Certainly, the reign of Elizabeth I "was indeed the Golden Age of England," due to her personality, love for her country and the adoration of millions of Englishmen and women, not to mention several foreign kings and rulers who during her lifetime were bitter enemies, but following her death became ardent admirers ("Death of Queen Elizabeth I," Internet).
In 1588, some fifteen years before her death, Elizabeth I gave a speech to her faithful and loyal troops at Tilbury camp, where she arrived "in a great gilded coach and was escorted by 2000 ecstatic troops." James Aske, an eyewitness to this event, describes Elizabeth as "king-like and a sacred general" just before she began to address those in presence with "one of the greatest orations of British history, all the more extraordinary for being delivered at a moment of such trepidation." This speech truly reflects the atmosphere of Elizabeth's reign as queen, especially in the way that it presents her own personal feelings about her country and those under her monarchy:
assure you I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear, (for) I have always so behaved myself under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and goodwill of my subjects. I come amongst you... To lay down for God, my kingdom and for my people, my honor and my blood even in the dust... I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your General, Judge and Rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field... " (Somerset, 164).
Obviously, this speech symbolizes and clearly explains the great relationship between Elizabeth I and her subjects, particularly those in her armies and navies which fought valiantly against the Spanish Armada during an earlier period in her monarchy. This relationship can also be applied to the leading class in England during the 1590's, being the landed gentry or squires who obtained new importance under Elizabeth I and her future Tudor monarchs. As Wallace T. MacCaffrey points out, these squires occupied "a new social position, due to the fact that Elizabeth had lowered the status of barons and abbots who had lorded over society for hundreds of years." Some of these landed gentry were ministers of the Crown or served as local Justices of the Peace, and by the time of Elizabeth's death in 1603, they became "the mainstay of England, the leaders of the House of Commons, the true rulers of the English countryside" as compared to the barons of the past who ruled with an iron fist (245).
In the difficult years that lead up to the end of Elizabeth I's reign as the "Virgin Queen," several major events occurred which forever changed not only the queen herself but the entire history of England under the Tudors. First of all, Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, died in 1588 and it is said that Elizabeth was "grieved so bitterly that her locked door had to be broken down before she could be persuaded to emerge and face the rest of her life." In 1590, Sir Francis Walsingham died and one year later, Christopher Hatton perished after Elizabeth had "spoon-fed him cordial in his last days." Also, Robert Cecil, the Earl of Salisbury, "old and arthritic, died in 1598. During the last decade or so of Elizabeth's reign, Cecil was "locked in battle with his arch-rival Robert...
The death of Devereux in 1601, just shy of two years before the passing of Elizabeth, greatly affected her to the point where she withdrew from court and remained in her private chambers for days on end, crying and weeping bitterly for the man who occupied a special place in her royal heart.
Thus, Elizabeth dearly missed Devereux and was "slowly losing the interest and the firm grip she had always had on the running" of her beloved England. With Devereux's death, Elizabeth was now completely alone, for "the men she had loved and who gad shared her life" were nearly all gone ("Death of Queen Elizabeth I," Internet).
Politically speaking, many of the social ills which continually plagued the common English man and woman during the final years of Elizabeth's reign were suppose to have been eradicated by Elizabeth and a number of her Tudor ancestors, but this was not the case, for according to Anne Somerset, in the 1590's there existed "harsh taxation laws, aimed at paying for Elizabeth's wars, high unemployment, a series of agricultural failures related to the harvest and excessive food prices" (193). In 1596, Elizabeth was faced with riots in the streets and a good number of her magistrates, forced to deal with rampant crime, "sent hundreds of men and women to the gallows in record numbers" (Somerset, 195). Thus, all of these problems fell to the responsibility of Elizabeth and there were many within her realm that were voicing their complaints about England being ruled by "an old woman" who appeared to be nearing the end of her long reign as queen of England.
Also, there were quite a few exploits being conducted within and without England during the final years of Elizabeth's life. For instance, the poet John Donne became part of Robert Devereux's failed and futile voyage to the Azores which was "suppose to bring the Spanish Empire to its knees;" the settlement at Roanoke, Virginia, the first true settlement in what is now America, "lasted barely two years before being killed off by disease and starvation," and Edmund Spenser's "extravagant fantasy of a plantation in Ireland...ended in a hideously bloody and prolonged war" (Schama, 392). In addition, Sir Robert Willoughby was busy constructing a grand house for the queen known as Wollaton Hall near Nottingham, but when Elizabeth died, Willoughby found himself burdened with huge debts and a house that never saw the presence of the queen (Schama, 392).
Also, during the final days of Elizabeth I, the House of Commons came into its own and many members "were in a perpetual fever of loyalty, urging the queen to get married, to name her royal heir, to put to death Mary, Queen of Scots, and to persecute English Catholics more severely" while doing everything in her power to avoid raising taxes which Elizabeth and the members of the House of Commons "knew would be dangerous" (MacCaffrey, 256). In the eyes of Elizabeth herself, the House had been nothing short of an irritation, yet she respected its privileges and right to exist, due in part to the "loyalty of the squires and the unknown thousands that worked the land and the farms to feed the hungry English masses" (Somerset, 245).
When it became clear to all those in court attendance that Elizabeth was nearing her death, it was decided to call upon Archbishop Whitgift to provide prayers at her bedside. At this time, Elizabeth was "tended by her ladies-in-waiting and fell into a deep sleep" from which she never awakened. When the queen died on March 24, 1603, "the throne of England passed to the Protestant King James VI of Scotland" who soon became King James I of England. This event signaled a new era in English history, especially related to England's long and extremely violent campaign against Scotland, for when James I assumed the throne, he created the first union between his country and England which in the 18th century allowed England to "begin to draw its full increase of strength" for the years to come, years replete with treachery, deceit, war and religious revolution.
Death of Queen Elizabeth I." Elizabethan Era. Internet. 2007. Retrieved at http://www.elizabethan-era.org.uk/death-of-queen-elizabeth-i.htm.
MacCaffrey, Wallace T. Elizabeth I: War and Politics, 1588-1603. New York: Princeton
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