Elizabeth_I_(Armada_Portrait)One of the frustrating things about a visit to England is the persistence of Protestant propaganda about King Henry VIII and his daughter, Elizabeth I. During our recent pilgrimage with Joseph Pearce our fellow pilgrims noticed time and again how information boards and brochures portrayed Henry and Elizabeth in a positive light. Their splendid portraits shone with a glossy sheen. Henry was “the charismatic young king who brought England into the modern age.” While Elizabeth was the “much loved monarch who united her country against the threat of the Catholic superpower Spain.”

It would seem the researchers of leaflets and tourist information panels adopt the easy establishment line which continues to be pumped out in television series like Wolf Hall or the two Elizabeth fantasies starring Cate Blanchett. Henry VIII is a hearty knee slapping, beef eating, wench slapping no-nonsense Englishman while his daughter is “The Virgin Queen” or “Good Queen Bess.” Never mind the latest historical work of Eamonn Duffy, Jack Scarisbrick, Christopher Haigh and others. The myth must multiply. The propaganda must be propagated.

David Starkey’s biography of Elizabeth’s early years and rise to power portrays a shrewd and careful operator—a cautious and generous woman who did at first, seemed to want a genuinely liberal religious regime. All that changed once she was excommunicated, and the powers of France, Spain and the papacy rallied against her. Threatened on her throne, Elizabeth was surrounded by enemies. The Pope tried to depose her. Philip of Spain tried to invade, and the French were constantly plotting to overthrow her—believing her to be a heretic bastard and usurper.

King_James_I_of_England_and_VI_of_Scotland_by_John_De_Critz_the_ElderElizabeth didn’t make things easier by refusing to marry and establish a dynasty or even name her successor. Even on her deathbed the seventy year old monarch refused to name James of Scotland as her heir. Consequently, internal security was dependent on her survival and that survival was threatened by a string of real and imagined conspiracies and assassination plots. Many of these conspiracies sought to replace Elizabeth with the Catholic Mary Stuart, the Scottish queen who had taken refuge in England after her forced flight and abdication in 1568.

The English Catholics who had taken refuge on the continent were among the chief conspirators. Idealistic young Englishmen trained for the priesthood at newly created seminaries in Douai and Rome. While they professed to a purely pastoral mission their expatriate leader, William Allen loudly supported the Pope’s deposition of Elizabeth and Philip of Spain’s invasion plans.

Confronted by these threats, Elizabeth’s men set up a harsh plan of counter-terrorism. If the pope and the Catholic monarchs were her enemies, then so were all Catholics. Legislation against treason was extended to catch not just those who questioned Elizabeth’s legitimacy, but all missionary priests and those who sheltered them. Torture was not supposed to be permitted, but they devised special laws to justify its use to gather information from captured Catholic priests. After torture, the standard penalty for traitors was to be hanged, cut down when still alive, castrated, disembowelled and dismembered. Over 100 Catholic priests suffered this fate. Their fate was horrible and their heroism was historic.

The gruesome example had been started by Elizabeth’s father. The first to die so terribly was the Carthusian abbot John Houghton. From his own cell in the Tower of London Thomas More saw Houghton and two others being dragged to Tyburn on hurdles and exclaimed to his daughter: “Look, Meg! These blessed Fathers be now as cheerfully going to their deaths as bridegrooms to their marriage!” Still alive when the executioner grasped his still beating heart, Houghton cried out, “Dear Lord Jesus, what will you do with my heart?”

During the persecutions the priests operated under aliases and in disguise—which of course only made them appear that much more guilty when accused of being spies. To counter act their courage Elizabeth’s councillors Burghley and Walsingham created a network of spies, informers and agents provocateurs. Their work was complemented by the private torture chamber of the sadistic rapist Richard Topcliffe.

MTE4MDAzNDEwNjE5ODkzMjYyWhat I have never understood is why Elizabeth did not avoid all the difficulties and simply maintain the Catholic faith that her half-sister Mary had re-established. She could have legitimized her claim to the throne through a marriage to Philip of Spain or a French Catholic prince. She could have won the hearts of her people who were still much more in favor of the old Catholic faith, and if she had borne children would have established security during her reign and secure dynasty. She chose not to, and the only reason one must assume, is that she did not wish to share her throne with anyone—especially a powerful husband.

Her intransigence brought about continued insecurity in England and division in war-torn Europe. It necessitated the murder of her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots, and kept her country on a knife edge of religious strife, immanent civil war and the threat of external invasion.

The final irony is that she now lies in the Anglican Westminster Abbey between the two Catholic Marys who were her rivals. She is buried in the same tomb with her half-sister, and her successor James I exhumed the body of his mother, Mary Queen of Scots and re-buried her in a tomb that is even grander than that of Elizabeth.

For indiscriminating fans of popular history she might still be the red-haired, haughty monarch—the proud and popular Protestant queen, “with the heart and stomach of a king” but for many others she remains the true daughter of her father—a stubborn, cruel and heartless tyrant.

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55 replies to this post
  1. As a balance one might mention some of the persecutorial actions and executions against protestants under the much beloved “Bloody Mary.” Could the best of Shakespeare and the other glorious names of Elizabethan Drama have happened under her? Doubtful. Highly doubtful.

    • Wow, and still the myth gets added to. It is called “Elizabethan” drama merely because Elizabeth I completely coincidentally happened to be queen at the time, for the same reason that we refer to “Georgian” architecture. She certainly had nothing to do with encouraging Shakespeare and other dramatists!

      In fact Shakespeare, who if not actually a crypto-Catholic was extremely sympathetic to Catholicism and Catholic doctrines and practices, sailed very close to the wind many times in the many positive references to Catholicism in his plays (which were far more obvious to his contemporaries than they are to the average 21st century Englishman). Other playwrights were not so lucky and were punished for “treasonous” plays.

      • To the contrary, Good Queen Bess did do something for Elizabethan drama. by leaving theaters open rather than close them, which was one of her options in times of trouble. Had she actually done that the theater companies would have gone back to being strolling players moving from town to town and playing in inns and the great houses. London theaters conceivably could have been closed for her entire reign and the synergy of the development of the theater would have been disipated. No playwrights’ gatherings at the Mermaid Tavern. Just try to read The Tragedy of Gorbaduc with pleasure sometime. The whole literary era could have stopped at that level. Instead we have Shakespeare, Marlowe, Jonson, Middleton, Dekker, Webster’s 2 great tragedies, Beaumont and fletcher etc. all within 2 generations. I for one am grateful to this particular Protestant Queen for her restraint in the matter of public entertainment.

        • That’s a pretty low standard for fostering the arts: she did not impede the arts like she could have.

  2. Just for balance you might have mentioned the fondly remembered good Catholic Queen “Bloody Mary” and ask the question of what probably would have happened to the careers of Shakespeare and the other great names of the Elizabethan Drama? if Elizabeth had married Phillp? Does anyone besides specialist scholars all over the world even read the plays of Cervantes today?

    • Indeed, asked and answered above. Shakespeare and his fellow playwrights would have flourished much more than they did under Bloody Bess. They inherited the tradition of the great “morality plays” which protestants prohibited after their Deformation. It is telling that the best that you can come up with for Bloody Bess’ supposed “patronage” of the theatre is that she did not actually prohibit it outright, as her protestant successors did, until it was legalised again under the crypto-Catholic Charles II and the out-and-proud Catholic James II.

      • One notes that she closed theaters in plague times, and reopened them when a particular plague appeared to have passed. Emergency measures. When were playhouses actually made illegal by Parliament? My guess is probably not under Elizabeth since she hired players to entertain important guests, at the very least. See my other reply of today for evidence sources. Also, because documentation of simple decrees of the era is iffy and sometimes hard to come by, rules of thumb in historical methodology permit some assumptions. If one can document a theater closure and after a time you have evidence that many theaters have reopened, it is a reasonable assumption to believe that theaters have reopened, and unreasonable to believe that multiple theater companies, AND their audiences were defying the ban. The ban can said to have been lifted. In the history of English theater their have been dramatic revolutions, but I have yet to hear of literal dramatic rebellions and open defiance of health and safety laws.

        • Yes as I said, it wasn’t under Elizabeth that under her protestant successors namely Cromwell that Parliament made playhouses illegal. He could never have come to power if not for Elizabeth.

  3. “During our recent pilgrimage with Joseph Pearce our fellow pilgrims noticed time and again how information boards and brochures portrayed Henry and Elizabeth in a positive light. ”

    Churchill certainly did not, at least regarding Henry 8, whom he portrayed accurately as a murderer and a tyrant.

  4. For Elizabeth to have married Philip II would have done nothing to cement her legitimacy as ruler, because he himself had no hereditary claim to the English throne. Besides, he had been her sister’s husband, and so their marriage would have been illegal. She had to renounce Catholicism to refute the obvious fact that she was a bastard under canon law. Mary Tudor’s real heir was Mary Queen of Scots, whose succession should have been arranged ahead of time by the reigning queen. But she was a Scot and hence pro-French, and Spain preferred Elizabeth (at first).

    • Many bastards have become monarchs, e.g. William I. As there were no remaining legitimate children of HenryVIII, Elizabeth would have become Queen on Mary I’s death, regardless of her religion.

      Her reluctance to marry is understandable. Her father having murdered her mother when she was just 2 years old, among numerous other “Queens” and other women whom he treated like disposable sex objects, she was naturally wary of giving any power to a man who would consider himself the co-monarch of England.

  5. You might mention the 283 people Elizabeth’s sister had burned alive. Mary’s marriage to Philip II was phenomenally unpopular in England and Elizabeth learned from that. She couldn’t marry a commoner and she couldn’t risk marrying a foreign prince, all of whom would have been unacceptable to her citizens. (Mary Stuart’s marriages were all catastrophic and her last one contributed to her being deposed. Note that her son James I was an ardent Protestant.) Elizabeth was exceptionally intelligent and educated, which is proven by the fact that she survived to adulthood despite having been at least twice suspected of treason. She was questioned harshly by Lord Somerset, the Lord Protector during the reign of Edward VI and bested him and his inquisitors. Mary imprisoned her and nearly ordered her execution, which Elizabeth cannily evaded. Elizabeth knew, and Mary did not, that England wanted to be English more than anything else. Shakespeare, as always, said it best “This fortress built by Nature for herself, Against infection and the hand of war, This happy breed of men, this little world, This precious stone set in the silver sea, Which serves it in the office of a wall, Or as a moat defensive to a house, Against the envy of less happier lands, This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.”

    That is not the speech of a people who welcome foreign entanglements.

    • You might mention that as evenm the protestant historian Lea said, “For every drop of innocent blood that Mary spilled, Elizabeth spilled a pint.”

      As for “foreign entanglements”, as a result of Elizabeth’s actions England was successively ruled by Scots (then viewed as just as “foreign” as Spaniards), Dutchmen and Germans. She was actually the last English monarch of relatively pure English ethnicity.

      In any case the modern notion of the nation state as a people was not really present then. People tended to view themselves not as Englishmen or Frenchmen or Scotsmen but if anything simply part of Christendom, or with primary loyalty to their county or city.

  6. “Torture was not supposed to be permitted, but they devised special laws to justify its use to gather information from captured Catholic priests.”


  7. It is worthwhile to remember that the estimate of the number of executions that took place under Catholic Queen Mary – nicknamed “Bloody Mary” by English protestants – is 284.

    Meanwhile historians estimate that Queen Elizabeth I – supposedly “Good Queen Bess” – executed some 2500 of her subjects while her father King Henry VIII executed by some estimates more than 70,000 people.

    Are these numbers accurate? Only God knows.

    • Those numbers for executions under Henry VIII are impossible. The best estimate of the population of England under Henry was about 2 million. 70,000 almost 5% of that. There is no way that many people were executed under Henry.

      • The lowest estimate of the number of executions that took place during the 38 year reign of Henry VIII is somewhere near 54,000 but there are a number of historians who think the total is actually closer to 70,000.

        Regardless, Henry was a maniacal tyrant whose lust for sex and power led him to tear England away from the Church in a schism that later, under Cranmer and others, became outright heresy.

        As historian Monsignor Hughes described the descent into Anglicanism begun by Henry VIII, it was a matter of “One religion replacing another.”

      • And the ransacking of the Church, its property and its entire way of life did not take place either under Henry then? For surely such a massive event was ‘impossible’ too?

        Or perhaps you care to offer better evidence than ‘impossible’ and ‘no way’.

        • Well said and point well taken. From her comments is apparent that Karenjo is a protestant rather than a Catholic.
          Her observation from an earlier post to the effect that “England wanted to be English more than anything else” demonstrates a dramatic misunderstanding of the forces that led England to leave the Church after some 1,000 years of devout participation.
          She should seriously consider reading Eamon Duffy’s masterful history of the loss of England to the faith during the 16th century, “The Stripping of the Altars.”
          The rejection of the Catholic Church in England was most definitely not the will of the people but instead the result of powerful men – Henry, Cranmer and Cromwell come to mind – with personal agendas.
          The English people wanted to remain in and loyal to the Church, even as it was being taken away from them by forces beyond their control.

  8. The answer for Henry VIII is certainly false- he was responsible for many executions, though a model of restraint compared to some of his Continental counterparts. He did reign for 38 years, so probably racked up a fair number. And some of those executed under Henry VIII were Protestants burned alive by Thomas More – no, not for court intrigues, but for the crime of importing Protestant writings, including the Bible in English.

    And of course Elizabeth ruled for 45 years, Mary for four and a half.

    The vast majority of people executed under Elizabeth were murderers, thieves, poachers etc under the strict rules applied in every country.

    It was a time when Christians both Catholic and Protestant were eagerly slaughtering each other by the tens of thousands in the name of the Prince of Peace- England came out of it fairly well, though of course it had its own civil war to come.

    • Some is 6. How many Catholics were executed under the post-More phase of Henry’s reign? Heresy was considered an act of treason under Henry VIII (as many states at the time) and treason was punishable by death. I think it is quite telling that despite More’s undeniable concerted campaign against Protestantism, only six people met the fate of a treasonous heretic. That makes it look like More restrained the sword of the state.

  9. Good article. However, I was under the impression that most of the English people did not want the Catholic religion because they were afraid of the Inquisition coming to England.

    As a side note, I could never understand how Sir Thomas More became a saint when he did burn alive those with Protestant leanings. A “killer saint” seems too much for me. I don’t think Jesus would have burned those who were against Him. In fact, He forgave them. As a Catholic, this is very disturbing to me.

    • Was St Thomas not a martyr for his faith?

      And do you regard any ‘killer’ as being prohibited from sainthood throughout history?

    • No the anti-Catholicism of the English came about largely through the social engendering of the English state, at the beginning of Elizabeths reign most wished Catholicism to remain as the countries religion and it took I believe about a century for England to become a popularly protestant country. When you had to pay huge fines if you didn’t attend a protestant Church and if you were a priest the law was that you were to be executed it was pretty tough being a Catholic in England, still even then there were families that held out until emancipation

    • Your impressions are incorrect.
      1. The “Black Legend” claiming that the Inquisition was something undesirable did not begin until after Bloody Bess had forcibly established Protestantism on her subjects the vast majority of whom would have preferred to remain Catholic.
      2. St Thomas More never killed anyone.
      3. When he was working as a lay secular judge for the secular State court, he sentenced some people to death after they had been tried and duly convicted of crimes which carried the death penalty. There were scores of such crimes in England in the 16th to 19th centuries, including “stealing a shrubbery”.
      4.Having protestant leanings was NOT a crime at all in any country and nobody has ever been tried for it. Persistently promoting and spreading false doctrines, causing great damage to the people of the State and causing great bloodshed, was one such capital crime. The existence of the Inquisition in Spain and other countries spared them of this humanitarian disaster.
      5. St Thomas More certainly would have forgiven anyone who committed any offence against him. However as a judge his job was to enforce the law.
      6. Even his fiercest enemies were forced to admit that St Thomas More was incorruptible and conducted the fairest trails to the defendants of any judge in England’s history.

  10. As someone who admired what he knew of Elizabeth this article was both troubling and enlightening. Thank you. The fourth to last paragraph, however, is just plain silly. Is there no reason to keep or change one’s religion other than power-hungriness? This Protestant is not convinced.

    • Yes of course many people change religion out of sincere conviction, but Elizabeth was not such a person. She changed from Catholic to Protestant to Catholic depending on which way the wind was blowing from the rulers of the time. Then when she became Queen herself, she inexplicably chose to become protestant and forcibly convert everyone to protestantism.

      • Although there were no psychiatrists in those days, there is some indication, that in her youth, Elizabeth may have been amenable to some form of toleration.Unfortunately the example of her father, especially the manner he treated her mother, left her deeply insecure. Once she became queen, she listened to her more radical protestant advisors who saw a “papist” plot under every tree. After that she had no relucatance to persue Catholicas in a manner that would have made Roman emperors proud. Again, the divisve condition in which she left the country would be its near ruin for almost two centuries.

      • I don’t think it was inexplicable. Being catholic meant giving up the control and power in England Henry had taken from the Church. Being Protestant consolidated more of the power and control in her hands.

        There were many sincere conversions to Protestantism in Europe, but the reality is that the conversions of countries was far more an issue of secular politics than religkious faith.

  11. “One of the frustrating things about a visit to England is the persistence of Protestant propaganda about King Henry VIII and his daughter, Elizabeth I.” … as an American Catholic tourist, of course, Father. I’m sure the adulation of George Washington is frustrating to our English cousins—but then, we oughtn’t tailor our national identity to suit the interests of tourists, should we?

  12. A good deal of the urban population, a minority but a notable one, had become Protestant by Elizabeth’s time. The English also had become wary of alliances with Spain or France. Also the Catholic position was maybe difficult for Elizabeth to accept as it would seem to indicate she was an illegitimate child who maybe had no right to the throne. (Henry had de-legitimized her as well, but that was maybe easier to get around as Protestants wanted her. For many Catholics she was the daughter of Anne Boleyn, hard to get around that) And though she was largely a shrewd politician, she was willing to give vague responses that could imply she might become Catholic when Mary was still alive, I think her own leanings would have made full embrace of the Catholic faith difficult.

    I am Catholic too and I don’t want to downgrade her negatives overly much, but I think the English praising her makes some sense even if she was something of an amoral political operator. Henry VIII, however, I’m almost surprised still gets praised. He killed both Protestants, like Anne Askew, and Catholics. And even if one sees St. Thomas More in a largely negative light there’s the Carthusians as mentioned who didn’t do anything to anybody. My main history prof in college was an Episcopalian woman who didn’t see him in too good a light from what I recall.

    • Actually it was after Henry VIII decided he wanted Jane Seymour instead that his protestant parliament officially declared Elizabeth a bastard and his marriage to Anne Boleyn invalid (i.e. that the pope had been right all along) . So that is the protestant position too.

      Catholics had no particular animus against Anne Boleyn. They didn’t hold it against Mary that she was the daughter of Henry VIII.

      Also Elizabeth not only had Catholics “legally” murdered, she did the same to protestants who didn’t toe her approved line (either too Catholic-like or too extreme protestant). She did the same to Mary Stuart her first cousin and potential (though she never asserted it) rival for legitimate claim to the throne.

      It was only AFTER this orgy or judicial murders had been going on for decades that the Pope declared that Elizabeth was an illegitimate monarch and that Englishmen were not bound to be subject to her. An understandable if in retrospect unwise move on his part, as it only caused her to intensify her murderous persecution of Catholics.

  13. @Kathy:
    The history by Will and Ariel Durant mentions that at the accession of Elizabeth, the great majority of the common people were still adhering to Cathollcism. The strongest resistance to reestablishing the Catholic church came from the nobles who had been given former Church lands – Abbeys, convents, farm properties by Henry VIII as rewards for service to his throne. They (those with the stolen property) feared that they would have to give the properties back.

  14. “Good Queen Bess” wasn’t the daughter of ol’ Fat ‘Arry. Or so that’s the theory I remember discovering some years ago. Thomas More was opposed to Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn and the succession as Henry set it up for a number of reasons, but he also (apparently) knew about this. Since everyone (Continental Prots as well as Caths) thought of Elizabeth as illegitimate, she would have never been queen in “normal” circumstances–but of course the Burghleys, William Cecil and his son Robert, took advantage of the religious situation and ran the place with Elizabeth as a puppet. She had very little say in much of anything. BTW, Queen Elizabeth II shouldn’t be so styled: Elizabeth Tudor was Queen of England and Ireland; QEII is queen of the UK, a different entity. Odd, but true.

  15. The suggestion that Elizabeth could have married Phillip II of Spain would probably NOT have resonated well with the English people for at least two reasons. Phillip had been married to Elizabeth’s sister Mary Tudor and they were NOT popular with the English so to have him marry Elizabeth in succession would probably not have been very politic. Additionally, and I am on weaker ground here, it seems for Elizabeth to marry her sisters widower is exactly the same scenario that Henry VIII claimed as grounds to annul, divorce or sever his marriage to Katharine of Aragon who was Henry’s brother’s widow. Seems like there were canonical issues prohibiting this or at least presenting some problems.

  16. The reading of the book by William Cobbet, a Protestant, regarding the “Protestant reformation” and the relentless hatred and persecution of the Catholic Church in England, is a real eye opener
    Read it, and learn. Many of those who were recipients of ill-gotten gains, looters of the Catholic Church, met sudden death from the justice of God. Others lost possession of their looted lands, which they had intended to pass on to their heirs. The people, still largely Catholic, were subjected to the “protestant work ethic” which was little more than slavery, to the unscrupulous greed of the ” new gentry.” Having lost the welfare of the monasteries, the people now faced the horrors of the ” work houses” and unrestricted usury. Where they had previously enjoyed
    favourable working conditions, peppercorn rents, medical treatment by the monks, along with good rest periods, e.g. feast days, of which there were many, they were now subjected to days of long working hours, with very little time for rest and family life, loaded with usurious debts. Their children were driven up filthy chimneys etc, for a pittance. Many children were trapped in Oliver Twist type “orphanages” as vividly depicted by Charles Dickens. All this began in the reign of “Good queen Bess” the “virgin queen” and her band of “robber barons” getting progressively worse for the “peasants” now including both Catholics and Protestants, until the mid 19th century
    when the “glorious protestant reformation” began to wane.

    • “he people, still largely Catholic, were subjected to the “protestant work ethic” which was little more than slavery”

      I’ve never heard it put THAT way before, but it actually makes some sense. When you see someone who puts “Hard work” as their top priority in life, what you often see is a pretty miserable person.

      • “When you see someone who puts “Hard work” as the top priority in life, what you often see is a pretty miserable person.

        This is true of course, they are miserable wretches, and often cold hearted taskmasters. We all know what the love of money does to the heart. Sadly in the pursuit of riches, especially during the “reformation” centuries, though we are heading back to those times now, these “Captains of industry”
        put the burden of hard work on their hirelings, paying them a totally unfair wage, the type that cries out to Heaven for vengeance. Though it is fair to say that not all employers, then and now, are in this category. It is equally fair to say that many employees are bad workmen, a la the parable of the ten talents. To sum up, society as a whole is suffering the consequences of the “reformation” that great departure from God and His One, True Catholic Church. From the beginning of creation, the fall of Lucifer had devastating results for the Angels. The fall of Adam too, had terrible consequences for mankind, and the fall by false teachers and immoral rebels, has exacerbated the deadly malaise eating into the hearts of an errant humanity.

  17. Thank you for the book recommendation.
    It has been said by historians that the schism of Henry and the heresy of Elizabeth led directly to the kind of terrible poverty in England we read about in Dickens.
    These are the forgotten stories of the so-called “reformation” in England.

  18. And when they theaters were closed under her reign for public health reasons she actually troubled herself to reopen them, unlike Bloody Mary,and she sponsored her own company of players which encouraged other nobles to do the same.

    • Nonsense. The company called itself “The Queen’s Men” to curry favour with the government in the hope that it would allow them to continue, not because the government gave them any encouragement, much less sponsorship.

      • Sponsorship was indeed too strong a word. Better to say encouragement, for instance: Elizabeth hired Shakespeare’s company to perform a play (possibly or probably or maybe not) his Twelfth Night (your choice), on Twelfth Night itself 1601. Under Elizabeth, Shakespeare’s Company was mainly The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, not The Queen’s Men, (was there ever a Queen’s Men company under Elizabeth?) and their name was changed to The King’s Men after her death and the accession of James I. See The Oxford Shakespeare, Second Edition, General Introduction, for the company, and the 12th Night Introduction for the performance information.

        • So the best arguments you can come up with, after repeated challenge to your claim that Elizabeth fostered the theatre are that:
          1. She did not absolutely and permanently prohibit it; and
          2. At age 68 shortly before her death, she is believed to have asked Shakespeare to arrange a private performance of an unknown play for her.

          By that standard, virtually every other monarch of England was a more enthusaistic sponsor of the theatre than she was.

          • Well, now, of course it is not the best I can do.
            It seems to me that the people who have so far commented on the side of Mary and for calling the first Elizabeth Bad Queen Bess are statistical babes in the woods. Or perhaps they are more statistically sophisticated than I give them credit for and are counting on pro-Elizabeth people being ignorant. I am not a statistical infant. I am a toddler in the sense that I have only only an introductory course in statistics. Using just the data available in this string of comments on Father L’s essay no one has yet indicated that that even accepting the figures as being precisely accurate there is something that smells relative to Mary and Elizabeth’s penchants for executions..

            Under Mary, England had either 283 or 284 executions during her reign. Under Elizabeth the toll was 2500. No one here apparently has yet taken the trouble to analyze what that means. Mary reigned for 4 and a half years. Elizabeth for 44 years. To be fair one has to at least figure out the yearly average before saying anything at all meaningful. Giving Bloody Mary the benefit of the doubt, and accepting the lower figure of 283 executions across 4.5 years of Mary’s reign, 62.88 people were executed each year. During Elizabeth’s tenure, 2500 across 44 years works out to 56.818 execution deaths per year, almost 10 percent lower and if Elizabeth is Bloody Beth, then her predecessor must be considered Bloodier Mary.

            Any of the historians mentioned by pro-Mary commentators who came up with these figures and drew the conclusion from them that Elizabeth was worse on these lines than Mary, is either seriously biased or ignorant of standard historical statistical methodology, or both.

            But on to Elizabeth I and the theater.

            I should first note that you have yourself distorted what I said about Elizabeth hiring Shakespeare’s Company, by having me create an imaginative scenario a la Shakespeare In Love in which the Queen herself comes to Shakespeare to hire a private performance. Shakespeare was an actor and playwright in The Lord Chamberlain’s Men. That means he was in the company, which can be honestly said to have been his company because he was in it. But unlike most of the players in “his” Company it was also his company because he was one of the owners, having shares in it. Shakespeare’s company produced other writers’ plays as well as his. There is no evidence that Elizabeth ever visited Shakespeare at any time,but there is good evidence that his Company did perform a play for and her important guests on Twelfth Night 1601, and gave you the proper references to the general introduction to The Oxford Shakespeare. Why would you doubt it?

            I will leave you temporarily with another fact: in her much longer (nearly 1000 pages itself, including backmatter and index) introductory book on Shakespeare (SHAKESPEARE After All; Pantheon Books, 2004) Marjorie Garber, Professor of English at Harvard University in 2004 and across 30some years also lecturing at Yale, makes the following judgment on page 24:

            Fortunately for Shakespeare and his colleagues, both Queen Elizabeth and King James had an interest in the theater. Each of them reveled in theatricality.

            So I ask myself, why would a professor of English, with long standing in two prestigious universities and having already written three books about Shakespeare say something like that in her fourth? And the only answer that makes sense to me is that she said it because she thought it true and had evidence to back it up.

            What sort of evidence? My guess would be studies made in the archives of the Royal Household budgets for both rulers which would deal with moneys paid to various theater companies over the years of the various reigns. First place to look though would be E K Chambers The Elizabethan Stage, Oxford. 4 vols, 1925. The Index thereof.

            Since you have pooh poohed facts and made assertions; un-backed-up assertions in any debate can be equaled by other assertions, they are not arguments. Any actual relevant argument beats any assertion, and I seem to be two points up on you, Possibly three if your distortion of what I said counts.

          • I never mentioned that awful film “Shakespeare in Love” and I can’t see how I’ve distorted anything you’ve said.

            An interesting point about the death rate per year (only slightly higher in Mary’s case on your figures). Similar to the popular perception that the Nazis were far worse murderers than the Communists, even though the Communists have murdered far more innocents and continue to do so til this day, whilst the Nazis murdered at a higher rate per year over just 12 years.

  19. One reason she never married may be that she had learned, by her father’s example, how expendable and replaceable a commodity a queen was. And I don’t know that I would have named poor Mary as my successor to a kingdom I truly cared about, given her notorious lapses in good personal judgement. (Just for the record, I am not excusing any of Queen Bess’s behavior, merely hypothesizing. And I am Catholic.)

    • A queen consort was expendable and replaceable (at least after Henry VIII made himself legally able to annul his own marriages). A queen REGNANT was not. As shown by her immediate predecessor Mary, who remained sole monarch of England even after she married Phillip. In fact Phillip took little interest in England and spent most of his time in Spain after the marriage. Tragically however Mary died of what appears to have been ovarian cancer before she had a chance to produce an heir.

  20. The above comments are interesting and certainly reflect the various views of the writers. One thing is quite clear and not really subject to arguement is the almost 185 year period of constant unrest and strife in England following Elizabeth’s death. This was caused by a failure on her part to implement any procedures for properly governing the country during her reign. Factions in parliament struggled against each other; her decrees were inplemented according to the whims of her underlings (fortunately for the country Drake was one of the more competent), and there were constant plots of various sorts, not to mention the always present “Irish problem.” Not until the Glorious Revolution of William and Mary was real order established and not until George I was imported from Germany could the country be called truely settled. The fact that she never married was actually a rather minor consideration as the English had long been used to irregular succession. I have never understood why the English so idolized this woman. After all, most Americans regard the single term series of presidents in this country, Pierce, Fillmore and Buchanan as disasters, even though the country itself was in pretty good shape.

    • It’s also possible to put the onus on her successor, James I, after whom—civil war. In a dynastic succession, Elizabeth only way to choose a successor would have been to murder her way down to her choice, if she had one.

  21. An exchange between Elizabeth and an awkward Bristol mayor, obviously nervous during a royal visit:

    MAYOR: I am the mouth of this town.

    QUEEN: Speak, good mouth.

  22. For Ronk,
    I don’t know how to answer you ref your reply of June 9, 2016 except by starting a new thread, because I can’t find a reply button for it anywhere.
    You said:
    Jun 9, 2016 at 10:10 pm

    I never mentioned that awful film “Shakespeare in Love” and I can’t see how I’ve distorted anything you’ve said.

    On July 23rd, 2015 I had said:

    “Sponsorship was indeed too strong a word. Better to say encouragement, for instance: Elizabeth hired Shakespeare’s company to perform a play (possibly or probably or maybe not) his Twelfth Night (your choice), on Twelfth Night itself 1601. Under Elizabeth, Shakespeare’s Company was mainly The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, not The Queen’s Men, (was there ever a Queen’s Men company under Elizabeth?) and their name was changed to The King’s Men after her death and the accession of James I. See The Oxford Shakespeare, Second Edition, General Introduction, for the company, and the 12th Night Introduction for ”

    On July 29, 2015 you said:
    2. At age 68 shortly before her death, she is believed to have asked Shakespeare to arrange a private performance of an unknown play for her.

    You will note that I did not say that she asked Shakespeare anything either personally or in business conversation. Note: She did not hire Shakespeare, she hired the Lord Chamberlain’s Men , a theater company, in which Shakespeare was an actor and playwright. What all this means is that it is not just believed, but there is solid historical evidence that that happened. I gave you the proper references. There is no evidence that Elizabeth asked Shakespeare to do this. She would have asked her master of the revels (if that’s the proper title for that sort of employee in Elizabeth’s time) to see to it and he, or one of his minions would then arrange the matter with the company’s business manager who would also have been a stockholder in the theater and the company.

    You complain that you never mentioned Shakespeare in Love. I never said that you had. I said “your scenario” and I still think it yours, and not at all plagiarized from Tom Stoppard’s fiction. I said ” a la Shakespeare in Love” which means “like that screenplay,” and in the context of what has turned into a debate, what is anybody to think but that you were being sarcastic, and trying to associate my statement about history on a level with fiction. In a word: distortion.

    And I am glad to see that you have conceded my judgment about Mary murdering more people per year than Elizabeth. Granted, you may not have intended to do so. Once again you pooh-pooh my point with an analogy to Hitler and Stalin; all I need do is point out that that is irrelevant to this debate, because both Queens were dealing through a court system while the two 20th century rulers bypassed most of that. It does raise an interesting issue between Bloodier Mary and Bloody Queen Bess, to wit: Which Queen’s courts came up with more “innocent” verdicts or pardons among guilty verdicts.

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