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Elizabeth I came to the throne in 1558 after the death of her sister, Mary. She needed to win the support of her people, both Catholics and Protestants, and those who believed that a woman could not rule a country by herself. One of the best ways for a monarch to win support was by making a tour of the country and showing themselves to the people. However, Elizabeth had many Catholic enemies and it was not safe for her to travel around the country. She chose, instead, to use portraits to show herself to her people. It was, therefore, essential that the portraits showed an image of Elizabeth that would impress her subjects.

What Elizabeth was really like:  

  • Elizabeth was short about 5’3 or 5’5 with brown eyes and red curly hair.

  • She was afraid of mice.

  • She had a bad temper and would throw things or threaten to send courtiers to the Tower if they upset her.

  • She swore and spat when she was angry.

  • Elizabeth’s teeth were black with tooth decay.

  • Her speech was sometimes difficult to understand because of missing teeth.

  • Elizabeth was very superstitious and was afraid of black magic.

  • She only bathed once every few weeks.

This was not an image that Elizabeth wanted portrayed to her subjects. At intervals throughout her reign the government issued portraits of Elizabeth that were to be copied and distributed throughout the land. No other portraits of the Queen were allowed.


Official Portraits of Elizabeth

Young Elizabeth I
Painted in about 1546 when Elizabeth was 13 and not expected to be Queen.
Elizabeth I Coronation Portrait
The Coronation Portrait – painted in 1559 shortly after Elizabeth’s coronation.
Elizabeth I
Painted in 1560, at the beginning of her reign when she was aged about 25 years.
Elizabeth I miniature
A miniature of Elizabeth painted by Nicholas Hilliard in 1572 when she was 38 years old. Miniatures would be worn on chains round people’s necks.
The Armada Portrait
The Armada Portrait – painted shortly after the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. Pictures in the background show the defeated Spanish ships being wrecked against the Scottish rocks.
The Ditchley Portrait - Elizabeth the Virgin Queen
The Ditchley Portrait – painted in 1592, four years after the defeat of the Armada when the Queen was 59 years old. This picture also typifies Elizabeth as the Virgin Queen.
Rainbow Portrait
The Rainbow Portrait – painted when the Queen was in her sixties. People were generally better off and had improved living conditions.
Elizabeth I
 This picture was painted towards the end of Elizabeth’s reign. She died in 1603 at the age of 69.
Elizabeth I
 This picture was painted shortly after Elizabeth’s death. People were relieved that she was dead and that they had a new monarch.
  Elizabeth I
 This picture was painted some 20 years after Elizabeth’s death when people looked back upon her reign as a ‘golden age’. It shows her as Saint George defeating the Catholic dragon.

The Virgin Queen

From the time of her accession, Elizabeth was pursued by a variety of suitors, eager to marry the most eligible woman in the world. However, Elizabeth never married. One theory is that she never married because the way that her father had treated his wives had put her off marriage, another is that she was abused by Thomas Seymour while under the care of Katherine Parr, a third theory suggests that she was so in love with Robert Dudley that she could not bring herself to marry another man. When Elizabeth became Queen, Robert Dudley was already married. Some years later his wife died in mysterious circumstances. Elizabeth could not marry him because of the scandal it would cause both at home and abroad.

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"Elizabeth – Portrait of a Queen" History on the Net
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April 13, 2024 <https://www.historyonthenet.com/elizabeth-portrait-of-a-queen>
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