Letters and Speeches of Elizabeth I

1. Speech to a parliamentary delegation on marriage (1559)

As I have good cause, so do I give you all my hearty thanks for the good zeal and loving care you seem to have, as well towards me as to the whole state of your country. Your petition I perceive consisteth of three parts and my answer to the same shall depend of two. And to the first part I may say unto you that from my years of understanding since I first had consideration of myself to be born a servitor of almighty God, I happily chose this kind of life in which I yet live, which I assure you for my own part hath hitherto best contented myself and I trust hath been most acceptable to God. From the which, if either ambition of high estate offered to me in marriage by the pleasure and appointment of my prince whereof I have some records in this presence (as you our Lord Treasurer well know); or if the eschewing of the danger of my enemies or the avoiding of the peril of death, whose messenger or rather continual watchman, the prince’s indignation, was not a little time daily before my eyes (by whose means although I know or justly may suspect, yet I will not now utter, or if the whole cause were in my sister herself, I will not now burden her therewith, because I will not charge the dead); if any of these, I say, could have drawn or dissuaded me from this kind of life, I had not now remained in this estate wherein you see me. But so constant have I always continued in this determination, although my youth and words may seem to some hardly to agree together, yet is it most true that at this day I stand free from any other meaning that either I have had in times past or have at this present; with which trade of life I am so thoroughly acquainted that I trust God, who hath hitherto therein preserved and led me by the hand, will not now of his goodness suffer me to go alone.

For the other part, the manner of your petition I do well like of and take in good part, because that it is simple and containeth no limitation of place or person. If it had been otherwise, I must needs have misliked it very much and thought it in you a very great presumption, being unfitting and altogether unmeet for you to require them that may command or those to appoint whose parts are to desire, or such to bind and limit whose duties are to obey, or to take upon you to draw my love to your likings or frame my will to your fantasies; for a guerdon constrained and a gift freely given can never agree together. Nevertheless if any of you be in suspect, that whensoever it may please God to incline my heart to another kind of life, you may well assure yourselves my meaning is not to do or determine anything wherewith the realm may or shall have just cause to be discontented. And therefore put that clean out of your heads. For I assure you–what credit my assurances may have with you I cannot tell, but what credit it shall deserve to have the sequel shall declare–I will never in that matter conclude anything that shall be prejudicial to the realm, for the weal, good and safety whereof I will never shun to spend my life. And whomsoever my chance shall be to light upon, I trust he shall be as careful for the realm and you–I will not say as myself, because I cannot so certainly determine of any other; but at the least ways, by my goodwill and desire he shall be such as shall be as careful for the preservation of the realm and you as myself. And albeit it might please almighty God to continue me still in this mind to live out of the state of marriage, yet it is not to be feared but He will so work in my heart and in your wisdom as good provision by his help may be made in convenient time, whereby the realm shall not remain destitute of an heir. That may be a fit governor, and peradventure more beneficial to the realm than such offspring as may come of me. For although I be never so careful of your well doings and mind ever so to be, yet may my issue grow out of kind and become perhaps ungracious. And in the end this shall be for me sufficient, that a marble stone shall declare that a Queen, having reigned such a time, lived and died a virgin.

And here I end, and take your coming unto me in good part, and give unto you all eftsoons my hearty thanks, more yet for your zeal and good meaning than for your petition.

2. Speech to the troops at Tilbury (1588) – NB text as reported many years after the event!

My loving people, We have been persuaded by some that are careful of our 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 and 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, and think foul scorn that Parma 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 general2 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.

3. Golden Speech to Parliament (1601)

We perceiue your comming is to present thankes vnto Vs; Know I accept them with no lesse ioy then your loues can haue desire to offer such a Present, and doe more esteeme it then any Treasure of Riches, for those Wee know how to prize, but Loyaltie, Loue, and Thankes, I account them invaluable, and though God hath raysed Mee high, yet this I account the glorie of my Crowne, that I haue reigned with your Loues. This makes that I doe not so much reioyce that God hath made Mee to bee a Queene, as to bee a Queene ouer so thankfull a People, and to bee the meane vnder God to conserue you in safety, and preserue you from danger, yea to bee the Instrument to deliuer you from dishounour, from shame, and from infamie; to keepe you from out of seruitude, and from slaverie vnder our Enemies; and cruell tyranny, and vilde oppression intended against Vs: for the better withstanding wherof, Wee take very acceptably your intended helpes, and chiefely in that it manifesteth your loues and largenesse of heart to your Soveraigne. Of My selfe I must say this, I neuer was any greedy scraping grasper, nor a strict fast holding Prince, nor yet a waster. My heart was neuer set vpon any worldly goods, but onely for my Subiects good. What you doe bestow on Me, I will not hoard vp, but receiue it to bestow on you againe; yea Mine owne Properties I account yours to bee expended for your good, and your eyes shall see the bestowing of it for your wellfare.

Mr. Speaker, I would wish you and the rest to stand vp, for I feare I shall yet trouble you with longer speech.

Mr. Speaker, you give me thankes, but I am more to thank you, and I charge you, thanke them of the Lower-House from Me, for had I not received knowledge from you, I might a fallen into the lapse of an Error, onely for want of true information.

Since I was Queene yet did I neuer put my Pen to any Grant but vpon pretext and semblance made Me, that it was for the good and availe of my Subiects generally, though a private profit to some of my ancient Servants who had deserved well: But that my Grants shall be made Grievances to my People, and Oppressions, to bee priviledged vnder colour of Our Patents, Our Princely Dignitie shall not suffer it.

When I heard it, I could give no rest vnto my thoughts vntill I had reformed it, & those Varlets, lewd persons, abusers of my bountie, shall know I will not suffer it. And Mr. Speaker, tell the House from mee, I take it exceeding gratefull, that the knowledge of these things are come vnto mee from them. And though amongst them the principall Members are such as are not touched in private, and therefore need not speake from any feeling of the griefe, yet We haue heard that other Gentlemen also of the House, who stand as free, haue spoken as freely in it, which giues Vs to know that no respects or intrests haue moved them other then the mindes they beare to suffer no diminution of our Honour, and our Subiects loue vnto Vs. The zeale of which affection tending to ease my People, & knit their hearts vnto vs, I embrace with a Princely care farre aboue all earthly Treasures. I esteeme my Peoples loue, more then which I desire not to merit: And God that gaue me here to sit, and placed me ouer you, knowes that I neuer respected my selfe, but as your good was conserued in mee; yet what dangers, what practices, and what perills I have passed, some, if not all of you know: but none of these things doe mooue mee, or euer made mee feare, but it is God that hath delivered me.

And in my gouerning this Land, I haue euer set the last Iudgement day before mine eyes, and so to rule, as I shall be Iudged and answer before a higher Iudge, to whose Iudgement Seat I doe appeale in that neuer thought was cherished in my heart that tended not to my Peoples good.

And if my Princely bountie haue beene abused, and my Grants turned to the hurt of my People contrary to my will and meaning, or if any in Authoritie vnder mee haue neglected, or converted what I haue committed vnto them, I hope God they will not lay their culps to my charge.

To be a King, and weare a Crown, is a thing more glorious to them that see it, then it is pleasant to them that beare it: for my selfe, I neuer was so much inticed with the glorious name of a King, or the royall authoritie of a Queene, as delighted that god hath made me His Instrument to maintaine His Truth and Glorie, and to defend this Kingdome from dishonour, dammage, tyrannie, and oppresion; But should I ascribe any of these things vnto my selfe, or my sexly weaknesse, I were not worthy to liue, and of all most vnworthy of the mercies I haue receiued at Gods hands but to God onely and wholly all is giuen and ascribed.

The cares and trouble of a Crowne I cannnot more fitly resemble then to the Drugges of a learned Physitian, perfumed with some Aromaticall sauour, or to bitter Pils guilded ouer, by which they are made more exceeptable or lesse offensiue, which indeed are bitter and vnpleasant to take; and for my owne part, were it not for Conscience sake to discharge the dutie that God hath layd vpon me, and to maintaine his glorie, and keepe you in safetie; in mine owne disposition I should be willing to resigne the place I hold to any other, and glad to be freed of the Glory with the Labors, for it is not my desire to liue nor to reign longer then my life and reigne shall bee for your good. And though you haue had and may haue many mightier and wiser Princes sitting in this Seat, yet you neuer had nor shall haue any that will loue you better.

4. Letter to Princess Mary (Mary Tudor), 1552

Good Sister, as to hear of your sickness is unpleasant to me, so is it nothing fearful; for that I understand it is your old guest that is wont oft to visit you, whose coming though it be oft, yet is it never welcome, but notwithstanding it is comfortable for that iacula prµuisa minus feriunt. And as I do understand your need of Jane Russel’s service, so am I sorry that it is by my man’s occasion letted, which if I had known afore, I would have caused his will give place to need of her service. For as it is her duty to obey his commandment, so is it his part to attend your pleasure; and, as I confess, it were meeter for him to go to her, since she attends upon you, so indeed he required the same, but for that divers of his fellows had business abroad that made his tarrying at home.

Good Sister, though I have good cause to thank you for your oft sending to me, yet I have more occasion to render hearty thanks for your gentle writing, which how painful it is to you, I may well guess by myself; and you may well see by my writing so oft, how pleasant it is to me. And thus I end to trouble you, desiring God to send you as well to do, as you can think and wish, or I desire or pray. From Ashridge, scribbled this 27th of October.

5. Letter to James VI of Scotland following the execution of Mary Queen of Scots

My dear Brother, I would you knew (though not felt) the extreme dolor that overwhelms my mind, for that miserable accident which (far contrary to my meaning) hath befallen. I have now sent this kinsman of mine, whom ere now it hath pleased you to favour, to instruct you truly of that which is too irksome for my pen to tell you. I beseech you that as God and many more know, how innocent I am in this case : so you will believe me, that if I had bid aught I would have bid by it. I am not so base minded that fear of any living creature or Prince should make me so afraid to do that were just; or done, to deny the same. I am not of so base a lineage, nor carry so vile a mind. But, as not to disguise, fits not a King, so will I never dissemble my actions, but cause them show even as I meant them. Thus assuring yourself of me, that as I know this was deserved, yet if I had meant it I would never lay it on others’ shoulders; no more will I not damnify myself that thought it not.

The circumstance it may please you to have of this bearer. And for your part, think you have not in the world a more loving kinswoman, nor a more dear friend than myself; nor any that will watch more carefully to preserve you and your estate. And who shall otherwise persuade you, judge them more partial to others than you. And thus in haste I leave to trouble you : beseeching God to send you a long reign. The 14th of February, 1587.