The November program meeting of the Bridgeville Area Historical Society was an interesting presentation on Queen Elizabeth I, by one of the Society’s favorite speakers, Jack Puglisi. Mr. Puglisi is a multi-talented individual who graduated from Point Park in 1990 with a bachelor’s degree in visual arts and currently is active producing art works based on pointillism, the subject of one of his previous presentations. He began his talk with a disclaimer – he considers himself a history enthusiast, in contrast to being a professional historian. I would classify him as a history scholar; his knowledge of whatever topic he presents is impressive.
I was especially interested in this program’s topic. I distinctly remember my parents taking me to a movie entitled “The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex” in 1939. A blockbuster starring Bette Davis and Errol Flynn, it provided me a permanent impression of the Elizabethan Era.
The speaker began by establishing the background of her being crowned queen in November 1558. The soap opera story of the English monarchial succession is so complicated that one never knows where to begin. Mr. Puglisi chose to begin with the War of the Roses (1455 to 1487), a convoluted self-destruction of the House of Plantagenet by two adversarial cadet branches – Lancaster and York – terminating with Henry Tudor, the “last man standing”, becoming Henry VII and initiating the House of Tudor Era.
Henry VII had two potential male heirs – Arthur, born in 1486, and Henry, born in 1491. To forge an international alliance, Henry VII had fifteen-year-old Arthur marry Catharine of Aragon, the daughter of monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain in 1501, a marriage terminated six months later when Arthur died of the plague. When Henry VII died in 1509, he was succeeded by eighteen-year-old Henry VIII, who promptly married his brother’s widow.
Henry VIII’s reign, 1509 to 1547, and his misadventures are well documented. When he died, he left three potential heirs. Edward, born in 1537 to wife number three, Jane Seymour, had the strongest claim. He became King Edward VI at age nine, with his uncle, Edward Seymour, as Protector. By 1551 John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland replaced Seymour and had him executed.
When Edward contracted tuberculosis in 1553, Northumberland persuaded him to name his daughter-in-law, Lady Jane Grey, as his successor. She was the grand-daughter of Henry VIII’s sister Mary. Her reign lasted nine days before supporters of Henry VIII’s elder daughter, Mary, put her on the throne.
Born in 1516, Mary was the daughter of Catharine of Aragon, and an opponent of her father’s split with the Vatican. She reversed many of his policies and had many of his Reformist allies executed. In 1554 she married Philip, son of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain. She died in 1558 during an influenza epidemic, passing the crown to her twenty-five-year-old half-sister, Elizabeth.
Elizabeth was the daughter of Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn. Because of the intrigues involved in Henry’s numerous marriages, her legitimacy was questioned when she was younger, but by this time it was accepted broadly. She reigned forty-five years until her death in 1603. The Elizabethan Era is remembered as a Golden Age, when England became a world power.
Elizabeth returned to the religious philosophy of Edward VI. She was pragmatic; the Church of England was a compromise between the Protestant extremists and the Vatican, retaining most of the ritual, symbols, and vestments of the Roman Catholic Church while rejecting control from the Vatican. Elizabeth was designated Supreme Governor of the Church of England, in effect replacing the Pope as head of the church.
Although Elizabeth never married, and has been remembered as the Virgin Queen, there have always been rumors about romantic adventures on her part. She received marriage proposals from numerous noblemen – Philip of Spain after Mary I’s death, King Eric XIV of Sweden, Duke Adolf of Denmark, King Frederick II of Denmark, Archduke Charles of Austria, and brothers Henry and Francis (both Dukes of Anjou). All were rejected.
Early in her reign it appears she was infatuated with a childhood friend, Robert Dudley, who was married to Amy Robsart. Dudley was the son of the Duke of Northumberland, previously mentioned as Protector for Edward VI. In 1560 Amy was found dead at the bottom of a flight of stairs, allegedly an accidental death. The resulting scandal and the opposition of the nobility to any liaison with Dudley prevented Elizabeth from marrying Dudley.
She did succeed in elevating him to Earl of Leicester in 1564. In 1578 Leicester married Lettice Knollys, an event that disturbed Elizabeth enough to banish Lettice from Court. Leicester died ten years later of malaria. Ironically, Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex and “favourite” of Elizabeth, was Lettice Knollys’ son, from her first marriage. And so the soap opera continues.
Elizabeth’s foreign policy was primarily defensive. She continued her father’s buildup of the English Navy, a policy that paid off in 1587 when Sir Francis Drake successfully defeated a large Spanish fleet in Cadiz and again in 1588 when the mighty Spanish Armada was destroyed off Gravelines, France. By the end of her reign England had firmly established its place in the hierarchy of world powers.
Although she was never known as an enthusiastic supporter of the arts; poetry, architecture, drama, and music flourished in the Elizabethan Era. Edmund Spenser, Christopher Marlowe, and William Shakespeare are only a few of the leaders of this movement.
The reign of Elizabeth I provided a period of relative stability between the tumultuous times of Henry VIII and the chaos of the seventeenth century. London doubled in population and England became a world power. Elizabeth I’s legacy is unparalleled.
The next Historical Society program meeting will be at 2:00 pm, Sunday, January 29, 2022, in the Chartiers Room of the Bridgeville Volunteer Fire Department. Todd DePastino will discuss “Operation Pastorious, the Nazi Plot to Sabotage America.”