Queen Elizabeth I and England's Golden Age

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  • 0:05 Elizabeth Comes to the Throne
  • 1:23 The Economy of the Golden Age
  • 2:21 The Arts Flourish
  • 4:18 Scientific Study and…
  • 5:56 The Virgin Queen
  • 7:04 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will focus on the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England, known as England's Golden Age. It will highlight England's advancements in economic growth, the sciences, the arts, and exploration under the lone rule of Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen.

Elizabeth Comes to the Throne

The Elizabethan Era of English history was a remarkable time now coined England's Golden Age. Queen Elizabeth I, from the illustrious Tudor dynasty, reigned for 45 years. During her reign, it was a time of relative political stability, exploration, and creativity in which art flourished.

Elizabeth I ruled England for over four decades
Queen Elizabeth I

Coming to the throne in 1558 after the violent reign of her Catholic half-sister, Mary I - known infamously as Bloody Mary - Elizabeth worked to heal her land of the violent clashes between Catholics and Protestants. Though Elizabeth honored many of the Protestant reforms set up by her father, King Henry VIII, she also made significant concessions to the Catholics of her realm. In 1559, the Elizabethan Religious Settlement was enacted. In this legislation, Elizabeth was declared the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. This act also allowed for both Protestant and Catholic interpretations of church tradition.

Due to her desire to unite her subjects under one throne, her reign is marked as a time of peace. During this peace, she encouraged self-sufficiency in England through the growth of agriculture and trade. This newfound wealth ushered in England's Golden Age.

The Economy of the Golden Age

At the time of Elizabeth's ascension, the feudal system, or the system of wealth based on land ownership, had greatly declined. Seeing these changes, Elizabeth very smartly encouraged the new, growing middle class to continue to engage in agriculture; however, it moved from peasants farming lands for wealthy nobles to independent citizens working for wage.

England's wool trade also began to boom during Elizabeth's Golden Age. With the increase of wool, the face of farming changed, bringing about the process of land enclosure, in which the traditional open field system ended in favor of creating larger closed areas of land that required fewer workers. Although these new ranches of sorts were extremely profitable, the fact that they required less labor induced many workers to leave their villages for the employment found in towns. Thus, towns and cities burgeoned under Elizabeth's rule.

The Globe Theatre is among the most famous in London
Globe Theatre

The Arts Flourish

These new towns and their new money were a perfect recipe for art to flourish. Just like in Italy, as money flowed, people looked for ways to spend it. While Italy turned to painters and sculptors, Elizabethan England turned to the theatre, and boy did they love it!

Elizabethan inn-yards were one of the first venues for English theatre. These inns, which provided lodging and entertainment, attracted traveling actors and troubadours, or poets who wrote verse to music. Soon crafty entrepreneurs realized there was money to be made by producing plays and then teaming with inn owners to charge for the performances. One of the first Englishmen to jump on this profitable performing bandwagon was James Burbage. History gives him credit for being among the first producers of Elizabethan commercial theatre.

These inn-yards, being very profitable, soon grew into full-blown theatre houses. Among the most famous is the Globe Theatre of London. This theatre, built to mimic the Roman amphitheaters, was home to the original works of London's most famous playwrights.

Speaking of playwrights, not only did the Golden Age of England produce lots of wool, it produced some of the most revered playwrights of all time. There was Christopher Marlowe, made famous by his play, The Jew of Malta. To him we can add Thomas Kyd, known for his Spanish Tragedy. Of course, there's William Shakespeare, whose name has become synonymous with the word 'playwright.' To England's Golden Age and to high schools across the globe, he gave works like Hamlet, King Henry V, and the tragic Romeo and Juliet.

Although the arts had been enjoyed throughout history, Elizabeth's Golden Age opened them up to every class of society. The upper-class nobility, the middle-class merchant, and the commoner all enjoyed this entertainment of the day. Just like today, the better the seat, the higher the price, but admission was available to all.

Scientists Sir Francis Bacon and Dr. John Dee
Sir Francis Bacon Dr John Dee

Scientific Study and Exploration

Along with a thriving economy and the flourishing arts, England's Golden Age opened an entire new world to the English realm through scientific study. Men like Sir Francis Bacon, who structured the idea of a defined scientific method, worked in England's Golden Age. To Bacon, we can also add Dr. John Dee, a famous alchemist, or in today's terms, chemist, who studied under Elizabeth's rule.

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