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Courting the Virgin – the Romances of Elizabeth I

16 Jun

Elizabeth_1_1560

Elizabeth I’s reign has gone down in history as the Golden Age of England.  Though Elizabeth never married, there would be several suitors for her hand, as she would be the most eligible bride in Europe.  But the question begs answers: why did Elizabeth never marry?  There is no sure way to know, but what is certain is that she had a fair number of prospective husbands, but she rejected all of them.  One can hardly blame her: Elizabeth’s upbringing was far from peaceful, especially when it came to her father’s love life.  Elizabeth’s own mother, Anne Boleyn, had been Henry VIII’s second wife, whom he defied the Catholic Church of Rome and revolutionized England’s religious policy in order to marry only to have her beheaded at the Tower of London three years later.  Henry VIII would go on to take four more wives, father his only and coveted son Edward VI, and declare both Elizabeth and her older half-sister Mary illegitimate and bar them from the line of succession in favor of a boy whom was only nine years old when he came to power.  Perhaps marriage seemed horrifying to Elizabeth.  Whatever the case, despite her steadfast views on the subject, she still considered it, though perhaps halfheartedly.

The most prominent suitor that comes up in historical evidence is Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester.  Form her first year on the throne of England until his death in early September 1588, the two were close friends and he was one of the Queen’s favorites.  Though it seems clear that Elizabeth wanted to marry Dudley, it seemed her council was against the idea in favor of a foreign match so as to create an alliance with other nations, and besides that, Dudley was the son of the former Duke of Northumberland, whom raised his young daughter-in-law Jane Grey to the throne as opposed to Mary I, whom promptly executed both Grey and the Duke for treason.  Another obstacle was the fact that Dudley was already married to a lady named Amy Robsart, though the marriage ended tragically when Amy fell down a flight of stairs and broke her neck.  The circumstances of her death were so suspicious and coincidental that it was suspected that Dudley had her killed so that he himself could marry Elizabeth.  It is even said that the Queen herself was somehow responsible.  Whatever the case, it was clear from the scandalous effects of Amy’s death that it was too dangerous for Dudley and Elizabeth to wed, and so they did not.  However, it is clear that the two remained close until Dudley’s death, even when the Earl remarried, jealous as the Queen was proven to have been over the match.  When Elizabeth herself died at the age of sixty-nine, in her private possessions she had kept a letter from the Earl where in her own handwriting were three words that perhaps show the true depth of her feelings for him: “His last Letter.”

But Elizabeth had many more men at her doorstep vying for her hand during her lifetime.  One of these men was her own brother-in-law Philip II of Spain, widower to her half-sister Mary I.  She quickly turned him down and instead considered his cousin, Archduke Charles of Austria, who would later become Charles II of Austria.  Others the she considered where François, the Duke of Anjou, his brother who would later become Henry III of France, Robert Deveraux, Earl of Essex, Eric XIV of Sweden, Charles IX of France, and the Danish Prince Frederick, among others.  In fact, there were no less than 26 proposals to be considered, but none of them caught her attention as Dudley had and she seems to have only considered them to please her council, who were urging her to marry and produce an heir for England.  She did neither, perhaps to prevent an uprising against her.

However, Elizabeth made it clear that she was married first and foremost to England, and referred to the people of England as her “husbands”.  As a result, she was called the Virgin Queen in poetry and in portraiture.  She defied the stereotype of the era that proposed that a women could not rule a country because they were such a “gentle sex”, and became famous for ruling with her head and not her heart “as women often do”.  She was the last monarch of the Tudor Dynasty, reigning for forty-four years before passing away on 24 March 1603.  Upon her death, James VI of Scotland, son of her cousin Mary Stuart (Also known as Mary, Queen of Scots), was declared James I of England as the last surviving person with royal blood (his great-grandmother had been Margaret Tudor, Henry VIII’s sister).  He would be the first of the Scottish family on the throne and the first of the Stuart Dynasty.

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Posted by on June 16, 2014 in British Royalty, The Tudors

 

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