Elizabethan Age

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Elizabeth I at her coronation in 1558

The Elizabethan Age is the name given to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I from 1558 to 1603. It is often referred to as the golden age of English history - the height of the English Renaissance and the heyday of English literature. The Elizabethan theater flourished, the plays of William Shakespeare and others revolutionized the way of writing dramas. English explored the world, expansion into North America began. Protestantism was consolidated in England itself .

The Elizabethan Age should be emphasized as a special feature, especially in contrast to the periods before and after. It was the period after the Reformation and before the later disputes between Protestants and Catholics, as well as between parliament and the monarchy, that shaped the 17th century. Queen Elizabeth was able - at least for the duration of her rule - to end the conflicts between the faiths, and the parliament was not yet strong enough to be able to attack absolutism . England had a centralized, well-organized, and effective government, largely due to the reforms of Henry VII and Henry VIII .

Compared to other European powers, England was in a good position: in Italy the Renaissance had come to an end, in France the eight Huguenot Wars could not be ended until 1598 with the Edict of Nantes . England had lost its last possessions on the continent, so that the ongoing conflict with France almost completely ceased during Elizabeth's reign.

England's only major rival was Spain, with whom England fought conflicts both in Europe and on the American continent, culminating in the Anglo-Spanish War (1585–1604). The attempt of Philip II to conquer England in 1588 with the help of the Spanish Armada failed, as did the counterattack of the English Armada on Spain under Drake and Norris in 1589. Spain then financed Catholic rebellions in Ireland against English rule and involved English ships in naval battles. The costs associated with the fighting caused lasting damage to the English budget and thus to the economy.

Transfiguration and Reality

In the Victorian Age, as well as partially in the 20th century, the Elizabethan Age was idealized. The Encyclopædia Britannica still says: “The long reign of Elizabeth I, 1558–1603, which was England's Golden Age. ... 'Merry England', in love with life, expressed itself in music and literature, in architecture, and in adventurous seafaring. “ (The long reign of Elizabeth I, 1558–1603, was England's golden age. [... ] The "happy England", full of life, was expressed in music and literature, architecture and adventurous seafarers.) This idealization becomes clear, for example, in films with Errol Flynn such as The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939) and The Sea Hawk (1940).

Modern historical research sees the Tudor period as more sober and unemotional, such as the relative unsuccessfulness of Elizabethan England in the military field. The great poverty of the rural working class, which made up 90% of the population, is discussed today as well as the participation of England in the African slave trade and the oppression of Irish Catholics. Last but not least, the English civil war broke out just 40 years after Elizabeth's death .

With her coronation, Elisabeth took over an almost bankrupt state, which she restructured financially through an austerity program. During her reign, Sir Thomas Gresham founded the British stock exchange, the Royal Exchange . The tax burden in England was relatively low compared to other European countries, which favored a positive development of the economy.

Elisabeth decided not to “look into the hearts” of her subjects, thus ending the religious persecution that had been suffered by her predecessors Henry VIII and Edward VI. Catholics and Protestants under Maria I.

It is also worth noting that the position of women in Elizabethan England was viewed as remarkable in travelogues by Spanish and Italian visitors; several times they comment on the freedom women enjoyed in England.

Science, technology, exploration

Although lacking a dominant genius, or even a formal research structure, such as was given in the next century with Sir Isaac Newton and the Royal Society , the Elizabethan Age saw significant advances nonetheless. Examples are the work of the astronomers Thomas Digges (1546–95) and Thomas Harriot (approx. 1560–1621), or William Gilbert's (1544–1603) fundamental work De Magnete (1600) on magnetism. Cartography and surveying also advanced.

Many of the scientific and technological developments have been a direct result of dealing with navigation at sea. Sir Francis Drake (approx. 1540–96) circumnavigated the world from 1577–1580, Martin Frobisher (approx. 1535–1594) explored the Arctic. The first attempts to settle in North America were also made in the Elizabethan period - three failed attempts on the island of Roanoke under the responsibility of Sir Walter Raleigh .

Although the Elizabethan Age does not generally stand out as being particularly technically innovative, there has been some progress. In 1564 a certain Guilliam Boonen came from the Netherlands, became Elisabeth's first carriage maker and introduced the continental invention of the spring suspension in England. Carriages became a fashion item for high society.


The Renaissance began later in England than in mainland Europe, and English art during the Tudor and Stuart reigns was shaped by foreign artists such as Hans Holbein under Henry VIII or Anthony van Dyck under Charles II. Nevertheless, it developed during Elizabeth's reign own, native style of painting. Nicholas Hilliard (approx. 1547–1619) is probably the most famous painter of the period, but today the work of George Gower (1540–1596) is also recognized.

Important figures of the Elizabethan age

See also



  1. Elizabeth I and England's Golden Age ( Memento November 12, 2006 in the Internet Archive ). Britannica Student Encyclopedia