I recently watched the 1998 movie Elizabeth, which is largely concerned with the Protestant and Catholic religious tension during the 1500s, and as I watched the movie, I found myself wanting to know more about some of the characters named in the movie. In this post, I want to share a very brief introduction to the major characters in the movie Elizabeth and to begin to place them on a historical timeline.
Allow me to preface all of this by saying that during my childhood, the Whitaker side of my family [who married a Dunscomb, also of England] were fire and brimstone Southern Baptists. I remember when Kennedy was elelcted president. We Southern Baptists thought that civilization had come to an end. Imagine my surprise to learn that some of my earliest ancestors owned British estates with large houses that had secret hiding places to conceal Catholic Priests. In the latter part of the movie Elizabeth, you see a member of the Catholic clergy in one of those hiding places.
The movie Elizabeth opens with a scene where dissenters are being burned at the stake, and once again, I am amazed at the teaching ability of a good movie. This scene added a new dimension to my understanding of what it would be like to be burned at the stake.
The movie also made me more aware that witches were not the only people who were executed by burning. One of my ancestors was Lady Alice Lisle, and she was the last woman to be beheaded in England. She was a Protestant and England’s official sympathies were Catholic then. She was originally ordered to be burned at the stake, but she was beheaded instead. See More about my ancestor Lady Alice Lisle and the Catholic Hiding Places Here
Queen Elizabeth I is played by Cate Blanchett in the 1998 movie Elizabeth. Although the movie is not completely accurate, it is based on several people and issues that were true to the period.
Elizabeth I ascended to the English throne in 1558, and she ruled until 1603, which was 17 years before the Pilgrims came to America on the Mayflower. Elizabeth was the daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife Anne Boleyn.
The following happened before the events of the movie take place:
Henry VIII’s first wife was Catherine of Aragon, who was the daughter of Spain’s King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.
- Throughout the movies, Elizabeth’s advisors try to find a suitable husband for her. Throughout history, we see that marriages are ways to increase political power, and the Spanish are powerful influences in England and during Elizabeth’s reign, Spain becomes a threat.
- Catherine of Aragon was an adamant Catholic and her Catholicism also raises issues for England.
- Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII’s child was Mary Tudor, who identified with her mother’s Catholicism and Spanish roots.
- Mary Tudor, I married the man who would become King Philip II of Spain, Sicily, and Naples.
- Because of his marriage to the English Queen Mary I, the Spaniard King Philip II became the King Jure uxoris of England.
Henry VIII’s second wife was Anne Boleyn and England’s Protestantism Stemmed from His Marriage to Anne Boleyn
- The Pope refused Henry VIII’s request for a divorce from Catherine of Aragon, and Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church.
- Henry VIII started the Protestant Church of England.
- Elizabeth I was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, and she was Protestant, too.
- Many people never accepted Elizabeth as Henry VIII’s legitimate heir.
- When Anne Boleyn failed to produce a male heir, Henry VIII had Anne Boleyn executed.
Henry VIII’s third wife was Jane Seymour and she did produce a male heir Edward VI
- Edward VI succeeded Henry VIII, but he only lived a short while–until the age of 15.
- Before Edward VI died, he named his mother Lady Jane Grey as his successor
- Lady Jane Grey was also the niece of Henry VIII, and she had other legitimate claims to the throne.
- Lady Jane Grey only ruled nine days before Mary Tudor, I, and her supporters ended Lady Jane Grey’s reign.
Mary, who was the first child of Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon–and the wife of the Spanish King Philip, II, ascended the throne.
Part of the Movie:
Mary was a staunch Catholic, and England had recently become Protestant. The second child of Henry VIII was Elizabeth I, and she was Protestant. Because Mary saw Elizabeth I as a threat, she had her younger sister imprisoned at the Tower of London. In fact, Elizabeth, I was imprisoned in the same room where her mother Anne Boleyn had been imprisoned before her execution.
, Elizabeth Tudor, I was crowned Queen on January 15, 1559. She would reign nearly forty-five years.
After Mary I died, Elizabeth I ascended to England’s throne, but her ascension was plagued by controversy. Many people considered Elizabeth I to be a bastard and not the rightful heir to the English throne. Because she was a Protestant, many also disliked her for religious reasons. Elizabeth I also inherited opposition from the Spanish monarchy.
Pope Pius V and other Catholic priests initiated efforts to dethrone Elizabeth I. John Gielgud played the part of Pope Pius V, who was among the Catholic leaders that tried to dethrone Elizabeth and replace her with a Catholic monarch.
Francis Walsingham is played by Geoffrey Rush in the movie Elizabeth. Francis Walsingham was a Protestant, and he was Elizabeth’s secretary, advisor, and loyal supporter.
Joseph Fiennes played the part of Robert Dudley, who was an English nobleman that courted Elizabeth for several years. For quite some time, Dudley was married and could not marry Elizabeth, and Elizabeth was also criticized because of her illicit relationship with Dudley.
Richard Attenborough played the part of Elizabeth’s chief advisor William Cecil, who was also a Protestant.
Fanny Ardant played the part of Mary of Guise who became the wife of King James of Scotland. She was the mother of Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary of Guise was Catholic and she also opposed Elizabeth I.
Elizabeth: The Golden Age is the sequel to the movie Elizabeth, and when the second movie begins, religious strife is still a problem and Mary of Guise’s daughter has grown up to be Mary Queen of Scots, who has become a more serious problem for Elizabeth I.
Mary, Queen of Scots was the grandchild of Henry VIII’s sister Margaret Tudor and since many people believed that Elizabeth I was an illegitimate child, Mary, Queen of Scots was believed to be the more legitimate heir. When Elizabeth ordered Mary, Queen of Scots to be killed, she was killing her cousin.
In the 2007 movie, Elizabeth is portrayed as being romantically interested in Raleigh, an explorer who had recently returned from The New World.
But Sir Walter Raleigh becomes involved with Bess Throckmorton, who was Elizabeth’s Chamber Maid.
Early in the movie, the Spanish begin moving toward taking over England. To increase their lumber supplies for building their Armada, the Spanish begin cutting England’s forests. In the movie, Elizabeth I has a showdown with the Spanish ambassador.
In the movie Elizabeth the Golden Age, Eddie Redmayne played the part of Anthony Babington, who was instrumental in the Catholic Jesuit attempt to overthrow Elizabeth I. Babington was caught sending coded letters about the plot to Mary, Queen of Scots, but the coded letters were intercepted, and the culprits were punished..
Mary Queen of Scots was tried as a traitor and was beheaded.
Philip II, King of Spain who was married to Elizabeth I’s sister Mary Tudor has become the strongest power in Europe, and he has the Spanish Armada built. He attacks Elizabeth I.
But Elizabeth I stirs her army and together, she and England do the impossible and defeat Philip II and Spain.
The movie Elizabeth has historical inaccuracies, and I have only listed the characters and shown clips of the movie that I feel are fairly accurate. In any regard, I want to applaud movies like Elizabeth that present me with enough of history to make me hunger for more.
©Jacki Kellum September 16, 2017
Outstanding quick history of Elizabethan England Here
Yale has an outstanding Open University Course that Focuses on the Tudor and Stuart Monarchies: