Friday, December 14, 2012

Question from Amber - Elizabeth choice to become "The Virgin Queen"

Almost four years ago I did a high school senior project on Anne Boleyn, and I received such wonderful help from this website. Now, as a senior in college and soon to graduate (in May with a degree in Secondary English Education), I have taken a graduate level course on Renaissance Literature and for my final project I had studied the psychology behind Elizabeth I and her given name The Virgin Queen. I have spent hours in the library, printed articles, and have studied literature that depicts Queen Elizabeth. However, I'm interested in really finding out the impact of Elizabeth's life on her decision to become The Virgin Queen. I know that even today our life experiences as children and teenagers can impact the choices of our adulthood. I guess what I'm looking for is some supporting evidence that through the events of Elizabeth's life (four step-mothers, unsettling experiences with Thomas Seymour, being put in the tower by Mary, etc.) would have impacted her psychologically in some sense. I'm really not asking this for my project, but this project has sparked an immense, sincere interest in learning about Elizabeth's choice to be The Virgin Queen.

I'm really curious in any possible responses, and greatly appreciate them.



PhD Historian said...

One thing you may want to look at is the legal status of married women in Tudor England, and the contemporary debate over the extent to which that status was thought to apply even to queens regnant. For example, while a married woman might own property, control over that property was vested entirely in her husband. That is, a married woman could not buy and sell even her own property without permission from her husband. A married woman could not sue or be sued in court, nor could she give testimony in court. And the list goes on. Many political theorists of the era assumed that these restrictions applied to queens regnant as well. Consider that when Mary Tudor first sought to wed, it was assumed at the outset that Philip would be a King Regnant ... co-ruler with Mary, with all the powers and prerogatives of the English and Irish Crowns, even though he was not himself a proper claimant to those crowns except through his future wife Mary. It was also assumed at the outset that if Mary pre-deceased Philip (as indeed she eventually did), he would continue to rule as sole monarch during his own lifetime. Further, because women with a living husband were legally barred from making a will, it was also assumed that the English and Irish crowns would pass to Philip’s eldest child rather than to any child of Mary and Philip (Philip already had a son, Carlos, by a previous wife, Maria Manuela of Portugal). In essence, the Tudor dynasty would end with Mary, or so it was feared, and the Habsburgs would become the ruling dynasty in England and Ireland. Concern over that likelihood was SO great that Parliament passed specific and unique legislation to limit Philip’s title, to limit his role in government, to prevent him remaining as king after Mary’s death, and to prevent his pre-existing children from inheriting the realms of England and Ireland.
Elizabeth no doubt feared a similar situation. Should she marry, and whether her husband was English or a foreign prince, she faced the possibility of loss to her husband of her own power as rightful Queen of England and Ireland. New legislation would have been required, similar to that passed in relation to Philip. But might Elizabeth’s putative husband find loopholes and eventual support to circumvent any legislated limits on his power? That might have been easy for an English husband to accomplish, certainly. Given the prevailing social, cultural, and legal attitudes toward married women, Elizabeth very probably had legitimate reason to fear being “sidelined” were she to marry, and this undoubtedly played a significant part in her refusal ever to marry.

Marilyn R said...

Hello Amber,
So glad that your Tudor studies have proved to be rewarding.

PhD has pipped me to the post here, as I too was going to suggest you look at Elizabeth’s fear of being sidelined in favour of a husband in a world ruled by men, and that the word ‘virgin’ be interpreted as her intention to remain an independent single woman in charge of her own life – as far as that was possible in her exalted position.
Yes, the circumstances of her upbringing must have conditioned her to be wary of what a husband could be capable of, and made her aware of what the law permitted him to do, but she also was an incredibly intelligent and strong woman in an almost unique position that a woman such as she would have relished. She had survived so much to be where she found herself at the age of 25, so would she ever have risked losing her power and authority to a man who, let’s be honest, in an arranged marriage was hardly likely to be her grand passion? And, who could she have married? Mary Queen of Scots would also have presented a cautionary tale.
I see Elizabeth I as being a unique ‘career woman’ who was at the very top of her profession from a young age, and fully intended to stay there. A job share was never on her agenda.

shtove said...

Meh. I don't go for post-hoc psychologics.

PhD and Marily R are really arguing about property law.

A dull and complex subject, although it has ideology and politics that repeat in a long historical pattern. Nothing especially to do with the Tudors.

If you want to study Tudor women and the inheritance of wealth, I reckon Bess of Hardwick is the best subject

But the most interesting thing is: the origin and significance of the phrase Virgin Queen. I'm sure Starkey etc have already expressed a view.

Marilyn R said...

I wasn't arguing about property law, but merely suggesting that in a man's world Elizabeth could easily becaome sidelined, being 'only' a woman and all that. I was thinking about contemporary attitudes towards gender, rather than legalities of any sort.

PhD Historian said...

Like Marilyn R, I too was attempting to highlight Tudor-era attitudes toward women, attitudes so strong that they had been codified in law.
I might also point out that the case of Bess of Hardwick is entirely different. She was married and widowed. Widows had far more social power and legal rights than did unmarried women. Bess also engaged in a series of legal disputes with her Talbot husband over how he managed her estates ... clear evidence that she did not have full control over her own property while married. Legalities may be "dull and complex", but they are also extremely useful in identifying social and cultural attitudes.

Mary R said...

I agree with Marilyn R and PhD Historian about Elizabeth's political reasons for staying single. Why would she want to give up, or risk giving up, even a modicum of her power?

Remember, though, that by remaining single, Elizabeth got to remain the "Belle of the Ball" forever. She enjoyed dancing and flirting and the attentions of her male courtiers.

She also threw a hissy fit anytime one of her favorites got married; and while she forgave Robert Dudley, she was not so forgiving of his bride, Lettice Knollys)

Had she married, all her fun would have come to an end!

Anonymous said...

Another factor in her decision to stay single could be the dangers of childbirth ... something brought home to her by the fates of both Jane Seymour and Katherine Parr. I can't recall where I read it, but childbirth was one of the (if not the) leading cause of death for women of the correct age.


kb said...

I doubt fear of death from childbirth played a significant part in Elizabeth's childless state. Several of her best friends had multiple successful birthing experiences. Her close friend Katherine Carey Knollys gave birth to 14 children - all while serving the queen as a lady-in-waiting. Anne Morgan, Baroness Hunsdon gave birth to 12 children. Her husband was the queen's closest non-royal blood relative. Lady Mary Dudley Sidney had seven children. Frances Newton, Lady Cobham had eight children. There are many, many more. The notion that the childbirth related deaths of Jane Seymour and Katharine Parr imprinted a psychic fear on Elizabeth against childbirth is a post-Freudian hypothesis. Especially as the women closest to her kept popping out children without dying. Elizabeth acted as godmother to several of these children. I tend to agree with PhD Historian and Marilyn R that the reasons she chose to stay unmarried had more to do with politics and power.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a historian, but I do read a lot of history, and I do have a Psychology degree. It is fun to play Monday quarterback of course, but I have always thought it useful to consider what we now know about the stages of child/adolescent development, specifically formation of relationships/sexuality with the ages and experiences that Elizabeth may have had during her life. I agree that her strong personality, brilliance and satisfaction from ruling were probably the main motivatations (politics & power) but I cannot completely ignore that her long dance affair with Dudley and Essex and others, may not have a bit more going on below the surface. I think there is an argument to be made that loss of her mother, uncertainty of her living circumstances, inconsisent, even in some ways sociopathic parenting by her father, would have left deep and lasting trust and intimacy issues...