A prisoner is executed by the "long drop" hanging method; the length of rope, type of knot, and height of the drop are all calculated according to the victim's weight and height, so that their neck is broken instantly. That method was developed in 1872. Before that, people due to be hanged were stood upon a cart, horse, stool, ladder, or something similar, which was then be moved out from under them, leaving them to die by strangulation.
Bess Throckmorton became pregnant in summer 1591, 3 years after the Spanish Armada. Elizabeth was unaware of the pregnancy, and didn't discover Bess and Raleigh's secret marriage until 1592, several months after their child, Damerei, was born. The infant died very soon after, during Walter Raleigh's imprisonment in the Tower of London.
Raleigh's introduction of the potato to court is pure fiction. Spanish Conquistadores learned of the potato from the Peruvian natives who had cultivated it millennia, and introduced the potato to Europe in 1570, while Walter Raleigh was at Oxford. Moreover, Raleigh calls the potato by its Spanish name, "patata".
Elizabeth's sidesaddle is shown to have two horns, or "pommels." Sidesaddles of this time had only one pommel, the upper, which held the right leg in place. The lower pommel, which wraps over the left leg, is called a "leaping pommel," and was not invented until the 1830s.
Before each scene in Fotheringay, where Mary, Queen of Scots, is imprisoned, the castle is surrounded by high, snow-capped Scottish mountains. Fotheringay is in Northamptonshire, one of the flattest counties in England.
The fire ship battle took place off the coast of France, not England. No Spanish ship caught fire or was lost, but the use of fire ship's did cause the Spanish fleet to disperse and become disorganised prior to the final Battle of Gravelines.
Queen Elizabeth watches the Armada burn from a cliff near her camp at Tilbury. But Tilbury is in the Thames Estuary, far from where the action seems to be taking place, and a long way from anywhere with the dramatic jagged rocks Elizabeth stands on.
Walter Raleigh was not in the battle against the Armada. In 1588 he was in Ireland, out of favor with Elizabeth I. The movie conflates his role with that of Admiral Francis Drake who organized the fire ship attack that dispersed the Spanish Armada.
Mary Stuart speaks with a Scots accent in the film, but she was well known to speak with a French accent throughout her life. In the DVD commentary, the director explains that this was a choice the actress made after discussing the options.
Raleigh announces that he has just returned from the New World, and has named the land he discovered "Virginia" after Elizabeth. Walter Raleigh sent a mission to establish a settlement in 1584; he never set foot in the New World during this time period. Secondly, "Virginia" was derived from the name of the Roanoke Colony chief Wingina, which was modified by Elizabeth to "Virginia" after her own title.
The trees being chopped down in large numbers to build King Philipps Fleet are clearly some kind of coniferous wood, which is highly unsuitable for building ships and was not used at all for this purpose. They would rather have used oak-wood for this, and it is a known fact that large numbers of the great oak forests in some European countries were completely lumbered down for its precious woods.
As with most historical biopics, some of the events did not occur exactly as they are portrayed in the film, or may have happened at a different time. Some did not take place at all and are included purely for dramatic purposes.
Mary, Queen of Scots, is played here by Samantha Morton who is only 5'3". In life, Mary was actually 6 feet tall, quite tall for a woman of her time. Elizabeth I was 5'8" (something she bragged about to an ambassador stating she was the perfect height while Mary was too tall), also tall for the time and Cate Blanchett, who plays her is also 5'8".
The matter of Walter Raleigh and "Virginia" is very confusing to people unaware of the historical context. Each American schoolchild is taught that England's first colony in Virginia was Jamestown in 1607, but in the movie Raleigh says he has set up a colony in Virginia in 1585. In fact, the land to which Raleigh applied the name Virginia was what we call North Carolina. After his "Roanoke, Virginia" failed due to the Spanish embargo (resulting in the "Lost Colony" mystery which has inspired many books and movies), the names Virginia and Roanoke were transferred northward to new locations.
Like so many biopics about Elizabeth, she and Mary Stuart are referred to as cousins when Elizabeth is Mary's father's cousin. In kinship terminology, a "cousin" is simply one whom shares a common ancestor. To be specific, Elizabeth would be Mary's cousin-once-removed but this is not a term that would have been used in the 16th Century and is only rarely used even today. Suffice it to say, referring to Mary as Elizabeth's cousin (and vice versa) is entirely correct and accurate.
The scene where Walter Raleigh is entertaining the Queen with his stories of the sea, Elizabeth is wearing a blue gown, and earrings and a necklace that are clearly a stone called pink beryl, otherwise known as "Morganite". This gemstone was not discovered until 1910 and would not have existed at that time.
The execution of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, is shown with a single, swift ax stroke. Historically, it took at least two strokes; the first hit Mary in the back of the head (reportedly prompting her to cry out, "Sweet Jesus") and the second severed all of her neck save some sinew, which the executioner then cut through by using the ax as a saw. Some reports say the execution required a third stroke. Also, when lifting up her head to show it off to the audience, the executioner lifted it using her hair and the head thumped to the ground revealing that she wore a wig. No doubt the director realized that would all be too gruesome to show onscreen.