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All Posts, P&S History

Author Guest Post: Carol Ann Lloyd

All the Queen’s Men: The Courtships of the Virgin Queen”

(Elizabeth I Hampden Yale Center British Art, public domain)

It’s ironic that the child of the most-married English monarch ever is the only English monarch to rule as an adult and never marry! Elizabeth I, daughter of the famous (infamous?) Henry VIII never married. But it was not for lack of options.

The big question is “Why?” Did Elizabeth really want to marry anyone? What kept her from marrying? Did she ever intend to marry, or was she just keeping all her options open as she navigated the perilous landscape of European politics on her own?

I think there are many ways on answering this question. Let’s start at the beginning of her reign. Elizabeth was the least likely of Henry VIII’s children to come to the throne, and when she did everyone had the same question on their mind. As the Spanish Ambassador, the Count of Feria, reflected in the early days of the reign, “The more I think over this business the more certain I am that everything depends upon the husband this woman may take.” Elizabeth was questioned about her choice of husband by her council, ambassadors, and parliament. It was considered a public not a private matter, and the queen was repeatedly encouraged and counseled to get married and produce an heir for the good of the kingdom.

So, if everything depended on the husband her would take, what realistically were her options?

Some people might be surprised to learn that one of her first suitors was the husband of her recently deceased sister. Philip of Spain had been married to Mary I until her death, and the couple had no children. Still committed to bringing England back into the Catholic fold, Philip believed he could marry and control Elizabeth. I was surprised as I read his correspondence how convinced Philip was that Elizabeth was desperate for a husband and eager for his offer. Many Catholics never accepted the validity of the marriage between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, so Elizabeth’s hold on the throne was possibly tenuous. Philip believed he was the answer to Elizabeth’s problem. He thought she would jump at the chance.

(Robert Dudley Waddesdon Manor, public domain)

Philip could not have been more wrong. Elizabeth knew very well that Philip would seek to involve England in Spain’s wars, as he had during Mary I’s reign. Using her skills in language, Elizabeth dallied with Feria and postponed giving a firm answer until it suited her. That answer was a definite “no.”

The offer from Philip was only the beginning. I discovered in my research that Elizabeth used the many marriage possibilities as a way of strengthening her position with the international community. She managed to keep several foreign leaders eager for an alliance with England and a marriage with her. Over the years, the king of Sweden, European dukes and archdukes, and even all three of Catherine de Medici’s sons in France were offered as possible husband. And that doesn’t take into account the Scottish and English nobles who wanted to marry the queen.

Speaking of men in England, was it really Robert Dudley who kept Elizabeth from marrying? He most likely was the love of her life, perhaps the only man she might have married if she had not been the queen. He was at the center of her life, from the day she learned Mary I had died, and she was queen. He became Elizabeth’s Master of the Horse, which meant he was always with her when she went riding, one of her favorite activities. And he was the only man in the kingdom with permission to touch the queen as he helped her onto and off horse.

Even with Dudley’s favored position, there were a few problems in the way. For one thing, he was married. And then his wife died in very suspicious circumstances, making a future marriage potentially devastating for Elizabeth’s reputation. Dudley was unpopular among the council. And ultimately, I believe Elizabeth meant what she is reported to have shouted at him in anger: “I will have but one mistress here and no master.”

(Elizabeth I with noblemen and Knight of Garter, public domain)

So, did everything depend upon the husband Elizabeth took? Yes, it turns out it did. I realized through the research that the one suitor that Elizabeth courted throughout her reign was the husband she had declared herself wed to when she became queen: her country and her people. Early in her reign, Elizabeth had responded to parliament’s request that she marry by responding that she was “already bound unto a husband which is the kingdom of England.” From the time she became queen, Elizabeth wooed her nation and her people, seeking their approval, favor, and love. That was the husband she took, and it meant everything to her.

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