|Marriage and the Welfare of England
One of the main problems that Elizabeth and her Parliament saw in accepting a marriage proposal by a foreigner was that he would surely put his own interests before the welfare of England. With bad memories of the marriage between Mary and Philip of Spain, the English people were rather reluctant to accept a foreigner on the throne (Weir 46). Although Elizabeth’s political power could be preserved to a certain degree as she married, it was no security against her husband’s proceedings as king (King 37). Even a queen had to be obedient to her husband, and Elizabeth was not about to give up her independence and power for anyone.
Still, Elizabeth kept on receiving marriage proposals
from abroad, and though she controlled her courtly wooers well, the conclusion
was that each one of the suitors had personal or political liabilities,
and frankly, she never had the intention to marry at all. After her refusal
to marry Philip, Elizabeth’s next marriage proposal came from the Habsburg
Emperor, Ferdinand I, who offered Elizabeth his bachelor son, the Archduke
However, a Protestant king who had wooed Elizabeth
since she was a young woman was King Erik of Sweden. But, since they were
both the head of their nations, Elizabeth simply stated that it was not
reasonable for either of them to leave their kingdoms in order to get married.
She certainly had no intention of leaving her baby, England, under any
circumstances (Weir 66). Many people thought that, in order to avoid having
a foreigner controlling England, including the problems connected with
accepting a king of different religion, Elizabeth should marry a Protestant
Englishman. But like a mother who does not want to favor one child over
another, Elizabeth worried that there would be grave discontent and jealousy
between the nobles if she choose one of her subjects as her husband.
In October of 1562, when England was in the middle of a war with France, Elizabeth fell ill with the often fatal disease of smallpox. After less than a month, the queen was on the way to recovery, but during her illness, the Council had thought about the situation England would be left in if Elizabeth passed away. Thus new demands for her marriage and the naming of a successor fell upon Elizabeth (Somerset 155). A petition reached Elizabeth from the Houses of Lords and Commons, and as a response, she stated that as she was recovering from her sickness she still cared more about her subjects’ well being than her own. She also argued that naming a successor was not an easy task, given that she did not want England to fall into the wrong hands, as had happened when her sister Mary was at the throne. She concluded by explaining that even though many queens might come after her days were over, they would not be as “natural mother than I mean to be unto you all” (qtd. Weir 138). The facts that many women were subject to early menopause and a high rate of death in childbed contributed to the view that Elizabeth, at this time thirty years old, started to be too old to have children. Since Elizabeth had failed to choose a husband, the parliament stated that a successor was all they asked for. To this remark Elizabeth heatedly replied that “she was no less capable of childbirth than Saint Elizabeth, to whom God sent offspring despite her advanced years” (King 40).
Impressed by the queen’s rhetoric, the parliament
regained new hope that Elizabeth would finally marry and give birth to
an heir. Elizabeth felt the pressure increase as Mary Stuart, the queen
of Scots, became a widow and now was actively searching for a new husband.
Since many people hoped that Mary would
one day become queen of England, Elizabeth carefully watched Mary’s marriage
negotiations. To ensure that Mary did not take a husband who would be unfriendly
to England, Elizabeth even suggested that Mary should take Dudley as her
husband. Instead, in 1565, Mary fell in love with Elizabeth’s young second
cousin, Darnley, married him without Elizabeth’s consent, and gave birth
to a son, James, one year later (Somerset 174).
The Last Proposal
In the beginning of 1570, religious instability led to conspiracies against the crown of England, and the anonymous leaders of the rebellion turned out to be Norfolk and Mary Stuart. In the midst of this turmoil, Elizabeth received another marriage proposal from France, this time from Charles IX’s brother, the Duke of Anjou. Catherine de Medici once again hoped to persuade Elizabeth to marry one of her sons, and the main reason was that France needed England’s alliance against Spain. Due to the political advantages, Elizabeth started the negotiations. However, the Duke himself was not too eager to marry Elizabeth, and controversy arose about their different religions and more importantly regarding the Duke’s bisexuality (Somerset 217). Amazingly enough, Catherine de Medici did not give up when the negotiations broke off, and she now offered Elizabeth her youngest son, the Duke of Alençon. This was the last offer that Elizabeth considered, and even though no actions were taken to accept the proposal for years, in 1579, she seriously considered the idea of marrying Duke Alençon. Nevertheless, as the proposal was about to be accepted, her subjects started to worry. The main reason why Elizabeth should marry in the first place was so that she could produce an heir, but now she was forty-six years old and conception was not likely to happen. Even if Elizabeth would become pregnant, the risk of death in childbed was high (Somerset 310-311). Thus in 1582, it was decided that Elizabeth was not to marry the Duke of Alençon, and what had seemed to be endless pressure on Elizabeth to get married now ended.
Consequently, Elizabeth managed to rule England alone
and with an iron fist: through her diplomacy and gift of rhetoric, she
continued leading a single life in sixteenth-century pro-marriage England.
Yet she never looked upon herself as childless. On several occasions she
stated that she was the mother of all Englishmen. In her “Golden Speech”
to Parliament in 1601, Elizabeth stated, “There will never Queen sit in
my seat with more zeal to my country, care to my subjects and will sooner
with willingness venture her life for your good and safety than myself”
(“Selected Speeches”). Elizabeth turned England into one of Europe’s most
powerful nation and gave her people a stable government. After her death
in 1603, when James XI of Scotland became James I of England, the English
people would, with sentimental feelings, look back at the time when Elizabeth
was their Queen Mother and remember her as Good Queen Bess (Somerset 488).