On the anniversary of her 1559 coronation, here are some of the stories of the reign of Elizabeth I
In this portrait of the queen, aged about 41, she is treated almost like a religious icon, with elaborate symbolism, a stylised figure, a mask-like face and little attempt to convey spatial depth.
© Walker Art Gallery
The mother pelican on her brooch is a traditional Christian symbol of Christ's sacrifice. It was believed that the pelican fed her young with her own blood. Here such a symbol refers to Elizabeth's role as a mother to her people. The work relates closely to Hilliard’s miniature portrait of 1572, but might have been made by a follower using his designs.
This letter was written by Queen Elizabeth I to the mayor of Coventry on 26 November 1569.
© Herbert Museum and Art Gallery
It concerns Mary Queen of Scots, who was imprisoned in Coventry, probably in St Mary's Guildhall. Mary was ultimately executed for plotting against the Queen. Read the full contents.
In the days of Good Queen Bess (1533-1603) a Gun Garden was constructed at what is now known as Ypres Tower in Rye, creating an important artillery position at the time of the Spanish Armada of 1588.
© Rye Castle Museum
For their services, Queen Elizabeth I presented six brass guns. Another may have come from one of the wrecked Spanish ships.
This picture is the only image of the ‘Virgin Queen’ that alludes to her becoming a wife and a mother. The background to the right of the portrait, a brilliantly painted array of foliage, fruit and flowers, portrays the Queen as fertile and ready for marriage.
© Philip Mould, philipmould.com
The portrait was most likely painted in the early 1560s, when Elizabeth was forced to address the issue of her marriage during the first serious test of her reign – the succession crisis of 1562/3. It is the only surviving visual record of the moment when Elizabeth’s hand in marriage was sought as the greatest prize in Europe, and is the earliest individual full-length of her.
This seal burse (purse) is embroidered with the Royal Arms of England for the Great Seal of Elizabeth I (reigned 1553-1603). The Great Seal was traditionally carried in procession before the Lord Chancellor and Keeper of the Seal.
© Trustees of the British Museum
By the end of the 16th century the burse was transformed into a magnificent velvet purse, embroidered with the arms of England and elaborately decorated. This example shows the crowned royal cypher and the letters ‘ER' (Elizabeth Regina) for Queen Elizabeth I, and a Tudor rose: the heraldic design is set within a scrolling foliate border. Find out more from the British Museum.
In Elizabethan London, New Year’s Day was the big time to give and receive gifts, particularly at court. The tradition appears to date back to at least the 13th century, but under Queen Elizabeth I it reached new heights in terms of the extravagance and range of the gifts given.
© Museum of London
The Queen loved puns and many of these jewels would have held hidden meanings and witty jokes for her amusement. Find out more from the Museum of London.
Although Elizabeth visited Reading on several occasions – she stayed with her Privy councillor, Francis Knollys, in the Berkshire town – the origin of this portrait, on wooden boards by an unknown artist, remains a mystery.
© Reading Museum
Designed to project a powerful Queen clad in a rich dress, jewels and pearls of purity, the style of the work suggests it would have been made during the late 1570s.
Isaac Oliver was a French-born miniaturist who settled in England in about 1568. Having trained under Hilliard, he became the artist’s rival and was repeatedly patronised by royalty.
© National Portrait Gallery
One of his portraits, of Elizabeth during the final year of her reign, can be seen at Every Painter Paints Himself.
More online gems on Elizabeth I:
- Portrait of Elizabeth I at the Historical Portraits Picture Archive.
- Royal Museums Greenwich on Elizabeth I.
- Treasures of the Royal Courts: About the V&A’s 2013 exhibition.
- Elizabeth I and her People: The exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.
- Elizabeth I's coins at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.
- Jack’s Adventures in Museum Land: Elizabeth I and her People.
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