When Elizabeth Tudor came to the English throne, there was huge pressure on her to marry and secure the succession (and even ensure proper leadership since no one believed a woman could actually rule). But that pressure was nothing new to Elizabeth – and likely much easier for her to handle than the pressure put on her during her sister Mary’s reign.
Mary was fiercely Catholic – and did not want her Protestant half-sister to succeed her. Mary’s husband, Philip of Spain, was more pragmatic: if Elizabeth were excluded from the succession, the next best claim belonged to Mary Stuart who was then married to the Dauphin of France. From Philip’s point of view, the better solution was to have Elizabeth married off to one of his own Catholic allies. Thus, Elizabeth was presented with several possibilities – and refused them all, saying she had no inclination to the married life. Of course no one believed her, and they continued to try to bully her into accepting a husband.
But then Sweden came along – a Protestant country with a relatively good-looking prince. For some reason, they decided to ignore protocol and approach Elizabeth directly to gauge her interest before opening negotiations with Mary. Now, under English law it was treason for the heir to the throne to marry without the consent of the monarch…so the surprise visit of the Swedish Ambassador presented Elizabeth with the perfect opportunity to both demonstrate her loyalty by sending him on his way AND stress her disinclination to the married life at the same time. This earned her a sincere thank-you from her sister, to which she responded with this letter. You can hear the glee in every line…
My queen and sister,
Great as have been my afflictions, and not small my disfavor with your majesty, I have always found so great the justice and goodness in your majesty’s royal breast, that I have never imputed the cause of them to other than some malignant influence of my fortune. And though my misfortunes had been greater, they could never have effaced from my heart those sentiments by which I fully recognize what is and ought to be the zeal which I owe your majesty. The ties of blood, my queen and sister, render me interested in every thing that concerns your glory, and the duties of servant and subject increase in me a perfect submission to your royal and sovereign authority.
The answer which I have given to the Swedish Ambassador, whose proposition indeed surprised me exceedingly, is the result of duty; and I could not have answered him otherwise than I did. But the thanks which you have been pleased to make me for it, through Mr. Pope, is only the effect of your august and bountiful goodness; which shall make me, more and more, bounded to your majesty.
I can assure you, madam, that since I have known myself and have had some use of my reason, I have never had other thought nor other wish but of loving and respecting you as my elder sister, and of revering and obeying you as my queen and mistress. I only supplicate you to rest persuaded that, as such have ever been my sentiments, they will now increase rather than diminish, and that I will seize, with pleasure, every opportunity of showing to all the world that I am
Your majesty’s very obedient servant and sister,
ElizabethLetters of Royal and Illustrious Ladies of Great Britain, from the Commencement of the Twelfth Century to the Close of the Reign of Queen Mary, Volume 3
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