Was Elizabeth I a virgin?

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This is such a tough question and there are many different schools of thought on it. Some historians point out that there was no evidence that Elizabeth slept with Robert Dudley or any of her favourites and that when spies (from ambassadors) questioned her ladies and investigated the rumours about Elizabeth's behaviour all they found was rumour and scandal, no proof of any sexual misconduct.

Some people also point out that Elizabeth would surely have become pregnant if she had slept with Dudley, but then there was basic contraception around or Elizabeth could have been barren, but would she really have taken this risk? Plus she was never really alone, she was constantly supervised by advisers and her ladies - how could she have got away with it.

Other people believe that there was just too much rumour for nothing to have gone on!

But I for one believe that Elizabeth died a virgin. I believe that she was a passionate woman and that she fell in love a few times but that she always put her country first and saw herself as married to England, she could not risk her country for a man.

Weir points out that Elizabeth "may have made the equation that sexual involvement was inextricably linked with death" - after all, her mother had been executed for adultery, her stepmother Catherine Howard had been executed for adultery, her stepmother Catherine Parr died after giving birth, and her first love Thomas Seymour (or abuser!) was executed. That might put your off sex! The idea of childbirth may also have scared her and put her off the idea of sexual involvement - Her grandmother Elizabeth of York had died of puerperal fever, as had Jane Seymour and Catherine Parr. Sex inevitably could lead to childbirth and, in those days, childbirth was a risky business.

Elizabeth may also have had physical problems that could have stopped her having sex. Weir, in her book "Elizabeth the Queen", writes of how the playwright Ben Jonson had talked of Elizabeth having "a membrane on her which made her incapable of man", meaning either an abnormally thick hymen or perhaps Elizabeth may have suffered from Vaginismus, a condition which affects a woman's ability to have sex because of a tightness of the vaginal muscles. Weir also makes the point that although there were scandals and rumours because of Elizabeth's fondness of men and flirting, "Elizabeth was too much mistress of herself and too great a stateswoman to succumb to the temptations of illicit sex". She just would not have risked her status, reputation or throne in that way.

21 Responses to “Was Elizabeth I a virgin?”

  1. Carly says:

    Interesting! I’m glad you have this site as well. I love Anne Boleyn but only have very recently become interested in her daughter’s life, so I’m not as aware of “the truth” behind Elizabeth. I haven’t learned too much yet, but I will say that I do think she was not a virgin. Where there is smoke, there is generally fire … I think perhaps she had a dalliance with one or two men in her younger years. She was so fun-loving and full of life that it’s hard to imagine her as not being a bit daring and reckless, particularly before she took the throne.

  2. Karen says:

    Alison Weir points out that there was never any evidence provided by Elizabeth’s ladies in waiting regarding any sexual activity. This is a very strong piece of evidence for her virginity since it was virtually impossible to hide this activity from them.

    I, personally, believe that Elizabeth was no fool. She may have appeared daring, and she was, but she was never reckless. For a ruling monarch (or even when she was the successor to the throne) to become pregnant was too devastating to imagine. I believe she loved certain men (ie: Robert Dudley, maybe even the Earl of Essex) but she kept them at arm’s length physically.

  3. Claire says:

    Hi Karen,
    I agree with you. Contraception was not exactly brilliant in Elizabethan times and I just can’t see Elizabeth taking the risk of sleeping with Dudley however tempted she was. I think Elizabeth also associated sex with death and childbirth with death. She and Dudley were soulmates, I believe, but circumstances kept them from being together as man and wife.

  4. Emma says:

    I think that she was no virgin. Didn’t she tell someone(an ambassador maybe?) about her being “no angel.”? I agree that she might’ve had an affair maybe within her first few years of being queen but then she probably realized that she was being talked about in her own country and stopped.

  5. Renee says:

    Maybe she was sexually abused by Thomas Seymour and developed vaginismus? Or avoided sex because of the abuse?

  6. Rosemary says:

    I think Elizabeth was technically a virgin, but that doesn’t exclude extensive love-making. Elizabeth was in fact surrounded by her ladies at court, but on the other hand, she and Dudley often rode out in the countryside alone together for hours, unobserved. There is no doubt that she was in love with Dudley – look at her reaction to his marriage to Lettice Knollys. There had to be a sexual component to her jealousy because she could have easily monopolized his time and companionship even though he was married.

    This reminds me of what Priscilla Presley, a virgin on her wedding day, said about her relationship with Elvis before they were married, “He satisfied me completely.”

  7. Kitty says:

    I also think she had some kind of sexual relationship with Dudley. I can’t imagen she loved him and never had some kind of physical relationship with him. I hope she did .

  8. Chuck says:

    But wasn’t she ‘inspected’ at the time of her proposed marriage to Alencon? And declared a ‘normnal’ woman as other women?

  9. Claire says:

    I always wonder what that ‘inspection’ involved, but, yes, physicians were meant to have examined her at that time.

  10. Tami says:

    I am new to this site, but am a long time student of history with an emphasis on Tudor history. I believe that Elizabeth went to her grave a virgin. My reading leads me to believe that there was none to very little expectation of privacy for the monarch. Her ladies were in constant attendance on her. If she had sent them away in order to entertain Dudley privately, I believe it would have noted.I agree that Elizabeth’s perception of the sex act and it’s consequences were not at all positive. I also think she realized that giving herself to a man would mean relinquishing power, something I believe she would have felt put her in vulnerable position. That being said, I think she loved men, and loved that dance of courtship. She adored the attention and the adulation but not the obvious conclusion. Had she not been queen, with the ability to reward her favorites, she could not keep men on the hook as she did. Just my two cents. I love this site btw.

  11. Kathaleen says:

    She was probably a virgin during her child-bearing years, if you define virginity as abstaining sexual from intercourse, but I doubt she abstained from oral or manual sex. I think that if she lost her virginity (as defined by a hymen), she lost that after she stopped having her period. I think she was too passionate a woman not to engage in sexual activity. I also think she was too smart to risk her life and her power for sexual intercourse when she could enjoy herself with little risk. Does anyone really think that any of her favorites would have dared to reject her advances?

  12. Mel says:

    I think the sexual abuse Elizabeth had from Seymour affected how she saw men and it put her in danger through all the scandal. Her mother was executed by her father for being adulterous. Catherine Parr died in childbirth who she was close to. Elizabeth knew all these dangers she faced if she had sex or married. She loved attention from men and was very vain. I think the only man she would have married was Dudley, but he was already married and when his wife died suspiously the scandal meant she couldn’t. There are theories that Elizabeth knew of the suspicious death and it was done with her knowledge so that she had a reason not to marry him but keep him as her fave at court.

  13. Brad says:

    I think since there’s no evidence of Elizabeth losing her virginity and since she claimed to maintain it throughout her life, then we just have to take it at face value…that she remained a virgin. Also, not trying to “attack” Emma’s comment in an earlier post, but I have a hard time following the logic that Elizabeth saying ” I’m no angel” indicates that she was no virgin. It’s a figure of speech. I may say ” I’m no rocket scientist” but that doesn’t mean I’m a garbage man. I think speculation when applied to things that can’t be substantiated is just fiction…fun to ponder, but useless in finding truth. On a side note, I LOVE the irony in Catholic Europe regarding Elizabeth ( the virgin) with such disgust and hatred while glorifying Mary of Scots who married the man who murdered her husband.

  14. Gabriela says:

    Hello, I think that she had sexual pleasures without having sex. She loved Dudley and she liked Alençon very much, she loved Essex too and I think she would engage herself with them in some sexual games without compromising herself with what we would call sexual intercourse. That would fit with the two main ideas expressed here: she was a virgin, but at the same time she could have sexual pleasures. Both things are not contradictory…

  15. taurean says:

    As much as I love her morality and image of purity ( an icon of female virtuosity, albeit dated) she was no virgin. The joy she recieved from beauty and art indicated a desire for pleasure which is not far from the excesses of her father. Also so many speculate on this matter (including weir who wrote in the lady Elizabeth of a possible miscarriage). Either way she will always be respected as the queen for her bold bachelorette status in a time which hardly bequeathed such freedoms to women. Cheers.

  16. Invisus says:

    While I am a fan, so to speak of the Queen, I do not believe she was a virgin and as far as sexual matters were perceived in Elizabethan times, it was much more repressive than many in this day and age can imagine! This fact, along with the myriad superstitions surrounding sex (the Queen was reputed to be superstitious), would have negated oral or most other non-intercourse sexual activities. Furthermore, I am not clear as to the level of knowledge at that time in England as to the cycles of fertility ie (ovulation) which would allow a woman to somewhat predict when they could become pregnant if they had intercourse with a man who was not shooting ‘blanks’? If the women at that time had knowledge that so many days after a normal menstrual cycle they could become pregnant during ovulation, then it is possible that the Queen could have had intercourse and yet not have been impregnated or as sometimes happens these days, she just got lucky? Then again, she may have been de-virginised by Thomas Seymour before she left Catherine Parr’s care? I find it difficult to fathom that Seymour would have been sneaking out of his bed chamber whilst his wife was still slumbering into the teenage Elizabeth’s room and not engaging in sexual activity, including intercourse? While what level of knowledge was possessed in those times about contraception, it’s my belief that practises such as coitus interruptus, were known and that it was common knowledge, therefore this may have been something which was done by Seymour to keep Elizabeth from becoming pregnant or perhaps they only engaged in intercourse once or twice and she was fortunate not to have been impregnated? This experience may have been physically painful and may have been the source of the rumors concerning the then Queen’s inability to have normal sexual relations with a man? Maybe Elizabeth reasoned that something was amiss and that normal sexual relations shouldn’t be so painful and thus concluded that something was physically wrong with her? This could have been why she never married? Back in those times one could not go see an OB/GYN or specialist about sexual problems and if the Queen had endeavored to seek out information, then it’s hard to say what she would have been told? It would have been much easier for her to have been sexually active as a teenager than as Queen, simply because it would have been almost impossible to have the privacy one would require to be carnally involved as Queen with so many prying eyes? As a teenager she would have had more opportunity, especially with Seymour visiting her in her bed chambers regularly. I am not so sure the Queen was sexually involved with Dudley because of the difficulty in finding the privacy required, though I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it would have been impossible? After all they were observed riding off together on horseback for “hours” unobserved, according to sources close to the Queen at that time, so there would have been ample opportunity during those times if they were truly alone with each other? They say truth is stranger than fiction, who can really say? Only the Queen and her suitors truly know the answer! Adieu!

  17. Carole Heath says:

    I think it is pure hearsay if Elizabeth was a virgin and never had sex with a man. Only she knew the true which she took to her grave I would imagine. Sex isn’t just about full.intercourse as one of these comments have said. Yes I have read she was abused by Seymour when she was young what that was it is hard to say. Elizabeth was said to have uttered that there is only one mistress and there will be no masters which meant in my book no husband thank you. If she took a husband I think she thought her place as Queen would be less powerful even a consult could try to take over more especially in Tudor times when most of the monarchs had been men.

  18. Vicky says:

    We are talking about Elizabeth 1 right this was a women who was not going to let any man rule over her. She had seen what had happened with her mother and cousin how easy it was for the king to get rid of them. She had seen women die in childbirth of course she was frightened. She knew marriage meant having children and if they were anything like her father they would males. Yes I believe Thomas Seymour abused her maybe raped her who knows but she did leave Catherine Parr’s home unexpected with no explanation to never return. She was young at that time what ever happened to her in her youth affected her deeply. She was no fool and learned her lessons well. But as for being a virgin no I don’t think so

  19. geraldo says:

    I wonder if Elizabeth just had phone sex?

  20. Bibiana says:

    I believe that Elizabeth was a virgin-but only a technical one. She was definitely afraid of intercourse and childbearing, but she was too vibrant and passionate to totally forego the joys of lovemaking. This is my take on it!

  21. Mauddie says:

    I think Elizabeth was a virgin, unless Thomas Seymour had coerced/raped her when she was young. I often wonder if that whole rape/miscarriage rumor might have been true, a very early, awful miscarriage after painful and unwanted full intercourse would have scarred her and scared her for ever. But, as an heir to the throne, and although attended by very faithful servants– there were spies among them, the council’s spies, someone who’d talk to an ambassador, etc. the intrigue would be so impossible, unless she had a very early miscarriage that could be put off as late menses– didn’t she and her sister suffer from menstrual irregularities? But if such a thing happened to her, she never tried full sex again.
    What a fun page, how lovely reading so many intelligent speculations and points of view.!
    But I think she was a technical virgin. Certainly, her feelings and temperament was ‘sexy’, as her parents had both been. She had carnal feelings– many women have ‘nocturnal emissions, as her father claimed into his late 40′s!. And those Howard women were considered very sexy– rumor had it that HenryVIII lost his virginity to Anne B.’s mother, Elizabeth’s grandmother ( he denied this ).
    But if the adult Elizabeth became pregnant, that would have been her end. How could she risk that? As a monarch, she wasn’t a risk taker. Mary Queen of Scots was, and it led to her destruction as a monarch. Mary quickly married for carnal reasons (not done by Royalty) by protestant rites. Bothwell, however she felt about him (the rape, likely killer of her 1st husband etc) she also married protestant. (How she ever became the sainted virtuous hope of Catholic Europe, as Brad mentioned, is crazy!) Hot blooded family all around.
    So Elizabeth also had Mary of Scots terrible example of what full intercourse could lead to: a husband who didn’t marry her for love or to care for her, but for selfish reasons, and then showed his madness after the honeymoon, conspired on her, caused all kinds of trouble. If Elizabeth wanted marriage, she would insist on someone who did truly care for her welfare. I think she loved Robert Dudley, intellectually meshed beautifully with Alencon and found him attractive. Essex,now, that is where I lose my way. He was so young and stupid, so spoiled by Elizabeth in such silly ways…like a midlife crisis.
    Well, I came late, too late to the conversation and wrote too much! But what a fun site! To be among fellow Elizabethans.

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