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Study Notes

GCSE: Early Elizabethan England (1558-88) - Timeline of Key Events


Last updated 2 May 2020

Here is a summary timeline of key events for students taking Early Elizabethan England (1558-88).


Elizabeth I is crowned Queen

She replaced her Catholic half-sister Mary, who died childless. Mary was married to Philip II of Spain.

Elizabeth and the religious settlement

This included: 1) the Act of Supremacy – which stated that Elizabeth was Head of the Church, 2) the Act of Uniformity – which set out expectations for church appearances and church services and 3) Royal Injunctions – a set of instructions reinforcing the Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity.


Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis

This peace treaty between England and France ended the war inherited by Elizabeth from her half-sister Mary I, who went to war alongside her Spanish husband Philip II in 1557. Humiliatingly, Elizabeth had to confirm the loss of Calais, which had been an English possession since 1347.


Treaty of Edinburgh

This established a new Anglo-Scottish peace and also reconfirmed the agreement at Cateau-Cambresis. Elizabeth was eager to nullify the threat of the Auld Alliance (Scotland and France), which had been further reinforced by the marriage of Mary, Queen of Scots and French King Francis II. The treaty also stated that Mary would give up her claim to the English throne, although this was not formally agreed by Mary.


Statute of Artificers

This aimed to ensure poor relief was collected. Anyone refusing to pay poor rates could be imprisoned and officials failing to organise poor relief could be fined.


Dutch Revolt

The Netherlands had been part of the Spanish empire since the 1550s. However, the Dutch had always governed themselves. Philip II’s decision to reorganise the Dutch government and church angered both the Dutch Catholics and the Protestants. They began to revolt against the Spanish.


Genoese Loan

Italian bankers from Genoa had lent Philip II money to fund his campaign in the Netherlands (which was trying to put down the Dutch Revolt). Crucially, when the Spanish ships docked in English ports, the gold was seized by Elizabeth. This increased tension between England and Spain.

Mary, Queen of Scots, flees from Scotland to England

Mary was forced to flee following her unsuccessful attempt to win back her Scottish throne. She raised an army following her escape from prison but was defeated at Langside (Glasgow). The imprisonment owed to her likely involvement in the murder of her second husband, Lord Darnley. Her first husband, Francis II, had died in December 1560.


Revolt of the Northern Earls

Two influential Catholic families – the Percys and the Nevilles – plotted alongside the Duke of Norfolk to overthrow Elizabeth and replace her with the Catholic, Mary, Queen of Scots (who now resided in England). Norfolk was also expected to marry Mary. Elizabeth sent an army of 14,000 men to crush the revolt, which lasted around a month (November to December).


Pope Pius V excommunicates Elizabeth from the Catholic Church

This Papal Bull meant that the loyalty of English Catholics towards Elizabeth was now always in doubt and placed a wedge between the English Catholics’ monarch and their faith.


The Ridolfi Plot

Roberto Ridolfi was a spy of the Pope. He plotted a Spanish invasion of England, which would involve the killing of Elizabeth and the placing of Mary, Queen of Scots on the throne. As with the 1569 plot, she would marry the Duke of Norfolk. The plot was uncovered whilst Ridolfi was abroad (he never returned). Norfolk was killed in 1572. Mary was spared.


Vagabonds Act

To counter homelessness and the begging/criminal activity that sometimes accompanied this, a law was passed that stated that, if found, vagrants were: 1) to be whipped and have a hole drilled through each ear 2) if found a second time would be imprisoned 3) would be killed if found a third time. However, the Act also established a national poor rate, made JPs (Justices of the Peace) keep registers of the poor and gave towns and cities the responsibility to find work for the able-bodied poor.


Catholic priests are first smuggled into England

With the Pope’s blessing, foreign Catholic priests were smuggled into England with the sole purpose of continuing recusancy amongst the English Catholics and undermining the influence of Protestantism.


Poor Relief Act

This focused on dividing the poor into the able-bodied and the impotent. JPs provided the able-bodied with raw materials (like wool) to make items to sell. Those who refused this were sent to prison.


The Spanish Fury

Spain’s forces in the Netherlands mutinied (as they hadn’t been paid by the now bankrupt Spanish government). This led to a rampage of Spanish soldiers and the sacking of Antwerp.

Pacification of Ghent

The Spanish Fury united both the Dutch Catholics and Protestants, who demanded in response to the violence: 1) the expulsion of all Spanish troops from the Netherlands 2) political freedom and 3) an end to religious hostility via the Spanish Inquisition.


Francis Drake circumnavigates the world

Drake was the first English person to achieve this (and the second person in history at the time). It was estimated that Drake returned with approximately £400,000 of Spanish treasure from regular raids of Spanish ports in South America.


Francis Drake is knighted on the Golden Hind

This was an important symbolic gesture, which angered Philip II. He saw Drake as a pirate and therefore deemed Elizabeth’s act as deliberately provocative.


The Throckmorton Plot

Mary, Queen of Scot’s cousin (the French Duke of Guise) intended to invade England, free Mary, overthrow Elizabeth and restore Catholicism. English Catholic Francis Throckmorton was the link of communication within this plan. Spymaster and Secretary of State from 1573 Francis Walsingham uncovered the plot. Throckmorton was tortured and although he confessed, was then killed. Thereafter, up to 11,000 English Catholics were either arrested or placed under surveillance.


Treaty of Joinville

The French Catholic League signed this treaty with Philip II of Spain. The aim was to rid France of heresy (Protestantism). This meant two of the most powerful European nations were now united against Protestantism, placing Elizabeth in a precarious position.


Treaty of Nonsuch

This significantly committed Elizabeth to support the Dutch rebels directly against the Spanish. She pledged to finance an army of 7,400 English troops and placed Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, in charge of them. Essentially, this meant England and Spain were now at war.

All Catholic priests are ordered to leave the country

With the seemingly imminent war between Spain only a matter of time, Elizabeth was determined to rid England of the ‘enemy within’. Catholic priests were ordered to leave so as not to influence the English Catholics with divided loyalties.

First English colony in Virginia established

This was viewed as significant because it was seen as a means to increase trade, to expand Protestantism and to use the area as a base for attacks on Spanish colonies in the New World. In this sense, the colonisation of Virginia should be understood in relation to the wider conflict with Spain.


Treaty of Berwick

Elizabeth and James VI agreed to maintain Protestantism as their respective countries’ religion. James also pledged to help Elizabeth if invaded. The treaty essentially allowed Elizabeth to focus on developing events in the Netherlands and not worry about protecting her northern border.

Surviving colonists abandon Virginia and return to England

The failure of the colonisation was due to: the resistance of the Native Americans; conflict amongst the English settlers (who collectively had the wrong mix of skills to make the settlement a real success); the loss of supplies via the damage incurred on The Tiger and the fact that the voyage set off too late for crops to be planted (causing dependence on the rightfully suspicious Native Americans).

Babington Plot

Philip II and the Pope supported the plot that would involve the invasion of England by the Duke of Guise. The invasion would include the murder of Elizabeth and the placing of Mary, Queen of Scots on the throne. Anthony Babington, an English Catholic, wrote to Mary about the plot. The plot was uncovered by Sir Francis Walsingham, who intercepted and read Babington’s letters to Mary.


Mary, Queen of Scots, is executed

Mary’s clear awareness and support of the Babington plot led to her being sentenced to death in October 1586. Elizabeth, however, did not sign the death warrant until February 1587.

Babington and other known plotters were hanged, drawn and quartered.

Colony is established at Roanoke

Despite the failure of 1585, another attempt to colonise Virginia took place. Many colonists this time were poverty-stricken Londoners (it was felt they would be used to hard work and would therefore be happy to work for a new life in the New World). Working for the British, Native American Manteo was placed in charge of the expedition by Sir Walter Raleigh. Native American hostility occurred from the start, however. John White (another leading colonist) sailed back to England to report on the problems being experienced.

The ‘singeing of the King’s beard’

Francis Drake led an attack at Cadiz on the Spanish fleet, who were preparing for an invasion of the English. The attack was a success. 30 ships were destroyed, as well as lots of supplies. This delayed the Spanish attack and gave the English more time to prepare (hence the attempted invasion of the Armada one year later in 1588).


Philip II of Spain launches the Armada

The plan was that 130 ships (equipped with 2431 guns) would sail along the Channel to the Netherlands, where they would pick up 27,000 troops, led by the Duke of Parma. The invasion failed, however.


Failure of the Armada

July 31st: Battle of Plymouth – two Spanish ships were captured.

August 3rd - 4th: Spanish ships were outgunned and forced to move to Calais in France.

August 8th: Battle of Gravelines – fireships caused the Spanish fleet to scatter. They never met with the Duke of Parma and were forced to sail around the British Isles. Most of the fleet was then destroyed by storms.


English sailors land at Roanoke to find it abandoned

John White led another group to Roanoke, 3 years after the attempt to colonise it. However, the settlement was abandoned and no trace of the colonists was ever found.


Death of Elizabeth I

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