Elizabeth I: in profileElizabeth I, daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn, was queen of England from 1558 until her death, which marked the end of the Tudor dynasty.
One of her first acts as monarch was to restore England to Protestantism; she also had Mary, Queen of Scots imprisoned and executed, and the Spanish Armada was defeated during her reign.
This content forms part of our history hero series.
When did you first hear about Elizabeth I?
Probably at school, learning about the kings and queens of England in history lessons. But I suppose my interest was rekindled by watching big-screen dramatisations such as Elizabeth (1998), in which Cate Blanchett portrayed her so vividly. I realise that such biopics aren’t always entirely accurate, but I think [Blanchett] provided real insights into the character of this extraordinary woman.
What kind of woman was Elizabeth?
She lived in an age when the powers that be would cut off a woman’s head simply because she couldn’t bear a son. So it obviously wasn’t a safe time or place to be a woman, and she was very much aware of this – that’s key to understanding the longevity of her reign.
She also had a real sense of style, spoke several languages and was an accomplished horsewoman. As a woman without a partner, she must have been extremely lonely at times but there is a strong sense that she put duty first. If she had married, even as queen she would have had to give up much of her power.
Watching Becoming Elizabeth? Find out more about the real history that inspired the drama:
What made Elizabeth a hero?
First and foremost, the way she shaped the country that England became. I also admire Elizabeth for being a poster child for women who are independent: she was a strong woman who held her own at a time when it was very much a man’s world. She wouldn’t let herself be pushed around by her male advisors; I get the sense of her as a sort of chair of the board.
Women who are powerful are often portrayed as man-like – it’s as if they have to give up some of their femininity in order to be powerful. But I think Elizabeth drew strength from and took pride in her femininity. Let’s remember that she had to do everything she did while dressed up to the nines!
What was her finest hour?
I think you have to look at her reign in its entirety – all the things she achieved as queen – though her skill at playing off the Spanish against the French, as well as the defeat of the Spanish Armada, are worth noting. As is the strength and stability her long reign helped bring the country.
Learn more about Elizabeth I as Queen of England
Is there anything that you don’t particularly admire about her?
I think she was unnecessarily cruel – she seems to have had no qualms about removing heads from bodies.
How would she have handled a rowdy council meeting?
Heads would almost certainly have rolled!
What would you ask Elizabeth if you could meet her?
I’d like to know her biggest regret. I suspect it might have been having Mary, Queen of Scots beheaded.
Jackie Weaver is chief officer of the Cheshire Association of Local Councils; her taming of parish councillors online went viral last year. Her podcast is Jackie Weaver Has the Authority
This content first appeared in the June 2022 issue of BBC History Magazine