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The Influence of Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I reigned for 45 years, from 1558 to 1603. Shakespeare, born in 1564, spent the majority of his life under her rule. The influence of the Queen, and the way in which she portrayed herself, was pervasive, and can be seen in many of Shakespeare’s plays, including The Merry Wives of Windsor. In this play, reference is made to the Queen of the Fairies, an allusion to Elizabeth.

Portrait of Elizabeth I

Contemporary portrait of Elizabeth I ©

Some critics have suggested that The Merry Wives of Windsor was originally written for entertainment around the ceremony in Windsor in 1597 at which the Lord Chamberlain, Lord Hunsdon, the patron of Shakespeare’s company, was elected to the Order of the Garter. Based in Windsor, this is the oldest order of English knighthood. Elizabeth placed particular emphasis on the Order in the 1590s, and her revival of the Order’s chivalric rites was a boost to her cult of monarchy.

The importance of the Order of the Garter to Elizabeth can be seen in this contemporary portrait in which she holds up her Lesser George badge, which denotes her membership of the Order, and her commitment to it.