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Elizabeth I: Queen of a Golden Age


Part 2: Marriage and War

Europe in those days was still ruled almost exclusively by men. Elizabeth was not England's first queen; but she was still a woman, and a woman was expected to marry. It wouldn't do for a ruling monarch to marry beneath her station, so the political wisdom of the day dictated that Elizabeth marry a fellow head of state or certainly an heir to a throne. This meant, of course, that she couldn't marry Robert Dudley, her young love. Most of the European rulers were Catholic, however, and Elizabeth didn't want to marry a Catholic man, who would assume control of England and reassert Catholicism as the dominant faith. Neither did she want to give over rule of her people to someone else. Philip II of Spain, once married to Elizabeth's sister, wanted to rule England, this time for good. Elizabeth showed considerable political skill in keeping many eligible bachelors guessing as to her true marital intentions. This went on for many years. (In fact, Elizabeth never married, leaving behind no blood heir.)

Elizabeth's marital and parental status were certainly big problems, since power struggles all too often accompanied the death of a childless monarch. Mary, Queen of Scots, was Elizabeth's cousin and a Catholic. Many people in England wanted Mary to be queen. Suspicious of her motives, Elizabeth did exactly as her own sister had done to her and had this Mary imprisoned. For nearly 20 years, Mary, Queen of Scots was under house arrest. During that time, a handful of plots against Elizabeth were carried out. Whispers of Mary's involvement accompanied each one, but it wasn't until 1586 that proof was found of Mary's desire to have her cousin killed. Mary was arrested and charged with treason. After several months, Elizabeth gave the order to have Mary killed.

Spain's King Philip, already angry at Elizabeth for refusing to restrain her ship captains from raiding Spanish convoys, found the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots to be a big step too far. Philip vowed to invade England and claim the English throne for himself. Spain's fleet, already the largest in the world, began to get larger.

This was the beginning of the Spanish Armada, a massive collection of warships that eventually carried a huge number of Spanish soldiers on a mission to overthrow Elizabeth. For years, Spain built up its fleet and its war chest. Finally, in 1588, the Armada sailed.

The ships sailed up the coast of France and then headed across the English Channel. The ships appeared to the English to fill the horizon, so large was the fleet. The Spanish ships outnumbered the English ships by a considerable margin. The Spanish soldiers outnumbered the English soldiers by a considerable margin. Surely it was only a matter of time until Spain ruled England.

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