• Susie Wilson

This month 2022 marks the Platinum Jubilee of Elizabeth II- my nomination


This month 2022 marks the Platinum Jubilee of Elizabeth II- my nomination for Britain’s greatest monarch is Elizabeth I.

“Elizabeth I, an icon for the ages”


All other contenders step aside: Elizabeth I has taken the stage. As the younger, forgotten and – in some eyes – illegitimate daughter of Henry VIII, in her early years she had little prospect of ever inheriting the throne. It is one of history’s greatest ironies that her father went to so much trouble (not to mention wedding so many wives) to beget a son – yet it was Elizabeth (r1558–1603) who became his longest-reigning and most successful heir by a country mile.

Elizabeth’s mother was Anne Boleyn, executed at Henry’s orders on trumped-up charges of adultery when Elizabeth was not yet three years old. Anne’s name was still anathema to most of Elizabeth’s subjects when she inherited the throne upon the death of her half-sister in 1558.

“It is more than a monster in nature that a woman shall reign and have empire above a man,” declared the Scottish theologian John Knox, shortly after Elizabeth’s accession. This was an age in which women were seen as the weaker sex in every respect – so the idea that one might rule a kingdom was preposterous.


Rather than fight against the misogyny of her all-male government, Elizabeth cleverly pretended to share their regret that she had been born 'a weak and feeble woman'


Rather than fight against the misogyny of her all-male government, Elizabeth cleverly pretended to share their regret that she had been born “a weak and feeble woman”, and used her feminine wiles to devastating effect. When under pressure to go to war or, worse, marry, Elizabeth would employ that “feminine weakness” of indecision to buy time rather than rush headlong into disaster, as had so many monarchs before her.


One of the greatest achievements of this master of pragmatism was to settle the vexed question of religion and establish peace and stability after one of the most turbulent half-centuries in England’s history. Though she never uttered the much-quoted line about “not making windows into men’s souls”, it neatly encapsulates her approach.


In the first parliament of her reign, Elizabeth declared: “In the end, this shall be for me sufficient, that a marble stone shall declare that a queen, having reigned such a time, lived and died a virgin.”

Few present believed her: it was inconceivable that a woman could rule effectively without a man by her side. But the new queen had learned from the examples of her past, and had no intention of entering the dangerous world of royal marriage and childbirth. Neither did she wish to surrender any of her hard-won power to a husband. As she put it: “I will have but one mistress here, and no master.”


More than any monarch before or since, Elizabeth appreciated the power of PR. She crafted her public image to be worshipped as the Virgin Queen both during her lifetime and for centuries after her death.


An exceptionally intelligent and cultured woman, she also ushered in a golden age of the arts that nurtured the likes of poet Edmund Spenser and William Shakespeare.


During Elizabeth’s long reign, England emerged as a world power. The foundations of an empire were laid during the period from the 1560s to the 1580s, thanks to the exploits of the queen’s adventurers, particularly Walter Ralegh, Francis Drake and John Hawkins.


The Armada Portrait of Elizabeth I, painted to honour her victor over the Spanish in 1588 (Photo by: Pictures From History/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)



Her finest hour came in 1588 when her navy (with a little help from the British weather) defeated the mighty Spanish Armada of Philip II. By then she had already seen off a succession of other rivals to her throne – notably Mary, Queen of Scots.


By the time of her death in 1603, Elizabeth had triumphed over the deep-seated prejudice that had confronted her 45 years earlier: she had made England fall in love with queens. As subjects under the Stuart dynasty reportedly chanted: “A Tudor! A Tudor! We’ve had Stuarts enough / None ever reign’d like old Bess in her ruff.”

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