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The Elizabethan era was associated with Queen Elizabeth I's reign (1558–1603) and is often considered to be the golden age in English history. It was the height of the English Renaissance and saw the flowering of English poetry, music and literature. This was also the time during which Elizabethan theatre flourished, and William Shakespeare and many others composed plays that broke free of England's past style of plays and theatre. It was an age of exploration and expansion abroad, while back at home, the Protestant Reformation became more acceptable to the people, most certainly after the Spanish Armada was repulsed. It was also the end of the period when Englandmarker was a separate realm before its royal union with Scotlandmarker.

The Elizabethan Age is viewed so highly because of the contrasts with the periods before and after. It was a brief period of largely internal peace between the English Reformation and the battles between Protestants and Catholics and the battles between parliament and the monarchy that engulfed the seventeenth century. The Protestant/Catholic divide was settled, for a time, by the Elizabethan Religious Settlement, and parliament was not yet strong enough to challenge royal absolutism.England was also well-off compared to the other nations of Europe. The Italian Renaissance had come to an end under the weight of foreign domination of the peninsula. France was embroiled in its own religious battles that would only be settled in 1598 with the Edict of Nantes. In part because of this, but also because the English had been expelled from their last outposts on the continent, the centuries long conflict between France and England was largely suspended for most of Elizabeth's reign.

The one great rival was Spain, with which England clashed both in Europe and the Americas in skirmishes that exploded into the Anglo-Spanish War of 1585–1604. An attempt by Philip II of Spain to invade England with the Spanish Armada in 1588 was famously defeated, but the tide of war turned against England with an unsuccessful expedition to Portugal and the Azores, the Drake-Norris Expedition of 1589. Thereafter Spain provided some support for Irish Catholics in a debilitating rebellion against English rule, and Spanish naval and land forces inflicted a series of reversals against English offensives. This drained both the English Exchequer and economy that had been so carefully restored under Elizabeth's prudent guidance. English commercial and territorial expansion would be limited until the signing of the Treaty of London the year following Elizabeth's death.

England during this period had a centralised, well-organised, and effective government, largely a result of the reforms of Henry VII and Henry VIII. Economically, the country began to benefit greatly from the new era of trans-Atlantic trade.

Romance and reality

The Victorian era and the early twentieth century idealised the Elizabethan era. The Encyclopædia Britannica still maintains that "The long reign of Elizabeth I, 1533-1603, was England's Golden Age...'Merry England,' in love with life, expressed itself in music and literature, in architecture, and in adventurous seafaring." This idealising tendency was shared by Britain and an Anglophilic America. (In popular culture, the image of those adventurous Elizabethan seafarers was embodied in the films of Errol Flynn.)

In response and reaction to this hyperbole, modern historians and biographers have tended to take a far more literal-minded and dispassionate view of the Tudor period. Elizabethan England was not particularly successful in a military sense during the period. The grinding poverty of the rural working class, which comprised 90 percent of the population, has also received more attention than in previous generations. The Elizabethan role in the slave trade and the repression of Catholic Ireland—notably the Desmond Rebellions and the Nine Years' War—have also drawn historians' attention. Despite the heights achieved during the era, the country descended into the English Civil War less than 40 years after the death of Elizabeth.

On balance, it can be said that Elizabeth provided the country with a long period of general if not total peace, and generally increasing prosperity. Having inherited a virtually bankrupt state from previous reigns, her frugal policies restored fiscal responsibility. Her fiscal restraint cleared the regime of debt by 1574, and ten years later the Crown enjoyed a surplus of £300,000. Economically, Sir Thomas Gresham's founding of the Royal Exchange (1565), the first stock exchange in England and one of the earliest in Europe, proved to be a development of the first importance, for the economic development of England and soon for the world as a whole. With taxes lower than other European countries of the period, the economy expanded; though the wealth was distributed with wild unevenness, there was clearly more wealth to go around at the end of Elizabeth's reign than at the beginning. This general peace and prosperity allowed the attractive developments that "Golden Age" advocates have stressed.

Both from an anachronistic modern perspective and from that of 19th century humanism, England in this era had some positive aspects that set it apart from contemporaneous continental European societies. Torture was rare, since the English legal system reserved torture only for capital crimes like treason—though forms of corporal punishment, some of them extreme, were practised. The persecution of witches was also comparatively rare; while some persecutions did occur, they did not reach the hysterical proportions that disfigured some European societies so severely in this period. The role of women in society was, for the historical era, relatively unconstrained; Spanish and Italian visitors to England commented regularly, and sometimes caustically, on the freedom that women enjoyed in England, in contrast to their home cultures.

Elizabeth's determination not to "look into the hearts" of her subjects, to moderate the religious persecutions of previous Tudor reigns—the persecution of Catholics under Henry VIII and Edward VI, and of Protestants under Mary—appears to have had a moderating effect on English society in general. While Elizabethan England has been characterized by one sceptic as a "brutal dictatorship,"

Science, technology, exploration

Lacking a dominant genius or a formal structure for research (the following century had both Sir Isaac Newton and the Royal Society), the Elizabethan era nonetheless saw significant scientific progress. The astronomers Thomas Digges and Thomas Harriot made important contributions; William Gilbert published his seminal study of magnetism, De Magnete, in 1600. Substantial advancements were made in the fields of cartography and surveying. The eccentric but influential John Dee also merits mention.

Much of this scientific and technological progress related to the practical skill of navigation. English achievements in exploration were noteworthy in the Elizabethan era. Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the globe between 1577 and 1581, and Martin Frobisher explored the Arctic. The first attempt at English settlement of the eastern seaboard of North America occurred in this era—the abortive colony at Roanoke Islandmarker in 1587.

While Elizabethan England is not thought of as an age of technological innovation, some progress did occur. In 1564 Guilliam Boonen came from the Netherlandsmarker to be Queen Elizabeth's first coach-builder —thus introducing the new European invention of the spring-suspension coach to England, as a replacement for the litters and carts of an earlier transportation mode. Coaches quickly became as fashionable as sports cars in a later century; social critics, especially Puritan commentators, noted the "diverse great ladies" who rode "up and down the countryside" in their new coaches.

Education

It was necessary for boys to attend grammar school, but girls were not allowed in any place of education. Only the most wealthy people allowed their daughters to be taught at the home.

Composers

There were many composers such as William Byrd (1543-1623), Thomas Campion (1567-1620), and Robert Johnson (1500-1560).The composers did not only compose music for the court, but for the church too. The composers had two main styles, madrigal and ayre.

Fine arts

It has often been said that the Renaissance came late to England, in contrast to Italy and the other states of continental Europe; the fine arts in England during the Tudor and Stuart eras were dominated by foreign and imported talent—from Hans Holbein the Younger under Henry VIII to Anthony van Dyck under Charles I. Yet within this general trend, a native school of painting was developing. In Elizabeth's reign, Nicholas Hilliard, the Queen's "limner and goldsmith," is the most widely recognized figure in this native development; but George Gower has begun to attract greater notice and appreciation as knowledge of him and his art and career has improved.

Sports and entertainment

There were many different types of Elizabethan sports and entertainment:

Feasts
Large, elaborately prepared meals, usually for many people and often accompanied by court entertainment. Often celebrated religious festivals, weddings, alliances and the whims of their majesties. Feasts were commonly used to commemorate the "procession" of the crowned heads of state in the summer months, when the king or queen would travel through a circuit of other nobles' lands both to avoid the plague season of London, and alleviate the royal coffers, often drained through the winter to provide for the needs of the royal family and court. This would include a few days or even a week of feasting in each noble's home, who depending on his or her production and display of fashion, generosity and entertainment, could have his way made in court and elevate his or her status for months or even years.
Banquets
Special courses after a feast or dinner which often involved a special room or outdoor gazebo (sometimes known as a folly) with a central table set with dainties of "medicinal" value to help with digestion. These would include wafers, comfits of sugar-spun anise or other spices, jellies and marmalades (a firmer variety than we are used to, these would be more similar to our gelatin jigglers), candied fruits, spiced nuts and other such niceties. These would be eaten while standing and drinking warm, spiced wines (know as hypocras) or other drinks known to aid in digestion. One must remember that sugar in the Middle Ages or Early Modern Period was often considered medicinal, and used heavily in such things. This was not a course of pleasure, though it could be as everything was a treat, but one of healthful eating and abetting the digestive capabilities of the body. It also, of course, allowed those standing to show off their gorgeous new clothes and the holders of the dinner and banquet to show off the wealth of their estate, what with having a special room just for banquetting.
Fairs
The Annual Summer Fair and other seasonal fairs such as May Day were often bawdy affairs
Plays
Started as plays enacted in town squares followed by the actors using the courtyards of taverns or inns (referred to as Inn-yards) followed by the first theatres (great open air amphitheatres built in the same style as the Roman Coliseummarker) and then the introduction of indoor theatres called Playhouses
Miracle Plays
Re-enactments of stories from the Bible. These are derived from the ancient Briton custom of Mystery Plays, in which stories and fables were enacted to teach lessons or educate about life in general. Miracle plays included stories from all ecclesiastic literature, from the Bible to the everyday psaltery or prayerbook.
Festivals
Celebrating Church festivals
Jousts / Tournaments
A series of tilted matches between two or more warriors, by the Elizabethan time period these were more of a show or display of arms than to settle disputes such as we hear of in stories. Unlike our romantic notions of only knights participating in a joust, they were in fact a favorite of many, such as King Henry VIII, who often in his youth showed off his equestrian skills with a lance and a tilt.
Games and Sports
Sports and games which included archery, bowling, cards, dice, hammer-throwing, quarter-staff contests, troco, quoits, skittles, wrestling and mob football
Animal Sports
Included Bear and Bull baiting, Dog fighting and Cock fighting
Hunting
Sport followed by the nobility often using packs of dogs and hounds
Hawking
Sport followed by the nobility with hawks (otherwise known as falconry)


Elizabethan festivals, holidays, and celebrations



During the Elizabethan era, people looked forward to holidays because opportunities for leisure were limited, with time away from hard work being restricted to periods after church on Sundays. For the most part, leisure and festivities took place on a public church holy day. Every month had its own holiday, some of which are listed below:



See also



Notes

  1. Britannica Online.
  2. See The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939) and The Sea Hawk (1940).
  3. Melissa D. Aaron, Global Economics, Newark, DE, University of Delaware Press, 2005; p. 25. In the later decades of the reign, the costs of warfare—the English Armada of 1589 and the campaigns in the Netherlands—obliterated the surplus; England had a debt of £350,000 at Elizabeth's death in 1603.
  4. Ann Jennalie Cook, The Privileged Playgoers of Shakespeare's London, 1576–1642, Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 1981; pp. 49-96.
  5. Christopher Hibbert, The Virgin Queen: Elizabeth I, Genius of the Golden Age, Reading, MA, Perseus, 1991.
  6. George Macaulay Trevelyan, England Under the Stuarts, London, Methuen, 1949; p. 25.
  7. Charles Mackay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, London, Richard Bentley, 1841; reprinted New York, Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1974; pp. 462-564.
  8. Alfred Hart, Shakespeare and the Homilies, Melbourne, 1934; reprinted New York, AMS Press, 1971.
  9. Ann Jennalie Cook, Privileged Playgoers of Shakespeare's London' pp. 81-82.
  10. Ellis Waterhouse, Painting in Britain 1530 to 1790, fourth edition, New York, Viking Penguin, 1978; pp. 34-39.
  11. Hutton 1994, p. 146-151


References

  • Yates, Frances A. The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age. London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979.
  • Yates, Frances A. Theatre of the World. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1969.
  • Wilson, Derek. The World Encompassed: Francis Drake and His Great Voyage. New York, Harper & Row, 1977.
  • Arnold, Janet: Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlock'd, W S Maney and Son Ltd, Leeds 1988. ISBN 0-901286-20-6
  • Ashelford, Jane. The Visual History of Costume: The Sixteenth Century. 1983 edition (ISBN 0-89676-076-6), 1994 reprint (ISBN 0-7134-6828-9).
  • Digby, George Wingfield. Elizabethan Embroidery. New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1964.
  • Hutton, Ronald:The Rise and Fall of Merry England: The Ritual Year, 1400–1700, 2001. ISBN 0-19-285447-X
  • Hutton, Ronald: The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain, 2001. ISBN 0-19-285448-8
  • Strong, Roy: The Cult of Elizabeth, The Harvill Press, 1999. ISBN 0-7126-6493-9
  • Smith, John: "The Rise of Elizabeth", Books, 2001.
  • Knezevic, Daniel: "Elizabethan Times", 2007. ISBN 0-9384-5267-8



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