To what Extent Did the Anne Boleyn's Execution Influence the Decision of Elizabeth I Not to Marry

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Table of contents

  1. Identification and Evaluation of Sources
  2. Investigation
  3. Reflection

Identification and Evaluation of Sources

This section will explore the question: To what extent did the fate of Anne Boleyn influence the decision of Elizabeth I not to marry? Queen Elizabeth I is seen by many as England’s greatest monarch, famous for her decision not to marry. This question is still relevant because it explores how England’s greatest monarch became the ruler she was.

The first source to be evaluated is the Chequers Ring. The origin of the ring was Elizabeth herself, which makes it valuable because she wore it until the day she died, meaning it was very important to her. Its purpose was as a symbol of status or power, monarchs often wore rings for this reason.

A limitation is that no one knows who made it, because there’s no record of it in Elizabeth’s inventory. Apart from being a ring, it was also a locket with two portraits inside of Elizabeth and her mother Anne Boleyn[2]. This gives the ring sentimental value, and shows Elizabeth cared for her mother despite her being executed for treason.[3] She wouldn’t keep a hidden portrait of her mother if she though Anne guilty. Another limitation is that this doesn't necessarily mean she was influenced by Anne, although it proves that Anne was present in her daughter’s life.

The second source to be evaluated is the biographical book ‘The lady in the tower: The fall of Anne Boleyn’. The origin is historian Alison Weir. She is knowledgeable on the topic of the Tudors on which she’s written many books. The information is recent and up to date. The purpose is to examine and give her interpretation of the fall of Anne Boleyn. The content includes accounts of Anne’s life and the conspiracies against her leading to her fall, and Weir’s main perspective is that Anne was innocent in the charges against her. It also gives information of Elizabeth and how Anne’s death affected her. A limitation is that the book is clearly biased, as Weir believes in Anne’s innocence and therefore might not show the entire picture.


Henry VIII executed his wife Anne Boleyn on the 19th of May 1536, leaving two-year old Elizabeth motherless and a bastard. 23 years later she became England’s greatest and longest reigning monarch. Elizabeth is known as the Virgin Queen because she never married, going against everything expected of a woman in 16th century England. Her advisors and others tried to persuade her to choose a husband and provide and heir, but she never did. To what extent did the fate of Anne Boleyn influence the decision of Elizabeth I not to marry?

To investigate if Anne Boleyn influenced Elizabeth, you must first know what Elizabeth thought about her mother. Henry VIII forbade anyone to speak of Anne and tried to erase all traces of her, Elizabeth likely would’ve pieced together her mother’s fate over time.[4] The Chequers ring is the first piece of evidence that Elizabeth felt positively about Anne, because inside were portraits of her and Anne, which she carried with her until her death. Circa 1545 Henry commissioned a painting as a piece of Tudor propaganda and to show his line of succession.[5] Elizabeth is wearing a pendant with the initial “A”. Anne Boleyn had three of these initial necklaces, and this one probably belonged to her. It shows that Elizabeth often wore the necklace, enough for it to be associated with her, a connection to her mother.[6] When Elizabeth became queen on 17 November in 1558, her motto became Semper Eadem (always the same). This was Anne’s motto too.

Lastly, Elizabeth was close to many of the family members on her mother's side, when she became queen she chose women from the Howard, Carey and Knolly families, all related to her mother, for her households.[8] She even raised the children of those executed on false charges of adultery with Anne to higher positions. She gave George Boleyn, the son of Anne’s brother, the position of Dean of Lichfield and she raised the son of Henry Norris to Lord Rycote. He was unable to inherit his father’s titles but Elizabeth made it possible again.

Unlike her sister Mary, Elizabeth didn’t legalize her parents’ marriage and only proclamed she was of royal blood and the legal Queen of England. This might look like she doesn’t care about her mother, but she had good reasons to remind everyone she was her father’s daughter, and not bring up the past. She was a survivor, and needed to be strategic. Her paternity was constantly questioned and she needed to stress she was Henry VIII’ daughter. This was also the reason likely she didn’t move Anne’s remains from the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower of London either.

These sources prove that Elizabeth felt positively about her mother and tried to stay connected to her throughout her life, but did Anne also influence her not to marry?

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Elizabeth told a Scottish envoy in 1561 that: “certain events in her [Elizabeth] youth made it impossible for her to regard marriage with equanimity or equate it with security. She blamed this on the marital problems of her fathers and sisters: “Some say that this marriage was unlawful, some that one was a bastard, some other, to and fro, as they favored or misliked. So many doubts of marriage was in all hands that I stand [in] awe myself to enter into marriage, fearing the controversy.'

Elizabeth doesn’t specifically mention Anne but she indirectly mentions her fate again four years later to a French diplomat:

“In 1565, the Queen expressed her fear that, if she were to marry, her husband might 'carry out some evil wish, if he had one,' and that she 'hated the idea of marriage every day more, for reasons which she would not divulge to a twin soul, if she had one, much less a living creature.

Although these quotes are open to some interpretation, the marital problems of her father would also include Anne. She also mentions that she had suddenly turned from a princess into a bastard from one day to another. Even though she was still very young, Elizabeth was already incredibly observant, and she told the husband of her governess: “How haps it, Governor, yesterday my Lady Princess, and today but my Lady Elizabeth?”[15] She wouldn't have been told the cause of these changes but realizing it was because of her mother’s death must have been traumatizing. The ‘evil wish’ she talks about in the second quote must also refer to the fact that a husband had authority over their wives, and in the case of that husband being king, could even execute his wife. Or wives, in Elizabeth’s father’s case.

On the other hand, Anne Boleyn wasn't the only woman to suffer at the hands of their husbands. Henry VIII’s fifth wife Katherine Howard was executed when Elizabeth was 8, and although she wouldn't have remembered much from when her mother was alive this would have made her even more aware of her father doing the same to Anne.[16] It was also when she was eight years old that she declared to her friend Robert Dudley, “I will never marry.”[17] All this trauma so early in her life must have been difficult to process, and if she tried to make sense of it all the might have found that the root of these traumas was marriage.

There were also political reasons that stopped Elizabeth from marrying. Her half-sister and predecessor Mary had married the Spanish king Philip II, but this was unpopular as the people feared a foreign king ruling England.[18] A foreign prince would also drain their resources in wars and spend long periods of time abroad if he also had to rule his own country.[19] Elizabeth did not want to marry an Englishman either because she feared it would cause dangerous rivalries and factions.[20] In the Tudor court, people competed for the monarch’s favor by forming groups dictated by family and political interest, and those people would have positions in the Privy Council. If she had married an Englishman she could have caused discords by permanently raising one family over another.[21] Also, wives were expected to be obedient to their husbands in the 16th century, and Elizabeth wanted to rule by herself and enjoy her newly gained freedom.

In conclusion, there’s enough evidence to suggest that Elizabeth felt positively about her mother and believed in her innocence. The Chequers ring, the risk of wearing Anne’s necklace and showing favor to her mother’s relatives proved this.

To determine whether Anne also influenced Elizabeth’s decision not to marry is more difficult, but through the quotes said by Elizabeth it’s clear her execution deeply affected her. To know that your father killed your mother will be traumatizing for anyone, and this must have permanently changed her view on marriage. The fact that any husband she chose, whether foreign or domestic, would have consequences only strengthened her resolve not to marry. So, without a husband by her side Elizabeth I defeated the Spanish Armada, brought stability to England and reigned for an unprecedented 44 years.


This investigation has allowed me a glimpse into the life of historians and the challenges they face to find sources and answers to their questions. There were two methods I used most while trying to find sources, searching online and reading books. I skimmed through the books, looking for relevant chapters and highlighting information I might need. Online I went through a range of articles and websites in a similar way to the books to find information. There were some limitations for these methods, because while skimming through the books I could have accidently skipped over something, or the author did not include every perspective or piece of information available to form their opinion. Online bias was also problem because many of the websites I visited had strong opinions on, for example, if Anne Boleyn was innocent or not. It’s impossible to be completely unbiased, upbringing and experiences always influence you, but I still had to pay attention for bias.

I even experienced bias in my own writing. For example, using the word ‘murder’ to describe Anne Boleyn’s fate already shows my opinion.

Online, it was harder to tell if sources were reliable enough compared to books, where authors spent years researching with a long, available biography. I also had to choose which sources and event I wanted to use. The word count of the investigation limited me and it was hard to choose. I ultimately decided on a select few that really related to the question.

I think the role of a historian is to tell an interpretation of history. Considering the number of sources available, it’s impossible to use them all. A historian has to choose which they’ll use to answer their question, which could paint one event many different ways.

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