Elizabeth (film) - Historical Inaccuracies

Historical Inaccuracies

This section may contain original research.

The film takes many liberties with history. Among them:

  • In the film, Robert Dudley is Elizabeth's lover; however, though their relationship was romantic, it is not known certainly whether it was sexual.
  • In the film, Queen Mary dies at the end of a phantom pregnancy; in reality, Mary died three years after her phantom pregnancy of an unknown illness aggravated by influenza.
  • In the film, Philip II of Spain is portrayed as physically and emotionally distant from his wife; in reality, Philip and Mary had a very close relationship.
  • In the film, Kat Ashley is portrayed as Elizabeth's agemate; in reality, Ashley was 31 years older than Elizabeth.
  • In the film, a fictional courtship between Elizabeth and Henri, Duke of Anjou is depicted. In reality, the two never met and the Queen of England was actually courted nearly ten years later by his younger brother François, Duke of Anjou when she was 46. The film also depicts Henri as Elizabeth's agemate; in reality, Elizabeth was 18 years older than Henri.
  • In the film, Elizabeth rejects Henri's suit in part because he is a bisexual transvestite; in reality, Henri is not recorded to have been a transvestite and rumors of his bisexuality may have been a smear campaign.
  • In the film, Henri, Duke of Anjou is portrayed as Mary of Guise's nephew, spending time with her in Scotland after the rejection of his suit by Elizabeth and being present at her death; in reality, Henri never met Mary of Guise, and was in fact not related to her by blood. Henri's brother Francis was Mary of Guise's daughter Mary Stuart's first husband. Also, Mary of Guise belonged to the House of Guise, who were sworn rivals of the House of Valois, to which Henri belonged.
  • In the film, Mary of Guise is poisoned by Francis Walsingham after Elizabeth rejects Henri's suit; in reality, Mary died of edema in 1560, nine years before Henri's suit.
  • In the film, Dudley is portrayed as marrying his wife out of concern that Elizabeth would not marry him after her accession to the throne; in reality, Dudley married his wife out of love eight years before Elizabeth's accession.
  • In the film, Dudley's marriage is initially kept secret from Elizabeth, and his wife serves as one of Elizabeth's ladies-in-waiting; in reality, Dudley's marriage was public knowledge, and his wife was not a member of court.
  • In the film, Robert Dudley's wife is named Isabel Knollys; in reality, her name was Amy Robsart (later in life, his second wife was Lettice Knollys).
  • In the film, Robert Dudley converts to Catholicism; in reality, Dudley was a lifelong Protestant.
  • In the film, Dudley's wife dies when she wears one of Elizabeth's dresses poisoned by John Ballard in an assassination attempt on the queen; in reality, Dudley's wife broke her neck tripping down stairs. Few minutes later, Elizabeth found her dead.
  • In the film, the ambassador of Spain, Álvaro de la Quadra, is assassinated in retaliation to the Babington Plot; in reality, de la Quadra died in 1564, 22 years before the Babington Plot.
  • In the film, Norfolk is portrayed as the leader of the Catholic faction opposing Elizabeth's reign; in reality, though Norfolk belonged to the Catholic Howard family, he was brought up a Protestant and remained so his entire life. The film also makes no mention of the fact that Norfolk was Elizabeth's cousin through her maternal grandmother Lady Elizabeth Howard.
  • In the film, Norfolk's plot to marry Mary, Queen of Scots is portrayed as happening in tandem with the Babington Plot; in reality, Norfolk was imprisoned for his involvement in The Ridolfi plot in 1569 and executed in 1572, 14 years before the Babington Plot.
  • William Cecil was not even 40 years old when Elizabeth began her reign, contrary to his cinematic portrayal as elderly. He was not retired by the young queen, either. He remained one of her most trusted advisers until his death, shortly before hers. Similarly, Francis Walsingham was in his mid-twenties when Elizabeth was crowned, not a middle-aged man as he was portrayed by Geoffrey Rush.
  • The conspiracy of The Duke of Norfolk combines several events into one—in the film he is arrested and summarily executed for trying to supplant Elizabeth and marry Mary, Queen of Scots to cement his hold on the throne. In reality Norfolk was imprisoned in 1569 for trying to wed Mary, Queen of Scots without permission, but was eventually released. He was then implicated in a separate plot in 1572 (three years later) to put Mary, Queen of Scots on the throne, for which he was then tried and executed. Contrary to his portrayal in the film as ruthless and powerful, he was actually a weak man, easily led and used by others.
  • Bishop Stephen Gardiner (Terence Rigby) died before Elizabeth came to the throne, and had no part in the Ridolfi plot.
  • The Earl of Arundel was not executed as shown in the film, but was confined to the Tower of London and died as a prisoner.
  • The Earl of Sussex was a loyal servant of the Queen and was neither implicated in the plot nor executed.
  • When Elizabeth is being questioned by her accusers in the beginning of the film at the Tower of London, the bishop suggests that the debate between Catholicism and Protestantism is what killed her mother, Anne Boleyn. This is not at all the case, for it was the (probably false) accusations of witchcraft, incest, treason and fornication between Anne and other noblemen that sent her to her death.
  • At the end of the film, Elizabeth decides to shave her hair to look like a virgin. In reality, she never shaved or even cut her hair short. Later in her life, when someone entered her chambers not knowing she was still in bed, it was recorded that the queen's hair was "all about her ears". In the movie, she is shown wearing a wig in the end, and though the real Elizabeth did wear one later in life, it was worn to hide the thin, sparse hair that was the result of her bout with smallpox.
  • In order to guarantee passage of the Act of Uniformity, Walsingham locks up six bishops (including the dead Stephen Gardiner), securing the Queen's act, which won by five votes. No such incarceration took place. Also, bishops throughout the film are shown wearing black mitres, which is historically inaccurate.
  • In the epilogue it is stated that Sir Francis Walsingham served Elizabeth until the end of her reign. However, Walsingham died 13 years before Elizabeth did.
  • The film depicts John Ballard as a co-conspirator of Norfolk in a fictionalized version of the Ridolfi plot; in reality, Ballard was considered the initiator of the Babington plot and was executed for his involvement in the same.
  • The film depicts Sir Thomas Elyott being murdered by drowning by John Ballard, who reveals Elyott had been passing information on Howard's actions to Walsingham; in truth, Elyott died in 1546 at his estate in Cambridgeshire.

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