Queen Elizabeth I of England had a troublesome history, whether in regards to her own difficult childhood or her racist policies against individuals of African descent. Her reputation as the "Virgin Queen," the monarch who, unlike her six-times-wed father, never married, precedes her today. But did "Good Queen Bess" really remain chaste for her entire life - and did she, as rumored, have a secret love child?
A Whole Lotta Love
Elizabeth certainly had a lot of close male friends, some of whom were rumored to be her lovers. Her first and true love was Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, whom she dubbed her "Sweet Robin." A good childhood pal, Robert courted Elizabeth relentlessly.
But for much of their relationship, he was married to a woman named Amy Robsart (not to mention that Leicester was way below Lizzie's royal station). In 1560, Amy was found dead at the bottom of a staircase; suspicion clouded the circumstances of her death, rumors swirling that a jealous Elizabeth had ordered her murder. But there's no proof of these accusations.
The handsome Robert Dudley.
And, of course, there's Elizabeth's other great love: Leicester's stepson, Robert Devereaux, Earl of Essex. He was actually the Queen's relative through his mother, Elizabeth's first cousin once removed, Lettice Knollys. Brutally ambitious and wildly arrogant, Essex captured the aging Queen's heart, taking advantage of her affection and fomenting an insurrection in 1601, for which he was later executed.
If Lizzie had a lover, did she bear them any children, and, if so, who were they? There's the Prince Tudor theory, which claims that Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford (and alleged mastermind behind all of Shakespeare's works) and Elizabeth had a son, Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southhampton (a real-life nobleman).
An alternative version suggests that the philosopher Sir Francis Bacon was Lizzie's love child with the aforementioned Leicester. Robin and Elizabeth were secretly wed, but their marriage couldn't be announced, so they gave their child away. That's pseudo-history at its finest. Some even claim that Essex was Elizabeth's child!
Historian Paul Doherty has another idea. He suggests that a guy named Arthur Dudley was the secret son of Elizabeth and Leceister. Elizabeth was bed-ridden with an llness in 1561, during which time she supposedly had baby Arthur (interestingly, also the name of her father's deceased elder brother).
In 1587, the year before the Armada battle, Spanish - enemies of the English since Elizabeth spurned her former brother-in-law, King Philip II - produced a guy claiming to be Arthur Dudley. He said he was raised by a close friend of Elizabeth's governess named Robert Southern, to whom she gave her secret love child, and was educated as befit a gentleman. Southern supposedly confessed Arthur's true parentage to him on his deathbed.
Despite Doherty's theories, though, no irrefutable evidence about a Virgin Queen lover or child has yet emerged.
Feature image via National Portrait Gallery.