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Queen Elizabeth I was one of the most charismatic of English sovereigns, and one of the most prolific. While her more famous public speeches are familiar to some, many of her private writings have never before been printed or made accessible. Now, for the first time, a generous selection of her poetry, speeches, essays, letters, prayers, and translations is being made available to...
Queen Elizabeth I was one of the most charismatic of English sovereigns, and one of the most prolific. While her more famous public speeches are familiar to some, many of her private writings have never before been printed or made accessible. Now, for the first time, a generous selection of her poetry, speeches, essays, letters, prayers, and translations is being made available to a popular audience. From a poem written in charcoal on a wall at Woodstock Palace by the twenty-two-year-old imprisoned princess, to the speech the thirty-year-old queen gave in response to parliamentary pressure that she marry, to the fascinating letters sent to her emissaries as they conducted the kingdom's business, this collection of the selected writings of Elizabeth I is a privileged glimpse into the mind of one of the most compelling rulers of the Western world.
Authenticity was a guiding principle in the selection of these readings. This volume grew out of the many manuscript texts of Elizabeth's works Professor Steven W. May discovered while preparing the Bibliography and First-Line Index of English Verse, a twelve-year research project that took him to more than 100 manuscript archives in this country and the United Kingdom.
The anthology offers a broad selection of Queen Elizabeth's works and includes the most authentic and interesting English texts that survive in her handwriting. Her written words reveal not only Elizabeth's political and psychological insight, but her literary gifts as well. The texts, presented in modern spelling and set forth in their historical context, are accompanied by extensive explanatory notes and introductory material.
An impressive collection of rare documents, presented with abundant commentary and full explanatory notes, as well as an informative introduction providing helpful background on Elizabeth's life and letters.
Chapter One: Original Poems
From Universitätsbibliothek Basel MS L, 7-8,
the diary of Thomas Platter.
A[t] Woodstock Manor. 1555.
Oh fortune, thy wresting, wavering state
Hath fraught with cares my troubled wit,
Whose witness this present prison late
Could bear, where once was joy flown quite.
Thou caused'st the guilty to be loosed
From bands where innocents were enclosed,
And caused the guiltless to be reserved,
And freed those that death had well deserved.
But herein can be nothing wrought.
So God send to my foes as they have thought.
Finis. Elisabetha the prisoner, 1555
Elizabeth wrote these lines in charcoal on a wall at Woodstock Palace, where she was imprisoned by Queen Mary from June 1554 until April 17, 1555. The only extant contemporary texts were transcribed by Continental visitors to the palace (see the textual notes).
Platter's text has been reprinted in Clare Williams, Thomas Platter's Travels in England, 1599 (London, 1937), pp. 220-21, and in Thomas Platter, Beschreibung der Reisen durch Frankreich, Spanien, England und die Niederlande 1595-1600, ed. Rut Keiser (Basel, 1968), 2:859. I am grateful to Dr. Lukas Erne for checking this transcription against the original manuscript at Basel. See G. W. Groos, ed., The Diary of Baron Waldstein (London, 1981), pp. 117, 119, for the text copied at Woodstock by this nobleman in 1600. A third foreign visitor, Paul Hentzner, copied the poem on September 13, 1598. A corrupt version of his transcription was published in Itinerarivm Germaniae, Galliae; Angliae; Italiae; Scriptum a Paulo Hentznero J C (1612), sig. S4v-T1. A mutilated version of the poem in an eighteenth-century hand is found in British Library Add. MS 4457, f. 6.
Woodstock, 1555. John Foxe,
Actes and Monuments (1563), sig. 2nd 4N7v.
Much suspected by me,
Nothing proved can be.
Quod Elisabeth the prisoner.
According to Foxe, Elizabeth wrote these lines "with her diamond in a glass window" at Woodstock Palace, where, with Poem 1, they were routinely shown to visitors. Unlike Poem 1, however, this couplet was widely disseminated in England during the Queen's reign. It was printed in Foxe's "Book of Martyrs" (six editions during Elizabeth's reign, between 1563 and 1597), as well as in Holinshed's Chronicles (1587), vol. 3, sig. 5S2; in Anthony Munday's A Watch-Woord to Englande (1584), sig. I1; and in the notes to Sir John Harington's translation of Orlando Furioso (1591), sig. 2L2. Manuscript copies include Harington's draft of the Orlando Furioso (British Library Add. MS 18920, f. 322) and two seventeenth-century texts in NLW, Sotheby MS B2, f. 59v.
Royal Library, Windsor Castle,
holograph on the last page of text in a copy
of a French Psalter published in Paris ca. 1520.
No crooked leg, no bleared eye,
No part deformed out of kind,
Nor yet so ugly half can be
As is the inward, suspicious mind.
Your loving mistress,
Elizabeth inscribed these lines when she presented the psalter to a servant or friend at some time before November 17, 1558. Her signature establishes the approximate date, for after her name she drew a square knot with four loops. It mimics the knot that Henry VIII added to his signatures, and was the symbol Elizabeth ordinarily used as princess. She replaced the knot with the letter "R" (for Regina) upon becoming queen.
The text as transcribed here is published by gracious permission of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The verse and signature occupy most of the bottom half of the printed page and Elizabeth made no effort to present her work as a verse stanza: the lines break at "bleared," "out," "ugly," and "inward."
Folger MS V.b.317, f. 20v.
The doubt of future foes exiles my present joy,
And wit me warns to shun such snares as threatens
For falsehood now doth flow, and subjects' faith
Which should not be if reason ruled or wisdom
weaved the web.
But clouds of joys untried do cloak aspiring minds,
Which turns to rain of late repent by changèd course
The top of hope supposed, the root of rue shall be,
And fruitless all their grafted guile as shortly you
Their dazzled eyes with pride, which great ambition
Shall be unsealed by worthy wights whose foresight falsehood finds.
The daughter of debate, that discord aye doth sow
Shall reap no gain where former rule still peace hath
taught to know.
No foreign, banished wight shall anchor in this port;
Our realm brooks no seditious sects, let them elsewhere
My rusty sword through rest shall first his edge
To poll their tops who seek such change or gape for
The Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, had been held captive in England since 1568 when she fled Scotland after the scandal of her husband's murder. In the fall of 1569, English Catholics led by the earls of Northumberland and Westmorland attempted to
free Mary by force and overthrow the Elizabethan regime. Their uprising, termed the "Northern Rebellion," was effectively suppressed early in the new year. Elizabeth's prophetic and anxious response to this victory saw widespread circulation after Lady Willoughby copied the poem from the Queen's tablet.
This poem circulated in both manuscript and print. Contemporary transcribed copies include the Arundel Harington Manuscript of Tudor Poetry (f. 164v), ed. Ruth Hughey, 2 vols. (Columbus, Oh., 1960); another text from Harington family papers was published in Sir John Harington, Nugae Antiquae, ed. Henry Harington (London, 1769), 1:58-59; London, Inner Temple Petyt MS 538.10, f. 3v; L: Egerton MS 2642, f. 237v; Harleian MS 6933, f. 8; Harleian MS 7392(2), f. 27v; NLW, Ottley Papers; O: Digby MS 138, f. 159; Rawlinson Poet. MS 108, f. 44v. George Puttenham published a version of the poem in The Arte of English Poesie (1589), sig. 2E2v. The copy text has been emended at line 6, "rain" for "rage," and line 16, "poll" for the scribe's possible spelling variant, "pul."
Pierpont Morgan Library, PML 7768, first flyleaf, recto.
Genus infoelix vitae
Multum vigilavi, laboravi, presto multis fui,
Stultitiam multorum perpessa sum,
Arrogantiam pertuli, Difficultates exorbui,
Vixi ad aliorum arbitrium, non ad meum.
A hapless kind of life is this I wear,
Much watch I dure, and weary, toiling days,
I serve the rout, and all their follies bear,
I suffer pride, and sup full hard assays,
To others' will my life is all addressed,
And no way so as might content me best.
Both poems were transcribed in Sir Thomas Heneage's copy of Henry Bull's Christian Prayers and Holy Meditations (1570). As a gentleman of the Privy Chamber from the beginning of Elizabeth's reign, Heneage was an esteemed favorite whose testimony about the Queen's authorship of these poems is almost certainly reliable. The English translation (Poem 5b) is subscribed, "This above was written in a booke by the Queenes Majestie." Elizabeth apparently wrote the Latin version with its unusual cross-rhyme, then translated it into English.
O: Tanner MS 76, f. 94.
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,
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 done,
His too-familiar care doth make me rue it.
No means I find to rid him from my breast,
Til 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 so forget what love e'er meant.
Three of the five manuscripts of this poem associate it with Elizabeth's parting from "Monsieur" — Francis, duke of Anjou, her last suitor. After protracted marriage negotiations and months of courtship in London during the winter of 1581-82, Anjou left England in February without a nuptial agreement; he died in May 1584. All five texts of this poem are closely related, and all postdate the occasion for which it was written by more than thirty years. The lack of contemporary copies of this love lament casts some doubt on its authenticity, yet each of the extant manuscripts attributes it to the Queen; it is possible that this very personal composition was discovered only after her death.
Water damage has largely obliterated the Ashmole MS 781 text. As transcribed by John Nichols (Progresses and Public Processions of Queen Elizabeth, new ed. [London, 1823], 2:346), this version differs from the Tanner MS in only two readings: "my other" for "another" (l. 6), and "passions" for "passion" (l. 13). Among other variants from the Tanner text, the Leeds MS (L), Stowe MS (S), and NLW MS (W) record the following corrupt readings:
3 yet dare] yet I dare W
8 pursue it] pursue W
12 things] living S
13 some] come L; gentler] greater S
Wiltshire Record Office MS 865/500, f. 27.
7a. Sir Walter Ralegh to the Queen
Fortune hath taken thee away, my love,
My life's joy and my soul's heaven above;
Fortune hath taken thee away my princess,
My world's delight and my true fancy's mistress.
Fortune hath taken all away from me,
Fortune hath taken all by taking thee;
Dead to all joys, I only live to woe,
So Fortune now becomes my fancy's foe.
In vain mine eyes, in vain you waste your tears,
In vain my sighs, the smokes of my despairs,
In vain you search the earth and heavens above,
In vain you search, for fortune keeps my love.
Then will I leave my love in Fortune's hands,
Then will I leave my love in worthless bands,
And only love the sorrow due to me;
Sorrow, henceforth that shall my princess be,
And only joy that Fortune conquers kings,
Fortune that rules on earth and earthly things
Hath ta'en my love in spite of virtue's might:
So blind a goddess did never virtue right.
With wisdom's eyes had but blind Fortune seen,
Then had my love my love forever been;
But love, farewell, though Fortune conquer thee,
No Fortune base shall ever alter me.
Ah silly pug, wert thou so sore afraid?
Mourn not, my Wat, nor be thou so dismayed;
It passeth fickle Fortune's power and skill
To force my heart to think thee any ill.
No Fortune base, thou sayest, shall alter thee;
And may so blind a wretch then conquer me?
No, no, my pug, though Fortune were not blind,
Assure thyself she could not rule my mind.
Ne chose I thee by foolish Fortune's rede,
Ne can she make me alter with such speed,
But must thou needs sour sorrow's servant be,
If that to try thy mistress jest with thee.
Fortune, I grant, sometimes doth conquer kings,
And rules and reigns on earth and earthly things,
But never think that Fortune can bear sway,
If virtue watch and will her not obey.
Pluck up thy heart, suppress thy brackish tears,
Torment thee not, but put away thy fears,
Thy love, thy joy, she loves no worthless bands,
Much less to be in reeling Fortune's hands.
Dead to all joys and living unto woe,
Slain quite by her that never gave wiseman blow,
Revive again and live without all dread,
The less afraid the better shalt thou speed.
The text of Ralegh's poem in L: Additional MS 63742 suggests that it was circulating by 1587, just at the time that Robert Devereux, second earl of Essex, eclipsed Ralegh as the Queen's leading favorite. By complaining that fortune had robbed him of Elizabeth's favor, Ralegh may have intended to remind her of her own vulnerability to a social superior, her half-sister Mary, and the verses she wrote (Poem 1) to lament her confinement at Woodstock by Mary's command. Elizabeth's response to Ralegh, however, consistently treats fortune as the blind goddess of fate, not the rival nobleman whose inroads into her favor elicited Ralegh's complaint.
Ralegh's verse lament apparently entered widespread manuscript circulation not long after he wrote it, for a ballad of "Fortune hath taken thee awaye my love, beinge the true dittie thereof" was entered in the Stationers' Register on June 13, 1590. A two-part ballad on the subject was also entered in the Register on September 22, 1604 — no doubt a source text for the much-altered versions of these companion poems that were published as broadside ballads in the seventeenth century. For further analysis of the textual history of both poems in print and manuscript see my Elizabethan Courtier Poets: The Poems and Their Contexts (Columbia, Mo., 1991), pp. 319-20.
John Rhodes, The Countrie Mans Comfort (1637), sig. D6-6v.
Two most excellent songs or Ditties, made by Queene Elizabeth, as it is credibly reported (and as it is very likely by some words in it) in the yeare 1588. When the Spaniard came to pos-sess this land and is in manner of a prayer to God.
Deliver me, O Lord my God, from all my foes that be:
And eke defend all Christian souls that put their trust
Preserve us now and evermore from all the wicked
Who long and thirst for Christians' blood and never will refrain.
Mine enemies, O Lord, be strong, and thou the same
And that without offence in me, they seek mine
My hope and help in all distress hath ever been in
And thou, O Lord, of thy goodness didst still
Come now and end this strife likewise, the cause is
Wherefore to thee myself and suit, I wholly do resign.
Commentary, Poems 8 and 9
These songs work together as a prayer to God for deliverance from the Spanish Armada and a prayer of thanksgiving after its defeat. The National Maritime Museum MS was described among the "Manuscripts of John Henry Gurney, Keswick Hall, Norfolk," before the dispersal of that collection. A version of Poem 9 was also printed in Rhodes's book, which, he claimed, was originally published in 1588. An entry for The Countrie Mans Comfort in the Stationers' Register in that year confirms the assertion, although no copy of the first edition is known. Insofar as the National Maritime Museum manuscript supports Rhodes's attribution of Poem 9 to the Queen, there is no reason to doubt that the first hymn he attributes to her is also authentic. Use of the archaic "eke" in Poem 8, line 2, is matched, for example, by seven uses of the word in her translation of Plutarch. Her protest in lines 5-6 that her enemies have attacked her without provocation is a common theme in Elizabeth's prayers and speeches.
Both Poems 8 and 9 are indebted in their language and sentiments to the Old Testament Psalms tradition without being translations or close adaptations of any one of them. Poem 8, however, resembles Psalm 59 in its appeal to God to "deliver me from mine enemies," its insistence on the power of these "bloodie men," and on the innocence of the singer: "the mightie men are gathered against me, not for mine offense, nor for my sinne, O Lord" (Geneva Bible, 1560, p. 247). Psalm 140 likewise opens with a plea to "Deliver me, O Lord, from the evil man," and emphasizes the adversary's power and cruelty. Psalm 86 begins, "Incline thine eare, O Lord, and heare me," and represents the singer as God's "servant." Verse 10 echoes line 6, "For thou art great and doest wonderous things," and the reference in verse 16 to saving "the sonne of thine handmaid" recalls Elizabeth as God's handmaid in line 2 of Poem 9.
National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, MS SNG/4.
A song made by her Majesty and sung before her at her coming from Whitehall to Paul's through Fleetstreet in Anno Dmi 1588. Sung in December after the scattering of the Spanish Navy.
Look and bow down thine ear, O Lord, from thy bright
sphere behold and see,
Thy handmaid and thy handiwork amongst thy priests offering to thee,
Zeal for incense reaching the skies,
Myself and scepter, sacrifice.
My soul ascend his holy place, ascribe him strength
and sing him praise,
For he refraineth princes' spirits, and hath done
wonders in my days:
He made the winds and waters rise
To scatter all mine enemies.
This Joseph's Lord and Israel's God, the fiery pillar and
That saved his saints from wicked men and drenched
the honor of the proud,
And hath preserved in tender love
The spirit of his turtle dove.
Possible Poem 1
Cardiff Central Library MS 3.42, p. 26.
Sir Walter Ralegh wrote this verse in the Queen's garden:
Fain would I climb but am afraid to fall
The Queen coming by, knowing whose inditing it was,
wrote under as followeth:
If thou art afraid climb not at all.
In his Worthies of England (1662), Thomas Fuller gives quite a different version of the circumstances of the exchange between Ralegh and Elizabeth as described in Cardiff MS 3.42. Ralegh, he writes,
found some hopes of the queen's favours reflecting upon him. This made him write in a glass window, obvious to the queen's eye,
"Fain would I climb, yet fear I to fall."
Her majesty, either espying or being shown it, did underwrite,
"If thy heart fails thee, climb not at all."
Fuller's story is very late, but is corroborated by the Cardiff MS, an anthology of verse and prose compiled by a Thomas Powell in the 1630s. Powell places the exchange in the Queen's garden but says nothing of the substance on which Sir Walter and Elizabeth wrote these lines. Powell's account, while predating Fuller's by at least twenty years, comes more than a decade after Ralegh's death and some half century after the alleged exchange took place. The Cardiff manuscript's testimony raises the odds of this text's authenticity from improbable to merely doubtful.
L: Harl. MS 7392 (2), f. 21v.
When I was fair and young then favour graced me,
Of many was I sought their mistress for to be,
But I did scorn them all and answered them therefore,
Go, go, go, seek some otherwhere, importune me no more.
How many weeping eyes I made to pine in woe,
How many sighing hearts, I have not skill to show;
But I the prouder grew, and still this spake therefore:
Go, go, go, seek some otherwhere, importune me no more.
Then spake fair Venus' son, that brave, victorious boy,
Saying 'You dainty dame, for that you be so coy,
I will so pull your plumes as you shall say no more:
Go, go, go, seek some otherwhere, importune me no more.'
As soon as he had said, such change grew in my breast
That neither night nor day I could take any rest;
Wherefore I did repent that I had said before:
Go, go, go, seek some otherwhere, importune me no more.
This lyric is ascribed to the Queen as "ELY" in the Harleian MS and to "Elizabethe regina" in an unrelated text, O: Rawl. poet. MS 85, f. 1. The text in Folger MS V.a.89, p. 12, derives from a source quite similar to the Harleian version; it is, however, subscribed "l: of oxforde," presumably indicating Edward De Vere, seventeenth earl of Oxford. Perhaps Oxford could have written this love lament from a woman's viewpoint, yet the attributions to Elizabeth on two lines of textual descent tip the scale in her favor. Fragmentary texts of the poem in C: MS Dd.5.75, f. 38v and Folger MS V.a.262, p. 169, are unattributed.
C: MS Dd.5.75, ca. 1596, f. 44v.
Now leave and let me rest,
Dame pleasure, be content.
Go choose among the best,
My doting days be spent;
By sundry signs I see
Thy proffers are but vain,
And wisdom warneth me
That pleasure asketh pain,
And Nature that doth know
How time her steps doth try,
Gives place to painful woe,
And bids me learn to die.
Since all fair earthly things
Soon ripe, will soon be rot,
And all that pleasant springs,
Soon withered, soon forgot;
And youth that yields men joys
That wanton lust desires,
In age repents the toys
That reckless youth requires,
All which delights I leave
To such as folly trains
By pleasures to deceive
Till they do feel the pains.
And from vain pleasures past
I fly, and fain would know
The happy life at last
Whereto I hope to go.
For words or wise reports,
Ne yet examples gone
Gan bridle youthful sports
Till age came stealing on.
The pleasant, courtly games
That I do pleasure in,
My elder years now shames
Such folly to begin;
And all the fancies strange
That fond delight brought forth,
I do intend to change
And count them nothing worth.
For I by process worn,
Am taught to know the skill,
What might have been forborne
In my young, reckless will,
By which good proof I fleet
From will to wit again,
In hope to set my feet
In surety to remain.
Elizabeth's claim to this poem rests solely on the subscription "Regina," to the text in L: Harl. MS 7392 (2), ff. 49v-50. Not only is this a rather corrupt text of the poem, but the original scribe attributed it to another poet, perhaps "I. M." This subscription has been rendered illegible by a second scribe, who added the ascription to Elizabeth. Another anonymous text similar to that in the Cambridge MS is found in The Arundel Harington Manuscript of Tudor Poetry, ed. Ruth Hughey (Columbus, Oh., 1960), 1:280-81.
Copyright © 2004 by Steven W. May