Elizabeth I: Then and Now children's exhibition

This article collects the children's exhibition material featured in the Elizabeth I: Then and Now, one of the Exhibitions at the Folger.

Fun Facts

Detail of Elizabeth's signature in a 1590 letter to Henri IV, king of France. Folger Digital Image 1049.

Elizabeth the Queen

  • Queen Elizabeth I was born September 7, 1533 in Greenwich. She died March 24, 1603 in Richmond, Surrey.
  • Elizabeth was the daughter of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Henry had Anne beheaded in 1536. One of the reasons why he had her killed was because she did not give birth to a son. Henry wanted a son to replace him as king after his death.
  • Elizabeth became Queen on November 17, 1558, the day Queen Mary died. She was crowned two months later on January 15, 1559, in a coronation ceremony.
  • The Queen spoke Greek, French, Italian, Latin, and, of course, English.
  • During her reign, England defeated the Spanish Armada. Because the Spanish navy was thought to be better than the British navy, this victory raised the status of England in Europe.
  • Queen Elizabeth never married. She is sometimes called "The Virgin Queen."

Princess Elizabeth

  • Elizabeth received a formal education. This was very unusual for her time; girls often did not go to school. Elizabeth studied such subjects as mathematics, history, geography, and astronomy.
  • As a princess, Elizabeth gave her family gifts of prayers and poems she had translated herself, written out in her own hand, and decorated with embroidered covers. She was only eleven years old when she translated a poem from French into English.
  • In 1554, when her sister Mary was Queen, Elizabeth was sent to the Tower of London as a prisoner. Mary believed that Elizabeth supported plots to remove her from power.
  • Elizabeth learned to play several musical instruments. She also loved to dance, ride horses, and hunt.

In the Queen's Words

Read a few lines below from the Queen's speeches.

From her speech to her last parliament

"I do not so much rejoice that God hath made Me to be a Queen, as to be a Queen over so thankful a People."
"My heart was never set upon any worldly goods, but only for my Subjects' good."
"What dangers, what practices, and what perils I have passed, some, if not all of you know: but none of these things do move me, or ever made me fear, but it is God that hath delivered me."

From her speech to the troops at Tilbury

"I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too."

Elizabeth's Poetry

Written in her French Psalter

No crooked leg, no bleared eye,
No part deformed out of kind,
Nor yet so ugly half can be
As is the inward suspicious mind.

On Fortune

Never think you fortune can bear the sway
Where virtue's force can cause her to obey.
  • What do you think Elizabeth is saying to her reader in these poems?
  • Try writing a brief poem or two modeled after Elizabeth's verse.
  • Look at the second poem, "On Fortune," and note that there are ten syllables in each line and that the last words of each line, "sway" and "obey," rhyme.
  • Elizabeth wrote on Fortune—what could you write about?

Books & Learning

"I suppose few that be no professors have read more."

Elizabeth had an excellent education. She read many different types of books in English and other languages.

Elizabeth often received gifts of books from her subjects. The citizens of London gave her a Bible on the day before her coronation in January 1559. The Bible is known as the Bishops' Bible. It was printed in England and dedicated to Elizabeth. Her engraved portrait is on its title page. Nearly 200 printed books were dedicated to Elizabeth during her lifetime.

The Elizabethan period is known for its wonderful art and literature. Queen Elizabeth's peaceful reign made it possible for artists to focus on their work.

Elizabeth was known for having beautiful handwriting. Look at her signature. The "R" after "Elizabeth" stands for Regina, the Latin word for queen.

  • Can you create a fanciful signature for yourself?

Exploration & Progress

In this image, Queen Elizabeth is shown with the figure of Geography at her right and with a mapmaker at the bottom left. Elizabeth supported the creation of a book of maps of England. She also knighted Sir Francis Drake for circumnavigating (or sailing around) the globe.

  • Who is the figure to Elizabeth's left? This figure is Astronomy. Elizabeth also supported the study of stars during her reign.

Coronation in London

On January 14, 1559, the day before her coronation, Queen Elizabeth rode through the streets of London to greet her people. The Queen traveled from the Tower of London to Westminster. The route she took was almost 4 miles long. Along the way, she saw many pageants. These pageants were performed for the Queen by children. Explore this map to see where her procession started and ended.

Into the Country

Queen Elizabeth took many trips into the English countryside to see her subjects. Her courtiers and servants traveled with her, and they took 400 to 600 carts. Cities would spend many days preparing for a vist by the queen. People would clean their homes, gather flowers, and prepare elaborate meals.

  • Do you see the queen in her carriage in this image?

Portraits & Dress

The engraved portrait of the queen on the title page of the 1559 Bishops' Bible. Folger Digital Image 4549.

George Gower's The Plimpton "Sieve" portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, 1579 is one of the Folger Shakespeare Library's most treasured works of art. The painting shows us what the queen may have looked like. You can view this portrait online in our LUNA Digital Image collection.

  • But did you know that it also tells us about her role as the ruler of England?

Elizabeth dressed to be seen; her rich clothes and jewels made a statement about her power as a female ruler and about the strength of her nation. They were noticed especially by foreign visitors to court. From Germans we hear of her "red robe interwoven with gold thread," and her "pure white satin, gold-embroidered" gown. From a Frenchman, report of "a chain of rubies and pearls about her neck," and pearl bracelets, "six or seven rows of them."


The globe here symbolizes England's desire to build an empire. During Elizabeth's reign, explorers were sailing to new land. The country was also hoping to control some of these new places. This globe in Gower's portrait displays Africa and South America.

  • The inscription over the globe reads "I see everything and much is lacking." What do you think that could mean?

Coat of Arms

Elizabeth I's coat of arms is shown in the upper right corner of Gower's painting. It tells the viewer that this is a portrait of Elizabeth.

  • Do you see the English Royal Lion and the Welsh Dragon? These symbols are in the coat of arms because Elizabeth was the queen of England and Wales.
  • What creature represents the United States?


Queen Elizabeth wore many jewels on her clothing and in her hair. The richness of her dress shows the wealth of the country she leads.

Elizabeth received many jewels as gifts. One of her suitors, the duc d'Alencon, gave her a little gold flower with a frog on it. She called him her "frog," because she thought he looked a little bit like a frog.

  • Do you have cute nicknames for your friends or siblings?


Queen Elizabeth owned many costumes. Items of clothing were common gifts to the queen, and she owned over 1,900 pieces. The queen is always painted wearing elaborate gowns. Her beautiful dress is a statement of her power as queen. Some of Elizabeth's dresses were embroidered with such images as roses, suns, rainbows, and, even, ears and eyes.

  • Why do you think the queen had ears and eyes embroidered on her dresses?
  • If you were a king or queen, what would you have embroidered on your clothes?


In a classic story, a woman named Tuccia proved her chastity by carrying water in a sieve. The sieve became one of Elizabeth's favorite symbols, and she is often painted holding a sieve.

  • Do you see the sieve in Elizabeth's left hand? Elizabeth became known as the Virgin Queen because she never married.
  • Why would Elizabeth, as the Queen of England, not want to marry?


Queen Elizabeth is always shown wearing a ruff around her neck. The ruff was fashionable in Elizabeth's day, but the queen proclaimed that the people of England should not wear large ruffs.

  • Would you want to wear a ruff?
  • Do you think it would be comfortable?

Make your own ruff

What you'll need

  • A yard of 2-inch white adding machine tape
  • Thin ribbon
  • A hole punch

What to do

Fold the paper accordian style at a width of approximately 2 inches. With the paper folded, punch a hole in the middle of the paper. Thread ribbon through the hole. Then, wrap ruff around your neck and tie ribbon at the back.

To make a fancier ruff

Cut the lace edges off of rectangular doilies and glue the lace down the length of the tape. Make sure glue is completely dry before folding and punching.

Courtship & Love

Elizabeth's Suitors

Elizabeth had many suitors. Most were foreign royalty. They included Francis duc d'Alencon from France, Philip of Spain, and Eric of Sweden. Elizabeth was linked with two Englishmen.

The first was Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester. This portrait, is from the Bishop's Bible. Although they were close friends, Elizabeth would not marry him. When he died, Elizabeth mourned in privacy for many days.

The second was Leicester's stepson, Robert Devereux, earl of Essex. Elizabeth and Essex spent a lot of time together at court, but when he led a plot against the throne, she ordered him to be beheaded.

How to be a Good Courtier

In 1528, an Italian named Baldesar Castiglione wrote a guide to courtly life called The Book of the Courtier.

  • Would you be a good courtier? See if you have any of the qualities listed below:
    • "to have also... a certain grace... that shall make him at the first sight acceptable and loving unto who so beholdeth him"
    • "to be known among others... for his fidelity toward him whom he serveth"
    • "to show strength, lightness, and quickness"
    • to be "a perfecte horseman for every saddle"
    • "to speak and write well"
    • "and beside his understanding... upon the book, [to] have skill in like manner on sundry instruments"

Married to England

Elizabeth was a smart leader. As a woman, she knew that if she were to marry, she would lose some of the power she enjoyed as queen.

Elizabeth was also aware of her responsibility to England. She knew that marrying the prince of another country could weaken her own nation or cause conflict with other countries.

Elizabeth I & Shakespeare

Elizabeth and the Plays

Elizabeth only saw a few of Shakespeare's plays performed. Shakespeare was born five years after Elizabeth became queen, and many of his plays were not written until after her death.

One Shakespeare play Elizabeth did see performed was The Merry Wives of Windsor.

  • Look at the title page to this copy of the play printed in 1602.
  • Can you read what it says under William Shakespeare's name?
"As it hath been divers times Acted by the right Honorable my Lord Chamberlaines servants. Both before her Majestie, and else-where."

The Lord Chamberlain's servants was Shakespeare's acting troupe. We know from the phrase on the title page that Shakespeare's play was acted by the troupe before the queen, her "Majestie."

Love's Labor's Lost

Another Shakespeare play that the queen saw performed was Love's Labor's Lost.

It's your turn to be one of Shakespeare's actors and act out a poem - Winter's Song - from Love's Labor's Lost. Follow this link for an additional activity.