Why am I so fascinated with Elizabeth I? I was interested in English kings and queens from a young age particularly Henry VIII and his six wives. I read about Henry in our old copy of the World Book Encyclopedia and wondered who was king after him. I traced the line down and categorized each of them in my young mind. There was Edward VI who didn’t live long, and Mary who had the nickname Bloody Mary. Then there was Elizabeth who was known as Good Queen Bess and who made England into a great nation. She was definitely the most interesting of the three, but not as interesting as Henry VIII.
What really got my attention was watching Glenda Jackson in Elizabeth R. Those gorgeous costumes! That court intrigue! She almost died of smallpox. She was remained a virgin. She really loved and wanted to marry Robert Dudley, but her counselors advised against it. With her last breath she named James VI of Scotland as her successor. I was hooked.
What has stayed with me years after watching this (sometimes historically inaccurate) series was Elizabeth’s ability to balance the forces around her. History is littered with rulers who paid a price for their extreme views or actions. One only has to think of Charles I or Edward II as English examples. She was wise and (and lucky) enough to first of all survive the reigns of her siblings Edward and Mary. Then when she became queen, she may have believed that she had a divine right to rule, but she knew that a divine ruler did better with the support of her people. With them on your side, you have a better chance of staying in power. Unfortunately she lost some of that public support in her later years, but her position was well secured by then.
While we don’t know why Elizabeth decided to remain a virgin, I can’t be help feel that her mother losing her life on the execution block had something do it. Love, marriage and power didn’t turn out well for Anne Boleyn. Love gives a person too much power over you. As for marriage, a husband could take your kingdom and even your life away.
OK caution may sound like too much of a boring reason to admire someone. How about this? Because of this pragmatism, Elizabeth I succeeded in a man’s world. This was a time when women were expected to obey their husbands and had few legal rights. Women didn’t have control over their own lives, and some men thought women had no control over their emotions. Elizabeth ruled a whole nation in way in which allowed it to became stable and grow into a world power.
A woman who was intelligent, politically savvy, a survivor, and powerful. What is not fascinating about that?