Elizabeth I, England’s great failure as a monarch. Really?

February 7, 2021 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: history, journalism.

You may have grown up thinking – if you thought about it at all – that Elizabeth I of England was one of the Great British monarchs in the history of the kingdom. After all, she reigned for nearly 45 years during the age of Shakespeare and the flowering of the English language. By clever diplomacy, she kept England at peace with her many warring neighbors.

She did all of this while holding herself aloof and maintaining her status as “the Virgin Queen.”

Well, think again.

According to Anna Whitelock, a noted historian of the Tudor era (Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen), Elizabeth I gets far too much credit. She was, at best, a mediocre monarch.

Whitelock expresses her views in Dan Snow’s History Hit podcast (link below) in which she gives a 35-minute rundown of the Tudor dynasty designed to help British students during this period of lockdown.

We’re very pleased to bring you this special ‘Lockdown Learning’ episode of the podcast, featuring the brilliant Dr Anna Whitelock on the Tudor period. Anna is Director of the London Centre for Public History and Heritage and head of history at Royal Holloway, she’s written extensively on the Tudors and in this episode she gives us a general view right across the period. Source: Lockdown Learning: The Tudors | Dan Snow’s History Hit on Acast

So, what was so wrong with Elizabeth Tudor? Whitelock lists several failings:

First and foremost, Elizabeth, who ruled from 1558 to 1603, failed to provide England with an heir to the throne. That, according to Whitelock, is the first duty of any monarch. The fact that she became known as the Virgin Queen was simply “spin” created by her advisors to cover this failure. And too, it is unlikely that she was indeed a virgin. Her dalliances with at least a couple of men were well known at the time.

Her foreign policy efforts were, by and large, failures. The victory over the Spanish Armada in 1588 was, in Whitelock’s words, more “a victory for English weather” than anything else.

Well, if Elizabeth gets too much credit, who doesn’t get enough? Elizabeth’s sister Mary Tudor, that’s who. Right, “Bloody Mary.”

Whitelock says that the situation in England was not nearly as bad during Mary’s rule as we have been led to believe. It was indeed bad, and those deemed as heretics were often burned at the stake. That was happening in many places at that time not just in England.

Mary stands out in Whitelock’s mind because she was the first female crowned monarch of England. As such, she had to establish and negotiate a whole new way of thinking about the monarchy. She did this remarkably well.

All of the ideas in this podcast were new to me when I first heard them, and I found them fascinating. Dan Snow’s History Hit podcast, website, and online TV channel are worth a look if you are a history fan.

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