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Top 10 Fascinating Facts About Elizabeth I: The Last Tudor Monarch

by Laura Ellen
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

It may have been over 400 years since she reigned over England, but Queen Elizabeth I is known as one of the most notorious female figures in history. During the first Elizabethan era, England was established as a major power in politics, commerce, and the arts.

Born as the second daughter of Henry VIII and with an early life of uncertainties, Elizabeth eventually reigned as queen for over 40 years. It’s fair to say that Elizabeth had quite an interesting life.

Related: 10 Intriguing Spies From The Tudor Era

10 She Was Born at Greenwich Palace

Greenwich Palace: A Virtual Tour of Tudor London

Royal births in hospitals have become far more common over the past 40 years, but previously, home births were the norm. Even Queen Elizabeth II gave birth to her four children at home at Buckingham Palace. So back in the 16th century, a home birth was really the only option.

Elizabeth’s grandfather, Henry VII, purchased Greenwich Palace when he ascended to the throne in 1485. The palace was located on the bank of the River Thames near London. His son (and Elizabeth’s father) Henry VIII was born at the palace in 1491.

On September 7, 1533, a baby Elizabeth was also born at Greenwich Palace to the reigning King Henry and his second wife, Anne Boleyn.

Greenwich Palace, also known as the Palace of Placentia, was eventually demolished in the late 1600s. The site was later used as a hospital and is now known as the Old Royal Naval College. Modern-day visitors to Greenwich Park can still visit the tree where Elizabeth occasionally enjoyed a snack as a child.[1]

9 Elizabeth Was Never Meant to Become Queen

How Did Queen Elizabeth I’s Reign Begin? | Two Golden Queens | Channel 5 #RoyalFamily

Until recently, male members of the British royal family have benefited from a system of male primogeniture. This meant that if the first child of the monarch was female, any younger brothers would automatically overtake their sister in line to the throne.

Elizabeth was heir presumptive (never the heir apparent) to the throne when she was born, but her father was still desperate for a son. When Elizabeth’s brother, Edward, was born three years later, it seemed unlikely that she would ever become queen.

But the system of male primogeniture wasn’t the only reason. After Henry VIII had her mother, Anne Boleyn, executed when Elizabeth was only two years old, Elizabeth was declared illegitimate.

Tragically Henry’s only legitimate male child, Edward VI, died at the age of 15 after reigning for only six years. This led to the reign of the last two of Henry VIII’s children, his two daughters, Mary and Elizabeth.

However, it wasn’t until her half sister, Queen Mary I, declared Elizabeth as her successor that she became the direct heir to the throne. Just eleven days after the declaration, Mary died, making Elizabeth queen of England! However, throughout her reign, issues surrounding her legitimacy resulted in many threats to her throne and sovereignty.[2]

8 Her Sister Almost Had Her Executed

Why Bloody Mary Hated Queen Elizabeth I | Two Sisters | Absolute History

Mary I was not only the first Tudor queen but also the older half sister of Elizabeth I. Mary was already 17 years old and had been declared illegitimate by the time Elizabeth was born. Historians believe that after Elizabeth’s mother was executed, Mary actually took pity on a young Elizabeth.

When Mary and Elizabeth’s younger brother King Edward VI died in 1553, it was incredibly uncertain who would succeed him. Eventually, Mary acceded to the throne leading to Protestant rebellions and many deaths ordered by the staunchly Catholic queen. In 1554, Mary even had Elizabeth imprisoned for two months after a rebellion attempted to overthrow her. As Elizabeth was Protestant, it didn’t take much for Mary to be suspicious of her much younger sibling. It looked likely that this could lead to Elizabeth’s execution. However, Elizabeth denied all knowledge of the rebellion. Yet, she remained under house arrest for a year before eventually being allowed free.[3]

7 She Was Multilingual

[Full HD] Charles II, Archduke of Austria – Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)

As well as being talented at music and calligraphy, Elizabeth had a strong grasp of linguistics. By the age of eleven, Elizabeth could speak five languages. As she grew older, she learned more and eventually, in addition to English, could read or speak German, Flemish, Greek, Latin, Spanish, French, and Italian.

This is quite impressive, especially considering it was during a time when it was probably more common to be illiterate than literate for the majority of people. However, as a Tudor, there was no doubt that Elizabeth had access to the very best tutors.

Elizabeth’s grasp of a multitude of languages likely helped her in her ability to maintain relations with other European powers and assisted her in gaining respect as one of the few reigning female monarchs at the time.[4]

6 Elizabeth Had Mary Queen of Scots Executed

The Death of Mary Queen of Scots – Elizabethan England

One of the most famous rivalries of the era, Elizabeth and Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, were two queens often pitted against each other due to their claims to the English throne. Mary was the granddaughter of Margaret, Henry VIII’s older sister. She became Queen of Scots when she was only six days old. Once betrothed to Edward VI, that match was eventually opposed by some Scottish Catholics, who then sought to use the young Mary to form an alliance with France.

Despite the fact that they were cousins, Elizabeth and Mary never actually met. Mary was a figurehead for those who desired a Catholic ruler, whereas Elizabeth remained the Protestant alternative.

After Mary was forced to abdicate the Scottish throne and imprisoned, she was held captive for 19 years until Elizabeth warranted her execution on February 7, 1587. The cousins were two of the most powerful women in European history, but ultimately, the 16th-century world was not one in which they could co-exist.[5]

5 She Never Married

The Virgin Queen – Why did Queen Elizabeth I never Marry? Historical Curiosities – See U in History

Known as the virgin queen, it has long been debated whether Elizabeth was actually a virgin. However, the name seems appropriate as she is the only female English monarch to date to never marry. Some historians believe it was an active choice to protect England’s security from foreign influence. However, it led to ongoing uncertainty over who would inherit the throne when she died.

Mary had a long list of potential suitors, from foreign princes to English noblemen, all keen to gain the power of the English throne. MPs and the Privy Council all expected Elizabeth to marry in order to secure the succession of the throne with royal children and preferably a future King.

Robert Dudley was an ambitious courtier who spent a lot of time with Elizabeth, which resulted in a lot of rumors about their relationship and led many to doubt Elizabeth’s supposed virginity. However, this relationship could never become a marriage, as Dudley was already married.[6]

4 She Was Suspected of Killing Robert Dudley’s Wife

The Mysterious Murder In The Tudor Court | Elizabeth: Killer Queen | Real Royalty

Dudley had known Elizabeth since they were children and became one of her most trusted confidants. Rumored to be Robert Dudley’s lover, Elizabeth was one of the suspects when Dudley’s wife of ten years, Amy Robsart, suddenly died.

Many at the time believed that Queen Elizabeth desired to marry Robert Dudley but could not do so as he was married. This linked both Mary and Robert as suspects in Amy’s murder. Ultimately Amy’s death was ruled accidental, but Dudley and Elizabeth’s story did not have a happy ending. He went on to marry another, and she remained the so-called virgin queen until her death.[7]

3 Elizabeth Had a Sweet Tooth

The Sweet Treat That Had The Tudors Hooked | Hidden Killers | Absolute History

Common foods during the Elizabethan era consisted of a variety of meat, fish, bread, fruits, and vegetables, with the wealthiest members of society having their choice of all the best foods.

As queen, Elizabeth had access to some of the world’s most luxurious foods. At the time, food was a huge status symbol and reflected the wealth and power of England. One of her favorite ingredients was, of course, sugar, which was used in some extremely elaborate dishes. Gingerbread and marzipan were thought to be some of her favorite treats.

At the time, many believed sugar also had medicinal purposes, and it is rumored that Elizabeth used sugar and honey to brush her teeth. It’s fair to say that this took its toll, and she had to have some teeth removed, with many ambassadors to England commenting on Elizabeth’s yellow and rotting teeth. It even became a symbol of wealth, so much so that aristocratic women would stain their teeth black to show their status and emulate their queen.[8]

2 Her Death Remains a Mystery

The REAL Cause Of Elizabeth I Death

The cause of Elizabeth’s death has never been confirmed, and in fact, it is a hotly contested subject, with theories ranging from pneumonia and cancer to blood poisoning. Some historians even believe it to be possible that Elizabeth’s own coronation ring killed her, as she had never removed it during her 44-year reign.

Historians also claim that during Elizabeth’s final years, she suffered from depression after many of her close friends and relatives died. Despite appearing very ill during her final months, Elizabeth remained stubborn and refused rest by insisting on standing at events for hours on end. Blood poisoning was also a commonly rumored cause of death as a result of the lead-based make-up that Elizabeth liked to wear.

As Elizabeth refused to allow any doctors to examine her or to consent to a post-mortem after her death, it was impossible for doctors at the time to conclude an accurate cause of death. This leaves historians curious about what particular illness Elizabeth succumbed to. It is likely that, regardless of Elizabeth’s illness and physical health, her mental health contributed greatly to her death.[9]

1 She Was the Last Tudor Monarch

Tudor Kings and Queens with The Tudor Tours

Elizabeth was the fifth and final Tudor monarch. Succession problems had plagued the Tudor monarchy from the outset, which ultimately led to the unlikely occurrence of two queens during this era. As Elizabeth had no children herself, there was no clear successor in place.

Before she died, she named James VI of Scotland, the son of Mary Queen of Scots, as her successor. When she passed away, this ultimately saw the end of the Tudor era and the beginning of a united England and Scotland when James began the Stuart dynasty in 1603 as James I of England.

Elizabeth’s decision to name James as her successor ensured that she had a long-lasting impact on Britain. When Elizabeth died, the country was arguably in a stable place financially and politically with an elevated international status due to their military victories. Ultimately, Elizabeth I was a complex queen who prevailed despite the prejudices and challenges she faced during her 44-year reign.[10]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen