Queen Elizabeth I
Queen Elizabeth I
by Unknown English artist
oil on panel, circa 1588
38 1/2 in. x 28 1/2 in. (978 mm x 724 mm)
Transferred from British Museum, 1879
Sitterback to top
- Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603), Reigned 1558-1603. Sitter associated with 135 portraits.
This portraitback to top
This portrait was painted to commemorate the most famous conflict of Elizabeth's reign, the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. It was originally of the same horizontal format as two other known versions of this painting. Here we can see the scenes behind the Queen showing, on the left, the English fire ships setting out in clear, calm weather and on the right the Spanish fleet being wrecked off the dark, rocky coast of Scotland or Ireland. Elizabeth's hand rests on a globe, her fingers over the Americas, indicating England's dominion of the seas and expansion into the New World.
Linked publicationsback to top
- 100 Pioneering Women, p. 22 Read entry
Elizabeth I (1533-1603) was the only child of Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn. She spent a number of months in the Tower of London during the reign of her half-sister Mary I, on suspicion of having played a role in the Wyatt rebellion of 1554. She ascended to the throne on 17 November 1558 and her forty-four-year reign was characterised by relative peace and prosperity and the transformation of the English language through a thriving literary culture. She did not marry, although she had many suitors. When, in 1588, the Spanish Armada, a fleet of 130 vessels, threatened (unsuccessfully) to invade the southeast of England, Elizabeth I joined her troops at Tilbury and delivered her most famous speech: ‘I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too.’ This portrait was painted to commemorate that conflict.
- Bolland, Charlotte; Cooper, Tarnya, The Real Tudors: Kings and Queens Rediscovered, 2014 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 12th September 2014 to 1st March 2015), p. 154
- Clare Gittings, The National Portrait Gallery Book of Elizabeth I, 2006, p. 22
- Cooper, Tarnya; Fraser, Antonia (foreword), A Guide to Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 2012, p. 34
- Gittings, Clare, The National Portrait Gallery Book of The Tudors, 2006, p. 24
- MacLeod, Catherine, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery Collection at Montacute House, 1999, p. 14
- Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 200
- Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, p. 103
Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top
- The Real Tudors: Kings and Queens Rediscovered (12 September 2014 - 1 March 2015)
Subjects & Themesback to top
Events of 1588back to top
Current affairsThe Spanish Armada sets sail for England from Lisbon but after a running battle up the Channel is met by English fire ships off Calais and destroyed. The remainder of the fleet is forced to flee. A huge thanksgiving service is held at St Paul's Cathedral to celebrate the victory.
Death of Queen Elizabeth I's favourite Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester.
Art and scienceThe scientist and colonist Thomas Harriot publishes A Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia, in which he claims that tobacco has medicinal properties.
Publication of William Morgan's Welsh translation of the Bible.
The playwright Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy is performed for the first time.
InternationalHenry III of France flees Paris after the militant catholic Henry, Duke of Guise is welcomed into the city. The King is forced to decree an end to all toleration of the Huguenots (French Protestants) and to annul the Protestant Henry of Navarre's right to the throne. The Duke of Guise is later assassinated on the orders of the King.
Abbas I became Shah of Persia. He will rule the Persian Empire until his death in 1629.
Make a donation
Support our Make History appeal and help us transform the Gallery.
A unique range of books, accessories and gifts. Every purchase supports the Gallery’s work.
Bring a familiar face home
Refresh your home gallery with a huge selection of custom art prints .
- Searching for Shakespeare
- Making History: Printed Portraiture in Tudor and Stuart Britain
- NPG D48090 in 360°
- Tudor Miniatures
- My Favourite Portrait by Fiona Shaw
- My Favourite Portrait by P.D. James
- Concealed and Revealed: The Changing Faces of Elizabeth I
- Hidden: Unseen Paintings Beneath Tudor Portraits
- Kings and Queens: A Family tree
- Tudor pick up guides
- Who do you think you were?
- Tudor and Elizabethan matching pairs
- Queen Elizabeth I by Nicholas Hilliard
- On panel making and the post-1600 Holbein panels
- The Conservation of the portrait of John Donne
- Director's Trail by Nicholas Cullinan
- Recent acquisition: John Donne
Tell us more
Framed & unframed prints
Choose your favourite portrait from our Collection as a framed or unframed print for your home.