Merrie Land

On the 17th November 1558 Queen Elizabeth I ascended the throne. Her ascension heralded a renewed English Protestant culture, which had been deliberately and maliciously suppressed and persecuted by her predecessor, Queen Mary. The Elizabethan age was revered and renowned as a time of stability and calm. This was a consequence of her 44 year reign and the religious homogeneity of the country’s population.

The literature of the Elizabethan era was distinct, it was inspired by the personality and character of Elizabeth herself. She was regarded as implacable and even mysterious. Her dogged refusal to marry her most ardent suitors lended her this air of mystery and she became known as the “Virgin Queen”.

The poet Edmund Spenser was inspired to write “The Faerie Queene” as a tribute to her. He reimagined her as “Gloriana”, a mythical figure embodying Protestant virtues. However after Elizabeth’s death the country lost confidence in itself and became unsure of its identity and purpose in a rapidly fractious and changing world.

Sir Walter Scott was sufficiently in awe of the unmistakable power of Elizabeth as Queen, so much so that he wrote an homage to her in the form of a novel “Kenilworth”. This was a courtly drama reimagined for the Regency age. The book is an example of a very British nostalgia for the rule of Gloriana. One passage reads,

“This aching of the heart, this languishing after a shadow which has lost all the gaiety of its colouring, this dwelling on the remembrance of a dream from which we have been roughly awakened”.

The subsequent reign of Stuart Kings could not compete with the grandeur left by Elizabeth. Her legacy was profound and enduring. The most notorious of the Stuarts, King Charles I could be seen as vain and indulgent, and a traitor. His Catholic sympathies garnered praise and revulsion in equal measures and led to the English Civil War.

(Photograph is of a salt cellar, allegedly made from a vertebrae of King Charles I)

KIng Charles I was arrogant to assume divine power, and his hubris ultimately led to his execution. It is clear that the last Tudor Queen has a greater hold over our imaginations than any other Monarch in our long history.

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