Childless Queens and Kings: Elizabeth I – The Virgin Queen

By Nina Steele 

Like the current Queen Elizabeth, Elizabeth I had a long reign (almost 45 years). This is however, where the similarities end. Indeed, unlike the current Queen, Elizabeth I’s childhood was beset with problems. As the daughter of Anne Boleyn, she had to grow up knowing that her father Henry VIII had her mother killed. Many believed (and still do) that the real reason why Henry VIII had Anne Boleyn beheaded was because she failed to bear him the boy he so desperately longed for.

Just like her half-sister Mary, Elizabeth was first declared illegitimate by her father, who wanted to make sure that the throne went to a male heir upon his death. Her status as a rightful heir to the throne would later be restored, and she would go on to became Queen of England and Ireland after Mary’s death, on November 17th 1558.

During her reign, Elizabeth had many suitors, however, she remained unmarried and childless, hence the reference to her being a virgin. It was a bold and courageous thing to do, particularly at a time fraught with political instability and wars.

Elizabeth was, to use today’s expression, ‘married to her job’. And with a successful reign, it can be argued that maybe making the choice that she did, was the reason why that was the case. By refusing to marry let alone have children, she was free to focus all her attention and energy on running the country and keeping it safe from foreign invaders.

One theory often cited for her choice not to marry was that she was put off after witnessing the fate that her mother suffered, along with her father’s many marriages. Another one was that she only had eyes for one man, who unfortunately for her, was already married. That man was Robert Dudley. There was a slight chance that they could still marry when his wife later died. However, the circumstances of her death meant that any union would be for ever tainted.

Indeed, Lady Dudley died from a fall, which she suffered at her home. Because of Robert Dudley’s closeness with the Queen, rumours had it that he had his wife murdered so he could marry the Queen. At the end, the two officially remained close friends.

Her choice not to marry, exposed Elizabeth to some of the wildest and most outlandish rumours. A persistent one is that she was actually a man. A fraud who was substituted for the real Elizabeth who had died as a teenager.

Regardless of her personal choices and the rumours, Elizabeth was widely loved and admired by her subjects. She died of illness on March 24th, 1603, and was succeeded to the throne by James I.


Elizabeth I

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