Why Didn’t Elizabeth I Marry?

In the final scene of Shekhar Kapur’s “Elizabeth”, starring Cate Blanchett, we see Kat Ashley cutting Elizabeth’s hair off and Elizabeth making a dramatic entrance in front of her court dressed as a bride in an elaborate white gown, pearls (which symbolise purity), a red wig, a huge ruff and a whitened face.

When Elizabeth sees her new short hair, she says to Kat, “Kat, I have become a virgin”, and when she appears at court she says to William Cecil, Lord Burghley, “Observe, Lord Burghley, I am married to England.”

It is an amazing final scene. It is incredibly dramatic and emotional and really makes you think about Elizabeth and how she changed into the iconic queen of her later portraits, the Gloriana and the Virgin Queen. In the movie, Elizabeth I is not a virgin. She has an affair with her childhood sweetheart, Robert Dudley, and so the scene at the end is about Elizabeth transforming herself by assuming this new persona and stating her commitment to England by “marrying” England. It is this new stronger Elizabeth who heralds in the country’s Golden Age. So, it is a persona rather than the real Elizabeth.

But what about the real Elizabeth? Whatever your thoughts on Elizabeth’s virgin status, it is clear that she considered herself married to her country and that she made a conscious decision not to marry – but why? Surely it was her responsibility to carry on the Tudor line, to secure the succession and to provide England with an heir, so why would Elizabeth make such a huge decision? Here are some possible reasons but please do share your thoughts in the comments section below:-

  • Psychological – It is said that after Catherine Howard’s execution the 8 year old Elizabeth told her friend Robert Dudley that she would never marry. Did she decide not to marry because of what happened to her own mother, Anne Boleyn, and her stepmother, Catherine Howard?
  • Mary I’s example – Elizabeth saw the damage that Mary’s marriage to Philip II did to the country. This marriage caused unrest and rebellion and it also broke Mary’s heart.
  • Control – In Tudor times, a wife was expected to submit to her husband and Elizabeth, as monarch, may not have wanted to give away any control to her husband, when it was she who was responsible for the running of the country.
  • Love – Elizabeth loved Robert Dudley and it may be that she chose not to marry because she could not marry her true love.
  • Diplomacy – Remaining unmarried meant that she could enter marriage negotiations and play countries off against each other.
  • Fear of childbirth – Two of Elizabeth’s stepmothers, Jane Seymour and Catherine Parr, had died just a few days after childbirth so was Elizabeth frightened of having children?
  • Commitment to her country – Elizabeth wanted to do the best for her country and felt married to her country.
  • The perfect marriage never came along – Marriage negotiations always seemed to come to nothing because of diplomatic wranglings and problems.
  • Medical reasons – In my post “Elizabeth I – A Virago, Genetically Male or Simply a Strong woman?” I looked at R. Bakan’s theory that Elizabeth had testicular feminization syndrome which meant that she looked like a female and would have had female external genitalia but that the uterus and uterine tubes would have been either rudimentary or absent, and that the vagina may also have been absent. She would also have been sterile. If Elizabeth did not have a vagina then she would not have wanted anyone to know about it. I can’t credit this theory at all!
  • Elizabeth was a man – I love this theory! According to The Bisley Boy legend, the real Elizabeth died in childhood and a boy took her place. Obviously, the imposter would have been discovered if “Elizabeth” had married!

37 thoughts on “Why Didn’t Elizabeth I Marry?

  1. I’m on the run, so I will be as efficient as possible in my response. None of the theories about Elizabeth losing her virginity, having some “defect,” or being a boy have any merit whatsoever:

    (1) Elizabeth was an extremely healthy, strong child from birth onward.

    (2) Henry VIII had Elizabeth brought into court, completely naked, at the age of 2 or 3 to show foreign dignitaries that she was a beautiful, completely normal little girl (to interest them in a future marriage alliance). There is no way the presence of testicles of any size (much less the lack of female genitalia) could have been disguised.

    (3) The queen’s body belonged to the Crown. In essence, it was state property. As such, all her “proper bodily functions” were documented. Historical records show that she was a normal woman with an irregular menstrual cycle. There is absolutely no way, surrounded as she was by ladies-in-waiting and serving women 24 hours a day, that a “female defect” or other issue could have been concealed. The Spanish and the Vatican, among others, would have paid dearly for such information.

    (4) When Elizabeth was in her 40s, she went through a complete gynecological examination in order to prove to the French court (marriage negotiations with her then-suitor, the Duc d’Anjou, were proceeding very well) that she was still fertile. The physicians who performed the exam pronounced her completely normal, healthy and capable of still bearing a child.

    (5) When Robert Dudley, the only man she ever loved enough to have been tempted to yield her virginity to, returned from a campaign in the Netherlands to find that the “marriage negotiation game” with the Duc d’Anjou had become extremely lovey-dovey, he was livid, and asked Elizabeth angrily in public, “Are you still a virgin?!” Elizabeth’s response was equally livid. Elizabeth was in her mid-40s when this angry exchange took place between them.

    (6) Anne Boleyn knew that her daughter was destined to rule — which is why, when Henry offered to spare her life if she would go into permanent exile in France with Elizabeth — she refused (a little-known fact, but a fact nonetheless). All her life, Elizabeth surrounded herself with Boleyn and Howard cousins — and she surely knew what her mother sacrificed for her.

    (7) Elizabeth was brilliant, disciplined (except for her famous Tudor/Boleyn temper, that is), extremely well educated, and wise. She knew she had to forgo marriage and sex in order to avoid the pitfalls that would have accompanied “yielding” in that era. She was a normal woman — but like a number of normal women who will not settle for second-best or relationships that would compromise the work they feel called to do — she knew how to sublimate her personal life to her state responsibilities. She gave her life for England.

  2. Elizabeth, a boy? Seriously? Where on earth do people come up with these things? I do suppose it’s good to have myths so we can investigate further but…whaaa?

  3. The eternal question–why did Elizabeth choose virginity over wedded bliss and motherhood? I think most of the reasons are well-listed by Claire–well, except for the testicles and her being a male imposter–and I think her reasons were a combination of those already mentioned. I do not doubt that she loved her Sweet Robin but I think she suffered from psychological trauma in losing her mother and cousin through marriages gone sour. She also saw Jane Seymour die after childbirth and her beloved Katherine Parr. She witnessed, first-hand, the inconstancy of men after wedding and bedding their beloved. I think she did not want to relinquish her sexual power over me, nor her political power–she was, herself, a political tool as well she knew. SHe kept France and Spain, the Austrian states, etc. all on tenderhooks, waiting to see whom she would marry. She played it like a genius, which I think she was in many ways. So, while she might have enjoyed the courtships of many men, she knew that would always be the best part of the male/female relationship. And, she was doing what she thought best for England. Plus, she wasn’t crazy about having an heir–she did not think a ruler could trust her offspring–all grasping at the crown. She is such an enigma in so many ways. As fascinating as her mother. I did not know about Henry’s offer to Anne B about France, going and taking Elizabeth. Where is this information?
    Thanks, Claire–another great piece!

  4. Points 1,2 and 3 above should be enough to sway her decision not to marry. I believe she truly did love Robert Dudley from a very young age. Later in life they were imprisoned in the Tower together and throughout his remaining life he was dedicated to her in all ways. They were as good as man and wife and this bond between them caused much jealousy throughout the court. So other then having actually having children and the infamous piece of paper that states that you are married in the eyes of God and before witnesses they were “married in their hearts” Although she toyed with others throughout her life, no one could take the place in her heart that was owned by Robert Dudley. I find it extremely romantic actually! I especially like point number 6 above by Carol. I would also like to believe that Queen Elizabeth I did in fact respect her mother and understood her, otherwise, Anne’s death would in ALL ways seem a senseless killing. She kept her mother alive with those around her, she even wore her mother’s portrait in a ring I believe. Had the so called love affair between her and the Duc d’Anjou, well lets call that a lovers quarrel. That was stemmed from pure jealousy.
    After all, did not Robert himself marry flirt around court…..it was a game they played but bottom line, they loved each other. Carol’s 7th and final comment, “She gave her life to England.” Yes she did completely and that is one of the reasons she went down in world history as one of the best Monarchs to live. Might I just add, one of the most colorful and beautifully adorned.

  5. All of them, except the last are reasons enough. Her mother died, her sister was humiliated, her last stepmother died in childbirth…it all spelled that women and men were a dangerous combination.

  6. My understanding is that a fusion of the first five reasons given above are the true grounds for her refusal to publicly acknowledge her marriage to her lover Robert Dudley in the Tower under Mary’s imprisonment, and then subsequent concealed pregnancy to him when as Master of her Horse he had the chambers with adjoining door to hers, during his marriage to Amy Robsart. This is the key to all the difficulties surrounding their love match. He was already in an arranged loveless marriage to a passive aggressive old maid that may have suited him when an impoverished nobleman under Mary’s oppression. But now as Elizabeths favorite; the world was his oyster, the only grit was Amy.
    Into this stew nefarious interests bacame involved and amidst a swirl of rumours of her arranged death by Lord Robert, she is found dead at the foot of the stairways at her family home with a broken neck.
    Suspicion which never left him immediately fell upon Lord Robert, from this moment the decision was made to never marry. From then on confirmed by the disastrous reign of Mary Queen of Scots, who proceeded to make the same fatal mistakes in full public view.
    Now I do not believe that Lord Robert killed or arranged for Amys death despite what Greenparson wrote that I suspect was a pseudonym for Francis Bacon, who you would think would know, being the first issue of Elizabeth and Lord Robert, and insinuated into the household of her chief lady in waiting the sister to Robert Cecil and husband to Nicholas Bacon, the Lord Keeper of her seal and known as a hidden poet and Author that paid others for their name under which to publish.
    Using the Sherlock Holmes criterion to solve crime mysteries that the prime benificiary is the most likely culprit, then there is no way that killing his wife in any way helped Lord Robert then or in the future ever. It was forever a blot on his name.
    To the finger points directly towards Robert Cecil, he benefitted directly by keeping Lord Robert and his issue Francis and later Lord Essex another even more complicated plot but neccessary to understand the last years of Elizabeth, on the sidelines, for all his life, and the life of his dwarfish son, who while they were alive made Francis’s life hell.
    But we must be gratefull, the blocks he presented were overcome in the most sublime way as the English renaissance the Rose of England flowered into eternal beauty of the immortal works and words of Bacon the SpearShaker.

  7. Hi Carol,
    I’ll address your points in sequence:-
    1) Yes, Elizabeth was a healthy child.
    2) Testicular feminization syndrome – As R Bakan pointed out, sufferers of this syndrome can have completely normal looking female genitalia and also a vagina can be present so Elizabeth as a naked baby would have looked like any other normal female baby – the testes are internal and so are not visible. He also says that menstruation can occur in some cases. I don’t believe that Elizabeth had this syndrome, I’m simply playing Devil’s Advocate!
    3) As I said in 2) there would be no outward signs that Elizabeth had testicular feminization syndrome. If she had a vagina then even a rudimentary internal examination would have shown her as “normal”.
    4) See 3)
    5) Yes, I believe that Elizabeth was a virgin.
    6) Although it is clear that Anne Boleyn made plans to make sure that Elizabeth was surrounded by people who could help her in the future (see https://www.elizabethfiles.com/the-cambridge-connections/3853/), I don’t believe that she could have known that Elizabeth would one day rule over England. I also have found no evidence in the primary sources that Anne was offered exile in France. On the 16th May 1536 Archbishop Cranmer visited Anne in the Tower to get her to confess to an impediment to her marriage and to obtain her consent to dissolve the marriage and to disinherit and bastardise her daughter Elizabeth, and I think it is likely that she was offered some type of deal in exchange for this BUT this could have been a more merciful death (death by sword) or the opportunity to join a convent. Sir William Kingston reported to Cromwell “Yet this day at dinner the Queen said she would go to “anonre” [a nunnery], and is in hope of life”. LP x.890 I’m sure that if Anne had been offered exile in France with Elizabeth then she would have jumped at the chance, after all, she had spent many years in France and could have bided her time there and then supported Elizabeth in claiming the throne at a later date.
    7) I completely agree with you.

    By the way, the reasons I cited in my post were “possible reason”, reasons that have been cited by historians and academics, not my own opinions. If I had to choose I’d choose a combination of the first eight.

    Thanks for your comment and thoughts!

  8. Hi Kerry,
    Thanks for your comment but I just can’t agree with your theories:-
    1) There is no evidence to support the idea that Dudley and Elizabeth secretly married or that they had a child. Elizabeth had many enemies and there is no way that she could have kept a pregnancy and child secret. People were just waiting for Elizabeth to make a mistake so that they could dethrone her.
    2) Amy Robsart was not an old maid. Both Dudley and Amy were 17 when they married in 1550 and the marriage was a love-match, or a “carnal marriage” as William Cecil described it, rather than an arranged union. The couple were sweethearts and very much in love. Obviously the marriage deteriorated as Dudley spent more and more time at court with Elizabeth but the couple were originally happy. Amy was only 28 when she died, far from an old maid, and I can’t find any evidence that she was “passive aggressive” although she was depressed in the months leading up to her death because of the fact that she was in pain and she was dying.
    3) Robert Cecil was not even born on 1560 so he cannot have murdered Amy or organised her death, he was born c1563. Do you mean William Cecil? If so, Alison Weir does believe that he may have had something to do with Amy’s death, in that he wanted to frame Dudley so that Elizabeth would not marry him. I cannot agree. I don’t believe that Cecil would have chosen to implicate the Queen in such a scandal.
    4) Francis Bacon was born in January 1561. This is the month when Elizabeth appointed Cecil Master of the Wards and in the winter of 1560/1561 Elizabeth was active at court and so I can’t see how she could have given birth or been pregnant without people noticing and the news getting out, afterall, this was a time when everyone was worried that she would marry Dudley.

  9. Of course a man would explain the reign of a strong woman, the strongest ruler EVER, by stating she was really a man. Too hard to accept that Elizabeth was just that smart and successful.

  10. I was too caught up with the boy comment to properly state my feelings, so forgive me for a second post. If Anne Boleyn’s treatment during marriage didn’t sway her, Kathryn Howard’s probably did. Maybe Anna of Cleves’s harsh rejection also stung, considering how fond of her Elizabeth was. Jane Seymour and Katharine Parr both died suffering deaths due to childbearing, and Queen Mary I agonized over trying to make her husband love her. With such an extensive and well-known family history, I can’t blame her for not marrying.

  11. I realize I’m very late to the debate, but have to laugh at the thought that Elizabeth was deformed or really a man. Lynn has it right, I think, when she says the nay-sayers were trying to ‘explain’ a queen regnant who was not just competent, but brilliant. They didn’t think women were capable and here is Elizabeth proving them wrong – so ‘obviously’ she can’t be a ‘normal’ woman! It’s just an irritatingly condescending form of misogyny.

    And yes, all the examples of marriage she had observed would have put anyone off, even without the obvious drawback of sharing or losing the power to control her own country and fate. If she truly made her decision not to marry after Kathryn Howard’s death, everything after that must have just confirmed that she’d made the correct decision. After all, you don’t have to make the mistake yourself to absorb the lesson; you can watch the mistakes of others and file it away in the back of your mind not to do THAT.

    Katherine Parr nearly losing her life to the mercurial whims of her husband, Elizabeth’s father, only to lose her life anyway with her next husband in a frighteningly common way for a woman then – through childbirth; that same man then wanting to be HER husband; her cousin Jane losing her life due to the actions of the men she was expected to defer to: her husband, father, and father-in-law; her sister’s disastrous and humiliating marriage; that same man then wanting to be HER husband; her cousin, Mary, QOS, and her disastrous marital history and all of the things she lost because of that… I’m finding it difficult to think why she WOULD want to marry!

    Having made that decision, of course she used that to her political gain. It was brilliant of her to turn what was considered a weakness into an advantage. By dangling herself as bait to this power or that, she neatly avoided long-term ties with any of them, which ties might well have dragged England into endless and expensive wars and skirmishes. It’s really amusing to me how she used the societal expectations of how she should behave as a woman (to be a compliant wife and mother) to avoid doing exactly that by endless prevarications of exactly WHICH man she should marry, until oops, it was too late due to her age. And even then, she spins it that she made this great sacrifice for her country by not marrying, when she never wanted to marry in the first place! She was truly ahead of her time by instinctively understanding the importance and having an effortless mastery of image, PR, and spin control.

  12. That still really does’nt help me!!?? Could you tell me what she thought of the optional options for why she liked and didnt like themm??!! Pleassee helppp mee!! :((

  13. Ok in my opinion, I think she secretly wanted to end the Tudor dynasty with her. I think she saw her father as the tirant he was and the cruelty of several wives and her rise to the throne at the bottom… I think she might of just said screw it, Tudor’s have gone long enough and didn’t want any heirs fighting for her crown or turning tyrants themselves…just a theory 🙂

  14. An intellectually brillant young girl surrounded by women who died as a direct result of getting married, either through losing their heads or childbirth.would seem to have every reason to want to never marry. Elizabeth was that young girl who witnessed a parade of intelligent and beautiful women destroyed by the realities of married life. Accordingly, at her coronation she put on a wedding ring and stated that she was married to England and thus would never marry a man. For almost fifty years I believed that she never married as a result of watching all of her father’s women die because they were married. I also believed that she used her unmarried status to bewitch and entice the european royal men who wanted to marry her as a means of diplomatic intrigue. I now hold a very different view, which surprises me greatly, but I think it is the answer is the result of medical knowledge discovered in the past 20 years –especially in view of the fact that Elizabeth I was a woman whose political decisions and ability orchestrate high level intrigue have long been recognized as very unique for women throughout history, until the modern era. Testicular Feminization actually fits perfectly with much of what is known about Elizabeth. People who have this syndrom often have very long fingers, are very slender and athletic, The effect of testosterone on the brain, even in only slightly higher amounts, masculinizes the brain and its thinking, and it seems that Elizabeth I had ideation more characteristic of a man than a woman — even by the standards of the modern “liberated” woman. There is some evidence that she recognized that she was ‘different’ in that she left no heir in her will, but she did specify that her body could not be examined after death. It is entirely possible that she discovered as a young woman that she had a level of which resulted in the development of a partial vagina — perhaps Dudley helped her make this discovery! By the time she was crowned she had reached an age where she may have had an intense relationship which led to the discovery. It is also possible that Thomas Seymour, with the apparent help of his wife Katherine Parr, made the discovery about a genital anomaly, afterall it is well known that his attentions were inappropriate. He was conveniently executed for his behavior toward Elizabeth, although many other reasons were also given at his indictment. The entire incident also increased Elizabeth’s experiences of the danger of marriage for women. Katharine Parr, her stepmother, in order to please her new husband, Thomas Seymour, aided and abetted his pursuit of Elizabeth, episodes of tickling, surprise visits to her bedroom and inappropriate sexualized behavior toward Elizabeth. The events were sufficiently notorious and well know amongst King’s (Elizabeth’s brother) closest ministers and the regent that Elizabeth was removed from the Parr-Seymour household for her protection. A short time late Katherine Parr died in childbirth with Seymour’s child. Seymour was then free to embark on intrigues and conspiracies with a goal of marrying Elizabeth, and of course he would have keep secret any physical anomalies he knew about in order to be able to marry her and gain power. So Elizabeth, at this time still a teenager, experienced first hand how valuable she was to an ambitious man and also how to intrigue to achieve what she wanted. Since Seymour was executed she was able to conceal any knowledge she had about her anatomy she may have discovered with him; afterall, she would not be the first or last young teenage girl to be sexually abused by a powerful male family member. The final piece of the puzzle falls into place when Elizabeth’s sister Mary married Philip of Spain who wanted to acquire England for the inexpensive price of a wife. When Mary did not conceive an heir in the first year of marriage, Philip returned to Spain abandoning her. I am sure that this lesson was not lost on a young woman about to enter her 20’s. After a return visit by Philip, Mary appeared to be pregnant, exhibiting all the typical signs of pregnancy which continued for months beyond a total of 9 months. Philip left again in disgust and Mary ended up dying, probably of an ovarian or uterine cancer. As a 23 year old woman, 25 when Mary died, Elizabeth clearly had little personal knowledge of a woman who benefited from marriage; they all had to do as their husbands wished, or ended up dying. At 25, with a superior education and intellect, Elizabeth took the throne and married England at her coronation as a means of survival. She surrounded herself with wise and loyal ministers who advised her but for the remainder of her life she never had to concede to a man and she used her marriagability and feminine wiles to keep those powerful men, her ministers and advisors, attentive and willing to please her. When she aged, she had accrued sufficient experience and power in her own right, so that as her marriagability womanly charms faded she able to continue to keep the men of her court interested in pleasing her. Her story is endlessly fascinating and a major turning point in history and culture.

  15. Thanks for your very detailed comment. I’m afraid I don’t put much store in the testicular feminization theory. Elizabeth’s slender fingers and slender frame were inherited from her mother and I think her characteristics and attitude were down to her knowing that she had to act like a man, a King, to rule successfully. She could not be a typical submissive Tudor woman and be a good queen. I think she simply chose to be married to her country, as choosing a husband and marrying would complicate things too much, and she could also use her single status for diplomatic reasons, entering into marriage negotiations with different suitors/countries. I believe it was a choice and not something she did for medical reasons.

  16. Sorry forsomewhat late response to this post but thisis something I gave some thought to.

    I agree that part of the reason was pschological. Her mother and Katherine Howard were executed for marital troubles. As was younger Seymour for sexual advances toward her at young age. Then there were always problems elsewhere with marriages and people easily lost their heads over it or marriage sparked a revolt.

    Death at childbirth.Jane Seymour and Katherine Parr were two close to her. also she saw it happen to others and it was quite common. So it’s not surprising that she would subconciously equate marriage with death.

    Who to marry? Marry a Spaniard and p/o French. Marry a Franchman and p/o Spain. Marry somebody else and p/o both. Marry an Englishman coughdudleycough and have country in revolt. By staying single she kept her options openand everybody wanted to be on her good side. And she saw what foreign marriage did to her sister and her reign. Maybe she even took note that Henry’s foreign marriages were not happy ones.

    Plus she enjoyed the whole courting game. Once she married it would be gone.

    And don’t forget she never named a successor.The whole “who would succeed me but a king?” may or may not have happened and her rule was for all purposes over at that point anyway. She knew that a named successor would be a focal point for any plot her overthrow (specially a son). She saw this first hand with Mary and saw it happen elsewhere. and she took great care to prevent people from creating marriages that would merge several potential claimants. A husband and a child would be a threat to her rule so it makes sense she tried to avoid creating such threat.

    I don’t think it was some sort of concious decission (she came close to marriege after all) but IMO she played the potential bride game to get England through rough times and keep foreigners at bay. Once that danger has passed so did her “good marriage” years and she was for practical purposes off the marriage market.

    I don’t buy into whole deformity theory. She lived under lots of eyes, manyof them unfriendly. Anything like that would be discovered and trumpeted by her foreign enemies. I think this is just continuation of reasoning why Elizabeth shouldn’t have ruled. she was smart, courageous and ruledcountry well. Obviously that’s impossiblefor a woman so she had to been a man! She didn’t marry as was expected of women at that age so obviously something was wrong with her body. etc.

  17. All the reasons listed above – from the possible, to the probable via the completely outlandish, have been long debated among historians and history lovers.
    However, nobody has, yet,, thought of this one possibility: Elizabeth was probably asexual.
    Asexuality is defined, by those who live it (and I am one of them), as another type of sexual orientation whereby, whilst often developing strong affections for other people, an asexual would never be interested in engaging in a physical relationship and could even be repelled by the very idea.
    In the world of an asexual, sex does not occupy any place at all. i know, many sexual people find that hard to believe. Asexuals have recently ‘come out’, mostly on the web and you can find out more using Google and YouTube.
    My point here is that Elizabeth had many of the behaviours that asexual people currently associate with their orientation: strong resistance to societal pressure to get married/have sex, declarations such as ‘I’d rather be a poor maid and single than queen and married’, occasional questionning of one’s orientation followed by attempts to conform…which attempts are quickly terminated (Elizabeth’s behaviour during the development of the alencon courtship follows that pattern). Some asexuals even talk of having very emotional one to one friendships of the type Elizabeth / Leicester.
    Interestinlgy, I could always relate to Elizabeth’s refusal to get married and could never understand why so many people found her choice ‘strange’ and had to find explanations for it. In my mind, even long before I understood anything about my orientation, Elizabeth’s choice has always been normal and the strangeness was with those who questionned it. I know that is not a proof that Elizabeth was asexual, but it is a very strong point in favour of that theory.
    She would not of course have thought of herself as ‘asexual’. The word did not exist. But, like many of us before the arrival of asexual websites, she could have been asexual witohut ever being able to understand what made her different from most people.

  18. Also sorry for late response, but how about Elizabeth just liking power. She was Queen of England-who wouldn’t want that? As much as she bemoaned not being able to choose friends, confidents, lovers, etc, I think she, like others with power, didn’t want to give it up. The other reasons for her not marrying, what she saw her father do to 2 of his wives (including her own mother) and seeing 2 of her stepmothers die after childbirth are good justifications but I think ultimately it was being the Queen that kept her from marrying and having children. Why do you think Queen Victoria never stepped down or why the current Queen Elizabeth II hasn’t stepped down? Even though they married and had children, theirs were love matches and not necessarily done to keep the dynasty going. Elizabeth I’s wouldn’t have been-she would have to give up a lot of power and control. I think they all like(d) being Queen too much. I would too.

  19. realize this comment is a bit late…I love this site and consider myself a bit of a stalker; always reading never posting…but I wanted to share a thought with Elizabeth lovers everywhere…
    Even if Elizabeth were intersex it doesn’t change the fact that she was England’s greatest monarch. I consider the theory a theory and therefore credible even if extremely unlikely… one thing we know is that she was NOT replaced by a male!!
    But whether or not Elizabeth suffered such a condition changes nothing!! From the moment of birth she was destined for greatness and narrowly cheated death throughout her childhood and reign. I believe it was Devine Providence that gave England the leader they needed at that point in time… and I think all the events of Elizabeth’s early life are evidence of that. And if some one showed me proof tomorrow that my favorite lady in history was intersex I would still think of her as a great lady…
    Again I love reading the articles and comments here…. very fun and informative!

    1. I agree, AbbieJean, Elizabeth being intersex would not change how I viewed her either, I just don’t get why people have to make up these theories though, very odd. Thank you for commenting, it’s great to hear your thoughts. Have you seen the new film “Anonymous”?

  20. I haven’t seen it…. isn’t it about the identity of the shakespear play write? I did a paper in college supporting the Bacon theory but now that I’m older and wiser I like to think that Shakespear wrote Shakespear….lol
    has anyone else seen it?

  21. Hi – sorry to come late into this, but I’ve just discovered the site – well done, Claire, so much information on here.

    I think the reasons for Elizabeth not marrying are probably mixed. I have some sympathy with the psychological view of her association of marriage and death, and it seems clear that the love of her life was Robert Dudley, whom she could not marry.

    Too often I think historians equate the idea of Elizabeth and Dudley’s affair with the assumption of intercourse and children. As we all know, that route would have raised huge problems for the queen. And as we also all know, it is possible to have a very close sexual relationship short of intercourse, which is what I suspect they did, certainly in the early years. Remember when Elizabetth thought she was dying of smallpox in 1563 (? need to check that date I’m going from memory), she left the kingdom to Dudley as Protector and left a large sum of money to the manservant who kept his chamber. Now, why on earth would she do that – what did he know? There is no evidence of course……

    I also think the idea of losing power to a husband was a problem for her – although I doubt it would have been allowed (see the marriage treaty drafted for Alencon). Shakespeare says ‘uneasy lies the head which wears the crown’ and her treatment of her potential heirs makes it clear that throughout her reign Elizabeth felt insecure over her succession.

    One related aspect no one has mentioned I think is that at no time would her Council agree to support her choice of consort. The furthest they got was a rather tepid ‘if you choose to marry X we will support you’ which is hardly a ringing endorsement to an insecure queen. Neither Dudley nor Anjou/Alencon had their whole support. So her problems were not just personal, they were political. Just a thought.

    PS – On Anonymous, the Prince Tudor theory does the Oxfordians no favours, I think. It is outlandish to suggest Elizabeth could have had a child in secret. That doesn’t mean Oxford didn’t write the plays or that Stakepeare did; we have no primary evidence on that one way or the other.

  22. Could it be possible that Elizabeth’s “marriage to England” was fueled by religious reasons?

  23. Wow–I’m currently doing an essay on Liz. I did not expect to read her name and Vagina in the same sentence.. HA! Oh well, as interesting as it is to read about the Queen’s Vajayjay, I’m not too sure my History teacher would appreciate it. Love the article though great points!! Thank you 🙂

  24. I have just discovered this website! How wonderful! As a student of history, and holder of more than one credential, I find it highly amusing, and at the same time intensely infuriating, that Elizabeth’s gender should be questioned. Strong women have always been feared and slandered, so I guess I can say that it doesn’t surprise me that ‘Good Queen Bess’ would fall victim to such discussion. To say that Elizabeth’s abilities were an anomaly in a pre-modern world is to misspeak. One only has to look at the example of Theodora. Had it not been for her, Justinian would have surrendered his throne. She was a most remarkable woman, and there were many more! But, back to Elizabeth. I suspect many women, today, who have become wiser AFTER years of being expected to “yield to the head of the house” (“I make the decisions here, not you!”), and having their identity, their very personhood, ripped from them, and have made the decision to leave such marriages, can understand why Elizabeth might have taken in all that befell the women in her family and would have chosen to tread that minefield carefully. I’m sure Elizabeth was astute enough to understand that she would be forced to submit to the husband in any marriage, INCLUDING one with Robert Dudley. My favorite quote from Elizabeth is “There will be only one mistress in this house, and no master!” I have it on the wall in my classroom. She will always be my primary heroine, warts and all!

  25. I think multiple factors come into play when figuring out why Elizabeth I didn’t marry. Almost everyone on this board has hit the nail on the head at least once, and I agree on many counts. I believe Elizabeth was born into a family that would make anyone fearful of marrying. Her father beheaded her mother, most likely bore children with her aunt, she witnessed her father go through multiple marriages for the sake of a male heir, yet *Elizabeth I* was queen so all his destruction was in vain. Elizabeth was also her mother’s daughter. I believe she was part Anne and part Mary. With the part of Anne, Elizabeth I would do anything to keep power, yet with the part of Mary, Elizabeth I knew what she was not capable of and what must be surrendered in order live a life as free of danger as possible. She was a Boleyn, no doubt about it. Elizabeth I also saw what childbirth could do to a women as many women of that time died shortly after childbirth or their children didn’t live long. Multiple pregnancies were required most of the time and this led to more likelihood of dying in childbirth. Also, there was the factor that if Elizabeth I did have a child, with all the political danger around her, who isn’t to say that her child would not be kidnapped or killed in order to destroy her reign? If she bore a child, her she would have been that much more vulnerable as queen. In order for Elizabeth I to have had a child though, she would have had to wed and that was a huge problem in and of itself. After witnessing what marriage did to her sister and the country, it was pretty much off the table. I think she knew that marrying would not be successful and would hurt the country after seeing what her sister went through. Marrying for political gain would be so problematic, even if it were a love match, as the other country would look to her to produce a male heir and that pressure, on top of her loss of power as a single woman ruler of her own country, would have driven her to realize it was too much of a plight. It couldn’t be done. I believe, though, that the single most important reason Elizabeth I didn’t marry was because of Robert Dudley. She knew she would never successfully be able to marry, and on top of that childbirth was too risky, so she found love in a simpler way. If Robert Dudley were not available to keep her company, I think there is a chance that Elizabeth I might have tried to marry and her life and the world as we know it would be different. It was almost as if Robert Dudley were her common-law husband and she gained all the affection, support, care, and dependence that one would gain from a spouse, it is just that it was never legal. Robert Dudley gave up many of his marrying days for this role, however I am sure he gained much pleasure from his priviledged lifestyle. I don’t think it matters if their relationship was ever consummated, they did love one another. Robert Dudley was a Cancer man and Elizabeth I was a Virgo woman…so many longstanding romances are found with this astrological match. It is one of the most successful matches, only topped by the match of Cancer man and Scorpio woman, and Robert Dudley did go on to marry a Scorpio woman, his second wife Lettice. I think Robert Dudley’s role in keeping Queen Elizabeth I occupied long enough for her to not feel the need to marry is one of the single most important aspects of history.

  26. Claire, thank you for the wonderful website! I am a huge admirer of Elizabeth I and find her to be one of the greatest examples of female strength and intelligence in the history of the world. I am happy I stumbled upon your website so I can sink my teeth into even more theories and stories about her.

    I am outraged at the theory that suggests Elizabeth was actually a man. Like others that have posted here, I find it almost darkly comical that our world can’t comprehend how a figure like Elizabeth could have successfully reigned without being a man. One of the pieces of “evidence” for this theory is a quote that is completely taken out of context. It is argued that Elizabeth was alluding to her “true” gender by saying: “I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too.” The quote, when provided in its entirety, renders this “evidence” as complete garbage. The full quote begins with: “I know I have but the body of a weak and feeble woman, but…” While I can’t rule out the possibility of a medical defect or an asexual orientation, I think the theory that Elizabeth was actually a man is nonsensical. Surely, someone would have discovered this hidden truth and been rewarded dearly by providing it to the right person (which could have been just about anybody in Elizabeth’s time).

    I have always loved the story of Robin and Elizabeth. To me, they are the quintessential story of impossible love. So many things in life kept them from the relationship I’m sure they actually wanted with each other, and yet, they still found a way to have something, to be something for each other.

    I, too, loved the movie “Elizabeth” and its magnificent ending. I thought Cate Blanchett was a perfect fit for the monarch, and the story is relatively accurate. Elizabeth was a personable, energetic, social creature that thrived on the exchange of wits, dancing and games. And yet, she had to come to the realization that her life was first and foremost the property of her people. I think the image of her changing her appearance is a somber yet brilliant way to show her acceptance of the weight of the crown. She couldn’t forever be the girl prancing in fields with Robin, but I’m confident that she was happy with her life and the role she played in bringing about a Golden Age for Britain.

  27. So….

    I honestly feel that Elizabeth got twisted in her ways of thinking about marriage. After seeing what her father did , I can’t blame her. I think she wanted to control her own life and never give her power to a man.

    Plus, she wanted unity in religion. So, I doubt she would jeopardize her reformers.

  28. ELIZABETH IS NOT A BOY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  29. I have very much enjoyed reading the detailed and considered comments from this website. I have just stumbled upon it. I do not have use academic qualifications of done of your contributers, but have enjoyed the pure theatre and intense human drama of the Tudor, especially Elizabeathan, Age, all of my life. I am fascinated by our fascination with Elizabeth Tudor, the way she navigated her life and reign is amazing.

    I think it is very important that it is recognised that film, TV and writers are

  30. (Sorry too early submission) I think it is important that the concrete of artistic interpretation be acknowledged. The film Elizabeth, whilst an amazing film, is subject to the filmmakers personal assessment. Some of the events portrayed are documented but are not in chronologically order and in some cases, pure speculation. The concept of the evolution of Elizabeth into a ‘virgin’ was not an event but a part of her ageing and public assessments over-the-counter past 400 years.

  31. If she had married, as soon as she produced a male heir, she might have been created a regent up until her son could become king. All throughout her reign Elizabeth was determined not to have male Tudor babies upsetting her position. Just remember the executions of male Plantagenets in the reign of Henryvii.

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