Was Elizabeth I REALLY a virgin?

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,236
Italy, Lago Maggiore
Italian historiography intends that virginity in a quite ancient way: she never got married. That's the "virginity" in the historical sense. Then she had all the sex she wanted ...

It's a formal religious reasoning: since to have sex is a sin, if not married, and since it's said she was a religious woman, if she refused to get married ... she had never sex.

Reality was different [she had a lot of sex].
 

jackydee

Ad Honorem
Jan 2013
4,569
Brigadoon
There are lots of rumors from that era of her sexual dalliances and favoritism toward lovers.


The "Virgin Queen" trope was a PR gambit intended to lul the masses and END the constant pressure on her to marry and make an heir.

In her world view, she rightly saw that any man she married would be a rival for the power of her own rule, and so opted to stay unmarried and in full control.


And she was in full control of her bedchamber, as well.

Its amazing how few people are willing to tell secrets about a Boss who Can and DOES chop off the heads of those who wrong her.
Your first and last sentences are contradictory, not that I necessarily disagree with them. There are numerous statements from around Elizabeth's time(and slightly afterwards) that she was not a Virgin. Yet there is no smoking gun. I vaguely remember David Starkey telling of first hand accounts he read from witnesses to Elizabeth's affair with Dudley. And these accounts suggest a sexual component. Matters are complicated however by all the innuendo and slander by her opponents. Slander that had Elizabeth bedding Moors.

I think the rumours surrounding Elizabeth's sex life tell us as much about her opponents as they do about Elizabeth herself. Even the Elizabethan writer Ben Jonson claimed Elizabeth sexually took on just about every available male.
 

aggienation

Ad Honorem
Jul 2016
9,813
USA
16th-17th century contraception was iffy at best. The reason that women were supposed to remain virgins until marriage was to avoid accidental pregnancies and bastards. Its one thing for a "normal" English women to have sex out of wedlock, become pregnant, and quickly marry some ignorant man as quick as possible to cover up the pregnancy. Or disappear "On the Continent" for a year, having had the child away from society and given it away to be raised.

With Elizabeth, those weren't options. Should she have gotten pregnant out of wedlock, it would have been disastrous for her reign, she started out bad and her reign was full of religious antagonism from Catholics and Protestants. She already had the stigma of technically being a bastard herself (due to her mother's adulterous crimes). Could she have used available birth control, to include not only contraceptives but also substances that could induce abortions? Yes, but they were not all that effective.

But there are other types of sex besides penile vaginal intercourse that allows a woman to have romantic encounters with lovers and get pleasure, with no fear of unwanted pregnacy.
 
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Apr 2015
281
USA
Its amazing how few people are willing to tell secrets about a Boss who Can and DOES chop off the heads of those who wrong her.
Nevertheless, she had her enemies like any other monarch and undoubtedly some of them would have called her out on duplicitous behavior. There would have been intrigues and jealousy among her suitors complete with spies and gossip.

Of course anything is possible, but I tend to think that Elizabeth would have been hard pressed to have a full on sexual liaison without being discovered.
 
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Fantasus

Ad Honorem
Jan 2012
2,381
Northern part of European lowland
For some time she was, no doubt. Does it make any big difference?
 
Nov 2015
757
Australia
The story goes she had a bout of smallpox that left her bald at 29. It is possible she was barren. In which case she had no reason to marry. She had affairs with local Lords. If she married one of these, she might find her power usurped. Although if she produced a legitimate heir, this would have given her position more security than otherwise if she married. Convention would demand she marry a foreign prince that would be less of a threat to her power. This was an age when usurpation was always waiting and any signs of it slapped down hard and fast if you wanted to survive.
 

sculptingman

Ad Honorem
Oct 2009
3,657
San Diego
Nevertheless, she had her enemies like any other monarch and undoubtedly some of them would have called her out on duplicitous behavior. There would have been intrigues and jealousy among her suitors complete with spies and gossip.

Of course anything is possible, but I tend to think that Elizabeth would have been hard pressed to have a full on sexual liaison without being discovered.
Oh please... She was a monarch at a time when monarchs did pretty much as they pleased. She demonstrated often enough the penalty for disloyalty... And her enemies were never in any position to know first hand what went on in her bed...
Sure they murmured... But not TOO loudly...and their estrangement fro, her inner circle was good enough counter to any speculation they might have voiced.

But I can't find any period references that act like she was genuinely believed to be a virgin by much of anyone...Chances are the average British subject of the era gave a broad wink anytime they heard the phrase "virgin queen".
 
Apr 2016
1,646
United Kingdom
She was a monarch at a time when monarchs did pretty much as they pleased
She certainly would've liked that, but England under the Tudors was not absolutist. Even if it was in theory (and it wasn't) in practice it was far too factional, and her court far too busy - not to mention biology far too difficult - for regular sexual dalliance to be an option for this level-headed queen.
 
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Apr 2015
281
USA
Oh please... She was a monarch at a time when monarchs did pretty much as they pleased. She demonstrated often enough the penalty for disloyalty... And her enemies were never in any position to know first hand what went on in her bed...
Sure they murmured... But not TOO loudly...and their estrangement fro, her inner circle was good enough counter to any speculation they might have voiced.

But I can't find any period references that act like she was genuinely believed to be a virgin by much of anyone...Chances are the average British subject of the era gave a broad wink anytime they heard the phrase "virgin queen".
Well since none of us can ever know for sure (unless some long lost evidence comes to light) you can believe it your way and I'll believe it mine. ;)