From the very beginning of her reign, Queen Elizabeth I knew how to gain popularity with the common people. As she rode through London in the first week of her reign, she made each person who had lined the streets to see her feel that she was singling them out for her attention. One of her subjects stated, “All her faculties were in motion, and every motion seemed a well-guided action; her eye was set upon one [person], her ear listened to another, her judgment ran upon a third, to a fourth she addressed her speech.” At the age of twenty-five, Elizabeth already knew how to play to an audience. Her talents for good public relations would serve her well throughout her reign.
Unlike her shy sister Mary Tudor, Queen Elizabeth I actively sought out the praise and adoration of her subjects. She asked to have her carriage brought into the crowds that came to see her on various state occasions and stood up to thank the people for their good wishes. Her progress was often slow as she stopped to accept flowers and small gifts from her subjects. Though she was most accessible to people in London, the queen made visits to southern England during the summer so the people could see their ruler and feel a greater connection to her.
The queen’s popularity gave her an advantage in the male-dominated sixteenth century. Most people at the time thought that women were less capable of ruling a country than men. Elizabeth used her gender to her advantage by acknowledging that she was a “mere woman”, but she also emphasized that she was chosen by God to lead her people. In her view, the deaths of her sister and brother were not accidental—God wanted her to be queen because of her unique talents. As God’s chosen ruler, she was superior to others, even men. Eventually, painters portrayed her as a goddess, the Virgin Queen, ruling over England.
Elizabeth’s popularity soared with the defeat of the Spanish Armada, a fleet of ships sent by the king of Spain to invade England in 1588. She boosted the spirits of her troops as they went into battle and received credit for the victory, even from people who disliked her. After the victory, the Pope said, “She is only a woman, only the mistress of half an island, and yet she makes herself feared by Spain, by France, by Empire, by all!” Queen Elizabeth I became more than a female substitute for a king—she was a respected ruler and legend in her own lifetime.