How Elizabeth I Unwittingly Handed Over The English Throne To Foreign Rulers

Known in history as the virgin queen for her refusal to get married and have children, Elizabeth I's reign was considered one of the most important era in European monarchy.

She transformed England into one of Europe's major economic powers and ushered the country into the Golden Age. She reigned for 44 years and was the last monarch of the House of Tudor.

Elizabethan Age

Queen Elizabeth I was the only child of King Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn. She was only two years old when her mother was beheaded due to the accusation of High Treason.

The period in which she reigned was called the Elizabethan Age where England attained a status as superpower. The country during her reign flourished in trade, politics and arts.

Despite the volatile period of her reign and constant threats of political division, religious conflicts and power struggle, Queen Elizabeth I displayed qualities of leadership considered unique and extraordinary for a woman in the middle ages.

Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn

Though it was speculated that the intention of King Henry VIII to divorce his first wife, Queen Catherine, was to marry Anne Boleyn, it was his obsessive desire to have a male heir, however, that fueled his desire to remarry.

The House of Tudor was born out of the ashes of Wars of the Roses, a civil war that was triggered due to succession dispute, and Henry did not want to repeat the same succession crisis. He wanted a male heir to ensure stability in the kingdom.

However, Anne Boleyn only provided him with a female heir. Elizabeth.

Realizing Anne's inability to beget another child, and coupled with her erratic behavior that clashed with the court ministers, he had her beheaded in the Tower of London.

Henry VIII finally got his wish to have a male heir when his third wife, Jane Seymour, bore him a son, the future Edward VI. But Edward was sickly, less than six years into his reign, at only 15 years old, he died from an illness.

He was briefly succeeded by his cousin, Lady Jane Grey, within nine days, Grey and her husband, Guilford Dudley, were arrested, imprisoned and beheaded seven months later.

Henry VIII's only surviving child with Queen Catherine ascended the throne as Mary I. She did not have any child with her marriage to the future King Philip II of Spain. When she died, the English throne passed to her half-sister, Elizabeth.

Queen Elizabeth I brilliantly fashioned herself as the glittering symbol of national identity and pride. A legacy that immortalized her memory. And considered her a resolute ruler.

One of her first actions during her reign was to re-establish the Church of England through the Elizabethan Religious Settlement in which she was the Supreme Governor.

 In political aspect, she was more moderate than her father but she upheld her authority to make crucial decisions. The English victory against the Spanish Armada, the fleet of 130 ships instigated by King Philip II of Spain to invade England and overthrow her, was one of the greatest military victories in English history.

Looking back at history, many would agree that it was not Henry VIII's much desired son who ushered England to greatness, but it was the daughter from a queen he first sent to the block.

Rising to power in a patriarchal era

Queen Elizabeth I reigned in a period dominated by kings. And she made sure her gender would not be a threat of instability in the kingdom as what her father had always feared.

She provided an extraordinary model of a female authority in which her half-sister, Queen Mary I, failed to achieve. 

Some historians depicted her as a short-tempered and indecisive ruler and had a monstrous streak towards her enemies. She accused her royal cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, of High Treason and had her beheaded.

However, it was her refusal to settle down and provide the throne with direct heirs that marred her legacy, Within years after her death, King Henry VIII's fear of succession dispute became a reality.

The myth of the Virgin Queen

The cult of Queen Elizabeth I as the Virgin Queen became an obsessive adventure of research among historians. Many have attempted to unveil the real reason of her refusal to settle down but none came close to a fact.

The reason why she refused to get married bore so many speculations, including sexual trauma, fear of losing power, and unrequited love, however it remained a myth as centuries passed.

During her reign, the issue of when she will get married became a grave national concern. Not only was the dynastic succession of the House of Tudor in danger but the fear of returning to Catholicism seemed imminent.

The next in line was Queen Mary of Scots, daughter of Henry VIII's older sister, Princess Margaret. The Scottish monarch was a Catholic and she was regarded as a nightmare threat among the English protestants.

With this scenario, English ministers scrambled to find ways how to convince Elizabeth I to get married and provide the kingdom with direct heirs.

Several suitors attempted to ask her hand for marriage but negotiators became impatient when the Queen refused to give her nod to any of the proposal. The last attempt was made by Francis, Duke of Anjou, 22 years her junior. 

However, there was at least one name that could have been the Queen's choice.

Robert Dudley, brother of Lord Guilford Dudley, the husband of the nine days Queen of England, Lady Jane Grey. He was a childhood friend of Queen Elizabeth I and suspected to be the love of her life and the only man she wanted to settle down with.

But Dudley was unpopular among the English ministers and nobles due to his father's involvement in the succession chaos following Edward VI's death.

John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland, was an ambitious man who helped devised a plan to invalidate the claims of Mary and Elizabeth to the throne and put Lady Jane Grey as Edward VI's successor.

He also let Lady Jane Grey married his son, Guilford, to yield more power in the kingdom. When the couple beheaded following Queen Mary I's accession to the throne, the Duke of Northumberland was also executed.

This ugly family reputation tainted Robert Dudley's image to become the consort of Elizabeth I. The Queen, however, did not share her ministers antipathy towards Dudley. In fact, she made him 1st Earl of Leicester and a member of her Privy Council.

By 1560, Dudley was ready to marry the Queen when his wife died from a fatal fall, however, her ministers made it clear that the entire parliament was against with the marriage. 

They proposed names of other suitors instead. Elizabeth, however, refused. And many suspected her choice of a husband was only Dudley, but aware with the fact that the welfare of the kingdom and loyalty of her ministers should be the priorities over her personal happiness.

Seeing no chance of marrying the Queen, Robert Dudley remarried in 1578. Elizabeth's obvious displeasure was evident. She was said to have harbored a lifetime resentment toward Dudley's second wife. 

Dudley remained the Queen's center of emotional life until his death in 1588.

Fear on possible succession crisis

When she became gravely ill of smallpox, the issue of marriage became a heated discussion in the parliament again. They convinced her to at least name a possible successor to avoid a succession crisis. Elizabeth refused.

Tired convincing her to get married or name her successor, senior ministers began devising plans in secret to prevent a possible succession problem and to prepare what time has to offer ahead.

One of her close advisers, Robert Cecil, secretly negotiated with King James VI of Scotland, son of Queen Mary of Scots.

Cecil began a coded negotiation with James VI and advised him to make peace with Elizabeth. It was not known how James re-established connection with his distant cousin but the English ministers made it clear there was no other option to whom the English throne would be given in the event the childless Elizabeth will die.

Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I

In February 1603, following a period of melancholy and emotional stress due to the death of her closest friends, the Queen fell ill and died on March 24, 1603 at Richmond Palace. She was 69 years old.

Upon her death, her senior ministers proclaimed James VI of Scotland as James I of England. It paved the way for the personal union of England and Scotland, forming the geographical name of Great Britain.

She was buried next to the tomb of her half-sister, Queen Mary I, at Westminster Abbey, on April 28, 1603.

James I began the reign of the House of Stuart in the British throne. Though he was enthusiastically welcomed by the English at the start of his reign, fascination waned in later years. 

Instability ensued, culminating in the Glorious Revolution where his grandson, King James II, was deposed by anti-Catholic English ministers, and barred all the Stuart descendants who were Catholics from succeeding the British throne.

Elizabeth's Legacy

Years after her death, the cult of her personality was celebrated, creating a legacy of a heroine that ushered England to the golden age, a symbol of female authority in power, regal magnificence and national pride.

However to some, she was regarded as selfish and irresponsible for refusing to provide the kingdom with direct heirs, unwittingly giving away the English throne to foreign rulers.

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