From her struggle to unify a religiously divided country under the crown to the challenge to maintain a strong relationship with her subjects, the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England offers many leadership lessons.
Those lessons were the focus of a lecture Tuesday evening at Tusculum College by Dr. Kim Estep, provost and academic vice president at the college. The lecture was part of the Society of Cicero Lecture Series and Tusculum College Arts Outreach’s Acts, Arts, Academia 2007-08 performance and lecture series.
“Elizabeth I was a successful ruler in an age when there were no other women rulers of significance in Western Europe,” Dr. Estep said. “It is amazing to see what she accomplished.”
Dr. Estep explored six aspects of Queen Elizabeth’s leadership in her 45-year reign. The first was survival as a leader. Elizabeth was the daughter of King Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn, who was beheaded when the future queen was 3. Henry’s second marriage was the catalysis for England’s break with the Catholic Church, which wouldn’t grant Henry the divorce he wanted from his first wife who had not produced a male heir, and the subsequent creation of the Church of England.
Henry eventually had a son, Edward VI, who ascended to the throne while still a boy. However, Edward, who had been a sickly child, did not live long enough to produce a male heir. Elizabeth’s older sister Mary then became queen. Mary had remained a Catholic and faced the challenge of bringing the now Protestant England back into the Catholic fold. Mary faced rebellions to try to overthrow her rule, and as the Protestant heir to the throne, those rebellions were often done in Elizabeth’s name. Although she was not involved in Wyatt’s Rebellion, she was imprisoned for it in the Tower of London until she was able to personally meet with her sister, who freed her.
Upon Mary’s death, Elizabeth ascended to the throne, and at age 25 faced the challenge of being a Protestant leader of what had officially again become a Catholic nation. “She had to convince the House of Parliament, including the House of Lords whose members included the Catholic bishops, to accept her reign,” Dr. Estep said. Elizabeth succeeded in getting Parliament to pass the Act of Supremacy, which made her supreme governor over the Church of England, and the Act of Uniformity, which, in essence, made the Anglican Church the national church.
A second aspect of Elizabeth’s leadership was creation of personal relations, Dr. Estep noted. Elizabeth assembled around her a core of counselors whom she trusted and who, in turn, would do anything for her.
Creating appropriate boundaries for her leadership was a third aspect of Elizabeth’s reign. Elizabeth was a masterful manager of her image, Estep said. “She was the original ’spin’ expert. She knew how to manage her image. She saw herself as the monarch of the people, and she knew how to maintain that relationship with the people.”
In a society in which many could not read, Elizabeth’s portraits were filled with symbolism to visually convey the messages and public persona that Elizabeth desired, Dr. Estep said.
“Elizabeth worked hard during her reign to play up the image of the ‘Virgin Queen,’ sacrificing all for her country,” she said. With this image of purity, Elizabeth very carefully replaces the Virgin Mary in the affections of the people.
Although she was pressured to marry by Parliament and had a succession of suitors, Elizabeth never wed. Perhaps she was wary of marriage because of what happened to her mother and the unpopularity in England of her sister’s marriage to Spanish royalty, Dr. Estep said, and as her reign continues, Elizabeth becomes the romantic ideal of “the great unattainable one” in the minds of the populace.
A fourth aspect of Elizabeth’s leadership was the ability to balance long-term and short-term goals. Elizabeth realized the importance of timing, Dr. Estep said.
After dealing with the religion issue, Elizabeth was faced with the question of what to do with Mary Queen of Scots, her Catholic cousin. “Elizabeth had to maintain a delicate balance,” Dr. Estep said. “With Mary, there were allegations of involvement in plots on the queen’s life, and later, there was the question of what to with James (Mary’s son, who was a Protestant and ruler of Scotland). Parliament wanted her to name a successor, and she was unforthcoming about her successor.”
Elizabeth had great respect for royal blood, which was part of her reluctance to sign Mary’s execution order, but she also realized that Mary’s death would have serious ramifications for the country. “She knew that once Mary Queen of Scots died the cold war that England had with Spain would become a hot war,” Dr Estep said, and that is what happened. “She didn’t like wars - she said war is expensive and has an uncertain result.”
A fifth aspect of Elizabeth’s leadership was a renewal of that leadership. With her long reign, Elizabeth’s close counselors began dying and she had difficulty in selecting advisors from the younger generation, sometimes making good choices and sometimes not. As Elizabeth entered her last decade of rule, the world had changed dramatically from the time she first came to the throne. The age of exploration was beginning, and under the direction of Elizabeth, England gained a toehold in the new world.
However, the last decade of her reign was difficult, Estep noted. “The younger generation wanted more than she was willing to give. And there were the Puritans, who decided that Elizabeth was not Protestant enough.”
A sixth aspect of her leadership was the result of her reign, her legacy. Elizabeth’s reign was marked by religious stability while other countries engaged in religious wars as the Protestant Reformation spread and Catholics fought to maintain their rule, Dr. Estep noted.
In addition, Elizabeth’s reign saw England experience significant economic growth. When Elizabeth began ruling the country, she faced an issue that previous rulers had sidestepped. Impurities in English gold had resulted in inflation and loss of its value in foreign trade. Elizabeth ordered all gold to be returned for re-smelting. The impurities were removed and English gold regained its value, leading to economic expansion.
“It was the result of a hard decision Elizabeth made that none of her predecessors had wanted to make,” Estep said.
A third mark of her reign was trade and settlement. Under Elizabeth, English trade grew, laying a foundation for the country’s later world dominance, and the country made its first stake in the new world, she noted.
A fourth legacy of Elizabeth’s reign is literature. During Elizabeth’s reign, England had a fairly tolerant society and literature and other art forms flourished, Estep said. William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe are just two of the greats from this era.
The Acts, Arts, Academia series is presented by Tusculum College Arts Outreach and supported by Dr. Sam Miller in memory of Mary Agnes Ault Miller, Society of Cicero, Hearts for the Arts, the Tennessee Arts Commission, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Arts Outreach.