British Studies


Section 2

History of the British Isles

Class 11. Elizabethan Age and the Early Stuarts


Elizabethan Age

Queen Elizabeth I (b. 1533, ruled from 1558 to 1603) - one of the most famous English monarchs (she became No.7 in the 2002 list of "100 Greatest Britons" prepared by the BBC). She is known as the Virgin Queen, as she had never been married.

The rule of Elizabeth was latter called the Golden Age due to three reasons:

- lack of religious wars and major political conflicts with the Parliament;

- the defeat of the Spanish Armada, which secured England from the Spanish invasion and eventually led to the English dominance in the seas.

- cultural renaissance which is primarily associated with the name of William Shakespeare (as well as Christopher Marlowe and Francis Bacon).


The Spanish threat


A flow of cheap gold and silver from American colonies made Spain the most powerful European nation of the 16th century. Catholic Spain was also the most important ally of the Pope of Rome in the struggle against the Protestant Reformation. From the point of view of Catholics, Elizabeth was a bastard and, thus, an illegitimate queen - so, when she refused to restore the Catholicism in England, she was excommunicated and in 1588 a huge fleet called Spanish Armada sailed to England to land a Spanish invasion force.


Important personalities and events from the Elizabethan Age

Sir Walter Raleigh - explorer of the American continent, in 1565 brought potatoes and tobacco from the New World, in 1584 established a first English colony in North America, which lasted for only few years, but paved the way for the later English colonization of North America.

Sir Francis Drake - explorer and navigator, pirate and privateer, and finally Vice Admiral and politician. Since 1572, he organised numerous raids against the Spanish colonies in the New World, which made him a symbol of the Spanish-English confrontation in the seas. For his life, the King of Spain offered a reward of 20,000 ducats, or 6,500,000 US dollars by modern standard. In 1577-1580 he became the second person after Ferdinand Magellan to lead a circumnavigation. In 1588, he commanded the English fleet in actions against the Spanish Armada.

William Shakespeare - a must-know.


King James I Stuart of England (and James VI of Scotland)

The first king of the House of Stuarts to rule England. Born in 1566, on the English throne from 1603 to 1625.

Gunpowder Plot - a failed attempt of Catholic conspirators to blow up the Parliament and the King during the opening ceremeny of 1605. Led to large-scale anti-Catholic sentiments.

The King James Bible, or the Authorised Version, or the King James Version (of Bible) - an official English translation of the Bible completed in 1611, which became the most influencial translation of the Bible in the English culture. Although in the second half of the 20th century it was gradually replace by more modern translations, this version is still in a wide use today, and most references that you'll run accross in the English literature will be to the King James Bible.

Jamestown - the first successful English settlement in North America, founded in 1607. Founded in Virginia (a land which Walter Raleigh named after Queen Elizabeth I), it started the English colonization of the New World.

Great Britain - although James was holding two separate crowns (those of England and Scotland), he was the first to start using the title the King of Great Britain. He can, thus, be considered as the inventor of the idea of common Britain, although the Kingdom of Great Britain would be de-jure founded only in 1707. He is also the inventor of the Union Jack, which combined the flag of England (St. George's Cross) and the flag of Scotland (St. Andrew's Cross):

The first design of the Union Jack: only two crosses are present. Note that this flag wasn't used officially until 1707.


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