The religious reformation of England is enhanced then disputed in two short reigns before Elizabeth I becomes queen and her rival the Queen of Scots is eventually executed. Rivalry with Catholic Spain strengthens English naval power and makes Elizabeth the leading Protestant sovereign in Europe.
Before he died, Henry VIII ensured Queen Catharine Parr was well-provided for, but, rather than remain a royal widow, Catherine agreed to marry Thomas Seymour, within weeks of Henry’s death. Thomas was brother of the late king’s third wife Jane Seymour. He was therefore the uncle of Henry’s successor, the boy king Edward VI. His brother, Edward Duke of Somerset, was Lord Protector during their nephew’s minority. Catherine and Thomas married in secret, to the displeasure of the king and his sister the Princess Mary. However, the Princess Elizabeth remained on friendly terms with her.
Catherine became pregnant, at the age of 35, for the first time in her four marriages. Apparently, her husband began to pay unseemly attention to the fourteen year old Princess Elizabeth, who was in Catherine’s care, and it was deemed necessary to send her off to another household.
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She and Catherine, who had great affection for each other, never met again. Catherine went to Sudeley Castle with the young Lady Jane Grey, who remained in her charge. She died at Sudeley soon after giving birth in September 1548. Lady Jane was the chief mourner at her funeral, which is said to be the first Protestant funeral conducted in the English language.
Thomas Seymour was a reckless young man. He was beheaded for treason the following year after he shot the king’s pet spaniel whilst trying to break into his apartment at Hampton Court Palace. He was charged by his brother the Lord Protector with attempting to kidnap the king and marry the Princess Elizabeth.
King Edward VI was nine years old when he ascended to the throne. He had been very well educated, much of the time alongside his sister Elizabeth and under the guidance of Queen Catherine Parr. He was clever beyond his years and entertained strong Protestant convictions. His father named a council of sixteen to act as a regency until he reached the age of eighteen. However, shortly after he was crowned, his mother’s elder brother Edward Seymour became Lord Protector and Duke of Somerset with almost dictatorial powers. He began to build Somerset House, one of the grandest palaces in London. Seymour had proved himself a successful general in charge of campaigns in France and Scotland and, in 1547, he led a powerful force to Scotland to enforce the intended betrothal of Mary Queen of Scots and King Edward. The Scots resisted, but were routed at the battle of Pinkie in Lothian. However, Somerset failed to achieve a betrothal agreement. It was the last pitched battle between the two nations before the unification of the two crowns.
Parliament was called to approve a Protestant agenda in November 1547. The Six Articles were repealed, cutting the Church of England free of Catholic doctrine. In 1549 the First Act of Uniformity introduced the Book of Common Prayer, written mainly by Archbishop Cranmer, which forbade the use of Latin rites and set out an approved doctrine and liturgy in the English language for the Church of England. Young as he was, it is believed the king was insistent on getting these new laws put into effect.
This led to the ‘Prayer Book’ rebellion in the West Country, although a recent poll tax on sheep, rampant inflation and increasing enclosure of common lands also provoked much opposition. Over 5,000 were killed in the severe repression which followed. The same year, disorder broke out in Norfolk where the main complaint of the rebels, led by a yeoman called Robert Kett, was enclosure of common land, although inflation and the other ancillary factors evident in the West Country also played their part. Kett’s rebels defeated a royal army and took over the city of Norwich, but they were eventually defeated by John Dudley, Earl of Warwick. He was the son of Henry VII’s unpopular minister Edmund Dudley who had been executed by Henry VIII.
Dudley had risen to be Lord Admiral and became a leading member of the religious reform party at court. Returning from his success in Norfolk, Dudley forced Lord Protector Somerset out of office in October 1549. Dudley was promoted to the duchy of Northumberland and briefly became reconciled with Somerset, but once he was firmly established as de facto regent, Somerset was arrested once more and executed on trumped up charges of treason. The young king thus lost his two maternal uncles on the execution block within four years of ascending the throne.
In accordance with the king’s beliefs, further measures were passed to underpin the Protestant nature of the English Church. An amended prayer book, again edited by Cranmer, was introduced in 1552, altars became tables, religious images were destroyed and church windows were smashed. Following the spate of disorderly outbreaks in the country, Northumberland instituted the office of Lord Lieutenant for some counties. They took over some of the functions of the sheriff and their primary duty was to maintain close contact with the royal council and organise armed control of their area when necessary. The financial situation was still dire and the currency was debased again. Throughout the rest of Edward’s brief reign an uneasy peace was maintained with Scotland and France.
The king’s health was rapidly deteriorating and, even though Edward was fond of them both, he approved a new Order of Succession whereby the princesses Mary and Elizabeth were bypassed on account of illegitimacy. The crown was to pass to Lady Jane Grey, grand-daughter of Henry VIII’s sister Mary and her husband Charles Brandon Duke of Suffolk. Northumberland arranged her hurried marriage to his son Guildford Dudley in May 1553. Edward died on 6th July, but his death was only made public on 10th July, when Jane was proclaimed queen.
However, the 37 year old Princess Mary began to raise armed followers from her Norfolk estates. Whilst Northumberland was away in East Anglia, intent on arresting her, Mary was pronounced rightful Queen of England by the Privy Council on 19th July. Queen Mary I arrived in London to great acclaim. Northumberland was arrested and executed for treason and Lady Jane and her husband, regarded as Northumberland’s hapless pawns, were held prisoner in the Tower.
Mary had been well-educated as a good Christian and was groomed to take the throne by her mother. However, when her father married Anne Boleyn, she was banished from court and was cruelly kept apart from her mother, with whom she could only correspond in secret. She risked death when she refused to recognise Henry as head of the Church of England and his children by Anne as his successors. After her mother’s death and Anne Boleyn’s execution, Mary was finally persuaded to take the oath and she gradually worked her way back into King Henry’s favour. She was recognised in his will as second in line to the throne. She never renounced her Catholic beliefs; when the Latin Mass was banned in her brother’s reign, Mary continued to observe it until Northumberland intervened and forbade its practice in her household.
Once she won the throne, Mary was in a position to lead her people back to the true Catholic faith. She also evidently believed she still had a chance of bearing a child which would succeed her and keep England out of the hands of her sister Elizabeth, who was known to share the Protestant principles learned in lessons shared with Lady Jane Grey under the patronage of Catherine Parr. Despite urgent requests from her advisors that she marry an Englishman, Mary chose Philip of Spain, son of the Emperor Charles V to whom she had been betrothed as a child. There was widespread disapproval when the intended marriage was announced, but Mary and Philip, who was eleven years younger than her, went ahead with the marriage plans.
Prior to the wedding, Sir Thomas Wyatt led a revolt which claimed its primary concern was the influence of a powerful Spanish prince at court rather than the queen’s religious convictions. However, many of Wyatt’s supporters, including the father and mother of Lady Jane Grey, were Protestants who feared the influence of the growing number of Catholics whom the queen was appointing to important offices of state. When the rebels began to gather increasing support in Kent, Princess Elizabeth was taken into custody. Mary I rallied support from Londoners and eventually the rebellion broke down in confusion. Wyatt and over ninety rebels were executed and quartered. Lady Jane’s father was beheaded and, as a sad consequence of his treason, Jane and her husband Guildford Dudley were also executed in February 1554. Princess Elizabeth was rigorously interrogated in the Tower, but the authorities could find no proof that she was aware of the planned uprising and she was released into house arrest at Woodstock.
Following their marriage in July, Philip and Mary ruled as King and Queen of England. Philip was motivated entirely by the political considerations of protecting the Netherlands and helping Mary resolve England’s religious conflict. As he spoke no English, they conversed in Spanish, Latin and French. Mary began to exhibit symptoms of pregnancy, but by July 1555 it was clear she was not carrying a child. Shortly afterwards, Philip left England to take command of an army in Flanders as part of the Emperor’s continuing war with France. Mary was devastated, and her depression possibly increased the fervour of her campaign against heretics. Her mood would not have been improved by Philip’s suggestion that the Princess Elizabeth should be married to his cousin the Duke of Savoy, in order to secure Catholic and Habsburg interests in England in the event of the queen’s death. However, Elizabeth refused and, in any case, Parliamentary approval was unlikely to be forthcoming.
Mary rapidly brought back the Heresy Laws, recognised the Pope as the head of the Church and deprived married priests of their livings. Around the country hundreds of Protestant heretics were burnt at the stake. Thomas Cranmer, the former Archbishop of Canterbury who had annulled her parents’ marriage, followed two other bishops, Ridley of London and Latimer of Worcester, who was Edward VI’s chaplain, to the pyre in Oxford in 1556. A stream of heretics was burnt in Smithfield which was a fairground and centre for entertainment just outside the City of London. The queen became known as Bloody Mary and anti-Catholic, anti-Spanish feelings grew stronger each month. However, perhaps aware that she should not upset the new owners, many of whom were her councillors and Members of Parliament, she made no attempt to restore monastic lands.
The emperor Charles V abdicated his titles in 1556 and Mary’s husband became Philip II, King of Spain, the Netherlands, Naples and Sicily as well as the Americas, whilst Charles’ brother Ferdinand became Holy Roman Emperor and ruled the Habsburg lands in Germany, Burgundy and northern Italy. Philip returned to England in 1557 to persuade Mary to join him in a renewed war against King Henry II of France. England’s finances were still in a parlous condition and her council also warned her that a war contravened the terms of her marriage agreement. A botched attempt to depose her, backed by the French king, persuaded Mary to go to war, but in January 1558 Calais, England’s last possession in France, was lost. The loss weighed heavily on the Queen. At the time she thought she was pregnant, but it was another phantom pregnancy. Weighed down by physical pain and depression, Mary I died in November 1558, aware that her Protestant young half-sister was the only contender for her throne. Her husband Philip was in Brussels and wrote to his sister ‘I felt a reasonable regret for her death’.
Perhaps Mary’s only real achievement as ruler was to turn many of her subjects away from the religion of their ancestors. Many people were appalled that it was used to inflict such extreme persecution on their fellow men and looked to the English Bible for solace and guidance - something not available to their Catholic relatives and neighbours. Most people were not happy with Mary’s choice of husband and a xenophobic distrust of foreign interference in national affairs had also become a pronounced part of the English character.
Apart from her religious philosophy, Mary also pursued policies to try and improve England’s financial situation, which had progressively declined in recent years. Prices of basic commodities doubled in 1556. The cloth trade with Antwerp was diminished and new income was required, but Mary was not inclined to allow English intervention in the fast-growing Atlantic trade which was jealously protected by her husband’s home country. However. John Lok tested the Portuguese trade with West Africa, bringing back gold and ivory as well as five Africans to be trained as interpreters on future voyages. Mary granted a royal charter to the Muscovy Company which was originally formed to find a North East Passage to China. It was the first chartered joint stock company, becoming the pattern for future English trading ventures and it became a valuable conduit for diplomacy with the Tsar Ivan the Terrible. She planned to reform the badly debased coinage, but died leaving the scheme to be put into effect in the next reign.
Mary continued her father’s policy of making Ireland more responsive to her rule. The Irish people appeared to be virtually untouched by the religious turmoil of the Reformation, but the country was torn by feuds among the rival chieftains and between the Anglo-Irish aristocrats. Thomas Radcliffe Earl of Sussex was appointed Lord Deputy with instructions to bring some order to Ireland. He attempted to settle English colonists on land taken over from Irish inhabitants in the newly-formed Queen’s County and King’s County in Leinster. This was the first English plantation in Ireland and signalled a continuation of the policy of bringing Ireland under English control, but it was largely a failure. He also ravaged the lands of Scots who had settled in Ulster and he crossed over the water to lay waste their homelands in Kintyre and some of the Hebridean Isles.
Relations with France were also strained or actively hostile throughout Mary’s short reign, even though King Henry II was also a Catholic and strongly opposed to the rapid rise of Protestantism in his own country. Mary also needed to keep a careful eye on events in Scotland, where Mary of Guise was acting as regent for her young daughter, who had lived in France since 1548. Mary Queen of Scots married the Dauphin shortly before the death of Mary of England in 1558. She became queen consort of France in 1559 before returning to Scotland, aged nineteen, after her husband’s death in 1561.
Across the border, twenty five year old Elizabeth, the daughter of Henry VIII and Ann Boleyn, now sat uneasily on the throne of England. She was an attractive, high spirited woman, intelligent and very well-educated, but she could be capricious and she was undoubtedly scarred by the sad and horrific experiences of her childhood and youth. Her mother was beheaded when she was a babe and she was disowned for a long period by her father. The husband of her step-mother Catherine Parr came close to ruining her virtue and her classmate Lady Jane Grey had lost her life on the block due to her parents’ ambition. She feared for her own life when she was intensively questioned in the Tower following the Wyatt rebellion. Elizabeth I had many reasons to fear fate and distrust those around her. However, her experiences and breeding had composed a character well-equipped to deal with the formidable problems which confronted her. She had developed into a shrewd woman of astute political judgement and real courage.
Her first inspired act was to appoint Sir William Cecil as her Secretary of State. He was to guide, cajole and advise her through most of her reign. He came from one of the middling, gentry families on which the Tudor monarchs relied for good counsel and effective management. Cecil served under both Somerset and Northumberland during Edward VI’s reign, but bent with the wind and confessed the Catholic religion whilst Mary was on the throne. He had first come to Elizabeth’s attention when she needed support during her brother’s reign and they maintained contact during the troubled and dangerous times under Mary I. Over time they built up an harmonious relationship where each respected the other, even when they had different agendas.
They immediately introduced new Acts which overturned Mary’s attempt to bring England under papal control. Elizabeth was declared head of the Church of England and the Prayer Book, with the inclusion of the 39 Articles setting out the doctrines and practices of the Church, was brought back into use. However, many English Catholics refused to attend Church of England services and were known as recusants. They continued to attend clandestine masses, often conducted by priests brought in from abroad at great risk to themselves and their hosts. In the early days of her reign Elizabeth was tolerant towards her Catholic subjects; she refused to 'make windows into men's souls ... there is only one Jesus Christ and all the rest is a dispute over trifles.'
The economy was also in urgent need of reform. Elizabeth inherited a severely debased coinage and that gave rise to price inflation which had serious affects for the monarch. The expense of running the country was her personal responsibility. Taxes and subsidies were only enacted by Parliament when needed for a specific purpose such as war. The national treasury comprised the Crown's personal fortune plus revenue raised from Crown lands and customs duties. There was no concept of 'national debt' and, when monarchs borrowed money, repayment of the loan was their personal responsibility. In 1560 Thomas Gresham, another man from the middle orders of society, proceeded with a thoroughgoing replacement of the currency. All the debased coins were withdrawn, melted down and converted into newly-minted Elizabethan coins. The process yielded a profit of about £50,000 to the royal treasury and restored faith in England’s coinage. Economic recovery flowed from the renewed confidence in the currency and encouraged expansion in trade and industry. A few years later Gresham capitalised on the growth in trade when he opened the Royal Exchange, which soon competed with the Bourse of Antwerp as a place to encourage and support commerce and enter-prise.
Elizabeth and Cecil were both concerned that French troops were present in Scotland at the invitation of the regent Mary of Guise. She was opposed by the Lords of the Congregation who supported the Calvinist ideas of John Knox. In 1560 Elizabeth and Cecil agreed at the treaty of Berwick to support the Scottish lords with armed force. A few months later, Mary of Guise died. The King of France also died soon after and his Catholic widow Mary returned as Queen of Scots to a country which was in the hands of a Protestant Regency Council.
Mary was cut from different cloth to her cousin Elizabeth. A woman whose heart too often ruled her mind, she found it difficult to take a cool, long term view when making decisions. A series of poor choices and calamitous events led to her becoming Elizabeth’s prisoner for most of her adult life and caused her eventual execution. Brought up in the grandeur of the French royal court, she finished her days in the deadly, drab quietness of an old Yorkist stronghold near Peterborough.
Each country was now ruled by a woman and the Scots queen was heir presumptive to her cousin the Queen of England. A difficult situation was looming, as foreseen by the advisors of their grandfather Henry VII. Elizabeth’s council feared the prospect of another Catholic queen on England’s throne, and a foreigner to boot. They urged her to marry in order to provide the country with a Protestant heir, preferably male. Foremost among her suitors was Philip II of Spain, widowed husband of her predecessor; he was clearly not acceptable. Others who sized her up as a wife included the Archduke Charles of Austria, who thought a marriage would help his relationship with the Protestant princes of Germany, and Eric XIV of Sweden who wanted English support in his struggle with Denmark for supremacy in the Baltic. French interest was represented by Henry Duke of Anjou and François Duke of Alençon. Elizabeth played the game of carefully weighing the benefits each candidate offered, but none could persuade her to give a definite answer. It is unlikely she seriously entertained any of the foreign suitors; she preferred to encourage the cult of the Virgin Queen.
However, there was one candidate who most definitely excited her attention. Robert Dudley, Master of the Horse and Privy Councillor, was brother of Lady Jane Grey’s husband and he narrowly escaped execution during the reign of Philip and Mary I. There is no doubt she was romantically attracted by his good looks and dashing character. When his wife, Amy Robsart died in a fall down a flight of stairs in September 1560, many believed it was no accident and feared Elizabeth would follow her heart and marry Dudley. Although there was strong support in the country for an English consort, Dudley was regarded as foolhardy and untrustworthy by Cecil and his cohort of influential councillors. Elizabeth was aware that marriage to Dudley was against her best interests, yet for many years he was her most intimate confidante and she made him Earl of Leicester. He was one of the few commoners raised to the nobility in her reign; another was Cecil who became Lord Burghley.
In 1562 Elizabeth and Cecil were drawn into continental affairs. A religious struggle known as the Wars of Religion had broken out in France. Elizabeth promised economic aid to the Protestant Huguenots and sent troops to defend Dieppe and Le Havre. When peace was declared between the two French factions, she tried to hold Le Havre, in revenge for the loss of Calais, but Catherine de Medici, widow of Henry II and regent acting for her under-age son, sent a mixed force of Catholic and Huguenot troops to take it back. Elizabeth would never trust the Huguenots again and offered no assistance when thousands of them were killed at the St Bartholomew Day Massacre in 1572.
In Scotland, Queen Mary shared with her cousin the dilemma of choosing a marital partner. She was resolutely Catholic in religion, whereas her Scottish Council was predominantly Protestant. Her first husband had briefly been King of France and she considered herself natural heir to Elizabeth. Some thought she had ambitions to wear the crown of England rather than sit on the rocky Scottish throne. Elizabeth, perhaps mischievously, put forward Robert Dudley as a candidate for Mary’s hand, but in 1565 she fell in love with her first cousin the Catholic Lord Darnley. Darnley was an English subject but he had a Stewart lineage as well as being a grandson of Henry VIII’s sister Margaret. Elizabeth was seriously concerned that any children of their marriage would have a good claim to her throne, thereby encouraging Catholic plots for her removal. However, much to their queen’s displeasure, Dudley and Cecil saw some advantages and facilitated the match.
The marriage soon foundered. Mary resisted Darnley’s ambitions to share the crown with her and came to dislike him. In March 1566 Darnley was one of a group of conspirators which murdered the pregnant Mary’s private secretary before her eyes in Holyrood House. Their son, the future James VI of Scotland and I of England was born in June but the marriage was a wreck. In February 1567 Darnley was recovering from a serious illness when the house where he was staying was blown up; he was found dead in the garden, with no signs of violence on the body. It was soon widely believed that the Earl of Bothwell, acting in collusion with Mary, was responsible for his death. Bothwell was however acquitted of the charge when he was put on trial, with no evidence presented.
Shortly afterwards, in April 1567 Mary was abducted by Bothwell. Nobody is sure whether she was his willing partner in the act and there are suggestions that he raped her, but they were married by Protestant rites when they returned to Edinburgh, twelve days after Bothwell divorced his first wife. The marriage was deeply unpopular with both Catholics and Protestants. Mary quickly realised she had made another mistake. A confederation of Scottish lords at the head of armed troops met the couple at Carberry Hill where Mary was taken prisoner. Bothwell was driven into exile and imprisonment in Denmark, where he became insane and died. Mary miscarried the twins she was carrying and on 24th July 1567 she was forced to abdicate her throne in favour of her one year old son James VI.
After escaping from prison in May 1568, she fled over the border, perhaps hoping that Elizabeth would help her regain her throne, but she was taken into custody. A civil war broke out in Scotland, whilst Elizabeth conducted an inquiry into Mary’s possible involvement in Darnley’s murder. Nothing could be proved, one way or the other, but Mary remained in the custodial care of the Earl of Shrewsbury and his formidable wife Bess of Hardwick.
Mary’s presence in England stimulated a Catholic revolt in support of their co-religionist. Catholic recusants were particularly strong in the North of England where a group of powerful nobles led by Charles Neville Earl of Westmoreland and Thomas Percy Earl of Northumberland planned to rescue Mary and install her on the English throne. They wanted her to marry Thomas Howard 4th Duke of Norfolk, who claimed to be a Protestant and who had presided over the Darnley inquiry, by whom they prayed she would produce an English Catholic heir to the throne! In November 1569 they occupied Durham where they celebrated mass in the cathedral, but retreated and dispersed into Scotland when the Earl of Sussex came north to oppose them. Percy lost his head at York and Neville died in poverty in Flanders. Norfolk was arrested for involvement in the Northern Earls’ Plot. He admitted everything and begged for mercy and was later released under house arrest. Cecil and the spymaster Francis Walsingham placed spies in Mary’s household and sent English troops to reinforce the anti-Maryan regents in Scotland.
In 1570 Pope Pius V excommunicated Elizabeth and approved all means to depose her. Norfolk and Mary then became involved in a plot organised by Ridolfi, an international banker who picked up the threads of the Northern Conspiracy. The Pope and Philip II of Spain were to fund a plan to send 10,000 troops from the Spanish Netherlands to England where, with help from the Catholic nobility, Elizabeth would be killed and Mary would take her throne and she would marry Thomas Howard. Although Mary continued to protest her friendship for Elizabeth in writing, there was no doubt she and Norfolk were deeply implicated in the plot, which was soon discovered by Walsingham. Encrypted messages were intercepted, and he learned further details from Sir John Hawkins, a well-known merchant and seafarer who had the confidence of the Spanish Ambassador. Norfolk was taken to the Tower, found guilty of high treason and beheaded in June 1572. Cecil, who had recently become a baron with the title Lord Burghley, advised Elizabeth to execute Mary as well. Although she was fully aware that Mary was a threat, the queen had hopes of winning her Catholic subjects to her side with the Anglican Church compromise and was unwilling to sentence a fellow sovereign to death.
Other plots were constantly discussed in the following years as Mary remained in captivity. The Throckmorton plot in 1583, contained the usual ingredients of killing Elizabeth, rescuing Mary and placing her on the throne with the help of a foreign invasion, this time led by the Duke of Guise, who headed the Catholic League in France and had planned the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre; he was detested by Protestants throughout Europe. As usual, the Walsingham spy network infiltrated the conspiracy; Throckmorton was apprehended and executed.
The most significant plot involved Anthony Babington, who became devoted to Mary when, as a young man, he was in the service of Mary’s gaoler, the Earl of Shrewsbury. Babington came into contact with John Ballard, a Catholic priest who was smuggled into England to minister to the recusants. He was masquerading as a fashionable soldier named Captain Fortescue. In 1586 Ballard persuaded Babington to assassinate the queen as a prelude to the landing of a Spanish-led invasion force. Unfortunately for the plotters, a companion of Ballard alias Fortescue was a spy for Francis Walsingham, who was aware of the conspiracy right from the start, and ensured it led to the entrapment and death of Mary Queen of Scots. Babington corresponded with Mary via enciphered letters smuggled in and out of her place of confinement in beer barrels. The operation was organised by one of Walsingham’s double agents who passed on the correspondence to the Walsingham spy centre, to be deciphered and copied before being passed on to the recipient. Babington wrote informing Mary of the plot’s details and listed his fellow conspirators. He asked her to agree to Elizabeth’s assassination. She agreed to the plan, but allegedly made no response to the assassination question. Walsingham’s spies, however, supposedly added a forged postscript giving Mary’s approval to the assassination. The conspirators were arrested, tried and executed in September 1586.
Elizabeth was finally persuaded to allow Mary to be put on trial. She was moved to Fotheringhay, where she was tried for treason before a court of noblemen which included Cecil, Shrewsbury, and Walsingham. She protested she was a foreign queen and not an English subject and could not therefore be charged with treason, but she was found guilty and sentenced to death. Elizabeth hesitated to order her execution, seeing it as a discreditable precedent. Nevertheless, she eventually signed the document and entrusted it to her secretary who passed it on to the Privy Council. Ten members headed by Burghley approved implementation of the order. Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded 8th February 1587. When she was informed of the deed, Elizabeth put on one of her finest displays of fury - it might well have been genuine, but she was a supreme actress. The secretary was put in the Tower for nine months.
Irish affairs were also a continuing worry. The Butler Earl of Ormond and Fitzgerald earl of Desmond fought a private battle in 1565 and were called to explain themselves before the queen. She favoured her Butler cousin and threw FitzGerald and some of his close relatives into the Tower. In 1567 Henry Sidney, the latest Lord Deputy, declared Munster was a ‘waste and desolate land’ suffering from banditry, never-ending raids, a lack of proper (i.e. Protestant) religious institutions and abject poverty. He aimed to resettle the Earl of Desmond’s lands with new English Plantations whilst the earl was incarcerated in the Tower. In 1569 the Gaelic inhabitants of Munster rebelled and a vicious campaign of burnings, plundering, rapine, and mass executions followed, in which Sir Humphrey Gilbert, half-brother of Sir Walter Raleigh played a leading role.
The brutal events of 1569 left the country smouldering with hatred. James FitzMaurice Fitzgerald, who took over leadership of Desmond in the absence of its earl, toured Europe seeking help. He eventually persuaded Pope Gregory XIII to authorise an invasion by about 600 Italian and Spanish soldiers. His small fleet landed in Kerry in July 1579 where he proclaimed a Holy War. Things did not go well for Fitzgerald; his ships were seized, cutting off supplies and any hope of retreat and FitzGerald himself was killed by Connacht Irish near Limerick after he stole their horses.
Gerald the Earl of Desmond, newly-released from the Tower, had remained dormant as much of his land was seized by English undertakers and his oppressed people looked to his kinsman for inspiration. However, the earl was named as a traitor by the English authorities on account of his failure to surrender his castles and send men to repel the invaders. He then had no choice but to join the papal invaders against the Crown authorities who had never succoured his natural pride or his loyalty. Under his leadership, the rebel army morale briefly improved, but their foreign allies soon waved the white flag, and were massacred. Hunger in the Desmond lands turned into starvation under the English stranglehold and the earl became a hunted brigand. He was eventually killed by Gaelic tribesmen in Kerry in 1583. The alliance of Gaelic Irish and the old Anglo-Irish nobility, represented by Desmond, was for a time beaten by the new Tudor establishment.
Elizabeth and her advisors were keenly aware the country needed protection from foreign invasion as Europe was reshaped by the growing power of Spain and the religious struggles of the Reformation. She was fortunate that her father and grandfather had already invested in a range of naval support facilities. Now she needed an updated fleet and the right men to command and crew them. English captains were already sailing in distant seas, seeking fresh trade and new trade routes; Willoughby and Chancellor had sailed into the Arctic and pioneered contact with Muscovy, John Lok and William Towerson had traded on the Guinea Coast of Africa and the father of Sir John Hawkins, the informant in the Ridolfi Plot, had visited the New World as early as 1527.
In 1562 Hawkins had formed a syndicate of merchants to fund the first triangular Atlantic trading voyage. Hawkins bartered manufactured goods for African slaves provided by local chiefs and traders, or took them from captured Portuguese slave ships. He then took his human cargo to Spanish American colonies, where the slaves were sold for silver, and indigenous products such as tobacco, indigo and sugar were brought back to England. The result was a handsome profit for the investors. That and two later voyages was the beginning of English involvement in the transatlantic slave trade.
The Spanish authorities did not welcome foreign intrusion into their mercantile monopoly and Hawkins’ last voyage, when he was accompanied by his second cousin Francis Drake, ended in disaster. His flotilla was attacked in 1568 and only two ships returned to England. Some of the stranded crews were taken before the Spanish Inquisition and were punished by being forced to serve in the galleys; at least one was burnt at the stake. Their friends and relatives in the West Country thirsted for revenge.
Hawkins’ exploits won the queen’s attention. He became Treasurer of the Royal Navy in 1578. He carried through financial reforms, insisting that sailors be decently paid, that new ships be designed to revolutionary new designs and that they be constructed and rigged to the best possible standards. The result was that England possessed a navy of fast, highly manoeuvrable ships manned by well-trained seamen by the time the Spanish Armada arrived in 1588.
The Armada was the climactic point in a conflict that had been brewing since Hawkins’ brush with Spanish authorities in 1568. More and more English privateers and outright pirates chanced their luck in the Caribbean and the Atlantic sea lanes to Spain. They raided Spanish-American settlements and, were particularly attracted to vessels which they hoped were on their way home laden with treasure or bullion. This was where Sir Francis Drake, England’s foremost seaman, and his fellow sea dogs learned their craft. By 1580, Drake’s adventurous buccaneering took him and his ship The Golden Hind on the first English voyage of global circumnavigation. The queen, who took her share of his contraband, showed her approval by knighting him on his return. Like him, nearly all England’s mariners along the south coast regarded Spanish ships as their natural enemy.
However, an uneasy peace existed between the two countries until Calvinist Protestants in the Dutch provinces revolted against the repressive pro-Catholic policies of Philip II in the Spanish Netherlands. Elizabeth refused an invitation to become their ruler and the Dutch States General decided to become a republic in 1583. Cecil persuaded her to aid them at the Treaty of Nonsuch in 1585; Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester was sent over with a small army to become the commander of the Dutch resistance. However, he accepted the post of Governor General without the queen’s permission; she was furious and publicly humiliated him. He returned in failure to England in December 1587. England was now involved in outright war with Spain. Drake had already made two hostile voyages in the Caribbean in 1585 and 1586; in 1587, he led an expedition which destroyed many ships in Cadiz harbour as they prepared for an invasion of England. He said he had ‘singed the King of Spain’s beard’.
Finally the blow came. In July 1588, an immense armada of Spanish ships was harried along the Channel in a series of engagements with English vessels, until they took refuge at Gravelines, where they planned to take on board the Duke of Parma’s Netherlands army for transportation to England. The armada was forced out to sea by an attack from English fire ships. The weather worsened and, unable to beat a way back down the Channel they were forced up the North sea and out into the Atlantic round the west coasts of Scotland and Ireland where many were wrecked. Only shattered remnants of the mighty armada struggled home to Spain.
However, at the end of that year, Elizabeth’s year of triumph was clouded by the death of Robert Dudley. Moreover, the fruits of the Armada victory were dissipated by the ill-fated Drake-Norreys expedition the following year, when an Anglo-Dutch fleet failed to destroy the Spanish Atlantic fleet or the cities of Coruña and Lisbon, Portugal, which at that time was ruled by Philip II. Finally the expedition failed to take the Azores or attack the Spanish treasure fleet and it returned to England with heavy losses and no gains.
1589 also saw Henry of Navarre, head of the French Bourbon family, take the throne of France. Navarre was the last remaining independent kingdom in the Iberian Peninsula; Henry inherited that crown through his mother, who raised him in the Protestant faith. He escaped the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre and led the Huguenot forces in the French Wars of Religion against the Catholic League, which was allied with Philip of Spain. After the assassination of Catherine de Medici’s third and last regal son, Henry inherited the French throne. For the first time since Le Havre, Elizabeth I sent a military force into France to oppose the Catholic League. Like similar ventures in 1591, it lacked adequate support and she was stingy with the necessary resources, but the queen always claimed her commanders went out of control once they were overseas and blamed them for the lack of success. Henry IV tried to instil toleration into the charged religious atmosphere in France; although he foreswore his Calvinist beliefs and became a Catholic, he issued the Edict of Nantes in 1598 which granted religious freedom to French Protestants and put an end to the Wars of Religion. In many ways he was France’s equal to Elizabeth and his country lost a wise ruler when he was assassinated by a Catholic zealot in 1610.
Despite the continuing flow of gold and silver from the New World, the wars against England, the Dutch Provinces and France were a heavy drain on Spain’s resources. The Dutch had been able to consolidate their borders and began to construct a formidable navy; in 1596, they joined England in an attack on Cadiz. The raid, commanded by the queen’s new favourite Robert Devereux Earl of Essex, was a great success; 32 ships were destroyed and the city was sacked and burned. Philip II was stung into retaliation and assembled a fleet which was intended to capture the French port of Brest, from which it could attack England or send aid to Irish rebels. It was October and the so called second Armada was quickly shattered by severe storms; another 38 ships and the expedition paychests were lost without a shot being fired. These disasters pushed Spain into its third bankruptcy, but Philip ordered a third armada of 136 ships to attack England in late 1597. Once again an armada bound for England was impeded and scattered by storms. Landings were effected, but contrary to Jesuit-inspired information, the local Catholics did not rise to welcome their co-religionists. The armada eventually straggled home having achieved nothing, in spite of the fact that England had been left defenceless because the fleet, under command of the Earl of Essex, had been far away in the Azores waiting in vain to waylay a Spanish treasure fleet. Somehow the two fleets failed to make contact as they both returned to their respective home waters. Elizabeth relieved Essex of his command.
Whilst her navy was fully occupied by the Spanish war, Elizabeth and her ministers were also dealing with yet another Irish rebellion which had started in 1593. It eventually developed into the Nine Years War. The focal point this time was the northern province of Ulster, where the Lord Deputy was determined to impose the crown’s authority on an area which had long ignored Dublin’s rule. Hugh O’Neill the Gaelic Earl of Tyrone at first pretended loyalty, but he joined Red Hugh O’Donnell and his Tyrconnell rebels in February 1595. They was able to muster some 8,000 armed men, including Scottish mercenaries. They appealed for help from Philip II, citing the need to protect their shared Catholic beliefs against the Protestants. Originally, Philip intended to support the rebels with the third armada, but his military commanders persuaded him to change the objective to the capture of Milford Haven or a West Country harbour. Nevertheless, O’Neill won a notable victory at the battle of the Yellow Ford where about 2,000 English troops were killed in 1598.
Other parts of Ireland then rose up including the dispossessed people of Desmond; English colonists lately established in the Munster plantation, including the poet Edmund Spenser, fled for their lives. In 1599 the Earl of Essex, in command of a large army, was sent over to pacify Ireland, but he was never supplied with the pack animals and naval support required to successfully attack Ulster. The few expeditions he did send out were mostly disastrous and and large numbers of his troops succumbed to disease. He eventually agreed a truce with O’Neill. Without the queen’s permission, Essex returned to England where the Privy Council, headed by her new chief minister Robert Cecil, the wily son of the late Lord Burghley, put him under house arrest. Incensed at the loss of his valuable monopoly on imported sweet wine and other slights from his numerous enemies, Essex dashed out into the London streets in February 1601 with armed followers and tried to stir up insurrection against the queen and her ministers. An older favourite, Walter Raleigh, led the Queen’s Guard which put down the brief insurrection. The old queen could stand no more from the dashing young courtier who had enlivened her life after the death of Dudley. Robert Devereux Earl of Essex was beheaded in the Tower a week later.
Charles Blount Lord Mountjoy took over from Essex as Lord Deputy of Ireland in 1600. He had all the necessary administrative backup to deal with the O’Donnell/Tyrone rebellion, including competent military commanders. George Carew broke the back of the southern rebellion in Munster and had arrested the principal leaders by mid-summer 1601. Two sea-born landings in Ulster turned the tide against O’Neill, but a long-awaited Spanish landing at Kinsale, far away on the south west tip of Ireland revived his spirits. O’Neill hurried south to try and sandwich Mountjoy, who was besieging the Spanish, between them and his Gaelic force. However the Ulster men were surprised and routed by a cavalry charge. They retreated in disorder back to Ulster, and the Spanish were forced to surrender. Mountjoy and his lieutenants brought starvation and death to Ulster with a scorched earth campaign in 1602. O’Neill could only reply with a guerrilla tactics conducted by small bands of dispirited men. He finally surrendered on 30th March 1603. Queen Elizabeth I had died on 24th March, too late to hear the whole of Ireland had at last fallen under her control.
O’Neill and O’Donnell finally departed from Ireland in 1607. Their departure is remembered as the ‘Flight of the Earls’. Gaelic Ireland remained Catholic, but much of its people were reduced to eking a living in less favoured areas. Both the Gaelic chiefs and the old Anglo-Irish lords were disarmed as Anglo-Scots plantations and the Protestant Church of Ireland took root in the land. New plantations were typified by the county of Londonderry, created from part of Tyrone in 1613.
It was clear to all that the reign of the illustrious queen was drawing to a close. One by one her old friends and fellow protagonists had passed away. She had lost Lord Burghley in 1598, the same year that her enemy Philip II had died. Her friend and one-time suitor Robert Dudley was a memory, as was another favourite, Christopher Hatton. More recently, Essex, who had betrayed and humiliated her, had died a traitor’s death. Only Walter Raleigh remained of the sexy, impetuous, gifted men who had enlivened her spirits in her years of glory. A new age was dawning, ushered in by Burghley’s son Robert Cecil: a man of short stature and twisted frame, but crafty and shrewd, prepared to play a long game. He was in secret contact with the man who was going to succeed Elizabeth - James VI, son of Mary Queen of Scots.
James was to inherit a country completely altered from the decaying medieval and feudal land which the Tudors took over. The feudal order had melted away. All villeins had received manumission (been freed of their obligations to the manor) and were employed as day labourers or had moved to the towns, where many became artisans working at an array of different trades. Others had taken possession of their land as copy-holders and became yeomen (many of whom purchased their land outright - some became substantial land-owners). Instead of the nobility raising their own forces when called to do so by the monarch; local militia were now raised and trained by order of the county’s Lord Lieutenant, but the crown also relied on a professional corps of soldiers, equipped and trained for the new forms of warfare which followed the use of gunpowder on the battlefield.
Between the nobility and the lower orders was the growing middle class of merchants and businessmen in towns and the gentry with seats in the country and often a place in London or their regional city as well. The latter dominated the House of Commons in Parliament; as Justices of the Peace they were responsible for the good governance of the countryside. Many practised the law and jealously guarded the liberties won in previous generations. Merchants were their city equivalent, having control of their communities through livery companies and chartered town councils. Ministers of the Church were also usually part of the gentry and important members of most local communities. The local cleric was responsible for guiding his flock in the doctrine of the Church of England and identifying recusants.
The state religion was a milder form of Calvinist and Lutheran Protestantism; the English church was still answerable to bishops and a supreme governor, unlike the Presbyterian religion north of the border. However, a growing number of Protestants refused to accept various aspects of the established church and became known as Puritans.
The monasteries were long gone and education was in the hands of local grammar schools, the universities and the Inns of Court. There were also some privately founded and funded schools for poor children, such as Christ’s Hospital. London and some other cities provided hospital care for some of their citizens, but in-house care of the sick and infirm was very much a ‘post-code’ game of chance. Most people still relied on prayer or the charms and remedies of a local healer to cure or relieve their ailments. Witchcraft was still a potent force in the early seventeenth century.
Care of the poor and sick was considered a Christian duty in medieval times, but new ideas and institutions were adopted after the Reformation. In the reign of Queen Elizabeth, Poor Laws were enacted to deal with the problems of a variety of poor folk such as the impotent poor and wandering vagabonds. Poor laws codified in 1597–98 were administered through parish overseers of the poor, who provided relief for the aged, sick and infant poor, as well as work for the able-bodied unemployed in parish workhouses or elsewhere. The 1601 Poor Law Act formalised the earlier acts and organised a compulsory nationwide poor rate system, to which every parish property owner had to contribute, on pain of being committed to gaol if he failed to pay. Vagrants caught begging were to be whipped and sent back to their birthplace or the local House of Correction. Almshouses were set up for the poor of the parish who were unable to fend for themselves. This remained the basic means of dealing with poverty until the nineteenth century.
Social life in late Tudor times was enlivened by a mixture of old pastimes and new entertainments. Ball games akin to football and cricket, bowls and skittles were played on greens and commons, but archery fell out of favour when the longbow was no longer used as a major war weapon (although it was probably still favoured by poachers). Trade fairs were still accompanied by dancing bears, magic acts and other travelling entertainments. Blood sports such as bear baiting and cock fighting, accompanied by gambling, were popular, and ‘strolling players’ moved from town to town putting on shows in the yard of a local hostelry or in the hall of a grand house. However, the medieval miracle plays and other communal entertainment based on religious stories were banned in Henry VIII’s time and were never revived. In London a few theatres were built which provided secular drama for popular enjoyment, much of it derived from the renaissance revival of classical texts.
An astonishing flowering of dramatic and literary talent occurred in this period, including the greatest English playwright William Shakespeare and his contemporaries Ben Jonson, Kit Marlowe and the later Jacobean dramatists. Public figures such as Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Philip Sidney were proud to show off their literary accomplishments in verse or prose or song and Queen Elizabeth herself was known to compose verse with a deft turn of phrase. The English language, no longer restricted by the use of Latin in Church and legal circles or French in courtly society, was flooded with newly-invented words and terminology. The enriched language was spread far and wide by books, pamphlets and leaflets - the products of the printing press. Peoples’ tongues were equipped with a complete language to express their feelings, their desires, their public demands and complaints. The next era of British history was to be one long debate and brawl about how they should be governed and who should represent their needs and wishes.
1547 Henry VIII dies to be succeeded by his nine year old son Edward VI who suffers poor health. His short reign is remembered for the Protestant faith becoming firmly established in the English Church.
~ Edward Seymour Duke of Somerset and brother of the late Queen Jane, is appointed Lord Protector. He beats the Scots at the battle of Pinkie when the Scots repudiate the Royal marriage treaty.
~ John Knox (c1514-1572) becomes the Protestant chaplain at St Andrews. The French intervene and put down a Protestant revolt in Scotland.
~ The Act of Six Articles (see1539) is repealed.
1548 Mary Queen of Scots is sent to France where she resides for 13 years.
1549 The English Book of Common Prayer by Thomas Cranmer, one of the major works of English literature, is introduced (extensively revised by reformers in 1552). Versions of it remain the Protestant Christian liturgy in over fifty countries in the world.
~ The pro-Catholic ‘Prayer Book Rebellion’ breaks out in the West.
~ Kett’s Rebellion against field enclosures in Norfolk is put down by John Dudley (1504-1553) who takes over as chief minister and is later created Duke of
1550 Approximate date of founding of St Thomas’s Hospital Medical School, London.
1551 The Act of Uniformity introduces a more Protestant version of the Book of Common Prayer (both devised by Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury).
~ The see of Winchester is taken from the Catholic Stephen Gardiner (1483-1555).
1552 Edward VI founds 35 Grammar Schools.
~ Duke of Somerset is beheaded for trying to overthrow Dudley of Northumberland’s regime.
~ The privileges of the Hanseatic League are abolished in England.
1553 King Edward VI dies and Lady Jane Grey (c1537-1554), a committed Protestant and newly-wed daughter-in-law of the Duke of Northumberland, is nominated as his successor.
~ The Mayor of London proclaims Mary, daughter of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon, as rightful queen.
~ Mary I is crowned and Northumberland is executed. His younger son Robert Dudley (1532-1588) is condemned to death, but later is set free.
~ Stephen Gardiner becomes Lord Chancellor. He and other Roman Catholic bishops are restored and R C worship returns to the Church in England.
1554 Princess Elizabeth is suspected of involvement with a rebellion against the queen’s proposed Spanish marriage led by Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542). For some time she is imprisoned in the Tower of London.
~ Lady Jane Grey ‘The 9 Day Queen’, and her husband are executed at the Tower of London.
~ Mary I marries Philip (1527-1598), the heir to the Spanish crown. In addition to being Queen Regnant of England, she is his consort when he becomes King of Spain in 1556.
~ The Heresy Acts are revived and the Pope is recognised as head of the Church in England.
~ Mary of Guise the Queen Mother becomes Regent of Scotland.
1555 John Rogers (born c1505) is the first of many Protestant Marian Martyrs to be burnt (at Smithfield).
~ Bishops Latimer (born 1487) and Ridley (born 1500) are burnt in Oxford.
~ The Muscovy Company receives a charter to trade as a joint stock company with monopoly rights with fledgling Russia following the return of Richard Chancellor (died 1556) from the court of Ivan the Terrible.
~ New grammar schools continue to be founded.
~ John Lok voyages to the Guinea coast of Africa and returns with gold and ivory and five Africans to train as interpreters for future visits.
1556 Thomas Cranmer, late Archbishop of Canterbury, third of three martyred Protestant bishops, is burnt at the stake in Oxford.
1557 England enters the war against France in alliance with King Philip of Spain.
~ The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Thomas Radcliffe Earl of Sussex (c1525-1583), founds Queen’s County and King’s County in Leinster and begins to colonise them with English settlers. He also attempts to subdue Gaelic chieftains in Ulster by establishing a bridgehead of English plantations between them and the Gaels in Scotland.
~ A Hundreth Good Pointes of Husbandrie is published by Thomas Tusser (1524-1580).
~ John Knox writes The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstruous Regiment of Women.
1558 Calais, the last English possession in France is lost.
~ Queen Mary I dies childless succeeded by her half-sister Elizabeth I (1533-1603), daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.
~ William Cecil (1520-1598), later Lord Burghley, becomes Principal Secretary of State.
~ Mary Queen of Scots marries the French Dauphin.
1559 The Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity restore the anti-papacy laws and the Protestant Church of England with Queen Elizabeth I as its’s head.
~ Mary Queen of Scots becomes queen consort of France when her husband becomes King Francis II (1544-1560).
~ John Knox leads the Scottish Presbyterian Reformation and is opposed by the Regent Mary of Guise, with the assistance of French troops on behalf of her daughter Mary, Queen of Scots and of France.
~ Shane O’Neill becomes chief of Tyrone in Ulster.
~ Matthew Parker (1504-1575) becomes Archbishop of Canterbury.
1560 The Treaty of Berwick. Scottish lords agree to English forces entering Scotland to drive out the French.
~ Protestant Regency Council is established in Scotland. Mary of Guise dies.
~ Scottish Parliament abolishes Papal jurisdiction and approves the Calvinistic Confession of Faith by John Knox.
~ Supervised by William Cecil and Thomas Gresham (c1519-1579), the debased English currency is withdrawn and replaced by newly minted fine standard coins. The following year coins with milled edges are introduced to prevent ‘clipping’.
~ Amy Robsart, wife of Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester dies. Her husband, the queen’s especial favourite, is suspected of her murder.
1561 The King of France dies and Mary his widow returns to rule Scotland, now a Protestant country.
1562 Sir John Hawkins (1532-1595) begins the English trans-Atlantic slave Trade. He makes three voyages which take slaves from Africa for sale in Spanish colonies in the Caribbean, and also introduces tobacco to England.
~ The Treaty of Hampton Court. Troops are sent to hold Le Havre on behalf of Huguenots in the French Wars of Religion. It is retaken the next year by a joint Huguenot/Catholic force.
1563 Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, an account of Christian martyrs, particularly English Protestant victims, through the ages by John Foxe (1516/17-1587) is published.
1565 Mary Queen of Scots marries her Protestant cousin Lord Darnley (1545-1567). Both could lay claims to the English throne.
~ The Battle of Affane, a private war between the Fitzgerald Earl of Desmond and the Butler Earl of Ormond in Ireland arouses the queen’s displeasure. Both are called to account and Desmond is imprisoned.
~ Summarie of Englyshe Chronicles is published by John Stow (1524/5-1605), the foremost English historian / antiquarian of the time.
~ The Act of Association provided for the execution of anyone who would benefit from the death of Queen Elizabeth if a plot against her was discovered.
1566 Lord Darnley kills the pregnant Queen Mary’s secretary David Rizzio (born c 1533) in her presence.
~ Prince James of Scotland is born. He is destined to unite the crowns of England and Scotland as James I and VI.
1567 Lord Darnley is murdered.
~ His widow, Mary Queen of Scots, is abducted by his suspected murderer the Earl of Bothwell (c1534-1578) whom she marries.
~ Mary is forced to abdicate in favour of her year old son James VI (1566-1625). James Stewart Earl of Moray (1531-1570) her illegitimate half-brother, a Protestant, is declared regent.
~ Walloon Protestants flee to England to avoid religious persecution in the Spanish Netherlands.
1568 Mary goes into exile in England where she is regarded by some Catholics as their legitimate sovereign. She is kept in confinement at various places for nearly 20 years.
1569 The Catholic revolt of the Northern Earls , Neville of Westmorland and Percy of Northumberland, fails.
~ James FitzMaurice Fitzgerald (died 1579) takes over the Desmond inheritance in Munster and resists English plantations. A pitiless campaign of retribution is waged by Sir Humphrey Gilbert (c1539-1583), half-brother of Sir Walter Raleigh.
~ Four ships of Sir John Hawkins’ third slaving voyage are lost when they are attacked in the Spanish-Mexican port of San Juan de Ulua. Hawkins and Frances Drake (c1540-1596) in command of the remaining ships manage to escape. The beginning of the Anglo-Spanish naval struggles.
~ Archbishop Matthew Parker publishes the Bishops’ Bible in response to Calvinist translations.
1570 The Pope excommunicates Queen Elizabeth I with the bull Regnans in Excelsis which authorises her overthrow.
~ The Earl of Moray is murdered, succeeded as Scottish regent by Darnley’s father Matthew Stewart Earl of Lennox (1516-1571) a Catholic.
1571 The Ridolfi plot is discovered by William Cecil who is created Lord Burghley. Mary Queen of Scots and the Duke of Norfolk (born 1536) collude to secure the overthrow of Elizabeth I and replace her with Mary.
~ The Thirty Nine Articles of Religion are adopted as the basis of faith in the Church of England.
~ Scottish regent the Earl of Lennox is killed, succeeded by moderate Protestant John Erskine Earl of Mar (died 1572).
~ The Royal Exchange, founded by Thomas Gresham opens as a centre for commerce in the City of London.
1572 The St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of Protestants in France is witnessed by the English ambassador and spymaster for the Queen Sir Francis Walsingham (c1532-1590). Many Huguenot refugees flee to England.
~ The Duke of Norfolk is beheaded.
1573 Frances Drake captures treasure from Spanish mule trains in Isthmus of Panama.
~ English troops capture Edinburgh castle occupied by supporters of Mary.
1574 Harrow School is founded by royal charter.
~ Catholic priests from the Douai Seminary come secretly to England.
1575 Thomas Tallis (c1505-1585), a notable composer of English choral music, and his junior partner William Byrd 1540-1623) are granted a monopoly for composing Polyphonic music. Both men espouse Catholicism.
~ Christopher Saxton’s (c1640-1610) County Atlas is published.
1576 James Burbage (c1531-1597) opens London’s first theatre at Holywell St. Shoreditch.
1577 The monopoly on whaling centred on Spitzbergen is granted to the Muscovy Company.
1578 Sir John Hawkins becomes Treasurer of the Royal Navy and introduces practical improvements to ships and the service in general which greatly improve performance.
~ Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester secretly marries Lettice Knollys (1543-1634), widow of the Earl of Essex. The Queen permanently banishes her from court.
~ Martin Frobisher (c1535-1594) returns from a third fruitless voyage to discover gold and a North West passage around North America for the Cathay Company which becomes bankrupt.
1579 Queen Elizabeth I, keen for French support in the Netherlands, where the Northern provinces have declared their independence as the Dutch Republic, enters inconclusive marriage negotiations with Francois Duke of Anjou (1554-1584), brother and heir to the French king.
~ Frances Drake declares the Pacific coast of North America annexed by England as New Albion.
~ Spanish and Italian force lands in Kerry to support a rising led by the Fitzgerald Earl of Desmond rising which ultimately fails.
1580 Sir Francis Drake arrives home, laden with Spanish treasure, after sailing round the world in The Golden Hind.
~ A secret Jesuit mission arrives to minister and recruit among the Catholic community in England. Their leader Edmund Campion (1540-1581) is caught and executed at Tyburn the following year.
1581 The Church of Scotland adopts an anti-Catholic covenant which is recommended to all his countrymen by James VI who has now taken over government from a succession of regents.
1582 James VI is kidnapped and forced to renounce his favourite the Duke of Lennox (1542-1583), whose Catholic background is regarded with suspicion by the Scottish Presbyterian church.
~ Robert Browne (died 1630) publishes A Treaty of Reformation in the Netherlands. He advocates a Congregationalist form of worship but later returns to the Church of England. However the term Brownist or Brownite is applied to several separatist groups in future years.
1583 Newfoundland, seasonally visited by European fishermen, is claimed as England’s first colony by Sir Humphrey Gilbert but no permanent settlement is established.
~ The University of Edinburgh is founded.
1584 The Spanish ambassador is dismissed after being implicated in the Throckmorton plot for an invasion led by the Duke of Guise (1550-1588), head of the French Catholic League, to replace Elizabeth I on the throne with Mary Queen of Scots.
~ Scottish Parliament passes the Black Acts to regulate the Calvinist Kirk.
1585 Sir Walter Raleigh (c1552-1618) attempts to establish a colony at Roanoke in North America. The expedition is headed by his cousin Sir Richard Grenville (1542-1491).
~ Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester commands an expedition to bring aid to the Dutch provinces in the Netherlands which are resisting Spanish rule. The beginning of a prolonged state of war between England and Spain.
~ John Davis explores the Greenland coast.
1586 Sir Francis Drake returns from a large scale privateering raid on the Spanish colonies in the West Indies accompanied by the discouraged Roanoke colonists.
~ Sir Francis Walsingham, through the services of a double-agent, becomes aware of the Babington plot and entices Mary Queen of Scots into secret correspondence with the plotters. The plot is exposed and Mary is found guilty of treason against Elizabeth.
~ Treaty of Berwick. James VI of Scotland signs a league of friendship agreement with England despite knowing his mother’s life is in jeopardy.
~ Poet, courtier and soldier Sir Philp Sidney (1554-1586) is mortally wounded fighting in the Netherlands.
~ The first edition of Britannia, a monumental topographical and historical survey of Great Britain and Ireland written in Latin by William Camden (1551-1623) is published.
1587 Elizabeth I signs Mary Queen of Scots’ death warrant and she is promptly beheaded. Elizabeth professes outrage that her consent was obtained by subterfuge and Lord Burghley is briefly disgraced.
~ Robert Dudley Lord Leicester leaves the Netherlands, in debt for lack of royal support and temporarily loses royal favour.
~ Sir Francis Drake ‘singes the King of Spain’s beard’ by destroying many ships in the ports of Cadiz and Corunna.
~ Sir Walter Raleigh dispatches about 150 colonists to Roanoke. Their leader John White (c1540-1593) returns to England for supplies but is unable to return until 1590 and finds the colonists have disappeared without trace.
~ The second edition of Holinshed’s Chronicles, a collaborative history of England, Scotland and Wales edited by Raphael Holinshed (dates unknown), is published.
1588 The Spanish Armada, intending to support a full scale invasion of England, is defeated by bad weather and superior English seamanship and equipment.
~ Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester, commander of the English army at Tilbury, dies later this year.
1589 The Drake-Norreys expedition to destroy Spanish ships and cities is a costly failure.
~ Large-scale plantation of English settlers begins on confiscated Fitzgerald lands in Munster. Undertakers include Sir Walter Raleigh.
~ James VI of Scotland marries Anne (1574-1619) of Denmark, a Protestant country.
1590 The year when William Shakespeare’s (1564-1616) first plays were probably written - Henry VI part I and Titus Andronicus.
1591 Sir Richard Grenville, commanding the Queen’s ship The Revenge, dies of wounds after fighting a three day running battle against 53 Spanish ships at Flores in the Azores.
~ James Lancaster (c1554-1618) sets off on 3 year voyage to the East Indies – England’s first east-bound voyage to the Indies.
1592 Trinity College, Dublin is founded by Royal Charter.
~ The Queen sends Sir Walter Raleigh to the Tower when she discovers his secret marriage to her maid of honour Elizabeth Throckmorton (1565-1647).
1593 Christopher Marlowe (born 1564), influential poet and playwright and contemporary of Shakespeare is killed in mysterious circumstances.
1594 Hugh O’Neill (c1550-1616), the Gaelic Earl of Tyrone, rebels and the Nine Years War in Ireland begins.
1595 Sir Walter Raleigh sets off on an unsuccessful search for El Dorado, ‘the City of Gold’ in South America.
1596 Sir Francis Drake dies and is buried at sea off Portobelo in Panama.
~ The Queen’s last favourite, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex (1566-1601) leads an Anglo-Dutch force which destroys Spanish ships and burns Cadiz.
1597 The Poor Relief Act. Local rates are to support relief of the poor and parish almshouses will house the old and infirm.
1598 Lord Burghley dies succeeded as the Queen’s principal advisor by his second son Robert Cecil (1563-1612).
~ Hugh O’Neill destroys an English force at the battle of the Yellow Ford, England’s worst setback of the Nine Years War.
~ King James VI publishes The True Law of Free Monarchies a book about political theory and kingship.
~ London’s hanseatic steelyard is closed after a long conflict with City merchants.
1599 Robert Devereux Earl of Essex, lands in Ireland but, after failing to bring Hugh O’Neill and his ally the Geraldine claimant to the earldom of Desmond to heel, Essex returns to London without royal permission.
~ James VI of Scotland writes Basilikon Doron, a practical guide to kingly rule, for his four year old son Henry.
~ Edmund Spenser (born c1552), much admired author of the unfinished epic poem Faerie Queen, dies.
~ Shakespeare’s company of players builds the Globe theatre on London’s south bank.
1600 The East India Company is chartered. Trading posts are established in Java and the Moluccas Islands.
~ James VI of Scotland escapes imprisonment by the Earl of Gowrie.
~ Sir Edward Coke’s first Law Reports are published.
1601 The Poor Relief Act refines the 1597 Act and for the next two centuries it forms the basis of support for the poor and infirm based on a levy raised on the local parishioners.
~ The Earl of Essex leads a failed rebellion in London against the aged queen and is executed.
~ Robert Cecil enters into secret communications with James VI of Scotland to ensure a smooth handover of the crown upon the queen’s demise.
~ Lord Mountjoy (1563-1606) defeats Hugh O’Neill and his Spanish allies at the battle of Kinsale.
1602 The Bodleian Library Oxford opens.
1603 End of the Nine Years War in Ireland. Hugh O’Neill submits to Mountjoy but benefits from an amnesty.
~ The end of the Tudor dynasty. Elizabeth I dies childless.