As I have good cause, so do I give you all my hearty thanks for the good zeal and loving care you seem to have, as well towards me as to the whole state of your country. Your petition I perceive consisteth of three parts and my answer to the same shall depend of two.
And to the first part I may say unto you that from my years of understanding since I first had consideration of myself to be born a servitor of almighty God, I happily chose this kind of life in which I yet live, which I assure you for my own part hath hitherto best contented myself and I trust hath been most acceptable to God. From the which, if either ambition of high estate offered to me in marriage by the pleasure and appointment of my prince whereof I have some records in this presence (as you our Lord Treasurer well know); or if the eschewing of the danger of my enemies or the avoiding of the peril of death, whose messenger or rather continual watchman, the prince’s indignation, was not a little time daily before my eyes (by whose means although I know or justly may suspect, yet I will not now utter, or if the whole cause were in my sister herself, I will not now burden her therewith, because I will not charge the dead); if any of these, I say, could have drawn or dissuaded me from this kind of life, I had not now remained in this estate wherein you see me. But so constant have I always continued in this determination, although my youth and words may seem to some hardly to agree together, yet is it most true that at this day I stand free from any other meaning that either I have had in times past or have at this present; with which trade of life I am so thoroughly acquainted that I trust God, who hath hitherto therein preserved and led me by the hand, will not now of his goodness suffer me to go alone.
For the other part, the manner of your petition I do well like of and take in good part, because that it is simple and containeth no limitation of place or person. If it had been otherwise, I must needs have misliked it very much and thought it in you a very great presumption, being unfitting and altogether unmeet for you to require them that may command or those to appoint whose parts are to desire, or such to bind and limit whose duties are to obey, or to take upon you to draw my love to your likings or frame my will to your fantasies; for a guerdon constrained and a gift freely given can never agree together. Nevertheless if any of you be in suspect, that whensoever it may please God to incline my heart to another kind of life, you may well assure yourselves my meaning is not to do or determine anything wherewith the realm may or shall have just cause to be discontented. And therefore put that clean out of your heads. For I assure you— what credit my assurances may have with you I cannot tell, but what credit it shall deserve to have the sequel shall declare — I will never in that matter conclude anything that shall be prejudicial to the realm, for the weal, good and safety whereof I will never shun to spend my life. And whomsoever my chance shall be to light upon, I trust he shall be as careful for the realm and you — I will not say as myself, because I cannot so certainly determine of any other; but at the least ways, by my goodwill and desire he shall be such as shall be as careful for the preservation of the realm and you as myself. And albeit it might please almighty God to continue me still in this mind to live out of the state of marriage, yet it is not to be feared but He will so work in my heart and in your wisdom as good provision by his help may be made in convenient time, whereby the realm shall not remain destitute of an heir. That may be a fit governor, and peradventure more beneficial to the realm than such offspring as may come of me. For although I be never so careful of your well doings and mind ever so to be, yet may my issue grow out of kind and become perhaps ungracious. 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.
And here I end, and take your coming unto me in good part, and give unto you all eftsoons my hearty thanks, more yet for your zeal and good meaning than for your petition.
Given on the 10th February 1559
(Source: The Word of a Prince: A Life of Elizabeth I from Contemporary Documents, 9780851152615 and 9780851156330, Boydell Press, 1990 and 1999, Maria Perry.)