Elizabeth I (1533-1603) was born to Henry VIII (1491-1547) and his second wife, Anne Boleyn (1500-1536). Her mother was executed for treason in 1536, and, by the terms of the Second Succession Act (1536), Elizabeth was declared illegitimate, removing her from the line of succession. The Act was repealed in 1543 by the Third Succession Act, which returned Elizabeth to the line of succession after her protestant half-brother Edward (1537-1553) and her Catholic older half-sister Mary (1516-1558). The legislation was controversial. Technically Elizabeth remained a bastard, albeit one who could legally succeed to the crown.
Elizabeth survived the political intrigues and religious persecution of the 1550s to claim the throne upon Mary’s death in 1558. She immediately re-established the protestant Church of England after Mary’s Catholic programme, and, with a new Act of Uniformity in 1559, imposed a Book of Common Prayer.
As the future of the Tudor dynasty had been a major concern of Henry VIII’s reign, so too the succession dominated Elizabethan politics from the very beginning. Upon her accession, it was universally assumed that Elizabeth would marry to secure a peaceful succession to the throne. In 1559 the privy council presented the queen with a formal request that she should marry. Her response was to filibuster, asserting her marriage to the nation: ‘reproach me so no more […] that I have no children: for every one of you, and as many as are English, are my children and kinsfolks’. Elizabeth had many suitors, including Philip II of Spain (1527-1598), Erik VIX of Sweden (1533-1577), and, closer to home, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (1532-1588). Yet she never took a husband, despite mounting political pressure to produce an heir.