Elizabeth I, c. 1558, oil on canvas by Unidentified Artist
Eager to undermine the power of Spain, which was fed by holdings in North and South America, Queen Elizabeth I encouraged exploration of the new world. During her reign Sir Francis Drake sailed to present day South America and California. In the mid-1580's Sir Walter Raleigh attempted to establish a British Colony on Roanoke Island, which he named Virginia in honor of the "Virgin Queen" who never married.
Keenly aware of the political power of portraiture, Elizabeth I carefully monitored the production and dissemination of her likeness. In this early portrait, made shortly after her coronation in 1559, she boldly declares her claim to the throne. The words "Elizabeth Regina" are amplified by the prominent inclusion of the jewel around her neck. Known as the "Mirror of France" the square-cut stone had belonged to her father, King Henry VIII, the source of her royal authority.