Elizabeth faced several problems at the beginning of her reign in 1558. These were all problems based on either who she was or how she should decide to run the country. There were three main areas in which Elizabeth faced problems where she was forced to make difficult decisions early on in her reign: marriage, religion and foreign politics. However, any decision made would be complex as each problem she faced was not isolated and every choice may cause further crisis.
Once Elizabeth became Queen many people worried about the fact that she was unmarried and childless. This would have been a problem because as the last of the Tudor line there would have been great pressure on her to have a child in order for her to continue the Tudor name and for there to be a rightful heir to the throne after her death. Due to the hereditary monarchy system, civil war could break out after Elizabeth died, as the next rightful king or queen may have been uncertain. The only way to stop this happening was for Elizabeth to marry and have a child. However, this was not such an immediate problem for Elizabeth as she was a young queen at the beginning of her reign, therefore she had some time in which to settle into her new role and rule on her own before marriage became a vast problem. Her youth when she became queen was also a strength as it gave her more time in which to rule (45 years overall) unlike her sister Mary who was a much older queen and only ruled for 5 years.
Elizabeth’s largest decision involving marriage would have been who to marry and how this would affect the country. Of the four men advised for her to marry, each would cause further problems or strongly effect other decisions which simultaneously needed to be made. The first choice was to marry an English nobleman such as the Earl of Leicester; however this could lead to a rebellion of jealous nobles who she needed on side, in order for the country to run smoothly. A revolt or rebellion would have been disastrous at the beginning of her reign. Another choice would be to marry the French king, even though England and France were at war this would give England a strong ally. Unfortunately this may cause French control over England, which would also undoubtedly offend many English people, possibly leading to revolts. Another problem may be that the French king was a devout Catholic; therefore it would have been practically impossible for Elizabeth to lead a Protestant country without offending her new husband – consequently the country’s religion would have to be Catholicism, deeply displeasing her protestant citizens.
Other advisors would tell her to marry the Spanish king, Mary’s ex-husband – Philip II, as he could prove to be a useful ally against France. However, Mary had previously faced uprisings over her marriage to Philip as the Spaniards were unpopular. Philip was also Catholic so Elizabeth would face the same religious dilemmas as marrying the French king. Her final option was to marry a German Protestant prince. Once again this decision would consequently dictate the religion of the country. However if Elizabeth did decide to follow the Protestant faith, it would be useful to have an ally in Europe. Whoever Elizabeth decided to marry it could never entirely please everyone, especially the largely xenophobic London. The strong likelihood of religious or foreign conflict would further complicate her difficult decision of who to marry.
There was also always the option to remain unmarried; this gave her the freedom to continue ruling England without taking orders from her husband as well as avoiding the future conflict which would more than likely come with marriage. Nevertheless, this did not solve the more critical issue of producing the next heir to the throne.
Elizabeth began her reign by facing a difficult religious decision; what official religion should the country have? Her largest problem in making this choice was that she was a Protestant whereas England had previously been Catholic under Mary’s control. She could either follow her brother Edward’s example of Protestantism or continue with Mary’s Catholic rule. However, neither religion had worked perfectly in the past and each option came with further problems. Although the country was Catholic at the time, Mary had faced several uprisings and difficulties in restoring and imposing the Catholic faith showing people were not entirely happy with this choice.
Choosing Catholicism went against Elizabeth’s personal beliefs of Protestantism. Furthermore, Catholics may have an aversion to her ruling as head of state and their religion as they see her as an illegitimate bastard child. This is due to the fact that her father Henry broke away from the Catholic Church in order to divorce Catherine of Aragon therefore this divorce was not legal to Catholics as it was not granted by the Pope. This could be one of the most difficult problems Elizabeth faced as there was no way of her solving or changing this. However, Protestantism would not solve all her problems either as forcing everyone to be Protestant like Edward did would displease all Catholics even further. Under Edward VI Catholics refused to accept the Protestant religion entirely.
When making the decision Elizabeth would need to find a solution which would cause the least amount of further problems to her as queen, such as future uprisings. She could learn from the examples and wrong decisions her family made previously such as Henry who chose to worship Catholicism but without accepting the Pope was in charge of the church. This system angered both Catholics and Protestants. Furthermore, Elizabeth would have to take into account that a decision on which religion to follow would deeply affect the future choice of who to marry, for example if she chose Protestantism it would have been almost impossible for her to marry the French king as he was a devout Catholic. Therefore this would have been a very difficult, nearly impossible decision to make as no solution would have been perfect or pleased everyone.
Another area where Elizabeth faced problems at the beginning of her reign was foreign policy. Her largest issue was what to do about England being at war with France. This war was a result of Mary’s marriage to Philip of Spain, which showed how carefully Elizabeth would now have to choose who to marry as it could lead to foreign conflict such as this. During the war the French captured Calais, the last English stronghold in their country. Continuing to war with France would lead to further problems and may threaten her position as queen so she would aim to make peace as soon as possible. This left Elizabeth with several options of what to do in order to diffuse the situation and who to ally with afterwards.
The easiest way in which to make peace with France was by accepting the loss of Calais. Following this Elizabeth would need to decide who to ally with; France or Spain. This is also a decision which would be closely linked to who she chose to marry. She could also try to be neutral to both France and Spain, however for the Pope to accept her as ruler of England Elizabeth would need either French or Spanish support. With the support of the Pope the Catholics in England would not plot to overthrow her which would greatly ease the religious problems she faced. A final option would be to ally instead with a German Protestant Power, for example if she married a German Protestant prince. However, this could lead to the French using their base in Scotland to overthrow Elizabeth as the ruler of Scotland at the time was Mary Queen of Scots mother, a French Princess. Foreign policy was a difficult problem to solve because she needed to ensure peace in a way that would not cause future foreign conflict or threaten her position as queen. Who to ally with would deeply depend on who she chose to marry. The only ease to the pressures of these foreign problems was the fact that Elizabeth was multi-lingual, which meant she could speak to these foreign leaders personally.
In addition, Elizabeth also faced other problems which she had no way of solving, such as who her family was. Her mother, Anny Boleyn, was executed for witchcraft and adultery. This would have affected how people first perceived Elizabeth once she came into power. Although it was a problem she could not change in any way, it would make little difference to how well she ruled as queen and was unlikely to become a great problem. The fact that her father was Henry VIII could also affect people’s opinion towards Elizabeth. However, it could also be an advantage to her at the beginning of her reign instead of a problem.
The Tudors had been in power for a long period of time; her sister Mary was queen before her and died of natural causes meaning Elizabeth was the rightful Head of State. This was a strong point for Elizabeth because it meant there would be no problem of people attempting to overthrow her in a struggle for power at the beginning of her reign. It also meant any decision Elizabeth finally chose to make was absolute. Another problem Elizabeth faced at the beginning of her reign which she could not change was the fact that she was a woman. Some people would therefore see her as inferior or weaker in some ways, included her parents who saw her as a disappointment because she wasn’t a boy. Again, even though this is a problem Elizabeth could do nothing to change it was not likely to develop into a large problem or deeply affect the way she ruled as queen.
In conclusion, at the beginning of her reign, Elizabeth faced three main problems; who to marry, which religion the country should follow and what to do about England being at war with France. Any solution to each of these problems would deeply affect another issue. Therefore no problem Elizabeth faced at beginning of reign was isolated; they were all linked causing them to be equally difficult to overcome.
However, questions over religious issues would have been the biggest decision Elizabeth would have had to make. This choice would affect everyone in England needed to be made immediately after coming into power whereas with marriage she mad much more time to decide due to her young age. Furthermore Elizabeth was at an immediate disadvantage when facing the problem of religion as Catholics saw her as a bastard and there was no way of changing this. Ultimately, if Elizabeth never married this would only cause problems after her death if she remained childless whereas religion would directly affect the country from the beginning of her reign.
Choosing to marry would cause further possible religious uprisings or foreign conflict, making it easier for Elizabeth to choose to remain unmarried at first. Therefore being unmarried would have been more of a problem towards the end of Elizabeth’s reign instead of at the beginning of it. The problem of foreign policy would not have been as difficult as religion as peace was fairly easily manageable, however her choice of who to ally with would also affect her choice of who to marry later. Overall, England was at a fairly stable state at the beginning of Elizabeth I’s reign so the problems she faced were all fairly manageable, although they were not isolated problems so a decision to one problem would deeply affect anything else she needed to face.