Elizabeth wearing her hair loose at her coronation was a big symbol of her virginity. However at this early stage in Elizabeth’s reign, it was not necessarily a sign that she wanted to stay a virgin for life as it was traditional for the coronation of Queen – Catherine of Aragon did the same at her coronation.
The pelican brooch she wears in the Pelican Portrait of 1572 is a sign that she was prepared to sacrifice herself for her people and the church. The idea comes from a legend of a mother pelican who fed her young on her own blood to make sure that they would live.
The globe is a clear symbol of Elizabeth’s domination and exploration in the world. It was included in the Armada Portrait, demonstrating her strength in defending her realm from the Spanish. It could also relate to the success of the English in its exploration of the Americas in competition with Spain.
Elizabeth wears vast numbers of pearls in most of her portraits and, apart from demonstrating her wealth and power, pearls represent chastity, which is clearly a virtue she was trying to advertise in all images of herself.
As we know, the mythical pheonix was thought to rise from the ashes through fire unscathed. Elizabeth’s pheonix brooch in this portrait represents her Protestant church rising from the ashes of Catholic Mary’s reign.
Lightning is pictured behind Elizabeth in the Ditchley Portrait of 1592 to demonstrate that she had God’s power behind her supporting her. Blue skies are painted before her, to imply the direction of the country from turmoil to peace.
The gloves that she holds in many of her portraits show her elegance and therefore her vanity. Apparently she liked to show off her long fair hands and it could be viewed as a device to demonstrate that despite her power, she was feminine and beautiful.
This image is the royal emblem of France, which was still included in Elizabeth’s portraits even though the last English controlled part of France, Calais, had already been lost to the French. This symbol demonstrates that Elizabeth still felt ownership over France, with her claim to the French throne. After all, her title was still: Queen of England, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith etc.