Mary I was born in 1516: she was a girl and so a disappointment to her father Henry VIII. Rejection by her father and the cruel treatment of her mother influenced her life. While her father broke with Rome she didn’t abandon her traditional faith and when she became queen in 1553 she tried to be the agent of a Counter-Reformation. The burning of Protestants earned her the nickname “Bloody Mary”. Mary’s end was tragic: she was deserted by her husband and her country was still divided over religion.
In 1558 Elizabeth became queen of a divided nation. She was 25 and had a strong personality, a great intelligence and an excellent education. She was a political genius of the first order. She faced the problems of marriage and succession, religious division and domestic discontent. She was unmarried and she used to repeat that “the Queen was married to her people”. She wore magnificent clothes adorned with rich jewels, she had numerous portraits painted and a lot of copies were distributed.
She recognized Spain as her main trade rival and enemy. She strenghtened English naval power and then she secretly encouraged sea captains like Francis Drake in their piracy against Spanish ships. In 1588 Spanish decided to invade England and sent a great armada of 130 galleons to the English channel. The faster and armed English ships were able to defeat the slow and heavy Spanish ships. England’s successful resistance showed that Spain was not invincible. Since it wasn’t considered safe for Elizabeth to travel around the country, she decided to use portraits to show herself to her people. The way the queen was painted changed over the course of her reign. Portraitists used to paint her with a pale face, with dark brown eyes and with freckles.