Monarchy and Matrimony: The Courtships of Elizabeth I. – Review

Monarchy and Matrimony: The Courtships of Elizabeth I. – Review – book reviews

Retha M. Warnicke

Monarchy and Matrimony: The Courtships of Elizabeth I. By Susan Doran. (London and New York: Routledge, 1996. Pp. xii, 279. $29.95.)

In this study of Elizabeth’s courtships, Susan Doran denies that from the beginning of her reign the queen decided she would not marry and argues that she took each suitor seriously. In her famous parliamentary speech of 1559, Elizabeth did voice a preference for celibacy but also admitted an obligation to marry to settle the succession, and, as she grew older, she expressed a wish to secure diplomatic advantages. To support her claims, Doran first casts doubts upon the prevailing theories explaining the reasons for her singleness. The speculation that her negative attitude toward marriage was a psychological reaction to the deaths of her mother and stepmothers remains unproved. Her dislike of clerical marriage was, Doran asserts, more likely rooted in religious conservatism. The feminist argument that Elizabeth wished to avoid the headship of a husband gives way before the understanding that parliament, as it did in her sister Mary’s reign, had the capability of limiting his political power. The requirement of a special mystique of the Cult of the Virgin holds even less validity as it emerged late in her reign, and she could have as easily relied on providential figures from the Bible.

In her analysis of the courtships of Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester; Archduke Charles of Austria; Henry, later king of France; and Francis, duke of Alencon and then Anjou, Doran maintains that Elizabeth was actually committed to marrying Dudley, with whom she was in love, and Anjou. The reasons that both these courtships failed was that her Privy Council remained bitterly divided about these suitors. During the early years of Elizabeth’s reign, Dudley’s courtship created an unstable element in the political life of the kingdom, and later the question of Anjou’s Catholicism and extreme youth similarly caused political tensions. Without a united Privy Council supporting her choice, she was unwilling to marry. The event in her sister’s reign that undoubtedly had the most impact on her decisions was the revolt of Thomas Wyatt, who was reacting to the betrothal of Mary and Philip of Spain.

Why did these suitors fail to gain overwhelming support? Doran claims they had little to recommend them. The French and Austrian candidates were either too young or too committed to Catholicism. Dudley’s obvious self-interest alienated many of Elizabeth’s ministers, including William Cecil. The more minor suitors would cause a financial drain without bringing the status she needed to enhance her own fragile position in royal circles because of her father’s decision to have her declared illegitimate by statutory law.

This well-researched study brings sense and reason to the controversial question of why Elizabeth remained single. The reader is left with the opinion that, when compared to Mary, Queen of Scots, or Mary Tudor, Elizabeth responded to the political and religious needs of her subjects in a more rational way. Her personal wishes and the dynastic needs of her Tudor blood gave way to the claims of the kingdom for security from internal political conflict.

Retha M. Warnicke

Arizona State University

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