The Marriage Issue

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The Marriage Issue

Elizabeth was under pressure to marry for a number of reasons:

  • It was felt that all women should marry.
  • She needed to provide the Kingdom with an heir. She was the last surviving child of Henry VIII.
  • A man would provide her with the necessary capabilities for government.
  • The succession issue was perhaps the most pressing.
  • In 1561 Lady Catherine Grey, in line for the throne, married without the consent of Elizabeth. Elizabeth was doubly outraged when she discovered that Catherine was pregnant.
  • In 1562 Elizabeth found herself under even more pressure to marry after she recovered from a bout of illness. She contracted smallpox, and at that point the doctors who were attending her told Cecil that there was nothing that they could do to save her.
  • By 1563 parliament was begging her to marry. The Lords begged her, "That it please your Majesty to dispose yourself to marry, where you will, with whom you will, and as shortly as you will."


Throughout her reign, and indeed before it, there were a number of men who presented themselves to Elizabeth as potential husbands.

Thomas Seymour

Philip II he felt that it was fitting that he should fill the position, after all he had been consort to a Queen already. He made a number of advances towards Elizabeth via his ambassador, de Spes.

Earl Arundel He tried to bribe her Ladies. He didn't really stand much of a chance.

Sir William Pickering Around 1559 he courted her. Elizabeth did like him.

Eric XIV of Sweden

Earl of Arran

Archduke of Austria

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester perhaps the most famous of all her suitors. Historians disagree as to whether he was ever a real contender. There is no denying that Elizabeth was very fond of him. However, he was married, and when his wife died in mysterious circumstances Elizabeth was for some time implicated in a murder plot. (Historians now suspect that she died from breast cancer.) He had the backing of Philip II and the Pope to try to marry Elizabeth.

There were others.

Elizabeth was determined not to marry. She had been influenced by the writings of St Basil on the virtues of a single life (so that monks and nuns could devote themselves to their work and prayers).

She always thought of herself as married to her realm. She said as much on more than one occasion, 'I have no master and only one mistress'. (England)

She used her 'availability' as a political and diplomatic weapon. While she was not married she was assured the courtship of most of the leading men of Europe. At home too, she felt that if she remained single then she, rather than her son or daughter would be the central figure at court. In 1563 she told a Spanish official, "If I am to disclose to you what I should prefer if I follow the inclination of my nature, it is this: beggar-woman and single, rather than queen and married."

A F Pollard maintains that she did not marry because she knew that she could not have children and she did not want anyone to discover this. Christopher Haigh rubbishes this idea, citing evidence that she had a regular menstrual cycle and reports from her laundress's show that she could still have children at the age of 45.