Elizabeth I: Did the Actions of Henry VIII and Thomas Seymour Make Her the Virgin Queen?

by AlexandriaIngham

Elizabeth Tudor never married and is known best as The Virgin Queen. Why did she choose not to marry? Was it because of the actions of Henry VIII and Thomas Seymour?

Elizabeth I is known as “Great Queen Bess” and “The Virgin Queen”. Like Mary I, I believe that the actions of her father had a lot to do with Elizabeth’s personality. Although there were many other factors that were also part of that. Dying a spinster wasn’t due to not being able to find someone – she had opportunities, such as Lord Robert Dudley – but it was a choice.

Elizabeth I knew that her actions would lead to the end of the Tudor dynasty. Unlike her brother and sister, there were no other half-siblings (at least, known legitimate ones). She knew that her actions would leave to the crown passing to her Scottish family – the heir of the cousin she had executed decades before her death. So, it begs the question: why she would do that?

Elizabeth I Married Her Country

Near the end of her life, Elizabeth stated that she had married her people

The coronation of Elizabeth IElizabeth had to have made a conscious decision not to marry and produce an heir. Part of this may have been because she wanted to devote herself to her people – she married her country. There is some logic in this reasoning.

In the 16th century, it was believed that women could not rule. Elizabeth’s half-sister, Mary I, had already proven to struggle and caused uproar with the persecution of 300 Protestants. In fact, Elizabeth and Mary’s half-brother, Edward VI, believed that women could not rule. Edward tried to take Mary and Elizabeth out of the line of succession by placing Lady Jane Grey in power after him. She was to be the only female to rule the country and there were strict rules in place if she did not have a male heir.

Elizabeth I had a lot to prove – and that she did. She needed to make it clear that being female did not make her weak but did that really mean that she could not marry? Did marrying make her weak? One of Elizabeth's reasons was that she had chosen to marry her people. She was dedicated to being the best for them and that meant she couldn't marry anyone else. But was there another reason behind hers?

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How Henry VIII Affect Elizabeth I’s View of Marriage

Henry VIII went through wives quickly and Elizabeth was old enough to understand this by the marriage to Anne of Cleves

Henry VIII was a ruthless man. Elizabeth was two and a half years old when her mother, Anne Boleyn, was executed. While it is unlikely that she remembered the events—and even her mother—she would have grown up hearing all about it. She would have been raised hearing the things that those at court said about Anne, George Boleyn and the other men executed for treason. The stories, along with those of Catherine of Aragon, would have passed around court for years; and the legitimacy of Elizabeth was always questionable after the events of May 1536.

As Elizabeth grew older, she would have seen how her father treated his wives. Elizabeth was old enough to remember the details, especially of Anne of Cleves and Kathryn Howard. She would have seen how quickly they came and went—not to mention how quickly one queen could fall from grace.

All the events that happened possibly affected her trust in men. If one man, who she undoubtedly loved, could treat six wives the way he did, how would someone treat her? She also knew that she was her father’s daughter and may have worried that she would have treated men in a similar way. Henry VIII had gained a reputation for quickly putting his wives to one side; Elizabeth didn’t want the same thing to happen to her—she already had to prove that she was the rightful Queen of England.

Did Anne Boleyn’s and Kathryn Howard’s Executions Lead to Elizabeth Tudor’s Decision?

The fine line that queens always had to walk was difficult but easier if Elizabeth chose not to marry.

Anne Boleyn, mother of Elizabeth TudorAs mentioned, the stories about Anne Boleyn were all over court; not to mention Edward and Mary would have grown up knowing how Anne Boleyn had fallen from grace and was executed. She had also seen, first-hand, how Kathryn Howard had fallen. Like any queen, Anne and Kathryn had a fine line to walk—they had to seen as available and love their subjects but only in love with and truly available to their husband—Henry VIII. Queens of England had that same line.

Just one wrong move would destroy a reputation, as it had with Anne and Kathryn, and Elizabeth didn’t want that to happen to her. She didn’t want the reputation of a woman who was easily led by men—something that her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, gained after her marriage to Lord Darnley. She wanted to prove that she was the ruler of the kingdom.

By entertaining no man when it came to a relationship, Elizabeth prevented any rumours that could spread around the court; rumours that could affect her authority.

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Did the Actions of Sir Thomas Seymour Affect Elizabeth I’s Views of Men?

The psychological damage at 14 would have been enough to turn any woman off men!

Thomas Seymour forced himself on Elizabeth IAfter the death of Henry VIII, Lady Elizabeth Tudor—as she was then known—went to live with her fourth step-mother, Katherine Parr. She and Katherine had the same views on religion and Katherine had already proven to be able to act in the best interests of her step-children. That was until she decided to marry for love shortly after the king’s death. This brought Sir Thomas Seymour well and truly into Elizabeth’s life.

Before this, there were rumours that Seymour wanted to marry Elizabeth and was finding ways to make that happen. It is unclear whether Elizabeth returned any feelings for the man but it is possible. By 1547, Elizabeth was 14-years-old and Thomas Seymour has been described as a tall and well-built man with a dashing beard by David Starkey. While it probably wasn’t love, she may have had a crush on the future husband of her step-mother.

At first, though, nothing happened. It wasn’t until the November of 1547 that Thomas Seymour possibly started to make advances. Katherine Parr had found out she was pregnant with her first child—something that excited both her and Elizabeth—so couldn’t perform her duties as a wife. Thomas looked elsewhere for intercourse and looked back at his wife’s ward.

According to Kat Ashley, Elizabeth’s governess, Seymour would visit her chamber when she wasn’t dressed. He would tickle her and climb into bed with her. There was even a story of Katherine holding her step-daughter down while Seymour cut her clothes off with a sword. Eventually, Elizabeth was sent away but the events would have left lasting memories. Nowadays, psychological help likely be offered and taken after events like this but that wasn’t an option for the teenage Elizabeth. She had to live with it all and it would have skewed her view on men.

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Elizabeth Tudor Grew Up Only Trusting Herself

When you want something done right, do it yourself. That was the same thought that Elizabeth had: there was only herself to trust.

Who best for Elizabeth Tudor to trust than herself?It was clear from an early age that the only person Elizabeth Tudor could trust was herself. Her father’s mood was every-changing. One minute someone was being promoted in royal favour and the next minute executed. Just one wrong move could lead to a loyal subject losing his head. After his death, the one person Elizabeth looked to for protection and a family was Katherine Parr. While that happened for a short time, eventually she was moved on because of Thomas Seymour.

It didn’t seem to get much better afterwards. While Edward VI and Elizabeth shared religious views, he didn’t want her to become Queen of England. Edward viewed her as illegitimate and she was a woman—both factors were against her as queen. When the 15-year-old king choose Lady Jane Grey over Elizabeth as the next heir, Elizabeth had one person left to turn to—her half-sister, Mary.

Of course there was tension between the two, especially for Mary Tudor. However, their differences were put aside and the two rallied the people of England so Jane would lose her crown after just 13 days (nine days after her unofficial coronation). Mary became Mary I of England and Elizabeth was her loyal subject. However, there were many uprisings and attempts to depose Mary in favour of Elizabeth and it led to Elizabeth living most of the next five years in the Tower of London or on house arrest. The last person who could save her locked her away and became an enemy—and enemy she was still loyal too as queen and sister.

Looking at the facts, it is no surprise that Elizabeth I choose to never marry. She had been let down by the people close to her and had a man 25 years older than her practically force himself on her. Her father went through wives quickly, beheading two of them—one of them her own mother! Elizabeth had to prove herself not only has worthy as a woman but that she was a legitimate queen. It made it easier to marry her country than marry a man, despite there being plenty to choose from and continue her grandfather’s and father’s works.

Updated: 09/11/2013, AlexandriaIngham
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JoHarrington on 09/08/2013

When laid out stark like this, it's little wonder that Elizabeth never married. I doubt that I would have either!

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