Unfortunately for many queens, princesses and other royals that made up the social elite, women’s rights weren’t much of a hot topic in the 1500s. While kings faced ridicule for lacking a plentiful circle of beautiful mistresses with an unquenchable desire for sex, queens were expected to be the epitome of innocence. Although many iconic queens went on to say, “Screw it!” (quite literally) and took lovers of their own, no story of scandalous love is as interesting as that of Queen Elizabeth I. On this edition of Royal Tea we will be discussing the Virgin Queen’s infatuation with her favorite suitor, who had one particularly disastrous imperfection: he was married.
First of all, we should briefly discuss Queen Elizabeth’s father, King Henry VIII, who is famous for switching wives like songs played through an aux cord. Following Henry’s frustration with Catherine of Aragon’s inability to produce a male heir and his infatuation with Anne Boleyn, he fought with the Catholic church in a fit of son-hungry rage. Sadly, for poor Anne Boleyn, the gender coin toss was not in her favor, and much to Henry’s growing irritation, she gave birth to the future Queen Elizabeth on September 7, 1533. Henry remained bitter about marrying wives who couldn’t bare sons (as if it was solely their fault!) until Jane Seymour, his third wife, gave birth to Edward VI on October 12, 1537. In an ironic twist, both Mary I (Henry’s first daughter) and Edward VI would croak before their shot at being successful leaders, leading the way for Elizabeth I to establish herself as the (last) and most influential Tudor.
Now, on to the scandal. It’s important to note that in the 1500s, giving birth to a male heir to continue the family bloodline was the number one priority for a woman of royal status.There were many reasons why Elizabeth was reluctant to marry, like losing her autonomy as the Queen of England. There’s evidence that suggests she might’ve just been…scared of it. I mean, when your mother is beheaded and your father goes through wives like iPhone chargers, being afraid of such commitment is sort of inevitable. However, clever Elizabeth never explicitly said, “For real, I’m really not marrying.” In fact, perhaps for political gain and strategy, she kept many of her suitors’ hopes up. One suitor in particular, Robert Dudley, was conspicuously her favorite.
In a plot straight out of a cliche young adult book, Robert and Elizabeth were close friends who had the same tutor in their youth. The two remained close, and he eventually married, but the height of their questionable intimacy occured during his marriage to Amy Robsart, who was (suspiciously) found with her neck at a fatal angle at the bottom of a flight of stairs in 1560. While Elizabeth was adamant about her reluctance to get married, the strings she pulled in order to spend time with the object of her affections were similar to those of any chick-flick heroine. From appointing Dudley to a position that required frequent collaboration, to moving his bed chambers next to her private rooms, Elizabeth couldn’t help herself from playing a little switcheroo. She was careful not to get pregnant and wasn’t too worried about keeping their conspicuous love affair hidden … except in November 1561, when she went out disguised as a maid in order to savor the pleasure of seeing Dudley (what a catch he must’ve been!). The endeavor was not one-sided at all; Dudley had tricks up his sleeve in order to persuade the pensive queen to marry him, who, despite being completely smitten, knew that a marriage to someone of Dudley’s influence would only cause chaos.
The tea became even steamier when Elizabeth discovered that behind Dudley’s desperate love declarations was a behind-the scenes mistress to keep him warm in spite of his lover’s marriage prospects. Dudley’s secret lover just so happened to be Elizabeth’s first cousin (once removed!), but the only removing Elizabeth paid attention to was the removal of Dudley’s lover from the palace. (But can you really blame him? I’m not an advocate of infidelity, but the poor man had finally given into his passions for his lover after his last attempt at convincing the headstrong queen.) Even though Elizabeth remained bitter, she had an unmeltable sweet spot for the man she had been secretly courting for most of her life, and they reconciled towards the end of Dudley’s life.
Queen Elizabeth was an iconic monarch for many reasons: she kept the interests of her throne as her number one priority, rejected a handful of desperate men, led the defeat of the Spanish Armada and, most of all, rocked the “no-eyebrows” look like no one else could. The story between her and Robert Dudley is something straight out of a Shakespearean play; however, for all of you nonsensical hopeless romantics, Queen Elizabeth is the prime example of “if you liked it, then you should’ve put a ring on it.”