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.
One of England's most-famous monarchs, Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) rebuilt England’s standing in the world.
Concerns about who would succeed Queen Elizabeth I saw Parliament petition her to marry and produce an heir almost immediately.
In the 1570s and 1580s, Queen Elizabeth I granted royal permission to two Englishmen to colonise America.
In Elizabeth I with a pelican emblem (1575), Nicholas Hilliard used symbols to communicate messages about Queen Elizabeth I.
The search for new markets during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I helped to boost England’s maritime confidence.
Find out more about the symbols used in portraits of Queen Elizabeth I and discover their meanings.
John Dee provided Queen Elizabeth I with a new vision for England, spurring the rise of the British Empire.
Elizabeth I with the cardinal and theological virtues (c. 1598), copyright: Dover Museum and Bronze Age Boat Gallery, was commissioned by the Corporation of Dover for the town hall there. It is on permanent display at Dover Museum and Bronze Age Boat Gallery.
The Privy Council was a defined body that advised Queen Elizabeth I and acted as the administrative centre for her government.