Today 11/17 in 1558 the Elizabethan Age began when Elizabeth I, “illegitimate” 25 year-old daughter of Henry VIII and his second (and executed) wife Anne Boleyn, became queen of England and continued a 44 year reign. She replaced her half-sister Mary I, who was imprisoned. The succession was determined more by contested state religion than bloodline, even though Elizabeth was the last of the Tudor line. Mary was Catholic and Elizabeth was Protestant.
How this is pertinent to American history is Elizabeth repealed much of Mary’s pro-Catholic legislation and ushered in a progressive reign of arts, exploration of a new world and a more “tolerant” Protestant influence. Sir Walter Raleigh settled Virginia, Drake circumnavigated the world, the East India Company was founded, and English sea power made its impact on the world.
In the 1500′s religion was a political force (that continues today in some parts of Britain) and an assertive one to the point of executing opponents as a matter of course. Mary I confirmed her title “Bloody Mary” with burning a number of Protestants to the stake, which is commemorated with a bronze cross on Broad Street, Oxford, today. Mary I also kept Elizabeth imprisoned. Elizabeth, in turn, kept Mary Queen of Scots imprisoned in a castle and permitted her execution in 1587.
Naturally, the New World became an attraction for settlers seeking religious freedom.
Elizabeth refused to compromise her authority with marriage, calling herself “the Virgin Queen,” hence we get Virginia. “If I follow the inclination of my nature, it is this: beggar-woman and single, far rather than queen and married”.
Elizabeth I died in 1603 at age 70. She is interned at Westminster Abbey. Her legacy among other things is an England, and by extension a new world later to become a country, predominately Protestant, a world power, and relatively free from religious divisiveness and wars.
Was Elizabeth really a virgin? There are historians who can present a compelling argument that she was not. However, her gesture or word could get anyone sent to the Tower; contemporaries readily accepted as fact she never got laid.