Queen Elizabeth (1533-1603) was the source of inspiration and the subject of innumerable works or art, poems and dedications during and beyond what is considered as the richest era of English literature. As queen she was also the historic proof of her father's misconception : the primordial importance of a son and heir to the throne of England.
However, as this served also as the necessary reason for the king to divorce from Roman Catholicism, Henry VIII unwittingly accelerated the process that would end monarchial absolutism, and gradually create the freedom which led to the establishment of parliament and modern democracy sooner in England than anywhere else in the world.
Queen Elizabeth was a skilful political ruler and a highly educated woman. Considerably versed in Latin and Greek, she was tutored mainly by Roger Ascham, but other humanist scholars also assisted in her education.
She, unlike some of our present day heads of State, wrote her own speeches. She made several poetic translations from Petrarch, Seneca, Horace; prose translations from Boethius, Plutarch, and Queen Margaret of Navarre, the French Protestant. She also wrote her own poems that mostly dealt with the events of her personal and public life.
The three examples below illustrate this very well.
Her speech to the troops is especially moving. This address alone raises her as an English monarch, to immortal heights.
The Doubt of Future Foes° (ca. 1568)
The doubt of future foes exiles my present joy,
And wit me warns to shun such snares as threaten mine annoy¹
For falsehood now doth flow, and subject faith doth ebb,²
Which would not be, if reason ruled or wisdom weaved the web.
But clouds of toys untried do cloak aspiring minds,
Which turn to rain of late repent, by course of change winds.³
The top of hope supposed, the root of ruth will be,
And fruitless all their graffèd guiles, as shortly ye shall see.°
The dazzled eyes with pride, which great ambition blinds,
Shall be unsealed by worthy wights whose foresight falsehood finds.
The daughter of debate, that eke¹ discord doth sow
Shall reap no gain where former rule hath taught still² peace to grow.
No foreign banished wight³ shall anchor in this port,
Our realm it brooks no stranger's force, let them elsewhere resort.
Our rusty sword with rest,° shall first his edge employ
To poll¹ their tops that seek such change and gape for joy.
° Concerns Mary Stuart, queen of Scotland, Elizabeth's Roman Catholic cousin, the subject of many conspiracies against the queen.
¹ Menace (annoy)
² The tide of faith that ebbs giving way to the rising tide of falshood.
³ Undetected tricks that will turn to rain of repentance.
° Deceptions that will come to nothing (fruitless).
¹ 'Also.' Mary was also known as the 'Mother of Debate' because she inspired conspiracy.
² Stable. Former rule being stable.
° Rusty from disuse.
On Monsieur's Departure°
I grieve and dare not show my discontent,
I love and yet am forced to seem to hate,
I do, yet dare not say I ever meant,
I seem stark mute but inwardly do prate.¹
I am and not, I freeze and yet am burned,
Since from myself another self I turned.
My care is like my shadow in the sun,
Follows me flying, flies when I pursue it,
Stands and lies by me, doth what I have done²
His too familiar care doth make me rue it.³
No means I find to rid him from my breast,
Till by the end of things it be suppressed.
Some gentler passion slide into my mind,
For I am soft and made of melting snow;
Or be more cruel, love, and so be kind.
Let me or float or sink, be high or low.
Or let me live with some more sweet content,
Or die and forget what love ere meant.
° The end of marriage negotiations between Elizabeth and the French duke of Anjou (1582).
² Imitates me.
³ My sorrow and regret (rue) that he caused.
Speech to the Troops at Tilbury° (1588)
My loving people,
We have been persuaded by some that are careful of our¹ safety, to take heed how we commit our selves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery; but I assure you I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear, I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good-will of my subjects; and therefore I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live or die amongst you all; to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and my people, my honour and my blood, even in the dust. I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too,² and think foul scorn that Parma³ or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field, I know already, for your forwardness you have deserved rewards and crowns;° and We do assure you in the word of a prince, they shall be duly paid you. In the mean time, my lieutenant general¹ shall be in my stead, than whom never prince commanded a more noble or worthy subject; not doubting but by your obedience to my general, by your concord in the camp, and your valour in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory over those enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people.
° Address to the land forces at Tilbury, Essex, who were to counter the invasion of the Spanish Armada sent by Philip II. The Armada never reached England due to storms. This was generally regarded as a God sent miracle, a divine favour to Elizabeth and to England.
¹ Concerned about.
² The two bodies, one being mortal, the other the ideal monarchial concept.
³ The Duke of Parma (Alexander Famese) who made an alliance with the king of Spain and was also expected to invade England with the Spaniards.
° English coins.
¹ The Earl of Leicester, Robert Dudley, leader of the queen's forces. He was a favourite courtier of the queen, and there were rumours at one time that he was her lover and a possible choice of future husband.
Introductory text © Mirino. Source- Norton Anthology English Literature, volume 1. With thanks. Top image- the Darnley portrait of Elizabeth I of England ca. 1575 (oil on panel 113 x 78.7 cm) National Portrait Gallery, London. 2nd image- 'The Ermine Portrait' painted in 1585 by Nicholas Hillard (collection of the Marquess of Salisbury, Hatfield House). Lower image- Signature of the queen. (With thanks to Wikimedia). February, 2012