While King Henry VIII is famous for his many wives, his daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, is remembered for essentially the opposite: she never married and never had an heir. It’s not for lack of options, either; Elizabeth’s marriage prospects were many. In fact, there are no fewer than eight different suitors she could have married either for love or to strengthen her hold over England.
While it wasn’t meant to be with any of them, examining her relationships with each suitor is an intriguing exercise in what could have been. What would history look like if she married the man said to be her one true love? Or the powerful French duke? Or any of the others who vied for her heart - and her crown?
Below are the men Elizabeth could have married, what they brought to the table, and what actually happened to them. Vote up the suitors who would have been the best king to Elizabeth’s queen.
Name: Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester
Familial Line: Prior to Robert’s relationship with Elizabeth, the Dudleys were no friends of the Tudors. Henry VIII executed Robert's grandfather for treason. Elizabeth’s older sister, Mary, executed Robert’s father for his involvement in the Lady Jane Grey saga; he was integral in her brief ascension to the throne. Robert himself was imprisoned for his involvement, as well.
Physical Attributes: Described as a “tall, fine-featured man.”
Occupation: Master of the Horse to Elizabeth, a notable appointment for the man widely regarded as her great love; it made him the only person actually allowed to touch her.
What He Brings To The Table: In comparison to Elizabeth’s other suitors - not much. This would have been a marriage purely for love. Dudley’s grandfather was a duke and Robert himself had lands and titles granted to him by Elizabeth.
Possible Red Flags: Throughout his affair with the queen, Dudley was actually married. At least he was... until his wife died under mysterious circumstances. At the time many suspected Dudley had his wife murdered so he could marry Elizabeth instead.
What Happened To Him: Although their relationship carried on for decades, Elizabeth consistently refused his proposals. After one final extravagant attempt to convince Elizabeth to marry him, Robert turned his attentions to his mistress, Lettice Knollys. When Elizabeth found out the couple had married, she flew into a jealous rage. Eventually, Elizabeth and Robert grew close again and stayed that way until he died.362132Should've been yes to the dress?
She Almost Married A Medici
Name: Francis, Duke of Anjou
Familial Line: Francis’s family was as prestigious as they come. His parents were King Henry II of France and Catherine de Medici, of the extremely powerful Medici dynasty.
Physical Attributes: Elizabeth is said to have been very attracted to the Duke, who was much younger than she.
Occupation: Heir and military leader
What He Brings To The Table: Francis was the heir to the French throne, as his brother, King Henry III, did not have any heirs. A marriage between Elizabeth and Francis would have solidified a French-English alliance.
Possible Red Flags: Well, if you're Elizabeth, the fact Francis was Catholic would have been a huge political issue had the marriage gone forward.
What Happened To Him: A few years after Elizabeth decided once and for all she would not marry Francis, he led an ill-advised attempt to take Antwerp by force. He returned home after suffering a humiliating defeat and died about a year later.82287Should've been yes to the dress?
Name: Philip II of Spain
Familial Line: He was the son of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and a member of the powerful Habsburg dynasty.
Physical Attributes: If his portraits are accurate, Philip was a handsome suitor.
Occupation: King of Spain and Portugal
What He Brings To The Table: A marriage to Philip would have united the kingdoms of Spain, Portugal, and England once again.
Possible Red Flags: Philip II only began pursuing marriage with Elizabeth after his wife (Elizabeth’s sister) died. That prospect alone is strange enough, but when you consider Elizabeth’s father did the same thing when he married Catherine of Aragon, it’s no wonder she was wary of this match.
What Happened To Him: After talks of marriage broke down between the two, Philip married the daughter of Henry II of France instead. Throughout the decades that followed, England and Spain were almost constantly in conflict.70287Should've been yes to the dress?
Name: King Eric XIV of Sweden
Familial Line: The House of Vasa
Physical Attributes: Eric was extremely pleased with the portrait Elizabeth commissioned to see what he looked like. Elizabeth, however, was not and ended the courtship after seeing it.
Occupation: King of Sweden
What He Brings To The Table: As Protestants, there were no major religious differences between the couple, one of the key barriers preventing marriages with Elizabeth's other suitors.
Possible Red Flags: Eric became paranoid of treason throughout his rule, leading to a murder that sealed his fate as king.
What Happened To Him: After Elizabeth refused Eric’s hand, the Swedish king sent his brother, Duke John, to press the case. While this was unsuccessful, just seven years later Eric was removed from his throne, imprisoned, replaced, and poisoned by that same brother.42265Should've been yes to the dress?