Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Royal Documents: Elizabeth I’s Golden Speech

I have been waxing a bit lyrical in this blog over the last month about the second Elizabeth, but in truth I am much more a fan of the first Elizabeth. The Virgin Queen, who reigned from 1558 to 1603, was the best monarch these Isles have ever had—in fact, in my opinion, one of the most capable people to ever wear a crown. Here below is an example of how she mastered her role of monarch to be a mother and wife to the entire nation. It is her famous Golden Speech delivered to Parliament on 30th November 1601, which served almost as her valedictorian at the end of her reign.

The occasion for the speech was a complaint from the Commons on the granting of trade monopolies to Elizabeth’s court favourites which had led to financial abuses and much resentment among the people. Elizabeth granted the Commons’ request for redress, and to show their gratitude many of the MPs went to Whitehall to thank the Queen for her intervention. But instead of accepting their gratitude Elizabeth turned the tables around and thanked them for their love and support, delivering a spellbinding oration on the motherly relationship between her and England. No one who listened to her words in person ever forgot them, and copies of the speech were printed and circulated immediately throughout the country. The speech was reprinted for 200 years afterwards every time England was in danger as the Golden Speech of Queen Elizabeth, to give the people pride and confidence.

Elizabeth I was not an accidental orator. The Armada Portrait recalls another memorable speech from her reign: the one she gave at Tilbury in 1588, on the eve of the threatened Spanish Armada invasion.

Yes, yes, I know, Elizabeth was very skilled in the arts of rhetoric and oratory, and this speech could be understood as nothing more than artful royal spin. But it is spin of the highest and most emotive caliber, just as Churchill’s ‘spin’ was during World War II. Elizabeth understood instinctively that the role of a monarch is not only to do the job well, like providing for the country, but also to connect emotionally with the people, like a parent to her children. And just as a mother she understood that a well placed word or caress carries much further than just putting food on the table. Her Golden Speech was like a stroke on the cheek of the English nation, a quiet confession at the end of a long, sunny day spent together. Elizabeth died 16 months after these words were delivered.

The speech began as 150 members of the Commons plus the Speaker knelt down before Elizabeth as she entered the Council Chamber of Whitehall Palace, on the afternoon of 30th November, 1601:  

‘Mr Speaker,  

We have heard your declaration and perceive your care of our estate. I do assure you there is no prince that loves his subjects better, or whose love can countervail our love. There is no jewel, be it of ever so rich a price, which I set before this jewel: I mean your love. For I do esteem it more than any treasure or riches; for that we know how to prize, but love and thanks I count invaluable.

And, though God has raised me high, yet this I count the glory of my Crown, that I have reigned with your loves. So that I do not so much rejoice that God has made me to be a Queen, as to be a Queen over so thankful a people.

Therefore I have cause to wish nothing more than to content my subjects and that is a duty which I owe. Neither do I desire to live longer days than I may see your prosperity and that is my only desire…

Of myself I must say this: I never was any greedy, scraping grasper, nor a strait fast-holding Prince, nor yet a waster. My heart was never set on any worldly goods. What you bestow on me, I will not hoard it up, but receive it to bestow on you again. Therefore render unto them I beseech you Mr Speaker, such thanks as you imagine my heart yields, but my tongue cannot express.

Mr Speaker, I would wish you and the rest to stand up for I shall yet trouble you with longer speech.

Mr Speaker, you give me thanks but I have greater cause to give you thanks, than you me, and I charge you to thank them of the Lower House from me. For had I not received a knowledge from you, I might have fallen into the lapse of an error, only for lack of true information…

I have ever set the Last Judgement Day before mine eyes, and so rule as I shall be judged to answer before a higher judge. Now, if my kingly bounties have been abused and my grants turned to the hurt of my people contrary to my will and meaning, and if any in authority under me have neglected or perverted what I have committed to them, I hope God will not lay their culps and offenses in my charge.

I know the title of a King is a glorious title, but assure yourself that the shining glory of princely authority has not so dazzled the eyes of our understanding, but that we well know and remember that we also are to yield an account of our actions before the great judge.

To be a king and wear a crown is a thing more glorious to them that see it than it is pleasant to them that bear it. For myself I was never so much enticed with the glorious name of a King or royal authority of a Queen as delighted that God has made me his instrument to maintain his truth and glory, and to defend his kingdom from peril, dishonour, tyranny and oppression.

There will never Queen sit in my seat with more zeal to our country, care to our subjects and that will sooner with willingness venture her life for your good and safety than for myself. For it is my desire to live nor reign no longer than my life and reign shall be for your good.

And though you have had, and may have, many princes more mighty and wise sitting in this seat, yet you never had nor shall have, any who will be more careful and loving.

And I pray to you Mr Comptroller, Mr Secretary and you of my Council, that before these gentlemen go into their countries, you bring them all to kiss my hand.'

When Elizabeth dissolved this last Parliament of her reign a few weeks later on 19 December 1601, the Speaker reminded the Lords and Commons that England had been the only nation in Europe to have had stable government throughout the Queen’s 45-year reign.

"And though you have had, and may have, many princes more mighty and wise sitting in this seat, yet you never had nor shall have, any who will be more careful and loving."

 Read more speeches and letters by Elizabeth I at

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