Elizabethan Unit study: Week One: A Renaissance Queen


This week I introduced them to the two main non fiction books we would be using over the next five weeks:

Ribbet collagebooks for elizabethan study

The children read the whole of Good Queen Bess on Monday, independently, whilst I began reading Elizabeth I: The People’s Queen.  I am attempting two chapters each week to ensure we’ll be finished at the end of the five weeks.

We also perused this website which had a short biography of Elizabeth I.  And just for fun we watched the incredibly good film Elizabeth the Golden Age:


This week we covered Elizabeth’s life as a princess, ending with her father King Henry VIII dying and the crown being passed on to her younger brother, Edward, who becomes King Edward VI.  At 9 he is too young to rule the country.  Instead the Lord Protector becomes a temporary Head of State.

The Tudor Family Tree

Again, over the last five week term the children had been reading through the My Story set of Tudor books and were therefore, without any effort from me, fairly well versed to the whole Tudor Family tree.  I shall be sharing a couple of books each week.  This weeks books focus on Prince Arthur and King Henry:

elizabethan novels henry VIII

Elizabeth’s rise to queen was complicated by the fact she was a woman and her father (Henry VIII) was so whimsical and therefore prone to changing his mind regarding who should inherit his throne.  I thought if the children made a family tree showing all the Tudor rulers it would make it a little clearer.  T13 photocopied a picture of each ruling Tudor monarch (of which there were six), each child chose two monarchs each and spent half an hour researching facts about their lives.  They presented this information to each other before filling in the family tree, as shown below:


Perfecting a Regal Signature

Both Henry VIII and Elizabeth I had fairly elaborate signatures:

elizabethan henry8signature    Elizabethanelizabeth!signature


 As regal monarchs their signatures needed to reflect their importance.  The elaborate loops, swirls and sheer size (especially of Elizabeth I) achieved this very effectively.

I thought it might be fun for the girls to first study Elizabeth’s signature and then pretend they were the next monarch and practice how they would like their signature to look.  They were particularly enthusiastic about this activity because the very newest princess of England shares both of their names!  Here are the resulting, very regal, signatures:





And their chosen signatures?


So we are all set should a prince ask for either of their hands in marriage!

Elizabethan Food: Marzipan Fruits

elizabethan marzipan fruits

I remember making these when I was in primary school.  They may taste revolting but I had so much fun molding them into fruits, I just knew my guys would enjoy it too.  I made up some small batches of different coloured marzipan, along with some cloves to use as stalks, and left the children to create the fruit of their choosing:



Of course the little ones asked to have a go too.  I thought they did a great job:


Lots of fun was had…..


And here is the final bowl full of Elizabethan marzipan fruit, which they got to nibble at during the Elizabeth I video mentioned above:


Elizabethan Madrigal

A madrigal was the name of the music popular in Elizabethan times.  Usually sung a cappella, the lyrics came most often from well known poets of the time.  We spent some time on this website exploring madrigals.

I have included a YouTube sample.  It is my goal to become familiar with a new one each week.

I found this simple dance workshop on youtube which we will seek to replicate during the next five weeks:

Elizabethan Dress Up 

We don’t really have enough time to create a whole dress up set for each child but I thought we could attempt some alterations to our medieval dress up which would make it look more Elizabethan.  The first thing we did was to make a cloak out of a pair of curtains.  It was very simple, requiring the sewing on of some neck ties and finishing with a violet feather brooch:


Here is L dressed up with the cloak on:


Primary Evidence: Translating Elizabethan English

Each week I want the children to be exposed to some primary evidence.  This week they studied a letter written to the lord protector by princess Elizabeth herself, proclaiming her innocence of the treason against her brother which she was being accused of.  The letter can be found in its entirety here:

Elizabethan Letter-from-Princess-Elizabeth

I photocopied the letter three times and highlighted three fairly even fragments of it, one for each child:


Any words the children were unsure of they looked up in the Elizabethan dictionary.  Here are their translations:



It was such an interesting activity.  I had asked them to read each sentence, translate each word and then put it into a sentence which reflected the way we spoke and wrote in the 20th century.  They were able to translate each word literally but really struggled to then put it into our every day language.  Their final piece of work reflected this in that it did not read fluently.  This was an activity translating old English to present day English.  We reflected over just how hard it would be to translate, say, old Greek to modern English.

This was a great start to our Elizabethan studies.  Queen Elizabeth seems to have grabbed their attention from the very start, which of course makes learning about her and her times that much more pleasant.  I think we might have another great term ahead of us!


  1. I have struggled in the past with how to make Renaissance history hands-on but it seems that you have accomplished this effortlessly!

    1. I found the explorer age really hard to come up with activities but this term has definitely been easier. I’m looking forward to Shakespeare….

  2. Lovely work! We just finished a unit study of the American Revolution, and one of the exercises that I actually skipped over (because I decided that mine weren’t quite old enough) but loved the idea of was putting the Declaration of Independence into modern language.

    1. Finding different writing activities for older children is challenging, but this was definitely a fun activity. All three of them enjoyed it, so I was very happy!

    1. Elizabeth I has, for some reason or another, really captured the children’s interest. I know this term is going to be great, just based on that!

  3. Hi, Claire! I love this. Sadly, my knowledge of English history is sorely lacking, so I hope to learn a lot myself before we get to this stage in our history studies. I have read your past posts, but haven’t had a chance to comment. I am glad you had a wonderful break that included doing a little singing. I get the same response over here.:/ I hope all is well. We are surrounded by rain and more rain that has ended our drought. You know that pond I wish we had to visit here? Well, we just about have one in our backyard. Now, if I could just get some ducks to visit.:) Have a lovely day.

    1. Hi Donna!! I’ve missed you 🙂 How was your holiday? I hope you had a really lovely time.
      Laughing re pond – I shall pray for ducks for you! Although you may regret them, they make a lot of noise when they are in flight (our home is under the flight path the ducks use to go to where ever they roost)

      1. We had a wonderful vacation. At home, we had a grand total of 16” of rain during the month of May – the wettest May on record. They say Texas had enough rain to cover the entire state with 8″ of rain. Wow! Looks like a dry week ahead. I don’t know if the ducks would bother me. We live under the flight path of a naval air station!

  4. I poured over this with my history loving daughter. I strongly suspect that we will use some of these activities when we reach the Tudors or she may not be able to resist trying a regal signature before then.

  5. I love that movie, Elizabeth the Golden Age. Weve got it here at home, but I’ve been waffling if I want to show it to Amber. I really wanted to show her the first movie too, but it’s not rated for her age. All the activities look like fun!

    1. Thanks Christy! Yes, we had the children close their eyes for one or two of the scenes but it was way too good to miss altogether.

  6. We are enjoying a new bbc documentary about Queen Elizabeth and the Spanish Armada, have you seen it? It is using new evidence found, very interesting.

  7. I love this Claire! The pretend signatures are a great idea….I hope a prince asks for their hand one day!

    1. Trying to get my son to join in with the dancing has been a huge amount of fun (for me, anyway. I’m not sure he found it fun at all!). He is a very reluctant dancer and I’m thinking I’ll be lucky if he lets me take any photos of him!

  8. This was really interesting, Claire! We have just got up to Henry VIII and Mary I in ‘Our Island Story’, so I think we will borrow some of your ideas when we get to Elizabeth. I really like your idea about using primary sources, and it is something that I think my son in particular needs to learn more of. Oh, and by the way, your lovely daughters are very like you 🙂

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