Gloriana: The Elizabethan Legacy

In 1603, Elizabeth died and with her went the Tudor dynasty. The succession to the throne had been a serious point of conflict between Elizabeth and her officers of state and Parliament since scares over her health in the late 1560s. The Queen had been defiant against Parliament's demands to have the succession and interconnected marriage questions resolved, ruling for three decades with these fundamentals remaining unanswered, much to the annoyance of members of the political elite.

The consequences of Elizabeth's steadfast refusal to bend to the will of Parliament and her counsel was to generate political instability and deep concern for the future of the kingdom and the Protestant religion. The smooth transition of Tudor to Stuart appears to have owed a great deal to Robert Cecil's [3] negotiations with James when still king of Scotland.

[3. Robert Cecil: Chief minister to Elizabeth I for the latter part of her reign and to James I until his own death in 1612. Son of the pre-eminent statesmen William Cecil who served three successive monarchs (Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth) and who nurtured his son to succeed him. Robert Cecil became Elizabeth's Secretary of State in 1596 and it was largely due to his statesmanlike negotiations that the succession of Tudor to house of Stuart was a smooth process in 1603. As Lord Treasurer (1608-12) Cecil was responsible for the Book of Rates (1608) and the failed Great Contract (1610), an ambitious attempt to re-organise Crown finances. The latter failed through no fault of Cecil's, rather it was the lack of trust between King and Parliament. Cecil lost favour after 1610 as the King's mind was corrupted by Robert Carr's hostility to the Crown's chief minister. The combination of Parliament's hostility to the King and antipathy towards Cecil at court hindered the minister in his duties. During his last years Cecil found it increasingly difficult to manage the House of Commons from his own seat in the House of Lords. As a result Cecil was excluded from effective power by King James until his health gave in.]

There should be no grandiose illusions of statesmanship on Cecil's part in this; Cecil held a vast amount of power and was intent on retaining it, if he negotiated with James he would be well placed to continue to exercise his offices under the new King. And this he did until his death in 1612.

The forty-four year reign of Elizabeth allowed for the gradual consolidation of the Protestant Reformation in England. The first Elizabethan Parliament (1559) returned the Church to a marginally more conservative position than it had been at the end of Edward VI's reign. In 1563, the adoption of the Thirty Nine Articles, a doctrinal statement acceptable to Calvinists, completed an ecclesiastical structure that remained largely unchanged until the 1640s. Elizabeth's success owed much to good fortune and her peculiar combination of arrogance and charm, and prudence with obstinacy. Though she was authoritarian when pressed, the Queen knew well how to captivate English patriotism and seems to have enjoyed playing to the crowds, something her early Stuart successors did not share. Elizabeth was greatly assisted in government by competent ministers and servants, and her reign was given greater coherence with the convergence of their respective ideologies - there was general agreement between her councillors on religious, social and economic matters; dispute mostly arose in discussion of foreign policy. It was during the 1590s that the only significant breakdown in the unity of Elizabeth's government occurred.

On the surface Elizabeth bequeathed to James VI an English State that was stable. The kingdom was still at war with Spain, but in 1588 had monumentally repelled the Spanish Armada and lent support to the Protestant cause in the United Provinces' quest for liberation from the 'tyranny' of Spanish Catholic monarchy. Yet beneath the façade of order and stability all was not well with Elizabeth's England. Long- term structural weaknesses of the English state would work against the successful governance of the kingdom by the early Stuarts. Notably government revenues had failed to keep pace with a century of inflation, compounded by a situation of corruption and self-interest that accompanied aristocratic control of provincial government. Elizabeth's 'meanness' in maintaining a tight grip over patronage and her persistent refusal to address the fundamental questions of the succession proved a catalyst to the growth of aristocratic faction. Division within the ruling elite, compounded by confessional strife would become a devastating legacy by the mid-seventeenth century.

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