1533 | Elizabeth was born in Greenwich Palace to Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn. Both parents were so confident the child would be a male heir, a document was prepared announcing the arrival of a new prince.
17 November 1558 | Mary I died and Elizabeth became Queen of England, aged 25.
15 January 1559 | Elizabeth was crowned Queen in her Coronation ceremony in Westminster Abbey.
17 December 1559 | Elizabeth consecrated Matthew Parker as the first Archbishop of Canterbury for the new Church of England.
1561 | Elizabeth’s 19-year-old cousin, Mary Stuart, returned from France to rule Scotland after the death of Mary of Guise, Regent of Scotland.
1585 | Sir Walter Raleigh attempted to establish an English colony at Roanoke Island, which he names 'Virginia' in honour of Queen Elizabeth ‘the Virgin Queen’.
8 February 1587 | Mary Queen of Scots was executed at Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire after Elizabeth had signed her death warrant at Greenwich.
22 July 1588 | The Spanish Armada, a force of 130 ships and 18,000 men, left northern Spain and headed for the English Channel. Led by King Philip II of Spain, the Armada attempted to invade England to avenge the death of Mary Queen of Scots.
9 August 1588 | The Armada had been defeated and Elizabeth delivered her famous Tilbury Speech.
24 March 1603 | Elizabeth died aged 69 in Richmond Palace, Surrey.
Elizabeth I facts and myth-buster
The Armada Portrait
Recently saved for the nation, the Armada Portrait commemorates the most famous conflict of Elizabeth I's reign – the failed invasion of England by the Spanish Armada in summer 1588. This iconic portrait is now back on public display in the Queen's House after careful conservation.
Queen Elizabeth I inherited a nation suffering from religious flux, but went on to build a stable, peaceful nation.
After Henry VIII’s death in 1547, Elizabeth went to live with her stepmother, Katherine Parr, leading to a near-disaster.
In December 1559, Queen Elizabeth I consecrated Matthew Parker as the first Archbishop of Canterbury for the new Church of England.
The Tudor dynasty was founded in 1485 by Elizabeth's grandfather, Henry VII, when he emerged victorious after the dynastic Wars of the Roses.
The success that Queen Elizabeth I reached with the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 was followed by a period of decline.
Members of the Royal family have been drawn to Greenwich as far back as the late middle ages, with the area being the site of numerous royal births, marriages and deaths.
Early portraits of Queen Elizabeth I stress her God-given right to rule by her death she symbolised national unity.
Was Elizabeth I a man? Did she consider a military alliance with the ruler of the Ottoman Empire? Assistant Curator Zoe Mercer-Golden sifts the top Elizabeth I facts from the fiction surrounding one of the most iconic British monarchs