Queen Elizabeth The First
Learn how one of England's greatest ruler's, Elizabeth I the virgin Queen, came to power, and how she played suitors against one another for political gain.
Elizabeth I was born on September 7, 1533. She was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Henry, who was notorious for his many wives and ruthless disposal of several by decapitation, had married Anne in the hope she could provide him what he craved: a healthy young male that would one day grow up to be a great King of England. Henry soon lost patience with Anne and brought a charge of incest against her, which the majority of historians believe to be fabricated. At the same time, the pope declared the marriage of the pair null and ruled that Elizabeth was illegitimate. It was not exactly the perfect start in life for the future virgin queen. Anne Boleyn was beheaded at the Tower of London in 1536, three years after Elizabeth’s birth.
Henry, not surprisingly, remarried in his quest for a son. This time he married Jane Seymour, who bore him a son, Edward (later to become Edward VI). However, Jane died soon afterwards. The reigning king had one more marriage left in him, though, to Katherine Parr. During this time, Elizabeth was allowed to return from her exile from court. The king died soon afterwards and because Edward was so young, his uncle was given the title of Lord Protector of England. Elizabeth went away with her mother to live away from court. This didn’t last long, though, as it was alleged that Elizabeth was caught in bed with Katherine’s next husband, Thomas Seymour, so she was forced to leave. Seymour was a rather seedy character who was later arrested and eventually executed for planning to kidnap Edward VI and also to marry the future virgin queen.
The young King Edward was considered to be weak and did not live to see his adult days. As he lay on his deathbed suffering the effects of tuberculosis, those around him began to realize he would not sire the next heir to the throne. This led to a mad scramble for the throne and was a dangerous time for all those who were in line, including Elizabeth. At this time in particular, she was bombarded with offers of marriage, most famously from Thomas Seymour. Shrewdly though, she decided against any form of marriage, strengthening her bargaining position to all potential suitors.
The most likely candidate for the throne was Elizabeth’s older sister, Mary. Mary was a catholic, and inevitably there were others, all Protestants, who were desperately trying to make sure she didn’t become queen. Lady Jane Grey, a niece of Henry VIII, stepped forward. She had some support, and several armies began forming to back her up. Unfortunately for her, she had only been in power for eight days when Mary and Elizabeth, both daughters of Henry VIII, arrived in London to overwhelming support. Lady Jane and her husband were thrown into the Tower of London.
Queen Mary’s marriage to the Prince of Spain made her even more unpopular with the Protestants. They chose to side with Elizabeth, whose mother’s marriage to Henry VIII had initialized the breakaway from Rome. Mary saw that Elizabeth was becoming very popular and thus imprisoned her in the Tower of London. She was released when it was thought that Mary was pregnant. A child never materialized from this phantom pregnancy, though, and in 1558 Mary died, and Elizabeth was crowned Queen of England.
Once more, Queen Elizabeth I was inundated with offers of marriage but never accepted. The true reasons for this will never be fully proven, and there are several theories. Firstly, she may have been affected by the knowledge and childhood memories of her father’s cruelty towards women, including Elizabeth’s mother. Fearful of similar behavior towards herself may have put her off subconsciously. Secondly, romanticists believe it was because she was unable to marry her true love, Robert Dudley, who was already married. Thirdly, and most likely, Queen Elizabeth realized that being single put her in a great bargaining position, both politically and financially. The fact that she remained a virgin queen helped her reign for a long time.
Queen Elizabeth I ruled until her death in 1603. The last forty years of her reign are known as the "Golden Age." During these years, she fended off a challenge to the throne by Mary Queen of Scots and the attack on England by the Spanish Armada.