After witnessing the deaths of many of her friends, Elizabeth I of England herself fell ill with "melancholy" and passed away. She had ruled England for over forty years, steering it through rough eras of religious war between Protestants and Catholics and resisting the Spanish Armada. Elizabeth had also never married, meaning that she had no issue to rule after her. Her secretary of state and Lord Privy Seal, Robert Cecil, who himself had inherited his title from his father, had set to work on the problem of succession early as he came into office in the 1590s in coded negotiations with a potential heir, King James VII of Scotland.
Other pamphlets, however, began to raise suspicion in Cecil. In 1598, James published True Law of Free Monarchies, followed by Basilikon Doron ("The Royal Gift") the next year. Both were treatises on the divine right of rulers and reflected James' leanings toward absolutism. In comparison, Elizabeth said in her first speech as monarch at Hatfield House in 1558, "I mean to direct all my actions by good advice and counsel." James took a very different stance on government and had already begun conflicts over money with the Scottish Parliament. Cecil knew that contributing to James' coronation in England would be a great boon to is personal career, but haunting visions of a civil war, perhaps even rivaling that of the Barons' Wars, forced him to reconsider his choice. Finally he became determined against James Stuart. Cecil sabotaged him, giving sly bad advice for the tone of the king's letters to Elizabeth. By the time of Elizabeth's death, James had become widely unpopular in court.
Cecil faced the problem of whom to crown. According to the will of Henry VIII, the line passed next to the granddaughters of Mary Tudor, the Greys; Jane Grey had actually ruled for nine days as queen before her execution, Catherine Grey had married secretly and been involved in a huge scandal with Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford, ending with their sons being deemed illegitimate, and Mary Grey had died without children. Attempting to crown Catherine's son Edward Seymor, Viscount Beauchamp, would be a political nightmare, and so Cecil turned to the next in line through the will, twenty-two-year-old Anne Stanley.
The Third Succession Act of Parliament in 1543 affirmed Anne, and Cecil began stirring its significance among the court and in Parliament. Elizabeth refused to name an heir (judging it to be political idiocy), and so upon her death, Anne Stanley was suddenly approached to be queen. The girl was quietly shocked, as Elizabeth had been decades before, and Cecil felt he had made the right decision, setting out to recreate Elizabeth upon the throne. Anne was unmarried and living at the estate of her brother, 6th Earl of Derby, following her father's death. She seemed perfect clay in which to mold the will of rule by council.
James became furious and staged an invasion of England to claim his throne. Cecil spun the event into a defense of the nation, calling all the more praise for Anne, who sat meekly upon the throne while Parliament raised an army to protect her. After two years at war, James ran out of money and was refused more by the Scottish Parliament. Scotland soon descended into a civil war of its own as James worked to force absolute rule. Scotland overthrew the king and replaced him with James' young son, Henry Frederick, who ruled obediently through council.
Anne continued her rule quietly, being known primarily as a great patron of the arts through the advice of her brother. The biggest political question of the day was whom she would marry, a question that Cecil increasingly answered with, "It stands to be seen, if at all." No one in Europe seemed to be eligible as Catholic nobles were out of the question (though Anne herself had Catholic leanings) and the males of the Continent seemed to be too old, too young, or already married, such as Sigismund III Vasa of Poland-Lithuania and Gustav II Adolf of Sweden. Cecil counseled Anne to maintain her virginity as a political tool until his death in 1612.
Anne finally married in 1623, to Francis Cottington, an experienced ambassador and Parliamentarian who also had Catholic leanings. The couple was widely popular among Protestants and Catholics alike, healing much of the religious tension in the country while the rest of Europe descended into the bloody Thirty Years War. England continued expanding its colonial empire, much at the cost of the Dutch and the Scots, against whom England often fought at sea alongside Spain.
Colonial expansion fascinated Europe for the next two centuries, first in the Americas, then the Orient, and finally the interior of Africa. England's model of Parliamentary rule with an executive monarch proved effectual, expanding its representation to include colonies after a tax revolt in the Americas. England gained the world's largest empire by the 1800s but would eventually fade as nationalism and independence rose up among the many peoples ruled from London.
In reality, Robert Cecil chose James Stuart. While James and the Parliament struggled, a complete break occurred under James' heir Charles I in the First and Second Civil Wars. The Stuarts were restored in 1660 but ousted again in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Anne Stanley lived a troubled life; she and her son brought her second husband Sir Mervyn Tuchet, 2nd Earl of Castlehaven, to trial on accusations of rape and sodomy, culminating in his beheading in 1631 and the establishment of the right of an injured wife to testify.