Elizabeth I, Queen of England, "The Doubt of Future Foes," "On Monsieur's Departure," Letters of State, especially the "Tilbury Speech" Note--no contemporary first edition or "ed. prin." except for parliamentary speeches and "Tilbury," which appeared in broadsides--MS circulation until modern scholarly editions appeared

Genre: short lyrics, political letters, and political oratory.

Form: poulter's measure (alternating 12- and 14-syllable lines in rhyming couplets), seven-line stanzas of iambic pentameter rhyming ababcc; and, of course, prose, as well as prose intended for a public speech.

Characters: her "future foes" are Mary Stuart, the exiled queen of Scotland imprisoned by Elizabeth, and her allies who scheme to replace Elizabeth with Mary; "Monsieur" is identified in two MSS as the duke of Anjou, who withdrew from marriage negotiations in 1582, and in one MS as Robert Devereaux, earl of Essex, whose long-lived affection for Elizabeth ended in a rebellion that resulted in his execution on a warrant signed by Elizabeth.  In the Tilbury speech, Elizabeth, herself, is being constructed as ruler of England, against the threats of foreign domination posed by the duke of Parma and Phillip II of Spain.  In fact, all three poems offer a glimpse of Elizabeth constructing her poetic persona at three different times of her life and in opposition to three different struggles, at 35 (vs. Mary), at 49 (vs. the duke d'Anjou), and at 55 (vs. Phillip II's Armada).  The letters address Mary Stuart's jailer (Sir Amyas Paulet) and Henry III of France.  The "Tilbury" speech addresses the troops and (implicitly) the nation, a concept Elizabeth is in the process of creating out of the multiple chains of loyalties which constituted the medieval English people.  The "Golden Speech" (cut from the 8th edition!) addresses a privileged sub-set of the House of Commons whose loyalty Elizabeth is trying to ensure by her rhetorical construction of their understanding of her motives.

Summary:   "In Doubt..."'s persona talks to herself about the anxieties of a ruler surrounded by uncertain allies and energetic conspirators.  She seems to describe them in theatrical terms, as crowds at a performance which has gotten out of hand, and to which she plans to go with her avenging sword at the ready.  The "rusty sword" motif is a commonplace in emblem books where it symbolizes the monarch's reluctance to use force.

"On Monsieur's Departure" sets up a nice interpretive puzzle since it's clearly in the tradition of the Petrarchan sonneteers (though its measure is not a sonnet), but it appears to reveal the actual emotions of a queen tortured by the role her country expects her to play against her own body's and heart's demands.  Note the use of the "divided self" motif in line 7, and the prominence of the figure of paradox (love/hate, freeze/burned).   If this were a political document (since it was published in her lifetime as an illustration in Puttenham's Rhetoric), what would be her intent in creating this public "revelation" of her inner state?

The letters to Sir Amyas Paulet and Henry III are recent additions to the Norton 7th and of questionable literary merit, but they illustrate a politician labeling her opponents and establishing her allies (and potential enemies) in positions relative to her political objectives.

The "Tilbury speech" may never have been delivered orally, but certainly was widely circulated about the kingdom in the months after the Armada's destruction.  In it, she attempts to establish a clear claim to her subjects' loyalty and to her right to rule, and she does so in a tone reminiscent of "The Battle of Maldon."

The "Golden speech" resembles an American president's campaign speech or a State of the Union address in its appeal to its hearers to see the speaker as a selfless servant of the people with no hope of personal gain.  Elizabeth helps to invent this kind of political role, complete with all its implausibilities.   For instance, consider her claim 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" when the "thankful" people have just made her cough up several lucrative monopolies she had bestowed on her favorites in return for a subsidy Parliament controls and could withdraw at any moment (n. 1 598).  Politics as we know it was being invented by Elizabeth, though her successors, the Stuart kings, learned nothing from her example and resorted to totalitarian bombast about the Divine Right of Kings to silence opposition rather than finessing the opposition with rhetorical subtlety.  Of the two, give me a subtle negotiator rather than a tone-deaf autocrat any day.  I've been "ruled" by both.

Issues and Research Sources:

  1. "The Doubt" has relatively little aesthetic innovation, but its chief claim to be in the Norton might be its illustration of the success of the Humanists' educational program.  The medieval kings and queens might be talented or they might be oafs, but their right to rule was not directly related to their intellects or training.  The capacity to use poetic forms makes the monarch a "maker" in Sidney's sense, one capable of using language to construct possible worlds.
    • How might this open a new variety of political maneuver for the sovereign?
    • Could the release of a poem begin to do some of the work that a courtier might earlier have had to do?
    • What would be the real political force of the threat contained in the last two lines, had you been one of Mary's supporters who discovered the poem being circulated at court?
  2. "On Monsieur's Departure" suggests yet another dimension of Elizabeth's frustration as a ruler, but also another motive for poetic creation.  Note that her style has improved since "The Doubt" was written--she's more concise, more deft in her use of alliteration (repeating initial consonants: "Follows me flying, flies when I pursue it"), and increasingly capable of powerful accumulations of sense and feeling (the final series of alternatives she imagines in lines 16-18).
    • Does this suggest she has continued to write poems which have not survived, and if so, for what purpose would the Queen of England be writing verse?  This suggests that poetry has begun to serve a function more and more like that of modern verse, a mental defense against disturbing passions and conflicts, an answer to otherwise unanswerable challenges, rather than its more common medieval courtiers' use in which it communicates the authors' claims of courtly status and accomplishment.
    • How does the public use of poetry continue to change in relation to the poet's private use of poetic composition?
  3. The letters to Paulet and to Henry III show us Elizabeth using her political rhetoric to define the conflict over Mary Stuart's survival in terms that will enable her to contain the Stuart insurgency which threatens her reign and her life.  She consistently calls Stuart a "murderess" though the purported "victim," Elizabeth herself, is still alive.  What does that reflect in Elizabeth's thinking that might help us understand what it is to be Queen of England in this era, and how does it place differing burdens on the letters' recipients than if she had referred to Mary as "my misguided neice" or "my father's politically ambitious granddaughter"?  Look especially carefully at the concluding paragraph of the letter to Henry III.  Put yourself in Henry's gold-buckled shoes--what is she really telling him here, and how true is it?  Consult a map of C16 Europe if you're in doubt.
  1. The "Tilbury speech" is a masterpiece of political rhetoric, especially if we envision it being delivered on the sands at the mouth of the Thames estuary opposite Gravesend.  The troops would have seen the channel behind her as both the barrier between them and the might of Spain, and the pathway by which the long-dreaded Armada might approach, sailing right up the Thames to London.  Elizabeth's assertions that she is there "to live or die amongst you all" and that "I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general" calls on the old lord-vassal bond, which works best when the lord is in the forefront of the battle rather than behind the walls of a palace far from the action.  She makes masterful use of the singular and plural first-person pronouns to indicate the acts she commits as queen ("we"/"our") and those she commits as a woman ("I assure you...I have placed...I myself, I myself").  Most impressively, she takes herself all the way from the individual to the monarch in only two clauses of one sentence, almost as if she is re-annointing herself before battle: "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..."  What a clever concession before the hard-bitten troops, and what a monumental boast!  She then shifts back into the royal "we" to wrap the realm about herself in a textbook illustration of the powers of parallel construction: "we shall shortly have a famous victory over those enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people."
  1. The "Golden Speech" was printed shortly before the Restoration brought back Charles II to rule under close Parliamentary supervision when the "Protectorate" of Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans failed to devise a strategy to transfer power after the general's death.  Elizabeth repeats several times her love for the people and her disdain for riches except as she may use them to benefit those people who love her.  How does this speech respond to the predicament she found herself in (see n. 1 598) and what is happening to the financial relationship between English royal houses and the country as a whole?  How do you run a monarchy without immense sums of money, and where do you get that money?  (Charles I will lose his head over this issue, it will dominate Charles II's relations with the nation, and it eventually will result in William and Mary being brought to govern England as almost complete figurehead rulers on a strict allowance controlled by the House of Commons.)   What will happen to the court as a center of literary style and a supporter of poets, playwrights, etc. when the court's finances dry up?  Where will literature come from in the period after 1650?  As "Deep Throat" told Bob Woodward, "Follow the money."
  2. Other sites which offer scholarly editions of previously unpublished works by women who wrote during the Renaissance, Restoration, and 18th century include the Women Writers Project, and the Emory Women Writers Resource Project at Emory University's Lewis H. Beck Center.  The Brown site has an exceptionally large text base of edited Renaissance women writers, and the Emory site's strength is its unedited (as in previously unpublished) texts.  These are being used as part of Emory's graduate program to teach editing practices.  To see Professor Sheila Cavanagh's very well-explained set of instructions for how a scholarly edition is prepared, and a well-equipped set of scholarly tools (paper and online), click here

    For the Luminarium page containing a  bibliography, several more poems by Elizabeth, including several attributed to her but so far unauthenticatable, and one which appears to answer a poem by Sir Walter Ralegh, click here.

    In 2003, to honor the four hundredth anniversary of Elizabeth's death, the Newberry Library staged "Elizabeth: Ruler and Legend," an exhibit of artifacts related to the queen's life.  For the web site containing digital images of those artifacts, click here.

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