Monday, February 21, 2011

Queen Elizabeth, Her Stepmothers, Her Half Sister, & the New World

Elizabeth I began her rule as England's monarch in 1558. Never-married Queen Elizabeth, who loved fashion and men of all ages, avidly studied a variety of languages and cultures. She encouraged her nation to explore the world.

In 1587, Sir Walter Raleigh sent an expedition to settle Roanoke Island in Pamlico Sound (between what today is mainland North Carolina and its Outer Banks) in hopes of bringing riches home to the crown and establishing a base from which to fight the Spanish. Colonists were left to establish themselves, while waiting for a ship from England to return to with needed provisions to keep the settlement functioning.

Worried about the coming of the Spanish Armada, the queen commandeered every able ship to remain in England to fight, leaving no seaworthy vessels to return to the “Roanoke” colony to resupply the colonists.

When a ship finally arrived back on America's Atlantic coast with provisions three years later, all 121 colonists were gone, including the first English baby born in America, Virginia Dare. Elizabeth would not see a successful English colony in the new world during her lifetime.

Although Elizabeth believed that she had been called by God to rule, she was savvy enough to give some governing powers and religious freedoms to her restless subjects. And England emerged from her 50 year reign as a cultural and economic power.

When Elizabeth died in 1603, only four years before the settlement of Jamestown in Virginia, the Stuart monarchs took control. England's political and financial strength faltered. Wars with Catholic Spain had drained England's coffers.

The Stuarts' dogged determination to rule by the Divine Right of Kings, a doctrine declaring that the monarch is answerable not to man but to God only, undermined the peoples' representatives in Parliament. In addition, the Stuarts' Catholic sympathies stirred a new wave of religious unrest.

Elizabeth's stubborn father, King Henry VIII, ended earlier religious bickering by cutting ties with the Catholic Church and declaring the Anglican Church the official Church of England.

This also allowed the king freedom from the Pope, so that he might marry--again and again. "King Henry the Eighth, to six wives he was wedded: Two annulled then beheaded, one died, two annulled but let live, one survived."

Elizabeth's stern predecessor, Queen Mary Tudor, sometimes called Bloody Mary, championed the return of the Catholic Church. Her religious zeal led her to persecute and behead those who disagreed. In 1587, Elizabeth executed her cousin, staunch Catholic supporter Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots.

Religious tensions continued to fester, while the British American colonies were established and eventually erupted into civil war in 1642; the execution of Charles I; and a decade of Puritan rule in mother England affecting the stability of her fledgling American colonies in the process.

Mary Queen of Scots who Elizabeth beheaded