Elizabethan Government

Elizabethan Government

The Monarchy

  • Queen Elizabeth I, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, reigned from 1558 until 1603.
  • Elizabeth was an active monarch: she never married or had children, dedicating her life to ruling England.
  • She established Protestantism as the main religion in England and herself as the ‘Supreme Governor’ of the Church. This religious settlement had significant implications for the way she governed and the conflicts she faced.

The Privy Council

  • The Privy Council was the group of advisors who Elizabeth consulted on matters of state.
  • While she valued their advice, Elizabeth did not always follow it. She maintained control and made the final decisions.
  • The Privy Council dealt with a range of issues including law and order, foreign policy, economic matters, and religion.


  • Elizabeth used Parliament primarily to pass laws and approve taxes.
  • While some decisions had to legally go through parliament, Elizabeth often sought to avoid involving them.
  • Elizabeth’s relationship with Parliament was often tense. They frequently pushed her on issues of succession and marriage, which she largely ignored.

Local Governance

  • Each county in Elizabethan England had a Lord Lieutenant. This was usually a local nobleman who was responsible for maintaining law and order and carrying out the monarch’s instructions.
  • The local governance system also included Justices of the Peace (JPs). These unpaid officials, often wealthy landowners, met four times a year at Quarter Sessions to carry out legal and administrative duties.
  • Sheriffs and bailiffs collected taxes and carried out local law enforcement respectively.

The Church

  • The Church played a significant role in governance during the Elizabethan age.
  • As ‘Supreme Governor’ of the Church, Elizabeth was at the top of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. This position provided her with both power and challenges in a deeply religious period.
  • Bishops held considerable power and not only led religious services but also held influential roles within the governance structure, often as members of the Privy Council.

Conflict and Rebellion

  • There were several significant rebellions and plots against Elizabeth’s rule, such as the Northern Rebellion (1569) and the Spanish Armada (1588).
  • The threat of Catholicism was a constant worry for Elizabeth. While her religious settlement had aimed to offer a compromise, significant numbers of Catholics were unwilling to accept Elizabeth as their religious leader.
  • Maintaining control over nobles and managing conflict was a significant part of Elizabeth’s role as queen.