Mary Queen Of Scots Essay Questions

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How did Elizabeth's youth give shape to her reign?

Young Elizabeth's father, Henry VIII, beheaded her mother, Ann Boleyn, as well as his succeeding wives, the fifth of whom, Catherine Howard, Elizabeth had loved especially; these executions made Elizabeth cautious and wary about marriage. Periods of material deprivation (at least by a princesses' standards) developed her economic sense, and she later would be very frugal, even stingy. Overall, the dangers she faced as a young girl and in her teens made her prudent--though her reluctance to take decisive action caused problems at times.

What were Elizabeth's religious attitudes?

Although a religious Protestant, Elizabeth was no fanatic. Her primary concern was not to force adherence to a single religion, but simply to smooth over divisions in her realm; she considered the disputed issues between Catholics and Protestants to be "mere trifles" in the grand scheme of things. She knew that it was in her political interest to appeal to the Protestant majority, and acted accordingly; yet, nonetheless, her treatment of Catholics was relatively mild by the standards of the Reformation Era.

Why didn't Elizabeth ever marry?

Since her father, Henry VIII, had had several wives beheaded (including her own mother), Elizabeth had an understandable distaste for marriage. Furthermore, she loved getting presents, and getting married would have ended the constant stream of gifts she received from her suitors. However, most importantly, she liked to use her unmarried status as a negotiating tool: with everyone in Europe courting her and hoping to take England through marriage, they would be less likely to plan an invasion against the nation.

Why did some people think Mary Queen of Scots had a stronger claim to the throne of England than did Elizabeth?

Henry VIII had married Elizabeth's mother, Ann Boleyn, while still technically married to his first wife, the Catholic Catherine of Aragon, as the pope at the time delayed in performing the requested annulment. Moreover, Elizabeth had been conceived prior even to this unlawful marriage. Thus Catholics considered Elizabeth an illegitimate child of Henry. Yet despite this, the majority of English Catholics remained loyal to their queen.

Was the title "Virgin Queen" an accurate description of Elizabeth?

Probably not. Although she never married, she seems to have had several lovers. The most famous was Robert Dudley (named the Earl of Leicester in 1564). This passionate relationship created a huge international scandal, and when Dudley died in 1588, Elizabeth locked herself in her room for a lengthy period.

Discuss Elizabeth's advisors.

Elizabeth chose her advisors well; they were generally very able men. Her two most important advisors were William Cecil (Lord Burleigh) and Francis Walsingham. Burleigh was prudent, but always pushed Elizabeth towards taking decisive action. He also was very bothered by Elizabeth's refusal to marry. Walsingham, Burleigh's replacement as Secretary of State, was a fanatical Protestant who maintained a very effective spy network.

What was the typical structure of the Catholic plots against Elizabeth?

There were numerous Catholic plots against Elizabeth, including the Ridolfi Plot, the Duke de Guise Plot, and the Babington Plot. The basic plan usually involved killing Elizabeth, installing Mary Queen of Scots on the English throne, and then bringing Philip II's army (then in the Netherlands) over to England to maintain order while Mary consolidated power.

Why was Elizabeth upset about Mary Queen of Scots' execution?

Although Elizabeth had signed Mary's death warrant, her advisors rushed through the execution within a matter of days, carrying out the actual deed without Elizabeth's knowledge, while usually such an order would take months to take effect. Elizabeth was upset by her advisors' railroading tactics: she knew that men like Walsingham and Burleigh had taken this action because they didn't want to give the ever-compassionate Elizabeth time to change her mind.

Explain the reasons for the Spanish Armada's defeat in 1588.

The English navy proved superior and more seaworthy than the Spanish: Elizabeth had taken pains to build up her navy over the course of her reign, and now her efforts paid off. The English ships, though not really any smaller than the Spanish ships, were more maneuverable. Using the new technique of "broadsiding" (facing the enemy with the side of the ship rather than the front, thus increasing the number of guns that could be aimed and fired at any one time), the English severely hurt the Spanish fleet. Sir Francis Drake's attack at Cadiz on the not-yet-launched Armada also constituted a decisive blow. Although England was aided by fortuitous winds, the effect of the so-called "Protestant Wind" is generally exaggerated: England's navy had already won decisively. Of the 30,000 Spanish troops sent to England, only 10,000 ever made it home.

Describe the conflict over theater in Elizabethan London.

While commoners loved theater, the puritanical middle class considered theater ungodly, arguing that theater encouraged absenteeism from church, and that the violence and obscenity seen on the stage encouraged misbehavior among the population, leading to a general "loosening of the morals." Elizabeth (and most of the aristocracy) loved theater, however. Elizabeth often invited theater companies to perform in her palaces. Due to this, she wanted the stage companies to be in practice, and this required that the theaters stay open. Thus, Elizabeth's influence overturned the Mayor of London's desire to shut down the theaters. It was for these theaters, kept open by Elizabeth's intervention, that Marlowe and Shakespeare wrote their great plays.

So judging from some of the searches coming up on my stats page, and from personal experience, now is about the time that people begin to choose their dissertation questions, and some essay questions so I thought I’d put up a list of possibles here to help you guys out. I realise these are far from exhaustive, and some of the phrasing could do with improving, but they’re just examples.

Henry VII

  1. What steps did Henry VII take to consolidate his power after Bosworth?
  2. How did Henry VII manipulate Richard III’s image to suit his own purpose?
  3. How serious was the threat to Henry VII by pretenders?
  4. How far was Henry VII’s authority challenged by rebellions and conspiracies during his reign?
  5. How did Henry VII exert control ove his financial policies and why was this control so important?
  6. Henry VII negotiated marriages for his children before his death, but how successful were they politically?
  7. Compare the success of the pretenders Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck?
  8. To what extent did Henry VII contribute to the death of Prince Arthur?
  9. What did Henry VII do to try to win over the English people?
  10. How crucial were the roles of councillors in Henry VII’s reign?

Henry VIII

  1. What were the reasons behind the English Reformation?
  2. How far was Henry VIII justified in getting rid of 5 of his wives?
  3. To what extent was Lady Jane Rochford responsible for the deaths of Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard?
  4. How far do fictional works on the wives of Henry VIII have basis in fact?
  5. To what extent was Anne Boleyn’s rise to power the work of men?
  6. How far was Anne Boleyn’s fall from power a result of her own mistakes?
  7. How far did Henry VIII rely on his advisors like Wolsey and Cromwell, and how far was this reliance the reason for their downfalls?
  8. What was the link between the divorce and the English Reformation?
  9. What do the marriages of Henry VIII tell us about the importance of royal marriages in the sixteenth century?
  10. Does Henry VIII deserve his reputation as a tyrant and why?

Edward VI

  1. How far was Edward VI manipulated by the Protectors, Somerset and Northumberland?
  2. How far was Edward VI responsible for the disastrous nine-day reign and eventual execution of Lady Jane Grey?
  3. Edward VI is said to be a Protestant but what is the evidence for this?
  4. What was Edward’s relationship with his half-sisters like?
  5. How far do you think that Henry VIII’s protective upbringing of Edward contributed to his early death?
  6. To what extent was Edward VI influenced by his father?
  7. What was Edward VI’s role in the Protector crisis of 1549?
  8. How did the England of Edward VI under the Duke of Somerset compare to that under the Duke of Northumberland?
  9. Was Edward VI really a weak and sickly king, or did he wield substantial power?
  10. How important was the attempt to marry Edward VI to Mary Queen of Scots in the international diplomatic arena?

Mary I

  1. How far were Mary’s fears about her sister Elizabeth legitimate in your opinion?
  2. To what extent did Mary’s childhood impact how she approached queenship?
  3. What do you think Mary learnt from each of her stepmothers?
  4. How far do you think that Mary’s marriage to Philip II of Spain tainted future English relations with Spain and the Empire?
  5. What were Mary’s motivations behind the execution of Lady Jane Grey?
  6. How far do you think Mary I deserved the nickname ‘Bloody Mary’?
  7. What drove Mary’s fervent Catholicism?
  8. To what extent were Mary I’s actions driven by her desire to have a child?
  9. How far was Mary I influenced by her mother Katherine of Aragon?
  10. Was Mary I really as ruthless as she is often portrayed?

Elizabeth I

  1. What religious difficulties did Elizabeth I face on her accession and how did she deal with them?
  2. How far did Elizabeth I purposefully cultivate a manly image?
  3. Using the films Elizabeth and Elizabeth: the Golden Age how true to the historical record are fictional portrayals of Elizabeth I?
  4. How far was Elizabeth responsible for the rise in English naval power?
  5. To what extent was Elizabeth’s image of the Virgin Queen and Gloriana a calculated propaganda campaign?
  6. How important was the succession in Elizabethan England?
  7. How far do you think Elizabeth’s decision not to marry was driven by the fate of her mother and stepmothers?
  8. How far do you think Elizabeth was influenced by Katherine Parr?
  9. How influential was Elizabeth’s governess, Kat Ashley, on her education and beliefs?
  10. How important was the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 in cementing Elizabeth’s positive image?


  1. How important were foreign alliances in promoting support of the Tudor dynasty?
  2. How far was religious controversy responsible for the many rebellions under Tudor monarchs 1485-1603?
  3. How important was England in international affairs during the sixteenth century?
  4. Religion tended to stem from the monarch, but how far were the people responsible for their religion in the sixteenth century?
  5. The nobility played a large role in the English court, but why were so many of them indicted on counts of treason 1485-1603?
  6. How did women’s fashions develop throughout the sixteenth century?
  7. How did everyday life of the poor in sixteenth century England compare to that of the middle classes and of the rich?
  8. What did Henry VIII’s children learn from him and apply in their own reigns?
  9. How have the Tudors been shown in literature and imagery from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries?
  10. How have modern media representations of the Tudors as a dynasty changed the general perception of them?

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