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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As the Queen of England and the nation’s most powerful woman, Elizabeth's taste set the 'look' of the 1500s. 

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Find out more about the Tudor symbols used in portraits of Queen Elizabeth I and discover what they mean.

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When Elizabeth I became queen her first challenge was to build a loyal staff of independent thinkers to help her govern. 

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Entertainment at court in Elizabethan times included jousting, dancing, poetry-reading, dramatic performances, hunting, riding, banqueting and concerts. 

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The procession and coronation of Queen Elizabeth I set the tone for her reign and earned her public approval.

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Various dramatic events led to Elizabeth I taking over the throne from the Catholic Queen Mary I.

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By the 1560s, newly minted Elizabethan coins had helped to renew people's trust in England’s currency at home and abroad.

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After Henry VIII’s death in 1547, Elizabeth went to live with her stepmother, Katherine Parr, leading to a near-disaster. 

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Queen Elizabeth I inherited a nation suffering from religious flux, but went on to build a stable, peaceful nation.

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The Tudor dynasty was founded in 1485 by Elizabeth's grandfather, Henry VII, when he emerged victorious after the dynastic Wars of the Roses. 

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