Queen Elizabeth I
Queen Elizabeth I
Marriage & Succession
From the moment Elizabeth became Queen, there was one question that everyone was asking - who will the Queen marry? It was assumed that one of the first things Elizabeth would do, would be to select a husband to help her govern the realm, and more importantly, to get her pregnant. Elizabeth was the last of her dynasty, and it was thought natural that her main concern would be to provide a child to perpetuate the rule of the Tudors. Elizabeth was young, unlike her sister who was already into her late thirties when she became Queen, and there were high hopes that soon England would have a royal family again. Without an heir of the Queen's body, the future would be uncertain, and many feared that the rival claims of Henry VII's distant relatives, would plunge the country into a bitter civil war should Elizabeth die without a legitimate child to succeed her.
In these early weeks of her reign, the court buzzed with suitors eager for her hand in marriage, and European ambassadors were busy trying to advance the suit of their masters and of their master's relatives. Elizabeth was now the most sought after woman in Europe. She received offers of marriage from the King of Spain, Prince Erik of Sweden - soon to be king, The Archduke Charles (son of the Emperor Ferdinand), the son of John Frederic Duke of Saxony, The Earl of Arran, the Earl of Arundel, and Sir William Pickering, who was so confident that he would be selected, that he demanded certain privileges be granted him while he stayed at the Court. Elizabeth politely rejected the offer made by King Philip, but allowed the other suitors to remain hopeful, while allowing her advisors to consider the advantages and disadvantages of each match. Yet, the only person, it seemed, who did not see the urgency for marriage, was Elizabeth herself.
Erik XIV of Sweden
It will never be known whether Elizabeth really intended to marry or not. Certainly she showed no great enthusiasm for marriage, and
declared on a number of occasions that she personally preferred the single life. However, there is a danger to read history backwards and
assume that because Elizabeth never married, it was always her intention not to. The marriage of a Queen regnant was a complicated affair,
and could be disastrous for the country, as the case of Queen Mary had illustrated. Elizabeth did not want to repeat her sister's mistake
by marrying a man that would not be popular with her people. Any man Elizabeth married would expect a say in the governing of the country
(as Philip had expected under Mary) and neither Elizabeth or her ministers wanted to relinquish any power over English affairs.
For this reason, it was in the best interests of the country for Elizabeth to marry a man who, although of suitable rank and status, was not a major European power, and would be content to be the Queen's consort only. This effectively ruled out reigning monarchs, although Eric of Sweden was given serious consideration by Elizabeth's ministers. The suit of Prince Erik, a fellow Protestant, was also popular in the country, and when it was rumoured that Elizabeth had accepted his proposal, medals were made in London with a picture of Elizabeth and Erik united on them. But Erik was far from a wealthy monarch, and marriage to him would have brought England little financial benefit, or provided her with a strong European ally. The Archduke Charles was also given serious consideration, and his suit remained a possibility for several years. But as well as the need to consider the demands for power a potential husband would make, it was also necessary to take into consideration his religion, and religion often proved to be a serious bar to the marriage eventually occurring. The Archduke was a Catholic, and as a Catholic, his suit was not popular by the Protestant element in Elizabeth's Council.
Earl of Leicester
To complicate matters further, it seemed that Elizabeth had fallen deeply in love with one of her own subjects,
Lord Robert Dudley, her Master of Horse. They had been friends since childhood, and he was one of the few men Elizabeth believed
valued her for herself, and not for the fact that she was now Queen. Her marriage to a fellow protestant Englishman would certainly
have avoided the problem of foreigners controlling the realm through marriage to the Queen, and avoided a clash over religion, but
marriage to a subject also gave rise to serious problems. Competition for power amongst the English nobility was fierce, and if
Elizabeth married one noble, his rivals in power would be offended, and possibly withdraw their allegiance from her, and even plunge
the country into civil war. Also the match would not be one of equality, and would not provide England with a much needed foreign ally.
There were also other considerations that made Dudley particularly unsuitable. To begin with he was already married, having married a young girl called Amy Robsart when he was about seventeen, and secondly he was the son of the much hated Duke of Northumberland who had been executed for treason in the reign of the Queen's sister, and the grandson of Edmund Dudley, who had likewise met a traitors death earlier in the century. Robert Dudley himself had been imprisoned in the Tower for his involvement in his father's scheme to place Lady Jane Grey on the throne, and was regarded with suspicion by his fellow Englishman. Elizabeth's attachment to him, however, seemed unrelenting, and it was feared by many that he would seek an annulment from his wife, and marry the Queen. Whether Elizabeth seriously intended marrying him or not, is another of the many mysteries of her reign, but the sudden death of Dudley's wife in the September of 1560, put to an end any real hope of marrying him that she may have entertained.
Death of Amy Robsart
The relationship between the Queen and her Horse Master had long been the subject of speculation amongst her people and in Europe, and malicious gossip had circulated the idea that Dudley was going to murder his wife so that he could marry Elizabeth. Amy was found dead at the bottom of a narrow staircase, her neck broken, and many believed that her death was not an unfortunate accident. Dudley was widely suspected to be responsible for her death, despite the fact that the Inquest declared it to be an accident, and had Elizabeth married him, many more would have believed the ugly rumours circulating about him, and perhaps even that Elizabeth herself had been involved.
But despite the bar Amy's death made to a marriage with Dudley, for the next ten years he was still the most likely candidate for her hand, and
her advisors reluctantly had to acknowledge this fact. Even as late as 1575 Dudley was still a contender, and he made his last bid for her hand in marriage that year when she
stayed at Kenilworth Castle, one of his many residences, amidst fantastical entertainment.