Honors World History-8th
October 20, 2001
Elizabeth I: “The Virgin Queen” or “Abuser of power”
Elizabeth I was born at Greenwich Palace in London on September 7, 1533. Her parents, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, wanted a son as an heir and were not pleased with the birth of a daughter. Consequently, when she was only two years old, her mother was beheaded on orders of the king (claiming she had committed adultery), and Elizabeth was exiled from her father’s court. Although she did not live in the king’s presence, she received a diverse aristocratic education and became very intrigued and interested in the arts. Because of her strong protestant upbringing, Elizabeth was a strong protestant and was thus subject to much torture during the rule of her Roman Catholic half sister, Mary I. Elizabeth was locked in the tower and even threatened with execution. Subsequent to the short rule of the infamous “Bloody Mary,” Elizabeth inherited a nation facing economic downfall, increasing population, threats of invasion from European monarchs, and civil war between religious groups. Yet even with such horrible circumstances, Elizabeth and her cabinet were able to stabilize the economy, cleverly suppress civil war, and ward off the invasion of the largest naval fleet in Europe (the Spanish Armada). Yet although no one disputes these basic facts, many historians and authors argue as to whether Elizabeth should be praised and revered as she has been for so many centuries. Some historians believe that although she achieved such results during her reign, Elizabeth was a cruel, lustful, and hypocritical character who made many abysmal decisions and is therefor unfit of high praise and popularity. Yet at the same time, other historians indicate that although she was a very controversial character who made many unfit decisions, her achievements and influences spotlight her reign and outweigh all of her imprudent decisions. Thus, one must weigh the two sides before considering whether Elizabeth I was a virtuous leader representing all people or just a cruel and viciously tempered monarch on a power trip. Although there has never been a public pole, there is only a small substantial minority that disliked Elizabeth. To some people, it was a matter of national pride that made them hate Elizabeth. Due to her decision to execute Mary, Queen of Scots, nearly all Scottish peoples still refer to Elizabeth as “Jezebel, that English whore,” who will never be forgiven for “murdering our queen” (xii, Elizabeth I: The Shrewdness of Virtue). The Scots and Irish view her as a cruel and murderous monarch, who like all the previous English rulers hated the Irish and Scottish. Other historians, whose backgrounds do not bias their opinions as much, assert their dislike of Elizabeth on the basis of her character, decisions, and achievements.
Anti-Elizabethan historians base their disapproval of her on the basis that she was a cruel, resolute, and an indecisive power hungry individual who’s decisions and achievements should be credited to her advisors. One big argument which anti-Elizabethan historians present is Elizabeth’s inability to commit to a set decision. Penry Williams, a professor and Fellow of New College Oxford who is also the author of The Tudor Regime (1979) and The Later Tudors 1547-1603 (1995) views this character trait negatively and critically by stating that “she did not attempt to solve problems, she simply avoided them” (Elizabeth I: An Assessment, October 11). This indecisive trait thus led many historians to believe that the great decisions credited to Elizabeth should in fact be credited to her advisors. In his preface, Jasper Ridley – a renowned yet retired Oxford professor who classifies himself as a pro Elizabethan - mentions the famous 19th century historian Froude who was the author of Froude’s History of England, published in 1874-1881. Froude had started out writing about Elizabeth I with…