| British MP and former actress Glenda Jackson (left) with actress Miriam Cooper dressed as Elizabeth, at the exhibition in London on Monday. (AFP)
London, April 28 (Reuters): A major exhibition on the life of Elizabeth I, the maker of modern England and once the world’s most powerful woman, opens in London this week just a stone’s throw from her place of birth.
The exhibition, at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich on the south bank of the Thames, has been hailed as the finest and rarest collection of Elizabethan artifacts ever assembled.
“Many of the 350 or so objects have not been seen in public before and many have been rarely seen,” the museum’s exhibition manager Sian Flynn said in a statement to mark the collection’s media launch today.
“The exhibition is about Elizabeth rather than Elizabethan England. The objects chosen reflect this personal narrative and many have a personal connection with Elizabeth.”
Chief among the exhibits is a locket ring, made for the queen in 1575 from diamonds, rubies and mother of pearl. Hinged, it opens to reveal two intricate portraits — neither bigger than a shirt button — of Elizabeth and her ill-fated mother Anne Boleyn.
Also on show is a manuscript of the young Elizabeth’s first speech following her accession to the throne in 1558.
Acutely aware of the religious power struggles threatening to rip England apart, she uses her maiden address to dismiss several of her councillors, seen as being too loyal to her predecessor and Roman Catholic half-sister Mary I. “A multitude doth make rather disorder and confusion than good council,” she says as she trims her inner circle of advisors to eight loyal Protestants.
As the exhibition graphically illustrates, it was a miracle that Elizabeth ever made it to the throne. At the age of two her mother was executed and she was declared illegitimate by the Roman Catholic Church. Her brutal father Henry VIII barred her from succeeding him as monarch.
Locked away from the public eye for years, the Protestant Elizabeth narrowly avoided being executed herself by Mary —dubbed Bloody Mary for her wholesale burning of Protestants. Elizabeth was restored to the succession in 1544 and when the childless Mary died in 1558, Elizabeth took the throne aged 25 amid perpetual plotting, pitting Catholic against Protestant and England against France and Spain. “Her life was often a matter of survival; literally life and death situations,” Flynn said.
Under Elizabeth, England spread its influence across the globe through the exploits of men such as Francis Drake, Walter Raleigh and Martin Frobisher. It began colonising north America — discovering tobacco and potatoes in the process — and dominated the seas.