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The Elizabethan Era is the period associated with the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558–1603) and is often considered to be a golden age in English history. It was the height of the English Renaissance, and saw the flowering of English literature and poetry. It was an age of expansion and exploration abroad, while at home the Protestant Reformation was established and successfully defended against the Catholic powers of the Continent.
The Elizabethan age is viewed so highly in part because of the contrasts with the periods before and after. It was a brief period of largely internal peace between the English Reformation and the battles between Protestants and Catholics and the battles between parliament and the monarchy that would engulf the seventeenth century. The Protestant/Catholic divide was settled, for a time, by the Elizabethan Religious Settlement and parliament was still too weak to challenge royal absolutism.
Britain was also well-off compared to the other nations of Europe. The Italian Renaissance had come to an end under the weight of foreign domination of the peninsula. France was embroiled in its own religious battles that would only be settled in 1598 with the Edict of Nantes. In part because of this, but also because the English had been expelled from their last outposts on the continent, the centuries long conflict between France and England was suspended during the Elizabethan era.
The one great rival was Spain, which British conflicted with both in Europe and the Americas. While Britain lost some noted battles to the Spanish, the most important was won when the Spanish Armada was defeated.
Britain during this period had a centralized, well organized, and effective government, largely a result of the reforms of Henry VII and Henry VIII. Economically the country began to benefit greatly from the new era of Atlantic trade.
Modern historians and biographers in post-imperial Europe have tended to take a far more literal-minded and dispassionate view of the Tudor period. Elizabethan England was not particularly successful in a military sense during the period. The economic well being of the country has also been called into question.
The Elizabethan era also saw Britain begin to play a leading role in the slave trade and saw a series of bloody English military campaigns in still Catholic Ireland—notably the Desmond Rebellions and the Nine Years War.
See also modern Elizabethan historiography and assessments for more.
Despite the heights achieved during the era, less than 40 years after the death of Elizabeth the country was to descend into the English Civil War.
- Francis Bacon
- John Dee
- Francis Drake
- Richard Grenville
- Ben Jonson
- Thomas Kyd
- Christopher Marlowe
- Thomas North
- Walter Raleigh
- William Shakespeare
- Sir Philip Sidney
- Edmund Spenser
- Francis Walsingham
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