An online dramaturgical casebook.

European Royalty

The Court hierarchy

The Elizabethan administrative structure was highly centralized, with most actions centred on the Privy Council, which in turn was directly appointed by the monarch.

In the sixteenth century, the western world centered on Europe. America had only recently been discovered and was a land for adventurers and explorers to conquer and discover and bring back to Europe all kinds of wonders such as potatoes and tobacco. It was not a developed country architecturally or economically. The most important person in Europe was arguably the Pope who resided then, as now, in the Vatican at Rome. Roman Catholicism was still the dominant European religion and the Pope, as its head, wielded enormous power in Roman Catholic countries. Even in non-Roman Catholic countries such as England, the Pope had a great influence amongst those still adhering to the Roman Catholic faith.

The most powerful ruler, however, was Philip II of Spain. His father, Charles, had been one of the most powerful men ever to have lived in Europe. Not only was he King of Spain, but also governor of the Netherlands and Holy Roman Emperor, a very prestigious title indeed. Philip inherited the throne of Spain aswell as the Netherlands, was King of Portugal for a while, and owned lands in the Americas that were a source of great wealth. Unlike his father, Philip made Spain his central home and under his rule, Spain was at the height of its influence and recognized as the most powerful country in Europe, if not the world.

However, relations between Philip and his neighbors were poor. He was constantly in conflict with France, mismanaged the government of the Netherlands to the extent that there was open rebellion and eventual war there, and he came into conflict with Elizabeth. The powers of Europe were wary of Philip and Queen Elizabeth in particular tried to keep in check his wealth, and the potential threat Catholic Spain posed to Protestant England,  by discretely authorizing her sailors to pirate his ships as they came from America. William Cecil, the Queen’s chief minister, did not approve of this, so Elizabeth tried to keep knowledge of what was going on from him. Not only did capturing a Spanish ship laden with treasure improve her finances, but it depleted Philip’s in the hope to stall his often threatened invasion of England, his so called “Enterprise of England.”

England and Spain were officially at war in 1585 after years of underhanded conflict, and the war lasted until the Queen’s death. Philip died in 1598, but his son, Philip III, continued the war, even though he did so half heartedly. He saw the conflict between Elizabeth and Philip as just that, a clash of personalities, and in many ways, perhaps that was the case.

… The Scandinavian countries were monarchies, Sweden and Denmark having their own sovereign. Norway was under the rule of the Danish. Sweden was a Protestant country and so in a tacit form of alliance with England, but it was not a particularly wealthy country. King Eric of Sweden hoped to marry Queen Elizabeth for some years, but his suit was unsuccessful.

Hungary and Poland were larger than they are today and were on the edge of the Turkish states belonging to the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans were a considerable threat to Christian Europe (Christendom) and much effort was put into fighting them by Philip II who also governed Poland. For a century they had taken land after land and added it to their vast empire, but their strength was beginning to ebb as their internal government was slowly eaten by corruption. The Battle of Lepanto in 1571 was a turning point in European history, for after the defeat  of the Ottomans by Philip, they never again posed such a threat to Christendom.

Russia was ruled by a Tsar and did not play a great part in the history of Elizabeth’s reign. However, Elizabeth was on good terms with Ivan IV, “The Terrible”. The Queen even once sent the Tsarina her own doctor.

The center of European trade was Antwerp (in the Netherlands). However, with the outbreak of the rebellion against Philip II, the center of trade slowly began to move to London. Many Protestant from the Netherlands fled to England during Elizabeth’s reign and brought with them craftsmanship skills that the English could learn.

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