Queen Elizabeth I- Virgin Mother of England
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 Elizabeth I - Picture Galleryobedient 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). 
    These strong feelings towards women and marriage were enforced at all levels of society. Thus, when the unmarried Elizabeth I became the queen of England, one of the main concerns of the Commons was that she should marry as soon as possible (Weir 43). Not only was the thought of a woman ruler unbearable to many, but another reason for marriage was that the English people needed, or thought they needed, an heir. 
    Playing on her femininity, Elizabeth portrayed herself as a member of the weaker sex, but even though the general belief was that women lacked “manly” physical and intellectual qualities, Elizabeth emphasized that she was a special woman because God had chosen her to be a queen (Hibbert 66). Elizabeth’s actions throughout her reign were concentrated on the health and well being of England, and she nurtured her country as a mother nurtures her child. Elizabeth’s “misfortune,” or rather unwillingness to find a suitable husband, made it possible for her to nurture her image as the Virgin Queen, Mother of England. 

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.
    In a formal response to the Parliament, Elizabeth acknowledged that she was foremost a servant of God and would marry if He so wished. She continued to assure them that whoever her future partner would be, he would have to care as much for England and its citizens as she did. However, if God kept her on the path of single life, then “this should be me sufficient, that a marble stone shall declare that a Queen, having reigned such a time, lived and died a virgin” (qtd. in Weir 44). It was after this statement that Elizabeth started to promote the image as the Virgin Queen, which she would use to her advantage throughout her reign. Her subjects embraced the idea that Elizabeth not only ruled with godly powers but also, somehow, was divine herself, and thus the mysticism about Elizabeth’s image started (Hibbert 67).

    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 More Pictures of Virgin Maryvirginity 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 too much.