Thursday, 19 September 2013
Above left: portrait of an unknown woman, c.1535-40, housed in the Toledo Museum of Art.
Above right: the National Portrait Gallery version dating from c.1612.
A portrait of an unknown woman variously believed to be either Queen Katherine Howard (c1524-1542) or Elizabeth Seymour, baroness Cromwell and later countess of Winchester (c1513-1563) has caused considerable controversy in artistic circles. Few historians nowadays believe that the portrait represents Henry VIII's fifth queen, who probably died before her eighteenth birthday (the sitter in this portrait is in her twenty-first year). Equally, the re-identification of the sitter as being Elizabeth Cromwell has proved tenuous. This article proposes a new argument for the mysterious sitter of the portrait - namely, that it depicts Margaret Douglas, countess of Lennox, mother-in-law of Mary Queen of Scots, and niece of Henry VIII.
During the nineteenth and early twentieth century, most art historians agreed that the portrait depicted Katherine Howard, and must have dated from c.1540 during the short period of her queenship. Lionel Cust in his 1910 article believed that the sitter in the image bore marked similarities with a miniature supposedly depicting the queen now housed in the Royal Collection (although that miniature is also dubious). David Starkey in 2008 recently proposed that the portrait does indeed depict Katherine, supposedly because the jewellery which the sitter wears is exactly that given to the queen on her marriage to Henry VIII. Most historians, however, disagree with these conclusions, not least because many sets of jewellery during this age were identical and replicated for different sitters, but also because, as mentioned, Katherine never lived to the age of twenty/one, and the sitter hardly appears the 'beautiful young gentlewoman' which Katherine was described as being by a court observer in 1540.
Both Roy Strong and Antonia Fraser (in her 1992 biography of Henry VIII's consorts) theorised that the sitter is more plausibly Elizabeth Seymour, sister of Jane and later wife to Gregory Cromwell, son of Thomas. Although this has by and large become the accepted identification, there are nevertheless particular difficulties with this interpretation. As Alison Weir pointed out, regardless of Elizabeth's status as sister to a queen of England, as the daughter of a mere knight it seems unlikely that her image would have been copied in at least three versions of the portrait (the versions exist at Toledo, the National Portrait Gallery, and Montacute House in Somerset). The sisters of Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard and Katherine Parr respectively did not enjoy such a privilege.
Fraser suggested that the portrait was painted c1534, following the death of Elizabeth's first husband. At that time, Elizabeth was serving Queen Anne Boleyn alongside her sister as a maid of honour. Again, she would not have qualified by virtue of her comparatively low status for a portrait in which the sitter wears extremely lavish costume and expensive jewellery, including gold embroidered sleeves and magnificent embroidered cuffs. Elizabeth could have sat for this portrait in 1537, when she became the wife of Thomas Cromwell's son and subsequently a baroness, and was also the sister of Queen Jane; which would fit the Toledo Museum's dating of this portrait to c.1535-40. But most historians propose that Elizabeth was only born in 1513, and possibly as early as 1511. If so, this portrait could simply not have been painted in 1537, when Elizabeth would have been aged between twenty-three and twenty-six. The supposed resemblance in facial features between the sitter and Jane Seymour have proved tenuous, for the sitter, with her reddish-brown hair, dark eyes, full chin and French clothing bears little resemblance to the fair Jane.
The Toledo Museum of Art states that Hans Holbein himself designed the gold medallion which the woman in the painting wears, following his appointment by the king in 1533 as court painter. He probably designed jewellery for the king's second consort Anne Boleyn, and if he did design the jewellery in this portrait, it would surely follow that the woman was of a similarly high ranking status - most likely, a member of the royal family. On this basis, the portrait might depict Katherine Howard in view of her royal status, but the other pressing points encompassing her date of birth, appearance, and short tenure as queen indicate that the sitter is probably not her.
The fact that this image continued to be replicated as late as 1612 (the National Portrait Gallery version, above right) suggests that this woman was still viewed as a particularly important and respectful personage well into the reign of James I of England. The religious nature of James' reign, and the fact that this portrait was housed by the Protestant Cromwells, would suggest that the sitter was believed to be a Protestant. This would completely rule out the Catholic Katherine Howard, disgraced since her execution in 1542, and probably rules out Elizabeth Seymour too, for even if she was a member of the Cromwells, her short marriage to Gregory and her Catholic religion did not suggest that her image would continue to be replicated.
The likeliest candidate for this portrait is in fact Lady Margaret Douglas, countess of Lennox. First and foremost, as the niece of Henry VIII, she would have been entitled to wear extremely lavish costume and the finest of jewellery, perhaps designed by Holbein himself. It seems certain that the woman in this portrait was royal, and in the period c.1535-40 Margaret was one of several women who could have been a candidate for the sitter alongside Mary Tudor (aged twenty/one in 1536-7); Frances Brandon (1537-8); Eleanor Brandon (1539-40), and far less likely, Katherine Howard. Mary Tudor's Catholic religion, her uneasy relations with Thomas Cromwell, the horror of her reign still felt in the Protestant climate of Stuart England, and the lack of similarity in appearance between portraits of her and the sitter in the Toledo image rule her out as a plausible candidate. Although the Brandon sisters were Protestant and royal, they did not have the same impact on English Protestantism that Margaret, by virtue of her status as grandmother to the Protestant James I, had - although her personal religion was Roman Catholic.
Although it is notoriously unwise to make identifications of portraits based on supposed similarities in other portraits, it is nonetheless striking that in later portraits of the Countess, her large nose, pale skin, reddish-brown hair, dark eyes and rather prominent chin can also be discerned in the Toledo image. As Rosalind Marshall notes in her article about Margaret, portraits of her show "heavy-lidded, deep-set eyes, a long nose, broad jaw, and fairly thin lips". The fact that she was "a great favourite at court" - in the words of one envoy of 1534, she was "highly esteemed" - suggests that her uncle Henry VIII could have favoured her sufficiently to allow her to wear the finest of costume and jewellery in order to sit for a half-length portrait. Moreover, James I clearly esteemed her and revered her memory. Twenty-five years after her death - just a handful of years before the 1612 portrait was done - James erected a fine monument in Westminster Abbey in memory of his grandmother. It has, significantly, been recognised that her "diplomacy largely contributed to the future succession of her grandson, James VI of Scotland, to the English throne". Her personal efforts on his behalf may have been popularly celebrated and esteemed in Stuart England.
Above: the known portrait of Margaret Douglas (left) bears some similarities in facial expression and features with the unknown sitter in Holbein's portrait (right), c.1535-40.
Although the sitter of the portrait painted by Holbein in c.1535-40 must remain unknown, the evidence surveyed and put forward in this article indicates that neither Katherine Howard nor Elizabeth Cromwell are likely candidates for the portrait. It is more likely that Lady Margaret Douglas, by virtue of her royal position, closeness to Henry VIII and proximity to James I of England, qualifies as the sitter. An esteemed royal favourite in the mid 1530s, before her imprisonment in 1537 for a clandestine love affair she may have been painted in lavish costume by virtue of her position in the royal family and her popularity at court.
Sunday, 15 September 2013
Above: Edgar (c.943-975), king of England and husband of Aelfthryth.
The infamous epithet 'she-wolf' as a term to denigrate and condemn controversial royal women who participated in domestic politics has most famously been associated with the fifteenth-century queen Margaret of Anjou, consort of Henry VI of England; although it has also been linked with Isabella of France, unpopular wife of the deposed Edward II and less commonly with the likes of Elizabeth Woodville and Anne Boleyn. However, it can more fairly be argued that court chroniclers and historians over the last thousand years viewed Aelfthryth, queen consort of King Edgar, as the original 'she-wolf'.
Living over one thousand years ago in the Anglo-Saxon age, Aelfthryth's story was nothing if not tumultuous and dramatic. She was the first consort of England to be crowned and anointed as a queen consort, and later became the mother of a famous English king, Aethelred the Unready. She was the daughter of Ealdorman Ordgar, and she had royal blood by virtue of her mother's position within the Wessex royal family. Court chronicles created a dramatic legend surrounding Aelfthryth's rise to the queenship, for they claimed that King Edgar, besotted by Aelfthryth's incomparable beauty (in a story somewhat similar to the fabrications regarding the first meeting between Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville five hundred years later), ordered the death of her first husband so that he could marry her himself.
How Aelfthryth felt about the murder of her first husband and her rise to the position as queen remains unknown and mysterious, for chroniclers, in believing that, as a supposedly evil and immoral woman who sought to fulfil her own ambitions at any cost, did not seek out her true motives and feelings in these dramatic events. Rather they, and later historians, appeared to assume that her immoral qualities led her to rejoice in her husband's death and elevation to queenship.
In 964-5, Aelfthryth became queen consort of England, aged perhaps nineteen or twenty. Whether or not she was Edgar's second or third wife is uncertain, although he is known to have fathered illegitimate children by at least two women before his marriage to Aelfthryth. Although Edgar according to later legends may have been entranced by his new queen's enchanting beauty and impulsively married her, it is probable that he was well aware that Aelfthryth's family had traditionally held great power in Wessex. Because the king's power base was centred in Mercia, the marriage alliance between the pair was a sound means of consolidating and extending Edgar's influence and power in England.
The following year, Aelfthryth cemented her position as queen by providing her husband with a son, Edmund, who was to die young. Queen consorts were only fully secure once they had borne their husbands the much required male heir, in order to ensure that the royal family's lineage was assured and a peaceful succession probable. Royal wives who failed to provide sons were discarded or suffered ignoble fates, as the consorts of Henry VIII found to their cost. In 968, Aelfthryth bore her husband a second son, Aethelred. In 973, Edgar chose to crown himself as a means of asserting his unprecedented authority and power in England, with his queen also crowned and anointed. This splendid ceremony was a watershed in England's history, for never before had an English queen consort enjoyed a status so high or position as exalted.
Aelfthryth was a suitable and effective queen consort whose sound political and religious duties have often been obscured or ignored in light of later scandals associated with her. She acted as an advocate in several legal cases, acting as a mediator between prosecutors and the crown, and because of her protection of female litigants she was effective in allowing greater possibilities for women in Anglo-Saxon England. She extended her protection to several abbeys, and was a benefactress at Peterborough and Ely. Her friendship with Bishop Aetholwold of Winchester allowed her to be closely involved in monastic reform; while taking charge of her children's upbringing.
Aelfthryth was an unpopular queen consort among religious chroniclers, who demonised and denigrated her as an enemy of St Dunstan and, in order to blacken the name of her son Aethelred, associated her with the death of a bishop of Ely, with the seizure of Barking Abbey, the death of her first husband, and the murder of her stepson King Edward so that her own son could inherit the throne. Too much should not be read into these venomous and improbable accusations. Other early queens, such as Isabella of France, Margaret of Anjou, and Anne Boleyn were routinely slandered and cruelly attacked by contemporaries on account of their husbands' decisions, faults, and alliances. The gender of these women rendered them suspicious and accountable to prejudiced male observers; in the tenth century, Aelfthryth was linked with the heinous sins of witchcraft, murder and adultery by virtue of her gender and position as queen consort. As historian Pauline Stafford notes, 'most of the stories can be dismissed as later stereotyped accretions'.
Aelfthryth's position and security as queen was threatened in 975 with the death of her husband, Edgar king of England. Although she felt that her son Aethelwold by virtue of his position as son of her husband had a natural right to become the next king, it was decreed that in fact her stepson Edward should inherit the throne. In 978, King Edward was murdered at Corfe Castle by Queen Aelfthryth's servants in order to ensure that Aethelwold acceded to the throne in place of his stepbrother. Because Edward later became a martyr and revered by religious figures, Aelfthryth was slandered as a she-wolf and a murderess. Interestingly, contemporary accounts did not directly blame her for her stepson's murder. It is more probable that it was the ambitious Aethelwold, eager to become king, who authorised his sibling's murder. Stafford again insightfully notes that 'candidates for succession were besmirched through their mothers'. Aelfthryth had died by 1001, aged in her mid-fifties, and she was buried in her foundation at Wherwell.
It is highly unlikely that Aelfthryth was the murderous, cunning and evil woman later portrayed by venomous chroniclers and hostile religious figures at court, who sought to undermine her son's rule in favour of Edward the Martyr. Although she was probably ambitious for her son to become king of England, there is scant to no evidence that she was involved in her stepson's murder. Reading her experiences in light of contemporary gender and sexual prejudices illuminates the unfairness of continuing to view her as a she-wolf, for prejudice, distortion and hatred obscures our true vision of what she was really like. Her own actions during her tenure as Edgar's consort indicate that she was an effective and hardworking queen who operated smoothly in political and social relations. But the later rise of her son to the kingship and the murder of her stepson Edward blackened her earlier good works and destroyed her reputation irrevocably.
Tuesday, 10 September 2013
This summer I had the amazing opportunity of completing a work experience placement at the National Archives in Kew, just outside of London. For any students of history - or even for anyone with just the slightest bit of interest in their family tree! - the National Archives is basically where all British records are carefully stored and archived, and can be accessed by the general public. The Archives houses some incredible documents, which I'll be demonstrating later on in this article.
Although I'm not necessarily certain I want to work for the National Archives as a career option, or anything like that, I thought that it'd be a great chance to see what it's like to work in Great Britain's most important archives, particularly because, as a student of history, you get the chance to come across some quite amazing things. The work experience itself included tasks such as:
Producing and returning original documents accurately from the repository floor to the reading rooms
Using computer systems to log and track document movements accurately
Working in a customer service environment
Learning how we preserve and care for documents
Learning about document relocation processes
Working as an effective member of a team
By far the most exciting part of the work experience came on my last day, when I was very kindly shown a sample of some of the Archives' most famous treasures, which I'm going to now share here. For me the real highlight was a letter written by the twenty-year old Princess Elizabeth Tudor to her sister, Queen Mary I, from the Tower of London in 1554 where she was housed as a traitor for her suspected role in the Wyatt rebellion:
Above: Elizabeth Tudor's letter to her sister Queen Mary, 1554, the Tower of London.
In it, Elizabeth promises that she is 'your Highness's most faithful subject, that hath been from the beginning, and will be to my end'. Most famously, she crossed half of the letter off to prevent an act of forgery.
Above: Elizabeth Tudor's signature to her sister.
It is difficult to underestimate just how crucial this letter was perceived to be by Elizabeth as a means of demonstrating her loyalty to her sister and proving her innocence. The Wyatt rebellion had severely challenged Queen Mary, showing to her her subjects' hostility to the prospect of a marriage with the Spanish king Philip and the intensity of fears about the restoration of Roman Catholicism. Elizabeth knew that this letter may have been her only chance of saving her life.
Above: Edward VIII's letter of abdication, 1936.
Another incredible document to see first-hand was King Edward VIII of England's letter of abdication in December 1936, when he notoriously gave up the English throne because he was forbidden to marry his lover, the American Wallis Simpson. For those of you who've seen the immensely enjoyable film The King's Speech, starring Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter, you'll know that the throne eventually passed to Edward's younger brother, George, who was, of course, the father of our present Queen. It's quite something, to understand that Edward was so besotted by Wallis that he was willing to give up the crown in order to marry her.
Above: Hitler's signature on the eve of war, September 1939.
Another, perhaps more harrowing, document to see up close was a letter penned in German on the eve of the Second World War in 1939, signed by Adolf Hitler. The war, of course, was viewed as necessary both by Hitler as a means of extending Germany's power throughout Europe, and by the Allies as a means of combating Hitler's influence and increasing power which they feared and dreaded. The war took millions of lives, and comprised six years of brutality, savageness, murder and betrayal.
Above: American Declaration of Rights, 1776.
A less bleak and more awesome sight was that of the American Declaration of Rights, set forth in 1776, a period when many countries were beginning to shake off their allegiance to traditional monarchies and seek to establish their own rights (France, of course, was one). The Declaration has proved supremely controversial since it was passed, but one cannot deny that it was an incredible monument in America's history.
Above: the Pope confirms Henry VIII as Defender of the Faith, 1521.
It is surely ironic that the Pope chose to confirm King Henry VIII of England as Defender of the Faith in 1521 when, only six years later, that king would set in motion the processes which, by virtue of his divorce of Katherine of Aragon and marriage to Anne Boleyn, would culminate in the English Reformation, and shatter traditional religion in England forever. But no one could have foreseen that in 1521, and indeed, Henry reacted with horror and outrage to the spread of heresy by Martin Luther some years previously, and worked hard to establish himself as a devoted and traditional Christian. This earned him the approval and good-wishes of the Pope.
Above: Queen Mary and King Philip, 1554.
Mary Tudor's decision to marry the Spaniard Philip in 1554 alienated her from her English subjects, who viewed with alarm the possibility of a Spanish king consort on the English throne. The marriage itself was loveless and tragic, with the queen unable of bearing children, and she eventually died just four years after their wedding, alone and embittered. Yet these colourful documents convey a glamorous and united view of the marriage, representing peace and happiness between England and Spain, even if the reality was far darker.
Work experience at the National Archives was an excellent chance to view some of the most important and significant documents in global history up close. It was a great opportunity and I viewed some documents I never thought I'd have the opportunity of seeing.
Sunday, 8 September 2013
Above: the famous Armada portrait (1588).
"I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a King of England too". - Queen Elizabeth I, Tutbury on the eve of the Armada, 1588.
Yesterday was the 480th anniversary of the birth of Queen Elizabeth I, only daughter of Henry VIII by his second consort Anne Boleyn. The Elizabethan era was prosperous, exciting, and one never seen before or since. Many historians and commentators in the last four hundred years or so have suggested that Elizabeth was England's greatest monarch. I decided to write this blog post having come across an interesting debate amongst historians Alison Weir, Sarah Gristwood and Martyn Downer about who England's greatest monarch truly was, with the debate favouring either Elizabeth, her father Henry VIII or Victoria.
Elizabeth was well aware that she needed to be a pragmatic yet sensible monarch in context of the fairly disastrous reigns of her predecessors and siblings Edward VI and Mary I. She revered her father's memory and demonstrably sought to emulate him in his magnificence and splendour, while desiring to be, like him, immensely popular with the English people. As a Venetian ambassador wrote in 1558, 'she prides herself on her father and glories in him'. Yet, for the first twenty or so years of her reign, until the growing threat of Spain escalated and Catholic plots surrounding Mary Queen of Scots intensified, Elizabeth was fairly liberal in her religious policies, unlike either her father or sister. While desiring that her subjects outwardly conform to the terms of the Elizabethan religious settlement, ostentatiously Protestant but considerably less rigorous than the Protestant policies of her brother Edward VI, Elizabeth famously quoted her desire not 'to make windows into men's souls' concerning religion.
What could distinguish Elizabeth as England's greatest monarch is first and foremost the political and religious world in which she lived, and her decisions made in context of prevailing European behaviours and events. The late sixteenth century and early seventeenth century witnessed increasing religious violence and hostility in context of the European Reformation and Counter-Reformation. France engaged in acts of religious terror, famously comprising the St Bartholomew's Day Massacre of 1572 in which thousands of Protestant Huguenots were slaughtered, while Spain ruthlessly punished heretics and dissidents. The outbreak of the witchcraft persecutions escalated in this era, particularly intense in Germany, leading to the brutal deaths of thousands of innocent subjects, motivated largely by political tensions and religious conflicts. England itself had been influenced by the increasing religious bloodshed affecting all of Europe during this period, when Mary I chose to burn over 200 Protestant heretics at the stake in her five year reign. Monarchs were severely threatened in this era - several French kings died young, one of whom - Henry III - was assassinated; and the Scottish queen Mary was deposed by her subjects on account of her unacceptable Catholic religion and political decisions.
Above: St Bartholomew's Day Massacre, 1572.
Yet Elizabeth did not impose religious bloodshed on her people. As has been already suggested, she allowed people to hold their own religious beliefs and follow their own practices in the privacy of their households, as long as they outwardly conformed to the Protestant settlement enacted by the state. Unlike the Spanish king or in France, she did not punish heresy ruthlessly, and did not enact a reign of terror in her country, unlike her elder sister. She was pragmatic, relatively liberal, and desiring of peace. It was only considerably later, in the 1580s and thereafter, that she began to more ruthlessly punish Catholicism, not because it was associated with heresy but because of its political threat - it was classed as treason. This was only done in context of plots surrounding Mary Queen of Scots, and assassination attempts by hostile Catholics. This seems to mark out Elizabeth as a contender for England's greatest monarch, in view of her religious tolerance and in view of the fact that, unlike either Henry VIII or Victoria, she faced a far greater threat from Europe.
Returning to the foreign policy dimensions of Elizabeth's reign, she could be viewed as England's greatest monarch on account of the fact that, as a woman (when many such as John Knox argued venomously that women had no right whatsoever to rule over men) she was already constrained by her gender, and yet was able to preserve peace and stability in her realm when faced with the hostility of both France and Spain. Most famously, she managed to defeat the Spanish Armada in 1588, and her countless marriage negotiations with men of both these powers - most significantly, the Duke of Anjou in the 1570s and the Archduke Charles of Austria - meant that she was able to remain on good relations with these countries by virtue of the fact that she offered the promise of matrimony with either one of them. As long as she did so, they did not dare to attack her.
Above: Elizabeth's funeral cortege, 1603.
Elizabeth's reign is extremely famous for the adventures of exploration and trade which began in earnest during the late sixteenth century. She sponsored and supported heroic individuals such as Sir Francis Drake, and a colony in North America was founded which was named after her - Virginia. England's empire expanded globally, and began to engage in competition with the more formidable Spanish empire. Strong relations were maintained with Russia, and there was even the possibility of an alliance between the two nations. Trade and strong diplomatic relations developed between England and the Ottoman Empire. Significantly, Elizabeth was able to achieve a long lasting alliance with Scotland following the execution of Mary Queen of Scots through friendship with James VI and the two kingdoms would finally be united on James VI's succession to the English throne; something which other English monarchs, such as Henry VIII, had spectacularly failed to do.
On top of this, Elizabeth successfully ensured that England became a main player in Europe, supporting fellow Protestants in the Netherlands and France, and her own religious tolerance and shrewd political pragmatism enacted the beginnings of Britain as a Protestant kingdom and, later, a secular state - although this would surely have alarmed the Protestant Elizabeth. The Pope described Elizabeth in admiration and awe, despite being hostile to her: 'She is only a woman, only mistress of half an island, and yet she makes herself feared by Spain, by France, by the Empire, by all'.
Elizabeth celebrated many other achievements too. Her patronage and development of the navy carried on the work began by her father and encouraged by her sister, and this ensured that England's navy continued to become more prosperous and successful, which was important in view of the challenges England faced later in the reign from the likes of Spain as a sea power. She was also able to survive severe hostility in her own realm in the wake of Catholic plots and the outbreak of the Northern Rebellion in 1569, preserving her hold on the throne while maintaining peaceful relations with her subjects. As is well known, learning flourished in the Elizabethan era, with science, philosophy and literature expanding greatly, producing momentous individuals such as William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe who continue to be celebrated and revered today. Unlike her brother or sister, Elizabeth was able to rely effectively on shrewd and intelligent political advisers such as William Cecil and his son Robert to ensure that she made sound political and religious decisions, and ultimately to preserve England's stability as a state both nationally and globally.
Above: Elizabeth I, 1563.
As a person, she was a shrewd survivor, overcoming the hostility of her sister Mary and continuing plots from dissatisfied Catholics both at home and abroad. Many historians have earnestly celebrated Elizabeth's achievements and laud her as England's finest ruler. In the early 20th century, she became a symbol of England's national resistance to foreign threat, particularly because of the spectacular defeat of the Spanish Armada. Elizabeth's biographers including John Neale and A.L. Rowse celebrated her reign as a 'Golden Age' of progress. Sarah Gristwood goes so far to say that 'without Elizabeth we would not be who we are today - children of a proud (and Protestant) nation. The Virgin Queen... is a vital part of our national mythology... Before Elizabeth, no woman had ever successfully reigned over the country. After her, no-one could ever again relegate women to the sidelines so easily', setting an important precedent for the later female monarchs Victoria and Elizabeth II.
Above: Elizabethan England.
Other historians, however, have been more reserved and some have even attacked the notion that Elizabeth was England's greatest monarch. Professor David Loades believes that Elizabeth 'failed to find a satisfactory definition of the constitutional relationship between crown, lords and commons', while failing to solve the problem of inadequate revenue. He believes that she was unwilling or unable to accept change, meaning that 'she was so concerned to remain in charge of the ship, and to avoid the icebergs of Spanish and papal hostility, that she failed to spot the other unobtrusive rocks lying in her path. She was not on the bridge when the ship went down'. Christopher Haigh points to military and naval failures, while offering only very limited aid to fellow Protestants in Europe and failing to provide her commanders with sufficient funds to make a difference abroad.
Many historians believe that Elizabeth was short-tempered and indecisive, and enjoyed more than her fair share of luck, regarding, for instance, the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Other historians believe that a different monarch, such as Henry VIII or Victoria, should more fairly be viewed as England's greatest monarch. But while Elizabeth did enjoy an element of luck in her reign, I believe that she can ultimately be viewed as England's greatest monarch because she lived in far harsher and more hostile times (in view of the European threat throughout her reign) than, say, Victoria, and yet was able to respond magnificently to the challenge. She was able to preserve peace and stability in her realm, aided by her excellent advisers such as William Cecil, whom she relied on unfailingly. Elizabeth was supremely aware of the importance of respect and support from the English people, something which her sister and perhaps even her father could not appreciate. The religious tolerance, with its later legacy for the British state; the foreign conquests; the flourishing of literature, science, and philosophy; the extension of empire abroad; and the long-lasting legacy of Elizabethan rule which still remains in place today, indicate that Elizabeth can fairly be seen as England's greatest monarch. As she herself recognised:
'[at a time] when wars and seditions with grievous persecutions have vexed almost all kings and countries round about me, my reign hath been peaceable, and my realm a receptacle to thy afflicted Church. The love of my people hath appeared firm, and the devices of my enemies frustrate'.