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Queen Elizabeth I

Mary I's Reign and Elizabeth's Succession

Elizabeth's Early Years

Elizabeth's Early Reign

Summary

As soon as Mary I took the throne, Simon Renaud, the Spanish ambassador to England, immediately engineered a marriage between Mary and the Crown Prince of Spain, Philip II, allying the two countries. Although mostly quite merciful to her enemies and conspirators against her, Mary treated her religious opponents with ruthlessness. Her marriage to a Spanish prince only reinforced her religious fanaticism. Although Elizabeth remained Protestant, Mary started working hard to restore Catholicism in England.

Although Elizabeth was next in line in the succession, Mary placed two other relatives above Elizabeth in her court, citing Elizabeth's illegitimate birth as her reason. Of course, this greatly insulted the princess. Although she remained fairly loyal despite her anger, many people in England encouraged her to conspire against her increasingly unpopular sister. In 1554, Sir Thomas Wyatt the Younger's Rebellion rose and failed. Enraged, Mary threw the traitors in the Tower of London and quickly asked Elizabeth to come to London from one of the royal country homes where she was staying. Elizabeth pretended to be sick and asked for doctors to come see her, thus wisely avoiding the London scene, where heads were soon rolling. Calling Elizabeth's bluff, Mary then decided to send doctors to see if Elizabeth was truly too sick to come. The doctors brought Elizabeth to London. On the way, she made sure to let everyone on the streets of London see her, in order to her increase her public presence and popularity. Elizabeth desperately alleged that she was not involved with Wyatt, but Mary refused to listen to her sister, or even read her letters, and sent her straight to the Tower of London.

On April 11, 1554, Thomas Wyatt was executed. But Elizabeth was so clearly popular with the people that Mary decided to move her to a more comfortable location, although she still would be kept under close watch. She was sent to the pleasant but out-of-the-way house at Oxfordshire. On the way there, as Elizabeth passed through various towns, the people cheered, cannons were fired, and church bells rang. Despite her constant letters to her sister, Mary repeatedly denied her release.

Soon, Mary announced that she was pregnant. However, the symptoms she had taken for signs of pregnancy in fact were the indications of an ovarian disease. Mary wanted to give the crown to her husband Philip, but Parliament refused. Thus as Mary was dying Philip met with Elizabeth, trying to convince her to marry him so he would remain a ruler of England. Of course, Elizabeth refused. Philip went home, but would return in 1557 with a proposal to marry Elizabeth to one of his Hapsburg cousins.

On November 17, 1558, Mary I died. Nobility filled the road to Elizabeth's country home, hoping to reach Elizabeth early and make a good impression on the new sovereign. Now 25 years old, Elizabeth ascended the throne of England. Trying to consolidate her power, Elizabeth did what she could to minimize the Catholic-Protestant conflict in the country with passage of a religious settlement act in 1559 that, despite making Protestantism the legal religion and Catholicism officially illegal, was actually very tolerant. Nonetheless, the Catholic world saw her as an enemy, and in 1570, Pope Pius V announced an interdict against Elizabeth that encouraged English Catholics to revolt against her.

Commentary

Renaud was a very perceptive diplomat, and from the start he saw how much the people loved Elizabeth, who reminded them of Henry VIII much more than did Mary. Mary's marriage to Philip II of Spain angered most of England. Mary was hated for her routine burning of Protestants, and a popular rhyme of the day went: "When these with violence were burned to death, / We wished for our Elizabeth." Furthermore, when the Catholic monarchs of England proclaimed that Elizabeth was an illegitimate bastard, this only angered the people more. Some people suggested that Elizabeth marry a man of the Plantagenet line named Courtenay, hoping that this union of the Tudors and Plantagenets would prove able to topple Mary's Catholic government. But Elizabeth, who had seen enough members of her family lose their heads already, was cautious and unwilling to commit treason. Instead, she preferred to wait patiently for her succession. Nevertheless, the possibility that Elizabeth might cooperate with the Courtenay plot greatly frightened Mary, who felt increasingly threatened by her half- sister.

Elizabeth knew of her sister's fear of her, and in pretending to be sick when Mary ordered her to London, Elizabeth was showing the wisdom and cunning that would serve her so well as a ruler. By prolonging her absence from London, she gave Mary's temper time to cool after Wyatt's Rebellion, and perhaps escaped death.

While Mary was dying, why was Philip trying to marry Elizabeth, and why did he want Mary to be kind to her Protestant sister? The reason was that Philip supported Elizabeth over the Catholic Mary Stuart, who he knew would ally with Spain's competitor France is she came to power in England. Philip was correct in that Elizabeth would never ally with France, although she would threaten to do so in later years as a negotiating tactic.

In her early years of consolidating her power, Elizabeth proved her value to the nation with a prudent religious settlement in 1559. Although officially outlawing Catholicism, the law was very tolerant by 16th-century standards. It allowed Catholics to avoid the obligatory Protestant church services by the payment of a fairly small fine. The holding of Catholic masses was technically illegal, but was rarely prosecuted, though it was occasionally cited as a reason for imprisoning political opponents to the Crown. Not very concerned about the religious conflict between Catholics and Protestants herself, Elizabeth's later harshness towards Catholics arose largely because of Pope Pius' interdict, under which all Catholics became potential anti-government traitors. (Despite the papal decree, however, most English Catholics stayed loyal to their Queen.) The role of the papacy in the 16th century differed much from its current form, as 16th-century popes meddled in world political affairs and tried to overthrow governments.

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