Why did Elizabeth I never get married?
This question has been long pondered by historians.
Many posit that her father’s or – more likely – her mother’s marital experiences put her off the whole idea. Her father – Henry VIII for those who were unsure – married 6 times, but never seemed to find that marital bliss he so obviously, and desperately craved.
Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, married only once, but it didn’t end well – to say the divorce was acrimonious is perhaps a mild understatement. And the way it ended cut off her chances of ever having a successful 2nd marriage, if you get my meaning.
So there were obvious reasons for Elizabeth to remain a spinster her whole life – and who would blame her? Her father was a serial monogamist and her mother was a head short because of this, poor woman.
However, new evidence has come to light to suggest that the reason Elizabeth never married was because she already was – married, that is.
Why didn’t we know this?
We all know secret marriages come to light eventually, and usually at the most inconvenient times. It doesn’t usually take 500 years.
But we all know Elizabeth was clever and she had ample experience, within her own family, of how secret marriages could cause considerable – shall we say – ‘fallout’?
Elizabeth’s own great-grandfather, Edward IV, secret married Eleanor Butler, before he scandalously, secretly married Elizabeth Woodville. This led to no one knowing who he was actually married to and his sons running away to Burgundy, playing the longest-ever recorded game of ‘hide and seek’.
Luckily the wonderful Richard III stepped into the breach and saved the country from utter anarchy. Nonetheless, to this day no one is really sure who Edward was married to and the question regularly causes ‘fisticuffs’ on Facebook’s reputable history pages.
And if that wasn’t enough of an example for Elizabeth, there was the one of step-mother no.2 – sorry, no – it was stepmother no.3.
(It’s so confusing, haven’t a clue how Henry managed to keep up with so many wives – maybe that’s why the last 2 were called Catherine? But that’s another story…)
So, yes, stepmother no.3 (no.4 for Mary Tudor, of course, and no.2 for Prince Edward), the unfortunate Catherine Howard who ‘forgot’ she had married (or promised to marry, at least) Francis Dereham – until he reminded her. Sadly, Catherine was already married to Henry when she inconveniently remembered her first wedding.
Henry didn’t take kindly to being 2nd.
In a fit of pique, Henry lopped off her head and introduced Elizabeth to stepmother no.4 (no.5 for Mary Tudor and no.3 for Prince Edward), Katherine Parr.
And what does all this mean? Well, if Elizabeth was ever going to get married secretly, she wasn’t going to tell anyone – ever!
But there was a secret marriage – apparently.
So there was I the other day, minding my own business, sitting in Costa Coffee, drinking a cappuccino (with chocolate sprinkles, of course) and reading. I think I was reading The other Boleyn Girl, by that excellent historian whose name quite escapes me for the moment.
Anyway, this chap came and sat on the next table, looked over to me and smiled. Then he looked round, leaned over and went ‘pssstttt!’. He had to do this a good few times before I stopped deliberately ignoring him.
I looked at him.
He whispered, behind his hand ‘I know a secret about her daughter’, nodding to the book in my hands.
‘Who? The writer?’ I replied, with a bemused (I hoped, rather than scared) look on my face.
‘No, the queen, Elizabeth. She was married you know. None of this Virgin Queen stuff is true, she was well and truly married.’
‘Who are you? How do you know?’ I asked., still not falling for it. Then he said something that totally made me trust him.
‘Oh, I’m Bishop Stillington, from Bath – and Wells. I have a letter. I found it in the attic. From Elizabeth to her husband.’
‘Really?’ I asked. I was totally drawn in. It had to be true. How could you not believe or trust a man with the name Bishop Stillington? Well, if he was lying, I wouldn’t be the first one to have been taken in by him, would I?
‘Do you want to see it?’
‘See what?’ I asked, bemused and not a little discomfited.
‘The letter – I can show it to you’ Bishop Stillington replied. ‘You’ll have to meet me….’
So, the meet was set up. I’m meeting Stillington behind the bike sheds on Tuesday at 10.30 am – to see the letter (I hope, gulp!).
Look out for my update.
Yours truly, Jeff R Sun (looking forward to Tuesday with trepidation)
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Photos taken from Wikipedia
Sources: The Other Boleyn Girl, by Philippa Gregory; Eleanor the Secret Queen by John ‘eye-roll’ Ashdown-Hill; I, Elizabeth by Rosalind Miles; The Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George; Carry on Henry VIII; The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn by Robin Maxwell.