The Popularity of Queen Elizabeth I of England

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.

Elizabeth I: The Education of the Future Queen of England

King Henry VIII once said, “without knowledge our life would not be worth our having.” In fact, he took pride in the intelligence of his wives and determined that his daughters would be equally smart. Since his first daughter Mary Tudor received an education that included not only “women’s work” but also the study of other languages and the classics, it made sense that his second daughter should be similarly educated.

Princess Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth I, took her first lessons from her governess Katherine Champernowne. Katherine taught her student the fundamentals of languages such as French, Italian, and Spanish. She also introduced the young girl to history, math, and science. Since Elizabeth’s mother died when she was very young, she had a close bond with her kind, intelligent governess. Katherine took motherly pride in Elizabeth’s accomplishments, but she knew her bright student would need to continue her studies with a more accomplished teacher.

When her father married Katherine Parr, the new stepmother took an interest in Elizabeth’s education. She appointed a private tutor for the young girl. William Grindal was a Latin scholar who also excelled in teaching Greek. Under his instruction, Elizabeth mastered both languages, exceeding her sister Mary’s knowledge of them as well as her father’s.

After William Grindal died of the plague, Grindal’s teacher Roger Ascham became Elizabeth’s tutor. The schedule Ascham arranged for his pupil makes today’s school day seem easy by comparison. In the morning Elizabeth studied Greek, including the Greek New Testament and Greek literature. In the afternoon she worked on Latin authors, and in the evening she learned history and studied oratory. Unlike other teachers in the sixteenth century, however, Ascham thought that learning should be enjoyable. He believed in praising rather than punishing students. He wrote, “I have dealt with many learned ladies, but among them all the brightest star is my illustrious Lady Elizabeth.” He also thought his students should learn about a variety of things, so in addition to her schoolwork Elizabeth also played musical instruments, hunted, and rode horses.

Although her father never intended her education to aid her as a ruler, her tutors gave her a love of learning that aided her when she took the throne. Her knowledge of languages and speech-making skills helped her talk with foreign ambassadors. As Queen she “entered…first into the school of experience” and had to devote herself, as she stated, to “the study of that which was meet for Government.” Her desire to learn new things and her education helped her to become a successful ruler.

The Education of Mary Tudor

Though her father Henry VIII still wanted a son to rule England, in the 1520s Mary Tudor was his only legitimate heir. Her mother Katherine of Aragon thought women could rule just as well as men—after all, Katherine’s own mother had ruled as queen of Castile. Katherine decided that Mary needed an education that went beyond the role of women as wives and mothers if, as it happened, she ruled England someday.

Katherine did not teach Mary how to read and write herself. Like other princesses, Mary had male tutors. Her mother was very involved in the planning of her education, however. Katherine asked Spanish humanist Juan Luis Vives to write a manual for the education of the future queen. In Katherine’s opinion, his original version encouraged girls to be educated only so that they could raise children and be intelligent companions to their husbands. To be fair to Vives, no one in sixteenth century England knew what sort of education to recommend for a female ruler since the country never had one.

When Mary was seven years old, Vives wrote a more specific guide called On a Plan of Study for Children, which he dedicated to the princess. It emphasized how to pronounce Greek and Latin and recommended books by authors such as Thomas More, Erasmus, and Plato’s dialogues “particularly those which demonstrate the government of the commonwealth.” Mary was not allowed to read romances since, according to sixteenth century educators, they gave young girls immoral thoughts.

Mary’s intelligence was evident in her ability to learn new languages quickly. By age nine, she could write a letter in Latin. She also learned Greek, French, some Italian, and could understand Spanish.

Although Mary’s lessons might sound dull to today’s students, she also had opportunities to enjoy herself by playing music—something she excelled at and loved since she was a toddler. The Italian Mario Savagnano met Mary as a teenager and said that in addition to her knowledge of languages “she sings excellently and plays on several musical instruments, so that she combines every accomplishment.” Dancing and hunting were other favorite pastimes.

Like all Englishmen and woman, Mary was instructed by her mother to serve God. Young Mary was taught to attend mass several times a day and prayed regularly. At the time, her countrymen were all participating in the same religious rituals. Once Catholicism became unpopular with her father and others, however, Mary, like her mother, would remain Catholic.  When she ruled Mary would seek to bring the country back to the Catholic Church and get rid of other religions.