Elizabeth I of England is sometimes referred to as the Virgin Queen, in a reference to her choice not to marry. However, the reasons behind her choice are quite complex; Elizabeth certainly enjoyed the company of men, for example. It would appear that Elizabeth's reasons for remaining chaste were probably political, and her chastity has actually been called into question by some biographers, as she certainly had several close male friends with whom she appeared to be quite intimate.
The early year's of Elizabeth's reign were marked by instability and uncertainty, partly because of the Queen's eligible status. She took on the mantle of the Virgin Queen herself, declaring herself married to England. In doing so, the Queen created a sort of personal myth, associating herself with mythological virgins like Diana, the Virgin Huntress, and Mary, the mother of Christ. By becoming the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I set herself aside from other women, which may have made it easier for her to command respect in a very patriarchal society.
That patriarchal society was probably one of the driving reason's behind Elizabeth's decision not to marry. Since men commanded more authority and respect than women in Tudor England, Elizabeth would have become the Queen Consort had she married, essentially losing all of her power. Elizabeth was probably also sobered by her father's multiple marriages, some of which ended in executions. Given the abuse of authority demonstrated by her father, Henry VIII, Elizabeth may have been afraid to marry because she feared losing her authority and her life.
Politics were also an important concern. The Queen would have been afraid of creating factional infighting in England by marrying an Englishman, and she may have been concerned about being involved in foreign disputes if she married a foreign man. The Queen's potential eligibility as a wife may also have kept foreign powers from attacking England, as even after she became the “Virgin Queen,” foreign kings might have wanted to keep their options open.
Elizabeth often stated that she ruled by divine right, and she may have felt that creating a persona as the Virgin Queen reinforced this idea in the eyes of her people. By all accounts, “Good Queen Bess” was greatly beloved by the English people, and she certainly contributed a great deal to England during her career. She once said that “I know I have but the body of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart of a king, and of a king of England, too,” recognizing that many members of her society questioned her fitness to rule. She went from the bastard child of the King's beheaded wife to Gloriana, the Virgin Queen, proving to English society that a woman was perfectly capable of governing her nation. Other powerful and talented women have since ruled England, including Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II.