Over the years, countless books, novels, plays and films have depicted Elizabeth I's relationships with figures such as Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester; Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, and the Duke of Anjou. In the absence of conclusive proof one way or another, the question ‘did they or didn't they?' will always linger. Yet what is clear is that, both at home and abroad, rumours about Elizabeth's love life – real or imagined – circulated throughout her reign. Far from being the Virgin Queen, for some hostile observers Elizabeth was the ‘whore' of Europe.
Contemporary beliefs about the ‘insatiable' sexual appetites of women, together with Elizabeth's failure to marry, fuelled suspicions that the queen was engaged in secret sexual liaisons. Her Catholic opponents challenged her virtue, and accused her of a “filthy lust” that had “defiled her body and the country”. The king of France joked that one of the great questions of the day was “whether Queen Elizabeth was a maid or no”. The courts of Europe were abuzz with gossip as to the queen of England's behaviour.