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LETTERS, POEMS, AND PRAYERS OF PRINCESS ELIZABETH
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1 PRINCESS ELIZABETH TO QUEEN KATHERINE, JULY 31, 1544
Inimical Fortune, envious of all good, she who revolves things human, has deprived me for a whole year of your most illustrious presence, and still not being content with that, has robbed me once again of the same good: the which would be intolerable to me if I did not think to enjoy it soon. And in this my exile I know surely that your highness' clemency has had as much care and solicitude for my health as the king's majesty would have had. For which I am not only bound to serve you but also to revere you with daughterly love, since I understand that your most illustrious highness has not forgotten me every time that you have written to the king's majesty, which would have been for me to do. However, heretofore I have not dared to write to him, for which at present I humbly entreat your most excellent highness that in writing to his majesty you will deign to recommend me to him, entreating ever his sweet benediction and likewise entreating the Lord God to send him best success in gaining victory over his enemies so that your highness, and I together with you, may rejoice the sooner at his happy return. I entreat nothing else from God but that He may preserve your most illustrious highness, to whose grace, humbly kissing your hands, I offer and commend myself. From Saint James on the thirty-first of July.
Your most obedient daughter and most faithful servant, Elizabeth
2 PRINCESS ELIZABETH TO QUEEN KATHERINE, PREFACING HER NEW YEAR'S GIFT OF AN ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF MARGUERITE OF NAVARRE'S MIROIR DE L'ÂME PÉCHERESSE, DECEMBER 31, 1544
To our most noble and virtuous Queen Katherine, Elizabeth, her humble daughter, wisheth perpetual felicity and everlasting joy.
Not only knowing the affectuous will and fervent zeal the which your highness hath towards all godly learning, as also my duty towards you (most gracious and sovereign princess); but knowing also that pusillanimity and idleness are most repugnant unto a reasonable creature and that (as the philosopher sayeth) even as an instrument of iron or of other metal waxeth soon rusty unless it be continually occupied, even so shall the wit of a man or a woman wax dull and unapt to do or understand anything perfectly unless it be always occupied upon some manner of study. Which things considered hath moved so small a portion as God hath lent me to prove what I could do. And therefore have I (as for assay or beginning, following the right notable saying of the proverb aforesaid) translated this little book out of French rhyme into English prose, joining the sentences together as well as the capacity of my simple wit and small learning could extend themselves. The which book is entitled or named The Mirror or Glass of the Sinful Soul, wherein is contained how she (beholding and contempling what she is) doth perceive how of herself and of her own strength she can do nothing that good is or prevaileth for her salvation, unless it be through the grace of God, whose mother, daughter, sister, and wife by the Scriptures she proveth herself to be. Trusting also that through His incomprehensible love, grace, and mercy, she (being called from sin to repentance) doth faithfully hope to be saved.
And although I know that, as for my part which I have wrought in it (as well spiritual as manual), there is nothing done as it should be, nor else worthy to come in your grace's hands, but rather all unperfect and uncorrect; yet do I trust also that, howbeit it is like a work which is but new begun and shapen, that the file of your excellent wit and godly learning in the reading of it, if so it vouchsafe your highness to do, shall rub out, polish, and mend (or else cause to mend) the words (or rather the order of my writing), the which I know in many places to be rude and nothing done as it should be. But I hope that after to have been in your grace's hands, there shall be nothing in it worthy of reprehension, and that in the meanwhile no other but your highness only shall read it or see it, less my faults be known of many. Then shall they be better excused (as my confidence is in your grace's accustomed benevolence) than if I should bestow a whole year in writing or inventing ways for to excuse them. Praying God almighty, the Maker and Creator of all things, to grant unto your highness the same New Year's Day a lucky and a prosperous year, with prosperous issue and continuance of many years in good health and continual joy and all to His honor, praise, and glory. From Ashridge the last day of the year of our Lord God, 1544.
3 PRINCESS ELIZABETH TO KING HENRY VIII, PREFACING HER TRILINGUAL TRANSLATION OF QUEEN KATHERINE'S PRAYERS OR MEDITATIONS, DECEMBER 30, 1545
To the most illustrious and most mighty King Henry the Eighth, king of England, France, and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, and second to Christ, supreme head of the English and Irish Church, Elizabeth, his majesty's most humble daughter, wishes all happiness, and begs his blessing.
As an immortal soul is superior to a mortal body, so whoever is wise judges things done3 by the soul more to be esteemed and worthy of greater praise than any act of the body. And thus, as your majesty is of such excellence that none or few are to be compared with you in royal and ample marks of honor, and I am bound unto you as lord by the law of royal authority, as lord and father by the law of nature, and as greatest lord and matchless and most benevolent father by the divine law, and by all laws and duties I am bound unto your majesty in various and manifold ways, so I gladly asked (which it was my duty to do) by what means I might offer to your greatness the most excellent tribute that my capacity and diligence could discover. In the which I only fear lest slight and unfinished studies and childish ripeness of mind diminish the praise of this undertaking and the commendation which accomplished talents draw from a most divine subject. For nothing ought to be more acceptable to a king, whom philosophers regard as a god on earth, than this labor of the soul, which raises us up to heaven and on earth makes us heavenly and divine in the flesh; and while we may be enveloped by continual and infinite miseries, even then it renders us blessed and happy.
Which work, since it is so pious, and by the pious exertion and great diligence of a most illustrious queen has been composed in English, and on that account may be more desirable to all and held in greater value by your majesty, it was thought by me a most suitable thing that this work, which is most worthy because it was indeed a composition by a queen as a subject for her king, be translated into other languages by me, your daughter. May I, by this means, be indebted to you not as an imitator of your virtues but indeed as an inheritor of them. In the work, whatever is not mine is worthy of the greatest praise, as the whole book is at once pious in its subject, ingeniously composed, and arranged in the most appropriate order. Whatever is truly mine, if there is any mistake in it, deserves indulgence on account of ignorance, youth, short time of study, and goodwill. And if it is mediocre, even if it is worthy of no praise at all, nevertheless if it is well received, it will incite me earnestly so that, however much I grow in years, so much will I grow in knowledge and the fear of God and thus devote myself to Him more religiously and respect your majesty more dutifully. Wherefore I do not doubt that your fatherly goodness and royal prudence will esteem this inward labor of my soul not less than any other mark of honor and will regard this divine work as more to be esteemed because it has been composed by the most serene queen, your spouse, and is to be held in slightly greater worth because it has been translated by your daughter. May He who is King of kings, in whose hand are the hearts of kings, so govern your soul and protect your life that in true piety and religion we may live long under your majesty's dominion. From Hertford, the 30 day of December 1545.
4 PRINCESS ELIZABETH TO QUEEN KATHERINE, PREFACING HER ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF CHAPTER 1 OF JOHN CALVIN'S INSTITUTION DE LA RELIGION CHRESTIENNE (GENEVA, 1541), DECEMBER 30, 1545
To the most high, most illustrious and magnanimous Princess Katherine, queen of England, France, and Ireland, Elizabeth, her most humble daughter, gives greeting and due obedience.
Of old, from great antiquity—most noble, most excellent and sovereign princess—the custom has always prevailed that to preserve the memory of notable things that were done in times past, and likewise to increase their renown, a number of ingenious men, both to apply their understanding and skill and to have it seen that in every way with their ingenious art they excelled the rest of all other animals, have in many places and in divers ways amused themselves by composing or putting into memoirs the things done in their time that seemed to them worthiest of commemoration or remembrance. And in order to do this (because the apt and requisite usage of letters and the way of writing were not yet invented), they were accustomed to draw out and bring forth their most memorable deeds with certain characters, figures, images, or effigies of men, beasts, birds, fish, trees, or plants, carved out crudely and grossly because they did not care how it was that they labored, provided that the memory of their intention was magnified, diffused, and noted by everyone. Now afterwards, since the creation of the world, we see that just as the days and months increase and multiply, so similarly, little by little, by succession of time the mind of man is more ingenious and inventive, more adorned and polished, than it formerly was. And therefore some have invented sculpting in the round, casting or engraving in gold, silver, copper, or other metals, yet others in stone, marble, wood, wax, clay, or other materials, statues of our predecessors—their size, height, breadth, proportions, body weight and volume, their physiognomy, complexion, color, and look, their bearing, gait, countenance, their exploits—in the doing of which, excellent painters do not deserve less praise. But all of these together never could and cannot yet represent or reveal by their works the mind or wit, the speech or understanding of any person.
And yet, especially among the aforesaid arts and sciences, the invention of letters seems to me the most clever, excellent, and ingenious. For through their ordering not only can the aforesaid bodily features be declared, but also (which is more) the image of the mind, wiles, and understanding, together with the speech and intention of the man, can be perfectly known—indeed, traced and portrayed so close to artless and natural that it actually seems that his words that were spoken and pronounced long ago still have the same vigor they had before. Thus also we see that God by His Word and Scripture can be seen, heard, and known for who He is, inasmuch as it is permitted and necessary for our salvation—He who otherwise cannot be known or seen because in Himself He is invisible and impalpable and, for our part, He is impossible to see or touch. And yet there is no painter, engraver, sculptor, or other, however ingenious and subtle he may be, who could truly show or produce any image or likeness of His essential divinity, no more nor less than he could with the mind of any other creature. Thus the art of painting, engraving, or sculpting is the image and effigy of bodily, visible, and palpable things; and by contrast, the Scripture is the image and effigy of spiritual, invisible, and impalpable things.
And so, by a natural instinct, following our aforesaid predecessors, I have presumed and undertaken to translate into our mother tongue a little book whose argument or subject, as Saint Paul said, surpasses the capacity of every creature and yet is of such great vigor that there is no living creature of whatever sort that has not had within itself the feeling of it—which surely would require greater eloquence or adornment of words and sentences than I would know how to apply to it. But seeing the source from which this book came forth, the majesty of the matter surpasses all human eloquence, being privileged and having such force within it that a single sentence has power to ravish, inspire, and give knowledge to the most stupid and ignorant beings alive in what way God wishes to be known, seen, and heard: I yet think it is sufficient in itself and has no need for any human consent, support, or help.
Which when I considered (following principally the intention of my author), I was emboldened, and ventured to translate it word for word, and not that it might be a perfect work, but assuring myself that your highness will pay more regard to the zeal and the desire that I have of pleasing you than you will to the capacity of my simple ability and knowledge. And may you of your grace vouchsafe to judge it to proceed from a similar intention as theirs, the aforesaid, because they did not care how it was that they labored, provided that their intention was understood. By which I hope that in similar case your highness will excuse me, and with your gracious, accustomed welcome will receive it as testimony that not for anything in this world would I want to fall into any arrears in my duty towards your grace, but rather, in my ability as the least, hold the lamp and illumine so, and so that I may assist the fervent zeal and perfect love that you bear towards the selfsame God who created all things. Whom I most ardently entreat to vouchsafe that you may grow so very perfectly in the knowledge of Him that the organ of your royal voice may be the true instrument of His Word, in order to serve as a mirror and lamp to all true Christian men and women. From Hertford Castle this penultimate day of the year 1545.
5 PRINCESS ELIZABETH TO KING EDWARD VI, FEBRUARY 14, 1547
[Addressed] To the most excellent and most noble King Edward the Sixth
That before this time I have sent no letters to your majesty, king most serene and most illustrious, and have given no thanks for that singular kindness and brotherly love that you have shown towards me, I beg you not to account to the forgetting of benefits (which God forbid) nor think it to follow from such forgetting, which is most unfitting, but rather that it must be attributable to other, more just causes. For although I have often endeavored to write to your majesty, the slight ill health of my body, especially, indeed, the pain in my head, held me back from beginning. On which account I hope that your highness will be inclined to accept my feelings towards you as a substitute for my letters. Which feelings, indeed, proceeding not so much from the mouth as from the heart, will declare a certain due respect and faith towards your majesty. Truly I desire this to be known to you, and by deeds more than words. That this might be so, I will strive with all my powers. Indeed, even as when gold is melted down by fire and well purified from dross and not until then deemed certainly worthy, so any man's works make his feelings very surely known.
Henceforth, all that remains is for me to give your majesty the greatest thanks that I can because not only has he readily honored me with every human kindness in his presence, but also now, though absent, has made proof of his feelings towards me in my absence by sending a ring. From which, after it was sent, I could see that to refresh your majesty's memory of your promise was not the least bit necessary, not only because your highness commanded that I not do so, but also on account of your kindness (which I have not formerly doubted) shown to me. May God long keep your majesty safe and further advance (as He has begun to do) your growing virtues to the utmost. From Enfield the 14th of February.
Your majesty's most humble servant and sister, Elizabeth
Excerpted from Elizabeth I by Leah S. Marcus, Janel Mueller, Mary Beth Rose. Copyright © 2000 The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
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The Collected Works is an accessible (and affordable) collection of Elizabeth's I writings. It includes letters, speeches, prayers, and poems. The book is organized chronologically into chunks and then organized by type of materials. Thus, all of the letters from a certain period are included before the poems of a certain period. This puts a bit more work onto the reader, who must be aware of listed dates. The dates are given when known and approximated when unknown. When this happens the authors include notes explaining their reasoning or the lack knowledge about a date or origin. There is a preface (introduction), list of letters, and an index. This makes searching much easier.
The editors of this work are highly-regarded scholars working in early modern English literature and history. This volume is essential for anyone working on Elizabeth and Elizabethan topics. It is not exhaustive, but is the more exhaustive work to date. There are some other volumes of letters (Elizabeth I: Her Life in Letters by Felix Pryor) and writings (Queen Elizabeth I: selected works by Steven W. May, Elizabeth I: the word of a prince; a life from contemporary documents by Maria Perry, and Elizabeth's Glass by Shell), but these are less comprehensive than this volume.
There are very few images; they are all black and white reproductions of originals.
The authors also worked on other volumes, including two on Elizabeth's translations and one of originals (this one with many more images). All are published by University of Chicago Press.
My area of research is Elizabethan England and Elizabeth specifically. This work is absolutely essential for anyone doing research in this area. It is also accessible for other readers who are interested in how Elizabeth wrote. Spelling and punctuation are modernized, making reading easier for general audiences. The notes alone are worth the price of the book in either hardcover or softcover.
I highly recommend this book for those readers doing research at any level and for any reason. It is an interesting (and refreshing) antidote to the heavy-handed fictional and filmic ideas of Elizabethan writing.