7 September 1533 – Birth of Elizabeth I, daughter of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII

Miniature of Elizabeth I by Nicholas Hilliard
Miniature of Elizabeth I by Nicholas Hilliard

At 3pm on 7th September, less than two weeks after she had taken to her chamber at Greenwich Palace, Queen Anne Boleyn gave birth to a healthy baby girl: Elizabeth, named after grandmothers Elizabeth of York and Elizabeth Howard.

The birth appears to have been straightforward and although Henry VIII must have been disappointed that the baby was a daughter, and not the longed-for son and heir, Elizabeth was “a beautiful infant with natural coloring” who “resembled her father” and was “beautiful perfection”. Elizabeth must surely have given Henry hope that a healthy and perfect son would soon follow.

Elizabeth may have been a disappointment on the day of her birth but she grew up to be a woman and queen both her parents would have been proud of: the iconic Gloriana who heralded in what was said to be a “Golden Age”. She became queen on 17th November 1558 and reigned as Elizabeth I until her death on 24th March 1603. Her main achievements include:

  • Becoming queen – She had been made illegitimate by her father Henry VIII and her life had been in the balance during Mary I’s reign when she was linked to uprisings such as the rebellion of Thomas Wyatt the Younger in 1554.
  • Defeating the Spanish Aramada in 1588 and the successful raids on the Spaniards at Cadiz.
  • Following on from her father’s work on the navy and turning England into a strong and dominant naval power.

  • Defending England from Scotland and actually turning the Scots into a permanent ally.
  • Increasing literacy in England.
  • Expanding England overseas – Elizabeth I encouraged explorers like Sir Walter Ralegh, Sir Francis Drake, Sir John Hawkins and others to discover new places and form colonies.
  • Founding the Church of England, as we know it today.
  • Raising the status of England abroad.
  • Surviving and defeating plots and uprisings against her – These included the Essex rebellion, uprisings in Ireland and the famous Babington plot.
  • Helping the poor – Her Poor Laws gave support to those in poverty.
  • Ruling England in her own right as Queen without a consort.
  • The promotion of the Arts – Her love of arts led to theatres being built and great poets and playwrights like Shakespeare, Spenser and Marlow emerging.
  • Turning England round from a poor country riddled with problems to a strong and prosperous country.
  • Her patronage of science and the Renaissance way of thinking.
  • Her ability to pick excellent advisers like William Cecil and her understanding that a monarch needed to work with advisers and Parliament, to be able to rule successfully.

She was not perfect and many historians question the name “Golden Age” for her reign – her “middle way” of religious policy didn’t really work and Catholics suffered at her hands, there was poverty during her reign, the succession was always an issue and she failed to tackle the problems in Ireland – but there is much to admire about Elizabeth I. Happy birthday Good Queen Bess!

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10 thoughts on “7 September 1533 – Birth of Elizabeth I, daughter of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII”
  1. thank you for all information about the TOUDORS I love reading about them would be nice to read about all the early royals that we have had as well

  2. Elizabeth really was an extraordinary climax to the already extraordinary tale of her parent’s marriage. A point about Elizabeth’s ‘middle way’- Starkey makes a good point in his book on Elizabeth , that it did in fact work and worked quite well (for 16th century standards)for the first 14/15 years of Elizabeth’s reign. However, when Mary Stuart arrived on English soil it gave Catholics a figure to rally round they hadn’t had before and changed the religious landscape of Elizabeth’s reign permanently. Mary’s arrival in England was as big a disaster for Elizabeth as it was for Mary. It’s a shame circumstances conspired against both women in this case.

    I sort of feel uneasy at the dressing down Elizabeth has gotten in the last few years. She, of course, was not perfect. There were lows as well as highs in her reign like all long lived monarchs. But, I feel a lot of it has to with larger developments in feminism and how we look at women and men. Anne has been a beneficiary of these developments. But, I feel it has greatly diminished Elizabeth’s genuine achievements. Loades and Guy’s arguments aren’t especially convincing to me. Guy, in particular has clear bias. Starkey and above all Anne Sommerset have done the best work on Elizabeth recently.

    I also feel Henry VIII’s achievements have been hugely inflated over the last ten years. He’s an influential monarch, but, not an especially good one in my opinion. The changes he made either occurred by accident or were the result of some personal desire. He mostly failed when he tried to do things based on military/economic/social reasoning. He also left England in such a state financially because of his failed wars in France and Scotland that all his children were left with a mountain to climb when it came to monetary matters. This is even more shocking when you consider the vast treasury Henry VII left to his son and the amount of money that had been taken in by the dissolving of the monasteries.

    I think we also have to look at Elizabeth(and The Tudors generally) in the context with what came before and what came after. Compared to instability of The War of the Roses and the instability/perceived corruption that resulted in the Civil War/Restoration/Glorious Revolution etc a monarch who could rule for nearly fifty years and for the most part retain the good will and love of her people must have seemed like a thing of wonder.

    1. I agree Gwen,Henry V11 I don`t think was a bad king,and as you say left a very healthy treasury when he passed on.Henry V111spent every penny and more on wars and women as most of the kings did.Not one that I can think of did anything to help the poor.Just the sheer stagering amount of money Henry V111made out of the churches and abbeys and convents was a fantastic amount and he soon spent every penny.He was most certainly a highly educated man, but that did not mean he wad a clever man like his father. Margaret

  3. My daughter Elizabeth (age 7) was the one who reminded me that it was Good Queen Bess’ birthday today. Exact quote, “Mama, my queen’s birthday is today. We should have cake.” So, it’s cupcakes after dinner in celebration of her namesake.

    1. I too named my daughter after Elizabeth I. Whenever anyone asks her if she is named after “Queen” Elizabeth, she says “yes, the dead one.” Our girls are named well!

  4. Even before there was such a thing as a feminist/feminism, Elizabeth, I feel, during her reign, embodied those terms. She was smart, quick witted, determined and strong. She played a man’s game by most of her own rules: and won. She kept everyone guessing (even today) about what she was really thinking and feeling. What’s more she ruled without having a man as her husband and ignored all naysayers who told her she should marry. Her reign was not without its but she had many triumphs (i.e. The Armada) along the way.

    So, Happy Birthday to Good Queen Bess.

    1. ‘What’s more she ruled without having a man as her husband and ignored all naysayers who told her she should marry.’ This gave rise to the Stuarts! Not a good point in her favour. I also think the historians referred to in the last paragraph of the article are wrong. Catholics suffered ‘at her hands’ because they wouldn’t stop plotting. I believe she introduced the beginnings of religious tolerance. ‘There was poverty during her reign’…and everybody elses reign! ‘She failed to tackle the problems in Ireland’..she is hardly alone in that one either and it was mostly down to her generals, not her. No Tilbury speech for Ireland!

  5. I do not think that Elizabeth’s birth was that much of a disappointment. Once Henry and Anne got over the shock and accepted her because she was healthy, they looked to the future, gave her a grand baptism and treated her with all royal honours, making her the next heir. Henry was most likely a tad disappointed or even embarrassed as they had been to all sorts of prophets and soothsayers and expected a son, but then they would tell him that. I am certain any of those who said Anne was having a son vanished; but once the first shock was over, Henry and Anne made a great fuss of their Elizabeth. The choice of her name for example shows that they were proud parents as they chose to name her for both mothers; one for a Queen; Elizabeth of York. So she had a fine stately name to begin with and she was provided with rockers, wet nurses, ladies to wait on her; nurses to carry her about and an entire household. Even when a few months later she was given her own establishment as Mary had been; Henry and Anne dropped in regularly and great care was later taken to give her the best education money and power could purchase.

    I do not believe that the reign of Elizabeth was anything like the golden age it is often portrayed; I do not even believe there is such a thing as a golden age. However, she did achieve many things; culture flourished as did trade and the age of discovery; but she showed herself to be a typical Tudor in that she made several dynastic errors. The religious settlement that Elizabeth attempted to set in motion was not popular, in fact it was a complete disaster. It was not introduced because she believed in religious toleration; the idea of such an ideal thing did not exist anywhere or in any reign. Elizabeth wanted conformity and unity as her father had wanted; but she took a more moderate road to attempt to introduce it. By bringing a middle road in religion Elizabeth hoped that her varied subjects: devout Catholics and ardent Puritans would be able to accept the new prayer books. While most English people may have been content to be moderate in their beliefs; the two groups above simply could not accept her proposals and she would have trouble with them for most of her reign.

    Elizabeth did not persecute Catholics because they would not stop plotting as the previous commentator has stated; she did so because they would not accept her so called moderate way. Some highly placed and rich Catholic families saw Mary Queen of Scots who Elizabeth foolishly held as a protected guest in England; as an alternative to Elizabeth, because they believed that Mary had a better claim to the throne. A few Catholic gentlemen began to get involved in plots to replace Elizabeth with Mary and a few plotted to kill her. That does not account for the majority of Catholics or Puritans who wanted to mind their own business and get on with practising their faith in private. Sir Francis Walsingham and his secret police made this impossible and his pressure and obssession with an imaginary Catholic terror plot under every bush; incited Elizabeth to take a tougher stance and introduce laws making the practice of the Catholic Faith punishable by death. To hide a Catholic priest, to convert another person, to be converted, or to be a Catholic priest was treason. Catholics were killed for being Catholics and not because they would not stop plotting. Just as Mary executed hundreds of Protestants for the same reason; and in Europe hundreds of people from many variations of the faith were killed by whoever was in charge: to be a different faith from the government was heresy or treason. People were being perescuted after the Reformation for being of a different religious faith, not because they could not stop plotting. While some people did plot, many did not and madmen like Walsingham could not accept that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.

    Elizabeth achieved many positive things; the theatre for example; the defeat of the Spanish Armarda, although that could have been more down to the terrible English weather than skill; expansion in the New World, begun in the reign of her father and grandfather and her sister; the new uses of the English language and the great flow of goods into the country from all over the world. But she also placed the dynasty at risk by her decision not to marry and not to name a clear heir. Having said that; she attempted to reach all of her people and she attempted to mend broken economic and social institutions that had failed in the previous two short reigns. She became a legend, but the real person is probably much more interesting.

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