The long-living queens of England

Ruth Griffiths

On this day in 1558 Elizabeth I, age 25, ascended the English throne upon the death of her half sister, Queen “Bloody” Mary. (Queen Elizabeth II was also 25 when her father died, making her queen.)
Queen Mary I, had been monarch of England and Ireland since 1553. She died during an influenza epidemic at age 42.
According to The History Channel, the two half-sisters, both daughters of King Henry VIII, had a stormy relationship during Mary’s five-year reign. Mary, who was brought up as a Catholic, enacted pro-Catholic legislation and made efforts to restore the Pope to supremacy in England. A Protestant rebellion ensued, and Queen Mary imprisoned Elizabeth, a Protestant, in the Tower of London on suspicion of complicity. After Mary’s death, Elizabeth survived several plots against her; though her ascension was greeted with approval by most of England’s lords, who were largely Protestant and hoped for greater religious tolerance under a Protestant queen. Under the early guidance of Secretary of State Sir William Cecil, Elizabeth repealed Mary’s pro-Catholic legislation, established a permanent Protestant Church of England, and encouraged the Calvinist reformers in Scotland.
Elizabeth I reigned 44 years, which puts her among our top five longest reigning monarchs. Elizabeth II, outlived them all, having been our queen for 70 years. Other long-reigning monarchs are Victoria, 63 years; George III, 59 years; Edward III, 50 years. Our new monarch, King Charles III, will likely not be among the longest reigning monarchs of the United Kingdom (although having a 3 after your name seems auspicious.)
According to the History Channel, the long reign of Elizabeth, who became known as the “Virgin Queen” for her reluctance to endanger her authority through marriage, coincided with the flowering of the English Renaissance, associated with such renowned authors as William Shakespeare. By her death in 1603, England had become a major world power in every respect, and Queen Elizabeth I passed into history as one of England’s greatest monarchs.
In my opinion, however, her namesake, our late Queen, outshines them all, having graciously weather the rapid transformation for society completely without precedent in history.