An Elizabeth I Chronology


1533    Elizabeth born (September 7), daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, who is executed when Elizabeth is 2.  Elizabeth receives an excellent education, partly under the tutelage of the humanist Roger Ascham. 

1547    Edward VI, aged 9, becomes King.  Various political marriages are proposed for Elizabeth.

1553    Elizabeth’s Catholic half-sister Mary becomes Queen, launching a period of retaliatory persecution against Protestants, who look to Elizabeth as a figure of resistance.

1554    Elizabeth is briefly imprisoned in the Tower of London, after which she withdraws to the country.

1558    On the death of Queen Mary, Elizabeth becomes Queen (November 17).  She appoints a Privy Council including Sir William Cecil as Secretary of State and his brother-in-law Sir Nicholas Bacon as Lord Keeper.

1559    War with France is ended by treaty (March); as a result England loses the continental port of Calais.  The Act of Uniformity establishes the Book of Common Prayer and a standard worship service for the Church of England.

1561    On the death of the King of France (Francis II), his wife, Mary, Queen of Scots, assumes the Scottish throne.  Sir Robert Dudley’s wife, Amy Robsart, dies under suspicious circumstances, and there are rumors that he will marry the Queen.  Scottish churchmen, led by the Calvinist John Knox, draw up the Confessions of Faith.

1562    Elizabeth’s illness (smallpox) raises fears about the uncertainty of succession and begins a period of courtly and Parliamentary pressure on her to marry.  Dudley is made a member of the Council (partly as a counterbalance to Cecil).

1563    The Thirty-Nine Articles establish basic principles of the Anglican faith, renouncing some key tenants of Catholic belief, such as the doctrine of Purgatory.

1564    Elizabeth creates Sir Robert Dudley the Earl of Leicester; he is looked on as a possible husband for Mary.  Birth of William Shakespeare (baptized April 26) in Stratford.

1565    Mary marries her cousin, Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, father of James Stewart (later James I of England, James VI of Scotland).

1566    Darnley, with a gang of accomplices, murders Mary’s Italian secretary David Rizzio in her presence at Holyhead House, Edinburgh.

1567    Darnley is murdered, probably by the Earl of Bothwell, whom Mary marries, in a Protestant ceremony.  This is too much for the Scottish nobility.  After several military engagements, Mary is forced to abdicate in favor of her infant son.  The Earl of Moray acts as regent.

1568    Mary escapes but is defeated by an army of the Regent.  She flees to England, where she is held virtual prisoner but in time becomes the subject of Catholic conspiracies against Elizabeth.

1569    Catholic rebellion in northern England is easily suppressed.

1570    The Pope excommunicates Elizabeth, in effect authorizing Catholic rebellion against her and in favor of Mary.  The Earl of Moray as assassinated.

1571    An international conspiracy to marry Mary to the Duke of Norfolk (the Ridolfi Plot) is uncovered.  The Duke of Norfolk is executed.  Parliament passes a bill defining conversion to Catholicism and efforts to make converts as high treason.  Sir William Cecil is created Lord Burghley.

1572    The St Bartholomew’s Day massacre of Protestants in France and a Protestant uprising in Holland intensify international tensions.   Burghley is created lord high treasurer.

1573    Sir Francis Walsingham is made chief Secretary of State.

1574    Richard Burbage receives a license to open a theater in London.

1575    Leicester lavishly entertains the Queen at Kenilworth Castle.  Edmund Grindal becomes Archbishop of Canterbury.

1576    Protestants in the Spanish Netherlands continue to seek independence from Spain. The Protestant Prince of Orange is acknowledged regent of Holland and Zeeland by the States General.  Spanish forces under the command of Don John (brother of King Philip) accept a fragile truce in the Low Countries.  In England a royal letter, directed against Puritans, insists on strict adherence to established religious practices, despite the disagreement of Grindal.  The Theatre, a playhouse owned by Burbage, opens in London.

1577    Don John’s siege of Namur ends the truce in the Low Countries; English forces are prepared to intervene.  Don John is deposed by the States General; William of Orange enters Brussels.  Cuthbert Mayne becomes the first priest tried and executed under the 1571 act against Catholics.  By 1603 some 123 priests and 60 Catholic laypeople will be executed.  Publication of Holinshed’s Chronicles.

1579    After a period of complex negotiations, Elizabeth accepts and then, in response to popular pressure, rejects marriage to the Duke of Anjou (brother of the French King).  Elizabeth discovers (and forgives) Leicester’s secret marriage with her cousin Lettice Knollys.  The Union of Utrecht marks the foundation of the Dutch Republic. 

1580    Sir Francis Drake, returned from his three-year voyage around the world, agrees privately with Elizabeth to raid Spanish shipping from America.  Pope Gregory XIII announces that the murder of the heretic Elizabeth would not be a sin.

1582    William Shakespeare marries Ann Hathaway.

1584    In the Bond of Association, many Englishmen pledge to persecute any parties who might be guilty of killing the Queen.  The assassination of William of Orange brings another crisis in Holland and the Low Countries: Elizabeth must either intervene on behalf of the Dutch Protestants, provoking war with Spain, or allow Spain to reconquer the Spanish Netherlands, which could then become a base for Spanish attack on England.

1585    The Bond of Association is essentially incorporated in the Act for the Preservation of the Queen’s Safety.  An English expedition, led by Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, unsuccessfully campaigns on behalf of the Protestant Dutch, an intervention that angers Philip of Spain.

1586    Queen Mary is detected in a conspiracy to assassinate Elizabeth and to gain the throne (the Babington plot).  She is tried and convicted in Parliament.

1587    Drake successfully attacks the Spanish at Cadiz and Lisbon.  The Spanish collect forces for a mighty armada against the English.  After considerable hesitation on Elizabeth’s part, Mary is executed (February 8) to wide public rejoicing.

1588    Philip launches the Spanish Armada against England, which mobilizes its citizens to resist in case of invasion.  The Spanish intend to bring an army from the Flemish coast to the Thames estuary, but a combination of bad weather and effective English seamanship virtually destroys the Spanish fleet.  The Queen is considerably grieved at the death of Leicester.

1589    After a long period of civil and religious wars, Henry of Navarre becomes King of France.  He reigns as Henry IV until 1610.  (A Protestant, he converts to Catholicism in 1593 in order to solidify support.)  English forces are sent to aid Henry against the Spanish.

1590    Death of Sir Francis Walsingham.  Possible first performances of Parts 2 and 3 of Shakespeare’s Henry VI.  Edmund Spenser’s The Fairy Queen, Books 1-3.

1591    Robert Devereux, second Earl of Essex is appointed to the Privy Council, as is Robert Cecil, the son of Lord Burghley.  For the next ten years, the rivalry of Essex and Cecil parallels the earlier rivalry of Burghley and Leicester.  Essex recruits the considerable assistance of Francis and Anthony Bacon.

1592    The first recorded reference to Shakespeare as a playwright (by Robert Greene, a rival author) quotes 3 Henry VI.

1594    The Chamberlain’s Men, a theatrical company, is formed; Shakespeare is a charter member.

1595    The English launch a generally unsuccessful raid on Spanish shipping in the Caribbean.  A Spanish attack on Cornwall burns Penzance and Mousehole.  Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, the chieftain of Ulster, launches an open attack on the English, with Spanish support.  Probable first performances of Richard II and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

1596    England, under the leadership of the Earl of Essex, attacks and briefly takes Cadiz, but a subsequent expedition in the Azores is unsuccessful.  Robert Cecil is appointed as Elizabeth’s principal secretary.

1597    A further naval operation against Spanish shipping is even more unsuccessful than those of the previous two years.  A second Spanish armada is scattered by storms.

1598    France, under Henry IV, makes peace with Spain.  Henry issues the Edict of Nantes granting religious toleration to Huguenots.  Philip II dies and is succeeded by Philip III.  In an angry exchange over appointment of the Irish deputy, Essex turns his back on the Queen, and she boxes ears.  Deeply offended, he withdraws from court, but returns after three months.   Death of Lord Burghley.

1599    Commanding a large army against Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, Essex is sent as Lord Lieutenant to Ireland.  Instructed to attack Tyrone, Essex instead conducts minor operations in southern Ireland.  When, at last, he does march north, he does not fight Tyrone but concludes a weak truce with him.  Essex returns to London, presumably to explain his behavior.  He is briefly placed under house arrest and then sent to the country.  The Chamberlain’s Men begins performing at the Globe Theatre in Southwark (across London Bridge from London).

1600    Essex is tried for his Irish disobedience, but except for the disgrace of losing his offices and place at court, undergoes no punishment.  First production of Hamlet.

1601    Essex gathers supporters in his London house.  They request and attend a performance of Richard II at the Globe (February 7).  The next day, he and his supporters leave his house and try to rally London citizens on his behalf, apparently in an effort to storm the palace, separate the Queen from his enemies, and force her to listen to him.  The effort is a dismal failure.  Essex is sent to the Tower and quickly tried, with his former ally Francis Bacon acting as one of his principal prosecutors.  He is executed on February 25.  Although Spanish forces land in Munster, Tyrone’s army is decisively defeated at the Battle of Kinsale and the Spanish quickly surrender.

1603    Queen Elizabeth dies (March 24).  War with Ireland ends with the surrender of Tyrone.  James I arrives in London.

1611    Probable retirement of Shakespeare to Stratford.  First production of The Tempest.

1613    Fire destroys the Globe Theatre.

1616    Shakespeare dies (April 23).


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