Joy of Museums

Exploring Museums, Art & Historic Sites

Elizabeth I of England

Elizabeth I of England - Joy of Museums - National Portrait Gallery, London

This portrait of Elizabeth I of England in her coronation robes shows the Queen crowned, wearing the cloth of gold for her coronation and holding the symbols of her authority, the orb and sceptre. The date of her accession on 15th January 1559 was a day of celebration, with tournaments and the ringing of bells in parishes across England.

The cloth of gold in this portrait was previously worn by Queen Mary I, and the warrant to the Queen’s tailor for the remodelling of Queen Mary I’s cloth of gold coronation robes for Elizabeth survives. The painting reflects the written records, but it is not known why, and for whom, these portraits were created; at or just after the end of the reign in 1603.

Elizabeth I of England - Joy of Museums - National Portrait Gallery, London - 2

This portrait is a copy made between 1600–1610 of a lost original which dated 1559. The pose echoes the famous painting of Richard II in Westminster Abbey, the second known portrait of a British sovereign. The portraiture of Elizabeth I of England illustrates the evolution of English royal portraits from the representations of simple likenesses to the more sophisticated imagery used to convey the power and aspirations of the state and monarch.

Elizabeth I (1533 – 1603) was Queen of England and Ireland from 1558 until her death. Called The Virgin Queen, Gloriana or Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth she was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, his second wife, who was executed two-and-a-half years after Elizabeth’s birth. Anne’s marriage to Henry VIII was annulled, and Elizabeth was declared illegitimate. Her half-brother, Edward VI, ruled until his death, bequeathing the crown to Lady Jane Grey. Edward’s will was set aside, and Mary, his and Elizabeth’s half-sister, became queen, deposing Lady Jane Grey. During Mary’s reign, Elizabeth was imprisoned for a year on suspicion of supporting Protestant rebels.

When Elizabeth succeeded her half-sister to the throne, it was expected that Elizabeth would marry and produce an heir. She never did, and as she grew older, she became famous for her virginity. During her 45 year reign, a cult grew around her which was celebrated in the portraits, pageants, and literature of the day.


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“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.” William Shakespeare



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