Why Elizabeth I of England Stayed Unmarried all her Life

Queen Elizabeth I of England

Throughout her life, Elizabeth I (1533-1603) remained resolute in spite of all the anxiety that due to her refusal to get married or bring forth any child of her own. Many of her advisers strongly counselled her to take herself a husband in order to keep the succession line to the throne unbroken. It was certainly unheard of at that time for a woman not to marry, let alone remain unmarried and rule  one of the most powerful kingdoms at that time.

The British Parliament even got impatient on this subject. They sought to strong-arm the Queen into marrying by cutting down the budget for the royal family. Elizabeth emphatically refused their requests and pleas. In her mind, she was determined to honor the bond that existed between her and the British public. She viewed marriage as something that would/could dilute this special bond. Queen Elizabeth was extremely intelligent on this matter. She knew that taking a husband from outside England would lend England to external influences. Similarly, marrying an English man could have induced rivalry among the nobles. Her only option was then to tow a safe and neutral line, i.e. an unmarried life.

Elizabeth I and marriage

Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) professing her undying devotion to England.

Aside from the above explanation, historians actually believe that Elizabeth did not want to have her power diminished. It was common for female rulers and monarchs to play peripheral roles the moment they got engaged or married. Some male consorts even went as far as sabotaging the efforts of their spouse so as to appear more pronounced and influential in the eyes of the public. And if none of that worked, some male consorts were cunning enough to eliminate the queens in order to have full control.

It is likely that Elizabeth thought carefully about all the above possibilities. She must have also taken note of the events that were unfolding in her Cousin Mary’s kingdom- Scotland. Powerful men in Scotland, including Mary’s third husband (James Hepburn, 4th earl of Bothwell), had successfully manipulated the queen into taking disastrous political and spousal decisions. The outcome of those decisions culminated in Mary, Queen of Scots, fleeing to England- a place where she was eventually executed on trumped-up charges of treason.

Elizabeth I, taking cues from history, successfully crushed marriage appeals from both her parliament and her advisers. Up until her death (in 1603), no one in the kingdom dared raise the issue of marriage again.

Had she been alive today, the feminist movement would certainly have loved such a brave and independent woman in the person of Elizabeth I.

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