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The 7 Suitors of Elizabeth I

The 7 Suitors of Elizabeth I

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Elizabeth I is famously known as the Virgin Queen: she never married and never had children, keeping her suitors guessing and remaining non-committal whenever she could. But the Queen of England was an attractive marriage proposition to European royalty nonetheless, and Elizabeth was courted by many men during her lifetime. So just who were these men who thought they had a chance with Gloriana?

Thomas Seymour

Following the death of Henry VIII, Elizabeth’s father, she was sent to live with her former step-mother Catherine Parr, and her new husband Thomas Seymour, Baron Sudeley. Quite what the relationship between Seymour and Elizabeth was has long been speculated on by historians, but it seems that Seymour used to visit the 14 year old Elizabeth in her bedroom early in the morning, tickling her and generally playing the fool.

Catherine Parr knew about and sometimes participated in these games, but eventually she put a stop to things when she supposedly walked in on the pair in an intimate embrace. Following Catherine’s death, Seymour pursued Elizabeth’s hand in marriage: her governess Kat Ashley actively encouraged the match.

In 1549, Seymour was arrested and tried on 33 counts of treason, including plotting to marry Elizabeth and to then overthrow the king, Edward VI. Elizabeth was questioned intensely following Seymour’s arrest, but nothing incriminating was ever found against her, and she was most likely an innocent pawn.

Some consider this early confusing romantic episode to have had an impact on Elizabeth’s later relationships with men, and a contributing factor in her decision never to marry.

King Philip II of Spain

Philip was married to Elizabeth’s sister Mary – and on her death, he remained in England for several months in an attempt to woo Elizabeth.

Unfortunately for Philip, Elizabeth was a Protestant and had no interest in an alliance with Spain, nor in her half-sister’s widower. Parliament was also firmly against the match, which made a diplomatic refusal slightly easier.

Robert Dudley

On Elizabeth’s accession in 1558, Dudley was appointed Master of the Horse, before rapidly rising up the ranks in Elizabeth’s court. The two were close friends during Mary’s reign, and by 1559, rumours swirled around court that Elizabeth was in love with Dudley.

Notwithstanding the fact that Dudley was already married, marrying an Englishman would have proven difficult for Elizabeth in several respects. Firstly, she would be denying England the chance to make an important political alliance with a neighbouring European monarchy. Secondly, marrying within her own court would almost certainly help generate factions and rivalries.

Dudley’s wife Amy died in mysterious circumstances in 1560, and Dudley was tainted enough as a result that Elizabeth could not consider him as a serious marriage prospect any longer. However, the pair continued to remain extremely close: Dudley was made Earl of Leicester in 1563, and became one of the wealthiest landowners in England.

The historian Susan Doran described Dudley as being ‘at the centre of [Elizabeth’s] emotional life’, and Elizabeth fiercely disliked Dudley’s second wife, Lettice Knollys.

Dan talks to Helen Castor about her book on Elizabeth I and the way she governed.

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King Eric XIV of Sweden

Sweden was a Protestant nation, and therefore attempts to make an alliance with the newly Protestant England were politically sensible. Prince Eric negotiated for Elizabeth’s hand in marriage for several years, but in 1560 she eventually wrote him a letter in which she expressed regret at not being able to reciprocate his feelings, and firmly rejected his advances.

Eric tried to marry various other European princesses, before eventually marrying his mistress. Increasingly, he began to show signs of insanity and was eventually imprisoned and dethroned by his own brother.

King Eric XIV of Sweden by Steven van der Meulen.

Archduke Charles of Austria

In 1567, Elizabeth began to consider Archduke Charles of Austria, son of the Emperor Ferdinand. Again, religion stood in the way: as a Protestant, Elizabeth and her councillors were somewhat wary of creating alliances with Catholic countries.

As with many of her suitors, Elizabeth kept Charles dangling for well over a year, before finally rebuffing his advances.

Jessie Childs is an award-winning author and historian. In this fascinating interview, she explores the Catholic predicament in Elizabethan England - an age in which their faith was criminalised, and almost two hundred Catholics were executed. In exposing the tensions masked by the cult of Gloriana, she considers the terrible consequences when politics and religion collide.

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Francois, Duc d’Anjou

The Duke of Anjou was one of Elizabeth’s most persistant suitors, and perhaps one of those she considered the most carefully. Heir to the French throne, a marriage to Francois could be extremely advantageous politically, although it seems the people would not have been best pleased by a Frenchman becoming king.

Some of Elizabeth’s advisors – including Walsingham – were convinced there would be religious riots on the scale of the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (1572) in France should she make such a match.

Unlike many of her suitors, Francois courted Elizabeth in person, and the two became close – she called him her ‘frog’, and many believe Elizabeth knew he would be her last serious suitor: there was already a 22 year age gap between the two.

Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex

The step-son of Elizabeth’s first love, Robert Dudley, Essex quickly became one of Elizabeth’s favourites despite being 34 years her junior. In 1587, he was appointed Master of the Horse, the same post Dudley had held on Elizabeth’s accession, and in 1593, he was made a member of her Privy Council: a role which gave him considerable political influence.

Elizabeth and Essex were known to have a somewhat tempestuous relationship: Essex often lacked the respect Elizabeth was due as Queen – he burst into her bedchamber to defend his actions at one point: an unthinkable act of familiarity and disrespect to the Queen of England.

Essex was made Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1599, and took 16,000 men across the sea to quash the rebellion that had arisen. Instead of a decisive victory, Essex failed in his mission and signed a humiliating truce with the rebels, before fleeing back to England. He was tried on grounds of desertion and imprisoned.

In 1601, Essex made a bid for power in an attempt to force the Queen to name James VI of Scotland as her successor. The rebellion collapsed after a lack of widespread support, and Essex was executed on grounds of treason. Elizabeth was said to have been shocked by her favourite betraying her, and some argue this aged her considerably overnight.

Jerry Brotton is Senior Lecturer in Renaissance Studies at Queen Mary, University of London and director of the college's MA in Renaissance Studies. This Orient Isle: Elizabethan England and the Islamic World is out now.

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Queen Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I gave her name to a golden age of poets, statesmen and adventurers. Known as the Virgin Queen, or Gloriana, her union with her people became a substitute for the marriage she never made.

Her reign, known as the Elizabethan Age, is remembered for many reasons… the defeat of the Spanish Armada, and for many great men, Shakespeare, Raleigh, Hawkins, Drake, Walsingham, Essex and Burleigh.

She was endowed with great courage. As a young woman she had been imprisoned in the Tower of London on the orders of her half-sister, Queen Mary I, and lived in daily fear that she would be executed as her mother, Anne Boleyn had been.

Elizabeth, unlike her sister Mary, was a Protestant and declared when she became Queen ‘that she did not make windows into men’s souls’ and that her people could follow any religion they wished.

She was a great beauty in her youth. She had hazel eyes, auburn hair and a white skin, a striking combination. But in her old she became quite grotesque in appearance in a red wig, with a white pockmarked face and a few black rotten teeth!

She was also noted for her learning, and although she was sometimes wayward, she was generally considered wise.

She loved jewels and beautiful clothes and had a hard sceptical intellect, which helped her steer a moderate course through all the conflicts of her reign, and there were many!

Her speech in 1588 to her troops at Tilbury, drawn up to repel the Duke of Parma’s army in the year of the Spanish Armada, is often quoted. One part of the speech is well known, and the section that starts… ‘I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a King of England too and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain or any Prince of Europe should dare to invade the borders of my realm’, is stirring stuff even today, many centuries later.

Her courtiers, and to some extent her country, expected her to marry and provide an heir to the throne. She was courted by many suitors, even her brother-in-law, Philip of Spain, joined the throng of men hoping to win her affection!

It is said that Elizabeth’s great love was Lord Dudley, later to become the Earl of Leicester, but her faithful, brilliant minister and close advisor, Sir William Cecil, advised against it.

Elizabeth could be hard when the circumstances needed a strong hand, and when Mary Queen of Scots (left) was found to be involved in a plot to usurp the throne, she signed Mary’s death warrant, and Mary was beheaded at Fotheringhay Castle in 1587.

She could be forgiving too. John Aubrey, the diarist, tells a story about the Earl of Oxford. When the Earl made a low obeisance to the Queen, he happened to let go a fart, at which he was so ashamed that he left the country for 7 years. At his return the Queen welcomed him and said, “My lord, I had forgot the fart”!

There are many stories about Elizabeth that reveal her strengths and very occasionally her weaknesses.

When the Earl of Leicester gave the Queen his excuses for failing to subdue Cork in Ireland, Elizabeth’s comment was ‘Blarney’!

Her comments on marriage were straight to the point “I should call the wedding-ring the yoke-ring!”

On her descent from Henry VIII, she said, “Although I may not be a lioness, I am a lion’s cub, and inherit many of his qualities.”

When she was told of the birth of James, son of Mary Queen of Scots in 1566, Elizabeth said, “Alack, the Queen of Scots is lighter of a bony son and I am but barren stock.”

At her death in 1603 Elizabeth left a country that was secure, and all the religious troubles had largely disappeared. England was now a first class power, and Elizabeth had created and moulded a country that was the envy of Europe.


Elizabeth was born at Greenwich Palace and was named after her grandmothers, Elizabeth of York and Elizabeth Howard. [5] She was the second child of Henry VIII of England born in wedlock to survive infancy. Her mother was Henry's second wife, Anne Boleyn. At birth, Elizabeth was the heir presumptive to the throne of England. Her older half-sister, Mary, had lost her position as a legitimate heir when Henry annulled his marriage to Mary's mother, Catherine of Aragon, to marry Anne, with the intent to sire a male heir and ensure the Tudor succession. [6] [7] She was baptised on 10 September 1533 Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, the Marquess of Exeter, the Duchess of Norfolk, and the Dowager Marchioness of Dorset stood as her godparents. A canopy was carried at the ceremony over the three-day old child by her uncle Viscount Rochford, Lord Hussey, Lord Thomas Howard, and Lord Howard of Effingham. [8]

Elizabeth was two years and eight months old when her mother was beheaded on 19 May 1536, [9] four months after Catherine of Aragon's death from natural causes. Elizabeth was declared illegitimate and deprived of her place in the royal succession. [10] Eleven days after Anne Boleyn's execution, Henry married Jane Seymour, who died shortly after the birth of their son, Edward, in 1537. From his birth, Edward was undisputed heir apparent to the throne. Elizabeth was placed in his household and carried the chrisom, or baptismal cloth, at his christening. [11]

Elizabeth's first governess, Margaret Bryan, wrote that she was "as toward a child and as gentle of conditions as ever I knew any in my life". [12] Catherine Champernowne, better known by her later, married name of Catherine "Kat" Ashley, was appointed as Elizabeth's governess in 1537, and she remained Elizabeth's friend until her death in 1565. Champernowne taught Elizabeth four languages: French, Dutch, Italian and Spanish. [13] By the time William Grindal became her tutor in 1544, Elizabeth could write English, Latin, and Italian. Under Grindal, a talented and skilful tutor, she also progressed in French and Greek. [14] By age 12 she was able to translate her stepmother Catherine Parr's religious work Prayers or Meditations from English into Italian, Latin, and French, which she presented to her father as a New Year's gift. [15] From her teenage years and throughout her life she translated works in Latin and Greek by numerous classical authors, including the Pro Marcello of Cicero, the De consolatione philosophiae of Boethius, a treatise by Plutarch, and the Annals of Tacitus. [16] [15] A translation of Tacitus from Lambeth Palace Library, one of only four surviving English translations from the early modern era, was confirmed as Elizabeth's own in 2019, after a detailed analysis of the handwriting and paper was undertaken. [17]

After Grindal died in 1548, Elizabeth received her education under the tutor of Prince Edward, Roger Ascham, a sympathetic teacher who believed that learning should be engaging. [18] Our knowledge of Elizabeth's schooling and precocity comes largely from Ascham's memoirs. [14] By the time her formal education ended in 1550, Elizabeth was one of the best educated women of her generation. [19] At the end of her life, Elizabeth was also believed to speak Welsh, Cornish, Scottish and Irish in addition to the languages mentioned above. The Venetian ambassador stated in 1603 that she "possessed [these] languages so thoroughly that each appeared to be her native tongue". [20] Historian Mark Stoyle suggests that she was probably taught Cornish by William Killigrew, Groom of the Privy Chamber and later Chamberlain of the Exchequer. [21]

Henry VIII died in 1547 and Elizabeth's half-brother, Edward VI, became king at age nine. Catherine Parr, Henry's widow, soon married Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley, Edward VI's uncle and the brother of the Lord Protector, Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset. The couple took Elizabeth into their household at Chelsea. There Elizabeth experienced an emotional crisis that some historians believe affected her for the rest of her life. [22] Thomas Seymour engaged in romps and horseplay with the 14-year-old Elizabeth, including entering her bedroom in his nightgown, tickling her, and slapping her on the buttocks. Elizabeth rose early and surrounded herself with maids to avoid his unwelcome morning visits. Parr, rather than confront her husband over his inappropriate activities, joined in. Twice she accompanied him in tickling Elizabeth, and once held her while he cut her black gown "into a thousand pieces". [23] However, after Parr discovered the pair in an embrace, she ended this state of affairs. [24] In May 1548, Elizabeth was sent away.

However, Thomas Seymour continued scheming to control the royal family and tried to have himself appointed the governor of the King's person. [25] [26] When Parr died after childbirth on 5 September 1548, he renewed his attentions towards Elizabeth, intent on marrying her. [27] Mistress Kat Ashley, who was fond of Thomas Seymour, sought to convince Elizabeth to take him as her husband. She tried to convince Elizabeth to write to Thomas and "comfort him in his sorrow", [28] but Elizabeth claimed that Thomas was not so saddened by her stepmother's death as to need comfort.

In January 1549, Thomas was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower on suspicion of conspiring to depose Somerset as the Protector, marry Lady Jane Grey to King Edward VI, and take Elizabeth as his own wife. Elizabeth, living at Hatfield House, would admit nothing. Her stubbornness exasperated her interrogator, Sir Robert Tyrwhitt, who reported, "I do see it in her face that she is guilty". [29] Seymour was beheaded on 20 March 1549. [30]

Edward VI died on 6 July 1553, aged 15. His will ignored the Succession to the Crown Act 1543, excluded both Mary and Elizabeth from the succession, and instead declared as his heir Lady Jane Grey, granddaughter of Henry VIII's younger sister, Mary. Jane was proclaimed queen by the privy council, but her support quickly crumbled, and she was deposed after nine days. On 3 August 1553, Mary rode triumphantly into London, with Elizabeth at her side. [31]

The show of solidarity between the sisters did not last long. Mary, a devout Catholic, was determined to crush the Protestant faith in which Elizabeth had been educated, and she ordered that everyone attend Catholic Mass Elizabeth had to outwardly conform. Mary's initial popularity ebbed away in 1554 when she announced plans to marry Philip of Spain, the son of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and an active Catholic. [32] Discontent spread rapidly through the country, and many looked to Elizabeth as a focus for their opposition to Mary's religious policies.

In January and February 1554, Wyatt's rebellion broke out it was soon suppressed. [33] Elizabeth was brought to court, and interrogated regarding her role, and on 18 March, she was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Elizabeth fervently protested her innocence. [34] Though it is unlikely that she had plotted with the rebels, some of them were known to have approached her. Mary's closest confidant, Charles V's ambassador Simon Renard, argued that her throne would never be safe while Elizabeth lived and the Chancellor, Stephen Gardiner, worked to have Elizabeth put on trial. [35] Elizabeth's supporters in the government, including Lord Paget, convinced Mary to spare her sister in the absence of hard evidence against her. Instead, on 22 May, Elizabeth was moved from the Tower to Woodstock, where she was to spend almost a year under house arrest in the charge of Sir Henry Bedingfield. Crowds cheered her all along the way. [36] [37]

On 17 April 1555, Elizabeth was recalled to court to attend the final stages of Mary's apparent pregnancy. If Mary and her child died, Elizabeth would become queen. If, on the other hand, Mary gave birth to a healthy child, Elizabeth's chances of becoming queen would recede sharply. When it became clear that Mary was not pregnant, no one believed any longer that she could have a child. [38] Elizabeth's succession seemed assured. [39]

King Philip, who ascended the Spanish throne in 1556, acknowledged the new political reality and cultivated his sister-in-law. She was a better ally than the chief alternative, Mary, Queen of Scots, who had grown up in France and was betrothed to the Dauphin of France. [40] When his wife fell ill in 1558, King Philip sent the Count of Feria to consult with Elizabeth. [41] This interview was conducted at Hatfield House, where she had returned to live in October 1555. By October 1558, Elizabeth was already making plans for her government. On 6 November, Mary recognised Elizabeth as her heir. [42] On 17 November 1558, Mary died and Elizabeth succeeded to the throne. [43]

Elizabeth became queen at the age of 25, and declared her intentions to her council and other peers who had come to Hatfield to swear allegiance. The speech contains the first record of her adoption of the medieval political theology of the sovereign's "two bodies": the body natural and the body politic: [44]

My lords, the law of nature moves me to sorrow for my sister the burden that is fallen upon me makes me amazed, and yet, considering I am God's creature, ordained to obey His appointment, I will thereto yield, desiring from the bottom of my heart that I may have assistance of His grace to be the minister of His heavenly will in this office now committed to me. And as I am but one body naturally considered, though by His permission a body politic to govern, so shall I desire you all . to be assistant to me, that I with my ruling and you with your service may make a good account to Almighty God and leave some comfort to our posterity on earth. I mean to direct all my actions by good advice and counsel. [45]

As her triumphal progress wound through the city on the eve of the coronation ceremony, she was welcomed wholeheartedly by the citizens and greeted by orations and pageants, most with a strong Protestant flavour. Elizabeth's open and gracious responses endeared her to the spectators, who were "wonderfully ravished". [46] The following day, 15 January 1559, a date chosen by her astrologer John Dee, [47] [48] Elizabeth was crowned and anointed by Owen Oglethorpe, the Catholic bishop of Carlisle, in Westminster Abbey. She was then presented for the people's acceptance, amidst a deafening noise of organs, fifes, trumpets, drums, and bells. [49] Although Elizabeth was welcomed as queen in England, the country was still in a state of anxiety over the perceived Catholic threat at home and overseas, as well as the choice of whom she would marry. [50]

Elizabeth's personal religious convictions have been much debated by scholars. She was a Protestant, but kept Catholic symbols (such as the crucifix), and downplayed the role of sermons in defiance of a key Protestant belief. [52]

In terms of public policy she favoured pragmatism in dealing with religious matters. The question of her legitimacy was a key concern: although she was technically illegitimate under both Protestant and Catholic law, her retroactively-declared illegitimacy under the English church was not a serious bar compared to having never been legitimate as the Catholics claimed she was. For this reason alone, it was never in serious doubt that Elizabeth would embrace Protestantism.

Elizabeth and her advisers perceived the threat of a Catholic crusade against heretical England. Elizabeth therefore sought a Protestant solution that would not offend Catholics too greatly while addressing the desires of English Protestants she would not tolerate the more radical Puritans though, who were pushing for far-reaching reforms. [53] As a result, the parliament of 1559 started to legislate for a church based on the Protestant settlement of Edward VI, with the monarch as its head, but with many Catholic elements, such as vestments. [54]

The House of Commons backed the proposals strongly, but the bill of supremacy met opposition in the House of Lords, particularly from the bishops. Elizabeth was fortunate that many bishoprics were vacant at the time, including the Archbishopric of Canterbury. [55] [56] This enabled supporters amongst peers to outvote the bishops and conservative peers. Nevertheless, Elizabeth was forced to accept the title of Supreme Governor of the Church of England rather than the more contentious title of Supreme Head, which many thought unacceptable for a woman to bear. The new Act of Supremacy became law on 8 May 1559. All public officials were to swear an oath of loyalty to the monarch as the supreme governor or risk disqualification from office the heresy laws were repealed, to avoid a repeat of the persecution of dissenters practised by Mary. At the same time, a new Act of Uniformity was passed, which made attendance at church and the use of an adapted version of the 1552 Book of Common Prayer compulsory, though the penalties for recusancy, or failure to attend and conform, were not extreme. [57]

From the start of Elizabeth's reign, it was expected that she would marry and the question arose to whom. Although she received many offers for her hand, she never married and was childless the reasons for this are not clear. Historians have speculated that Thomas Seymour had put her off sexual relationships. [58] [59] She considered several suitors until she was about fifty. Her last courtship was with Francis, Duke of Anjou, 22 years her junior. While risking possible loss of power like her sister, who played into the hands of King Philip II of Spain, marriage offered the chance of an heir. [60] However, the choice of a husband might also provoke political instability or even insurrection. [61]

Robert Dudley

In the spring of 1559, it became evident that Elizabeth was in love with her childhood friend Robert Dudley. [62] It was said that Amy Robsart, his wife, was suffering from a "malady in one of her breasts" and that the Queen would like to marry Dudley if his wife should die. [63] By the autumn of 1559, several foreign suitors were vying for Elizabeth's hand their impatient envoys engaged in ever more scandalous talk and reported that a marriage with her favourite was not welcome in England: [64] "There is not a man who does not cry out on him and her with indignation . she will marry none but the favoured Robert." [65] Amy Dudley died in September 1560, from a fall from a flight of stairs and, despite the coroner's inquest finding of accident, many people suspected Dudley of having arranged her death so that he could marry the queen. [66] Elizabeth seriously considered marrying Dudley for some time. However, William Cecil, Nicholas Throckmorton, and some conservative peers made their disapproval unmistakably clear. [67] There were even rumours that the nobility would rise if the marriage took place. [68]

Among other marriage candidates being considered for the queen, Robert Dudley continued to be regarded as a possible candidate for nearly another decade. [69] Elizabeth was extremely jealous of his affections, even when she no longer meant to marry him herself. [70] In 1564, Elizabeth raised Dudley to the peerage as Earl of Leicester. He finally remarried in 1578, to which the queen reacted with repeated scenes of displeasure and lifelong hatred towards his wife, Lettice Knollys. [71] Still, Dudley always "remained at the centre of [Elizabeth's] emotional life", as historian Susan Doran has described the situation. [72] He died shortly after the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. After Elizabeth's own death, a note from him was found among her most personal belongings, marked "his last letter" in her handwriting. [73]

Foreign candidates

Marriage negotiations constituted a key element in Elizabeth's foreign policy. [74] She turned down Philip's hand early in 1559 but for several years entertained the proposal of King Eric XIV of Sweden. [75] Earlier in Elizabeth's life a Danish match for her had been discussed Henry VIII had proposed one with Duke Adolf of Denmark in 1545, and the Duke of Somerset one with Prince Frederick (later Frederick II) several years later, but the negotiations had abated in 1551. [76] In the years around 1559 a Dano-English Protestant alliance was considered, [77] and to counter Sweden's proposal, Frederick II proposed to Elizabeth in late 1559. [76]

For several years she also seriously negotiated to marry Philip's cousin Archduke Charles of Austria. By 1569, relations with the Habsburgs had deteriorated. Elizabeth considered marriage to two French Valois princes in turn, first Henry, Duke of Anjou, and later, from 1572 to 1581, his brother Francis, Duke of Anjou, formerly Duke of Alençon. [78] This last proposal was tied to a planned alliance against Spanish control of the Southern Netherlands. [79] Elizabeth seems to have taken the courtship seriously for a time, and wore a frog-shaped earring that Anjou had sent her. [80]

In 1563, Elizabeth told an imperial envoy: "If I follow the inclination of my nature, it is this: beggar-woman and single, far rather than queen and married". [74] Later in the year, following Elizabeth's illness with smallpox, the succession question became a heated issue in Parliament. Members urged the queen to marry or nominate an heir, to prevent a civil war upon her death. She refused to do either. In April she prorogued the Parliament, which did not reconvene until she needed its support to raise taxes in 1566.

Having previously promised to marry, she told an unruly House:

I will never break the word of a prince spoken in public place, for my honour's sake. And therefore I say again, I will marry as soon as I can conveniently, if God take not him away with whom I mind to marry, or myself, or else some other great let happen. [82]

By 1570, senior figures in the government privately accepted that Elizabeth would never marry or name a successor. William Cecil was already seeking solutions to the succession problem. [74] For her failure to marry, Elizabeth was often accused of irresponsibility. [83] Her silence, however, strengthened her own political security: she knew that if she named an heir, her throne would be vulnerable to a coup she remembered the way that "a second person, as I have been" had been used as the focus of plots against her predecessor. [84]


Elizabeth's unmarried status inspired a cult of virginity related to that of the Virgin Mary. In poetry and portraiture, she was depicted as a virgin or a goddess or both, not as a normal woman. [85] At first, only Elizabeth made a virtue of her ostensible virginity: in 1559, she told the Commons, "And, in the end, this shall be for me sufficient, that a marble stone shall declare that a queen, having reigned such a time, lived and died a virgin". [86] Later on, poets and writers took up the theme and developed an iconography that exalted Elizabeth. Public tributes to the Virgin by 1578 acted as a coded assertion of opposition to the queen's marriage negotiations with the Duke of Alençon. [87]

Ultimately, Elizabeth would insist she was married to her kingdom and subjects, under divine protection. In 1599, she spoke of "all my husbands, my good people". [88]

This claim of virginity was not universally accepted. Catholics accused her of engaging in "filthy lust" that symbolically defiled the nation along with her body. [89] Henry IV of France said that one of the great questions of Europe was "whether Queen Elizabeth was a maid or no". [90]

A central issue, when it comes to that question of her virginity, was whether she ever consummated her love affair with Robert Dudley. In 1559, Elizabeth had Dudley's bedchambers moved next to her own apartments. In 1561, she was mysteriously bedridden with an illness that caused her body to swell. [91] [92]

In 1587, a young man calling himself Arthur Dudley was arrested on the coast of Spain under suspicion of being a spy. [93] The man claimed to be the illegitimate son of Elizabeth and Robert Dudley, with his age being consistent with birth during the 1561 illness. [94] He was taken to Madrid for investigation, where he was examined by Francis Englefield, a Catholic aristocrat exiled to Spain and secretary to King Philip II. [93] Three letters exist today describing the interview, detailing what Arthur proclaimed to be the story of his life, from birth in the royal palace to the time of his arrival in Spain. [93] However, this failed to convince the Spanish: Englefield admitted to the King that Arthur's "claim at present amounts to nothing", but suggested that "he should not be allowed to get away, but [. ] kept very secure." [94] The King agreed, and Arthur was never heard from again. [95] Modern scholarship dismisses the story's basic premise as "impossible", [94] and asserts that Elizabeth's life was so closely observed by contemporaries that she could not have hidden a pregnancy. [95] [96]

Elizabeth's first policy toward Scotland was to oppose the French presence there. [98] She feared that the French planned to invade England and put her Catholic cousin Mary, Queen of Scots, on the throne. Mary was considered by many to be the heir to the English crown, being the granddaughter of Henry VIII's elder sister, Margaret. Mary boasted being "the nearest kinswoman she hath". [99] [100] Elizabeth was persuaded to send a force into Scotland to aid the Protestant rebels, and though the campaign was inept, the resulting Treaty of Edinburgh of July 1560 removed the French threat in the north. [101] When Mary returned to Scotland in 1561 to take up the reins of power, the country had an established Protestant church and was run by a council of Protestant nobles supported by Elizabeth. [102] Mary refused to ratify the treaty. [103]

In 1563 Elizabeth proposed her own suitor, Robert Dudley, as a husband for Mary, without asking either of the two people concerned. Both proved unenthusiastic, [104] and in 1565 Mary married Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, who carried his own claim to the English throne. The marriage was the first of a series of errors of judgement by Mary that handed the victory to the Scottish Protestants and to Elizabeth. Darnley quickly became unpopular and was murdered in February 1567 by conspirators almost certainly led by James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell. Shortly afterwards, on 15 May 1567, Mary married Bothwell, arousing suspicions that she had been party to the murder of her husband. Elizabeth confronted Mary about the marriage, writing to her:

How could a worse choice be made for your honour than in such haste to marry such a subject, who besides other and notorious lacks, public fame has charged with the murder of your late husband, besides the touching of yourself also in some part, though we trust in that behalf falsely. [105]

These events led rapidly to Mary's defeat and imprisonment in Loch Leven Castle. The Scottish lords forced her to abdicate in favour of her son James VI, who had been born in June 1566. James was taken to Stirling Castle to be raised as a Protestant. Mary escaped from Loch Leven in 1568 but after another defeat fled across the border into England, where she had once been assured of support from Elizabeth. Elizabeth's first instinct was to restore her fellow monarch but she and her council instead chose to play safe. Rather than risk returning Mary to Scotland with an English army or sending her to France and the Catholic enemies of England, they detained her in England, where she was imprisoned for the next nineteen years. [106]

Catholic cause

Mary was soon the focus for rebellion. In 1569 there was a major Catholic rising in the North the goal was to free Mary, marry her to Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, and put her on the English throne. [107] After the rebels' defeat, over 750 of them were executed on Elizabeth's orders. [108] In the belief that the revolt had been successful, Pope Pius V issued a bull in 1570, titled Regnans in Excelsis, which declared "Elizabeth, the pretended Queen of England and the servant of crime" to be excommunicated and a heretic, releasing all her subjects from any allegiance to her. [109] [110] Catholics who obeyed her orders were threatened with excommunication. [109] The papal bull provoked legislative initiatives against Catholics by Parliament, which were, however, mitigated by Elizabeth's intervention. [111] In 1581, to convert English subjects to Catholicism with "the intent" to withdraw them from their allegiance to Elizabeth was made a treasonable offence, carrying the death penalty. [112] From the 1570s missionary priests from continental seminaries went to England secretly in the cause of the "reconversion of England". [110] Many suffered execution, engendering a cult of martyrdom. [110]

Regnans in Excelsis gave English Catholics a strong incentive to look to Mary Stuart as the legitimate sovereign of England. Mary may not have been told of every Catholic plot to put her on the English throne, but from the Ridolfi Plot of 1571 (which caused Mary's suitor, the Duke of Norfolk, to lose his head) to the Babington Plot of 1586, Elizabeth's spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham and the royal council keenly assembled a case against her. [107] At first, Elizabeth resisted calls for Mary's death. By late 1586, she had been persuaded to sanction her trial and execution on the evidence of letters written during the Babington Plot. [113] Elizabeth's proclamation of the sentence announced that "the said Mary, pretending title to the same Crown, had compassed and imagined within the same realm divers things tending to the hurt, death and destruction of our royal person." [114] On 8 February 1587, Mary was beheaded at Fotheringhay Castle, Northamptonshire. [115] After Mary's execution, Elizabeth claimed that she had not intended for the signed execution warrant to be dispatched, and blamed her Secretary, William Davison, for implementing it without her knowledge. The sincerity of Elizabeth's remorse and whether or not she wanted to delay the warrant have been called into question both by her contemporaries and later historians. [52]

Elizabeth's foreign policy was largely defensive. The exception was the English occupation of Le Havre from October 1562 to June 1563, which ended in failure when Elizabeth's Huguenot allies joined with the Catholics to retake the port. Elizabeth's intention had been to exchange Le Havre for Calais, lost to France in January 1558. [116] Only through the activities of her fleets did Elizabeth pursue an aggressive policy. This paid off in the war against Spain, 80% of which was fought at sea. [117] She knighted Francis Drake after his circumnavigation of the globe from 1577 to 1580, and he won fame for his raids on Spanish ports and fleets. An element of piracy and self-enrichment drove Elizabethan seafarers, over whom the queen had little control. [118] [119]


After the occupation and loss of Le Havre in 1562–1563, Elizabeth avoided military expeditions on the continent until 1585, when she sent an English army to aid the Protestant Dutch rebels against Philip II. [120] This followed the deaths in 1584 of the allies William the Silent, Prince of Orange, and the Duke of Anjou, and the surrender of a series of Dutch towns to Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma, Philip's governor of the Spanish Netherlands. In December 1584, an alliance between Philip II and the French Catholic League at Joinville undermined the ability of Anjou's brother, Henry III of France, to counter Spanish domination of the Netherlands. It also extended Spanish influence along the channel coast of France, where the Catholic League was strong, and exposed England to invasion. [120] The siege of Antwerp in the summer of 1585 by the Duke of Parma necessitated some reaction on the part of the English and the Dutch. The outcome was the Treaty of Nonsuch of August 1585, in which Elizabeth promised military support to the Dutch. [121] The treaty marked the beginning of the Anglo-Spanish War, which lasted until the Treaty of London in 1604.

The expedition was led by her former suitor, the Earl of Leicester. Elizabeth from the start did not really back this course of action. Her strategy, to support the Dutch on the surface with an English army, while beginning secret peace talks with Spain within days of Leicester's arrival in Holland, [122] had necessarily to be at odds with Leicester's, who wanted and was expected by the Dutch to fight an active campaign. Elizabeth, on the other hand, wanted him "to avoid at all costs any decisive action with the enemy". [123] He enraged Elizabeth by accepting the post of Governor-General from the Dutch States General. Elizabeth saw this as a Dutch ploy to force her to accept sovereignty over the Netherlands, [124] which so far she had always declined. She wrote to Leicester:

We could never have imagined (had we not seen it fall out in experience) that a man raised up by ourself and extraordinarily favoured by us, above any other subject of this land, would have in so contemptible a sort broken our commandment in a cause that so greatly touches us in honour . And therefore our express pleasure and commandment is that, all delays and excuses laid apart, you do presently upon the duty of your allegiance obey and fulfill whatsoever the bearer hereof shall direct you to do in our name. Whereof fail you not, as you will answer the contrary at your utmost peril. [125]

Elizabeth's "commandment" was that her emissary read out her letters of disapproval publicly before the Dutch Council of State, Leicester having to stand nearby. [126] This public humiliation of her "Lieutenant-General" combined with her continued talks for a separate peace with Spain, [127] irreversibly undermined his standing among the Dutch. The military campaign was severely hampered by Elizabeth's repeated refusals to send promised funds for her starving soldiers. Her unwillingness to commit herself to the cause, Leicester's own shortcomings as a political and military leader, and the faction-ridden and chaotic situation of Dutch politics led to the failure of the campaign. [128] Leicester finally resigned his command in December 1587.

Spanish Armada

Meanwhile, Sir Francis Drake had undertaken a major voyage against Spanish ports and ships in the Caribbean in 1585 and 1586. In 1587 he made a successful raid on Cádiz, destroying the Spanish fleet of war ships intended for the Enterprise of England, [129] as Philip II had decided to take the war to England. [130]

On 12 July 1588, the Spanish Armada, a great fleet of ships, set sail for the channel, planning to ferry a Spanish invasion force under the Duke of Parma to the coast of southeast England from the Netherlands. A combination of miscalculation, [131] misfortune, and an attack of English fire ships on 29 July off Gravelines, which dispersed the Spanish ships to the northeast, defeated the Armada. [132] The Armada straggled home to Spain in shattered remnants, after disastrous losses on the coast of Ireland (after some ships had tried to struggle back to Spain via the North Sea, and then back south past the west coast of Ireland). [133] Unaware of the Armada's fate, English militias mustered to defend the country under the Earl of Leicester's command. He invited Elizabeth to inspect her troops at Tilbury in Essex on 8 August. Wearing a silver breastplate over a white velvet dress, she addressed them in one of her most famous speeches:

My loving people, we have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit ourself to armed multitudes for fear of treachery but I assure you, I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people . I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a King of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any Prince of Europe should dare to invade the borders of my realm. [134]

When no invasion came, the nation rejoiced. Elizabeth's procession to a thanksgiving service at St Paul's Cathedral rivalled that of her coronation as a spectacle. [133] The defeat of the armada was a potent propaganda victory, both for Elizabeth and for Protestant England. The English took their delivery as a symbol of God's favour and of the nation's inviolability under a virgin queen. [117] However, the victory was not a turning point in the war, which continued and often favoured Spain. [135] The Spanish still controlled the southern provinces of the Netherlands, and the threat of invasion remained. [130] Sir Walter Raleigh claimed after her death that Elizabeth's caution had impeded the war against Spain:

If the late queen would have believed her men of war as she did her scribes, we had in her time beaten that great empire in pieces and made their kings of figs and oranges as in old times. But her Majesty did all by halves, and by petty invasions taught the Spaniard how to defend himself, and to see his own weakness. [136]

Though some historians have criticised Elizabeth on similar grounds, [137] Raleigh's verdict has more often been judged unfair. Elizabeth had good reason not to place too much trust in her commanders, who once in action tended, as she put it herself, "to be transported with an haviour of vainglory". [138]

In 1589, the year after the Spanish Armada, Elizabeth sent to Spain the English Armada or Counter Armada with 23,375 men and 150 ships, led by Sir Francis Drake as admiral and Sir John Norreys as general. The English fleet suffered a catastrophic defeat with 11,000–15,000 killed, wounded or died of disease [139] [140] [141] and 40 ships sunk or captured. [141] The advantage England had won upon the destruction of the Spanish Armada was lost, and the Spanish victory marked a revival of Philip II's naval power through the next decade. [142]


When the Protestant Henry IV inherited the French throne in 1589, Elizabeth sent him military support. It was her first venture into France since the retreat from Le Havre in 1563. Henry's succession was strongly contested by the Catholic League and by Philip II, and Elizabeth feared a Spanish takeover of the channel ports. The subsequent English campaigns in France, however, were disorganised and ineffective. [143] Lord Willoughby, largely ignoring Elizabeth's orders, roamed northern France to little effect, with an army of 4,000 men. He withdrew in disarray in December 1589, having lost half his troops. In 1591, the campaign of John Norreys, who led 3,000 men to Brittany, was even more of a disaster. As for all such expeditions, Elizabeth was unwilling to invest in the supplies and reinforcements requested by the commanders. Norreys left for London to plead in person for more support. In his absence, a Catholic League army almost destroyed the remains of his army at Craon, north-west France, in May 1591. In July, Elizabeth sent out another force under Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, to help Henry IV in besieging Rouen. The result was just as dismal. Essex accomplished nothing and returned home in January 1592. Henry abandoned the siege in April. [144] As usual, Elizabeth lacked control over her commanders once they were abroad. "Where he is, or what he doth, or what he is to do," she wrote of Essex, "we are ignorant". [145]


Although Ireland was one of her two kingdoms, Elizabeth faced a hostile, and in places virtually autonomous, [146] Irish population that adhered to Catholicism and was willing to defy her authority and plot with her enemies. Her policy there was to grant land to her courtiers and prevent the rebels from giving Spain a base from which to attack England. [147] In the course of a series of uprisings, Crown forces pursued scorched-earth tactics, burning the land and slaughtering man, woman and child. During a revolt in Munster led by Gerald FitzGerald, 14th Earl of Desmond, in 1582, an estimated 30,000 Irish people starved to death. The poet and colonist Edmund Spenser wrote that the victims "were brought to such wretchedness as that any stony heart would have rued the same". [148] Elizabeth advised her commanders that the Irish, "that rude and barbarous nation", be well treated but she or her commanders showed no remorse when force and bloodshed served their authoritarian purpose. [149]

Between 1594 and 1603, Elizabeth faced her most severe test in Ireland during the Nine Years' War, a revolt that took place at the height of hostilities with Spain, who backed the rebel leader, Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone. [150] In spring 1599, Elizabeth sent Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, to put the revolt down. To her frustration, [151] he made little progress and returned to England in defiance of her orders. He was replaced by Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy, who took three years to defeat the rebels. O'Neill finally surrendered in 1603, a few days after Elizabeth's death. [152] Soon afterwards, a peace treaty was signed between England and Spain.


Elizabeth continued to maintain the diplomatic relations with the Tsardom of Russia that were originally established by her half-brother, Edward VI. She often wrote to Ivan the Terrible on amicable terms, though the Tsar was often annoyed by her focus on commerce rather than on the possibility of a military alliance. The Tsar even proposed to her once, and during his later reign, asked for a guarantee to be granted asylum in England should his rule be jeopardised. [153] English merchant and explorer Anthony Jenkinson, who began his career as a representative of the Muscovy Company, became the queen's special ambassador to the court of Ivan the Terrible. [154] Upon Ivan's death in 1584, he was succeeded by his less-ambitious son Feodor. Unlike his father, Feodor had no enthusiasm in maintaining exclusive trading rights with England. Feodor declared his kingdom open to all foreigners, and dismissed the English ambassador Sir Jerome Bowes, whose pomposity had been tolerated by Ivan. Elizabeth sent a new ambassador, Dr. Giles Fletcher, to demand from the regent Boris Godunov that he convince the Tsar to reconsider. The negotiations failed, due to Fletcher addressing Feodor with two of his many titles omitted. Elizabeth continued to appeal to Feodor in half appealing, half reproachful letters. She proposed an alliance, something which she had refused to do when offered one by Feodor's father, but was turned down. [153]

Muslim states

Trade and diplomatic relations developed between England and the Barbary states during the rule of Elizabeth. [155] [156] England established a trading relationship with Morocco in opposition to Spain, selling armour, ammunition, timber, and metal in exchange for Moroccan sugar, in spite of a Papal ban. [157] In 1600, Abd el-Ouahed ben Messaoud, the principal secretary to the Moroccan ruler Mulai Ahmad al-Mansur, visited England as an ambassador to the court of Queen Elizabeth I, [155] [158] to negotiate an Anglo-Moroccan alliance against Spain. [159] [155] Elizabeth "agreed to sell munitions supplies to Morocco, and she and Mulai Ahmad al-Mansur talked on and off about mounting a joint operation against the Spanish". [160] Discussions, however, remained inconclusive, and both rulers died within two years of the embassy. [161]

Diplomatic relations were also established with the Ottoman Empire with the chartering of the Levant Company and the dispatch of the first English ambassador to the Porte, William Harborne, in 1578. [160] For the first time, a Treaty of Commerce was signed in 1580. [162] Numerous envoys were dispatched in both directions and epistolar exchanges occurred between Elizabeth and Sultan Murad III. [160] In one correspondence, Murad entertained the notion that Islam and Protestantism had "much more in common than either did with Roman Catholicism, as both rejected the worship of idols", and argued for an alliance between England and the Ottoman Empire. [163] To the dismay of Catholic Europe, England exported tin and lead (for cannon-casting) and ammunitions to the Ottoman Empire, and Elizabeth seriously discussed joint military operations with Murad III during the outbreak of war with Spain in 1585, as Francis Walsingham was lobbying for a direct Ottoman military involvement against the common Spanish enemy. [164]


In 1583, Sir Humphrey Gilbert sailed west to establish a colony on Newfoundland. He never returned to England. Gilbert's relative Sir Walter Raleigh explored the Atlantic Coast and claimed the territory of Virginia, perhaps named in honour of Elizabeth, the "Virgin Queen". This territory was much larger than the present-day state of Virginia, extending from New England to the Carolinas. In 1585, Raleigh returned to Virginia with a small group of people. They landed on the island of Roanoke, off present-day North Carolina. After the failure of the first colony, Raleigh recruited another group and put John White in command. When Raleigh returned in 1590, there was no trace of the Roanoke Colony he had left, but it was the first English Settlement in North America. [165]

East India Company

The East India Company was formed to trade in the Indian Ocean region and China, and received its charter from Queen Elizabeth on 31 December 1600. For a period of 15 years, the company was awarded a monopoly on English trade with all countries East of the Cape of Good Hope and West of the Straits of Magellan. Sir James Lancaster commanded the first expedition in 1601. The Company eventually controlled half of world trade and substantial territory in India in the 18th and 19th centuries. [166]

The period after the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 brought new difficulties for Elizabeth that lasted until the end of her reign. [135] The conflicts with Spain and in Ireland dragged on, the tax burden grew heavier, and the economy was hit by poor harvests and the cost of war. Prices rose and the standard of living fell. [167] [168] [135] During this time, repression of Catholics intensified, and Elizabeth authorised commissions in 1591 to interrogate and monitor Catholic householders. [169] To maintain the illusion of peace and prosperity, she increasingly relied on internal spies and propaganda. [167] In her last years, mounting criticism reflected a decline in the public's affection for her. [170] [171]

One of the causes for this "second reign" of Elizabeth, as it is sometimes called, [172] was the changed character of Elizabeth's governing body, the privy council in the 1590s. A new generation was in power. With the exception of Lord Burghley, the most important politicians had died around 1590: the Earl of Leicester in 1588 Sir Francis Walsingham in 1590 and Sir Christopher Hatton in 1591. [173] Factional strife in the government, which had not existed in a noteworthy form before the 1590s, [174] now became its hallmark. [175] A bitter rivalry arose between the Earl of Essex and Robert Cecil, son of Lord Burghley and their respective adherents, and the struggle for the most powerful positions in the state marred politics. [176] The queen's personal authority was lessening, [177] as is shown in the 1594 affair of Dr. Lopez, her trusted physician. When he was wrongly accused by the Earl of Essex of treason out of personal pique, she could not prevent his execution, although she had been angry about his arrest and seems not to have believed in his guilt. [178]

During the last years of her reign, Elizabeth came to rely on the granting of monopolies as a cost-free system of patronage, rather than asking Parliament for more subsidies in a time of war. [179] The practice soon led to price-fixing, the enrichment of courtiers at the public's expense, and widespread resentment. [180] This culminated in agitation in the House of Commons during the parliament of 1601. [181] In her famous "Golden Speech" of 30 November 1601 at Whitehall Palace to a deputation of 140 members, Elizabeth professed ignorance of the abuses, and won the members over with promises and her usual appeal to the emotions: [182]

Who keeps their sovereign from the lapse of error, in which, by ignorance and not by intent they might have fallen, what thank they deserve, we know, though you may guess. And as nothing is more dear to us than the loving conservation of our subjects' hearts, what an undeserved doubt might we have incurred if the abusers of our liberality, the thrallers of our people, the wringers of the poor, had not been told us! [183]

This same period of economic and political uncertainty, however, produced an unsurpassed literary flowering in England. [184] The first signs of a new literary movement had appeared at the end of the second decade of Elizabeth's reign, with John Lyly's Euphues and Edmund Spenser's The Shepheardes Calender in 1578. During the 1590s, some of the great names of English literature entered their maturity, including William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe. Continuing into the Jacobean era, the English theatre would reach its peak. [185] The notion of a great Elizabethan era depends largely on the builders, dramatists, poets, and musicians who were active during Elizabeth's reign. They owed little directly to the queen, who was never a major patron of the arts. [186]

As Elizabeth aged her image gradually changed. She was portrayed as Belphoebe or Astraea, and after the Armada, as Gloriana, the eternally youthful Faerie Queene of Edmund Spenser's poem. Elizabeth gave Edmund Spenser a pension, as this was unusual for her, it indicates that she liked his work. [187] Her painted portraits became less realistic and more a set of enigmatic icons that made her look much younger than she was. In fact, her skin had been scarred by smallpox in 1562, leaving her half bald and dependent on wigs and cosmetics. [188] Her love of sweets and fear of dentists contributed to severe tooth decay and loss to such an extent that foreign ambassadors had a hard time understanding her speech. [189] André Hurault de Maisse, Ambassador Extraordinary from Henry IV of France, reported an audience with the queen, during which he noticed, "her teeth are very yellow and unequal . and on the left side less than on the right. Many of them are missing, so that one cannot understand her easily when she speaks quickly." Yet he added, "her figure is fair and tall and graceful in whatever she does so far as may be she keeps her dignity, yet humbly and graciously withal." [190] Sir Walter Raleigh called her "a lady whom time had surprised". [191]

The more Elizabeth's beauty faded, the more her courtiers praised it. [188] Elizabeth was happy to play the part, [192] but it is possible that in the last decade of her life she began to believe her own performance. She became fond and indulgent of the charming but petulant young Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, who was Leicester's stepson and took liberties with her for which she forgave him. [193] She repeatedly appointed him to military posts despite his growing record of irresponsibility. After Essex's desertion of his command in Ireland in 1599, Elizabeth had him placed under house arrest and the following year deprived him of his monopolies. [194] In February 1601, the earl tried to raise a rebellion in London. He intended to seize the queen but few rallied to his support, and he was beheaded on 25 February. Elizabeth knew that her own misjudgements were partly to blame for this turn of events. An observer wrote in 1602: "Her delight is to sit in the dark, and sometimes with shedding tears to bewail Essex." [195]

Elizabeth's senior adviser, William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, died on 4 August 1598. His political mantle passed to his son, Robert Cecil, who soon became the leader of the government. [196] One task he addressed was to prepare the way for a smooth succession. Since Elizabeth would never name her successor, Cecil was obliged to proceed in secret. [197] He therefore entered into a coded negotiation with James VI of Scotland, who had a strong but unrecognised claim. [198] Cecil coached the impatient James to humour Elizabeth and "secure the heart of the highest, to whose sex and quality nothing is so improper as either needless expostulations or over much curiosity in her own actions". [199] The advice worked. James's tone delighted Elizabeth, who responded: "So trust I that you will not doubt but that your last letters are so acceptably taken as my thanks cannot be lacking for the same, but yield them to you in grateful sort". [200] In historian J. E. Neale's view, Elizabeth may not have declared her wishes openly to James, but she made them known with "unmistakable if veiled phrases". [201]

The Queen's health remained fair until the autumn of 1602, when a series of deaths among her friends plunged her into a severe depression. In February 1603, the death of Catherine Carey, Countess of Nottingham, the niece of her cousin and close friend Lady Knollys, came as a particular blow. In March, Elizabeth fell sick and remained in a "settled and unremovable melancholy", and sat motionless on a cushion for hours on end. [202] When Robert Cecil told her that she must go to bed, she snapped: "Must is not a word to use to princes, little man." She died on 24 March 1603 at Richmond Palace, between two and three in the morning. A few hours later, Cecil and the council set their plans in motion and proclaimed James King of England. [203]

While it has become normative to record the death of the Queen as occurring in 1603, following English calendar reform in the 1750s, at the time England observed New Year's Day on 25 March, commonly known as Lady Day. Thus Elizabeth died on the last day of the year 1602 in the old calendar. The modern convention is to use the old calendar for the date and month while using the new for the year. [204]

Elizabeth's coffin was carried downriver at night to Whitehall, on a barge lit with torches. At her funeral on 28 April, the coffin was taken to Westminster Abbey on a hearse drawn by four horses hung with black velvet. In the words of the chronicler John Stow:

Westminster was surcharged with multitudes of all sorts of people in their streets, houses, windows, leads and gutters, that came out to see the obsequy, and when they beheld her statue lying upon the coffin, there was such a general sighing, groaning and weeping as the like hath not been seen or known in the memory of man. [205]

Elizabeth was interred in Westminster Abbey, in a tomb shared with her half-sister, Mary I. The Latin inscription on their tomb, "Regno consortes & urna, hic obdormimus Elizabetha et Maria sorores, in spe resurrectionis", translates to "Consorts in realm and tomb, here we sleep, Elizabeth and Mary, sisters, in hope of resurrection". [206]

Elizabeth was lamented by many of her subjects, but others were relieved at her death. [208] Expectations of King James started high but then declined. By the 1620s, there was a nostalgic revival of the cult of Elizabeth. [209] Elizabeth was praised as a heroine of the Protestant cause and the ruler of a golden age. James was depicted as a Catholic sympathiser, presiding over a corrupt court. [210] The triumphalist image that Elizabeth had cultivated towards the end of her reign, against a background of factionalism and military and economic difficulties, [211] was taken at face value and her reputation inflated. Godfrey Goodman, Bishop of Gloucester, recalled: "When we had experience of a Scottish government, the Queen did seem to revive. Then was her memory much magnified." [212] Elizabeth's reign became idealised as a time when crown, church and parliament had worked in constitutional balance. [213]

The picture of Elizabeth painted by her Protestant admirers of the early 17th century has proved lasting and influential. [214] Her memory was also revived during the Napoleonic Wars, when the nation again found itself on the brink of invasion. [215] In the Victorian era, the Elizabethan legend was adapted to the imperial ideology of the day, [208] [216] and in the mid-20th century, Elizabeth was a romantic symbol of the national resistance to foreign threat. [217] [218] Historians of that period, such as J. E. Neale (1934) and A. L. Rowse (1950), interpreted Elizabeth's reign as a golden age of progress. [219] Neale and Rowse also idealised the Queen personally: she always did everything right her more unpleasant traits were ignored or explained as signs of stress. [220]

Recent historians, however, have taken a more complicated view of Elizabeth. [221] Her reign is famous for the defeat of the Armada, and for successful raids against the Spanish, such as those on Cádiz in 1587 and 1596, but some historians point to military failures on land and at sea. [143] In Ireland, Elizabeth's forces ultimately prevailed, but their tactics stain her record. [222] Rather than as a brave defender of the Protestant nations against Spain and the Habsburgs, she is more often regarded as cautious in her foreign policies. She offered very limited aid to foreign Protestants and failed to provide her commanders with the funds to make a difference abroad. [223]

Elizabeth established an English church that helped shape a national identity and remains in place today. [224] [225] [226] Those who praised her later as a Protestant heroine overlooked her refusal to drop all practices of Catholic origin from the Church of England. [227] Historians note that in her day, strict Protestants regarded the Acts of Settlement and Uniformity of 1559 as a compromise. [228] [229] In fact, Elizabeth believed that faith was personal and did not wish, as Francis Bacon put it, to "make windows into men's hearts and secret thoughts". [230] [231]

Though Elizabeth followed a largely defensive foreign policy, her reign raised England's status abroad. "She is only a woman, only mistress of half an island," marvelled Pope Sixtus V, "and yet she makes herself feared by Spain, by France, by the Empire, by all". [232] Under Elizabeth, the nation gained a new self-confidence and sense of sovereignty, as Christendom fragmented. [209] [233] [234] Elizabeth was the first Tudor to recognise that a monarch ruled by popular consent. [235] She therefore always worked with parliament and advisers she could trust to tell her the truth—a style of government that her Stuart successors failed to follow. Some historians have called her lucky [232] she believed that God was protecting her. [236] Priding herself on being "mere English", [237] Elizabeth trusted in God, honest advice, and the love of her subjects for the success of her rule. [238] In a prayer, she offered thanks to God that:

[At a time] when wars and seditions with grievous persecutions have vexed almost all kings and countries round about me, my reign hath been peacable, and my realm a receptacle to thy afflicted Church. The love of my people hath appeared firm, and the devices of my enemies frustrate. [232]

The 7 Suitors of Elizabeth I - History

Coronation: 15 January 1559
Westminster Abbey

Died: 24 March 1603
Richmond Palace

Buried: 28 April 1603
Westminster Abbey

On January 15, 1559, Elizabeth I was crowned Queen by Owen Oglethorpe, bishop of Carlisle at Westminster Abbey, a little less than two months after the death of Mary I. The total cost of the celebrations, excluding the coronation banquet was £16,741, which according to one calculation would equal about £3.5 million today. Like her predecessors, Elizabeth knew the importance of a good show, especially for a new monarch who needed to re-affirm her right to her crown.

Three days earlier, Elizabeth resided at the Tower of London and on the 14th made the procession to Westminster. Along the way were various displays and pageants for Elizabeth's entertainment. On the night of the 14th, she spent the night at the Palace of Westminster, which was just a short walking distance from the Westminster Abbey. The next day, the 15th, Elizabeth walked in procession to the Abbey for the coronation on the date chosen by Dr. John Dee, who besides being a mathematician and Greek scholar, was also an astrologer. For the procession, Elizabeth walked on a blue carpet that ran from the palace to the abbey, which was torn up by souvenir seekers after the Queen walked past. The ceremony of the coronation was much as it had been for Elizabeth&rsquos predecessors, but with a few significant alterations to the religious aspects of the service. The coronation mass now included readings in English and Latin for the Epistle and Gospel and she retreated to a curtained area in St. Edward&rsquos Chapel during the elevation of the host. After the coronation, Elizabeth walked from the Abbey to Westminster Hall for the traditional coronation banquet, a custom that ended with the coronation of George IV in 1821.

When Elizabeth took the throne, she was immediately descended upon by suitors. However, as we all know, she never married. One of the most obvious questions would be "why?". Some theorize that because of the way her father treated his wives, Elizabeth was disgusted by the idea of marriage. The more romantic feel it was because she couldn't marry the man that she really loved, Robert Dudley. When Elizabeth became Queen, Dudley was married, and then his wife Amy died under mysterious circumstances a few years later. Although Robert Dudley was cleared of any wrong-doing in the matter, Elizabeth could not marry him because of the scandal that would no doubt arise. Or perhaps she never married because of a combination of reasons. Regardless, Elizabeth never married, but managed to successfully play her suitors off of one another for about 25 years, gaining alliances and wealth from gifts on the possibility of marriage. The one serious contender for her hand was Francis, Duke of Alençon of France, but negotiations eventually failed.

The later years of Elizabeth's reign are sometimes referred to as a Golden Age. During this time, England and Elizabeth faced several major trials. First, Elizabeth had to deal with the growing threat of Mary Queen of Scots, who had a strong and legitimate (especially in the eyes of Catholics) claim to the throne of England. When Mary fled her country in the 1560s, she was taken into house arrest in England, where she had expected the protection of her cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth however knew Mary was a threat. Eventually, a plot serious enough arose in Mary's name, and Elizabeth sign her death warrant. Mary was executed in 1587, on February 8th, at Fortheringhay.

Also, the greatest military threat to Elizabeth's reign came a year later, when the Armada from Spain sailed toward the tiny island nation. England prevailed and was on its way towards becoming the supreme naval power that it was in the 1600 and 1700s. This was also near the time that Robert Dudley died. Elizabeth kept the last letter he sent her in her desk, with "His Last Letter" written on it. In the final years of her reign Elizabeth faced the challenges of increasing Puritain influence and the rebellion of Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex.

Elizabeth died on March 24, 1603 at Richmond Palace and was succeeded by James I (James VI of Scotland), the son of Mary, Queen of Scots. The Tudor dynasty ended and passed to the Stuarts.

According to Henry VIII&rsquos will, the next heirs after Henry VIII&rsquos own children were those remaining daughters of Frances Brandon, daughter of Henry VIII&rsquos sister Mary Tudor and her husband Charles Brandon. Frances&rsquo first daughter was Jane Grey, who was executed in the reign of Mary I after briefly holding the throne for 9 days after the death of Edward VI. Jane had two sisters, Catherine and Mary Grey and early in Elizabeth&rsquos reign it appeared that Catherine would be, at least legally, the next in line to the throne. However, Catherine married Edward Seymour (son of the Edward Seymour, the Lord Protector from Edward VI's reign) in secret without the Queen&rsquos permission and her marriage was declared invalid in 1561, making her children illegitimate. Catherine herself died in 1568, so was not a question in the succession in 1603, but she had two sons: Edward and Thomas, who were still alive at the time.

After the children of Catherine Grey would have been the heirs of Mary Grey, but although she married, she is not known to have produced any heirs and she herself died in 1578, long before Elizabeth.

After the heirs of Frances Brandon would come the heirs of Frances&rsquo younger sister, Eleanor Brandon. Eleanor married Henry Clifford, the Earl of Cumberland and had a daughter, Margaret. Margaret died a few years before Elizabeth I, but she had a son, William, who was alive and therefore another potential legal heir of Elizabeth I&rsquos throne, and one without the questions of legitimacy that surrounded Catherine Grey&rsquos sons.

The children of Margaret Tudor, wife of James IV of Scotland were not mentioned as part of the succession since they were born in a foreign country. But, since they were the heirs of an older daughter of Henry VII, going by the usual hereditary rules they would have a stronger claim to the English throne than the descendants of Henry VII&rsquos younger daughter Mary. In the first few decades of Elizabeth&rsquos reign, the primary claimant to Elizabeth&rsquos crown through this line was Mary Queen of Scots. Since she was Catholic, she was a rallying point for those who wished to see someone from the old faith on the English throne.

After the death of James IV, Margaret Tudor married Archibald Douglas, and they had a daughter named Margaret, who married Matthew Stuart, the Earl of Lennox. Margaret Douglas had two sons, Henry Lord Darnley and Charles, who later inherited his father&rsquos title. In 1565, the two lines of descent from Margaret Tudor were united when Mary Queen of Scots was married to Henry Lord Darnley. Two years later Mary bore a son James, the future James VI of Scotland. Margaret Douglas&rsquo second son, Charles married Elizabeth Cavendish and had one child, a daughter, Arabella Stuart.

By the time Elizabeth was in the final days of her life, it seemed a foregone conclusion that the crown would go to James VI of Scotland. Secret behind-the-scenes dealings with members of Elizabeth&rsquos government paved the way for his succession. However, it is still not known for sure whether or not Elizabeth actually named James as her heir on her deathbed It is possible that Elizabeth never formally named James her heir in writing because she remembered the events surrounding her sister&rsquos death and how the people abandoned Mary in favor of Elizabeth in Mary&rsquos final weeks. It is generally said that when asked who she wanted to succeed her, Elizabeth made a hand sign indicating James, since she was no longer able to speak. Regardless of whether or not she actually indicated James, it was the King of Scotland who succeeded Elizabeth, peacefully, although there were several others with claims to the English throne as we&rsquove gone through above. In 1603, the kingdoms of Scotland and England were finally united under one crown.

Robert Dudley: Queen Elizabeth I’s great love

The 'Virgin Queen' never married, but one suitor came closer to her than any other. Tracy Borman explores the complex and sometimes scandalous relationship between Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley.

This competition is now closed

Published: June 26, 2020 at 11:40 am

Elizabeth I is remembered in history as the Virgin Queen. She was the daughter of Henry VIII by his second wife Anne Boleyn and in stark contrast to her much-married father, she famously declared: “I will have but one mistress here, and no master.” During the course of her long reign, she was besieged by many suitors but gave each one nothing more than “fair words but no promises”. Yet it is generally accepted that there was one man who, more than any other, tempted Elizabeth to relinquish her single state.

Robert Dudley (1532/33–88), was the fifth son of John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland. The duke had wrested power during the minority of Edward VI (who became king aged nine on Henry VIII’s death), but was executed for putting his daughter-in-law, Lady Jane Grey, on the throne after the young king’s death in 1553. His son Robert led troops in support of the coup, but was swiftly defeated by Queen Mary I and was thrown into the Tower of London.

Robert Dudley and Elizabeth I’s relationship

Robert Dudley’s sojourn in the Tower coincided with that of the new queen’s half-sister, Elizabeth (who Mary suspected of plotting against her). They had been friends since childhood, Dudley having been among her brother Edward’s companions. Close in age, Elizabeth and Dudley had shared the same tutor, Roger Ascham, who had been greatly impressed by his precocious young pupils.

It was in Dudley that the eight-year-old Elizabeth had confided upon the execution of her third stepmother, Catherine Howard, in 1541, vowing: “I will never marry.” He would always remember the conversation, and it may have been the reason he decided to marry Amy Robsart nine years later. During the years that followed, Robert kept his wife away from court – mindful, perhaps, that it might damage his relationship with Elizabeth.

The years of uncertainty during Mary Tudor’s reign (1553–58), when Elizabeth lived in constant fear for her life, brought her ever closer to Dudley. He remained loyal to her throughout, even when it risked his own safety. They spent many hours together and had a great deal in common, sharing a love of hunting, dancing and lively conversation. This sparked endless gossip among the princess’s household, particularly given that Dudley was a married man.

His loyalty was rewarded when Elizabeth became queen in 1558, at the age of 25. She immediately appointed Dudley to be her Master of Horse, a prestigious position that involved regular attendance upon his royal mistress. But it was no longer easy for the couple to meet in private. As queen, Elizabeth’s every move was scrutinised not just by her people, but by the whole of Europe. “A thousand eyes see all I do,” she once complained.

Nevertheless, Elizabeth made it clear that she had no intention of giving up her favourite. If anything, she found ways to spend even more time with him. A year after her accession, she had Dudley’s bedchamber moved next to her private rooms in order to facilitate their clandestine meetings. Before long, their relationship was causing a scandal not just in England, but in courts across Europe.

The obvious intimacy between them provoked endless speculation about just how close their relationship was. Elizabeth’s chief rival, Mary, Queen of Scots, was in no doubt that Elizabeth and Dudley were lovers, and later told the noblewoman Bess of Hardwick that he had visited the queen’s bed numerous times. It is unlikely that Elizabeth, who had seen so many powerful examples of the perils of sex and childbirth, would have risked the throne she had fought so hard for by sleeping with her favourite. But their friendship probably charted a careful course between platonic and sexual.

The rumours flared up again in 1587, when a young man going by the name of Arthur Dudley arrived at Philip II’s court in Madrid, Spain, claiming to be the illegitimate child of the English queen and her favourite, Robert Dudley. His age placed his conception at 1561, which coincided with Elizabeth being bedridden with a mysterious illness that caused her body to swell. The account therefore had an air of credibility, made more so by the fact that Arthur was able to name a servant who had allegedly spirited him away from the royal palace of Hampton Court (near London) as soon as he was born and raised him as his own, only confessing the truth on his deathbed in 1583. There is no firm evidence to corroborate the story, but it suited King Philip’s interests to discredit the English queen.

The death of Amy Robsart

Ironically, the death of Dudley’s wife in 1560, at her residence Cumnor Place, removed any hope that Elizabeth may have privately cherished of one day marrying him. The circumstances were suspicious. Amy insisted that all her servants attend a local fair. When they returned, they found her at the bottom of a short flight of stairs, her neck broken. Whether it was an accident, suicide or murder has never been resolved beyond doubt.

The finger of suspicion pointed at Dudley, whom his enemies claimed would not have flinched from having his own wife put to death so that he could realise his ambitions of marrying the queen. Mary, Queen of Scots quipped that the queen of England was about to marry her “horsekeeper” who had killed his wife in order to make way for her. Elizabeth was also in the frame: many believed that her passion for Dudley had driven her to have his wife murdered so that she could have him at last.

Listen: Nicola Cornick discusses the life and mysterious death of Tudor gentlewoman Amy Robsart, wife of Robert Dudley on this episode of the HistoryExtra podcast:

Yet it is extremely unlikely that Dudley or Elizabeth had any hand in Amy’s death. They would hardly have taken such a risk, especially as they would have known that it would prove counterproductive to any plans they may have had to marry. The scandal reverberated not just around the kingdom but across the courts of Europe, so that Elizabeth was obliged to distance herself from Dudley in order to avoid being implicated any further.

But in private, the queen refused to give up her favourite. Now that the scrutiny of the court was even more intense, she was obliged to go to even greater lengths to conceal their meetings. In November 1561, for example, she disguised herself as the maid of Katherine Howard (later Countess of Nottingham) in order to enjoy the secret pleasure of watching Dudley shoot near Windsor Castle. Another attempt at discretion was less successful. When her close friend and attendant Lady Fiennes de Clinton helped Elizabeth escape court in disguise to meet Dudley at his house for dinner, Philip II of Spain’s envoy heard of it and immediately reported it to his master.

In the letters that Queen Elizabeth and Dudley exchanged, they used the symbol ‘ôô’ as code for the nickname of ‘Eyes’ that she had given him. Elizabeth kept her favourite’s letters, along with his portrait, in a locked desk next to her bed. On a visit to court in 1564, the Scottish ambassador Sir James Melville spied the portrait as Elizabeth was searching for one of his own royal mistress. When he asked if he could borrow it to show the Scottish queen, Elizabeth immediately refused, “alleging that she had but that one picture of his”. Spying Robert Dudley in a corner of the bedchamber, Melville slyly observed that she should not cling so to the portrait, since “she had the original.”

As her reign progressed and the pressure to marry grew ever more intense, Elizabeth pretended to consider numerous potential suitors. But she would never commit to any of them. The Venetian ambassador shrewdly observed: “She has many suitors for her hand, and by protracting any decision keeps them all in hope.”

Meanwhile, now that the scandal of his wife’s death had faded, Robert Dudley stepped up his campaign to make Queen Elizabeth his wife. He besieged her with protestations of his undying affection, all of which his royal mistress received with obvious pleasure but with no firm promises.

By 1575, Dudley was growing desperate and decided to make one last, spectacular attempt to persuade Elizabeth to marry him. Pulling out all the stops, he invited her to his Warwickshire estate, Kenilworth Castle, and staged several days of extraordinarily lavish entertainments at a huge cost. The queen loved every minute of her visit there, but would not be dazzled into acquiescence. Genuine though her affection for Robert was, she knew that marrying him would court disaster in her kingdom, sparking such intense opposition from Dudley’s rivals that it might even spill out into civil war.

For all his desperation to marry the queen, Dudley had been secretly courting one of her ladies-in-waiting, Lettice Knollys. Described as being one of the best-looking women of the court, she was of royal blood, being the great-niece of Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn. This no doubt added to her attraction for Dudley, who had enjoyed a flirtation with Lettice for the previous 10 years. Now that his last-ditch attempt to persuade Elizabeth to marry him had failed, he took Lettice as his mistress.

For a time, Elizabeth was blissfully unaware that her favourite was betraying her. But three years into the affair, Lettice became pregnant. She was not a woman to be set aside and insisted that Dudley marry her. Fearing the inevitable backlash from his royal mistress, he agreed only to a secret ceremony, which took place in 1578. The bride was said to have worn “a loose gown” – a coded reference to her pregnant state. It was not long before the secret leaked out at court.

When Elizabeth learned that her cousin had stolen the only man she had truly loved, she flew into a jealous rage, boxing Lettice’s ears and screaming that “as but one sun lightened the earth, she would have but one queen in England”. She then banished this “flouting wench” from her presence, vowing never to set eyes on her again. Although she eventually forgave Dudley, their relationship had lost the intimacy that had defined it for so many years.

But towards the end of Dudley’s life, they grew close once more. In 1586, he went to command her forces in the Netherlands. Missing him, she wrote an affectionate letter, which she signed: “As you know, ever the same. ER.” “Ever the same” or “semper eadem” was her motto, but she and Dudley knew how much more it signified in their relationship.

The following year, the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots at Elizabeth’s orders threw her into turmoil and it was to her old favourite that she turned for comfort. Dudley was also by Elizabeth’s side through the Armada crisis of 1588 (the Spanish navy’s failed attempt to invade England, thwarted by the English fleet). By now he was gravely ill but did not hesitate to accept the post of ‘Lieutenant and Captain-General of the Queen’s Armies and Companies’.

He walked beside her horse as his royal mistress delivered her famous speech at Tilbury on 8 August 1588, while inspecting the troops that had been assembled to defend the Thames Estuary against any incursion up-river towards London: “I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king and of a king of England too.”

He stayed with the queen in the immediate aftermath of the Armada, wishing to be certain that the danger had passed. One of the last recorded sightings of the pair together was at a palace window, watching a celebratory parade staged by his stepson, the Earl of Essex. By now in poor health, Dudley took his leave of Elizabeth. He, at least, must have known that it would be for the last time.

A few days later, he wrote to Elizabeth from Rycote in Oxfordshire, ending the letter: “I humbly kiss your foot… by Your Majesty’s most faithful and obedient servant.” These were probably the last words ever written by Robert Dudley. Five days later, on 4 September 1588, he breathed his last. Elizabeth was inconsolable at the loss of “sweet Robin”, the only man whom she had ever truly loved. Their relationship had survived almost 50 years of trials and tribulations, and Elizabeth was lost without him.

In the days immediately after his death, she kept to her room, unable to face her court or council. The brief note that he had sent her from Rycote now became her most treasured possession. She inscribed it “His last letter”, and kept it in a locked casket by her bed for the rest of her life. For years afterwards if anyone mentioned Robert Dudley’s name her eyes filled with tears.

Who were the other contenders for Elizabeth I’s heart?

Eric XIV of Sweden (1533–77)
Philip II of Spain (1527–98)
François, Duke of Alençon and Anjou (1555–84)
Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex (1565–1601)

Dr Tracy Borman is joint chief curator of Historic Royal Palaces and an expert on the Tudor period. You can follow Tracy on Twitter @BormanTracy or visit her website

This article first appeared in BBC History Magazine’s ‘Royal Dynasties’ bookazine, in January 2016.

Think you know Elizabeth I? Test your knowledge with our Elizabeth I quiz

Elizabeth I (7 September 1533 – 24 March 1603) was Queen of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death. Sometimes called The Virgin Queen, Gloriana or Good Queen Bess, the childless Elizabeth was the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty. Her parents were Henry Vlll & Anne Boleyn she was succeeded by James VI of Scotland as James I of England,

The 'court' referred both to the various royal palaces, mostly in and around London, and to the body of people who surrounded the monarch. The Elizabethan court was made up of the collection of privileged people serving the Queen – the members of the Privy Chamber, Royal Household and the Privy Council. One estimate suggests that Elizabeth’s court included some 1250 people.

The Privy Council

The Privy Council was a smaller, more defined body, whose main functions were to advise Elizabeth and to act as the administrative centre for her government. Much like a cabinet or a board of directors, they were involved in matters of economy, defence, foreign policy and law and order.

The Royal Household

The Royal Household was made up of Elizabeth's servants. While some members of the Royal Household also held government positions, many did not. The access to her that membership of her household provided made these positions highly esteemed and those in them very influential. Most of the positions were filled by her favourites and those who had demonstrated loyalty to her in the past.

The Privy Chamber

The Privy Chamber included the closest body servants of the monarch. They lived in close quarters with the Queen, kept her company and represented the threshold between the Queen's public and private lives. Because of Elizabeth's gender, the Privy Chamber was female dominated and these prestigious positions were filled with the wives and daughters of powerful men.

Arthur Dudley

Arthur Dudley was a 16th-century man famous for the controversial claim that he was the son of Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley, a man known to have had a (not necessarily consummated) long love affair with the queen.

In the spring of 1559, it became evident that Elizabeth was in love with her childhood friend Robert Dudley. [1] It was said that Amy Robsart, his wife, was suffering from a "malady in one of her breasts" and that the Queen would like to marry Dudley if his wife should die. [2] By the autumn of 1559, several foreign suitors were vying for Elizabeth's hand their impatient envoys engaged in ever more scandalous talk and reported that a marriage with her favourite was not welcome in England: [3] "There is not a man who does not cry out on him and her with indignation . she will marry none but the favoured Robert." [4] Amy Dudley died in September 1560, from a fall from a flight of stairs and, despite the coroner's inquest finding of accident, many people suspected Dudley of having arranged her death so that he could marry the queen. [5] Elizabeth seriously considered marrying Dudley for some time. However, William Cecil, Nicholas Throckmorton, and some conservative peers made their disapproval unmistakably clear. [6] There were even rumours that the nobility would rise if the marriage took place. [7]

Among other marriage candidates being considered for the queen, Robert Dudley continued to be regarded as a possible candidate for nearly another decade. [8] Elizabeth was extremely jealous of his affections, even when she no longer meant to marry him herself. [9] In 1564, Elizabeth raised Dudley to the peerage as Earl of Leicester. He finally remarried in 1578, to which the queen reacted with repeated scenes of displeasure and lifelong hatred towards his wife, Lettice Knollys. [10] Still, Dudley always "remained at the centre of [Elizabeth's] emotional life", as historian Susan Doran has described the situation. [11] He died shortly after the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. After Elizabeth's own death, a note from him was found among her most personal belongings, marked "his last letter" in her handwriting. [12]

A central issue, when it comes to the question of her virginity, was whether Elizabeth ever consummated her love affair with Robert Dudley. In 1559, Elizabeth had Dudley's bedchambers moved next to her own apartments. [13] In 1561, she was mysteriously bedridden with an illness that caused her body to swell. [14]

Years later in 1587, a man calling himself Arthur Dudley was detained by the Spanish [15] after rescue from a shipwreck on the Biscay Coast under suspicion of being a spy. [16]

Taken to Madrid, Dudley claimed to be the son of Queen Elizabeth and Robert Dudley, conceived in 1561, the timing of which would have been consistent with when she was bedridden. Dudley was examined by Francis Englefield, a Catholic aristocrat exiled to Spain and secretary to King Philip II. [16] Three letters exist today describing the interview, detailing what Arthur proclaimed to be the story of his life, from birth in the royal palace to the time of his arrival in Spain. [16]

As told by Arthur, Elizabeth had a governess, Katherine Ashley, whose servant was summoned to the court in 1561 and told to obtain a nurse for the newborn infant of someone at the palace. That servant, Robert Southern, was told to take the boy to London and raise him as one of his own children. That infant, named Arthur, was to be raised as a gentleman. He was indeed raised well, Arthur recounted, and taught music, arms, Classical languages, and dance. A youthful attempt to run away to a life of adventure in his teens was ended when a surprisingly forceful and officious letter demanding his return arrived while he awaited a ship in Wales. He was taken to a palace in London, Pickering Place, meeting John Ashley, who said that it was he, not Arthur's father, who had paid for his upbringing.

Arthur did not return home immediately, but was accommodated in travels between England and France, until years later when his adoptive father was on his deathbed. At that point, Robert Southern confessed Arthur's Royal origins to him, prompting considerable worry that the safety of both of them was jeopardized. [16] After more travel between England and France, Arthur had voyaged to Spain, and in the return had been shipwrecked, he claimed.

However, Dudley's story failed to convince the Spanish: Englefield admitted to the King that Arthur's "claim at present amounts to nothing", but suggested that "he should not be allowed to get away, but [. ] kept very secure." [17] The King agreed, and Arthur was never heard from again. [18]

Modern scholarship dismisses the story's basic premise as "impossible", [19] and asserts that Elizabeth's life was so closely observed by contemporaries that she could not have hidden a pregnancy. [20] [18]

The 7 Suitors of Elizabeth I - History

Elizabeth I of England
Excerpted from one text and another at the Internet Modern History Sourcebook.

Elizabeth became Queen of England when she was twenty-five and unmarried. As years passed and she continued to reject suitors and to refuse to name her successor, many in England feared civil war delegates from Parliament repeatedly asked her to find an appropriate husband. Her 1566 response reveals something of her fiery temper. In 1588, anticipating an attack by the Spanish Armada, she made a ceremonial visit to the soldiers who would be defending the English coast. The tone she took with them was quite different. When she met with delegates from Parliament in 1601 to discuss financial matters, she might have been characteristically fierce instead she chose "golden words" for what is called her "Farewell Speech" (although she lived until 1603).
NB. Paragraph numbers apply to this excerpt, not the original sources.

Response to Parliamentary Delegation on Her Marriage, 1566

<1>Was I not born in the realm? Were my parents born in any foreign country? Is not my kingdom here? Whom have I oppressed? Whom have I enriched to other's harm? What turmoil have I made in this commonwealth that I should be suspected to have no regard to the same? How have I governed since my reign? I will be tried by envy itself. I need not to use many words, for my deeds do try me.

<2>Well, the matter whereof they would have made their petition (as I am informed) consisteth in two points: in my marriage, and in the limitations of the succession of the crown, wherein my marriage was first placed, as for manners' sake. I did send them answer by my council, I would marry (although of mine own disposition I was not inclined thereunto) but that was not accepted nor credited, although spoken by their Prince.

<3>I will never break the word of a prince spoken in a public place, for my honour's sake. And therefore I say again, I will marry as soon as I can conveniently, if God take not him away with whom I mind to marry, or myself, or else some other great let happen. I can say no more except the party were present. And I hope to have children, otherwise I would never marry. A strange order of petitioners that will make a request and cannot be otherwise assured but by the prince's word, and yet will not believe it when it is spoken.

<4>The second point was for the limitation of the succession of the crown, wherein was nothing said for my safety, but only for themselves. A strange thing that the foot should direct the head in so weighty a cause', a cause, she pointed out, to which she had give careful consideration since it concerned her more nearly than it concerned them.

<5>I am sure there was not one of them that ever was a second person, as I have been and have tasted of the practices against my sister, who I would to God were alive again. [That is, none of the people pressing her to name a successor had ever been second in line to the throne, as she had been when her sister Mary was queen. Then, Elizabeth had been accused of fomenting rebellion against her sister.] . . . .

<6>There were occasions in me at that time, I stood in danger of my life, my sister was so incensed against me. I did differ from her in religion and I was sought for divers ways. And so shall never be my successor. . . .

<7>They would have twelve or fourteen limited in succession and the more the better. And those shall be of such uprightness and so divine, as in them shall be divinity itself. Kings were wont to honour philosophers, but if I had such I would honour them as angels that should have such piety in them that they would not seek where they are the second to be the first, and where the third to be the second and so forth. It is said I am no divine. Indeed I studied nothing else but divinity till I came to the crown and then I gave myself to the study of that which was meet for government, and am not ignorant of stories wherein appeareth what hath fallen out for ambition of kingdoms--as in Spain, Naples, Portugal and at home and what cocking hath been between the father and the son for the same. You would have a limitation of succession. Truly if reason did not subdue will in me, I would cause you to deal in it, so pleasant a thing it should be unto me. But I stay it for your benefit.

<8>I do not marvel, though Domini Doctores, with you my Lords, did so use themselves therein, since after my brother's death they openly preached and set forth that my sister and I were bastards. Well, I wish not the death of any man, but only this I desire, that they which have been the practisers herein may before their deaths repent the same, and show some open confession of their fault, whereby the scabbed sheep may be known from the whole. As for my own part I care not for death, for all men are mortal and though I be a woman yet I have as good a courage answerable to my place as ever my father had. I am your anointed Queen. I will never be by violence constrained to do anything. I thank God I am indeed endowed with such qualities that if I were turned out of the realm in my petticoat I were able to live in any place in Christendom.

<9>Your petition is to deal in the limitation of the succession. At this present it is not convenient, nor never shall be without some peril unto you, and certain danger unto me. But as soon as there may be a convenient time and that it may be done with least peril unto you, although never without great danger unto me, I will deal therein for your safety and offer it unto you as your prince and head without requests. For it is monstrous that the feet should direct the head.'

Speech to the Soldiers Assembled to Repel the Spanish Armada, 1588

<10>My loving people, we have been persuaded by some, that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit ourselves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery but I assure you, I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good will of my subjects. And therefore I am come amongst you at this time, not as for my recreation or sport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live or die amongst you all to lay down, for my God, and for my kingdom, and for my people, my honor and my blood, even the dust.

<11>I know I have but the body of a weak and feeble woman but I have the heart of a king, and of a king of England, too and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realms: to which, rather than any dishonor should grow by me, I myself will take up arms I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.

<12>I know already, by your forwardness, that you have deserved rewards and crowns and we do assure you, on the word of a prince, they shall be duly paid you. In the mean my lieutenant general shall be in my stead, than whom never prince commanded a more noble and worthy subject not doubting by your obedience to my general, by your concord in the camp, and by your valor in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory over the enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people.

The Farewell Speech, 1601

<13>We have heard your declaration and perceive your care of our estate. I do assure you there is no prince that loves his subjects better, or whose love can countervail our love. There is no jewel, be it of never so rich a price, which I set before this jewel: I mean your love. For I do esteem it more than any treasure or riches for that we know how to prize, but love and thanks I count invaluable. And, though God hath raised me high, yet this I count the glory of my Crown, that I have reigned with your loves. This makes me that I do not so much rejoice that God hath made me to be a Queen, as to be a Queen over so thankful a people. Therefore I have cause to wish nothing more than to content the subject and that is a duty which I owe. Neither do I desire to live longer days than I may see your prosperity and that is my only desire. And as I am that person still yet, under God, hath delivered you and so I trust by the almighty power of God that I shall be his instrument to preserve you from every peril, dishonour, shame, tyranny and oppression, partly by means of your intended helps which we take very acceptably because it manifesteth the largeness of your good loves and loyalties unto your sovereign.

<14>Of myself I must say this: I never was any greedy, scraping grasper, nor a strait fast-holding Prince, nor yet a waster. My heart was never set on any worldly goods. What you bestow on me, I will not hoard it up, but receive it to bestow on you again. Therefore render unto them I beseech you Mr Speaker, such thanks as you imagine my heart yieldeth, but my tongue cannot express. Mr Speaker, I would wish you and the rest to stand up for I shall yet trouble you with longer speech. Mr Speaker, you give me thanks but I doubt me I have greater cause to give you thanks, than you me, and I charge you to thank them of the Lower House from me. For had I not received a knowledge from you, I might have fallen into the lapse of an error, only for lack of true information.

<15>Since I was Queen, yet did I never put my pen to any grant, but that upon pretext and semblance made unto me, it was both good and beneficial to the subject in general though a private profit to some of my ancient servants, who had deserved well at my hands. But the contrary being found by experience, I am exceedingly beholden to such subjects as would move the same at first. And I am not so simple to suppose but that there be some of the Lower House whom these grievances never touched. I think they spake out of zeal to their countries and not out of spleen or malevolent affection as being parties grieved. That my grants should be grievous to my people and oppressions to be privileged under colour of our patents, our kingly dignity shall not suffer it. Yea, when I heard it, I could give no rest unto my thoughts until I had reformed it. Shall they, think you, escape unpunished that have oppressed you, and have been respectless of their duty and regardless our honour? No, I assure you, Mr Speaker, were it not more for conscience' sake than for any glory or increase of love that I desire, these errors, troubles, vexations and oppressions done by these varlets and lewd persons not worthy of the name of subjects should not escape without condign punishment. But I perceive they dealt with me like physicians who, ministering a drug, make it more acceptable by giving it a good aromatical savour, or when they give pills do gild them all over.

<16>I have ever used to set the Last Judgement Day before mine eyes and so to rule as I shall be judged to answer before a higher judge, and now if my kingly bounties have been abused and my grants turned to the hurt of my people contrary to my will and meaning, and if any in authority under me have neglected or perverted what I have committed to them, I hope God will not lay their culps and offenses in my charge. I know the title of a King is a glorious title, but assure yourself that the shining glory of princely authority hath not so dazzled the eyes of our understanding, but that we well know and remember that we also are to yield an account of our actions before the great judge. To be a king and wear a crown is a thing more glorious to them that see it than it is pleasant to them that bear it. For myself I was never so much enticed with the glorious name of a King or royal authority of a Queen as delighted that God hath made me his instrument to maintain his truth and glory and to defend his kingdom as I said from peril, dishonour, tyranny and oppression. There will never Queen sit in my seat with more zeal to my country, care to my subjects and that will sooner with willingness venture her life for your good and safety than myself. For it is my desire to live nor reign no longer than my life and reign shall be for your good. And though you have had, and may have, many princes more mighty and wise sitting in this seat, yet you never had nor shall have, any that will be more careful and loving.

<17>For I, oh Lord, what am I, whom practices and perils past should not fear? Or what can I do? That I should speak for any glory, God forbid.

<18>'And I pray to you Mr Comptroller, Mr Secretary and you of my Council, that before these gentlemen go into their countries, you bring them all to kiss my hand.

6 The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)

Coming out shortly after Fire Over England, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex was originally released in black and white, but has since been remastered into a color production. This film covers the tumultuous relationship between Queen Elizabeth and the Earl of Essex, as their relationship stays hidden because the Queen refuses to give her power up by marriage and wishes to remain the nation's Virgin Queen.

This is a great film for cinephiles and history buffs alike. Bette Davis and Errol Flynn star in this film as Queen Elizabeth and Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex.

Imprisonment at the Tower

On her arrest in 1554, Elizabeth wrote to Mary, imploring her to ignore 'evil persuasions' that would 'persuade not one sister against the other.'

Elizabeth’s imprisonment at the Tower of London was comfortable enough physically – she was allowed in the gardens and had four rooms in the old palace – but this was where her mother had spent her last days before her execution.

Within two months, Wyatt had been beheaded and the investigations stalled. No evidence could be found of Elizabeth’s involvement and she was released.

Did you know?

Elizabeth spent much of her sister Mary’s reign under house arrest in various royal palaces, including Hampton Court, where her activities could be monitored.

Watch the video: The SEVEN SUITORS Of Elizabeth I (August 2022).