Why Queen Elizabeth Never Married

We know Queen Elizabeth I never married, but do we truly understand why?

Imagine being the daughter of a king who couldn’t settle on a wife, and then going from Princess to Lady overnight.

Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn only had a couple of  years with her young  daughter.  Elizabeth most likely had no memory of her mother because of her untimely end.

© NPG, London

Anne Boleyn was vilified as a witch — she supposedly seduced Henry VIII into doing things that he normally would not have done. He became displeased with his queen and found ways to find her guilty of treason.

To ensure Anne was not an ongoing thorn in his side Henry had her beheaded instead of divorcing her. It seems clear that he still had some feelings for Anne, or he would not have allowed a more merciful death by sword instead of the normal axe. After her death Henry made sure to remove all traces of Elizabeth’s mother and allowed the Tudor propaganda machine to slander Anne.

All of these events, along with the subsequent marriages, deaths, divorces and beheadings of her father’s queens would inevitably shape Elizabeth’s future decisions on marriage and relationships.

Thomas Seymour
Thomas Seymour

Elizabeth also had an interesting relationship with Sir Thomas Seymour when she was just a teenager and living with the dowager queen, Katherine Parr. During the downfall of Seymour many of those close to him and Elizabeth were interrogated. One of them being Elizabeth’s governess, Kat Ashley. Ashley stated that Thomas would flirt with Elizabeth in an improper fashion – and to thwart him from continuing these escapades Katherine would participate (to keep a watchful eye) by holding down young Elizabeth while Thomas tickled her. Inevitably, Katherine supposedly found them alone in an embrace and she immediately put a stop to this behavior. She was after all Elizabeth’s guardian. Katherine was also pregnant with Thomas’ child at the time. She sent young Elizabeth away to the Denny household. We must keep in mind that Kat’s testimony may have been exaggerated or made up to spare herself from the Tower. Those responsible for the downfall of Thomas Seymour needed evidence and everyone was aware that torture for a confession was always a possibility. I’ve always found it interesting that this was the first time it was reported – while it allegedly happened there is no evidence to corroborate the stories. Surely a scandal as such would have been documented by someone for us to find. There is nothing.

When Katherine Parr died after the birth of her daughter Mary, Thomas Seymour once again turned his attentions to young Elizabeth. Seymour’s ambitions got the best of him and he was eventually charged with treason. Elizabeth was interrogated in order to help build the case against Thomas, but she refused to say anything that would incriminate him – Elizabeth understood by incriminating Thomas she would also be hurting her own reputation at court.

Phillip ll
Philip II

When Elizabeth’s sister Mary wed Philip of Spain she also witnessed the pain that her sister went through to fight for her husband. Mary’s council was concerned that Philip would try to take advantage of Mary’s power and use it for his own country. Mary loved Philip dearly and fought to make him her king consort. After much argument with the council they agreed to the marriage as long as Philip was not allowed to make any political decisions for England.

Elizabeth was witness to the heartache that her sister went through with the phantom pregnancies and when Philip left for Spain after it was discovered she was not pregnant the first time . Having seen for herself how destructive marriage could be, Elizabeth was in no hurry to wed – plus any man that she would wed as queen would be in a position of authority that would be nearly equal to her’s, so she understandably was leery to any agreement of marriage.

When the young princess became Elizabeth I, the first thing on her council’s agenda was to find her a suitable husband. However, Elizabeth’s past with men would determine her decision-making when it came to a husband.

by Unknown artist, oil on panel, circa 1575
Robert Dudley

Elizabeth had one man in her life whom she had known since childhood and loved very much — Robert Dudley. The Dudley family was a favorite at court but had fallen out of favor with their involvement in Lady Jane Grey’s rise to power, prior to the reign of her sister Mary I.

In 1550 Robert Dudley married Amy Robsart after he realized that Elizabeth would never marry him. Elizabeth was upset — she wanted him all for herself but couldn’t make the commitment, she was after-all a princess of England.

There had always been an attraction between Elizabeth and Robert. It’s obvious that Robert was her best friend, someone she trusted implicitly. Elizabeth would find ways to be near Robert. This began when she appointed him her Master of Horse. A position that would keep him very close to her. Later she would raise his station by making him a member of her privy council, Lord Stewart of the Royal Household and eventually the Earl of Leicester.

Robert_Dudley_Leicester
Robert Dudley

For many years Elizabeth gave Robert Dudley hope that he was a leading suitor for her hand in marriage — something that would raise his status greatly.  When Elizabeth appointed Robert to Earl of Leicester it was to make him suitable to marry her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots. This was Elizabeth’s way of satisfying her cousin and controlling her through her most trusted friend, Robert. The marriage was something that Robert was against because of his feelings for Elizabeth – how could she so easily use him as a pawn when they shared such a great love?

Elizabeth understood that marriage meant an alliance. In order for her to marry there had to be a benefit for England. Marrying Robert Dudley would not benefit England – only Elizabeth. If Elizabeth married Robert it would only tear apart the country – plus he was already a married man. It was still long suspected that he would marry Elizabeth upon the death of his wife Amy.

On 8th September 1560, Amy Robsart had insisted that all her servants be away from the household that day. There was a local fair going on. When Amy was found dead at the bottom of her staircase with a broken neck Robert Dudley was immediately a suspect; however, he was vindicated because he was at court with Elizabeth at Windsor Castle.

An investigation was carried out and found the cause of death to be accidental but this did not remove suspicion from Robert and Elizabeth. It was too convenient. For Elizabeth to be able to marry Robert, Amy could not be in the picture. Whether this was declared an accident or not Elizabeth could no longer consider Robert a husband. It would ruin her kingdom and reign as queen.

There is no doubt that Elizabeth loved Robert Dudley. Unfortunately he would not wait forever for the queen to propose. Robert remained unmarried after Amy’s death for 18 years.  When he eventually married again, in 1578, it was to Elizabeth’s cousin, Lettice Knollys. Elizabeth was crushed and saddened by the fact that her love could marry anyone but her – let alone her beautiful cousin.

Robert_Dudley_in_Garter_Robes_ca._1587
Lord Burghley

When Robert died on 4 September 1588, his death came unexpectedly. Some historians have considered both malaria and stomach cancer as cause of death. Elizabeth was deeply affected by her dear friend’s death and locked herself in her apartment for days –until Lord Burghley had the door broken down.

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.

It seems clear now that all the male relationships that Elizabeth had — her father, Philip of Spain, Thomas Seymour and Robert Dudley and the fear of losing control of her kingdom had helped to shape her stance on marriage in her future. Elizabeth was able to witness how marriage affected women in her life and didn’t want the same for herself. She also witnessed the death of Jane Seymour and Katherine Parr after giving birth – another possible outcome after a marriage.

As she stated – she would rather be married to England than any man. Can you blame her?

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18 thoughts on “Why Queen Elizabeth Never Married

  1. But she did marry: The evidence is indrect but there for those who are willing to understand her meaning when confessing her sins during her small pox illness. She had made Robert Dudley Lord Protector and instructed parliment to grant him 20,000 lbs sterling/year in case she died. Further her confession included the words: I have observed all the rights of the church in my life, meaning her children if any were born with a marriage contract. When Queen Victoria burned the proof of that marriage and who officiated at the Earl of Pembrook’s home it was because the first born daughter: Mary Sidney who married the Earld of Pembrook William Herbert handed that proof down to her descendant. The Good Queen burned it and James I paid the 40,000 debt of Sir Frances BAcon on condition he never seek the crown as was his right. BACON agreed and had all his debts paid by the Crown. Thus tow of at least 3 children are accounted for…Mary Sidney was raised by Dudley’s sister Mary Dudley-Sidney. Leaving a 3rd unknown child male born in November 1565 about the 22nd while the queen was in a 5 day reclusion….Lord Burleigh said it was due to SEASONAL AFFICTIONS…..sniff! DCR

  2. I think she didn’t marry because she didn’t want to. If she wanted to marry Dudley she could have, but she didn’t want to. Not so complicated.

  3. That’s all very interesting. I think she didn’t marry because she didn’t want to. If she wanted to marry Dudley she could have, but she didn’t want to. Not so complicated.

  4. Ive read a historical fiction book about young Elizabeth it said she actually had sex with him and was in love with him I think I agree with you guys Kat Ashley was an adult it was all her who held Elizabeth down and helped Seymour really Katherine Parr had no need to do any of that stuff she was a good person so she blamed the long dead Katherine who on her death bed was a bit nasty about Thomas kat Ashley wanted the throne for her charge any way she could they were very lucky that KP died

  5. I have never read any evidence of a relationship between Elizabeth and Robert Dudley prior to his marriage with Amy in 1550, and certainly nothing hinting that Robert had aspirations of marrying her at such an early age (Elizabeth was only 16 when Robert got married). Is there documentation that “Robert Dudley married Amy Robsart after he realized that Elizabeth would never marry him”? I’ve read a dozen or more Elizabeth biographies and never seen this.

  6. Although it’s easy to understand her reluctance to marry from an emotional standpoint, she knew that by not producing heirs it would spell the end of the Tudor dynasty. I’d think that knowledge would be incentive enough to overcome her aversion to marriage. Not much point in having Mary Queen of Scots executed if you’re going to ultimately hand the crown to the Stuarts.

    I wonder what Henry would have thought. Elizabeth served the dynasty so well, even though Henry placed all-consuming importance on a male heir to the point of executing the future queen’s mother. Would he have been proud of her accomplishments or confounded by her decision to end the Tudor reign after a mere hundred years?

  7. Interesting article, much to consider when reading about Elizabeth l because there was so much commotion and social drama going on inside the court circles, as you have illustrated. Nonetheless, a good read and still some left for the imagination.

  8. Why did Elizabeth not get married? I have read most of these reasons before. And I am not convinced.

    Was the treatment of women, by her father, but also in other cases so threatening that she decided not to get married? As I said, I am not convinced. We humans have the capability to think that what happened to others will not happen to us, and to some extent, it is a good thing to think that way. So, unless we find evidence that Elizabeth was influenced by the treatment of her mother, all this is pure speculation. The only thing we do know is that during her life she had some items around in memory of her mother, and she seems to have been fond of some of her maternal relatives. But does this mean she was afraid to get married? As I said, no proof, and pure speculation…

    I am not convinced that the sorrow her sister had due to her phantom pregnancies made Elizabeth think again about getting married. Pregnancies were a risk, but a risk people had to live with. It was not a reason not to have sex or to stay single. More a fact of life I think…

    What I do find conceivable is that she realised the problems of marrying outside England, due to what happened during her sister’s reign. Yes, alliances can be cemented by marrying a foreign prince or princess. But taking into account the position of women in that age, and politics, marrying a foreign prince, and even a king in his own right as Philip was made, could mean being drawn into disputes that were not to the advantage of England. And that did happen during Mary’s reign. Apart from that, a foreign husband, a “stranger” was a liability. Could he accept that he was supposed to be number 2? In an age when officially men were supposed to be the number 1? It may have made her wary to marry a stranger…
    As she is said to have stated: her first duty and concern was to her country and her people.

    Would marrying in England have been a problem? We do know that in Henry’s case it did not always work out that well; people did not always like the Norfolk party being in the lead, and vice versa. Edward IV had problems due to his marriage to Elizabeth Wydville. But in the end most accepted the fact that the king was married to her. Marriage or no marriage, courts were always infested by strife. The Scottish and French courts were the living proof of that. The personality and wisdom of the monarch were important in that respect.
    I think it is plausible that Elizabeth some times considered marriage to Robert Dudley. But he was a married man, and once he was not married anymore, the situation he was in prevented her to go through with that (if she was considering it at that time). What we know about her relationship with him (all circumstantial), seems to point into the direction that he was a very important person in her life. She must at least have cared about him, possibly loved him (or even probably?).

    The “other man” Thomas Seymour was considered to be a very attractive man. Possibly she was attracted to the idea that he wanted her. She was a teen at the time, and possibly impressed by the idea. Was she in love, puppy love? We really have no idea. The evidence is scarce. I agree with Meg that we have no real evidence on what part Catharine Parr played. It seems rather suggestive that she sent Elizabeth away. It suggests a mother (stepmother) making certain that all temptation was gone. But suppose Elizabeth was infatuated, would that have been a reason not to get married? If we think that is the case, I am surprised that any person got (or gets!) married at all, or started a new relationship. I mean, I think it is safe to say that we all experienced something like that. I can say I did, and I got over it…

    All in all, I think that she was not against getting married at all, but circumstances made her staying single. Political cirumstances for the most part. Which does not mean “a virgin”. Virgin Queen is more a public relations thing…
    She may have been wary to get married outside England, and it is plausible that the Englishman she wanted was already taken. But I have to admit: that is pure speculation as well…

    1. I really like the theory that “Elizabeth” was really “The Bisley Boy”, and that the true Elizabeth died as a young girl. Makes an excellent story, anyway!

      1. Could the Bisley boy have been an illigitimate son of Henry’s? Had Elizabeth been sent away to make it convenient to place him in her stead? Were Katherine and Seymour trying to uncover the truth about her/him? Was Henry’s mysterious temper in his later years an attempt to keep his son a secret? Was this the reason the charade went over him so easily? Had he secreted away the children who had been “miscarriages” to prevent them from being murdered? Was the Bisley boy a legitimate heir? How does the timeline reflect on any of this? Was Elizabeth intersexed?

        1. Could the Bisley Boy have been Henry’s son? A categoric no has to be the answer! The King’s Great Matter was all about the fact that he needed and wanted a son. When a son was born, be it legit or not, the fact was trumpeted loud all over. Since this not happened with any poor lad from Bisley, we can safely state that he had no known son in Bisley.
          Was Elizabeth replaced by a boy? Whatever for. Death was not something remote in the 16th century. Which does not mean that people did not care about their children, but every one knew dying from some disease or accident was a very obvious danger. Henry knew that like any other person, He accepted the deaths of both the Prince of Wales (Katherine of Aragon’s son) and Fitzroy’s. Elizabeth dying of the plague would have been accepted as well. No reason to find a subsitute.

          Apart from that, the idea it could have been possible to substitute a female by a male and keep the pretence going for half a century? Please, wake up from that dream. No way they could have pulled it off!!!

          What the real problem is that people, and for some mysterious reason, even women (!) can’t seem to accept the fact that a woman can be a succesfull monarch, and decide not to get married.

    2. So Elizabeth was the most succesful ruler England ever had, because she was really a man. Otherwise she would have destroyed herself for a quick shag. Well it’s not like she thought of anything higher than her knickers, obviously.

      1. For those even considering Elizabeth I was male – think Occam’s razor. There are at least a dozen reasons why she could never have pulled that off, not the least of which was that monarchs in her day had absolutely no privacy. They were bathed and dressed by servants.

        Half-sister Mary came close to having her executed to eliminate her as a rival. Exposing Elizabeth as an imposter and fraud would have given Queen Mary the perfect out!

        It is curious to me that rather than embracing the obvious, some would prefer to cling to the most far fetched. Elizabeth never married bc she did not wish to be subservient to ANYONE. Including a husband. She made statements to this effect on many occasions.

        Both Elizabeth and Cleopatra fall into the same category. Had they been male, each would have been acknowledged amongst the most capable (and intelligent) monarchs their respective countries had ever seen. How frustrating that must have been to one so gifted!

    3. It is wrong to say that Robert Dudley’s marriage to Amy after he realized he could never marry Elizabeth. He was the 5th child of John Dudley & was 18 yrs old when he married Amy, who was also 18. He married her for her money as he wasn’t going to inherit any. Elizabeth was not Queen then & both her brother & sister were ahead of her & she was declared a bastard. As Elizabeth I,she would not marry anyone let alone one of her subjects, whose father & brother were executed for treason. So the optics weren’t good.

  9. These articles never research the info on Katherine Parr! They always throw Katherine Parr under the bus without even questioning where the info came from and from whom.

    The testimony and the statements accusing Parr of joining in Seymour’s antics came from Kat Ashley (Elizabeth’s governess) who was threatened to be tortured until she spoke up about Seymour and Parr.

    Katherine Parr had been dead for several months by the time Ashley was arrested and put in the Tower. Ashley knew that women were no longer spared from torture (i.e Anne Askew). The interrogators of Ashley were trying to implicate and charge Seymour after he had tried to marry Elizabeth again and kidnap Edward. Everyone had tired of his lunatic moves to take some power.

    When Elizabeth was staying with the couple, they were seated at Chelsea Manor–in what is now known as the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. The Manor was situated on the Thames and was close to several important establishments used by the Lord Protector and his council. At the time Ashley claims Parr was involved in Seymour’s damaging antics, Parr had a HUGE household with a lot of staff on watch. If Parr had participated in these acts, why did no one else contribute, with the SAME story? Ashley was the only one to speak of Parr is such a demeanour.

    We also have evidence that Ashley encouraged Elizabeth to play along with Seymour. Ashley told Elizabeth that she would be lucky to have such a man. This was ALL done while Seymour was still married to Parr. Evidence also states that Ashley was jealous and had a crush on Seymour — so the weight of her testimony … Is basically worth a grain of salt. Parr never had any inappropriate relations with her stepchildren recorded as described by Ashley. Parr had stepchildren from 1534 until her death in September of 1548. If she was not trustworthy, her second husband never would have left his daughter in Parr’s care. Also, King Henry never would have left Parr in control of everything while he was in France if he believed her to be a bad influence and what not. Her Regency during this time in her reign, could have become a permanent status if Henry had died in France–The behaviour fits Seymour, but not Parr.

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