“It would please me best if, at the last, a marble stone shall record that this Queen having reigned such and such a time, lived and died a virgin”, Elizabeth I to Parliament.
The daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I came to the throne at the age of 25 following the death of her half-sister Mary I in 1558. The young queen drew on the advice of trusted advisers such as William Cecil, who helped her to restore the Church of England. During the long years of her reign, the kingdom became a great maritime power and enjoyed a literary flowering that would forever leave its mark on English culture. It was also during this period that a distinctly English aesthetic developed in portraiture, which played with the contrast between a more simplistic depiction of the face and the meticulous representation of the finest details of the dress and jewels.
During Elizabeth’s reign, the queen’s image became the subject of government policy, and attempts were made to control its form and diffusion. She died without ever naming a successor. Her cousin James VI of Scotland, son of Mary Stuart, thus came to the throne, becoming the first King of Great Britain as James I.