The marriage debate

4.3 The candidates

There was no shortage of candidates for the hand of the queen of England. From the time of her accession until she reached her late 40s and could no longer be considered capable of childbirth, the queen was the object of a series of marriage proposals and expressions of interest from a range of European royals and a smaller number of domestic candidates. Some of these suitors were quickly dismissed, but there were also several serious contenders for the queen’s hand.

Of course, the issue of the queen’s marriage was not merely a personal one and the significance of the negotiations extended far beyond the question of her personal fate and the issue of the succession. As long as the marriage question remained open Elizabeth’s government had an invaluable tool to aid diplomacy, and it may be suggested that at least some of her dalliances should be seen in this light. The hand of the queen of England was a valuable bargaining tool in the rapidly fluctuating world of European alliances.

Portrait of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester

ACTIVE MUSEUM / Alamy Stock Photo

Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester. Note that, as in the portrait of William Cecil that you saw in unit 2.2, Leicester is wearing a pendant of St George and the Dragon and the Garter insignia is prominently displayed around his crest in the top left-hand corner of the painting.

Individual activity: The candidates for the queen’s hand

Read Williams, pp. 241–2, 246–50, 262–3, 281–5, and Haigh, pp. 15–18, 78–82.

Look up Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, and Elizabeth in the ODNB through Oxref and read the relevant sections of their biographies.

Look at the documentary sources by clicking on this link to the Newberry Library exhibition on Elizabeth.

In your notes, make a list of Elizabeth’s suitors.  What were the pros and cons of each of them as candidates for her hand?

Remember to keep adding key facts, figures and events to your personal notes.