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Study Notes

Elizabeth's Legitimacy

AQA, Edexcel, OCR, Eduqas

Last updated 8 Jul 2017

Elizabeth’s legitimacy was one of many problems that Elizabeth faced when she became Queen in 1558. The core of her legitimacy problem centred around the circumstances of her birth by Anne Boleyn.

Anne Boleyn (L), Henry VIII (C) and Elizabeth I (R)

Elizabeth was born on 7th September 1533 to Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII. Elizabeth’s legitimacy becomes a problem because of this marriage. In order to marry Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII had to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. However, the Catholic Church bans divorce which presented a problem for Henry as he could not legally get rid of Catherine. Therefore, Henry created the Church of England, a protestant church, which allowed for divorce. In the eyes of the Church of England, Henry and Catherine were divorced and then Henry could marry Anne.

This issue of divorce creates problems for Catholics. As Catholics do not believe in divorce it means that the marriage between Henry and Catherine was never dissolved, and therefore, the marriage with Anne never happened, and as a result of this Elizabeth was an illegitimate child and had no right to the throne of England.

The second concern of legitimacy again comes from the marriage of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII. After Anne Boleyn was executed, Henry had the marriage annulled, effectively meaning that it never happened. This meant that Elizabeth was declared illegitimate as her claim to the throne comes through the marriage of Anne to Henry.  

Therefore, Elizabeth’s legitimacy was questioned because of the marriage between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.

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