Susan Doran holds the view that Elizabeth I remained single because her councillors could not agree on a suitable husband for her, and that had they all agreed on a particular suitor it would have been almost impossible for Elizabeth to refuse. This is a greatly debated topic and historians hold many different views; John Starkey argues that she remained single for psychological reasons while Christopher Haigh believes that she did not marry for feminist reasons.
In order to examine whether Elizabeth remained single because the councillors could not agree on a suitable husband it is important to look at all the other possible reasons she did not marry. It can be seen that the most significant reason for Elizabeth’s remaining single was that there was, and could never be, anyone suitable; a foreign monarch would intensify xenophobia within England and would challenge her authority as Queen while an English suitor would not be of royal blood and would cause further issues with the succession.
Therefore, politically, Elizabeth was unable to marry. Doren argues that if the council had united in support of one particular suitor then Elizabeth would not have been able to refuse the marriage, and the council’s inability to agree on a suitor was the reason Elizabeth remained single. Henry VIII had also stated that Elizabeth must have the Privy Council’s support before she married, which left the council with huge power over Elizabeth’s decision.
However, the Privy Council had put huge pressure on Elizabeth to marry and urged her to take a husband in late 1559, which suggests that the Privy Council would have agreed on a suitor had there been someone suitable as they realised the importance of securing a Protestant English throne and the Tudor dynasty, and perhaps it was this lack of a suitable suitor that caused Elizabeth to remain single rather than the council’s ability to agree on a particular candidate.
More evidence to suggest that the council did not have significant influence on this decision can be seen when they could not agree whether or not Elizabeth should marry Aleni?? on and consequently left the decision to Elizabeth. Doren attempts to counter this argument with the theory that Elizabeth was unable to make the decision without the full support of the council as she ‘preferred “consensus” politics to “divide and rule”‘.
However, the idea that Elizabeth would bend to the will of the council on such an important issue is unlikely as she showed herself to dominate over them and disregard their advice on many occasions. This can be seen when council told Elizabeth to remove Mary Queen of Scots from England when she fled from France in 1568, and it was 19 years before Elizabeth finally agreed and had Mary Queen of Scots executed in 1587. It can therefore be deduced that the council did not have significant influence to prevent Elizabeth from marrying a suitable suitor had he come along, or if he could have possibly existed.
Some historians have suggested that Elizabeth remained single as she could not have children and therefore there was little incentive in marriage, as she could not provide an heir anyway. Although, there is evidence that contradicts this theory as Elizabeth was reported to have a regular menstrual cycle by her ladies in waiting. However, as Elizabeth aged she was indeed less likely to have children and it can be seen that perhaps the Aleni?? on marriage, which was perhaps the most likely match, never went ahead as by this time (in the late 1570s) Elizabeth was unable to bear children.
Certainly, this would have had an influence in Elizabeth’s later life as to why she remained single; however, it cannot be viewed as the main reason as it only became a factor after she had refused marriage to over seven suitors. Starkey holds the view that Elizabeth remained single for psychological reasons rather than due to the influence of the council. He suggests that early traumas in Elizabeth’s life, including the execution of her mother and stepmothers after having been accused of adultery by her father, had caused Elizabeth’s aversion to marriage.
Furthermore, during her troubled adolescence she became a sexual victim of the unctuous Lord Thomas Seymour, which caused her to resent men and left her unable to form any emotional relationships with men and was consequently a significant reason for her having remained single. However, Starkey’s argument lacks any solid evidence and the idea that Elizabeth was psychologically scarred from the death of her mother may not have affected her greatly due to the presence of a stable surrogate mother throughout her childhood and the fact that during her mothers’ life they did not have a particularly close relationship.
Nonetheless, Elizabeth often wore her mother’s family crest and continued to hold her father in high esteem, which suggests that she held no resentment to either parent. Furthermore, the conjecture surrounding her relationship with Thomas Seymour may have also have had limited affect on Elizabeth’s feelings toward men as we can see she was able to have emotional relationship with men as seen in the case of Robert Dudley. Larissa Taylor-Smither also attempts to explain Elizabeth’s irrational aversion to marriage by delving into the depths of her psyche.
She suggests that Elizabeth felt ‘maleness matters’ and had she been born a boy she would have retained her fathers affections and ruled unquestioningly at his death. Consequently, Elizabeth adopted masculine qualities in order to rule effectively and this would have made it impossible for her to take a subservient role to her husband. Historians have also used Elizabeth’s attempts to limit clerical marriage and the opposition to the marriage of her courtiers as evidence for her hatred of marriage in general.
However, these theories are merely speculation, as there is no factual evidence to prove that Elizabeth’s antipathy to marriage stemmed from any psychological issue. Elizabeth’s opposition clerical marriage can be explained as having stemmed from her religious conservatism rather than her supposed hatred of marriage, while her disagreement with the marriage of her courtiers can be explained by the simple fact that she liked to maintain the loyalty of her courtiers and remain the centre of their attention.
Therefore, many historians have agreed that Elizabeth’s decision to remain single was a rational response to the political situation she was in as a female monarch. An alternative explanation for Elizabeth having remained single is that it would be paradoxical for her to assume a subservient position to a husband whilst maintaining her political control over her realm. Haigh believes that Elizabeth ‘had refused to be a mere woman, and was not going to be a mere wife’ as she had divine providence.
However, this argument can be counted by the fact that Aylmer’s had stated that Elizabeth was in fact two persons; one private and one public. This allowed Elizabeth’s private self to remain subservient to her husband while her public body would have allowed her to rule over her husband and her country as the rightful monarch with divine providence. This theory of Aylmer’s would have limitations as not everyone held this view, especially foreign suitors for example Archduke Charles who expected to rule England along side Elizabeth and remain so at her death.
Consequently, it can be seen that feminist reasons were rather important in explaining why Elizabeth remained unmarried. The feminist reasons for Elizabeth remaining single are closely linked to the political issues that would have arose had Elizabeth married, and it can be argued that these feminist and political issues ultimately meant that there was and never could be a suitable suitor for Elizabeth’s hand in marriage. Politically, Elizabeth would have had to deal with intensified xenophobia within England had she married a foreign monarch.
Not long before had Elizabeth’s sister Mary had to deal with rebellions among her subjects due to xenophobia as seen in Wyatt’s rebellion, and therefore marriage to a foreigner could have caused significant problems. Marriage to a foreign monarch would have also risked the independence of England and brought to light questions as to whether or not Elizabeth would live in the country of her husband or whether he would become King of England. There would also have been the threat of England being drawn into costly wars as in the case of Mary I and Philip of Spain.
Alternatively, Elizabeth could have married an Englishman. However, there were further political problems with this as it would have increased faction rivalry within her council. Further problems with marrying an English man lie in the fact a child would not have had royal blood and therefore would have been unable to compete with James I for the throne. However, there were options that would have greatly reduced the significance of these problems; the marriage treaty could have been based around that of Mary Tudor and Philip of Spain in 1553 in which Philip was barred from policymaking and patronage.
The Marian precedent meant that it was not necessary for Elizabeth to remain unmarried in order to rule and maintain her political power. However, it can be seen that the Marian precedent did not allow for marriage to a foreigner, as Mary was highly unpopular partly due to her marriage to Philip of Spain, which had weakened her political control; something Elizabeth was not prepared to do. Therefore, political reasons were central to the fact that Elizabeth remained single, rather than solely the influence of the council, as whomever Elizabeth married was unsuitable.
When examining the Elizabeth’s suitors it is clear that none were suitable for various reasons, particularly for political and religious reasons. The English suitors included Henry Fitzlan who Elizabeth refused on the fact that he was a ‘flighty man of no ability’, Willaim Pickering who was handsome and popular at court but not of noble blood, and Robert Dudley. It is believed that Elizabeth was infatuated with Dudley and that he was the love of her life.
In 1579, John Stubbs opposed the Aleni?? on marriage in ‘The Gaping Gulf’, a well-published article. This shows the extent of opposition to any foreign influence and highlights Elizabeth’s predicament as she was unable to marry an Englishman and unable to marry a foreigner. Elizabeth was indeed ‘married to her country’; her countries needs went above her own and whomever she married would be opposed. There was and never could be a suitable suitor for Elizabeth and it is for that key reason that Elizabeth remained single.
It can be seen that all these reasons may have partly influenced why Elizabeth remained single, but the central issue appears to be that there was no one suitable, and never could be, for political, religious and feminist reasons. Therefore it can perhaps be said that Doren is correct in her view that Elizabeth remained single because her councillors could not agree on a suitable husband for her, but because there was no politically suitable suitor rather than due to difference in opinions.