Okay, okay, before you start throwing things at your screen hear me out a minute. For centuries, there have been rumors regarding Queen Elizabeth I of England (the Virgin Queen) having illegitimate children. These rumors began as early as 1549, when Elizabeth was just a teenager, during the reign of her brother King Edward VI.
The After Effects of Henry VIII’s Death
At some point after the death of her father, Elizabeth moved in with her step-mother, Kateryn Parr at Chelsea Manor. While we do not know for certain the timeline, it was at Chelsea that Kateryn may have begun an affair with her former flame, Sir Thomas Seymour. Thomas and Kateryn had thought to marry in 1543, after she became a widow for the second time. Feeling an obligation to her king (or God) outweighed whatever she had with Thomas, because Kateryn married the elderly King Henry instead.
Almost immediately after Henry VIII died, Kateryn and Thomas appear to have picked up where they left off. Kateryn even writing in a letter to Thomas that she would have wished to marry him above all others the time they had considered, but that she felt God had directed her to marry the King. Make what you want of that. Could she really have rejected King Henry? Was she motivated by the power that queen consort brought? We will never know, but it does appear that she did have strong feelings for Thomas, since she did secretly marry him only a couple to a few months after the death of the King, after stating she would mourn him for two years. It is completely possible that Thomas and Kateryn worried the Protector and the Council would hastily arrange a marriage for her to fulfill some sort of political alliance.
Once the marriage was made public, Thomas joined Kateryn and Elizabeth at Chelsea. Splitting his time between Seymour Place, Chelsea Manor and court. As far as we can tell everything was normal during this time. It was not until the arrest of Thomas Seymour in January 1549 that certain members of Elizabeth’s household were taken into custody and questioned, they were: Kat Ashley, Elizabeth’s Governess, and Thomas Parry her Cofferer. It was during the time they were being questioned at the Tower of London that stories of misconduct began to emerge. Kat Ashley told stories of inappropriate behavior on the part of Seymour. Stating that he entered the young woman’s bedchamber in a night shirt, bare-legged and slippers. Stories of Thomas behaving in a way that he had never been accused of prior to his arrest. Now, we must remember as modern readers that prior to his arrest, he was well liked. One of the rare negative comments I found prior to his downfall was written by Charles V to Chapuys and he is mentioning Thomas’ style of leadership in the army after meeting with him:
The marshal has often shown himself more dry and difficult.²
It was not until his nephew, Edward VI was on the throne, and his brother the Duke of Somerset taking control of matters (as the Lord Protector), that the two brothers began to quarrel. They quarreled over who should have governorship of the king, and they quarreled about Kateryn Parr’s personal jewels being returned to her possession. The Lord Protector, and his wife Anne Stanhope seem to have done their best to make both Thomas and Kateryn’s life as miserable as possible – which is odd because prior to Henry’s death there appeared to be no discord between them.
Around the time (21 January) that Kat Ashley and Thomas Parry were being questioned at the Tower of London there were rumors circulating that Elizabeth was pregnant with the child of Sir Thomas Seymour.
On the 28th of January 1549, eleven days after Thomas Seymour had been arrested, Elizabeth wrote to Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector of the Realm that:
“Master Tyrwhit and other have told me that their goith rumors abroad, which be greatly both against my honor, and honesty, (which above all other things I esteem) which be these; that I am in the Tower; and with child by my Lord Admiral. My Lord these are shameful slanders, for the which, besides the great desire I have to see the King’s Majesty, I shall most heartily desire your Lordship that I may come to the court after your first determination; that I may show myself there as I am.”¹
Were these rumors the beginning of what would become a lifetime of claims of illegitimate children? Were they the catalyst for ideas that she could find herself in an inappropriate position?
Psychology might tell us that Elizabeth had what we call, “daddy issues”. To be fair, after the childhood she had, who could blame her. I see Thomas Seymour as a guardian, not a predator. All we have are the words of a woman who was being interrogated at the Tower of London. The same woman who had encouraged her charge to show interest in Seymour after Kateryn Parr died. If Thomas Seymour was such a “pervert”, why on earth would Elizabeth’s governess see him as a good match?
There are many people, myself included, who feel it difficult imagine that Elizabeth was indeed a virgin queen. I just find it hard to believe. Her relationship with Robert Dudley lends to many of the rumors. How could two people, who had been so closely connected for so many years, not have a physical relationship?
In 1553, Robert Dudley was arrested and thrown in the Tower of London for his involvement with placing Lady Jane Grey on the throne. Not long after Queen Mary reclaimed her throne did suspicions turn to her sister Elizabeth.
In 1554, Elizabeth was also placed in the Tower. During her imprisonment, Queen Mary allowed her sister to take fresh air in the privy gardens – no one was allowed to speak to her so she was kept alone. There are some who believe a young boy, the son of the warden, would deliver her messages from her Protestant followers…possibly one of the Dudley men. When it was seen that the young boy had delivered Elizabeth a sprig of flowers they were immediately taken from her and destroyed. The paranoia was rampant.
Evidence proves that in 1559, Queen Elizabeth had Robert Dudley’s bedchamber moved next door to her personal apartments. What a convenient way to have your lover discretely enter your bedchamber. This was a scandal at the time because Robert Dudley was a married man. But by 1560, his wife Amy Robsart, was found dead at the bottom of their staircase. The death seemed suspicious and so Robert immediately became a suspect. These events demolished any chance Robert may have had to marry the Queen. Due to scandal, he could no longer be considered as an option for Elizabeth.
Some have even gone so far to suggest that Elizabeth attraction toward Robert Dudley was because he had similar traits to her teenage crush, Thomas Seymour. The Dictionary of National Biography The DNB states that Elizabeth was immediately attracted by Dudley’s ‘very goodly person‘.
Does Illness Equal Pregnancy?
On 11 August 1561, the French ambassador mentioned in a letter to William Cecil that:
[He] would himself have spoken to the Queen on this matter, but is unable to do so on account of illness.
It was during this time period that the Queen was reported to be sick with a mysterious illness, an illness that some believe to have actually been preparing to give birth. Only five days after that 1561 letter, Elizabeth wrote a letter from Hedingham Castle in Essex. At the time, Hendingham Castle was held by the de Vere family. After that point, all of the Queen’s letters shown in Calendar of State Papers, were in the hand of Cecil and not Elizabeth. As the Queen’s closest adviser, is it not possible that Cecil was aware of the Queen’s condition and was covering for her?
In 1572, Edward Dyer wrote to Sir Christopher Hatton and it appears from the context of the letter that he is referring to a close (maybe sexual) relationship Hatton had with the Queen.
“For though in the beginning when her Majesty sought you (after her good manner), she did bear with rugged dealing of yours, until she had what she fancied, yet now, after satiety and fulness…³
In March 1581, Thomas Scot wrote to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester:
Being by profession a preacher, by birth an Englishman, and by baptism a Christian, thinks it right to disclose the traitorous speeches of Henry Hawkins -“that my Lord Robert hath had fyve children by the Queene, and she never goethe in progress but to be delivered.” Papists favoured by Henry Lovell and Sir Henry Bedingfield.
Not only are there theories that Queen Elizabeth had a child, or children by Robert Dudley, but there is also a rumor that she had an affair with Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford resulting in a child – Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton. But then again there are theories that de Vere himself was the son of the Queen. Propaganda at its finest…probably perpetuated by the Spanish.
Do you think it was possible for a woman like Queen Elizabeth I to stay a virgin queen her entire reign? Or for that matter her entire life? She was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn…in my opinion that either makes her extremely aware of her sexuality, or aware that everyone would be watching her. Once you are a monarch, does that change your perception?
¹A Collection of State Papers, Relating to Affairs in the Reigns of King Henry VIII. King Edward VI. Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth … from 1542-1570 … –
²22 Oct. R. O. [Spanish Calendar, VI. II., No. 249]
³Memoirs of the Life and Times of Sir Christopher Hatton, K. G. pg 18