Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Legacy and memory

Elizabeth was lamented by many of her subjects, but others were relieved at her death. Expectations of King James started high but then declined, so by the 1620s there was a nostalgic revival of the cult of Elizabeth. Elizabeth was praised as a heroine of the Protestant cause and the ruler of a golden age. James was depicted as a Catholic sympathiser, presiding over a corrupt court. The triumphalist image that Elizabeth had cultivated towards the end of her reign, against a background of factionalism and military and economic difficulties, was taken at face value and her reputation inflated. Godfrey Goodman, Bishop of Gloucester, recalled: "When we had experience of a Scottish government, the Queen did seem to revive. Then was her memory much magnified." Elizabeth's reign became idealised as a time when crown, church and parliament had worked in constitutional balance.

Elizabeth I, painted after 1620, during the first revival of interest in her reign. Time sleeps on her right and Death looks over her left shoulder; two putti hold the crown above her head.

The picture of Elizabeth painted by her Protestant admirers of the early 17th century has proved lasting and influential. Her memory was also revived during the Napoleonic Wars, when the nation again found itself on the brink of invasion. In the Victorian era, the Elizabethan legend was adapted to the imperial ideology of the day,and in the mid-20th century, Elizabeth was a romantic symbol of the national resistance to foreign threat.Historians of that period, such as J. E. Neale (1934) and A. L. Rowse (1950), interpreted Elizabeth's reign as a golden age of progress. Neale and Rowse also idealised the Queen personally: she always did everything right; her more unpleasant traits were ignored or explained as signs of stress.

Recent historians, however, have taken a more complicated view of Elizabeth. Her reign is famous for the defeat of the Armada, and for successful raids against the Spanish, such as those on Cádiz in 1587 and 1596, but some historians point to military failures on land and at sea. In Ireland, Elizabeth's forces ultimately prevailed, but their tactics stain her record. Rather than as a brave defender of the Protestant nations against Spain and the Habsburgs, she is more often regarded as cautious in her foreign policies. She offered very limited aid to foreign Protestants and failed to provide her commanders with the funds to make a difference abroad.

Elizabeth established an English church that helped shape a national identity and remains in place today. Those who praised her later as a Protestant heroine overlooked her refusal to drop all practices of Catholic origin from the Church of England. Historians note that in her day, strict Protestants regarded the Acts of Settlement and Uniformity of 1559 as a compromise.In fact, Elizabeth believed that faith was personal and did not wish, as Francis Bacon put it, to "make windows into men's hearts and secret thoughts".

Though Elizabeth followed a largely defensive foreign policy, her reign raised England's status abroad. "She is only a woman, only mistress of half an island," marvelled Pope Sixtus V, "and yet she makes herself feared by Spain, by France, by the Empire, by all". Under Elizabeth, the nation gained a new self-confidence and sense of sovereignty, as Christendom fragmented. Elizabeth was the first Tudor to recognise that a monarch ruled by popular consent. She therefore always worked with parliament and advisers she could trust to tell her the truth—a style of government that her Stuart successors failed to follow. Some historians have called her lucky; she believed that God was protecting her. Priding herself on being "mere English", Elizabeth trusted in God, honest advice, and the love of her subjects for the success of her rule. In a prayer, she offered thanks to God that:
 when wars and seditions with grievous persecutions have vexed almost all kings and countries round about me, my reign hath been peacable, and my realm a receptacle to thy afflicted Church. The love of my people hath appeared firm, and the devices of my enemies frustrate.

1 comment:

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