Elizabeth I was one of the most intelligent, educated, erudite and effective monarchs England (or, indeed, Britain) has ever enjoyed. We here reproduce two of her most famous speeches. The first is that which she delivered at the height of her power and at the height of England’s Danger as the Spanish Armada approached.
The Great ElizabethAs the Armada launched by Philip II of Spain, Elizabeth’s brother-in-law and one-time putative suitor, approached the south coast, the Queen, now fifty-five and thirty years into her reign, travelled by barge from London to Tilbury in the Thames estuary so that she could personally supervise the high command which had been set up to resist the Spanish invasion, re-inforced by the Duyke of Parma based in the Netherlands. On August 8th 1588 she arrived at Tilbury and progressed through the assembled ranks “full of princely resolution and more than feminine courage.”The next day she rode out on a pure white horse, carrying a small silver staff. She had forbidden her entire retinue to follow her and was attended only by the Earl of Leicester as her Master of Horse, and the Earl of Ormond who carried the sword of State before her. In her wake was a solitary page who carried her white-plumed regal helmet.The troops enacted a mock battle before her in order to display their prowess. When they were done she resolutely, and purposefully bareheaded, reviewed the entire army and visited every company there assembled. Then, with that characteristic frankness and genius of leadership which underpinned her reign, she addressed her assembled troops.In that vast throng, of course, her voice could not be heard by all, and so the speech was read, as she spoke it, to each of the individual companies by their commanding officers. And this is what each man assembled there on August 9th heard from the lips of his monarch:-
“My loving people, we have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit ourselves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery; but I do 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 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 or die amongst you all – to lay down for my God, and for my kingdoms, and for my people, my honour and my blood even in the dust.
I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king – and 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 should 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 , on the word of a prince, they shall be duly paid you.
For the meantime, my lieutenant-general 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 these enemies of my God, of my kingdoms, and of my people.”Elizabeth had not left Tilbury when the first reports of the defeat and scattering of the Armada by Drake and the weather respectively arrived in the persons of the young earl of Cumberland and her maternal kinsman Robert Carey.England was safe from invasion and the indomitable Elizabeth was established as one of England’s (and certainly of Great Britain’s) greatest rulers. She was, perhaps, the first of Britain’s monarchs to have a true sense of “politics” as we understand it today.