Author: Mary Hill Cole

professor of history at Mary Baldwin College and author of The Portable Queen: Elizabeth I and the Politics of Ceremony (1999).

Elizabeth I (1533–1603)

Elizabeth I was queen of England from 1558 to 1603, and Virginia was named in honor of her. Daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth Tudor became queen at the death of her married but childless half-sister Mary I. Elizabeth remained single, and her image as the “virgin queen” permeated the arts and politics of her reign, even as she used the possibility of marriage to shape foreign policy. Her reign saw the establishment of the Protestant Church of England in a form that has lasted for centuries. She faced a rebellion and plots in favor of her Catholic cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, whose flight to England and claims to its throne caused Elizabeth first to imprison and then to execute her. Elizabeth oversaw her navy’s defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, a victory that marked a high point of English protestant and nationalistic fervor. In the 1580s, she encouraged Sir Walter Raleigh‘s ventures to the New World, and even though his colonies at Roanoke failed, their brief existence enabled the English explorers to claim much of the eastern coast of North America as “Virginia.” Elizabeth’s love and patronage of plays, pageants, literature, and the fine arts was at the heart of the English Renaissance. Elizabeth was famous for her linguistic skills, sharp wit and temper, educated mind, frugality, and political caution. In her speeches, civic processions, and travels around the kingdom, she cultivated her popularity with her subjects. Elizabeth died in 1603 and was succeeded by her cousin James VI of Scotland.


James VI and I (1566–1625)

James Stuart became king of Scotland in 1567 (as James VI) and king of England and Ireland (as James I) in 1603. He ruled both kingdoms until his death in 1625. The son of Mary, Queen of Scots, and Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, James became king of Scotland as an infant when his mother abdicated. When Elizabeth I died in 1603, James became king of England and moved there with his family. As king, James encouraged moderation within the Church of England, the essential nature of which he maintained despite the wishes of his Catholic and Puritan subjects, and cultivated a reputation for peace that at times frustrated his bellicose courtiers. He supported the Virginia Company of London‘s establishment in 1607 of the first permanent English colony in North America, the first settlement of which was named Jamestown in his honor. His relations with his Parliaments remained contentious over the issues of union with Scotland, taxation and fiscal responsibility, corruption, and foreign policy. His extravagant expenditures on his family’s separate courts, his male favorites, and royal buildings reflected his belief that kings were meant to spend the money that the government had the obligation to provide. James was renowned for his intellectual abilities, his flamboyant generosity, and his passion for hunting. At court he and his queen, Anne, celebrated their love of theater and pageantry through their patronage of playwrights and designers such as William Shakespeare and Inigo Jones. He also commissioned the rich and poetic translation of the Bible that is known as the King James Bible. James died in 1625 and was succeeded by his son, who ruled as Charles I.