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The Effects of Elizabeth Tudor's Childhood & Adolescence on Her Reign of England - An Analysis: Humanity

The Rainbow Portrait by Isaac Oliver.

The Rainbow Portrait by Isaac Oliver.

The reign of Queen Elizabeth I (Tudor) is referred to as England’s golden age due to the peace and prosperity Elizabeth succeeded in achieving, in stark contrast to the turmoil that marked her father’s and sister’s reigns. But to truly comprehend the development of Elizabeth’s golden age, one has to rewind the clock and peer into her formative years and analyze the effects the events of her childhood and adolescence had on her. In this first analysis of Elizabeth Tudor’s reign, I will focus on the aspects of her pre-queen years, which indirectly determined the humane path that produced that stability in her realm.

"Unbloody Elizabeth"

To begin, Elizabeth Tudor is considered compassionate in her rule in comparison to the average kings and queens of the Elizabethan era. In Elizabeth’s reign, six people were executed for heresy or blasphemy compared with the approximately 290 Protestants who were burned at stake for heresy during the rule of her older sister, Mary I . This vast disparity of figures demonstrates Elizabeth’s instinctively merciful personality. Given her terrifying youth – her mother, Anne Boleyn, accused of and charged with adultery, and executed on her father’s command; her stepmother, Katherine Howard, executed in the similar horrifying manner as Anne had been; her near-death experience following her suspected involvement in the Wyatt’s Rebellion against her sister, Mary – Elizabeth unconsciously developed a kind of humanity, which aptly explains her reluctance to carry out systematic religious persecutions as Mary had.

In Royal Women by Mary Ridpath-Mann, Ridpath-Mann wrote: “…the records of her (Elizabeth) court show that she was never in any hurry to punish the disaffected or even to weed them out of her kingdom.” Mary persecuted because she had been motivated by a religious zeal to purge heresy from her land, whereas Elizabeth, who had never been zealous about religion as she had constantly eschewed extremism due to lessons learnt from the disastrous results of her father's and sister's religious managements, persecuted out of fear for the security of her realm.

Mary in a miniature painting after François Clouet's school.

Mary in a miniature painting after François Clouet's school.

A Tender-Hearted Queen & Cousin

The long and bitter controversy of Elizabeth’s dealings with her cousin, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland, elaborated just how indisposed Elizabeth herself was in sending people to their deaths. Mary of Scots had fled her disastrous reign in Scotland for England to seek Elizabeth’s help. However, Mary Stuart was perceived as the true queen of England in the eyes of Catholic Europe as Elizabeth was Protestant; and besides, Mary of Scots had a son, an heir, which Elizabeth had not. These two factors made Mary of Scots a tremendous threat to Elizabeth’s life.

In the nineteen years of Mary Stuart’s imprisonment in England, Mary had been involved in three plots to assassinate Elizabeth, but it was Elizabeth’s constant rejections of petitions to sign Mary Stuart’s death warrant that spared Mary from the scaffold that long. After Mary Stuart’s encouragement of the first conspiracy, Ridolfi Plot in 1570, surfaced, Elizabeth remarked that she would “never put to death the bird that, to escape the pursuit of the hawk, has fled to my feet for protection.”

Following the third and final conspiracy, the Babington Plot in 1586, to overthrow Elizabeth, Elizabeth’s council and Parliament became more adamant in urging her to sign her cousin’s death warrant as the plot had seriously endangered Elizabeth’s life and jeopardized England’s peace and stability. Elizabeth still hesitated at doing so. At the opening of Mary of Scot’s trial at Fotheringhay in October of the same year for her association in the Babington Plot, Elizabeth, in spite of all that had happened, offered compassion to her cousin in a letter, saying, “Act plainly without reserve, and you will sooner be able to obtain favor of me.”

Furthermore, it took Elizabeth three months to put her signature on the death warrant of Mary of Scots, the entire period arguing with her inner self. She was no doubt vexed by the thought of spilling the blood of her own cousin, and signing the warrant became one of the hardest decisions of her reign.

The Three Main Plots Against Elizabeth Concerning Mary of Scots

  • Ridolfi Plot 1570 - Its aim was to assassinate Elizabeth and replace her with her cousin, Mary of Scots. The plot was perpetrated by Robert di Ridolfi, a Florentine banker and ardent Catholic.
  • Throckmorton Plot 1583 - An attempt by the English Catholics to achieve a similar goal as the Ridolfi Plot. The key conspirator was Sir Francis Throckmorton, a cousin of Elizabeth Throckmorton, Queen Elizabeth's first lady in waiting.
  • Babington Plot 1586 - A Catholic plot with similar interests as the above two that ultimately led to the execution of Mary of Scots.

Like A Stab To Her Heart

When Elizabeth received the news of Mary of Scots’ execution on February 9, 1587, it was recorded that she openly raged against her councilors and spent the entire day alone, weeping and refusing all food, while the public rejoiced. Her able secretary, Davidson, who had given her the second warrant (Elizabeth tore up the first copy), was sent to the Tower of London.

The impact of Mary Stuart's execution on Elizabeth was huge and it left a scar in Elizabeth's personality that lasted her entire future. This execution of her relation had no doubt brought back the painful thoughts of both her mother's and stepmother's execution.

Having performed the same deed to her cousin, Mary, as her father had to her mother, Anne, Elizabeth wrote a letter to Mary Stuart’s son, James VI of Scotland, four days after Mary’s execution, in which she took great pains to assert her innocence, hoping to alleviate her guilt.

Now one must remember that monarchs in the 16th century were never emotionally perturb when it came to ordering executions even on their relations, such as King Henry VIII and Queen Mary I were not; but this queen, who because of the negative experiences with executions in her younger years, did. Therefore, during the reign of Elizabeth Tudor, England saw less brutality and less bloodshed, which indubitably accounted for the harmony in Elizabethan England that had long been deprived of such peace.

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Genealogical Table Featuring the Relationship of Elizabeth Tudor & Mary of Scots

Click on the table to obtain a larger view.

Click on the table to obtain a larger view.


First published on January 17, 2012

Next in this series of 'The Effects of Elizabeth Tudors Childhood & Adolescence on Her Reign of England' . . .

Interested to know more about the Tudors?


Carmen Beth (author) on March 19, 2012:

Me too, especially the Tudors, that's why I enjoy writing about them apart from reading about them. I appreciate your reading and comment, Vinaya.

Vinaya Ghimire from Nepal on March 19, 2012:

I always find the history of British monarchy very interesting. I enjoyed your work.


Carmen Beth (author) on January 19, 2012:

Thanks for being so interested!

இڿڰۣ-- кιмвєяℓєу from Niagara Region, Canada on January 18, 2012:

I can't wait to see what you come up with next Carmen! ;)

Carmen Beth (author) on January 17, 2012:

I remember reading somewhere once that such was the incident, and as the news of Mary's execution came unexpectedly to Elizabeth, that must have been the case. I'll try to find out more about that. Thanks for your question, klidstone1970. Elizabeth was known to have suggested that Mary could be quietly murdered by her jailors, although this eventually did not happen.

இڿڰۣ-- кιмвєяℓєу from Niagara Region, Canada on January 17, 2012:

Was there not a story behind the signing of the death warrant that it was to be postponed being delivered to her ministers by Elizabeth's command, but was done so anyway behind her back by her secretary and the ministers secretly rushed Mary's execution??

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