Elizabethan Era
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When Britain really rul'd the waves -
(In good Queen Bess's time)
The House of Peers made no pretence,
To intellectual eminence,
Or scholarship sublime;
Yet Britain won her proudest bays
In good Queen Bess's glorious days!
Yet Britain won her proudest bays
In good Queen Bess's glorious days!

(from) When Britain Really Ruled the Waves:Iolanthe. Gilbert & Sullivan

Basic Information

The Elizabethan era was the epoch in English history of Queen Elizabeth I's reign (15581603).

This "golden age" represented the apogee of the English Renaissance and saw the flowering of poetry, music and literature. The era is most famous for theatre, as William Shakespeare and many others composed plays that broke free of England's past style of theatre. It was an age of exploration and expansion abroad, while back at home, the Protestant Reformation became more acceptable to the people, most certainly after the Spanish Armada was repulsed. It was also the end of the period when England was a separate realm before its royal union with Scotland. Freedom from the intrusive scrutiny from the Church of Rome and its inquisitors, govenrment restraints on the more extreme Protestant factions and a … relatively … relaxed attitude towards innovative thought and speech meant that a variety of intellectuals and other writers found refuge in England. Reputedly the Queen herself, although of fairly conservative tastes and conventional morality, had a strong interest in science, philosophy and new ideas in general and, often covertly, sponsored or otherwise encouraged these exiles.

Whilst England remained something of a minnow by land, her power by sea began to grow. Although much of the work was done by privateers, preying on the rich Spanish trade from the New World, improvements in doctrine, tactics and ship design started a rise towards the status of a major naval power.

It was also an era in which were continued the Tudor trends of professionalising the machinery of government and breaking down the old institutions of feudalism - much of the work had already been done by her grandfather, father and her preceeding siblings, but the work continued under Elizabeth.

For those of a more esoteric persuasion, this was the era in which John Dee came to prominence, serving the crown as astrologer, augur, cryptographer, spymaster and pet alchemist … amongst other things. Other would-be occultists were not so lucky, and this was an era in which witchcraft panics would start to become a serious problem.

See Also:


Game and Story Use

  • This era incorporates a good chunk of the golden age of piracy.
  • Most of the world is still unexplored and open to discovery by small crews of daring men.
    • And possibly women as well, given that we now have our first popular queen for ages.
      • This may have some relation to the number of cross-dressing plots in Shakespeare (leaving aside the cross-dressing inherent in all male theatre companies) - there was potential for women to acheive things in the public arena, but even with a woman in the big chair, most of the time they would need to pass as men (or boys) to do so.
  • Increased social mobility allows a wider range of backgrounds for characters at high levels.
  • Working for John Dee could lead to pretty much anything.
  • A spy campaign is also a real possibility - and several of the major playwrights of the era are known or suspected to have been spies.
  • The old RPG Maelstrom was specifically intended to be played in or around this era and is well worth a look if you can still find a copy.
  • There was a hopeful attempt to create a "new Elizabethan era" in the 1950s … it didn't take.
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