Elizabeth I (7 September 1533 – 24 March 1603) was queen regnant of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death. Sometimes called “The Virgin Queen“, “Gloriana” or “Good Queen Bess“, Elizabeth was the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty. The daughter of Henry VIII, she was born into the royal succession, but her mother, Anne Boleyn, was executed two and a half years after her birth, and Elizabeth was declared illegitimate. On his death in 1553, her half-brother, Edward VI, bequeathed the crown to Lady Jane Grey, cutting his two half-sisters, Elizabeth and the Roman Catholic Mary, out of the succession in spite of statute law to the contrary. His will was set aside, Mary became queen, and Lady Jane Grey was executed. In 1558, Elizabeth succeeded her half-sister, during whose reign she had been imprisoned for nearly a year on suspicion of supporting Protestant rebels.
Elizabeth set out to rule by good counsel, and she depended heavily on a group of trusted advisers led by William Cecil, Baron Burghley. One of her first moves as queen was the establishment of an English Protestant church, of which she became the Supreme Governor. This Elizabethan Religious Settlement later evolved into today’s Church of England. It was expected that Elizabeth would marry and produce an heir to continue the Tudor line. She never did, however, despite numerous courtship’s. As she grew older, Elizabeth became famous for her virginity, and a cult grew up around her which was celebrated in the portraits, pageants, and literature of the day.
In government, Elizabeth was more moderate than her father and half-siblings had been. One of her mottoes was “video et taceo” (“I see, and say nothing”). In religion she was relatively tolerant, avoiding systematic persecution. After 1570, when the pope declared her illegitimate and released her subjects from obedience to her, several conspiracies threatened her life. All plots were defeated, however, with the help of her ministers’ secret service. Elizabeth was cautious in foreign affairs, moving between the major powers of France and Spain. She only half-heartedly supported a number of ineffective, poorly resourced military campaigns in the Netherlands, France, and Ireland. In the mid-1580s, war with Spain could no longer be avoided, and when Spain finally decided to attempt to conquer England in 1588, the failure of the Spanish Armada associated her with one of the greatest military victories in English history.
Elizabeth’s reign is known as the Elizabethan era, famous above all for the flourishing of English drama, led by playwrights such as William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe, and for the seafaring prowess of English adventurers such as Sir Francis Drake. Some historians are more reserved in their assessment. They depict Elizabeth as a short-tempered, sometimes indecisive ruler, who enjoyed more than her share of luck. Towards the end of her reign, a series of economic and military problems weakened her popularity. Elizabeth is acknowledged as a charismatic performer and a dogged survivor, in an age when government was ramshackle and limited and when monarchs in neighbouring countries faced internal problems that jeopardised their thrones. Such was the case with Elizabeth’s rival, Mary, Queen of Scots, whom she imprisoned in 1568 and eventually had executed in 1587. After the short reigns of Elizabeth’s half-siblings, her 44 years on the throne provided welcome stability for the kingdom and helped forge a sense of national identity.
The last speech delivered by Queen Elizabeth I of England. Given to 141 members of the House of Commons on 30 November 1601.
We have heard your declaration and perceive your care of our estate. I do assure you there is no prince that loves his subjects better, or whose love can countervail our love. There is no jewel, be it of never so rich a price, which I set before this jewel: I mean your love. For I do esteem it more than any treasure or riches; for that we know how to prize, but love and thanks I count invaluable. And, though God hath raised me high, yet this I count the glory of my Crown, that I have reigned with your loves. This makes me that I do not so much rejoice that God hath made me to be a Queen, as to be a Queen over so thankful a people. Therefore I have cause to wish nothing more than to content the subject and that is a duty which I owe. Neither do I desire to live longer days than I may see your prosperity and that is my only desire. And as I am that person still yet, under God, hath delivered you and so I trust by the almighty power of God that I shall be his instrument to preserve you from every peril, dishonour, shame, tyranny and oppression, partly by means of your intended helps which we take very acceptably because it manifesteth the largeness of your good loves and loyalties unto your sovereign.
Of myself I must say this: I never was any greedy, scraping grasper, nor a strait fast-holding Prince, nor yet a waster. My heart was never set on any worldly goods. What you bestow on me, I will not hoard it up, but receive it to bestow on you again. Therefore render unto them I beseech you Mr Speaker, such thanks as you imagine my heart yieldeth, but my tongue cannot express. Mr Speaker, I would wish you and the rest to stand up for I shall yet trouble you with longer speech. Mr Speaker, you give me thanks but I doubt me I have greater cause to give you thanks, than you me, and I charge you to thank them of the Lower House from me. For had I not received knowledge from you, I might have fallen into the lapse of an error, only for lack of true information.
Since I was Queen, yet did I never put my pen to any grant, but that upon pretext and semblance made unto me, it was both good and beneficial to the subject in general though a private profit to some of my ancient servants, who had deserved well at my hands. But the contrary being found by experience, I am exceedingly beholden to such subjects as would move the same at first. And I am not so simple to suppose but that there be some of the Lower House whom these grievances never touched. I think they spake out of zeal to their countries and not out of spleen or malevolent affection as being parties grieved. That my grants should be grievous to my people and oppressions to be privileged under colour of our patents, our kingly dignity shall not suffer it. Yea, when I heard it, I could give no rest unto my thoughts until I had reformed it. Shall they, think you, escape unpunished that have oppressed you, and have been respect less of their duty and regardless our honour? No, I assure you, Mr Speaker, were it not more for conscience’ sake than for any glory or increase of love that I desire, these errors, troubles, vexations and oppressions done by these varlets and lewd persons not worthy of the name of subjects should not escape without condign punishment. But I perceive they dealt with me like physicians who, ministering a drug, make it more acceptable by giving it a good aromatical savour, or when they give pills do gild them all over.
I have ever used to set the Last Judgement Day before mine eyes and so to rule as I shall be judged to answer before a higher judge, and now if my kingly bounties have been abused and my grants turned to the hurt of my people contrary to my will and meaning, and if any in authority under me have neglected or perverted what I have committed to them, I hope God will not lay their culps and offenses in my charge. I know the title of a King is a glorious title, but assure yourself that the shining glory of princely authority hath not so dazzled the eyes of our understanding, but that we well know and remember that we also are to yield an account of our actions before the great judge. To be a king and wear a crown is a thing more glorious to them that see it than it is pleasant to them that bear it. For myself I was never so much enticed with the glorious name of a King or royal authority of a Queen as delighted that God hath made me his instrument to maintain his truth and glory and to defend his kingdom as I said from peril, dishonour, tyranny and oppression. There will never Queen sit in my seat with more zeal to my country, care to my subjects and that will sooner with willingness venture her life for your good and safety than myself. For it is my desire to live nor reign no longer than my life and reign shall be for your good. And though you have had, and may have, many princes more mighty and wise sitting in this seat, yet you never had nor shall have, any that will be more careful and loving.
For I, oh Lord, what am I, whom practices and perils past should not fear? Or what can I do? That I should speak for any glory, God forbid. And I pray to you Mr Comptroller, Mr Secretary and you of my Council, that before these gentlemen go into their countries, you bring them all to kiss my hand.
|This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.|
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