The Elizabethan period began in 1558, when Elizabeth the First became queen and one of the most popular monarchs in English history. This period of time is remembered for its richness of poetry and drama. Listen, read and learn about the Elizabethan period and get ready for the Life in the UK test.
Queen Elizabeth I
Queen Elizabeth I was a Protestant. She re-established the Church of England as the official church in England. Everyone had to attend their local church and there were laws about the type of religious services and the prayers which could be said, but Elizabeth did not ask about people’s real beliefs. She succeeded in finding a balance between the views of Catholics and the more extreme Protestants. In this way, she avoided any serious religious conflict within England. Elizabeth became one of the most popular monarchs in English history, particularly after 1588, when the English defeated the Spanish Armada (a large fleet of ships), which had been sent by Spain to conquer England and restore Catholicism.
The Reformation in Scotland and Mary, Queen of Scots
Scotland had also been strongly influenced by Protestant ideas. In 1560, the predominantly Protestant Scottish Parliament abolished the authority of the Pope in Scotland and Roman
Catholic religious services became illegal. A Protestant Church of Scotland with an elected leadership was established but, unlike in England, this was not a state Church.
The queen of Scotland, Mary Stuart, (often now called ‘Mary, Queen of Scots’) was a Catholic. She was only a week old when her father died and she became queen. Much of her childhood was spent in France. When she returned to Scotland, she was the centre of a power struggle between different groups. When her husband was murdered, Mary was suspected of involvement and fled to England. She gave her throne to her Protestant son, James VI of Scotland. Mary was Elizabeth I’s cousin and hoped that Elizabeth might help her, but Elizabeth suspected Mary of wanting to take over the English throne, and kept her a prisoner for 20 years. Mary was eventually executed, accused of plotting against Elizabeth I.
Exploration, poetry and drama
The Elizabethan period in England was a time of growing patriotism: a feeling of pride in being English. English explorers sought new trade routes and tried to expand British trade into the Spanish colonies in the Americas. Sir Francis Drake, one of the commanders in the defeat of the Spanish Armada, was one of the founders of England’s naval tradition. His ship, the Golden Hind, was one of the first to sail right round (‘circumnavigate’) the world. In Elizabeth I’s time, English settlers first began to colonise the eastern coast of America. This colonisation, particularly by people who disagreed with the religious views of the next two kings, greatly increased in the next century.
The Elizabethan period is also remembered for the richness of its poetry and drama, especially the plays and poems of William Shakespeare.
William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
Shakespeare was born in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England. He was a playwright and actor and wrote many poems and plays. His most famous plays include A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Hamlet, Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet. He also dramatised significant events from the past, but he did not focus solely on kings and queens. He was one of the first to portray ordinary English men and women. Shakespeare had a great influence on the English language and invented many words that are still common today. Lines from his plays and poems which are often still quoted include:
- Once more unto the breach (Henry V)
- To be or not to be (Hamlet)
- A rose by any other name (Romeo and Juliet)
- All the world’s a stage (As You Like It)
- The darling buds of May (Sonnet 18 – Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer’s Day).
Many people regard Shakespeare as the greatest playwright of all time. His plays and poems are still performed and studied in Britain and other countries today. The Globe Theatre in London is a modern copy of the theatres in which his plays were first performed.
This text is taken from Life in the United Kingdom, a Guide for New Residents, 3rd edition
Page 28 © Crown Copyright 2013
▶Task 1 - comprehension
▶Task 2 - organising information
▶Life in the UK test - make sure you understand
- Before you take the Life in the UK test, make sure you understand:
- How and why religion changed during the Elizabethan period
The importance of drama and poetry at this time
More like this
Think of a country you know well.
- Who was the ruler of that country in 1558, the year Elizabeth I became queen?
- Who were the famous poets and writers around this time?
Leave a comment below. We’d love to hear from you!
You can find out more about the Life in the UK test, and about applying for British Citizenship here: