15 Royally Amazing Facts About Queen Elizabeth I

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istock

Queen Elizabeth I took the crown of England on January 15, 1559. To honor the 456th anniversary of her coronation, here are 15 things you might not know about Good Queen Bess.

1. She very nearly wasn’t queen at all.

Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne required a great deal of good luck… or bad luck, depending on whose perspective you take. Following the death of her father, King Henry VIII, Elizabeth was third in line for the throne after her younger half-brother Edward and her older half-sister Mary. A 10-year-old Edward took the throne in 1547, ruling for only six years before dying of a fever.

Just before his passing, Edward named his cousin, Lady Jane Grey, his successor (bumping Elizabeth down yet another spot). However, Jane’s stint on the throne was a brief 13 days—Mary succeeded in having Jane deposed and took over the crown herself for five years. Influenza took the childless Mary’s life in 1558, allowing Elizabeth to at last become the Queen of England, Wales, and Ireland.

2. Before she was queen, she was a political prisoner.

In 1554, Elizabeth was tried and imprisoned on suspicion of abetting Wyatt’s Rebellion, an uprising against Queen Mary I that many believed to be motivated by the quest for Protestant liberation.

3. She was a clotheshorse.

Even though she’s remembered for her high fashions, it’s surprising to know just how expansive Elizabeth’s wardrobe was. According to one estimate, she may have owned as many as 2,000 pairs of gloves!

4. She was a firm believer in astrology.

The Queen kept a personal advisor named John Dee—a renowned mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, and professed alchemist—in her regular company. Elizabeth relied on Dee’s counsel in the scheduling of important events and, as one rumor suggests, in the removal of a troublesome “death curse.”

5. There was a “cult” surrounding her.

Upon Elizabeth’s claim of the throne, her team of advisors encouraged a trend of flattering depictions among her portrait artists. As time went on, depictions of Queen Elizabeth I in both visual and written media began to incorporate likenesses of classic goddesses—she was compared to Venus, Astraea, and the Greek deity Diana, all in an effort to espouse connotations of divinity and purity. This trend of work is known as the Cult of Elizabeth, or the Cult of the Virgin Queen.

6. She pioneered legislation to help feed the poor.

When it wasn’t spreading propaganda, Elizabeth’s administration was actually doing some good. The Queen oversaw the nation’s first attempts at poverty relief: a gradual accumulation of rulings like mandatory taxation towards this end, which culminated with the 1601 Elizabethan Poor Law.

7. She could speak many languages.

In addition to her native English, Queen Elizabeth I was known to be fluent in French, Italian, and Latin, going so far as to translate collections of lengthy texts into these languages. The Queen is also believed to have spoken Spanish, Welsh, Irish, Flemish, Greek, and the now nearly defunct tongue of Cornish.

8. A few rumors still tie her to Shakespeare.

Clearly the intellectual type, Elizabeth made it her mission while in power to patronize the theatrical arts. Her devotion to stage led to an assortment of musings regarding her relationship to William Shakespeare. Some scholars surmise that the Queen had a personal kinship with the playwright, who alludes to her (quite amorously) in the second act of A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

That very time I saw, but thou couldst not
Flying between the cold moon and the earth,
Cupid all arm'd: a certain aim he took
At a fair vestal throned by the west,
And loosed his love-shaft smartly from his bow,
As it should pierce a hundred thousand hearts;
But I might see young Cupid's fiery shaft
Quench'd in the chaste beams of the watery moon,
And the imperial votaress passed on,
In maiden meditation, fancy-free.

9. She was at the center of a romantic scandal…

If the tabloids had existed in the 16th century, they would have had a field day with Queen Elizabeth I. She turned down proposals from the likes of King Philip II of Spain, King Eric XIV of Sweden, Archduke Charles of Austria, and French brothers Henry III and Francis, Dukes of Anjou. Throughout her life, Elizabeth’s one true love remained her childhood friend Robert Dudley, whose marriage to Amy Robsart kept the two from achieving Elizabeth’s long desired union.

Even after the sudden death of Robsart in 1560 Elizabeth resisted marrying her lifelong friend. Eighteen years later, he’d go on to find a second wife, Lettice Knollys, whom Elizabeth was said to treat with merciless scorn.

10. Her scandals weren’t limited to proposals.

In addition to these many spotlighted proposals, Queen Elizabeth I found (and continues to find) herself the subject of plentiful rumors about secret love affairs, mainly to high-profile men: Aristocrat and writer Sir Walter Raleigh, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, and Lord Chancellor Christopher Hatton rank as her most noteworthy would-be loves.

11. She was the only English queen who never married.

Despite the many men who vied for her hand, Elizabeth never took a husband. She is the only English queen to bear this distinction, although eight kings before her also remained lifelong bachelors (Æthelstan, Eadred, Edward the Martyr, Harthacnut, Edgar the Ætheling, William II, Edward V, and Elizabeth’s brother Edward VI).

12. She can claim many “lasts.”

In addition to being the last monarch to reign unmarried, she was also the last to rule over England before its union with Scotland. Elizabeth died in 1603, the same year that the Treaty of Union (or the Union of England and Scotland Act) would take effect, under the watch of her successor, James I. Finally, Elizabeth was the final of five kings and queens to rule under the Tudor dynasty.

13. She held one impressive record.

Aged 69 at the time of her death, Elizabeth I was, at the time, the oldest monarch in English history (breaking the nearly 300-year record set by 68-year-old Edward I). Elizabeth held this honor until 1754 (151 years), when King George II hit a ripe old 70 while still ruling over what had become Great Britain.

14. Her looks were quite deceiving.

Following a bout with smallpox in the early 1560s, Elizabeth I suffered facial scarring and hair loss… but nobody would have known it. She kept up appearances with an ample supply of gallant wigs and the application of white makeup over her face, which was in keeping with the style of the era.

15. She cursed like a sailor.

Elizabeth was infamous for her proclivity for colorful language, a characteristic she is said to have inherited from her father, King Henry VIII.

You may not be a king or queen, but any time you need GEICO's customer service, they'll give you the royal treatment.

Why Does Santa Claus Give Coal to Bad Kids?

iStock/bonchan
iStock/bonchan

The tradition of giving misbehaving children lumps of fossil fuel predates the Santa we know, and is also associated with St. Nicholas, Sinterklaas, and Italy’s La Befana. Though there doesn't seem to be one specific legend or history about any of these figures that gives a concrete reason for doling out coal specifically, the common thread between all of them seems to be convenience.

Santa and La Befana both get into people’s homes via the fireplace chimney and leave gifts in stockings hung from the mantel. Sinterklaas’s controversial assistant, Black Pete, also comes down the chimney and places gifts in shoes left out near the fireplace. St. Nick used to come in the window, and then switched to the chimney when they became common in Europe. Like Sinterklaas, his presents are traditionally slipped into shoes sitting by the fire.

So, let’s step into the speculation zone: All of these characters are tied to the fireplace. When filling the stockings or the shoes, the holiday gift givers sometimes run into a kid who doesn’t deserve a present. So to send a message and encourage better behavior next year, they leave something less desirable than the usual toys, money, or candy—and the fireplace would seem to make an easy and obvious source of non-presents. All the individual would need to do is reach down into the fireplace and grab a lump of coal. (While many people think of fireplaces burning wood logs, coal-fired ones were very common during the 19th and early 20th centuries, which is when the American Santa mythos was being established.)

That said, with the exception of Santa, none of these characters limits himself to coal when it comes to bad kids. They’ve also been said to leave bundles of twigs, bags of salt, garlic, and onions, which suggests that they’re less reluctant than Santa to haul their bad kid gifts around all night in addition to the good presents.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

12 Thought-Provoking Gifts for History Buffs

The Unemployed Philosophers Guild / LEGO / Amazon
The Unemployed Philosophers Guild / LEGO / Amazon

If you're looking for a gift for the person who can't get enough history in their life, we think you'll find something on this list. From an atlas of the United States's National Parks to a book that will allow one to record their own family genealogy, these presents will both enlighten and entertain even the history buffs who already own every Theodore Roosevelt biography and Titanic exposé.

1. Atlas of the National Parks; $59

National Parks atlas
National Geographic / Amazon

This stunning atlas from National Geographic invites armchair explorers into all 61 national parks, from Gates of the Arctic to Dry Tortugas, American Samoa to Acadia. Each entry features a brand-new map and information about the park’s character, covering archaeology, geology, human history, wildlife, and more. All of which are illustrated with amazing photographs. You can order it now, and according to Amazon, the book will be in stock December 24.

Buy It: Amazon

2. Homesick Library Candle; $30

Library candle
UncommonGoods

Remind your favorite history buff of that book project they've been working on for many years with a library scent that doesn’t evoke mildewed paper and anxiety. Homesick’s hand-poured soy wax candle features spicy notes of orange, nutmeg, sandalwood, and amber.

Buy It: UncommonGoods

3. Spectacular Women Ornaments; $22 Each

Spectacular women ornaments
UncommonGoods

Your giftee will need to make some space on the Christmas tree for these ornaments depicting amazing women in history. Artist Gulnara Kydyrmyshova and her team of textile artisans in Kyrgyzstan make each ornament by hand from local wool. You can choose Florence Nightingale, Jane Austen, Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony, or all four.

Buy It: UncommonGoods

4. Homemade Gin Kit; $50

Gin making kit
UncommonGoods

Just in time for holiday parties, this DIY gin-making kit includes two elegant bottles, stoppers, a selection of dried herbs and spices, and mixing tools. The giftee supplies the vodka, which acts like a blank slate, to be flavored with juniper berries, coriander seeds, rosemary, rose hips, and more.

Buy It: UncommonGoods

5. Genealogy Organizer Book; $9

Genealogy organizer book
Amazon

Here’s a genealogy gift for the holidays that doesn’t require handing over genetic data to private corporations! This handy book includes organizational charts for tracing one’s family tree back five generations. Plus, there are fill-in family group pages and sheets to record personal memories.

Buy It: Amazon

6. Great Lakes 3D Wood Nautical Chart; $178

Great Lakes 3D nautical chart
Amazon

Up to eight layers of wood are used to demonstrate the depths of each of the five Great Lakes in this unusual topographical map, which also depicts the major rivers and towns of the region. If these lakes don’t float your boat, 3D maps of Cape Cod, the Hawaiian Islands, Puget Sound, the Chesapeake Bay, and other waterways are available.

Buy It: Amazon

7. Black Lives 1900: W.E.B. Du Bois at the Paris Exposition; $35

W.E.B. Du Bois art book
Amazon

With colorful, hand-drawn infographics, civil rights leader W.E.B. Du Bois illustrated the progress and challenges of African Americans in the South at the beginning of the 20th century. This beautiful volume pairs his maps and charts, which were displayed at the 1900 Paris Exposition, with contemporary photographs of black people and communities.

Buy It: Amazon

8. Three Mini Notebooks; $15

Three map notebooks
Amazon

An explorer should always have a pen and paper at the ready. Make your giftee’s travels memorable with this set of three pocket-sized notebooks, each bound with a vintage map design on the cover and blank, lined, or graph pages.

Buy It: Amazon

9. Penny-Farthing Watch; $40

Penny-farthing watch
Amazon

It’s been said that bicycles kickstarted the women’s equality movement by giving ladies the means to explore their world. Celebrate that history by giving your fave cycling enthusiast this cute watch, which depicts a penny-farthing, the Victorian precursor to modern bikes. The leather band and analog face complete the watch’s old-timey look.

Buy It: Amazon

10. Shakespearean Insults Mug; $14

Shakespearean insults mug
New York Public Library Shop

This 14-ounce ceramic mug includes 30 Elizabethan insults that you can feel free to use any morning pre-coffee—but you may need to reassure you gift recipient that you’re not actually calling them a “canker-blossom” or a “lump of foul deformity” when they open the box.

Buy It: New York Public Library Shop

11. LEGO White House; $222

LEGO White House
LEGO / Amazon

This LEGO set is based on the White House design by James Hoban, which was selected by George Washington back on July 16, 1792. And now, with over 500 pieces, you can recreate your own version of this iconic building. And when you're done, the set also includes a booklet highlighting interesting facts about the White House.

Buy It: Amazon

12. A History of New York in 27 Buildings; $20

NYC buildings book
Amazon

Stories behind such famous NYC icons as the Flatiron Building or the Empire State Building are well known. Those skyline staples appear in this book, but author Sam Roberts also dives deeper into other notable buildings that changed the course of the city’s history—like the Tweed Courthouse, the Marble Palace, and the Coney Island Boardwalk. (For a similar approach to urban history, see the new book The Seine: The River That Made Paris).

Buy It: Amazon

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