Monarchy and Matrimony: The Courtships of Elizabeth I

Monarchy and Matrimony: The Courtships of Elizabeth I

Monarchy and Matrimony: The Courtships of Elizabeth I

Monarchy and Matrimony: The Courtships of Elizabeth I

Synopsis

Monarchy and Matrimony is the first comprehensive study of Elizabeth I's courtships. Susan Doran argues that the cult of the 'Virgin Queen' was invented by her ministers, and that Elizabeth was forced into celibacy by political necessity.Doran's detailed examination of the different suits is based on extensive archival research across Europe. Rather than focusing on Elizabeth's personality and image, she views the question within a wider political and religious context. She shows how the question of Elizabeth's marriage was divisive for England, affecting both political life and international relations, and provoking popular propaganda in the form of plays, poetry and paintings.

Excerpt

This book re-opens the question of Elizabeth I’s attitude to marriage and the place of her various courtships in the political and religious history of the reign. Too often in the past, biographers and historians dismissed the queen’s courtships as ‘empty charades’, ‘political dalliance’ or ‘diplomatic games’, which had no chance of success because of her intransigent opposition to marriage. Instead of anachronistically dooming each matrimonial scheme to failure, this work will treat seriously all those marriage negotiations that were taken seriously by Elizabeth and her contemporaries, and place them within the context of court politics, religious developments and international diplomacy in order to assess their historical significance.

Until 1581 Elizabeth’s marriage was a dominant and often divisive political issue in England, and was treated with such importance by contemporaries that it provoked both polemical debate and political unrest. Elizabethan observers realised, even if later commentators have since forgotten, that the final outcome of the courtships was uncertain and could affect the political stability of the realm, determine its religious future, and influence the direction of England’s relations with her neighbours abroad. By focusing on the matrimonial issue, therefore, a new window is opened onto the outlook and concerns of early Elizabethan England. Furthermore, only a detailed examination of the individual courtships can provide a full explanation of why Elizabeth did not marry. Certainly there is very little evidence to support the view, which appears in so many biographies, that from the very beginning of her reign the queen had made a conscious decision to remain unwed either because of her implacable hostility to matrimony or her determination to rule alone.

It is now generally recognised that the story of Elizabeth swearing an oath to follow a life of virginity soon after her accession is little more than a myth. It was based on the version of Elizabeth’s 1559 speech to parliament which first emerged in William Camden’s early seventeenth-century history of the reign. According to Camden, when a small parliamentary delegation presented her with a petition to marry in 1559, the queen responded with the announcement:

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