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Marriage question

From the start of Elizabeth’s reign, it was expected that she would marry and the question arose to whom. Although she received many offers for her hand, she never married and was childless; the reasons for this are not clear.

Historians have speculated that Thomas Seymour had put her off sexual relationships. She considered several suitors until she was about fifty. Her last courtship was with François, Duke of Anjou, 22 years her junior.

While risking possible loss of power like her sister, who played into the hands of King Felipe II of Spain, marriage offered the chance of an heir. However, the choice of a husband might also provoke political instability or even insurrection.

One of the reasons that Elizabeth I of England never may have been due to the legal concept of Jure uxoris (a Latin phrase meaning “by right of (his) wife”). This term describes a title of nobility used by a man because his wife holds the office or title suo jure (“in her own right”).

Similarly, the husband of an heiress could become the legal possessor of her lands. For example, married women in England and Wales were legally incapable of owning real estate until the Married Women’s Property Act 1882.

During the feudal era, the husband’s control over his wife’s real property, including titles, was substantial. On marriage, the husband gained the right to possess his wife’s land during the marriage, including any acquired after the marriage. Whilst he did not gain the formal legal title to the lands, he was able to spend the rents and profits of the land and sell his right, even if the wife protested. The concept of jure uxoris was standard in the Middle Ages even for queens regnant.

By the time of the Renaissance, laws and customs had changed in some countries: a woman sometimes remained monarch, with only part of her power transferred to her husband. This was usually the case when multiple kingdoms were consolidated, such as when Isabella of Castile and Fernando II-V of Aragon shared crowns.

As we noted in the marriage of Mary I and Felipe II created a precedent for a jure uxoris unions. Parliament passed the Act for the Marriage of Queen Mary to Felipe of Spain specifically to prevent Felipe from seizing power on the basis of jure uxoris. The Act established the limits Felipe had as a jure uxoris King of England and Ireland.

As it turned out, the marriage produced no children, and Mary died in 1558, ending Philip’s jure uxoris claims in England and Ireland, as envisaged by the Act, and was followed by the accession of Elizabeth I. She, in turn, resolved concerns over jure uxoris by never marrying.

Throughout her Reign Queen Elizabeth I demonstrated that she intended to maintain control and authority over the government and sharing power was not something high on her agenda. Also, prospects of her marrying for political Alliance was something she used for her advantage during those years when she was still considered of childbearing age.