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.
See the three surviving Armada Portraits of Elizabeth I together for the very first time
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
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.
Armada portrait of Elizabeth I (detail) - tile
What was the legacy of the defeat of the Spanish Armada and Elizabeth I's famous Tilbury speech, and what can the Armada Portrait tell us about it?
The threat to the Crown from Catholic forces continued to grow for Queen Elizabeth I during the 1580s.
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The iconic Armada portrait of Elizabeth I commemorates the most famous conflict of her reign – the failed invasion of England by the Spanish Armada in summer 1588.
Queen Elizabeth I used her power over language to shape Britain’s history and frame the narrative of the Spanish Armada by giving a now-famous speech to her troops on 9 August 1588.
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Did Elizabeth I have red hair? Was she really a virgin? Sift the facts from the fiction surrounding Elizabeth I.
Walter Raleigh (1544–1618) was a courtier, seaman and explorer in Elizabethan England. He was a pioneer in the English colonisation of North America.
The tides of peace turned for Queen Elizabeth I when Mary, Queen of Scots arrived in England
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Over 450 years ago, Elizabeth I became queen of England. She reigned over a ‘Golden Age’, withstood moral criticism and became adept at image management and power dressing. Women in power today relate to her experiences. But can we claim a 16th century monarch as a feminist?