Elizabeth I and Europe
Students studying Elizabethan England for GCSE need to have a sense of European geography, both in terms of the physical whereabouts of countries and also their relative power and respective religions. Looking at a map in a book (e.g. in Andy Harmsworth’s Elizabethan England pp.112-113) or on the screen will help many students but even then it’s difficult to pick up the relative power of the countries.
An alternative is to create a physical map in the classroom, using students to represent countries and then to develop understanding of religions and relative power. For many students this is well worth the disruption of moving classroom furniture or finding a bigger room with an open space. It really does make a significant difference to understanding and can also be used with Y12 and 13 for the same reasons.
1. You need space sufficient to create a map of Europe and place your students in different countries. The first thing to do is to arrange your students geographically, allocating an individual per country. Start with England and Scotland and then build up the map across Europe with one student for each of France, Spain, the Holy Roman Empire, the Spanish Netherlands and the Papacy. Depending on the class you can decide whether to do this in a very directive way or to ask students where they think countries are in relation to each other.
It’s also helpful to have Ireland and the smaller German and Italian states – doing this with cuddly toys rather than students gets across the idea of relative power and allows you to use your spare students for the next stage.
2. Ask students if they think every country had the same amount of power in terms of military power and wealth. Now add in more students to get a sense of the relative strengths of countries. Start with one Scot and maybe three English – then ask how many should France have in comparison. Suggested weightings might be
France – 6
Spain – 7
Holy Roman Empire – 4
Spanish Netherlands – 1
Papacy – 1 (but clearly much more influential in other ways)
This use of over 20 students is why you need plenty of space. Having them kneeling or sitting down in their countries can help visibility – you can ask one country to stand so everyone cane see how many of them there are or ask them to assess their relative importance against others.
This stage therefore displays physically that England is both on the fringe of Europe and is a relatively low-level power. It also shows that Scotland was a separate country and the place of the Spanish Netherlands.
3. Now identify religions. For this the use of green and orange tabards is very helpful – one tabard per country. Start with the ruler of each country in a green tabard as Catholic states and ask which countries had become protestant by the end of Mary Tudor’s reign. Use orange tabards to identify some German states (cuddly toys) and the Netherlands but keep England Catholic.
Now get the class thinking about Elizabeth’s choice of religion – looking at the distribution of power and religion what might be the dangers of England becoming a Protestant country?
Next turn England Protestant and think about whether Elizabeth would support Protestant rebels against Spain in the Spanish Netherlands – what would be the arguments for and against doing so? Again the physicality of the power blocs will help students understand the arguments with the big blocs of Catholic France and Spain dominating the map/room.
4. If you wish to go further you could then look at the situation in 1558 when Elizabeth became Queen in a little more detail. One way to do this is to give each country a ‘friendship rating’ from Elizabeth’s point of view. This does two things – it builds up an understanding of what issues Elizabeth and her council were concerned with and also shows that the later hostility to Spain had not always existed.
To do this you could read out information about each country and ask that country or the class as a whole to give the country a friendship rating out of 5 from England’s point of view. Having made the choice each ruler could hold up a large piece of paper with the number written large and bold – so everyone can see the resulting pattern. Alternatively use the attached PowerPoint slides which describe the situation in 1558. This information is taken from Andy Harmsworth’s Elizabethan England p.112.
Have you downloaded the PowerPoint? If not [ click here ]
Even further – if students enjoy and make good sense of the map activity it can be the basis for a decision-making activity, following the events of Elizabeth’s reign. Just moving Mary, Queen of Scots from France to Scotland and finally into England can make a breakthrough in some students’ understanding. Having space for America is also extremely valuable in emphasising the role of Spain’s empire, giving a physical sense to the line created by the Treaty of Tordesillas (and so why Spain resented an English presence in the Americas) and key events such as the attack on Hawkins and the raids by Drake in the run-up to Anglo-Spanish war.
This activity can feel disruptive – it requires moving furniture or finding another room. It can feel risky as it entails physical movement and sitting in groups on the floor – with no writing to do! However it offers major rewards in terms of students’ understandings. For many, this physical representation gets the point across much more economically and effectively than any amount of reading or exposition.