The Unvirgin Queen

Written by Rebecca Larson

Okay, okay, before you start throwing things at your screen hear me out a minute. For centuries, there have been rumors regarding Queen Elizabeth I of England (the Virgin Queen) having illegitimate children. These rumors began as early as 1549, when Elizabeth was just a teenager, during the reign of her brother King Edward VI.

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The Secret Lives of Elizabeth’s Ladies (Guest Post)

Guest Post by Sarah Clement

If the ladies of the Elizabethan court thought her accession would provide them with rare opportunities to involve themselves politically, they would be disappointed. Whereas, while male courtiers had traditionally found themselves at the centre of political life, it was now the ladies who controlled access to the monarch and naturally surrounded her. In theory, they could put across their opinions on the state of the realm, advise the Queen on what to do, and determine whose cases should be presented to her, for some reward of course. The reality, however, was quite different.  Elizabeth forbade her ladies to discuss politics with her. While they were able to assist their friends at court (through small acts of patronage or by reporting on their mistress’ moods), they played a minute role on the English political stage, though Elizabeth was not above using them as pawns for her own political ends.

Elizabeth’s treatment of her ladies was not much better beyond the political scope. Those appointed to salaried positions found their income lower than might have been expected, though this was supplemented with gifts of clothing or jewellery from the Queen when she saw fit to bestow them. Although they received bed and board as well as their wages, their living conditions were often cramped and unpleasant. This was especially true when on progress, finding themselves in hastily arranged accommodation; sometimes this could extend to temporary beds in a recently cleared barn. As well as this, Elizabeth could be a difficult mistress who would berate or even beat her ladies when they riled her. Despite all this, competition for a position in the Queen’s retinue was fierce, encouraged by the scarcity of available positions.

Elizabeth encouraged long service and initially rewarded the loyalty of those who had supported her during her sister Mary’s reign. Once in her service, Elizabeth was loath to lose an attendant (particularly her favourites) for any reason. Permission had to be sought for absences, and ladies who left to have a child were expected to return shortly after the birth, leaving the baby with a wet-nurse. Over her forty-five year reign, only twenty-eight women would be appointed to salaried positions within the Queen’s household. Beyond Elizabeth’s retinue, women were largely barred from court unless they had specific business with her. Wives of courtiers, however prominent, were discouraged from accompanying their husbands and their husband’s lodgings were not extended to them. As a result, the Queen’s household was the most obvious option for a woman wanting to be seen at court.

Perhaps the greatest source of conflict between Elizabeth and her ladies was the issue of marriage. The Queen’s aversion to marriage was well-known, apparently even beyond the prospect of her own. Her permission was notoriously hard to gain, and even when it was granted she was known to delay the nuptials for the smallest reasons. She was reticent to allow marriages for her attendants, for fear of losing their services, and her perceived antagonism towards romance among her court meant that many of her ladies conducted their dalliances in secret. Thus, scandals of secret marriages or illegitimate children were fairly commonplace. In 1591, half of Elizabeth’s ladies would be dismissed due to such behaviour and the disrepute they subsequently brought to the court. On one hand, it was Elizabeth’s role as monarch and head of her ladies to ensure their conduct and make good marriages. On the other, she doesn’t seem to have made it easy for them to do so.

The first scandal of its kind broke within just a few years of Elizabeth’s accession. As Queen, Elizabeth was obliged to give her cousins Catherine and Mary Grey positions at court. Their sister, Jane, had been the ill-fated nine-day Queen and for as long as Elizabeth had no children they were her likely heirs. Within two years, however, Catherine had forfeited her potential claim to the throne when she secretly married Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford. When Seymour was dispatched abroad, he left his new wife written proof of their marriage, which Catherine later claimed she had lost. When their only witness died soon after, the now-pregnant Catherine realised her marriage was impossible to prove and her geographically distant husband unable to support and guide her. After a failed and hasty attempt to secure another husband whom she could pretend was the baby’s father, she was forced to seek help from the Queen’s favourite, Robert Dudley. Fearful of implication in her behaviour, Dudley not only refused to help but revealed the situation to the Queen the following day. Catherine was consigned to the Tower of London, and her husband recalled to join her in imprisonment while the validity of the marriage was investigated. Even after the marriage was pronounced invalid, the two remained in prison. Only to be separated when a second child was born to Catherine.

Catherine’s sister Mary at least made sure that there were witnesses to her marriage to Thomas Keyes, a minor gentleman in the Queen’s employ. Elizabeth found out just a week later and had the two imprisoned, but this time separately. The couple would never see each other again, for even after their release their separation was enforced.

While Elizabeth’s imprisonment of her cousins was understandable given their proximity to the throne and the political implications of their marriages, she would frequently resort to imprisonment when her ladies behaved improperly. Anne Vavasour, who had been a maid of honour for just a year, found herself in the Tower after becoming the mistress to the Earl of Oxford and bearing him a son. Another, Bess Throckmorton, was imprisoned there for having fallen pregnant by and then marrying the Queen’s favourite Walter Ralegh. In these instances, the offending husband would also find himself imprisoned, but it would not always be as comfortable in the Tower. For marrying in secret after falling pregnant, Elizabeth Vernon and her new husband the Earl of Southampton were placed in Fleet Prison, the conditions of which had led Mary Grey’s husband Thomas Keyes to a premature death through ill-health. The Earl of Pembroke also found himself in Fleet Prison after an affair with Mary Fitton, who fared somewhat better, being placed in a noble household to birth their child.

Time served, however, was no guarantee that the Queen would be appeased and many found themselves barred from her presence. Banishment could last anywhere from a few days to a lifetime, though often a husband would be welcomed back to court long before his wife, if she ever was. Elizabeth was also prone to banishing her favourite ladies who had liaisons without her knowledge, possibly because she was too well-disposed toward them to imprison them. Initially enthusiastic over the courtship of her favourite, Helena Snakenborg, and her suitor Thomas Gorges, Elizabeth stopped short of giving them permission to marry. When she discovered that they had married anyway, both were banished from court. Later, Helena would be welcomed back, restored to favour and given a permanent residence near court so she and her husband could serve with their family close by.

Elizabeth had clearly demonstrated the low regard in which she held these secret liaisons between her ladies. As she was considered notoriously unreasonable when it came to marriages, her ladies felt they had little choice but to resort to secrecy. Especially brave were those ladies who involved themselves with the Queen’s favourites.

When Robert Dudley married his pregnant mistress Lettice Knollys, the fallout (for Lettice at least) would last the Queen’s lifetime. Lettice remained on the fringes of court life and the subject of Elizabeth’s enmity even after Leicester had died. Walter Raleigh had thus been fully aware of the implications of his marriage to Bess Throckmorton. He went to great efforts to protest it when it became rumour, and continued his normal routine even as she gave birth to his son. After their release from the Tower, Bess would remain banished from court ,while Raleigh returned to court. Providing he didn’t mention his wife.

But it was Walter Devereux, Earl of Essex and ironically son of the banished Lettice, who would scandalise the court with his romantic entanglements. In 1590, he married Frances Walsingham, and she soon fell pregnant. Eager to keep his marriage a secret, he managed to find reasons for Frances to remain away from court and hide the pregnancy. Elizabeth discovered the event later that year, but although initially furious, her reaction was comparatively muted and Essex was restored to favour within a fortnight.

Even though he had run a great risk by marrying Frances, Essex did not remain faithful, and risked further controversy by conducting affairs with several of the Queen’s ladies.

He took Elizabeth Southwell as his mistress and had a son by her. Southwell must have feared the repercussions after she returned to court, for she pretended the father was Thomas Vavasour when the baby was discovered. The pretence was maintained for four years (even after Vavasour had been imprisoned for the offence) before the Queen discovered the truth, by which time Southwell had already been permanently banished from court.

Elizabeth was quick to reprimand any of her ladies that attempted to attract the Earl’s affections. When Elizabeth Brydges (supposedly having an affair with Essex) and Elizabeth Russell (also rumoured to be having an affair with Essex) stole away to watch him playing tennis, both found themselves expelled from court for three days. The Queen was similarly riled when Lady Mary Howard attempted to catch the Earl’s eye by wearing a particularly extravagant dress. When Mary next attended the Queen, she found her wearing the same gown, having had another lady steal it from Mary’s closet. Elizabeth paraded the gown, despite the spectacle it must have caused given the difference in their statures, before declaring it too fine for the girl.

By now, Elizabeth was an old woman and wearied by the scandalous lives of her young attendants, even though the scandals were less numerous after the Earl of Essex’s execution and the dissolution of his particularly wild circle. Elizabeth might have been gratified (or more likely horrified) to learn that the declining standards did not end when her reign did. The court of her successor, James I and his wife Anne, was notorious for its sexual immorality and extravagance. The scandals of Elizabeth’s court seemed tame by comparison to daily life under James which seemed to be dominated by heavy drinking and sex; described by one observer as, “a nursery of lust and intemperance.”

About the Author

Shwmae! I’m Sarah. I pursued my interest in History to university where I specialised in Anne Boleyn, the role of mistresses and the hagiography of women. With a masters degree under my belt, I returned to my natural habitat to write about women in history. I can now be found somewhere in South Wales running a business, attempting to parent and when I can manage it, plonked in front of a games console to unwind.]

You can find more of my work at

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Elizabeth’s Hand Fans

Fans were a symbol of wealth during the Elizabethan era. In most of Queen Elizabeth I’s portraits she is holding what you would call a fixed fan. A handle with a variation of feathers coming out of it. Fixed fans continued to be very popular through the end of the 16th century when folding fans came into the picture. Elizabeth was known toward the end of her life to have have used folding fans.

I often find myself staring at Elizabeth’s portraits…looking at the details of each of them. After staring at them for a few minutes I noticed that in many of her portraits she’s holding a fan. Her fans were often made of very colorful and exotic feathers. These fans were not only used to cool a person but they were also a status symbol and were often adorned with some type of jewels.

by Unknown artist, circa 1575 with fixed fan
'Elizabeth I of England', c. 1592, Oil on canvas. Author: ESCUELA INGLESA. Location: PALACIO PITTI / GALERIA PALATINA, FLORENZ, ITALIA.
‘Elizabeth I of England’, c. 1592 with a folding fan

From, The History of Fans/The Fan Museum:

Fixed fans and folding fans can be seen in portraits of ladies throughout the seventeenth century, a crucial time in the development of the folding fan in Europe. In the earlier part of the century, fixed fans, consisting of feathers set into a handle of varying splendour, were the norm. As the century progressed, folding fans gained in popularity until, by the end of the century, they had completely superseded fixed fans. It is also interesting to note that while folding fans can be seen in the hands of royalty and grand ladies, fixed feather fans were used by the “bourgeoisie” or less well-off.

Here are a few examples of fixed fans from Queen Elizabeth I portraits:

2016-10-5--18-53-40 2016-10-5--18-56-15

Timeline of a Queen: Elizabeth I


Making a timeline for Queen Elizabeth I is the most challenging of the timelines I’ve made thus far. Her rule so long, with a plethora of events to choose from that I hope I did her life justice by including just enough, but not everything. To obtain the dates I referenced books by David Starkey and Claire Ridgway and used multiple website as well.

See Elizabeth’s parent’s timelines here:  Henry VIII (1491-1547)  &  Anne Boleyn

Elizabeth as Queen of England, c. 1565
Elizabeth as Queen of England, c. 1565


  • September 7 – Birth of Elizabeth I at Greenwich. Elizabeth was the daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn.


  • January 7 – Death of Katherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife.
  • May 19 –  Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn is executed.
  • May 20 – Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII became betrothed to Jane Seymour.
  • May 30 – Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII married Jane Seymour.


  • October 12 – Birth of Elizabeth’s half-brother Edward VI.
  • October 24 – Death of Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s third wife.


  • January 6 – Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII married Anne of Cleves, his fourth wife.
  • July 9 – Annulment of marriage between Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves.
  • July 28 – Elizabeth’s father married Katherine Howard.


  • Supposedly (per Starkey) the year Robert Dudley met Elizabeth.


  • February 13 – Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Katherine Howard executed.


  • July 12 – Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII married his sixth (and last) wife, Catherine Parr.


  • William Grindal became Elizabeth’s tutor. At this point she could write English, Latin, and Italian. Under Grindal, a talented she also learned French and Greek.


  • Blanche Herbert (Lady Troy) retired from being Elizabeth’s Lady Mistress. She held the position starting in 1537.


  • January 28 – Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII died.
  • Circa May – Secret marriage of Catherine Parr and Thomas Seymour, Lord Seymour of Sudeley.


  • Thomas Seymour acted inappropriately with Elizabeth on multiple occasions.  Seymour was said to have engaged in romps and horseplay with the 14-year-old Elizabeth. These included entering her bedroom in his nightgown, tickling her and slapping her on the buttocks. Catherine Parr, rather than confront her husband over his inappropriate actions, joined in. She accompanied him multiple times in tickling Elizabeth, and once held her while he cut her black gown “into a thousand pieces.” (quote via David Starkey)


  • May – Catherine Parr finds Elizabeth in Seymour’s arms and sent Elizabeth away to Sir Anthony Denny and his wife at Cheshunt.
  • September 5 –  Death of Catherine Parr, Elizabeth’s stepmother. This was also Elizabeth’s 15th birthday.
  • After death of his wife, Thomas Seymour renewed his interest in the young Elizabeth and hoped to marry her.


  • January 16 – Thomas Seymour was arrested.
  • March 20 – Execution of Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley by beheading.


  • June 4 –  Marriage of Robert Dudley and Amy Robsart.


  • The last outbreak of the Sweating Sickness. It seems to have vanished after this final outbreak.


  • January 22 – Execution of the former Lord Protector Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset for treason.


  • June 21 – Edward VI names Lady Jane Grey his heir.
  • July 6 – Death of Edward VI, half-brother of Elizabeth.
  • July 10 – Lady Jane Grey proclaimed Queen of England.
  • July 19 – Accession of Mary I, Elizabeth’s half-sister.


  • January 25 – Wyatt’s Rebellion - Sir Thomas Wyatt leads a rebellion against Queen Mary’s proposed marriage to Prince Philip of Spain.
  • February 9 – Wyatt’s rebellion collapses and he surrenders in London.
  • February 12 – Execution of Lady Jane Grey and her husband, Guildford Dudley.
  • March 18 – Elizabeth imprisoned in the Tower of London. She was suspected of having involvement in Wyatt’s Rebellion.
  • May 19 – Elizabeth released from the Tower but kept under house arrest at Woodstock.
  • July 25 –  Mary I wed Philip of Spain.
  • November 30 – England formally rejoins the Roman Catholic Church.


  • April 17 – Elizabeth was recalled to court to attend the final stages of Mary’s apparent pregnancy.
  • October – Elizabeth returned to Hatfield House.


  • November 6 – Mary recognized Elizabeth as her heir.
  • November 17 – Death of Mary I and accession of Elizabeth I.
  • November 20 – William Cecil appointed principal Secretary of State.


  • January 15 – Coronation of Elizabeth I
  • May 8 – Elizabethan Religious Settlement – Passing of the Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity
  • June 24 – First use of the Elizabethan Prayer Book
  • July 10 – Death of Henry II of France, accession of Francis II. Francis and his wife, Mary Queen of Scots declared themselves King and Queen of England, as well as France.


  • September 8 – Death of Amy Robsart, wife of Robert Dudley.
  • December 5 – Death of Francis II of France, husband of Mary Queen of Scots. Accession of Charles IX with his mother, Catherine de’ Medici as Regent.


  • March 1 – Massacre of Vassy; Murder of Huguenots on the orders of Francis, Duke of Guise, and the start of the French Wars of Religion.


  • August 19 – Mary Queen of Scots lands at Leith in Scotland.


  • September 22 – Treaty of Hampton Court (or Richmond) between Elizabeth I and Huguenot leader, Louis I de Bourbon.
  • October – Elizabeth I seriously ill with smallpox.


  • Elizabeth proposed her own suitor, Robert Dudley as a husband for Mary, Queen of Scots.
  • June – October – Outbreak of the Black Death or the Plague in London.


  • April – Treaty of Troyes between England and France.


  • Elizabeth raised Robert Dudley to Earl of Leicester.
  • April 26 – Baptism of William Shakespeare, thought to have been born around the 23rd, in Straford-upon-Avon.
  • July 25 – Accession of Maximilian II as Holy Roman Emperor after the death of his father, Ferdinand I.


  • Death of Elizabeth’s former governess, Kat Ashtley/Ashley.
  • July 29 – Mary Queen of Scots marries Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, at Holyrood Palace.
  • November 10 – Birth of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, son of Lettice Knollys with Walter Devereux.


  • March 9 – Murder of David Rizzio, private secretary to Mary Queen of Scots, by Darnley in front of the pregnant Mary.
  • June 19 – Birth of James I of England (James VI of Scotland), son of Mary Queen of Scots and Lord Darnley.


  • February 10 – Murder of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley at Kirk o’ Field, Edinburgh.
  • April 12 – James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, acquitted of Darnley’s murder.
  • April 24 – Mary Queen of Scots visits her son James at Stirling and is then abducted and allegedly raped by Bothwell.
  • May 15 – Marriage of Mary Queen of Scots and Bothwell at the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
  • July 24 – Mary Queen of Scots is forced to abdicate the throne of Scotland in favour of her baby son. Mary’s half brother, James Stuart, Earl of Moray, is appointed regent. Mary is imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle.


  • January  15-  Death of  Catherine Carey, Chief Lady of the Bedchamber to Elizabeth I. Catherine was commonly known as Elizabeth’s 1st cousin (Mary Boleyn was her mother) but is rumored to have been her half-sister – a product of Henry VIII’s affair with Mary Boleyn.
  • January 26 – Death of Lady Catherine Grey. She was younger the sister of Lady Jane Grey. A granddaughter of Mary Tudor, dowager queen of France. Catherine was a potential successor to her cousin, Queen Elizabeth. She incurred Elizabeth’s wrath by her secret marriage to Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford. Following her arrest, when the queen was informed of her clandestine marriage, she lived in captivity until her death, having given birth to two sons in the Tower of London.
  • March 19 – Death of Elizabeth Seymour, Lady Cromwell, sister to the late Jane Seymour.
  • May 2 – Mary Queen of Scots escapes and flees to England where she is “voluntarily” imprisoned at Carlisle Castle.


  • The Rising of the North, also known as the Northern Rebellion or the Revolt of the Northern Earls – an attempt to depose Elizabeth I and replace her with Mary Queen of Scots.
  • October – Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk is imprisoned for plotting to marry Mary, Queen of Scots.


  • January 11 – Assassination of James Stuart, Earl of Moray, at Linlithgow, by James Hamilton of Bothwellhaugh, a supporter of Mary Queen of Scots. James Stuart was Mary’s half-brother.
  • February 25 – Elizabeth I excommunicated by Pope Pius V.
  • Discussions commenced to arrange the marriage of Elizabeth I and Henry, Duke of Anjou.


  • February 25 – William Cecil made 1st Baron Burghley.
  • April – Treason Act forbids criticism of the monarchy.
  • June 25 – Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, Horncastle, is founded in Lincolnshire.
  • Ridolfi Plot – A plot in 1571 to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I of England and replace her with Mary, Queen of Scots. The plot was hatched and planned by Roberto di Ridolfi.


  • June 2 – Execution of Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk for treason.
  • August 24 – St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in France.
  • October 24 – Death of Edward Stanley, 3rd Earl of Derby.  King Henry VIII took responsibility for bringing him up until he was of age. He was born in 1509. Edward remained in favour under Elizabeth’s reign and remained on her Privy Council.


  • December 18 – Francis Walsingham becomes Secretary of State.
  • Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School for Boys established in Barnet at the petition of Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester.


  • November 14 – Elizabeth declines an offer of rule over the Netherlands.


  • Francis Drake sets out on the first English voyage around the world.


  • September 21 – Secret marriage of Robert Dudley and Lettice Knollys.


  • April 4 – Drake knighted by Queen Elizabeth I


  • December – Francis Throckmorton’s plot to invade England with the assistance of Henry I, Duke of Guise, and replace Elizabeth with Mary, Queen of Scots, is discovered by Francis Walsingham.


  • October 19 – Bond of Association: thousands pledge to defend Queen Elizabeth, and avenge any successful assassination attempt.


  • Elizabeth takes The Netherlands under her protection, beginning the War with Spain.
  • January 6 – Walter Ralegh knighted.


  • Babington Plot and trial of Mary, Queen of Scots, for treason.
  • February 4 – Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester accepts the title governor of the Netherlands.
  • October 15 to 25  - Mary, Queen of Scots, placed on trial for corresponding with Babington and sentenced to death.


  • February 8 – Mary, Queen of Scots, is beheaded at Fotheringay Castle.
  • April 16 – Death of Anne Stanhope/Anne Seymour, Duchess of Somerset (wife of Edward Seymour)


  • August 9 – Queen Elizabeth makes her speech to the Troops at Tilbury.
  • September 4 – Death of Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, politician.
  • George Gower paints the Armada Portrait of Queen Elizabeth.
  • Defeat of the Spanish Armada


  • April 6 – Francis Walsingham, principal secretary to Elizabeth I and spymaster.


  • First performance of Shakespeare’s play, Richard III.
  • December – Outbreak of the plague in London; 17,000 deaths over the following twelve months.


  • June 7 – Roderigo Lopez executed for allegedly trying to poison Queen Elizabeth.


  • August 28 – Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Hawkins depart on their final voyage to the Spanish Main which ultimately ends in both of their deaths.


  • January 27 – Death of Sir Francis Drake, explorer and soldier.
  • July 23 – Death of Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon. It has been rumored that Henry VIII was his father, which would make him Elizabeth’s half-brother.
  • Death of Blanche Parry, Personal attendant to Elizabeth I.


  • August 4 – Death of William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley.


  • March 12 – Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex is appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland by Queen Elizabeth I.


  • January 7-8 – Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, stages a short-lived rebellion against Elizabeth I.
  • February 25 – Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex executed for treason.
  • November – Elizabeth I addresses her final parliament with the Golden Speech.


  • March 24 – Death of Queen Elizabeth I at Richmond Palace aged 69, after 45 years on the throne She is succeeded by her cousin King James VI of Scotland, and unites the crowns of Scotland and England.
by Unknown artist, pencil and watercolour, circa 1595
by Unknown artist, pencil and watercolour, circa 1595


Queen Elizabeth’s Marriage Prospects



For Queen Elizabeth to find a husband seemed critical to those in her council. On the other-hand, we here at Tudors Dynasty feel that Elizabeth came to the conclusion well before becoming queen that she would not wed – especially when she saw what it did to her sister Mary’s reign. The biggest factor for Elizabeth was that she did not want a foreign ruler, nor any man to rule her kingdom over herself. She was, after-all Queen of England.

In this article we touch base on some, if not most, of the men who were considered a marriage prospect for Queen Elizabeth. All too often we only see a list of names but do not learn anything more about the men themselves, or what Elizabeth thought.

Most believe that the only man Queen Elizabeth would have trusted enough to wed was Robert Dudley. Dudley was a lifelong friend and someone who most believe would not have tried to rule over her. Unfortunately, that union would not happen for Elizabeth. Dudley was married to Amy Robsart at the time and the only way to wed Queen Elizabeth is if Amy was not in the picture – well, we know what happened there.  If not, see our article that explains more: Why Queen Elizabeth I Never Married

Queen Elizabeth’s marriage prospects, in no particular order:

Phillip ll
Philip II of Spain

Philip II

Philip was married to Elizabeth’s sister, Mary. As we know, Mary was Queen of England from 1553 – 1558. After her death Philip continued to support England and even attempted a union with his dead wife’s sister.

Elizabeth delayed making a decision on the proposal and had learned that Philip was also considering a marriage with the Valois family in France. Elizabeth, we believe, would not have married a Catholic.

The problem with this marriage stemmed with Elizabeth’s legitimacy and her faith. In the eyes of the Catholic church Elizabeth was illegitimate since the Pope did not recognize the divorce of Katherine of Aragon and her father, Henry VIII – thus the marriage of her mother Anne Boleyn to Henry VIII was invalid and she was illegitimate.


James Earl of Arran
James, Earl of Arran

James, Earl of Arran

James was a Scottish nobleman whose father was a short-lived regent of Scotland, after the death of King James V. Mary Queen of Scots was queen at only 6 days old and required a regent.

James’ father proposed marriage between Elizabeth and his son in 1558 to cement the relationship between Scotland and England.

In 1559, both James and his ex-regent father declared themselves Protestants – James seems like he would’ve be an attractive choice to the Protestant Queen Elizabeth. The Earl of Arran made a visit to England (and presumably Elizabeth) and when he went back to Scotland he was joined by English escorts who recorded that he had signs of mental instability.

Elizabeth formally declared her rejection of his suit on 8 December 1560.


by Unknown artist,painting,1560s
Henry Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel

Henry Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel

Henry Fitzalan was born around 1512, in London. He was a prominent Lord during the reign of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I.

In January 1559,  Henry was elected Chancellor of the University of Oxford. After only four months as Chancellor, Henry resigned the office – most likely due to religious motives.

Elizabeth visited him at Nonsuch Palace in August 1559. For five days she was entertained as any monarch would be, with banquets, masques, and music. She visited Nonsuch and Henry many times after. Was Elizabeth deciding if a marriage with Henry was suitable?

As a widower Henry Fitzalan was named as a suitor who might aspire to the queen’s hand.  Apparently in 1561, this news led to a fight between himself and Robert Dudley. At this time Dudley’s wife had died a year earlier and Dudley was free to marry again. Was he jealous?


Sir William Pickering
Sir William Pickering

Sir William Pickering

Sir William Pickering was born in 1516, and was an English courtier and diplomat (ambassador).

…being ‘a brave, wise, comely English gentleman,’ was seriously thought of as a suitor for Elizabeth’s hand. In 1559 ‘the Earl of Arundel … was said to have sold his lands and was ready to flee out of the realm with the money, because he could not abide in England if the queen should marry Mr. Pickering, for they were enemies’ (Cal. State Papers, For. Ser. 1559–1560, p. 2).

At one point it was reported that William had secret visits with the Queen and he had taken up residence at court. He was known to entertain lavishly and showed great tastes. The Earl of Arundel was said to be jealous of William, as his rival suitor, and challenged the 2nd Earl of Bedford to a duel for having spoken ill of him. The truth is probably that Pickering never considered himself a suitor. He was recorded as telling ambassadors that the Queen (Elizabeth) ‘would laugh at him and at all the rest of them as he knew she meant to die a maid’.


Eric XIV of Sweden
Eric XIV of Sweden

Eric XIV of Sweden

Eric was born 13 December 1533, to Gustav I of Sweden and his wife Catherine of Saxe-Lauenburg at Tre Kronor castle in Stockholm, Sweden. Eric ruled as King of Sweden from 1560 until he was eventually deposed in 1568.

He had sought to improve his reputation by securing a marriage with Queen Elizabeth. Eric courted Elizabeth for years – he even sent her love letters written in Latin. He also went so far as to send his brother to English court, where he “scattered silver like a shower of falling stars in the London streets, and told the crowds that whereas he scattered silver, his brother would scatter gold” (according to John Sitwell).

Eric XIV, the King of Sweden, sent Elizabeth a portrait of himself, making his interest for her hand in marriage known.

Elizabeth seems to have slowed her courtship with Eric intentionally, but King Eric was never deterred. He was determined to wed Elizabeth. It wasn’t until the rumors of Elizabeth and Robert Dudley that the King started to became upset and challenged Dudley to a duel. The duel never happened as King Eric was “talked off the ledge” by his envoy.

Eric gave up in 1560 when he had to return to Sweden, from a trip to England, because his father had died.

“Eric was prone to sending the Queen letters containing passionate declarations of love, which greatly entertained her.”***


Adolphus of Gottorp, Duke of Holstein

Adolphus of Gottorp, Duke of Holstein

Adlolphus of Gottorp was born the third son of King Frederick I of Denmark and his second wife Sophie of Pomerania in 1526.

Adolphus of Gottorp, Duke of Holstein was thought of highly enough in England to be made a Knight of the Garter.

24 August 1560, Elizabeth received a letter from Adolphus that thanked her for the order of saint George of the Garter which was communicated to him by the letter of Henry Carey.*


duke of anjou
Henry, Duke of Anjou

Henry, Duke of Anjou

Henry was the son of King Henry II of France and Catherine de Medici, born in 1551.

In 1570, Catherine de Medici wanted her son with to marry the Queen of England. However, Henry would hear nothing of it. He insisted that Elizabeth was too old for him, plus she was the daughter of a Protestant – not to mention the fact that he considered her illegitimate. In addition to those objections he wanted to steer clear of the drama regarding Elizabeth and Robert Dudley’s “affair”.


archduke of austria
Archduke Charles of Austria

Archduke Charles of Austria

In 1559, and again from 1564–1568, there were negotiations for a marriage between Charles and Queen Elizabeth. His father, Emperor Ferdinand I expected Elizabeth to be okay with Charles of Austria to rule England if she died childless.

As with all of her other suitors Elizabeth dragged out the negotiations – most likely knowing all along that she would not agree to marry. As with many of her suitors religious beliefs were an issue with the Catholic Archduke.

Negotiations lasted many years as Elizabeth played suitors off against each other and tried to keep everyone happy.

Alison Weir in “Elizabeth the Queen”: “She [Elizabeth] had acknowledged that the Archduke was the best foreign match for her, but she waxed alternately hot and cold over the matter.”

The Queens answer to the Emperor:

Thanks for his good will and the offer of his son in marriage. Can only speak with her mouth as she finds in her heart, “which is truly no certain inclination or disposition to marriage, but rather a contentation to enjoy and continue in this unmarried life.” Yet as the nobles and other states of the realm are therein somewhat importune, she will not therefore make any precise determination or vow to the contrary. Should she hereafter like of marriage and alter her mind, she trusts, by God’s favour, to make no choice but of such one as shall be both very honourable and not unlike to her own estate, nor unmeet for these her kingdoms. Is not better affected to any house or family in Christendom than to the house of Austria.**

Francis, Duke of Anjou

Francis, Duke of Anjou

Francis was the son of King Henry II of France and Catherine de Medici, born in 1555.

In 1579, Jean de Simier arrived in England (on 6 January) to negotiate a marriage between Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Anjou. Council members took in all factors as to whether or not the marriage would be beneficial to England or not. They were divided.

The Duke of Anjou had courted Elizabeth of 1578-1581 without success. Elizabeth seemed very interested in Francis and even called him, ‘her little frog’. Even though they were separated in age by two decades (he was only 24) the two became very close. Unfortunately the opposition of some of her Councillors and concerns from her subjects over a french takeover led her to end the courtship – she would have no more suitors.

On his departure she penned a poem, “On Monsieur’s Departure“:

I grieve and dare not show my discontent;
I love, and yet am forced to seem to hate;
I do, yet dare not say I ever meant;
I seem stark mute, but inwardly do prate.
I am, and not; I freeze and yet am burned,
Since from myself another self I turned.

My care is like my shadow in the sun —
Follows me flying, flies when I pursue it,
Stands, and lies by me, doth what I have done;
His too familiar care doth make me rue it.
No means I find to rid him from my breast,
Till by the end of things it be suppressed.

Some gentler passion slide into my mind,
For I am soft and made of melting snow;
Or be more cruel, Love, and so be kind.
Let me or float or sink, be high or low;
Or let me live with some more sweet content,
Or die, and so forget what love e’er meant.



*State Paper Office, Royal Letters, vol. VIIII p. 228
**’Elizabeth: June 1559, 26-30′, in Calendar of State Papers Foreign, Elizabeth, Volume 1, 1558-1559, ed. Joseph Stevenson (London, 1863), pp. 337-346 [accessed 9 December 2015].
***Quote about Eric of Sweden - Alison Weir “Elizabeth the Queen”

Dudley’s Last Letter to Queen Elizabeth I

Elizabeth kept the last letter Robert Dudley had written her prior to his death in her bedside treasure box — the letter was still there when she died over a decade later.

Last Letter from Dudley

I most humbly beseech your Majesty to pardon your poor old servant to be thus bold in sending to know how my gracious lady doth, and what ease of her late pain she finds, being the chiefest thing in the world I do pray for, for her to have good health and long life. Form my own poor case, I continue still your medicine and find that amends much better than any other thing that hath been given me. Thus hoping to find perfect cure at the bath, with the continuance of my wonted prayer for your Majesty’s most happy preservation, I humbly kiss your foot. From your old lodging at Rycote, this Thursday morning, ready to take on my Journey, by Your Majesty’s most faithful and obedient servant,

R. Leicester

Even as I had writ thus much, I received Your Majesty’s token by Young Tracey.

Robert Dudley c. 1588


Elizabeth I: The Armada Portrait, c1588, unknown artist.