Queen Elizabeth I
Marriage & Succession
Francis, Duke Of Alencon
The only other serious contender for Elizabeth's hand was Francis, Duke of Alencon, later Duke of Anjou. He was the son of
Catherine de Medici, Queen Mother of France, and a brother to the French King. His courtship did not gain serious consideration until the
1570s, as he was considerably younger than Elizabeth herself, and the negotiations were entirely based on the mutual need of England and
France to make an ally of each other. The traditional European alliance system whereby England was united with Spain was rapidly
deteriorating, and England needed the support of France if she was to protect herself against Spain.
The French were also Catholic but did not appear to be as hostile to English Protestantism as the Spanish were. Alencon himself was a known sympathiser of French Protestants (called Hugeunots), and was not as adverse to marrying a Protestant Queen as his older brother, now king, had been. For a decade negotiations for the hand of Alencon played a prominent part in English politics. The negotiations were temporarily discontinued following the Bartholomew Massacre, in which an estimated six thousand French Protestants, including women and children, were killed, but were soon continued when the need for an ally was pressing again.
This was by far the most serious foreign courtship of Elizabeth's reign, and it seemed certain for a while that Elizabeth would indeed marry him. Francis even came to England for Elizabeth to meet him, and it seemed that the Queen was quite taken with the Frenchman, who she called her "frog", despite the fact that he was not as good looking as some of her suitors had been, and was reputedly disfigured from an attack of the small pox. Elizabeth announced before some of her courtiers that she would marry him, kissed him, and gave him a ring. This pleased those eager for her marriage, but alarmed those who did not want their Queen married to a French Catholic. The political elite appeared divided. There were those who supported the marriage such as William Cecil and Thomas Radcliffe, Earl of Sussex, and those who were ardently opposed such as Robert Dudley, now Earl of Leicester. A man named John Stubbes wrote a pamphlet warning the Queen against the marriage, for which he had his right hand cut off, and Sir Philip Sidney, the famous poet, wrote her a letter advising her against it.
Once again, politics and religion was making it difficult for the Queen to marry. Elizabeth was in a difficult situation.
If she married, then she risked her popularity and support for her regime, but she was now in her late forties, and if she did not marry
Alencon, then this could be her last chance at marriage, and having a child to succeed her to the throne. Elizabeth appears to have felt
this deeply, and on one occasion when her Council was debating the pros and cons of the marriage, she broke down and wept.
The ultimate decision as to whether she married or not, lay with Elizabeth herself, but without the solid backing of the
country, marriage would not have been wise.
No one knows if Queen Elizabeth really wanted to marry. Perhaps the Queen did not really know herself.
The Alencon courtship had caused lot of problems within the court and country, and on top of that, Elizabeth learnt that Dudley had
married her cousin, Lettice Devereux, Countess of Essex. While the story that he kept the marriage a secret from her for a year is
probably apocryphal (Alison Weir in her recent publication Elizabeth the Queen persuasively argues that it probably originates in the
work of a seventeenth century historian) Elizabeth still felt a sense of betrayal at his marriage and this may have been a factor in
her apparent desire to marry Alencon. But after ten years, the Alencon match was finally laid to rest. Elizabeth's fears of marriage
once again began to surface, and the political problems the marriage would cause, made it seem impractical.
For over twenty years, Elizabeth had been courted by the most eligible men in Europe. The "marriage game" had come to be an important part of foreign relations, and a valuable asset to the country. When it seemed that England was losing friends, or in times when England needed friends, all Elizabeth had to do was suggest marriage to the respective countries, and regardless of whether she intended to marry or not, the prospect of marriage to the English Queen was too big a bait to resist, and Elizabeth could be assured of their support for the foreseeable future. But now that Elizabeth was approaching fifty years of age, and could no longer realistically expect to bear a child, she could no longer use her marriage as a diplomatic weapon. The Alencon courtship was her last political courtship. It was certain now that Elizabeth would never marry. Her statesmen must have been relieved that the often gruelling negotiations for her hand were over, but the dangers the lack of an heir posed could not be ignored, and must have weighed heavily on the minds of her more far-sighted advisors.
The woman who early in her reign had declared that it would please her immensely if on her grave it was written "A queen having lived and reigned such and such a time, lived and died a virgin" would have her wish come true, and be known for ever more as The Virgin Queen.