Elizabeth I, Queen of England
Boudica may well have bitten off more than she could chew, and the British suffered significantly as a consequence, but another great queen of England, Queen Elizabeth I, set in motion events that would lead to the formation of modern England. Elizabeth I is many things to many people, but among numerous European monarchs of the time, and a handful influential women, she towered above them all.
Born in 1533, Elizabeth’s mother was the ill-fated Anne Boleyn, and her father, King Henry the VIII, who had just torn England away from the Catholic empire. More than anything, Henry wanted a son, to lead England into a new future.
Anne Boleyn delivered him no son, and convicted on spurious charges of incest and infidelity, she was beheaded. One can only imagine the effect of this legacy on the mind of a young girl, who was raised both in isolation and in the expectation of great power.
When Elizabeth came of age, her half-sister, Queen Mary, the infamous ‘Bloody Mary’, was seated on the throne of England. Recognizing the threat that her half-sister posed, Mary was intrigued with all of her ingenuity to remove Elizabeth from the picture. Mary, however, was unpopular, and when she imprisoned the young Elizabeth, it did not sit well with the English public. Neither, for that matter, did her marriage to Phillip II, a Spanish prince, which promised an English reversion to Catholicism. In 1558, however, Mary died, leaving no heirs. Elizabeth, third in line, was crowned Queen of England, to a tumultuous celebration.
Elizabeth then pursued her own Machiavellian methods to secure her throne, engineering the incarceration and eventual execution of Mary Queen of Scots, a pretender to the English throne.
So, quite clearly, Elizabeth, notwithstanding the adoration of the public, was quite capable of fighting back and bending the rules to take the competition out of the picture. They were tough days, however, and only the tough survived.
Elizabethan foreign policy was in essence to settle matters with Scotland and France, two long-standing enemies of England, and then to begin the business of internationalizing English interests. It was under Elizabeth I that the British East India Company was granted its first charter. The Roanoke Colony was founded in 1585, and Elizabeth began prodding the Portuguese and Spanish, until then the greatest European colonial powers. Sir Francis Drake were given free license to plunder Spanish ships and Portuguese ships and map new territory all over the world.
Phillip II of Spain, the widower of Mary, sought an alliance with Elizabeth through marriage, which she dismissed with the same disinterest as she always did. She would remain the Virgin Queen until her death. Phillip then sent an Armada, to cut the English down to size, which the unsinkable Francis Drake dealt with swiftly. From this, the Spanish never recovered, and soon afterward England emerged as the greatest maritime power the world had ever seen.