7 Thought-Provoking Historical Conspiracy Theories About Queen Elizabeth I

Queen Elizabeth I is considered to be one of England’s greatest and most popular monarchs. She was a patron of the arts, promoted English power around the globe - and might not have been what she seemed. As is the case for any member of royalty, there are numerous conspiracies about her. While these rumors about Queen Elizabeth might not be as far-fetched as the one about her descendant Queen Elizabeth II being a lizard, they’re every bit as fascinating.

Queen Elizabeth’s reign was called England’s Golden Age for a reason. Under her rule, the English Renaissance reached new heights with the flourishing of poetry, music, literature, and of course, thanks to William Shakespeare, theater. It was also a great age of exploration and stability. The Queen herself was described as being intelligent, charming, and a natural leader. During a time when women were regarded as second-class citizens, she managed to lead her country into one of its most prosperous periods.

Some of these Queen Elizabeth conspiracy theories have been circulating since the time of her reign, proving that the public’s love of royals and scandal is nothing new. Read on to discover the incredible conspiracies about her life and rule.

  • She Was Secretly Replaced With A Boy

    She Was Secretly Replaced With A Boy
    Photo: Unknown Artist / Wikimedia Commons

    As this conspiracy goes, when Elizabeth was ten, the bubonic plague hit London. As a precautionary measure, she was sent to the village of Bisley, far away from the dying masses in the big city. While she was there, she grew ill from some unknown disease and died. The governess who was tasked with caring for the future queen began to panic. The famously temperamental King, who had already executed Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, was scheduled for a visit. So the governess searched the countryside for someone who looked like Elizabeth. She found an effeminate young boy who resembled the princess, and dressed him up in Elizabeth's clothes. The ruse fooled King Henry and the entire kingdom, as this boy would go on to rule England for over forty years.

    This theory seems absurd, but it gained credibility when Dracula author Bram Stoker published his book Famous Impostors in 1910. In it, he posits that “Elizabeth” was actually Henry VIII’s illegitimate grandson. Even Elizabeth's appearance was cited to add veracity to this claim: the Queen was said to have many masculine attributes, like long fingers and heavy facial stubble. Supporters of this theory said that Elizabeth wore heavy makeup to cover her stubble and a wig to hide a receding hairline. Some conjecture that this secret is the reasoning behind the monarch never marrying or giving birth.

    The existence of this theory shows how resistant people were to accepting a female ruler, even one whose reign was considered extremely prosperous. As for some of the “evidence” that supports this theory, Elizabeth suffered from a case of smallpox in 1562. The illness left heavy scars on her face which she covered with makeup. She wore a wig because it was considered fashionable to do so. And what about never getting married? Well, that particular course of action didn’t end too well for her mother or the five other wives Elizabeth’s father wed. By staying single, she kept all of the power for herself and brought about England’s Golden Age - without a man.

  • She Was A Hermaphrodite

    She Was A Hermaphrodite
    Photo: Isaac Oliver / Wikimedia Commons

    Queen Elizabeth was famously resistant to marriage, causing many history buffs to wonder why. Some authors have posited that Elizabeth was born with both male and female sexual organs and that she remained a virgin because of it.

    As researcher R. Bakan explains it, “characteristics of the testicular feminization syndrome are strikingly similar to descriptions of Elizabeth's appearance, personality, behaviour… [these] individuals typically present attractive, intelligent, practical females, above average in height, slim, active, athletic with notably long and beautiful hands. They have a normal life span and are free of related illnesses and obvious malformations. The only signs of abnormality are the lack of menstruation and the absence or foreshortening of the vagina.”

    Most historians have dismissed this theory for a number of reasons. Elizabeth was regularly examined by doctors. She also had many people spying on her. For example, one foreign ambassador was convinced the queen was unchaste and bribed one of Elizabeth’s laundresses to smuggle out evidence that proved the Queen was still menstruating. There are also accounts of Elizabeth having sexual liaisons with several men, most notably the man who has been called her one true love, Robert Dudley. If any of them saw something they weren’t expecting to see during their escapades, they would probably have shared that information.

  • She Was The Real William Shakespeare

    She Was The Real William Shakespeare
    Photo: John Taylor / Wikimedia Commons

    There’s a small sect in literary academia that believes someone other than William Shakespeare wrote all of the bard's famous works. One contender was Queen Elizabeth.

    There’s no real evidence to support this claim, but some scholars have argued that Shakespeare, who came from a rural area, did not have the necessary knowledge to write about life at court. Additionally, many of his plays served as Tudor propaganda, leading some to think that the author of these works might have strong ties to or be part of the Tudor dynasty. And finally, Elizabeth was known to write poetry and was considered to be an incredibly well-educated, witty person. You might think that some of Shakespeare’s content was too crude to have been written by the Queen, but in truth, she was known to curse like a sailor.

    As entertaining as this theory is, it’s difficult to imagine the queen having the time to write 37 plays and 154 sonnets.

  • She Was Francis Bacon’s Mother

    She Was Francis Bacon’s Mother
    Photo: Artist Unknown / Wikimedia Commons

    When Elizabeth and her childhood friend Robert Dudley were imprisoned in the Tower by Elizabeth’s sister, Queen Mary, it is said that they had a monk marry them. Allegedly, they kept their marriage a secret well into Elizabeth’s reign. Dudley was not a court favorite, and the Queen needed to remain single in case the need for a politically advantageous marriage arose. However, the two carried on and even had a child together. Supposedly, Elizabeth gave her child to her most favored lady in waiting and confidant, Anne Bacon. Anne and her husband, Sir Nicholas Bacon, gave Francis their last name and raised him as their own, and he became the famous philosopher and scientist Francis Bacon.

    Considering the fashion of the period, a pregnancy could have been easily concealed. However, it would have been difficult for Elizabeth to hide her baby bump from the Gentlewomen of the Bedchamber, who were historically tasked with bathing, dressing, and undressing the Queen.