Queen Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I – the last Tudor monarch – ruled for 45 years and left a long and lasting legacy. Discover more about her rule, and find out more about what portraits of the Queen tell us about her life and impact.

Faces of a Queen

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See the three surviving Armada Portraits of Elizabeth I together for the very first time

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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. 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 named '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.

The Armada Portrait

Image of Armada Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I

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 on public display in the Queen's House after careful conservation.

Find out more and visit The Armada Portrait

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In the 1570s and 1580s, Queen Elizabeth I granted royal permission to two Englishmen to colonise America.

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In Elizabeth I with a pelican emblem (1575), Nicholas Hilliard used symbols to communicate messages about Queen Elizabeth I. 

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All sorts of incredible actors have taken on the role from Glenda Jackson to Judi Dench and now, with the release of Mary, Queen of Scots, Margot Robbie. But how exactly do these films represent her?

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The search for new markets during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I helped to boost England’s maritime confidence.

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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.

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Greenwich has been a key location for the royal family for over 500 years. 

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John Dee provided Queen Elizabeth I with a new vision for England, spurring the rise of the British Empire.

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Queen Elizabeth I was very conscious of her appearance, and her image was engineered to convey wealth, authority and power. 

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The Armada Portrait is one of the most famous portraits of Elizabeth I - but did you know that there are actually three versions of the same painting? Find out more about the different 'Faces of a Queen'...

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The Privy Council was a defined body that advised Queen Elizabeth I and acted as the administrative centre for her government.

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