Friday, November 14, 2008

Question from Angie - Elizabeth's virginity

Okay, we all know that Elizabeth I was called the virgin queen. I am going to assume the title was Tudor terminology for one who never married, because now I hear that she may not, in actuality, have been a virgin. Since they didn't have birth control back then, how could this even be possible? You'd think that with the numerous sexual relations she was said to have, she's bound to become pregnant, and somebody would've noticed it sooner or later. Any thoughts?

Related threads:
http://tudorhistory.org/queryblog/2008/09/question-from-hilary-tudor.html

http://tudorhistory.org/queryblog/2008/01/question-from-lyra-henry-viiis-children.html

11 comments:

PhD Historian said...

Birth control methods, some of them remarkably effective, did exist during the Elizabethan era. So it is entirely possible that any woman could have had sexual relations without becoming pregnant.

For my own part, I find it exceedingly difficult to accept that Elizabeth died a true sexual virgin. With her known extreme "fondness" for a succession of male "favorites," I simply cannot believe that she never had sexual relations.

Diane said...

No one will ever know for sure, but I believe she stayed a virgin and unwed because of her fear of childbirth rather than submitting to a husband's authority. Elizabeth lived through the miscarriages of her mother and saw how they affected her parents, then the loss of her unborn brother caused Henry VIII to execute the woman he'd once sworn undying love for. Then Jane Seymour died after having a son and Catherine Parr after having a girl. Her sister Mary then had a false "pregnancy" which caused her death also. Elizabeth also had the example of Catherine Howard and her own experience with Thomas Seymour as to how dangerous and frightening sex could be. I don't think she'd willingly submit herself to any man because of these fears and if she wasn't a virgin it was because she'd been raped.

djd said...

As stated, no one will ever know for sure. Elizabeth was a very passionate woman. I agree that it is hard to believe she died a true virgin, but perhaps she and her "favorite" had enough other means of obtaining sexual satisfaction that remaining a virgin was possible....who knows. Elizabeth was too young to have watched and comprehended her mother suffering through miscarriages, though I'm sure she heard about it. With maternal and infant mortality rates as they were back then, I can see why a queen like Elizabeth would avoid pregnancy at all costs. I often think about what her inner stuggles were....weighing the burden of her kingdom's expectation that she produce an heir to the throne against her fears and guilt about not wanting to produce this heir. I'm sure it caused her many sleepless nights.

Kelly said...

i agree with djd and phd historian.

Kelly said...

i read that she didn't have her course so if she didn't she could have had sex.

GarethR said...

I'm afraid I have to agree with the majority of Elizabeth's biographers and conclude that in all probability she did in fact die a virgin, in the technical sense of the word. I'm not sure why the original poster seemed so confident in taking the ridiculous rumours of Elizabeth's "numerous" sexual relationships seriously. Aside from the child abusesque relationship she endured with Thomas Seymour in 1547-8 and the possibility of something with Robert Dudley in the late 1550's and early 1560's, there is really no evidence that Elizabeth - a famous snob and a mistress of the art of sexual politics - would ever have taken the enormous risks of threatening her prestige as queen by regularly having sex. Aside from the psychological reasons (the huge difference between a male monarch sleeping with someone lower down the social ladder vs. a female monarch doing do; the effect of her mother and Catherine Howard etc.) there is also the practicalities of the scenario. None of Elizabeth's ladies-in-waiting ever expressed the opinion that she was promiscuous, as those who served Catherine Howard did. Without the consent of the (gossipy) ladies-in-waiting, the never-unattended queen could not have had regular access to a lover. In a world where gossip was everything and the eyes of royal attendants the most powerful ingredient to gossip, I'm afraid I'd have to be "boring" and say it's far more likely that Elizabeth did in fact die a virgin as claimed.

kb said...

I come down more on the same side as phd historian. Although I am willing to concede that perhaps she had 'everything but' sexual relations leaving her a technical virgin.

I am less and less enamored with the idea that Elizabeth was psychologically put off pregnancy. Her best friend and cousin had 14 children while still serving at court. And she was not the only one having babies in the immediate vicinity. So there were far more examples of healthy pregnancies and births than fatal ones in her experience.

Merlin said...

I love this site! Only just discovered it..

Personally, I suspect Elizabeth remained technically a virgin. I think she was too cautious to risk it (and I also think she would have found it too psychologically terrifying). Having said that, I suspect she and Robert Dudley, at least, found ways of achieving sexual satisfaction with each other (just as Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII obviously did during the 6 years it took him to free himself of his first marriage).

Nancy said...

I agree with those who think she was technically a virgin but likely allowed certain favors up to a certain point, and with Robert Dudley only. Wasn't there supposed to be significance to her bequeathing a large sum of money to Dudley's manservant, "who sleeps with him," when she was thought to be dying of the pox in the 1560s?

Also, I think fundamentally she was an honorable woman who would not have lived a lifetime of braggadocio and lies about this; and she was religious in a religious age. Would she really have lied about virginity endlessly, knowing God's judgment awaited her?

And of course, the lack of privacy among waiting women was another thing. And the whole dad-chopped-off-mom's-head thing ... it goes on and on.

Sarah said...

I agree with Diane and think she probably did remain a virgin and that this was because of Psychological reasons. She could have been put of the idea of marriage by watching her older sister Mary's heartbreak, with her marriage she thought would give her joy but didnt, and the pregnancy that wasnt.Also, because of what had happened to all of her stepmothers, she probably thought it wasnt a good idea! This issue is explored more thougroly in Alison Weirs, Lady Elizabeth, which explores her relationship with Thomas Seymour, which was a scandel at the time.

hannahbuescher said...

"This issue is explored more thougroly in Alison Weirs, Lady Elizabeth, which explores her relationship with Thomas Seymour, which was a scandel at the time."

This statement is an issue because although Ms. Weir writes spectacular non-fiction, "Lady Elizabeth" is most definitely fiction.

I'm of the mind that she was not a virgin. I feel it likely that her relationship with Thomas Seymour was consummated, and possibly with others. I find it most likely that if any other relationships were consummated, it would be Dudley or Essex; she was young and impressionable with Dudley and older and past menopause with Essex, therefore the pressure was off.

I do believe that she was genuinely scared of the implications of marriage.