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Queen Elizabeth I

Elizabeth's Early Reign

Mary I's Reign and Elizabeth's Succession

Elizabeth's Early Reign, page 2

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Summary

With Mary I dead, Queen Elizabeth I became ruler of England at the age of 25. Mary had left the kingdom a divided mess, and now Elizabeth undertook the task of repairing it. Almost immediately, she made Sir William Cecil, who had already proved his loyalty to her, Secretary of State. William, later given the title Earl of Burleigh, would remain perhaps her most trusted advisor throughout her life. Another close friend of the new queen was Lord Robert Dudley, to whom Elizabeth was very emotionally attached. Although she loved Dudley dearly, she was also prudent enough not to put him in a position of too much power: she made him Master of the Horse, an easy, decorative office that allowed Elizabeth to keep him close to her.

Elizabeth's recognition procession and coronation took place amidst much pomp and spectacle on January 15, 1559. Glimpsing Elizabeth, the people treated the Queen as their savior. After Mary's fiery persecution of Protestants, Elizabeth's ascension to the throne was cause for celebration.

Elizabeth went about the difficult task of reviving the English economy; her predecessors had greatly debased the currency. Also, from the beginning of her reign, Elizabeth had to worry about Mary Queen of Scots and her plots to take control of the English crown. Meanwhile, Philip II, now King of Spain, sent Elizabeth jewels and other presents through the Spanish ambassador, de Feria. Again, Philip expressed interest in marriage with Elizabeth, though demanding that she convert to Catholicism. Elizabeth, as always, deftly avoided an engagement while managing never to offend Philip or to extinguish his hopes altogether.

Early in her reign, Elizabeth faced daunting tasks. But, with Cecil's aid, Elizabeth was able to make progress towards improving the state she inherited. Cecil and the rest of the Privy Council were continually amazed at Elizabeth's intelligence, incisive analytic thinking, and capacity for hard work. She further surprised them in her refusal to marry: everyone had expected her to wed as soon as possible. Indeed, she had many suitors, for Elizabeth's husband would obtain vast power, his children would rule England, and the young Elizabeth was not bad looking; certainly she was the most eligible bachelorette in the world at that time. Elizabeth's advisors assumed she would soon choose one of the suitors and create some powerful alliance, but they were all in for a surprise, as Elizabeth constantly found way to evade marriage at the last minute.

Her major achievement at this early period of her reign was passage of the Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity, passed in hopes of diminishing the religious tension in England. The Act of Supremacy made her the "supreme governor" of the Church of England, and the Act of Uniformity restored the English prayer book that Mary had banned. However, Elizabeth had several lines removed that would be offensive to Catholics.

Commentary

William Cecil was a perfect counterpart and companion for Elizabeth. Opposites in many senses, together they had the ability to see both sides of many issues, and their arguments often resulted in wisely chosen policies. As a team they ruled the country well for decades. Cecil was quiet while Elizabeth was forceful and opinionated; he preferred simplicity in manner, while Elizabeth preferred elegance. One thing they did have in common, however, was a mutual fear of war; both worked very hard to keep England out of war, believing that prosperity came only from peace. Cecil was also always on the lookout for poisoning attempts, and did a great deal to ensure the Queen's safety.

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