Queen Elizabeth I’s Private Life Was More Scandalous Than People Realized

Queen Elizabeth I made it plain when she said, “I would rather be a beggar and single than a queen and married.” The Virgin Queen ruled from 1558 until 1603, and despite countless attempts by eligible suitors, she would not be persuaded by proposals. Her virtuousness was legendary, but at the same time, it was strategic.

Even in the 16th century, the royals knew the importance of a carefully crafted image. Queen Elizabeth witnessed the mistakes of those around her and vowed not to repeat them. So she decided to never marry to protect herself and her throne. Now, centuries later, we’vw pieced together historical proof of the Queen’s obscured traumas, lovers, and political tactics.

As a teenager, there’s evidence that Elizabeth was abused at the hands of her step-uncle by marriage, Thomas Seymour. Seymour was a lingering presence in Elizabeth’s life, later marrying her stepmother Catherine Parr, which made him literally unavoidable.

Getty Images / Imagno / Contributor

Thomas Seymour had already made his intentions toward then Princess Elizabeth known when he proposed to the thirteen-year-old, in the wake of her father’s death. Even in the 16th century, the age difference and timing were inappropriate, so the future Queen declined.

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There are historical accounts of Seymour sneaking into his stepdaughter Princess Elizabeth’s room and far worse. Both of the Princess’s servants, her governess Kat Ashley and cofferer Thomas Parry, testified in 1547 to have witnessed Seymour’s persistent advances.

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In her testimony, Kat Ashley described her attempts to thwart Seymour’s continual efforts to ambush the Princess while still in her nightgown. He would dare to tickle the teen, occasionally touch her backside, and he even climbed into her bed.

‘Elizabeth’ / Gramercy Pictures

What Princess Elizabeth thought of her creepy stepfather remains uncertain. Letters and testimony from Kat Ashley paint conflicting narratives over whether the teen returned Seymour’s affections, but regardless, the governess viewed his behavior as predatory.

‘Elizabeth I’ / Oxford Film & Television / Channel 5

Eventually, Catherine Parr noticed her husband’s preoccupation with her stepdaughter and turned to Kat Ashley for help. She asked the governess to keep a watchful eye on the two of them. Though, Catherine needn’t have asked; she walked in on them herself.

Getty Images / Mondadori Portfolio / Contributor

Next, it was Thomas Parry’s turn to spill about Thomas Seymour and the young Princess. He testified that “they were all alone, he having her in his arms, wherefore the queen fell out.” After Catherine witnessed it, Queen Elizabeth went to live with Kat Ashley’s relatives the next day.

‘Young Bess’ / MGM

Years later when Elizabeth took the throne, she was labeled the Virgin Queen, a theory she encouraged. As she once told Parliament, “if when I shall let my last breath, it be ingraven upon my Marble Tomb, Here lieth Elizabeth, which Reigned a Virgin, and died a Virgin.”

‘Elizabeth’ / Gramercy Pictures

This part of her identity added to Queen Elizabeth’s virtuous and semi-divine status as a ruler. Though there’s many who challenge the image she royal tried to curate, saying it was a cover for her inability to produce an heir.

IMDB / ‘The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex’ / Warner Bros. Pictures

However, historians note that the fates of other married, sexually active women left an impact on Queen Elizabeth I in her formative years. Her father had her mother Anne Boleyn beheaded for accusations of adultery, and the other women in her life suffered equally bleak outcomes.

Herald Scotland / ‘Wolf Hall’ / BBC

Pregnancy might have given her an heir or it could have killed her. Several of Princess Elizabeth’s stepmothers died in childbirth or shortly thereafter. It’s certainly possible that the monarch never married or entertained childbirth out of fear.

She turned down a proposal from her brother-in-law, King Philip of Spain, who was widowed when Elizabeth’s sister Queen Mary died. Just the hint of an alliance between England and Spain helped Elizabeth negotiate in her new position as a ruler, without swapping vows.

Royal Museums Greenwich

Despite privately knowing she’d never follow through on any of her many suitors, Elizabeth cleverly used the drawn-out wooings to her benefit. After all, she found love without giving up her own power thanks to Robert Dudley, son of the Duke of Northumberland.

‘Elizabeth’ / Gramercy Pictures

Both Elizabeth and Robert Dudley shooed away any assertions that their relationship was anything more than a best-friendship, but it was a widely believed rumor that they were a romantic couple. Their bond stretched from childhood to their final days.

Youtube / ‘Elizabeth’ / Gramercy Pictures

True to most forbidden relationships, Queen Elizabeth and Robert Dudley played a lot of games. She made him jealous by flirting with Thomas Heneage, so Dudley got revenge by marrying her cousin Lettice Knollys.

NPR / ‘Mary Queen of Scots’ / Liam Daniel / Focus Features

Still, Elizabeth kept her options open. She entertained a marriage alliance with Francois Duc d’Anjou, the brother of King of France Henry III, in 1581. When Francois visited, the 40-year-old Queen greeted the 23-year-old with a kiss on the mouth, then broke it off within 24 hours.

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In 1587, the Queen and Robert Dudley’s relationship was once again the subject of a public scandal. A man in Madrid came forward and asserted that he was actually the biological child of the Queen and her long-rumored flame.

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His name was Arthur Dudley, and the story he told wasn’t too farfetched. In fact, there were a few points that fit categorically within Queen Elizabeth’s historical timeline. Arthur believed he was born in 1561, a time where the monarch was shielded from the public eye.

‘Elizabeth’ / Gramercy Pictures

It does have to be noted that Dudley was also connected to another scandal that greatly challenged his credibility. After his wife was found dead at the bottom of a staircase, authorities deemed her death to be a mystery, though many suspected Dudley’s involvement.

YouTube / Moviefone / ‘Mary Queen of Scots’ / Universal Pictures

During Queen Elizabeth’s 45 year rule, her deviation from the normal path of royal women was highly controversial. People were just as invested in the dirty little details of her life as they are today with the present-day British Royal Family, who have their own intriguing scandals.

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1. When a teenage Prince Harry admitted to his father that he’d tried marijuana and participated in underage drinking, the royal family sent him to rehab… for one day. Apparently, it was a way of educating him about the dangers of substance abuse.

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2. Princess Diana made scary headlines when she was four months pregnant with William: She fell down the stairs, which put both her life and his life at risk. She later admitted that it was a self-harm attempt to get Charles’ attention. 

1. In 1936, King Edward VIII had to make a choice: Remain king, or marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson? His decision to abdicate the throne and marry Simpson shocked the world and pre-determined his niece’s future role as Queen Elizabeth II.  

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4. Scandal rocked the royals in 1953 when Princess Margaret got engaged to Captain Peter Townshend, who divorced his wife to be with her. The couple was destined for heartbreak, however, as royal tradition forbade them from marrying. 

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5. Princess Margaret wasn’t down for long, however, and she soon married photographer Anthony Armstrong-Jones. However, the unconventional princess was true to her reputation, and, in 1978, she became the first royal to get a divorce since the 1500s. 

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6. Kate Middleton is one of the classiest ladies around, so it came as a shock when she was photographed topless while vacationing in France. Obviously, the paparazzi had trespassed on private property, so criminal charges were filed against the paps.

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7. A document published in 1957 confirmed decades-old rumors that Edward VIII and his wife, Wallis Simpson, had given information to the Nazis…and directly to Hitler himself. Edward even said in 1970, “I never thought Hitler was such a bad chap.” 

8. Margaret wasn’t the last royal to get a divorce! Her niece, Princess Anne, was married to Olympian equestrian Mark Phillips for nearly 20 years before they divorced in 1992. It was rumored that both Anne and Phillips were having affairs.

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9. Some of the rumors were true: Mark Phillips had an affair with an art teacher named Heather Tonkin, which resulted in their child, Felicity Tonkin. His parentage was confirmed after a 1991 paternity suit.

10. At just 14 years old, Prince Charles cheekily ordered a cherry brandy at a pub. He had no idea that a tabloid reporter was also in the pub, and the story was across every newspaper headline the next day.

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11. You’d think that Prince William, married with children and accustomed to being in the public eye, would know better than to dance seductively with a model at a nightclub, but that’s exactly what happened in 2017. 

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12. 1992 was the year of the “squidgy” heard ‘round the world: Tabloids released a recorded phone call between Princess Diana and her alleged lover, James Gilbey, who called her by the nickname “Squidgy” 53 times during the call. 

13. Of course, one of the most famous scandals in royal family history was when Princess Diana revealed her struggles with depression and eating disorders as well as her husband’s affair and her own affair in a shocking interview with Martin Bashir in 1996.

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14. Out of Princess Diana’s tragic death came two huge scandals: The rumor that Prince Charles had “planned” the accident, and the news that Diana’s controversial boyfriend at the time, Dodi Al Fayed, was killed alongside her. 

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15. Meghan Markle has had a particularly rough go of it since she married Prince Harry. After months of being hounded by the paparazzi, the couple pleaded with the press to back off, sparking a debate about how far is too far when it comes to the press.

16. Developing in 2020, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s break from the royal family captivated audiences. After being ceaselessly attacked by the press, the royal couple understandably washed their hands of it all together.

17. Teenagers are often misguided, but we have to wonder what Prince Harry was thinking here: He was once spotted at a Halloween party wearing a Nazi uniform, and it soon covered all of the tabloids.

The Sun

18. One month before Diana and Charles divorced, Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew also called it quits. What spurred the couple’s divorce was paparazzi footage of another man who was — you guessed it — nibbling Fergie’s toes.

Mugisha Don de Dieu/Wikimedia Commons

19. Harry certainly had a wild life before settling down! He was caught in the buff playing a game of strip billiards, and his response to the criticism was princely indeed: “[It’s] a classic example of me probably being too much army and not enough prince.” 

Department of Defense/EJ Hersom

20. Even after she was divorced from the royal family, Fergie was still making headlines. In 2010, she was recorded accepting a $633,000 bribe from a journalist disguised as a businessman. She later called it “a serious lapse in judgement,” which, yeah. 

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21. In 2014, a woman claimed that Prince Andrew and billionaire Jeffrey Epstein forced her to have sex with them when she was a teenager. Buckingham Palace and the judge denied these claims, but it left a permanent pall over Andrew and the royals.

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22. Princess Michael of Kent wore a blackamoor brooch, which is today considered a symbol of racism, to a luncheon with the Queen in 2017, and many wondered if it was in response to Meghan Markle’s engagement to Prince Harry. 

Mark Cuthbert/The Telegraph

23. Princess Michael has been accused of racist remarks in the past, such as a 2004 incident in which she was overheard telling a group of black people to “go back to the colonies.” She denied saying it, despite multiple witnesses claiming otherwise. 

24. Illegally-recorded phone calls aside, it’s photography that has gotten the royal family into the most trouble over the past century. Even way back before Queen Elizabeth II was the ruler of the Commonwealth, photographs shed light on the surprising way the royals lived.

25.1951: Future Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip recently welcomed their two children, Charles and Anne. The new family stands here with King George VI, the Queen Mother Elizabeth, and Elizabeth’s younger sister Margaret.

26. 1953: After the death of George VI a year earlier, his eldest daughter ascended to the throne and became Queen Elizabeth II. Philip, in turn, received the title of prince consort. Below, the couple waves to their subjects from Buckingham Palace.

27. 1960: A third royal child, Prince Andrew, arrived. The newborn enjoys a picnic with his parents and siblings during a holiday in Balmoral, Scotland. That’s right — that castle in the background was only their vacation home.

28. 1965: This Christmas photo depicts the Royal Family shortly after the birth of Elizabeth and Philip’s fourth and final child, Prince Edward. Their household grew livelier than ever, and the new generation of royals quickly endeared themselves to the British public.

29. 1971: Coming up on twenty years as monarch, Elizabeth greets onlookers with Edward, Andrew, and her niece Lady Sarah. They are headed to meet the rest of their extended family for a winter holiday at Sandringham House.

30. 1976: By this point, Elizabeth’s children are old enough to rebel a bit. Prince Andrew laughs at his mother from the second row as she nervously rides at the front of a cable car. Edward, seated next to her, looks a little bit more respectful.

31. 1977: This year marks Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee of 25 years on the British throne. She celebrated by visiting 36 different countries in the span of a few months, followed by a massive procession through London.

32. 1980: For Prince Charles, most of the 1970s were his “bachelor years.” He seemed more content to party and jump between girlfriends than seriously pursue marriage. Here, he sips a coconut drink in Bhubaneswar, India, but he wouldn’t stay a bachelor for long.

33. 1981: Incredible hype built up once Prince Charles announced that he would marry Lady Diana Spencer. The press dubbed the event “The Wedding of the Century,” and the public followed every aspect of the ceremony with fervor.

34. 1982: Diana and Charles had their first son, William. The new parents play with William in Kensington Palace, though they didn’t refer to him as William behind closed doors. Interestingly, their family nickname for the young prince was “Wombat.”

35. 1988: Four years earlier, Diana gave birth to her second son, Prince Harry. Far from shy of the many cameras around him, Harry sticks his tongue out from the Buckingham Palace balcony while Diana tells him to stop.

36. 1992: Below, Philip, Charles, Elizabeth, and the Queen Mother depart from Princess Anne’s wedding. However, 1992 was not an easy year for the family. In addition to a fire in Windsor castle, marital troubles sprung up for Elizabeth’s children.

37. 1995: Hurt by extramarital affairs and a 13-year age gap, Charles and Diana were separated throughout the early 1990s. However, they still attended official events together. They divorced a year later, though the greatest tragedy was yet to come.

38. 1997: The entire world went into shock with the news that Princess Diana died in a violent Paris car crash. Thousands of guests attended her funeral at Westminster Abbey, while millions more watched on television. Her sons were only 15 and 12 at the time.

39. 2002: More loss followed the royal family into the new millennium, though this instance was admittedly less shocking. The Queen Mother passed away at age 101. On a happier note, Queen Elizabeth reached her Golden Jubilee on this same year.

40. 2005: Prince Charles carried on an affair with Camilla Parker Bowles while still married to Diana, so Charles and Camila met controversy when they announced their engagement. As a result, they chose to marry in a civil ceremony instead of a royal wedding.

41. 2006: Now all grown up, Prince Harry decided to follow William into the military. As a Cornet in the famed Blues and Royals regiment, he stands at attention with his saber as Queen Elizabeth walks by. Still, he cannot help but crack a smile at his grandmother.

42. 2011: The Brits — and just about everyone else — went crazy for the next generation of royal weddings. Prince William married Kate Middleton, a classmate from the University of St. Andrews, and over 160 million people watched the lavish ceremony.

43. 2017: The Royal family celebrates the 91st birthday of Queen Elizabeth, who also became the longest-reigning British monarch a couple years prior. William and Kate’s young children, George and Charlotte, watch the fanfare with excitement.

44. 2018: Harry matched his brother’s fairytale wedding with one of his own. He married American actress Meghan Markle, best known from the TV show Suits. Meghan’s entry into the royal family is also notable because she is a woman of color.

45. Somehow, with all eyes on them, the Royal Family has managed to carve out somewhat normal lives for themselves. Ever annoy a sibling just because you feel like it? Prince Harry is teasing his older brother with a rather large boa constrictor. It’s all in good fun…we hope.

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46. When Prince William and Duchess Kate aren’t holding down the fort in Kensington Palace, they like to escape royal life by going on a holiday. After welcoming Princess Charlotte, the two went skiing. Kate surprised William with a friendly snowball fight.

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47. They may not be blood relatives, but that doesn’t stop Kate and Meghan from gossiping like sisters while attending a tennis match with the rest of the family. What we wouldn’t give to hear what they’re talking about!

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48. Long before Kate was the Duchess of Cambridge, she was just plain-ol’ Kate Middleton. She wore silky dresses like the one below and took hackney carriages (taxis) from place to place with her baby sister Pippa.

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49. The future queen consort might be the coolest royal of them all. Not only is she holding her own on those roller skates, but she looks like she hasn’t aged. Talk about good genes.

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50. Prince Charles might be 70 years old, but this photo shows he’s still a schoolboy at heart. He’s been waiting seven decades to ascend the royal throne, but it doesn’t look like it’s happening anytime soon, so for now, this wall will have to do. Hang in there, Charles.

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51. This candid moment captured the Duchess of Cambridge catching the clumsy Countess of Wessex as she tripped while getting into the carriage. Good thing Kate caught her, otherwise that would have been a royal pain.

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52. Watching Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s love story has been like a real-life fairy-tale, and it’s only getting better. A photo like this really captures the dynamic relationship between the two. Find someone who looks at you like Harry looks at Meghan.

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53. Kate and William met while they were studying at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Who knows where they were going in this picture, but Kate sure does look annoyed with her beau. We feel you, Kate.

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54. Like we mentioned before, sports are a huge part of royal life. Unfortunately, the All England Club did not treat the Prince and Duchess well on this outing. The match must have been torturous to watch judging by their faces.

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55. Prince Harry has always been the goofball of the royal family. Here, it looks like he was participating in a charity event in place of — or without — his older brother Prince William. No worries, though: Harry made sure his brother was there in spirit.

Kensington Royals / Instagram

56. Kids are kids regardless if they have royal blood pumping through their veins. Look at little Prince Harry and Prince William enjoying a heart-pounding ride on the Nemesis at Alton Towers. We wonder if the brothers still ride roller coasters from time to time…

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57. And Princess Charlotte knows all too well that having royal blood doesn’t give her the power of endless energy. Being a royal kid is hard work, and it looks like it’s cutting into the princess’ nap time. Someone get her a royal blankey!

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58. Queen Elizabeth has sat on the British throne longer than any other monarch. That’s a long time in the public eye. Apparently, when the queen isn’t attending political affairs, she is outside catching snowflakes on her tongue.

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59. Kids love to stick their tongues out whenever a camera appears, too. Prince Harry might not be king, but he has always been the king of the silly-face pose. And he’s not alone. Even Princess Charlotte has been caught a time or two sporting this face to the cameras.

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60. Royal sunglasses must not be part of the event wardrobe protocol! Not even the duchesses’ fancy hats can block the sun from their eyes.

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61. Seeing how Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are expecting parents, it makes total sense that they have paternal and maternal instincts. It’s so endearing to see the pair interact with the youth of their country.

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62. Kate looks like she is having so much fun during her university days. She’s right in the middle of St. Andrews annual foam fight that welcomes new students. Even since college, Kate’s been a leader.

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63. Most people make this face when they meet Prince Harry, but he seems to be quite shocked himself. He better hold on tight to that tray of cupcakes before he accidentally throws them in the air.

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64. Curious from a young age, William was caught peeking up the skirt of the Prince of Whales during a fishing trip. We all know there are no fish up there, but William needed to check it out for himself first.

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65. A family that jokes together stays together, and William and Harry always make sure their family is in good spirits. Here they are in their younger days teaching the fam how to do the wave!

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66. A bit of healthy competition between brothers is totally normal. William and Harry weren’t afraid to put down the suits and roll around in the mud at their polo match. It got a little messy, to say the least.

Kensington Royals / Instagram

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