It could be said that one of the reasons Elizabeth never married was she saw what went on around her. From the time she was born, Queen Catherine pushed aside and died alone, her own mother executed, and so forth. Plus with her supposed affair with Thomas Seymour, she saw in Catherine Parr what can happen to a wife when she sees her husband straying.
It is also said that the man she truly loved Robert Dudley, she could not marry, he was already wed. When his wife died, in 1560, mysteriously a few years later, Dudley was implicated. He was not in attendance at the house, Cumnor Place where she was staying. But it was thought that he ordered her murder, so he could marry the queen. However, it is also assumed that Robert would have been smart enough not to consider or sanction such an act as it would look badly on him and then disrupt any notions he had of marrying Elizabeth.
Another speculation is that the death was ordered by William Cecil who did not want the queen to marry Robert. He was also falling out of favor with Robert rising. He could have ordered it to ruin Robert’s chances and bring himself back to favor, which is what happened. But there is no evidence to prove it. At any rate, Amy was a ill a lot of the time and it is now suspected that she had cancer and porous bones. So she could have really just fallen and broken her neck. On the day of her death, Amy insisted on all of the servants going to a fair, even though it was Sunday. Some say she was also so depressed at being ignored by her husband, that she threw herself down the stairs, committing suicide.
Robert sent someone to the estate to report the circumstances back to him, but he did not attend her funeral.
Although he was cleared, the scandal it would have caused if Elizabeth had married him was too great. He was also the son of Northumberland who had been executed for treason, and he himself had been put in the tower for a short time with the Jane Grey situation.
Upon his proposal of marriage, and that she needed a mate Elizabeth responded with: “I will have here but one mistress and no master.”
For multiple decades Elizabeth was able to play her pursuers and gain alliances and wealth just from the possibility of marriage. This was Elizabeth’s speech to parliament about marriage:
In a matter most unpleasing, most pleasing to me is the apparent Good will of you and my People, as proceeding from a very good mind towards me and the Commonwealth. Concerning Marriage, which ye so earnestly move me to, I have been long since perswaded, that I was sent into this world by God to think and doe those things chiefly which may tend to his Glory. Hereupon have I chosen that kind of life which is most free from the troublesome Cares of this world, that I might attend the Service of God alone. From which if either the tendred Marriages of most Potent Princes, or the danger of Death intended against me, could have removed me, I had long agone enjoyed the honour of an Husband. And these things have I thought upon when I was a private person. But now that the publick Care of governing the Kingdom is laid upon me, to draw upon me also the Cares of Marriage may seem a point of inconsiderate Folly. Yea, to satisfie you, I have already joyned my self in Marriage to an Husband, namely, the Kingdom of England. And behold (said she which I marvell ye have forgotten,) the Pledge of this my Wedlock and Marriage with my Kingdom. (And therewith she drew the Ring from her Finger, and shewed it, wherewith at her Coronation she had in a set form of words solemnly given her self in Marriage to her Kingdom.) Here having made a pause, And do not (saith she) upbraid me with miserable lack of Children: for every one of you, and as many as are Englishmen, are Children and Kinsmen to me; of whom if God deprive me not, (which God forbid) I cannot without injury be accounted Barren. But I commend you that ye have not appointed me an Husband, for that were most unworthy the Majesty of an absolute Princess, and unbeseeming your Wisedom, which are Subjects born. Nevertheless if it please God that I enter into another course of life, I promise you I will doe nothing which may be prejudicial to the Commonwealth, but will take such a Husband, as near as may be, as will have as great a Care of the Commonwealth as my self. But if I continue in this kind of life I have begun, I doubt not but God will so direct mine own and your Counsels, that ye shall not need to doubt of a Successour which may be more beneficial to the Commonwealth than he which may be born of me, considering that the Issue of the best Princes many times degenerateth. And to me it shall be a full satisfaction, both for the memorial of my Name, and for my Glory also, if when I shall let my last breath, it be ingraven upon my Marble Tomb, Here lieth Elizabeth, which Reigned a Virgin, and died a Virgin.
Another of Elizabeth’s suitors was the Duke of Anjou, brother to the King of France. Negotiations went on for about a decade. She nicknamed him her “frog.” It was widely an unpopular choice for her, and also during this time she found out that Dudley had married her cousin, Lettice Knollys, widow of Robert Devereux. Lettice was the daughter of Catherine Carey, who was the daughter of Mary Boleyn. Portraits of Lettice are often confused with Elizabeth. Is it any wonder if he couldn’t have Elizabeth he may have chosen a look alike?
Elizabeth banned her favorite, from court and never again accepted Lettice in court, even nick-naming her, the “she-wolf.” It was also at this time another secret marriage by Robert was brought to light, that of Lady Sheffield. He denied the marriage, but Lady Sheffield had a child, naming him Robert Dudley, in 1573. Lucky for him it could never be proved, since Queen Elizabeth threatened to have him rot in the tower if it had been true.
During her lifetime, Elizabeth would have 26 different marriage proposals to consider, of which about five of the suitors had multiple proposals, and the Duke of Anjou’s would take up about a decade of time. She was proposed to by Philip II, King of Spain, Prince Eric of Sweden, the Archduke Charles (son of Emperor Ferdinand), the son of John Frederic Duke of Saxony, the Earl of Arran, the Earl of Arundel, Sir William Pickering, were among the suitors. Elizabeth’s council was good at stringing the men along while weighing in on their options and taking advantage of what they could.
Here’s a list from http://www.elizabethi.org/
Early Years (1534-1557)
~1534 Duke of Angoulme (third son of Francis I)
~c1542 A Prince of Portugal
~1543 Son of the Earl of Arran
~1544 Prince Philip (Philip II)
~1547 Sir Thomas Seymour
~1552 Prince of Denmark
~1553 Courtenay, Earl of Devonshire
~1554 Philibert Emanuel, Duke of Savoy
~1554 Prince of Denmark
~1556 Prince Eric of Sweden
~1556 Don Carlos (son of Philip II)
As Queen (1558-1584)
~1559 Philip II
~1559 Prince Eric of Sweden
~1559 Son of John Frederic, Duke of Saxony
~1559 Sir William Pickering
~1559 Earl of Arran
~1559 Henry Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel
~1559 Robert Dudley
~1560 King Eric of Sweden
~1560 Adolphus, Duke of Holstein
~1560 King Charles IX
~1560 Henry, Duke of Anjou
~1566 Robert Dudley
~1568 Archduke Charles
~1570 Henry Duke of Anjou~1572- 1584 Francis, Duke of Alencon, later Anjou.
So did Elizabeth have lovers or was she really a virgin? Was Robert Dudley her lover? Elizabeth denies that they were ever anything more than friends. In fact she points out that how could anything circumspect ever happen when she is surrounded by people and eyes are always watching. Although after making that proclamation she said “Although, if I had the will…I do not know of anyone who could forbid me!”
Many of the courtiers of England and foreign princes flirted with her and professed their love. Throughout her life she would encourage them and even entertain them by engaging in similar behavior, yet she would never commit to one person. Her anger at others for loving and marrying proved that she herself was jealous of what she’d forsaken. None of her ladies were allowed to marry without her permission which was rarely granted. In one case, she made the couple wait ten years before granting them leave to wed.