Queen Elizabeth I
A host of issues plagued England before, after, and during Elizabeth’s reign. Even before Elizabeth was crowned, there was strong tension between the Protestant and Catholic religious groups in England. Since Henry VIII split with Rome and created the Church of England, effectively kickstarting the Reformation in England, the national religion had gone back and forth–Anglican under Henry VIII and Edward VI, then bloodily Catholic under Mary Tudor. Tensions were high, especially after the bloody rule and forced conversion of Mary Tudor’s reign. In addition to dealing religious disunity, England was competing with France and Spain, both in the New World and in the new Atlantic trade market. As the Netherlands gained its independence and began to grow in prominence, so too was England forced to compete with them as well. Crop failures threatened the continued growth of the English economy, and ended with hundreds of poor farmers, unable to feed themselves or their family, begging for assistance and crowding England’s cities. Elizabeth had a lot to solve if she was to forge England into a powerful, unified country.
Elizabeth’s most fervent opponents were those of both churches, Catholic and Protestant, who believed the scripture forbade a woman from having authority over a man. To them, Elizabeth’s decision to rule alone and unmarried was blatant disrespect and completely unacceptable in the eyes of God. John Knox, a leader of the Scottish reform movement wrote the First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women in 1558, the year Elizabeth was crowned, in which he argued against Elizabeth’s coronation and proclaimed the authority of women to be against proper nature . Nicholas Heath, the archbishop of York, expressed much the same sentiment in a debate before Parliament on the coronation of Elizabeth, in the same year.The church was clearly opposed to Elizabeth’s rule– and that was a threat to royal authority. In response, Elizabeth passed the Act of Supremacy and Uniformity Bill, forcing the church–all churches– to bend their will to her. The Act of Supremacy forced each and every church leader to swear an oath of allegiance to her and the Uniformity Bill forced every church to use the Book of Common Prayer in their services (outside information). In one fell swoop, Elizabeth shut down the heaviest opposition to her rule as well as helped ease religious disunity by forcing common ground.
Plots still continued against her, however, particularly among Catholics, who seemed perpetually involved in some kind of rebellious scheme, whether to assassinate her or somehow place her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, in power in her place. A source of much contention was her adamant chastity, which she justified by claiming to be married to England in a speech to Parliament in 1559 . While her choice helped maintain Elizabeth’s personal power as a monarch, it had the potential to make trouble with other countries that took her refusal to marry as an insult. After she rejected his marriage proposal, the King of Spain, Phillip II, joined in plotting Elizabeth’s downfall as well. He attempted to undermine her rule and indirectly attack England in 1588, as part of his response to an uprising in the Netherlands, which completely backfired on him. Elizabeth slaughtered his armada and essentially ended Spanish relevance on a global scale. In a speech to her troops before the attempted Spanish invasion, Elizabeth assured her people of her strength, and even called herself a king at heart .
Ultimately, Elizabeth’s strength, intelligence, and ambition as a rule won her people over. John Aylmer, who knew her personally, defended her reign, and went so far as to point out that Elizabeth was a mixed ruler, not a pure monarch, so she did not have absolute power and also had Parliament to advise her, much like a king would , and Marcus Gheeraerts the younger, English court painter, depicted Elizabeth in a 1592 portrait as proud, powerful, beautiful, and over the world. While “feminism” was still a long way off and many female rulers still experienced heavy opposition, Elizabeth and her strength as a ruler helped to open the door for future gender equality.
Elizabeth I was not the first ruler to experience bias based on gender, nor was she the last. Hillary Clinton, the current US. secretary of State and Democratic presidential candidate, faces the unique challenge of being female and having the audacity to run for presidential office. In years before when she ran, and especially this current election season, she is criticized in ways Donald Trump or a male candidate never would. Donald Trump has repeatedly questioned her “stamina” and the media questions her ability to be objective and reasonable, purely based on gender bias. Just like Elizabeth was forced to be harsh, so too has Hillary Clinton had to be fierce in addressing her opponent’s assumptions based on her sex.