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The Actual Reasons Queen Elizabeth I Never Married

Updated December 18, 2020 57.2k views14 items

With a nickname like "The Virgin Queen," it's no surprise that England's Queen Elizabeth I chose to remain single her entire life. But why did Elizabeth I never marry?

Nothing about Elizabeth's life was conventional. She was born in 1533 to King Henry VIII and his second wife Anne Boleyn. After her mother's fall and execution in 1536, Elizabeth was declared illegitimate and her position became precarious; it was clear that she was never meant to be queen. Instead, she watched as her younger half-brother ruled as Edward VI from 1547, followed by their older half-sister Mary I from 1553. Five years later, it was 25-year-old Elizabeth's turn, as she inherited the crown in 1558 when Mary passed. The once-illegitimate daughter of an executed noblewoman had become queen of England.

Elizabeth's marital decisions were equally unconventional. As a young queen, Elizabeth was under intense pressure to marry. So, who did Queen Elizabeth I marry? No one. Queen Elizabeth I's husband was England. But why did Queen Elizabeth never marry? She had personal and political reasons for doing so, since taking a husband almost certainly would have shaped her rule, whether she wanted it to or not. Though she never lacked suitors, Queen Elizabeth I believed that it was better to go it alone.

  • Photo: Yale Center for British Art / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    At Just 8 Years Old, Elizabeth Declared She'd Never Get Married

    Elizabeth's father Henry VIII ended marriages just as quickly as he arranged them. As a child, Elizabeth witnessed the hazards of these unions: Jane Seymour perished in childbirth, Anne of Cleves was divorced, and Catherine Howard was executed.

    Indeed, Catherine Howard's beheading in 1542 apparently left a deep, unsettling impression on Elizabeth. It prompted the 8-year-old princess to vow, "I will never marry." 

  • Her Stepmother's Husband Almost Cornered Her Into Marriage When She Was A Teenager

    When King Henry VIII passed in 1547, his sixth and final wife Catherine Parr took over the guardianship of 14-year-old Elizabeth. 

    Parr married Thomas Seymour, who then turned his attentions to his wife's teenage stepdaughter. Rumors swirled about Seymour's predatorial interest in the princess, prompting Elizabeth's governess to attest:

    He would come many mornings into the said Lady Elizabeth's chamber, before she were ready, and sometime before she did rise. And if she were up, he would bid her good morrow, and ask how she did, and strike her upon the back or on the buttocks familiarly, and so go forth through his lodgings... and if she were in her bed, he would put open the curtains and... make as though he would come at her. And she would go further into the bed, so that he could not come at her.

    Catherine Parr responded by putting distance between her stepdaughter and her new husband.

    But when Parr passed in 1548, nothing stood between Seymour and Elizabeth anymore. He plotted to make the princess his wife and take power from her half-brother King Edward VI. Seymour's scheme unraveled, however, and he was arrested and executed before he could corner Elizabeth into marriage.

  • She Turned Down Many Suitors Over The Years

    Starry-eyed suitors pursued Elizabeth's hand in marriage for most of her life. When she was still a baby, her father nearly settled on marrying her off to the French Duke of Angoulême, but ultimately decided against it.

    As the young queen of England, Elizabeth became one of the most eligible bachelorettes in Europe. She entertained proposals from courtiers and royals alike, though never entered into a formal engagement. 

    When King Eric of Sweden wanted to try his luck, Elizabeth gently, but firmly, turned him down in 1560:

    And while we perceive therefrom that the zeal and love of your mind towards us is not diminished, yet in part we are grieved that we cannot gratify your Serene Highness with the same kind of affection... We therefore beg your Serene Highness again and again that you be pleased to set a limit to your love, that it advance not beyond the laws of friendship for the present nor disregard them in future.

  • Many Feared Her Sister's Marriage To Philip II Of Spain Brought 'Foreign Influence' To England

    Elizabeth's older half-sister Mary became queen of England in 1553. Mary revived Catholicism in England and, to seal the deal, took a Catholic husband: Philip of Spain.

    The marriage was unpopular in England. Many Protestants feared that Mary's marriage to Philip would irrevocably alter England's religious landscape. Xenophobia in Tudor England was alive and well, too, and many also believed that Philip would exert what historian Alison Weir calls "unwelcome foreign influence" over the kingdom. Concerns over Philip's influence were so intense that they actually led to a short-lived uprising.

    Mary's marriage was a cautionary tale for her younger sister. Elizabeth may have reasoned that it was better to take no royal consort than marry the wrong one.