Problems Elizabeth inherited in 1558.

Elizabeth’s succession to the throne

As soon as Elizabeth became queen in 1558, she had faced immediate problems. Most of these problems were inherited from previous monarchs, whereas some problems were due to her nature of queen.


  • Elizabeth’s legitimacy was in doubt because of how her father, King Henry VIII had divorced his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, in order to marry Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn.

  • Catholics refused to acknowledge Henry’s divorce because the pope had not agreed to it, so not everybody accepted that Elizabeth was legitimate.

  • In 1536, when Anne Boleyn was executed for treason, Henry VIII himself declared Elizabeth illegitimate and excluded her from the line of succession. However, he later reversed this decision.

  • Elizabeth declared she was a Queen Regnant. This meant that she ruled in her own right.

  • To further legitimise her claim to the throne, Elizabeth campaigned for her mother, Anne Boleyn, to be remembered in a positive way. Elizabeth wanted her to be remembered as his greatest love, and a martyr to her Protestant cause.

  • Mary, Queen of Scots, (Elizabeth’s cousin) declared herself the legitimate Catholic heir to the English throne when Mary I died. Mary, Queen of Scots, was Elizabeth’s second cousin, the granddaughter of Henry VIII’s sister.

Gender & Marriage

  • The Christian religion taught that women should be under the authority of men.

  • Women were not considered to be physically, mentally or emotionally capable of governing.

  • The majority of people thought that women were not capable of ruling due to the terrible reign of Elizabeth’s half sister, Mary I. In this reign England had lost a war against France, the finances were poor, there was widespread poverty, she married an unpopular Spanish king, and she burned 300 people for their religious beliefs.

  • A queen who ruled in her own right was something very unusual and it seemed unnatural to 16th-century society for a woman to rule.

  • Many people thought that Elizabeth should marry. However, she had no intention of doing so. She turned down offers from eligible princes of Europe, including Philip II of Spain, King Eric of Sweden and French heir to the throne, Duke of Alencon.

  • Elizabeth did not want to marry. A benefit of marrying would have been that a potential husband could fulfil the role of a military leader in the war, which was an important part of a monarch’s role that Elizabeth could not fulfil.

  • Women were expected to be obedient to their husbands. If Elizabeth married her husband would be seen as the figure of authority - not her.

  • If Elizabeth married, it would probably be a foreign prince. This prince may put England’s needs second to his own country.

  • Even though Elizabeth had no desire to, having children will ensure England’s stability, as there would be no ‘vacancy’ for the heir to the throne that could lead to conflict between rival claimants.

Elizabeth’s character

  • Elizabeth was highly intelligent and well educated. She spoke Latin, Greek, French and Italian. Her intelligence made other powerful men feel jealous of her.

  • Elizabeth was confident and charismatic but she had a temper that people feared. She often took a long time to make up her mind, especially over serious matters. Her privy council and her advisers found this very frustrating and classed it as a ‘typical woman trait’.


  • Elizabeth did not have a lot of money due to the wars of previous rulers. Crown lands had been sold off to fund these wars, so she had less land then she should have. When Elizabeth came to the throne the Crown was £300,000 in debt. This is a huge amount - especially as the annual income of the Crown at this time was roughly £286,667.

  • Elizabeth had to raise money by: income from remaining crown lands; taxes from trade; special additional taxes known as subsidies; profits of justice (fines from people of convicted crimes) and loans.

  • Elizabeth had to improve the quality of English money to improve England’s finances. In the 1540s more money was needed to fund wars, so the government reduced the amount of silver in each coin. This was known as debasement, and it made the coins less valuable.

Problems Elizabeth inherited in 1558., figure 1

The French Threat

  • England had held Calais since 1347. In the 1550s, England had sided with Spain in a war against the French. The conflict ended with the Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis. Under this treaty, England had to return Calais to France. The English felt humiliated by this loss, so when Elizabeth became queen an important aim of her foreign policy was to claim back Calas.

  • France was wealthier and had a larger population than England.

  • France was England’s traditional enemy and an ally of England’s other enemy, Scotland. Their friendship was known as the Auld Alliance.

  • The Scottish monarch, Mary Queen of Scots, was Elizabeth’s cousin and had a strong claim to the English throne. She was half French and was married to Francis, heir to the French throne.

  • Elizabeth feared that France and Spain were no longer at war. There was a real possibility that Catholic Spain and France would unite against England and its Protestant Queen.

Who was Elizabeth's father?
Henry VIII
Who was Elizabeth's mother?
Anne Boleyn
Who was Elizabeth's cousin who claimed she had a claim to the throne?
Your answer should include: Mary / Queen / Scots
What were women expected to be towards their husbands?
How much debt was the crown in when Elizabeth inherited the throne?" answername="1525811695650" answer="£300000
Your answer should include: £300000 / 300000
Elizabeth could speak Latin, Greek, French and...?
What was the friendship between the French and the Scottish known as?" answername="1525811709224" answer="The Auld Alliance
The Auld Alliance