Queen Elizabeth I of England is often seen as one of England’s greatest monarchs. The last of the Tudor monarchs, she strengthened England and her reign became known as a Golden Age. But, despite being the last in the Tudor line, Elizabeth never married. In an extended article, Casey Titus focuses on the life of Elizabeth before she became Queen, including her relationship with her father Henry VIII’s wives, and how this influenced her decision to never marry.

See past Tudor history writing from Casey on King Henry VIII’s son, Edward VI (here), the person who could have been king instead of Henry VIII (here), and on whether the reign of Mary I was a failure (here).

A portrait of Queen Elizabeth I of England that commemorates the 1588 English victory against the Spanish Armada.

A portrait of Queen Elizabeth I of England that commemorates the 1588 English victory against the Spanish Armada.

“Good Queen Bess,” “Gloriana,” or most controversial of all, “The Virgin Queen,” was the last of the five monarchs of the House of Tudor but also one of the most famous and influential. Her 44-year reign oversaw a glorious transformation of a politically and religiously unstable nation into one of the Great Powers in Europe and was subsequently referred to as England’s Golden Age. 

Yet, behind her achievements and beneath her façade, Elizabeth Tudor is a woman we still know little of in personal regards. One of the greatest questions pertaining to her personal life is why this great queen never married. Historians have debated and speculated the reasons why this is with conflicting answers. 

The closest reasons lay most clearly in her early life from her ill-fated mother, her quick-tempered father, and a predatory stepfather. Reasons both personal and political may have disenchanted Elizabeth from a tender age to defy centuries of English history’s expectation of a married monarch, even more so of a female monarch.

 

The unwelcome birth

The birth of a girl, Elizabeth, in September 1533 was a disappointment to her father, King Henry VIII of England, possibly the “worst” disappointment of his life according to Tudor historian Heather Sharnette of Elizbabethi.org. Henry had done the unthinkable in contemporary times by breaking from the Church of Rome and defying the Pope that had refused to annul his marriage to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, in order to marry his mistress, the dazzling Anne Boleyn. In his defiance, he had destroyed monasteries and abbeys and put to death loyal friends for defending their faith, only to be given what he already had, a daughter. There was little celebration for her birth and the magnificent Christening that had been planned for the longed for baby prince went ahead anyway.

As long as Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, was Queen of England, Elizabeth was treated as the most important person in England, only second to her father and was even proclaimed “princess,” the title to the heiress to the throne. However, this was only short-lived as Queen Anne could not produce any more surviving children. Henry’s passionate love for her had died down. Her sharp tongue, fiery intelligence, and stubbornness that had initially appealed to him began to irritate him. After Catherine of Aragon’s death in January 1536 and the subsequent miscarriage of a boy, Henry was free to dispose of Anne without facing petitions to return to Catherine. Only four months later, Anne was arrested and faced trumped up charges of witchcraft, adultery, and incest. Not surprisingly, she was found guilty and sent to the Tower of London where she was to await her penalty: death. 

The decision to die via burning or decapitation was up to Henry who chose the latter and showed a single streak of mercy towards the woman he once loved by granting her request to be executed by sword instead of the customary axe. Anne was beheaded on May 19, 1536 on Tower Green. Elizabeth was only two and a half years old.

 

After her mother’s death

The death and disgrace of her mother left little Elizabeth’s lifestyle greatly changed. She was probably far too young to be emotionally affected by her mother’s execution. The marriage between her father and mother was annulled and Elizabeth was declared a bastard with her title of Princess stripped from her. From a young age, Elizabeth took after her mother’s shrewd intelligence and remarked on the change upon her: “How haps it governor, yesterday my Lady Princess, today but my Lady Elizabeth?” 

Just eleven days after her mother’s execution, Henry married her lady-in-waiting, Jane Seymour. With Elizabeth’s new status, her governess found that the little girl’s needs were being ignored even writing to the king to ask him to send for more clothes as Elizabeth had grown out of everything. 

In October of 1537, after twenty-eight years and two wives, Henry finally sired the longed for son, Prince Edward VI. Only a few days later, Jane Seymour died and the king was crushed at her loss. Now Edward, like Elizabeth, would grow up motherless and the two would share a close bond grounded on age proximity, religion, and their mutual passion for learning. Though Elizabeth was on friendly terms with her half-sister, Mary, the sisters were never close. This relationship would dangerously sour for Elizabeth in later years. 

Following the death of Jane Seymour and Henry’s emergence from seclusion, marriage negotiations began once again on behalf of the king’s fiercely Protestant advisors, Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Cranmer, who maneuvered Henry to marry the mildly Protestant Duke of Cleves’ sister, Anne. They were married in January 1540 after an awkward, disastrous first meeting. Elizabeth now had a second stepmother and according to Italian historian, Gregorio Leti, who wrote the following account two centuries after the event occurred of Elizabeth writing to her father for permission to meet her new stepmother, Anne of Cleves. Anne, upon giving the letter to her husband, Henry “took the letter and gave it to Cromwell” ordering him to write a reply: “Tell her,” he remarked. “that she had a mother so different from this woman that she ought not to wish to see her.” There is controversy as to whether this is true but Elizabeth was eventually brought to Court from Herford Castle to meet Anne. 

Anne, in turn, was reportedly “charmed by her beauty, wit and… that she conceived the most tender affection for her,” and to have Elizabeth “for her daughter would have been greater happiness to her than being queen.” Henry, on the other hand, was not sharing the sentimental atmosphere; as soon as he endured a wedding he could not evade, he become resolute on obtaining a divorce. Six months later, he finally achieved this upon the discovery of a previous marriage contract (but no marriage) to the Duke of Lorraine and on the grounds of non-consummation (the reason being her cruelly remarked appearance). 

King Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne of Cleves was his shortest and least influential marriage but no doubt it may have had the most profound impact on young Elizabeth by this time. She was probably too young to be deeply affected by the deaths of her mother and first stepmother, but by the time Anne of Cleves appeared into her life, she was almost seven years old and better able to comprehend the functions of Court life and her father’s effect on them. Anne was the first stepmother Elizabeth had formed a notable bond with and upon the king’s second divorce, Anne had requested of the king permission to still see Elizabeth which the king agreed to. This bond would remain strong between the two ladies until Anne’s death in 1557. Anne of Cleves was considered the luckiest of Henry VIII’s wives.  Anne’s influence of her stepdaughter’s unmarried state was once supposedly referenced by Queen Elizabeth herself to Count Feria, the Spanish Ambassador, who said that she had “taken a vow to marry no man whom she has not seen, and will not trust portrait painters.”

 

Catherine Howard becomes Queen

Almost immediately upon her father’s second divorce, he wed the dazzling and witty Catherine Howard. Historians debate on how old she was when she wed the 49-year old Henry. Most calculate that she was about 15 years old and according to Charles de Marillac was “rather graceful than beautiful, of short stature, etc.” Personality-wise, Catherine was described as charming, sensual, and obedient which proved a welcoming contrast to her first cousin, Anne Boleyn. Many observers noted that he showed the most generosity and affection to her than his other wives. De Marillac noted, the “King is so amorous of her that he cannot treat her well enough and caresses her more than he did the others.” 

Once Henry acknowledged her as queen, “she directed that the princess Elizabeth should be placed opposite to her at table, because she was of her own blood and lineage.” At marriage festivities, Catherine “gave the lady Elizabeth the place of honour nearest to her own person.” Elizabeth’s maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Boleyn was a sister to Edmund Howard, Catherine’s father. The young new queen reached out to Elizabeth to formulate a bond with her kinswoman by arranging for her to be taken from Suffolk Place to Chelsea where Catherine joined her. As of November 1541, Catherine presented the eight-year old Elizabeth with a jewel as a kind gesture. 

The fall of Henry VIII’s fifth wife came after John Lascelles revealed to Archbishop Cranmer the Queen’s promiscuity during her years at the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk’s estate, her step-grandmother. Many young women residing there “entertained” men after hours and Catherine was among them. When she was 13, Catherine engaged in physical relations with Francis Dereham after being earlier involved with her music teacher, Henry Manox.

Cranmer and Lascelles were both ardent Protestants while Catherine came from a conservative Catholic and undoubtedly powerful and influential English noble family. Cranmer launched a full-scale investigation that resulted in allegations of Catherine’s intimacy with Thomas Culpeper, a member of the king’s privy chamber, after her marriage to Henry.

Under interrogation (possibly torture), Culpeper admitted being in love with Catherine and “persisted in denying his guilt and said it was the Queen who, through Lady Rocheford, solicited him to meet her in private in Lincolnshire, when she herself told him that she was dying for his love.” Culpeper rebuffed claims that they had committed adultery despite their secluded time together. 

Regardless, the Council felt there was enough evidence because Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, Catherine’s lady-in-waiting, confessed to helping them arrange their meetings and implied there was a physical relationship between them. The most damning evidence against the queen was a letter from Catherine found in Culpeper’s belongings.

When the King was informed of the accusations by a document left for him in his church pew, his quick temper exploded.  Supposedly, he demanded a sword to slay her himself as she would never have “such delight in her inconstancy as she would have torture in her death.” Catherine was arrested and taken to the Tower of London. On the night before her execution, Catherine asked for a block to be brought to her so that she could practice placing her head on it. 

On February 13, 1542, the fifth teenage Queen of Henry VIII was executed, “in the same spot where Anne Boleyn had been executed. Her body was then covered [with a black cloak] and her ladies took it away,” recounted Ambassador Chapuys to Charles V. No records survive of Elizabeth’s reactions to the execution of her stepmother and cousin or the loss of any of her stepmothers for that matter. We can, though, infer her reaction through the text of Larissa J. Taylor-Smither’s article, “Elizabeth I: A Psychological Profile” that states that the “shock of Catherine Howard’s execution (at the impressionable age of eight) would have been more immediate, for even if Elizabeth had not been especially close to her young stepmother, Catherine’s sudden extinction must at the very least have had a powerful effect on her subconscious.”

 

Henry VIII’s sixth wife

Following the execution, Henry VIII passed a law requiring all future queens of England to disclose any ‘indiscretions’ and possess chaste pasts. That certainly narrowed the list for Henry’s next selected wife. A notable candidate by the name of Katherine Parr seemed ideal; she was charming and cordial, pleasant to both nobles and servants and possessed sensibility and was a skilled conversationalist. She was also experienced with stepchildren through her two previous husbands. 

It is certainly remarkable that she was the only one of Henry’s brides that did not want to marry him. Historians surmise that reasons range from her competence to see the pattern of dangers in marrying him to falling in love with Thomas Seymour, Lord High Admiral. Despite her reluctance to enter a marriage she couldn’t back out of, this was her chance, she believed, to promote the Protestant Reformation in England and the promotion of her family. As Queen, Katherine used her influence with the King to bring his children to Court to see their father more. Katherine was already well acquainted with Henry’s eldest child, Mary, as Katherine’s mother was a lady-in-waiting to Mary’s mother. Katherine “greatly admired her [Elizabeth’s] wit and manners.” A letter survives of the 10-year old Elizabeth writing with gratitude and praise at Katherine’s gesture to bring them to court. An excerpt from the letter reveals Elizabeth’s warmness towards her new and fourth stepmother: “…So great a mark of your tenderness for me obliges me to examine myself a little, to see if I can find anything in me that can merit it, but I can find nothing but a great zeal and devotion to the service of your Majesty.”

Between the summers of 1543 and 1544, historians speculate that Elizabeth offended her father in some way that led to her banishment to Ashridge near the Hertfordshire-Buckinghamshire border. Katherine still kept in contact with her stepdaughter and Elizabeth conveyed her belief that the young girl was “not only bound to serve but also to revere you with daughterly love…” Henry was abroad fighting against France and left Katherine as Regent in his absence. This was the first time Elizabeth witnessed firsthand a woman’s ability to rule on her own and revealed Henry’s confidence in his wife. Katherine successfully convinced the King to let Elizabeth join her at Hampton Court again, signifying their mother-daughter bond.

However, Katherine’s place and life was almost stripped from her upon two men attempting to arrest the Queen on the King’s orders. They were Thomas Wriothesley, 1stEarl of Southampton, Lord Chancellor and Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, who convinced Henry that she concealed radical religious leanings and increased his irritation with her recently expressed views. Wriothesley arranged for forty yeomen of the guard to accompany him with the arrest warrant and crept upon the Queen while she was in Henry’s company at Whitehall gardens.

Unbeknownst to Wriothesley, Katherine had been warned and hurried to her husband to explain herself and apologize. She assured him that she had not discussed theological meanings to lecture him but to learn from him and to distract him from the pain in his leg. Henry forgave her and upon Wriothesley’s arrival to arrest her, the King severely reprimanded him and sent him off. Barely escaping Henry’s wrath that claimed his previous wife, Katherine never again spoke out against the religious establishment. Katherine’s deep love of learning was shared with Elizabeth and she took charge of her education, employing Protestant and humanist tutors.

 

After Henry VIII

Following the King’s death in 1547, Katherine married the love of her life, Thomas Seymour. Thomas Seymour was shrewdly ambitious and the new king’s uncle and set his sights on Elizabeth as a possible wife and closer step to the throne. Finally catching onto her husband’s inappropriate advances on the 14-year old Elizabeth, Katherine removed her from her household at Chelsea in 1548 to the household of Anthony Denny and his wife at Cheshunt. Katherine was to go into confinement as the time for giving birth drew near, which would have allowed Seymour unlimited access to the vulnerable girl. It is likely Katherine removed Elizabeth for her own safety rather than to punish her. Katherine gave birth to a baby girl, Mary, in August 1548 and died eight days later of puerperal fever. 

With Katherine now dead, Thomas Seymour’s attempts at wooing Elizabeth became more aggressive. Thomas, envious of his brother’s title as Lord Protector of the 9-year old Edward VI, also grew more serious in his quest for power. In 1549, Thomas was caught attempting to break into the King’s apartments at Hampton Court Palace and was arrested and sent to the Tower of London. His associates were arrested, including Elizabeth and her governess, Kat Ashley. She was interrogated for weeks and the flirtatious incidents between Elizabeth and Thomas Seymour were revealed but there was no evidence of Elizabeth conspiring with Thomas against the King. Thomas was convicted of treason and beheaded on March 20, 1549. Elizabeth narrowly escaped conviction.

From the time of her mother’s execution to the death of her most influential stepmother from childbirth, Elizabeth had witnessed the disposal and unstable position of her father’s many queens. The seventeen-year old Henry had begun his reign in 1509 as a popular, pleasant and seemingly sensible monarch. His later years however were marked by violence and tyranny with a formidable quick temper, with theories behind this sudden change in personality ranging from a jousting accident in 1536 to mental deterioration at his wives’ repeatedly failed pregnancies. Henry’s constant mood swings no doubt had an effect on the position of the young Elizabeth and like her half-sister Mary; her illegitimate status had prevented a marriage negotiation as long as her father lived.

 

From Edward to Mary

In 1553, King Edward VI was fifteen years old and, despite a relatively healthy childhood, had contracted a form of consumption, possibly tuberculosis. When it became clear that the boy would not survive, the new Lord Protector, John Dudley, schemed with the dying king to name a Protestant successor instead of his half-sister, Mary who was an ardent Catholic and would have reversed Edward’s Protestant reforms. An heir(ess) was named – his cousin, Lady Jane Grey, an equally committed Protestant. To John Dudley’s advantage, Jane was also his daughter-in-law. Edward died on July 6 1553, just six years into his reign. Lady Jane Grey was proclaimed queen three days later. However, just nine days into Jane’s “reign,” she was deposed by Mary and her army of supporters. Mary was proclaimed Queen of England on July 19, 1553 in London. John Dudley was arrested and later executed along with Jane Grey and her husband. At first, Mary I viewed Jane as a mere pawn of her husband’s and father-in-law’s treasonous ambition, but after the Protestant Wyatt’s Rebellion, Mary was left with no choice but to put her cousin to death lest she become a figurehead of the Protestant movement that Mary had means to crush. 

Upon Mary I’s start as Queen of England, relations between the two half-sisters remained cordial despite their religious differences. It would only sour after Wyatt’s Rebellion which was in reaction to Mary’s planned marriage to Philip II, the son of her cousin Charles V, and heir to the Spanish throne. Aside from opposing the marriage, the plans were not known in great detail, but one scheme was to have Elizabeth marry Edward Courtenay, Earl of Devon, to ensure a native born succession to the throne. Elizabeth was once again under suspicion of treason. She denied any involvement or knowledge of Wyatt’s plans though several of Mary’s Councilors were determined to be rid of her. She was taken as prisoner to the Tower of London on Mary’s orders. Many had never returned from this place, including Elizabeth’s mother, and Elizabeth desperately declared her innocence. 

Elizabeth was in a delicate and dangerous situation, where her life depended on the Queen’s orders. Her existence was a threat to her Catholic realm and Mary’s advisors urged her execution. The queen was reluctant, although this was not enough, as she had already succumbed to pressure to execute Lady Jane Grey against her will. Powerful persuasion would have led Mary to sign her sister’s death warrant, but multiple factors led to Elizabeth’s survival: lack of evidence against Elizabeth, Wyatt’s assurance that Elizabeth was innocent, and Elizabeth’s increasing popularity in the country. Instead of execution, Elizabeth was taken to the manor of Woodstock, near Oxfordshire, still as prisoner. Soon after Mary’s marriage to Philip, the queen believed she was pregnant, much to the joy of her Catholic supporters. A Catholic heir to the throne of England diminished hopes of a Protestant England and Elizabeth succeeding to the throne. A discouraged Elizabeth even reputedly considered escaping to France to avoid an imprisoned life.

 

Queen Elizabeth I

As the months passed, however, Mary’s pregnancy turned out to be nothing more than a phantom pregnancy and no baby would arrive. Philip left England for Flanders to attend to other political matters, leaving his devastated wife behind. The marriage of Philip and Mary was intended as a political match though Mary was reputed to have fallen in love with her husband. It was once again an opportunity for Elizabeth to observe a husband’s unloving treatment of his wife. Philip had departed in the summer of 1555 upon the abdication of his father’s throne and did not return until the spring of 1557, undertaking and flaunting his extramarital affairs before English diplomats in the meantime. At one point, Mary had removed one of her husband’s portraits from her sight and publicly declared “God sent oft times to good women evil husbands.” King Henry II of France even remarked from across the Channel, “I am of the opinion that ere long the king of England [as Philip was styled during their marriage] will endeavor to dissolve his marriage with the queen.”

Within months of his return, Mary believed herself to be pregnant again. However, no baby appeared a second time and this time, Mary was seriously ill. Without a natural heir, Elizabeth was still next in line for the English throne. Though she was Protestant, Philip was concerned that the next claimant after Elizabeth was the Queen of Scots, who was betrothed to the Dauphin of France, and so would fall into French hands. He even persuaded his wife that Elizabeth should marry his cousin to secure the Catholic succession, but Elizabeth refused to be a pawn for political gain.

Mary died on November 17, 1558, either of ovarian cancer or the influenza epidemic that plagued England at the time. Philip was already away when he heard of his wife’s passing and wrote, “I felt a reasonable regret for her death.”

 

No marriage

Elizabeth was now twenty-five years old and Queen of England. She was the last of the Tudor dynasty and therefore the pressure to marry and produce an heir was focused on from the moment of her succession. If Elizabeth died without a natural heir, many feared rival claims of Henry VII’s distant relatives would propel the nation into bitter civil war that had only ended upon the accession of the first Tudor monarch. The court was abuzz with suitors eager for her hand. European ambassadors busied themselves with marriage negotiations. Queen Elizabeth received offers from the King of Spain, Prince Erik of Sweden, The Archduke Charles, the son of John Frederic Duke of Saxony, The Earl of Arran, and Earl of Arundel, and Sir William Pickering. Only Elizabeth seemed uninterested in the subject of marriage. Over the years it was clear that the queen would never marry, instead “calling England her husband and her subjects her children.” 

Political reasons begin with the complicated matter of a married female ruler as opposed to a male ruler. With the risk of childbirth that had already claimed the lives of two of Elizabeth’s stepmothers, the potential danger of a husband wanting to rule the country rather than being content with consort, a bitter struggle would ensue against various claimants. If Elizabeth married the heir to Spain or France, as already offered, England could have been absorbed into the Spanish Empire for example, losing English identity in the process. Her close relationship with the only man she ever loved, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, was immersed in controversy and prevented a marriage from ever taking place. Protestant nations were generally poorer than Catholic ones at the time and alliances with other Catholic nations would have been a conflict of religion and very unpopular with her subjects and Council. Under English common law, a woman who married was the property of her husband and the possibility of sacrificing power to him must have appalled her.

From an early age and into her reign as Queen of England, Elizabeth had witnessed the subservience of women expected in Tudor times and the established pattern of bad marriages that plagued her family. By the time of her death in 1603, Elizabeth had ruled for 44 years and proved that a woman could rule as well as any man. Because of her, England started to become one of the most affluent and powerful countries in the world - and would remain so for centuries. 

Sources

C. N. Trueman "Women In Tudor England"
historylearningsite.co.uk. The History Learning Site, 17 Mar 2015. 5 Mar 2019.

Ayers, Jessica. “Why Did Elizabeth I Never Marry?” The York Historian, The York Historian, 25 Feb. 2016, theyorkhistorian.com/2015/10/23/why-did-elizabeth-i-never-marry/.

Larson, Rebecca. “Why Queen Elizabeth I Never Married.” Tudors Dynasty, 20 June 2018, www.tudorsdynasty.com/why-queen-elizabeth-never-married/.

“Queen Elizabeth I.” Queen Elizabeth 1, www.elizabethi.org/contents/earlyyears/childhood.html.

“The Fourth Step-Mother of Elizabeth, Katherine Parr.” Elizregina, 4 June 2013, elizregina.com/2013/06/04/the-fourth-step-mother-of-elizabeth-katherine-parr/.

“The Second Step-Mother to Elizabeth, Anne of Cleves.” Elizregina, 23 May 2013, elizregina.com/2013/05/23/the-second-step-mother-to-elizabeth-anne-of-cleves/.

“The Third Step-Mother to Elizabeth, Catherine Howard.” Elizregina, 28 May 2013, elizregina.com/2013/05/28/the-third-step-mother-to-elizabeth-catherine-howard/.

The life of women in Tudor society was scrupulously controlled – from the way they dressed, their education and what they did in their spare time. Even under the two female rulers of the Tudor era, not much changed, but perhaps Queen Elizabeth I of England’s reign (1558-1603) can be assessed as the birth of the first British feminist icon. Kaiya Rai explains.

 

The  Ermine Portrait  of Elizabeth I of England.

The Ermine Portrait of Elizabeth I of England.

Education

Though very few boys received proper formal education, virtually no girls did either. Those who were poor learnt skills from their mothers and grandmothers, and girls from rich families received an education in things such as managing a household, needlework and meal preparation. Moreover, domestic skills were essential for a woman in her future married life, as one contemporary writer commented that a woman who could not cook had essentially broken her marriage vows - “she may love and obey, but she cannot serve and keep him with that true duty which is ever expected.”

At the beginning of the 16th century it became more common for girls to attend schools alongside their male peers, and by the 1560s even the very poorest girls underwent some form of education. Most of this education, however, was dominated by Christian dogma and doctrinal teaching, such as William Barber’s school in London, who taught ‘further learning’ of the Bible. Since the Bible was used by the Church and the patriarchs in society to justify the inferiority of women, this almost added to their lack of independence, no matter the fact that they were being educated. The exceptions in education began emerging during the Reformation, when humanists, such as Thomas More, actively sought to give their daughters an excellent education. Humanists paved the way for the Enlightenment era of the 17th and 18th century, as they believed in self-understanding of the Bible, and drawing conclusions for oneself as opposed to passively listening to and believing everything the Church taught. Thus, their emergence in the education stage of Tudor England was of a similar nature - to try and reform stereotypical attitudes towards knowledge.

 

Marriage and patriarchy

There was no legal age for a woman to be married and so for many families, it was a matter of urgency to try and find a husband for their daughters, who would have no choice in the matter. Many believed that if a girl passed the age of 14 unmarried, she would become a burden to the family as it was an extra mouth to feed with no extra income, and many first met their spouse on the wedding day, much like Anne of Cleves and Henry VIII did. For some, such as Elizabeth Howard, daughter of the Earl of Surrey, marriage was an opportunity to further her social position. Most women were expected to enter service before they were married, and for upper-class women this would usually be with a woman of higher social standing who would also aide her in finding a husband, and for lower-class women, the agreement of a year’s service in exchange for wages and housing was usual. Others entered into the more abstruse institution of prostitution, where disease was rife and was the cause of many premature deaths. However, this was still seen as dishonorable, though it was common, as is evident in the case of Mother Bowden’s brothel which was declared ‘immoral’ by the parish officials in 1567. Furthermore, women were taught that God had commanded them to be obedient to men, whether that be father or husband, and so the patriarchy in a woman’s life in Tudor England was constantly upheld and strengthened by all sources of power.

Since they had been told from childhood that they were inferior, women subsequently acted in an inferior manner. The Reformation actually did little to thwart this, despite the more modern tendencies and attitudes of the humanists, as is evident in the beliefs of Protestant leader John Knox, who wrote “women in her greatest perfection was made to serve and obey man.” The law gave men full rights over their wives, to the extent that they could have their wife burned at the stake for adultery, and that if a man beat his wife, it was justified on the grounds that she must have done something to provoke him, by not being a ‘good’ wife. Another important aspect of a woman’s married life was childbirth; they were expected to produce sons to carry on the family line, and this was true for royalty and peasants alike. However, childbirth was dangerous, and resulted in many deaths during it, or even after the baby was born, as puerperal fever and post-birth infections were common. One job of the ‘midwife’ was even to make arrangements for the baby in case the mother should die, indicating just how often women did die during childbirth.

 

Tudor women under Elizabeth I

Queen Elizabeth I did not ever get married, and to this day retains the somewhat misleading title of ‘the Virgin Queen.’ She was the most powerful woman of her time, and refused to relinquish or share that power, when women were considered property, and so perhaps it could be seen that she was a feminist in some sense. She was strong, intelligent and refused to be constrained by a political marriage. This is apparent in her hidden relationship with Robert Dudley, who she could never marry because of his status, but yet still refused to marry another who she did not love. She once stated “I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a King, and a King of England, too,” thus again indicating just how brusquely independent she was determined to be.

There is speculation among historians as to why Elizabeth I never got married, such as a psychological explanation owing to what happened to her mother and stepmother in marriage (they were beheaded). Perhaps she saw the damage of what Mary’s marriage to Philip II did to the country, and to Mary’s heart, or perhaps she held a fear of childbirth as two of her stepmothers, Jane Seymour and Catherine Parr had died just after childbirth. It is clear that her love for Robert Dudley did play some importance, and her constant appearance of an available woman to foreign ambassadors meant that she could enter marriage negotiations and use them to her advantage by influencing other countries and playing them off against one another.

Despite the fierce independence of Elizabeth, she did not do much to actually improve the lives of women in society, and so perhaps cannot be a ‘feminist,’ as we see them. As Carrick asserted that “she was the monarch and [felt she’d been] appointed by God…. that set her apart from the rest of humanity.” However, we must also place her in context, and Carrick also recognises this, by stating, “The idea of women’s rights…just wouldn’t occur to her yet and yet as an individual she was that; she lived that. She was brilliant at sport and horse riding, really active, a massive intellect.”

Therefore, whilst women in the Elizabethan era had primarily similar lives to those living under the reign of the previous Tudor monarchs, the roots of feminine individuality can clearly be seen in the era, and so perhaps helped to set up a platform which would aid the suffrage movement many centuries later.

 

What do you think of the life of women in Tudor England? Is Elizabeth I the first British feminist? Let us know below.

Born to a Protestant family in Devon, England in 1552, Sir Walter Raleigh was not only a prolific writer, poet and courtier of the Virgin Queen, but also a commendable explorer. Knighted by Queen Elizabeth I in the year 1585 and recognized nation-wide for his numerous talents, Raleigh is now mockingly remembered as the man who laid his cloak across a muddy pool so that Her Majesty could cross it without getting her feet dirty! Prapti Panda explains all.

Sir Walter Raleigh and his son Walter. 1602.

Sir Walter Raleigh and his son Walter. 1602.

Raleigh had to face extreme difficulties right from his childhood. When he was a boy, his family suffered greatly, trying to outrun the Roman Catholic Church that flourished under the rule of Mary I of England. In 1569, he joined troops in subduing civil uprisings in France but eventually returned to pursue his education as an undergraduate in the well-known Oriel College, Oxford. Many such events, such as his successful abortion of the Irish rebellion, followed that showed his ambition and skills that ultimately culminated in him gaining favor with the Virgin Queen.

 

THE FIRST HINT OF A LIFELONG CAREER

Sailing with his half-brother Humphrey Gilbert to America in 1578 turned out to be the first of many expeditions he would undertake. Therein, after two attempts, he managed to set up a British colony on Roanoke Island under the governance of John White. But after he sailed back to England and got delayed in returning, the colonists disappeared, and today their settlement is known popularly as the ‘Lost City of Roanoke Island’, but the people of America honored him by naming the state capital of North Carolina as Raleigh. Moreover, Raleigh County, West Virginia and Mount Raleigh in British Columbia are also named after him.

But all of this hard work and gallantness of his was thrown to the wind when Queen Elizabeth found out that he had secretly married one of her ladies-in-waiting, Elizabeth Throckmorton, and imprisoned them both in the Tower of London. He regained his reputation by capturing the incredible treasure-laden ship Madre de Deus and presenting it to the Queen. Some historians believe that that was when his obsession with gold started.

 

THE LURE OF GOLD

In the year 1594, the first hint of the existence of a ‘City of Gold’ reached him. He read the accounts of several people including Gonzalo Pizarro, Francisco Lopez and Francisco de Orellana that described the exploration of the Amazon basin and the Lower Orinoco.  By the time he decided to embark on a voyage to Guiana, he had become sure of the existence of El Dorado, the city that contained immeasurable wealth and which he dubbed Manoa. In his book, Discovery of Guiana, Raleigh recounts that it was the account of a Spaniard by the name of Juan Martinez, who was serving at the time as master of munitions to Diego Ordas, a Knight of the Order of Santiago, which provided the final proof that he needed.

Martinez, Raleigh believed, was the first European to ‘find’ El Dorado. The story was that Martinez, fearing execution due to mismanagement of some armaments that he was supposed to be in charge of, set out in a canoe down the Orinoco and was rescued by natives who took him to Manoa, the seat of their emperor. After several months of living there, Martinez was sent back to his land, laden heavily with gifts of gold which were eventually robbed off of him.

But Raleigh was not too dogmatic in his beliefs either. He reached out to various people connected with the story and was told with solid proof that left absolutely no room for doubts - in his mind at least. Then, he set sail to the New World in 1595 in search of Manoa. In reality, he had another, more significant objective - he wanted to weaken Spanish colonization of South America and build British influence there. If there was one thing that Raleigh had no qualms about stating, it was his contempt towards the Spanish. In the Discovery of Guiana, he never forgets to insert a jab or a wry comparison to his Spanish ‘friends’.

Although he gave exaggerated reports of the gold he found in Guiana when he went back to England, he was not successful in finding Manoa. Yet, silently, his belief in its existence was not shaken. In 1600, he was appointed governor of the Channel Island in Jersey and focused on improving defenses and administration.

Once again, Raleigh was struck by a bout of bad luck when Queen Elizabeth died in 1603. Her successor, King James I, son of Mary, Queen of Scots, was not quite ready to be favorably disposed towards him. In fact, King James was of a platonic nature, eager to amend relations with the Spanish. His first step was accusing Raleigh of treason and throwing him once more into the Tower of London - his only concession being that he was spared his life. During his imprisonment, Raleigh penned the popular Historie of the World.

A ray of hope appeared for Raleigh in 1616, when King James allowed him to travel a second time to Guiana in search of El Dorado in exchange for a massive fortune and strict orders to not attack the Spanish. But as ill luck would have it, one of his long-time friends and confidante Lawrence Keymis’ troops attacked a Spanish outpost on the banks of the Orinoco River, defying Raleigh’s orders and resulting in the untimely death of his son Walter.

On his return to England, again empty-handed, the Spanish Ambassador was angry, wanting King James to punish Raleigh for breaking the peace treaty. With no other way out, King James ordered Raleigh’s execution. So it was that on October 29, 1618, the world saw the last of a valiant man who traversed dangerous waters and explored uncharted lands, a man who was not afraid of going after what he believed in. Now he lies in a grave in St Margaret’s Church, Westminster, London, known mainly as a name that history students remember. 

 

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The author: Prapti Panda has a deep interest in history - especially colonization and the Industrial Revolution. She spends her days researching and reading about the Royal Family and is a compulsive writer. Her first book, based on the European colonization of Latin America, will be out soon.

 

REFERENCES

The Discovery of Guiana, Walter Raleigh- 1595

BBC UK - http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/raleigh_walter.shtml

WEB- https://www.awesomestories.com/asset/view/THE-DEATH-OF-RALEIGH-Elizabeth-I-The-Golden-Age

Posted
AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones
CategoriesBlog Post

In this series on the English Civil War, Myra King follows up on her articles about the Divine Right of Kings, and Henry VIII and bloody religious change, by telling us about the Gunpowder Plot. Was it really carried out by Guy Fawkes or was there a conspiracy led by somebody who thought that King James I was too tolerant towards Catholics?

 

“Remember, remember the fifth of November, the gunfire treason and plot. I see no reason why the gunfire treason should ever be forgot,”

 

I do.

On November 5, 1605, Guy Fawkes and his twelve co-conspirators put the final nail in the Catholic coffin. Their idea had been to use thirty-six barrels of gunpowder to blow the British Parliament sky high. Their plan was to kill the king, kidnap his nine-year-old daughter, force her into Catholicism, and crown her their dummy queen. The king, James I, had caused great disappointment in the tiny Catholic community by refusing to reinstate the old denomination. Under James I’s predecessor, Elizabeth I, Catholics had lived safely enough but had been fined for practicing their illegal religion. James had abolished these fines, creating a more tolerant kingdom. But juggling all the different strands of Christianity eventually became too much for the king and he abandoned his tolerant attitude. Catholics, as well as Puritans, were to be fined for practicing anything but Protestantism. They were now also banned from obtaining degrees, holding certain jobs, and sitting in parliament. Sure, they were the minority, and if they really wanted, Catholics could practice in secret, but there would always be troublemakers. Thirteen to be exact.

A depiction of plotter Guy Fawkes from "Guy Fawkes - The Fifth of November a Prelude in One Act." The play was performed in 1793 at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London.

A depiction of plotter Guy Fawkes from "Guy Fawkes - The Fifth of November a Prelude in One Act." The play was performed in 1793 at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London.

A CONSPIRACY BEHIND THE GUNDPOWER PLOT?

According to legend, the plotters rented a house next to parliament and carried thirty-six barrels of gunpowder down to the cellar where the explosives expert, Guy Fawkes, was waiting to light the fuse and send the building to that great fireworks display on the other side. But as luck would have it, the cellar was searched the night before and our pyrotechnist was found. He was tortured and confessed the whole plot. He and his cohorts were then executed.

That is the famous version of the story. Many modern historians believe it to be far more sinister than that though.

Firstly, let us go back to James’s predecessor, Elizabeth. The Tudor lady wasn’t necessarily queenly material. In fact she had a foul temper and very bad manners. But something she did have was the knowledge to put others in charge of areas she knew nothing about. One such man was Robert Cecil, her chief advisor. Cecil was a brilliant politician (but not in the utterly-useless-but-hides-it-well way); he knew how to run a kingdom like a well-oiled machine. England was the envy of Europe under his (er, Elizabeth’s) reign.

Cecil had the grave misfortune of outliving Elizabeth though, and this meant that he had to mold himself to the new king. Unlike Lizzie, James had always been heir to a throne, therefore always groomed for a life of leadership. As an already ruling king of Scotland, James arrived with no need for advisers either. Cecil had to retreat to the shadows, but James’s tolerant attitude to Catholics was more than Cecil could bear. Unlike the new king, Cecil knew of the violent religious history of England and he knew that it was just a matter of time before all hell broke loose in the kingdom. Religious freedom could not be allowed, as the extremists would always take it too far. And Guy Fawkes proved Cecil’s fear.

Supposedly.

The information surrounding the gunpowder plot does not add up however. How would known Catholics have been able to rent a house right next to parliament? That was illegal. How would they have even gotten the barrels of gunpowder into parliament? Surely they couldn't have just walked in. CCTV didn't exist yet but the idea of having no security at parliament is absolutely ridiculous. Not to mention, from where did they get this gunpowder? The only people to sell gunpowder would have been the government. Why would the government have sold thirty-six barrels of gunpowder to known Catholics? Unless the government - most notably William Cecil - wanted these Catholics to have gunpowder. It was no secret that King James was terrified for his safety. As the only heir of Mary, Queen of Scots, he had seen his fair share of death threats and even a kidnapping. So what would happen if somebody decided to use that fear against him? Could Cecil have orchestrated the entire plot in order to demonstrate how dangerous and untrustworthy Catholics were? Could he have hired the thirteen men, given them the idea of the plot and the gunpowder, and then simply waited for the end result? Cecil was no longer in charge, so if he wanted something done, he would have to find another way to do it. It is at least very suspicious that Cecil constantly talked about the danger of Catholicism, ‘miraculously’ the king was almost killed by Catholics, and suddenly Cecil’s word was law... Could he have staged it all?

 

THE PLOT THICKENS

The most damning of all the evidence is, I think, the ‘Monteagle Letter.’ One of the plotters, Francis Tresham, was a cousin with a man named Lord Monteagle. On October 26 a mysterious stranger came through the night bringing a letter to the Lord’s home. A letter with a very dark message. It was a warning to Monteagle that under no circumstances was he to go to Parliament on November 5. It simply, and without embarrassment, stated that parliament would receive a blow and all present would be killed. This letter was personally addressed to Monteagle but instead of reading it in private as protocol dictated, he had his servant read it out loud. Why was this done? And how, oh how, did Monteagle just magically have a letter delivered by a servant who could actually read? That alone is a bit of magic as this was a time when only the wealthy could read. Was the “servant” put in place to read aloud so that Monteagle had a witness? Does this mean Monteagle knew what the letter contained? Well, it is rather interesting when you take Monteagle’s next action on board... The Lord then took the letter straight to (surprise, surprise) William Cecil. Why him? Cecil then ordered a search of parliament and, low and behold, Guy Fawkes was found.

Tresham appears with more conspiracy later in the plot. Technically it is his fault the co-conspirators were caught. But while Guy Fawkes and the rest of the plotters were tortured to reveal information and then hanged, drawn and quartered, Tresham was simply locked in the Tower of London. Why? He was also locked in the cell by himself and was later found dead. Official records state he was poisoned. Who had poisoned him and why? Tresham obviously had vital information that spared him the wrack and the noose, but ultimately cost him his life. Was that information the damning truth of the so-called gunpowder plot?

Whether you believe the gunpowder plot was an inside job or you believe it truly was just another act of religious hatred, the fact still remains that this plot showed the scary depth of religious hatred and lack of love for the monarch. The gunpowder plot was just one more step closer to a war against the king and all who stood for him.

 

We continue our story of the English Civil War and problems with King Charles I here.


 

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