Elizabeth spent her entire life refusing proposals – and her very first experience shows that she mastered the art early. Of course she had a great reason for refusing (didn’t she always?) – the fact that Tom Seymour proposed to her less than a month after her father died.
Admittedly, there is still controversy over whether this actually happened. Her response letter is found in Letters of Royal and Illustrious Ladies, which sources it to Leti’s Vita di Elisabetta. It was NOT included in Elizabeth I: Collected Works. As the editor of Letters explains,
“Leti, in writing his Life of Elizabeth, had evidently access to many valuable original letters, some of which have now perished; but as those which remain prove, on comparison, to have been faithfully, though freely translated by him, there is no reason whatever to doubt the authenticity of the remainder, though the originals are not known to be in existence. The following letter confirms the reports of historians, that Lord Seymour proposed marriage to Elizabeth immediately on her father’s death, even before his hasty marriage with the Queen Dowager Catherine Parr.”
Personally, I believe it – but I admit to bias stemming from my own focus on Edward Seymour and Edward Tudor, which inevitably has me using all the crazy stuff about Tom…it makes for a compelling story! Without further ado, the letter:
My lord admiral,
The letter you have written to me is the most obliging, and at the same time the most eloquent in the world. And as I do not feel myself competent to reply to so many courteous expressions I shall content myself with unfolding to you, in few words, my real sentiments. I confess to you that your letter, all elegant as it is, has very much surprised me; for, besides that neither my age nor my inclination allows me to think of marriage, I never could have believed that any one would have spoken to me of nuptials, at a time when I ought to think of nothing but sorrow for the death of my father. And to him I owe so much, that I must have two years at least to mourn for his loss. And how can I make up my mind to be come a wife before I shall have enjoyed for some years my virgin state, and arrived at years of discretion?
Permit me, then, my lord admiral, to tell you frankly that, as there is no one in the world who more esteems your merit than myself, or who sees you with more pleasure as a disinterested person, so would I preserve to myself the privilege of recognizing you as such, without entering into that strict bond of matrimony, which often causes one to forget the possession of true merit. Lest your highness be well persuaded that, though I decline the happiness of becoming your wife, I shall never cease to interest myself in all that can crown your merit with glory, and shall ever feel the greatest pleasure in being your servant, and good friend,
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