Float through any social event with M’s fast facts. This week Kevin McIndoe looks at the life and times of Elizabeth I, England’s Virgin Queen, who was crowned this day in 1559.
The instant expert: the last of the Tudors
THE BASICS One of England's greatest monarch, and the daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn. Elizabeth Tudor came to the throne in 1558 at the age of 25 to run a country that was flat broke, divided along religious lines, and facing invasions from France and Spain. She reigned for 45 years, never married, became known as the Virgin Queen, and lived to the ripe old age (for those days) of 69. Her fitness routine of daily galliards (a form of Renaissance dancing) evidently kept her in good shape to the end.
THE BACKGROUND When Elizabeth was a little girl, her mother was executed on trumped-up charges of treason. Her elder half-sister was called Bloody Mary and not because she liked a vodka-and-tomato juice. Queen Mary was majorly miffed that Henry had divorced her mother, Catherine of Aragon, to marry Elizabeth's mother. Determined to restore Catholicism as the dominant faith, Mary accused the Protestant Elizabeth of treason, and sent her to the Tower of London while she mulled over whether to kill her. Elizabeth was spared and would become Mary's successor.
THE WOMAN Tall, striking, flirtatious and über-intelligent, Elizabeth was certainly not immune to the charms of suitors, such as the Earl of Leicester or his stepson the Earl of Essex (whom she later had executed), and she rejected at least 40 offers for her hand. Her country came first, and she didn't fancy marrying for political reasons. And as for bossy husbands? "There will be no masters in this court, and one mistress," she said.
THE RIVAL Elizabeth found herself under threat and facing assassination attempts from Catholics in England and Spain who wanted her fiercest rival and cousin Mary, Queen of Scots on her throne. Handbags at dawn? Not quite. When Elizabeth put Mary under house arrest and executed her in 1587, Spain went on the attack.
THE LEADER When sending her troops off to beat the Spanish Armada, a great fleet of ships, in 1588 she boasted: "I may have the body of a weak and feeble woman but I have the heart and stomach of a king". Actually, Liz got lucky, as most of the Spanish ships were shipwrecked by a hurricane, the likes of which England did not see again until 1987.
THE WARDROBE She dressed to impress, and had her gowns made with silks, satins and jewels to exude power and prestige. She often recycled dresses as fashions changed, moving sleeves, panels, embroidery and trim from one frock to the next. Her fave shades were black and white as, for her, they epitomised virginity and purity.
THE MAKE-UP A brush with smallpox in 1562 left Elizabeth with a few scars. She would paint her face with a mixture of white lead and vinegar, put rouge on her lips and colour her cheeks with red dye. The make-up was bad for her health, as the lead slowly poisoned her. However, the ghostly white make-up cemented her image in the annals of history.
Five on-screen Elizabeths
Some of the world's greatest actresses have portrayed Elizabeth R. M picks our five favourites.
1. GLENDA JACKSON Jackson exudes gravitas in the BBC's Elizabeth R(1971) and the movie Mary, Queen of Scots (1971). With flawless diction and deportment, she nails Elizabeth's personality - haughty, vulnerable, dignified and deadly.
2. ANNE-MARIE DUFF Duff gives a nuanced performance in the BBC's The Virgin Queen (2005) and ticks all the boxes: girlish, coquettish, exuberant and quietly chilling.
3. CATE BLANCHETT A tour de force in the movie Elizabeth (1998) and its 2006 sequel, Blanchett portrays Elizabeth as a likeable, tolerant woman forced to show her mettle in a man's world.
4. HELEN MIRREN Mirren's portrayal in the mini-series Elizabeth I (2005) depicts her as a tough, canny but matey monarch you could share a few goblets of wine with, but would never dare cross.
5. MIRANDA RICHARDSON Richardson's comic take on Elizabeth (Queenie) in the BBC's Blackadder II is a delight: childish, spoilt, petulant - and menacing.