Elizabethan Age

After Henry VIII’s death in 1547, his only son Edward VI (12 October 1537 – 6 July 1553) , a strict Protestant, succeeded to the throne. After his death, only years later, he was succeeded by his half-sister Mary Tudor (18 February 1516 – 17 November 1558) , daughter of Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Queen Mary, a devoted Catholic, was married to the king of Spain. She persecuted and executed clerics that had influence in the Protestant regime besides persecuting Protestants in general, which gained her the nickname “Bloody Mary”.

In 1558, her half-sister, Elizabeth Tudor (7 September 1533 – 24 March 1603), daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn became queen. During her long reign of 45 years, England experienced an age of prosperity and revival, also referred to as ‘The Golden Age’. Besides being a female sovereign, which was unusual in itself, Queen Elizabeth I stayed unmarried throughout her life, thus her numerous nicknames, i.e. “The Virgin Queen”, “The Maiden Queen”, or “Astraea”.

Elizabethan London was the center of cultural development. The 1570s have been called “The Golden Age” of English music, with the composers Thomas Tallis, William Byrd and Thomas Morley active in London. The first public theaters were built in London. Before, only small groups had been playing in yards and marketplaces and were seen as on the same level with gamblers and jugglers. Now drama became recognized as an art form and the queen herself allegedly came to attend plays. e.g. in the Globe Theater. Especially during Elizabeth’s reign, court culture developed and made Elizabeth’s court a cultural rendezvous point , in the truest sense of the word. Examples for important Elizabethan works are, amongst others, Philip Sidney's Arcadia and Astrophil and Stella , as well as Edmund Spenser's Shepherd’s Calendar.

Spain, at this time the biggest and most powerful European power, was a threat to the English realm. This rivalry escalated in 1588, when Phillip of Spain prepared to invade England with the Spanish Armada. The majority of Spanish ships, undefeated before, were utterly destroyed by a large storm and the much smaller English marine had defeated the remaining vessels.

After the elimination of England's fiercest competition concerning oversea adventures, the ocean and the world lay open for English explorers, which eventually lead to the worldwide spread of the English language.

By this time, William Shakespeare arrived in London and wrote some twenty plays in the last ten years of Elizabeth’s reign. While he wrote, he invented thousands of new words that had not been uttered before as well as proverbs that can still be found in today's language use, e.g. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. from Hamlet (Act 1, scene 4).

Other famous authors of this time are Edmund Spenser, George Chapman, Michael Drayton, Ben Johnson and John Donne.

Edward VIMary IElizabeth IPhillip II of SpainWilliam Shakespeare