|Women and Marriage
In sixteenth-century England,
women of good families were educated in the arts of writing, drawing, reading,
music and dance: all in order to make the women attractive marriage objects.
A woman was supposed to be obedient
and submissive to her father or, after marriage, to her husband, and the
place for women was in the home. The general opinion in the patriarchal
Tudor times was “that it was against the laws of God and Nature for a woman
to hold dominion over men” (Weir 4). Furthermore, it was seen as the “law
of nature” that women under all circumstance should get married, and a
single life was just not an alternative for Protestant women (Weir 42).
Marriage Proposals and Politics
Shortly after Elizabeth’s coronation,
the Commons sent her a formal petition urging her to marry and to name
her successor. Upon the delivery of the petition, the Speaker, Sir Thomas
Gargrave, stated that it would be against the public’s wish if Elizabeth
remained as an unmarried virgin. Amazed by this comment, Elizabeth showed
her coronation ring and declared that she already had a husband: the Kingdom
of England. Moreover, she stated, “Every one of you, and as many as are
Englishmen, are children and kinsmen to me” (qtd. in Weir 44). These early
statements as queen showed that Elizabeth was involved in the fashioning
of her own image as the Virgin Mother to her nation.
Although Elizabeth’s constant declarations about her happiness in leading a single life did stir up some discussions, no one really took her seriously: it was merely a matter of finding a suitable husband. Knowing how to charm her prospects and loving the attention and flirtation, Elizabeth happily played along in the diplomatic wooing game. But it was not merely for her pleasure that she allowed the wooing and flirtations from various European princes: it was part of her political strategy. At this time, England was a rather weak nation with many people living in poverty. Elizabeth realized that her country was an easy target for nations that wanted more control in Europe, such as Spain and France. However, keeping herself marriageable meant that the princes who “competed for her hand” would do nothing to harm England, thus leaving the poor nation in safety with many friendly countries to protect its welfare (Weir 52).
Although Elizabeth took time
to think over each proposal, she could not put off the decisions for too
long; a formal answer to each marriage proposal offered to her was presented
to the Parliament. In February 1559, Elizabeth received a marriage proposal
from Philip, the ruler of Spain and the Netherlands. It took Elizabeth
over a month to respond, due to the fact that she needed the friendship
of Spain in the tripartite peace talks taking place at Cateau-Cambrésis
(Somerset 108). King Philip’s interest in England was to keep the country
close to the Catholic church, and when Elizabeth answered his proposal,
she stated, “she could not marry Your Majesty because she is a heretic”
(qtd. in Weir 61). Although Elizabeth was not a fanatic about religion,
as her Catholic sister Mary had been, she viewed herself as a Protestant.
Elizabeth tried to handle the religious situation in her nation carefully,
and she gave her people a peaceful Protestant substitute for the Virgin
Mary: herself, the Virgin Queen (Crane 88-89). She created the virgin image
by adopting the mediaeval symbols that had signified the virginity
of Mary such as the rose, the ermine, and the moon in her personal iconography.
However, due to the Protestants’ resentment towards the worship of Virgin
Mary, the resemblance between Elizabeth and the virgin could not be emphasized