Elizabeth summoned her last parliament to meet at Westminster a the 27th of October 1601. She opened it in person with all the pomp and circumstance that the opening of Parliament has to this day. But Elizabeth was already 69 and in the 44th year of her reign. It has been recorded that she was actually sinking to the ground beneath the weight of the royal robes when the nearest nobleman caught and supported her in his arms. She completed the fatiguing ceremony “with her usual dignity and grace.” The session was dominated by the question of monopolies. These vested the sole right to sell or issue licences for the sale of basic commodities in the hands of a courtier, or even a lady of the bedchamber. The aging queen recognised both the abuse and the fact that she herself was in the hands of her servants. When she closed the parliament on November 30th she made a speech on what it was to be a monarch in the modern times. This came to be known as the “Golden Speech” because those who heard it deemed it worthy of been written in gold. The 140 members of parliament, led by Mr. Speaker Crooke, knelt before Elizabeth, fully conscious of the fact that his would be her last speech to her Parliament.
The Great Elizabeth“Mr.Speaker, we perceive your coming is to present thanks unto us. Know I accept them with no less joy than your loves can have desire to offer such a present, and do more esteem it than any treasure, or riches; for those we know how to prize, but loyalty, love, and thanks I account them invaluable; and though God hath raised me high, yet this I account the glory of my crown, that I have reigned with your loves. This makes 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, and to be the means under God to conserve you in safety, and preserve you from danger, yea, to be the instrument to deliver you from dishonour, from shame, and from infamy, to keep you from out of servitude, and from slavery under our enemies, and cruel tyranny, and vile oppression intended against us; for the better understanding whereof, we take very acceptable their intended helps, and chiefly in that it manifested your loves and largeness of hearts to your sovereign. Of myself I must say this, I never was any greedy scraping grasper, nor a strict fast-holding prince, nor yet a waster, my heart was never set upon any worldly goods, but only for my subjects’ good. What you do bestow on me I will not hoard up, but receive it to bestow on you again; yea mine own properties I account yours to be expended for your good, and your eyes shall see the bestowing of it for your welfare.Mr. Speaker, I would wish you and the rest to stand up, for I fear I shall yet trouble you with longer speech.Mr. Speaker, you give me thanks, I am more to thank you, and I charge you thank them of the Lower House from me; for had I not received knowledge from you, I might a’ fallen into the lapse of an error, only for want of true information.Since I was Queen, yet did I never put my pen to any grant but upon pretext and semblance made me, that it was for the good and avail of my subjects generally, though a private profit to some of my ancient servants, who have deserved well; but that my grants shall be made grievances to my people, an oppressions, to be privileged under colour of our patents, our princely dignity will not suffer it.When I heard it, I could give no rest unto my thoughts until I had reformed it, and those varlets, lewd persons, abusers of my bounty, shall know I will not suffer it. And, Mr. Speaker, tell the House from me, I take it exceeding grateful, that the knowledge of these things are come unto me from them. And tho’ amongst them the principal members are such as are not touched in private, and therefore need not speak from any feeling of the grief, yet we have heard that other gentlemen also of he House, who stand as free, have spoken freely in it; which gives us to know, that no respects or interests have moved them other than the minds they bear to suffer no diminution of our honour and our subjects love unto us. The zeal of which affection rending to ease my people, and knit their hearts unto us, I embrace with a princely care far above all earthly treasures. I esteem my people’s love, more than which I desire not to merit: and God, that gave me here to sit, and placed me over you, knows, that I never respected myself, but as your good was conserved in me; yet what dangers, what practices, and what perils I have passed, some if not all of you know; but none of these things do move me, or ever made me fear, but it’s God that hath delivered me.And in my governing this land, I have ever set the last judgement day before mine eyes, and so to rule as I shall be judged and answer before a higher Judge, to whose judgement seat I do appeal: in that never thought was cherished in my heart that tended not to my people’s good.And if my princely bounty have been abused; and my grants turned to the hurt of my people contrary to my will and meaning, or if any in authority under me have neglected or converted what I have committed unto them, I hope God will not lay their culps to my charge.To be a king, and wear a crown, is a thing more glorious to them that see it than it’s pleasant to them that bear it: for myself, I never was so much enticed with the glorious name of a king, or the royal authority of a queen, as delighted that God hath made me his instrument to maintain his truth and glory, and to defend this kingdom from dishonour, damage, tyranny, and oppression. But should I ascribe any of these things to myself or my sexly weakness, I were not worthy to live, and of all most unworthy of the mercies I have received at God’s hands, but to God only and wholly all is given and ascribed.The cares and troubles of a crown I cannot more fitly resemble than to the drugs of a learned physician, perfumed with some aromatical savour, or to bitter pills gilded over, by which they are made more acceptable or less offensive, which indeed are bitter and unpleasant to take; and for my own part, were it not for conscience sake to discharge the duty that God hath lay’d upon me, and to ,maintain his glory, and keep you in safety, in mine own disposition I should be willing to resign the place I hold to any other, and glad to be freed of the glory with the labours, for it is not my desire to live nor to reign, longer than my life and reign shall be for your good. And though you have had and may have many mightier and wiser princes sitting in this seat, yet never had nor shall have any that will love you better.Thus, Mr. Speaker, I commend me to your loyal loves, and yours to my best care and your further councils; and I pray you, Mr. Controuler and Mr. Secretary, and you of my council, that before these gentlemen depart into their countries, you bring them all to kiss my hand.