61 CONTEXTS: Women in Power

“A Sketch of Princess Margaret Tudor of England,” by unknown artist, 16th century. Wikimedia Commons.


by Allegra Villarreal


16th-century England, like much of the rest of the world, was a deeply patriarchal society. As we have seen from the glimpses of women throughout our texts – the loathly ladies, the spinsters, the maidens and the madwomen – portrayals in literature were not often flattering. Though, in practice, some women were able to hold more sway in their own households, secular law and religious dictates were based on the belief that women were inherently inferior to men–bodily, spiritually, intellectually and morally. In Tudor times, many still held the belief that women were “imperfect men” in all senses and men were encouraged to exercise control and dominance over their “wikked” wives.

And yet, in this same time period, England (unique amongst its European peers) was ruled by women for the better part of six decades. While this did not upend prevailing gender norms, it is an interesting case study filled with accounts of betrayal, violence, intrigue and heartbreak. Two of the women–Mary Tudor and Elizabeth I–signed the death warrants of the other two: Lady Jane Grey and Mary, Queen of Scots. There were also near-misses: Elizabeth I was almost killed by her paranoid half-sister Mary, and Mary, Queen of Scots engaged in a plot to overthrow her own second cousin, Queen Elizabeth. Are you still with me? It’s a complex family tree that twists many times before reaching the tail end of Elizabeth I’s glorious reign. Even as these powerful women believed deeply in their right to rule, each was subject to speculation about her sexual behavior, marital status and reproductive potential. Mary Tudor, Jane Grey and Mary, Queen of Scots all found themselves in mortal danger–either directly or indirectly– as a result of their marriages. It perhaps comes as no surprise that the woman who outlasted them all was the one who refused to wed.

Reading: Mary Tudor (A Selection)

“Maria Tudor, reina de Inglaterra y esposa de Felipe II” by unknown artist, c. 1554. Wikimedia Commons.

Mary Tudor (1516-1558) was the only surviving child of King Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. When she was born, Henry had not yet broken with Rome, so she was baptized Catholic and held fervently to her faith throughout her life. As a child, Mary was described as precocious with a gift for music and languages; she was largely educated by her mother. Her parents’ divorce and her mother’s subsequent exile from the royal court left her depressed and lonely (she was forbidden to see her mother). Though Henry was affectionate, he was also impulsive and vengeful. Upon the dissolution of her parents’ marriage, Mary was stripped of her title and place in the line of succession, becoming known simply as “the Lady Mary.” She struggled as Henry adopted a new wife and forged a new state religion; eventually, when Henry had his longed-for son, she was restored to succession, now second-in-line after her infant brother. Though they loved each other dearly, she and her brother were at religious odds: he was a devout Protestant. He would only reign for six years, dying at age 16, but in the last weeks of his life, he designated his Protestant second cousin, Lady Jane Grey, as his heir apparent. She was to rule for only nine days when Mary managed to wrest power from her to be crowned Queen Mary I. Among Mary’s first actions was to reinstate her parents’ marriage and to re-establish Catholicism in England. In order to solidify her reforms, she needed an heir.  Mary married Philip II of Spain on July 1554 and tried desperately to have a child to ensure that Elizabeth, her Protestant half-sister, did not inherit her throne. Her marriage proved very unpopular with the English people who feared Spanish rule and influence. Meanwhile, Mary continued repealing many of Henry VIII’s religious edicts which resulted in the burning of some 300 Protestants as heretics, eventually earning her the nickname “Bloody Mary.” After having several “phantom pregnancies” and suffering from what may have been uterine or ovarian cancer, she died leaving the crown to the woman who would become Elizabeth I.

Letter to her Father” was written in order to signal Mary’s submission to her father’s religious will; in it, she recognizes his supremacy of as head of the new Church of England and the unlawfulness of her parents’ marriage–this came after a prologued reluctance and it is clear, from the tone, that she feared for her life and was coerced into signing. “From an Ambassadorial Dispatch” is the account of Mary’s coronation while her “Oration” is her plea for support in the wake of her marriage to Philip (an uprising, led by Thomas Wyatt, was imminent). This brilliant speech led 20,000 men to swarm to her side, cementing her position as queen and averting a national crisis.

– by Han Han Co Nguyen

Letter to her father, Henry VIII

Having received, this Thursday at night, certain letters from Mr. Secretary, as well advising me to make mine humble submission immediately to yourself (which because I durst not, without your gracious license, presume to do before), I lately sent unto him, as signifying that your most merciful heart and fatherly pity had granted me your blessing, with condition that I should persevere in that I had commenced and begun, and that I should not eftsoons offend your majesty by the denial or refusal of any such articles and commandments as it may please your highness to address unto me, for the perfect trial of mine heart and inward affection.        Most humbly prostrate before the feet of your most excellent majesty, your most humble, faithful, and obedient subject, which hath so extremely offended your most gracious highness that mine heavy and fearful heart dares not presume to call you father, nor your majesty hath any cause by my deserts, saving the benignity of your most blessed nature doth surmount all evils, offences, and trespasses, and is ever merciful and ready to accept the penitent, calling for grace in any convenient time.

For the perfect declaration of the bottom of my heart and stomach, first, I knowledge myself to have most unkindly and unnaturally offended your most excellent highness, in that I have not submitted myself to your most just and virtuous laws; and for mine offence therein, which I must confess were in me a thousand-fold more grievous than they could be in any other living creature, I put myself wholly and entirely to your gracious mercy, at whose hand I cannot receive that punishment for the same that I have deserved. Secondly, to open mine heart to your grace in these things, which I have heretofore refused to condescend unto, and have now written with mine own hand, sending the same to your highness herewith, I shall never beseech your grace to have pity and compassion on me, if ever you shall perceive that I shall privily or apertly vary or alter from one piece of that I have written and subscribed, or refuse to confirm, ratify, or declare the same, where your majesty shall appoint me. Thirdly, as I have and shall, knowing your excellent learning, virtue, wisdom, and knowledge, put my soul into your direction, and by the same have and will in all things, from henceforth, direct my conscience, so my body I do wholly commit to your mercy and fatherly pity, desiring no state, no condition, nor no manner degree of living but such as your grace shall appoint unto me, knowledging and confessing that my state cannot be so vile as either the extremity of justice would appoint unto me, or as mine offences have required and deserved. And whatsoever your grace shall command me to do, touching any of these points (either for things past, present, or to come), I shall as gladly do the same as your majesty can command me.

Most humbly, therefore, beseeching your mercy, most gracious sovereign lord and benign father, to have pity and compassion of your miserable and sorrowful child, and with the abundance of your inestimable goodness so to overcome mine iniquity towards God, your grace, and your whole realm, as I may feel some sensible token of reconciliation, which, God is my judge, I only desire, without any respect: to whom I shall daily pray for the preservation of your highness, with the queen’s grace, and that it may please Him to send you issue.

From Hunsdon, this Thursday,* at eleven of the clock at night.

Your grace’s most humble and obedient
daughter and handmaid,


From an Ambassadorial Dispatch to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V

Simon Renard to Prince Philip, October 3, 1553.

…your Highness’s own cousin, Queen Mary, now wears the crown of this kingdom. She was crowned on the first day of this month, with the pomp and ceremonies customary here, which are far grander than elsewhere, as I shall briefly show; and according to the rites of the old religion. On the eve of her coronation-day, the Queen was removed from the Tower and castle of London to Westminster Palace, where the sovereigns of England are by custom wont to reside in London. She was accompanied by the earls, lords, gentlemen, ambassadors, and officers, all dressed in rich garments. The Queen was carried in an open litter covered with brocade. Two coaches followed her; the Lady Elizabeth and the Lady (Anne) of Cleves rode in one, some of the ladies of the Court in the other. The streets were hung with tapestries and strewn with grass and flowers; and many triumphal arches were erected along her way. The next day, coronation-day, the Queen went from the Hall of Parliament and Justice to the church, in procession with the bishops and priests in full canonical dress, the streets being again covered with flowers and decked with stuffs. She mounted a scaffolding that was erected at the church for this purpose, and showed herself to the people. The Queen’s coronation was proclaimed to them and the question asked of them if they were willing to accept her as their queen. All answered: Yes; and the ordinary ceremonies were then gone through, the Queen making an offering of silver and silken stuffs. The Bishop of Winchester, who officiated, gave her the sceptre and the orb, fastened on the spurs, and girt her with the sword; he received the oath, and she was twice anointed and crowned with three crowns. The ceremonies lasted from ten in the morning till five o’clock in the afternoon. She was carried from the church to the Parliament Hall where a banquet was prepared. The Queen sat on a stone chair covered with brocade, which they say was carried off from Scotland in sign of a victory, and was once used by the Kings of Scotland at their crowning; she rested her feet upon two of her ladies, which is also a part of the prescribed ceremonial, and ate thus. She was served by the earls and lords, Knights of the Order (Garter) and officers, each one performing his own special office. The meats were carried by the Knights of the Bath. These knights are made by the Kings on the eve of their coronation and at no other time; and their rank is inferior to the other Order. The Queen instituted twenty fresh ones. They are called Knights of the Bath because they plunge naked into a bath with the King and kiss his shoulder. The Queen being a woman, the ceremony was performed for her by the Earl of Arundel, her Great Master of the Household. The Earl Marshal (Duke of Norfolk) and the Lord Steward (Earl of Arundel) directed the ceremonies mounted on horseback in the great hall. When the banquet was over an armed knight rode in upon a Spanish horse and flung down his glove, while one of the Kings-of-arms challenged anyone who opposed the Queen’s rights to pick up the glove and fight the Champion in single combat. The Queen gave him a gold cup, as it is usual to do. Meanwhile the earls, vassals, and councillors paid homage to her, kissing her on the shoulder; and the ceremonies came to an end without any of the interruptions or troubles that were feared on the part of the Lutherans, who would rejoice in upsetting the Queen’s reign. They were feared especially because of the Lady Elizabeth, who does not feel sincerely the oath she took at the coronation; she has had intelligence with the King of France, which has been discovered. A remedy is to be sought at the convocation of the Estates, which is to take place on the fifth of this month; Elizabeth is to be declared a bastard, having been born during the life-time of Queen Catherine, mother of the Queen. The affairs of the kingdom are unsettled because the vassals and people are prone to scandal, and seekers after novelties; they are strange and troublesome folk.

Simon Renard to Prince Philip, October 3, 1553.

…your Highness’s own cousin, Queen Mary, now wears the crown of this kingdom. She was crowned on the first day of this month, with the pomp and ceremonies customary here, which are far grander than elsewhere, as I shall briefly show; and according to the rites of the old religion. On the eve of her coronation-day, the Queen was removed from the Tower and castle of London to Westminster Palace, where the sovereigns of England are by custom wont to reside in London. She was accompanied by the earls, lords, gentlemen, ambassadors, and officers, all dressed in rich garments. The Queen was carried in an open litter covered with brocade. Two coaches followed her; the Lady Elizabeth and the Lady (Anne) of Cleves rode in one, some of the ladies of the Court in the other. The streets were hung with tapestries and strewn with grass and flowers; and many triumphal arches were erected along her way. The next day, coronation-day, the Queen went from the Hall of Parliament and Justice to the church, in procession with the bishops and priests in full canonical dress, the streets being again covered with flowers and decked with stuffs. She mounted a scaffolding that was erected at the church for this purpose, and showed herself to the people. The Queen’s coronation was proclaimed to them and the question asked of them if they were willing to accept her as their queen. All answered: Yes; and the ordinary ceremonies were then gone through, the Queen making an offering of silver and silken stuffs. The Bishop of Winchester, who officiated, gave her the sceptre and the orb, fastened on the spurs, and girt her with the sword; he received the oath, and she was twice anointed and crowned with three crowns. The ceremonies lasted from ten in the morning till five o’clock in the afternoon. She was carried from the church to the Parliament Hall where a banquet was prepared. The Queen sat on a stone chair covered with brocade, which they say was carried off from Scotland in sign of a victory, and was once used by the Kings of Scotland at their crowning; she rested her feet upon two of her ladies, which is also a part of the prescribed ceremonial, and ate thus. She was served by the earls and lords, Knights of the Order (Garter) and officers, each one performing his own special office. The meats were carried by the Knights of the Bath. These knights are made by the Kings on the eve of their coronation and at no other time; and their rank is inferior to the other Order. The Queen instituted twenty fresh ones. They are called Knights of the Bath because they plunge naked into a bath with the King and kiss his shoulder. The Queen being a woman, the ceremony was performed for her by the Earl of Arundel, her Great Master of the Household. The Earl Marshal (Duke of Norfolk) and the Lord Steward (Earl of Arundel) directed the ceremonies mounted on horseback in the great hall. When the banquet was over an armed knight rode in upon a Spanish horse and flung down his glove, while one of the Kings-of-arms challenged anyone who opposed the Queen’s rights to pick up the glove and fight the Champion in single combat. The Queen gave him a gold cup, as it is usual to do. Meanwhile the earls, vassals, and councillors paid homage to her, kissing her on the shoulder; and the ceremonies came to an end without any of the interruptions or troubles that were feared on the part of the Lutherans, who would rejoice in upsetting the Queen’s reign. They were feared especially because of the Lady Elizabeth, who does not feel sincerely the oath she took at the coronation; she has had intelligence with the King of France, which has been discovered. A remedy is to be sought at the convocation of the Estates, which is to take place on the fifth of this month; Elizabeth is to be declared a bastard, having been born during the life-time of Queen Catherine, mother of the Queen. The affairs of the kingdom are unsettled because the vassals and people are prone to scandal, and seekers after novelties; they are strange and troublesome folk.

The Oration of Queen Mary in the Guildhall

February 1, 1554

I am come unto you in mine own person to tell you that which already you see and know; that is, how traitorously and rebelliously a number of Kentishmen have assembled themselves against us and you. Their pretence (as they said at the first) was for a marriage determined for us, to the which, and to all the articles thereof, ye have been made privy. But since, we have caused certain of our privy council to go again unto them, and to demand the cause of this their rebellion; and it appeared then unto our said council, that the matter of the marriage seemed to be but a Spanish cloak to cover their pretended purpose against our religion; for that they arrogantly and traitorously demanded to have the governance of our person, the keeping of the Tower, and the placing of our councillors. Now, loving subjects, what I am ye right well know. I am your queen, to whom at my coronation, when I was wedded to the realm and laws of the same (the spousal ring whereof I have on my finger, which never hitherto was, nor hereafter shall be left off) you promised your allegiance and obedience unto me. And that I am the right and true inheritor of the crown of this realm of England, I take all Christendom to witness. My father, as ye all know, possessed the same regal state, which now rightly is descended unto me: and to him always ye showed yourselves most faithful and loving subjects; and therefore I doubt not, but ye will show yourselves [such] likewise unto me, and that ye will not suffer a vile traitor to have the order and governance of our person, and to occupy our estate, especially being so vile a traitor as Wyat is, who most certainly as he hath abused mine ignorant subjects which be on his side, so doth he intend and purpose the destruction of you, and spoil of your goods. And I say to you on the word of a prince, I cannot tell how naturally the mother loveth the child, for I was never the mother of any, but certainly if a prince and governor may as naturally and earnestly love her subjects, as the mother doth love the child, then assure yourselves that I, being your lady and mistress, do as earnestly and tenderly love and favour you. And I, thus loving you, cannot but think that ye as heartily and faithfully love me; and then I doubt not but that we shall give these rebels a short and speedy overthrow. As concerning the marriage, ye shall understand that I enterprised not the doing thereof without advice, and that by the advice of all our privy council, who so considered and weighed the great commodities that might ensue thereof, that they not only thought it very honourable, but also expedient, both for the wealth of the realm, and also of you our subjects. And as touching myself, I assure you, I am not so bent to my will, neither so precise nor affectionate, that either for mine own pleasure I would choose where I lust, or that I am so desirous, as needs I would have one. For God, I thank him, to whom be the praise therefore, I have hitherto lived a virgin, and doubt nothing, but with God’s grace, I am able so to live still. But if, as my progenitors have done before me, it may please God, that I might leave some fruit of my body behind me, to be your governor, I trust you would not only rejoice thereat, but also I know it would be to your great comfort. And certainly, if I either did think or know, that this marriage were to the hurt of any of you my commons, or to the impeachment of any part or parcel of the royal state of this realm of England, I would never consent thereunto, neither would I ever marry while I lived. And on the word of a queen, I promise you, that if it shall not probably appear to all the nobility and commons, in the high court of parliament, that this marriage shall be for the high benefit and commodity of the whole realm, then will I abstain from marriage while I live. And now good subjects, pluck up your hearts, and like true men, stand fast against these rebels, both our enemies and yours, and fear them not, for I assure you I fear them nothing at all. And I will leave with you, my lord Howard, and my lord treasurer, who shall be assistants with the mayor for your defence.”

Reading: Jane Grey (A Selection)

“The Execution of Lady Jane Grey” by Paul de la Roche, 1833. Wikimedia Commons.

Lady Jane Grey (1537-1554) was born to a noble family, as the great-granddaughter of Henry VII. Her parents pushed her to get a good education so that she might be seen as worthy enough to wed into a royal family. Her intellect and spirit were renowned by her tutors, but she was not truly involved in court affairs until her father became the Duke of Suffolk in July of 1551. At her father’s behest, she was married to Lord Guildford Dudley who was the son of a very powerful man named John Dudley, then the primary adviser to the boy-king Edward VI, the heir of Henry VIII. Jane’s father, and her father-in-law persuaded the young king to designate Lady Jane as the heir to the throne as she was the most devoutly Protestant Tudor prospect. Edward agreed and, six weeks later, he succumbed to illness.

As for Jane, she did not want to be Queen, nor did she want to be set up as a pawn in a marriage to advance the positions of her father and father-in-law. As a result, she insisted that it was she who was designated to be queen, and refused to grant her husband the title of “king”. Meanwhile, Mary Tudor waged her own campaign to be queen; she raised an army as a means to enforce the original 1544 Law of Succession (which had designated her, then her half-sister Elizabeth as the rightful heirs to Edward’s throne). Once Mary was restored to power, Lady Jane and her husband were tried for treason, given death sentences and sent to the Tower of London. Lady Jane’s father, in a bid to save himself, denounced his own daughter though the court saw through his plan and classified him a traitor as well.

While Mary had not initially intended to put Jane to death, a Protestant rebellion led by Thomas Wyatt the Younger against Mary’s betrothal to King Philip of Spain “sealed [Jane’s] fate” when her own father and brothers joined in the attempted coup (“Lady Jane Grey”). Lady Jane Grey pleaded guilty and accepted her punishment. She is remembered as the “queen of nine days” as her reign began and ended in less than a fortnight; indeed, her reign is the shortest in English history. Perhaps because of this, she was also the most romanticized; a young woman with a strong will and brave countenance who succumbed to a sorrowful end with only her faith to comfort her upon the scaffold. It was a tragic ending to such a brilliant girl who had a crown forced upon her for religious and political purposes.

In “A Talk with Lady Jane,” Roger Ascham, a tutor to many of the Tudor monarchs, notes the intellect and comments upon the childhood of Jane.  All the letters, poems, and prayers of Lady Jane wrote were said to have been written from the Tower,  though “Letter to MH” was not written in her prayer book alongside the other texts which has prompted the theory that Jane may not have been the true author to this particular text. Some believe it was shown to Mary Tudor to push for the death sentence, while others doubt its authenticity as a result of its overly zealous tone. Finally, her “Letter…sent unto her Father” she forgives her father and exhorts him to stay true to the Protestant faith. Lady Jane Grey’s verses, originally found in her prayerbook 10 years after her death (Wight), are first published in John Foxe’s Actes and Monuments (commonly called Foxe’s Book of Martyrs). He had an affection for the historical Jane Grey, and included many poems and pieces from her prayer book which forever solidified her status as the tragic “nine-day queen.”

– by Lauren Hillbrick 

From Robert Ascham’s Schoolmaster: “A Talk with Lady Jane”

And one example whether love or fear doth work more in a child for virtue and learning, I will gladly report; which may be heard with some pleasure, and followed with more profit.

Before I went into Germany, I came to Broadgate in Leicestershire, to take my leave of that noble lady, Jane Grey, to whom I was exceeding much beholding. Her parents, the duke and duchess, with all the household, gentlemen and gentlewomen, were hunting in the park. I found her in her chamber, reading Phædo Platonis in Greek, and that with as much delight as some gentlemen would read a merry tale in Boccace. After salutation and duty done, with some other talk, I asked her why she would leese [lose] such pastime in the park? Smiling she answered me: “Iwisse, all their sport in the park is but a shadow to that pleasure that I find in Plato. Alas! good folk, they never felt what true pleasure meant.” “And how came you, madame,” quoth I, “to this deep knowledge of pleasure? and what did chiefly allure you unto it, seeing not many women, but very few men, have attained thereunto?” “I will tell you,” quoth she, “and tell you a truth, which perchance ye will marvel at. One of the greatest benefits that ever God gave me, is, that he sent me so sharp and severe parents, and so gentle a schoolmaster. For when I am in presence either of father or mother, whether I speak, keep silence, sit, stand, or go, eat, drink, be merry, or sad, be sewing, playing, dancing, or doing anything else, I must do it, as it were, in such weight, measure, and number, even so perfectly, as God made the world; or else I am so sharply taunted, so cruelly threatened, yea, presently, sometimes with pinches, nips, and bobs, and other ways which I will not name, for the honor I bear them, so without measure misordered, that I think myself in hell, till time come that I must go to Mr. Elmer; who teacheth me so gently, so pleasantly, with such fair allurements to learning, that I think all the time nothing whiles I am with him. And when I am called from him, I fall on weeping, because whatsoever I do else but learning, is full of grief, trouble, fear, and whole misliking unto me. And thus my book hath been so much my pleasure, and bringeth daily to me more pleasure and more, that in respect of it, all other pleasures, in very deed, be but trifles and troubles unto me.”

I remember this talk gladly, both because it is so worthy of memory, and because also it was the last talk that ever I had, and the last time that ever I saw that noble and worthy lady.


From “A Letter of the Lady Jane to M.H. late chaplain to the duke of Suffolk, her father”

‘So oft as I call to mind (dear friend and chosen Brother) the dreadful and fearful says of God, that he which layeth hold upon the plough and looketh back again, is not meet for the kingdom of heaven; and on the other side to remember the comfortable words of our Saviour Christ, to all those that forsaking themselves do follow him, I cannot but marvel at thee and lament thy case; that thou, which sometimes wert the lively member of Christ, but now the deformed imp of the devil; sometimes the beautiful temple of God, but now the stinking and filthy kennel of Satan; sometimes the unspotted spouse of thy Saviour, but now the unshamefast paramour of Antichrist; sometimes my faithful brother, but now a stranger and apostate; yea sometimes my stout Christian solder, but now a cowardly runaway. So oft as I consider the threatening and promises of the divine Justice to all those which faithfully love him, I cannot but speak to thee, yea, rather cry out and exclaim against thee, thou seed of Satan, and not of Juda, whom the devil hath deceived, the world hath beguiled, and desire of life hath subverted, and made of a Christian an infidel.

Wherefore hast thou taken upon thee the Testament of the Lord in thy mouth? Wherefore hast thou hitherto yielded thy body to the fire, and to the bloody hands of cruel tyrants? Wherefore hast thou instructed others to be strong in Christ, when thou theyself dost now so horribly abuse the testament and law of the Lord; when thou thyself preaches (as it were not to steal) yet most abominably stealest, not from men but from God, and as a most heinous sacrilegious robber, robbest Christ thy redeemer of his right in his members, they body and they soul; when thou thyself dost rather choose to live miserably (with shame) in this world, rather than to die gloriously and reign in honour with Christ, to the end of all eternity, in whom even in death there is life beyond wish, beyond all expression; and when, I say, thou thyself art most weak, though oughtest to show thyself most strong, for the strength of a fort is known before the assault, but thou yieldest (like a faint captain) they hold before any battery be brought against thee.

Oh wretched and unhappy man what art thou but dust and ashes, and wilt thou resist thy maker, that formed and fashioned thee; wilt thou now forsake him that called thee from custom gathering among the Romish Antichristians, to be an ambassador and messenger of his eternal word; he that first framed thee, and since thy creation and birth preserved thee, nourished thee, and kep thee, yea, and inspired thee with the spirit of knowledge (I cannot, I would I could say of grace) shall he not possess thee, darest thou deliver up they self to another, being not thine own but his? How canst thou, having knowledge; or how darest thou neglect the law of the Lord, and follow the vain traditions of men? and whereas thou hast been a public professor of his name, become now a defacer of his glory. I will not refuse the true God, and worship the invention of man, the folden calf, the whore of Babylon, the Romish religion, the abominable idol, the most wicked mass: wilt thou torment again, rent and tear the most precious body of our Saviour Christ with thy bodily and fleshy teeth without the breaking whereof upon the cross, our sins and transgression, could else no way be redeemed? wilt thou take upon thee to offer up any sacrifice unto God for our sins, considering that Christ offered up himself (as St. Paul saith) upon the Cross, a lively sacrifice once for all.

Can neither the punishment of the Israelites (which for their idolatry so oft they received) move thee; neither the terrible threatenings of the ancient prophets stir thee, nor the crosses of God’s own mouth fear thee to honour any other God than him? wilt thou so regard him that spared not his dear and only son for thee, so diminishing, yea, utterly extinguishing his glory, that thou wilt attribute the praise and honour to idols, which have mouths and speak not, eyes and see not, ears and yet hear not, which shall perish with them that made them: what saith the prophet Baruck, where he reciteth the epistle of Jeremy, written to the captive Jews? did he not forewarn them that in Babylon they should see gods of gold, silver, wood and stone, borne upon men’s shoulders to cause a fear upon the heathen? but be not you afraid of them (saith Jeremy) nor do as others do: but when you see others worship them, say you in your hearts, it is thou (O Lord) that oughtest only to be worshipped: for as touching the timber of those gods the carpenter framed them and polished them, yea guilded they be and laid over with silver and vain things and cannot speak: he sheweth moreover, the abuse of their deckings how the priests took off their ornaments, and apparelled there women therewithal: how one holdeth a sceptre, another a sword in his hand, and yet can they judge in no matter, nor defend themselves, much less any other, from either hatred or murder, not yet from knowing worms, dust, filth, or any other evil thing; these and such like words speaketh Jeremy unto them, whereby he proveth them but vain things, and no gods, and at last he concludeth thus; confounded be those that worship them.

They were warned by Jeremy, and thou as Jeremy hast warned others and art warned thyself by many Scriptures in many places.

God, saith he, is a jealous Gof, which will have all honour, glory, and worship given to him only. And Christ saith in the fourth of Like, to satan which tempted him, even to the same satan, the same Belzebub, the same devil which hath prevailed against thee: it is written (saith he) thou shalt honour the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.

These and suck like do prohibit thee, and all Christians to worship any other God than he which was before all worlds, and laid the foundations both of heaven and earth, and wilt thou honour a detestable idol invented by the Popes of Rome, and the uncharitable college of politic Cardinals?

Christ offered up himself once for all, and wilt thou offer him up again daily at thy pleasure? but thou wilt say thou doest it for a good intent: Oh sink of sin! Oh child of perdition! canst thou dream of any good intent therein, when thy conscience beareth thee witness of the wrath of God promised against thee?

How did Saul, who for that be disobeyed the word of God for a good intent, was thrown from his wordly and temporal kingdom: shalt thou then which dost so deface God’s honour and rob him of his right, inherit the eternal heavenly kingdom? wilt thou for a good intent pluck Christ out of heaven, and make his death void, and deface the triumph of his cross, offering him up daily? Wilt thou either for fear of death, or hope of life, deny and refuse thy God, who enriched thy poverty? healed thy infirmity, and yielded to this victory if thou wouldst have kept it? dost thou not consider that the thread of life hangeth upon him that made thee, who can (as will is) either twine it hard to last the longer, or untwine it again to break the sooner? Dost thou not remember the saying of David, a notable king, which teacheth thee, a miserable wretch, in his … Psalm, where he saith, When thou takest away thy spirit, O Lord, from men, they die, and are turned again to their dust, but when thou lettest thy breath go forth, they shall be made, and thou shalt renew the face of the earth.

Remember the saying of Christ in his Gospel, whosoever seeketh to save his life shall lose it, but whosoever will lose it for my sake shall find it; and in another place, whosoever loveth father or mother above me, is not meet for me, for he that will be my disciple, must forsake father and mother, and himself, and take up his cross and follow me: what cross? the cross of infamy and shame, of misery and poverty, of affliction and persecution, for his name sake.

Let the oft falling of those heavenly showers pierce thy stony heart; let the two-edged sword of God’s holy word hew asunder the knit-together sinews of worldly respects, even to the very marrow and life blood of thy carnal heart, that thou mayst once again forsake thyself to embrace Christ, and like as good subjects will not refuse to hazard all in the defence of their earthly and temporal governors, so fly not like a white livered milk-sop from the standard, whereby thy chief Captain, Christ, hath placed thee in a noble array of this life; viriliter ago confortetur cor tuum et sustine dominum, fight manfully, come life, come death, the quarrel is God’s, and undoubtedly the victory is ours.

But thou wilt say, I will not break unity; what? not the unity of satan and his members, not the unity of darkness, the agreement of antichrist and his adherents? nay, then thou deceives thyself with fond imaginations of such an unity as is amongst the enemies of Christ: were not the false prophets in an unity? were not Joseph’s brethren, Jacob’s sons, in an unity? were not the heathen as the Amelechites, the Peresites and Jebusites in an unity? I keep no order but look rather to my matter: where not the Scribes and Pharisees in an unity? doth not King David testify, convenient in unum adversus. Dominum, yes, thieves and murderers, conspirators and traitors have their unity.

Mark my dear friend (yea friend if thou beest not God’s enemy,) there is no unity but when Christ knitteth the knot amongst such as be his, yea, be you well assured that where his truth is resident, there it is verified, that he saith, Non veni mittere pacem in terram sed gladium, that is, Christ came to set one against another; the son against the father, the daughter against the mother: deceive not thyself therefore with the glistering and glorious name of unity, for antichrist hath his unity, yet not in deed, but in name, for the agreement of evil men is not an unity, but a conspiracy.

Thou hast heard some threatenings, some curses, and some admonishments of the Scriptures, to those who love themselves above Christ.

Thou hast heard also the sharp and biting words to those which deny him for love of life, saith he not, that he which denieth me before men, I will deny him before my father which is in heaven: and to the same effect writeth St. Paul in the vi. to the Hebrews, saying, it is impossible that they which have been once lightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift of grace, and been made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have relished of the pure word of God, if they fall and slide away, it is impossible that they should be renewed again by repentance, crucifying again to themselves the Son of God, and making him as it were a mocking-stock, or gaude of their fancies. And again, (saith he) if we shall willingly sin after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there is no oblation left for sin, but the terrible expectation of judgment and fire which shall devour adversaries. Thus St. Paul writeth, and thus thou readest, and dost thou not quake and tremble? well, if these terrible and thundering alarums cannot stir thee to arise and cleave unto Christ, and forsake the world, yet let the sweet consolations and promises of the Scriptures: let the examples of Christ and his Apostles, both Martyrs and Confessors, encourage thee to take faster hold by Christ . Hearken what he saith again in his holy Gospel; blessed are you when men revile you, and persecute you for my sake, rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so persecuted they the Prophets before you.

Hear what Esau saith: fear not the curse of men, be not afraid of their blasphemies and railings, for worms and moths shall eat them up like cloth and wool, but my righteousness shall endure for ever, and my saving health from generation to generation: what art thou then (saith he) that fearest a mortal man, the child of a man, which fadeth away as doth the flower, and forgettest the Lord that made thee, that spread out the heavens like a curtain, and laid the foundations of the earth so sure, that they cannot be removed: I am the Lord thy God, which maketh the sea to rage and to be still, who is the Lord of hosts; I shall put my word in thy mouth, and defend thee with the turning of a hand. And our Saviour Christ saith to his disciples, they shall accuse you, and bring you before the princes and rulers for my name sake, and some of you they shall persecute and kill: but fear you not (saith he) neither care you not what you shall say, for it is my spirit that speaketh in you, the hand of the highest shall defend you, for the hairs of your heads are numbered, and none of them shall perish. I have laid up treasure for you (saith he) where no thief can steal, not moth corrupt, and happy are you if you endure to the end. Fear not them (saith Christ) which have power both over the body and the soul; the world loveth her own, and if you were of the world the world would love you, but you are mind, and therefore the world doth hate you.

Let these, and such like consolations out of the Scriptures strengthen you to God-ward; let not the examples of holy men and women go out of your mind, as that of Daniel, and the rest of the prophets; of the three children of Eleazarus, that constant father; the Machabees’ children, that of Peter, Paul, Stephen, and other Apostles and holy Martyrs, in the beginning and infancy of the Church; as of good Simeon, Archbishop of Seloma, and Zetrophone, with infinite others, under Sapores the king of the Persians and Indians, who condemned all torments devised by the tyrants for their Saviour’s sake.
Return, return again for honour and mercy’s sake into the way of Christ Jesus, and as becometh a faithful soldier, put on that armour which St. Paul teacheth to be most necessary for a Christian man, and above all things take to you the shield of faith.

And be you most devoutly provoked by Christ’s own example, to withstand the devil, to forsake the world, and to become a true and faithful member of his mystical body, who spared not his own flesh for our sins. Throw down thyself with the fear of his threatened vengeance for this so great and heinous offence of apostacy, and comfort yourself on the other part with the mercy, blood and promises of him that he ready to turn to you whensoever you turn to him: disdain not to come again with the lost son, seeing you have so wandered with him: be not ashamed to turn again with him from the swill of strangers, to the delicates of the most benign and loving father, acknowledging that you have sinned against heaven and earth; against heaven by staining his glorious name, and causing his most sincere and pure word to be evil spoken of through you; against earth by offending your so many weak brethren to whom you have been a stumbling block through your sudden sliding.

Be not ashamed to come again with Mary, and to weep bitterly with Peter, not only with shedding of tears out of your bodily eyes, but also pouring out the streams of your heart, to wash away, out of the sight of God, the filth and mire of your offensive fall; be not ashamed to say with the publican, Lord be merciful unto me a sinner: remember the horrible history of Julian of old, and the lamentable case of Francis Spira of late, whose remembrance me thinketh should be yet so green to your memory, that being a thing of our time, you should fear the like inconvenience, seeing that you are fallen into the like offence. Last of all, let the lively remembrance of the last day be always before your eyes, remembering the terror that such shall be in at that time, with the runagates and fugitives from Christ, which setting more by the world than by heaven, more by their life, than by him that gave them their life, more by the vanity of a painful breath, then the perfect assurance of eternal salvation, did shrink; yea, did clean fall away from him that never forsook them. And contrariwise, the inestimable joys prepared for them which feared no peril, nor dreading death, have manfully fought, and victoriously triumphed over all power of darkness; over hell, death, and damnation, through their most redoubted captain JESUS CHRIST our Saviour, who even now stretcheth out his arms to receive you, ready to fall upon your neck, and kiss you: and last of all, to feast you with the dainties and delicates of his own most precious blood, which undoubtedly, if it might stand with his determinate purpose, he would not let to shed again, rather that you should be lost; to whom with the Father and the Holy Ghost, be all honour, praise, and glory everlastingly. Amen.

Your’s, if you be Christ’s,

Jane Grey


Be constant, be constant, fear not for pain,
Christ hath deliver’d thee, and heav’n is thy gain.

A letter of the Lady Jane, sent unto her Father

‘Father, although it hath pleased God to hasten my death by you, by whom my life should rather have been lengthened, yet I can so patiently take it, that I yield God more hearty thanks for shortening my woful days, than if all the world had been given into my possession, with life lengthened at my own will. And albeit I am very well assured of your impatient dolours, redoubled many ways, both in bewailing your own woe, and especially, as I am informed, my woful estate: yet dear father, if I may, without offence, rejoice in my own mishaps, herein I may account myself blessed, that washing my hands with the innocence of my fact, my guiltless blood may cry before the Lord, Mercy to the innocent! And yet though I must needs acknowledge, that being constrained, and as you know well enough continually assayed, yet in taking upon me, I seemed to consent, and therein grievously offended the queen and her laws, yet do I assuredly trust that this my offence towards God is so much the less, in that being in so royal estate as I was, my enforced honour never mingled with mine innocent heart. And thus, good father, I have opened unto you the state wherein I presently stand, my death at hand, although to you perhaps it may seem woful, yet to me there is nothing that can be more welcome than from this vale of misery to aspire to that heavenly throne of all joy and pleasure, with Christ my Saviour: in whose steadfast faith, (if it may be lawful for the daughter so to write to the father) the Lord that hath hitherto strengthened you, so continue to keep you that at the last we may meet in heaven with the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

I am,
Your obedient daughter till death,
Jane Dudley.

A Prayer of the Lady Jane

It is not without the utmost pity that we can reflect upon the unmerited fate of this youthful fair Lady Jane, who was but seventeen at the time of her death and her husband but a few years older. There are few stories so affecting us as hers, a true heroine and example to us all of true faith, goodness and humility. A young woman who was beautiful, kind, accomplished, intelligent, wise, refined and having a most Godly disposition. The latter qualities richly exemplified in her life and writings, two of which were written during her imprisonment. The first is a Prayer which displays at once her anguish and resignation; offering it up to the throne of Mercy, it was no doubt heard with the mercy it deserved and recompensed by an increase in spiritual strength which enabled her to support the sharpness of death which led her to life eternal:

O Lord, thou God and Father of my life, hear me poor and desolate woman which flieth unto thee only in all troubles and miseries. Thou O Lord, art the only defender and deliverer of those that put their trust in thee and therefore, I being defiled with sin encumbered with afflictions, unquieted with troubles, wrapped in cares, overwhelmed with miseries and grievously tormented with the long imprisonment of this vile mass of clay, my sinful body do come unto thee.”

“O merciful Saviour, craving thy mercy and help without the which so little hope of deliverance is left, that I may utterly despair of any liberty. Albeit it is expedient that seeing our life standeth upon trying, we should be visited sometime with some adversity, whereby we might both be tried whether we be of thy flock or no and also know thee and ourselves the better; yet thou that saidst thou wouldst not suffer us to be tempted above our power, be merciful unto me, a miserable wretch. I beseech thee that I may neither be too much puffed up with prosperity, neither too much pressed down with adversity, lest I being too full should deny thee my God, or being too low brought, should despair and blaspheme thee my Lord and Saviour.

O merciful God, consider my miseries best known unto thee and be thou now unto me a strong tower of defence, I humbly require thee. Suffer me not to be tempted above my power, but either be thou a deliverer to me out of this great misery, either else give me grace patiently to bear thy heavy hand and sharp correction. It was thy right hand that delivered the people of Israel out of the hands of Pharaoh, which for the space of four hundred years did oppress them and keep them in bondage. Let it therefore seem good to thy fatherly goodness to deliver me, sorrowful wretch for whom thy son Christ shed his precious blood on the cross out of this miserable captivity and bondage wherein I am now.

How long wilt thou be absent? Forever? Oh Lord, hast thou forgotten to be gracious and hast thou shut up thy loving kindness in displeasure? Wilt thou no more be entreated? Is thy mercy clean gone for ever and thy promise come utterly to an end for evermore? Why dost thou make so long tarrying? Shall I despair of thy mercy O God?

Far be that from me! I am thy workmanship, created in Christ Jesus; give me grace therefore to tarry thy leisure and patiently to bear thy works assuredly, knowing that as thou canst so thou wilt deliver me when it shall please thee; nothing doubting or mistrusting thy goodness towards me for thou knowest better what is good for me than I do; therefore do with me in all things what thou wilt and plague me what way thou wilt.

Only in the meantime, arm me I beseech thee with thy armour that I may stand fast my loins being girt about with verity, having on the breastplate of righteousness and shod with the shoes prepared by the Gospel of peace; above all things taking to me the shield of faith, wherewith I may be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked and taking the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit is thy most holy word, praying always all manner of prayer and supplication that I may refer myself wholly to thy will abiding thy pleasure and comforting myself in those troubles which it shall please thee to send me, seeing such troubles be profitable to me and seeing I am assuredly persuaded that it cannot but be well all that thou dost. Hear me O merciful Father, for his sake whom thou wouldest should be a sacrifice for my sins to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost be all honour and glory. Amen”

From Foxe’s Acts and Monuments: “The Words and Behaviors of Lady Jane upon the Scaffold”

These are the words that the Lady Jane spake upon the scaffold, at the hour of her death. First, when she mounted upon the scaffold, she said to the people standing thereabout, “Good people, I am come hither to die, and by a law I am condemned to the same. The fact against the queen’s Highness was unlawful, and the consenting thereunto by me: but, touching the procurement and desire thereof by me, or on my behalf, I do wash my hands thereof in innocency before God, and the face of you. good Christian people, this day:” and therewith she wrung her hands, wherein she had her book. Then said she, “I pray you all, good Christian people, to bear me witness that I die a true Christian woman, and that I do look to be saved by no other mean, but only by the mercy of God, in the blood of his only Son Jesus Christ: and I confess, that when I did know the word of God, I neglected the same, loved myself and the world; and therefore this plague and punishment is happily and worthily happened unto me for my sins; and yet I thank God, that of his goodness he hath thus given me a time and respite to repent. And now, good people, while I am alive, I pray you assist me with your prayers.” And then, kneeling down, she turned her to Fecknam, saying, “Shall I say this psalm?” And he said, “Yea.” Then said she the psalm of Miserere mei Deus in English, in most devout manner, throughout to the end; and then she stood up, and gave her maiden, Mistress Ellen, her gloves and handkerchief, and her book to Master Bruges. And then she untied her gown, and the hangman pressed upon her to help her off with it; but she, desiring him to let her alone, turned towards her two gentlewomen, who helped her off therewith, and also with her frowes, paaft, and neckerchief, giving to her a fair handkerchief to knit about her eyes.

Then the hangman kneeled down and asked her forgiveness, whom she forgave most willingly. Then he willed her to stand upon the straw; which doing, she saw the block. Then she said, “I pray you despatch me quickly.” Then she kneeled down, saying, “Will you take it off, before I lay me down?” And the hangman said, “No, madam.” Then tied she the handkerchief about her eyes, and feeling for the block, she said, “What shall I do? Where is it? Where is it?” One of the standers-by guiding her thereunto she laid her head down upon the block, and then stretched forth her body, and said, “Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit;” and so finished her life, in the year of our Lord God 1554, the twelfth day of February.

Reading: Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (A Selection)

“Mary, Queen of Scots,” by unknown artist, c. 1560. Wikimedia Commons.


Mary Stuart (1542-1587), more popularly known as Mary, Queen of Scots, was the only surviving and legitimate child of King James V of Scotland, who died when she was just six days old. She came of age in France where eventually became Queen consort to the king in 1559. He died a year later, and she returned to rule her own kingdom, Scotland, which was a land she barely knew. Four years later, she married her half-cousin, Henry Stuart (Lord Darnley) with whom she had her son, James. It was a troubled marriage and, in 1567, his residence was destroyed in an explosion and he was found murdered in his garden amid rumors of foul play. The man accused of the murder–James Hepburn (Earl of Bothwell)–was aquitted and became Mary’s third husband a month later. Following an uprising against the couple, Mary was imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle. On 24 July 1567, she was forced to abdicate in favour of her one-year-old son. After an unsuccessful attempt to regain the throne, she fled southward seeking the protection of her first cousin once removed, Queen Elizabeth I of England.

Mary had once claimed Elizabeth’s throne as her own and was considered the legitimate sovereign of England by many English Catholics, including participants in a rebellion known as the Rising of the North. Perceiving Mary as a threat, Elizabeth had her confined in various castles and manor houses in the interior of England. After eighteen and a half years in custody, Mary was found guilty of plotting to assassinate Elizabeth in 1586, and was beheaded the following year. It was said that Mary’s father had lamented on his deathbed, “Woe is me. My dynasty came with a lass. It will go with a lass.” Little did he know that his grandson–Mary’s only child–would one day unite the kingdoms of England and Scotland as the first ruler of a “United Kingdom.”

Casket Letter No. 2” was given as evidence at Mary’s trial for the murder of her second husband in 1568; eight letters were said to be seized from a silver casket of James Hepburn’s associate and implicated Mary in a conspiracy to kill Darnley. There is some doubt as to whether they are authentic at all and, in any case, the trial proved inconclusive (though Mary remained in the custody of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth). “A Letter to Elizabeth” was one of many letters sent between the two queens; this was written just after Mary crossed the border into England, fleeing the rebellion of her own Scottish nobles. “Narrative of the Execution” is the account of her death as recorded by Sir Henry Ellis.

– by Luis Barrientos

From “Casket Letter No. 2”

This day I have wrought till two of the clock upon this bracelet, to put the key in the cleft of it, which is tied with two laces. I have had so little time that it is very ill, but I will make a fairer ; and in the mean time take heed that none of those that be here do see it, for all the world would know it, for I have made it in haste in their presence. I go to my tedious talk. You make me dissemble so much that I am afraid thereof with horror, and you make me to almost play the part of a traitor. Remember that if it were not for obeying you, I had rather be dead. My heart bleedeth for it. To be short, he will not come but with condition that I shall promise to be with him as heretofore at bed and board, and that I shall forsake him no more, and upon my word he will do whatsoever I will, and will come, but he hath prayed me to tarry till after to-morrow. He hath spoken at the first more stoutly, as this bearer shall tell you upon the matter of the Englishmen and of his departure ; but in the end he cometh to his gentleness again. He hath told me, among other talk, that he knew well that my brother hath told me at Stirling that which he had said there, whereof he denied the half, and specially that he was in his chamber. But now, to make him trust me, I must feign something unto him ; and therefore, when he desired me to promise that when he should be well we should make but one bed, I told him (feigning to believe his fair promises), [that if he] 1 did not change his mind between this time and that, I was contented, so as he would say nothing thereof ; for (to tell it between us two) the Lords wished no ill to him, but did fear lest, considering the threatenings which he made in case we did agree together, he would make them feel the small account they have made of him, and that he would persuade me to pursue some of them, and for this respect should be in jealousy if at one instant,2 without their knowledge, I did break a game made to the contrary in their presence. And he said unto me, very pleasant and merry, ” Think you that they do the more esteem you therefore ? But I am glad that you talked to me of the Lords. I hope that you desire now that we shall live a happy life, for if it were otherwise, it could not be but greater inconvenience should happen to us both than you think. But I will do now whatsoever you will have me do, and will love all those that you shall love, so as you make them to love me also. For, so as they seek not my life, I love them all equally.”

Thereupon I have willed this bearer to tell you many pretty things ; for I have too much to write, and it is late, and I trust him upon your word. To be short, he will go anywhere upon my word. Alas ! and I never deceived anybody; but I remit myself wholly to your will. And send me word what I shall do, and whatsoever happen to me, I will obey you. Think also if you will not find some invention more secret by physic, for he is to take physic at Craig- millar, and the baths also, and shall not come forth of long time. To be short, for that that I can learn, he hath great suspicion, and yet, nevertheless, trusteth upon my word, but not to tell me as yet any thing : howbeit, if you will that I shall avow him, I will know all of him ; but I shall never be willing to beguile one who putteth his trust in me.

Nevertheless, you may do all, and do not esteem me the less therefore, for you are the cause thereof ; for, for my own revenge, I would not do it.

He giveth me certain charges (and these strong) of that that I fear, even to say, that his faults be published ; but there be that commit some secret faults, and fear not to have them spoken of so loudly, and that there is speech of great and small ; and even touching the Lady Reres, he said, ” God grant that she serve you to your honour.” And that men may not think, nor he neither, that my own power was not in myself, seeing I did refuse his offers. To conclude, for a surety, he mistrusteth us of that that you know, and for his life. But in the end, after I had spoken two or three good words to him, he was very merry and glad. I have not seen him this night for ending your bracelet, but I can find no clasps for it. It is ready thereunto, and yet I fear lest it should bring you ill hap, or that it should be known if you were hurt. Send me word whether you will have it, and more money, and when I shall return, and how far I may speak.

He hath sent to me, and prayeth me to see him rise to-morrow in the morning early. To be short, this bearer shall disclose unto you the rest ; and if I learn anything, I will make every night a memorial thereof. He shall tell you the cause of my stay. Burn this letter, for it is too dangerous ; neither is there anything well said in it, for I think upon nothing but upon grief1 if you be at Edinburgh. Now if to please you my dear life, I spare neither honour, conscience, nor hazard, nor greatness, take it in good part, and not according to the interpretation of your false brother-in-law, to whom, I pray you, give no credit against the most faithful lover that ever you had, or shall have.


A Letter to Elizabeth I, May 17, 1568

Madam my good sister, I believe you are not ignorant how long certain of my subjects, whom from the least of my kingdom I have raised to be the first, have taken upon themselves to involve me in trouble, and to do what it appears they had in view from the first. You know how they purposed to seize me and the late King my husband, from which attempt it pleased God to protect us, and to permit us to expel them from the country, where, at your request, I 15 MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS. again afterward received them; though on their return they committed another crime, that of holding me a prisoner, and killing in my presence a servant of mine, I being at the time in a state of pregnancy. It again pleased God that I should save myself from their hands ; and, as above said, I not only pardoned them, but even received them into favor. They, however, not yet satisfied with so many acts of kindness, have, on the contrary, in spite of their promises, devised, favored, subscribed to, and aided in a crime, for the purpose of charging it falsely upon me, as I hope fully to make you understand. They have, under this pretence, arrayed themselves against me, accusing me of being ill advised, and pretending a desire of seeing me delivered from bad counsels, in order to point out to me the things that required reformation. I, feeling myself innocent, and desirous to avoid the shedding of blood, placed myself in their hands, wishing to reform what was amiss. They immediately seized and imprisoned me. When I upbraided them with a breach of their promise, and re- quested to be informed why I was thus treated, they all absented themselves. I demanded to be heard in council, which was refused me. In short, they have kept me without any ‘servant, except two women a cook and a surgeon ; and they have threatened to kill me, if I did not sign an abdication of my crown, which the fear of immediate death caused me to do, as I have since proved before the whole of the nobil- ity, of which I hope to afford you evidence. ”

After this, they again laid hold of me in Parliament, without saying why, and without hearing me; forbidding, at the same time, every advocate to plead for me, and compelling the rest to acquiesce in their unjust usurpation of my rights ; they have robbed me of everything I had in the world, never permitting me either to write or to speak, in order that I might not contradict their false inventions. ”

At last, it pleased God to deliver me, when they thought of putting me to death, that they might make more sure of their power, though I repeatedly offered to answer anything they had to say to me, and to join them in the punishment of those who should be guilty of any crime. In short, it pleased God to deliver me, to the great content of all my subjects, except Murray, Morton, the Humes, Glencairn, Mar, and Semple, to whom, after that my whole nobility was come from all parts, I sent to say that, not withstanding their ingratitude and unjust cruelty employed against me, I was willing to invite them to re- turn to their duty, and to offer them security of their lives and estates and to hold a Parliament for the purpose of reforming everything. I sent twice. They seized and imprisoned my messengers, and made proclamation, declaring traitors all those who should assist me, and guilty of that odious crime. I demanded that they should name one of them, and I would give him up, and begged them, at the same time, to deliver to me such as should be named to them. They seized upon my officer and my proclamation. I sent to demand a safe conduct to my Lord Boyd, in order to treat of accommodation, not wishing, as far as I might be concerned, for any effusion of blood. They refused, saying that those who had not been true to their regent and to my son, whom they denominate king, should leave me, and put them- selves at their disposal a thing at which the whole nobility were greatly offended.

Seeing, therefore, that they were only a few. individuals, and that my nobility were more attached to me than ever, I was in hope that, in course of time, and under your favor, they would be gradually reduced ; and, seeing that they said they would either retake all or die, I proceeded towards Dumbarton, passing at the distance of two miles from tin-in, my nobility accompanying me, marching in order of but- tle between them and me; which they seeing, sallied forth, and came to cut off my way and take me. My people seeing this, and moved by that extreme malice of my enemies, with a view to check their progress, encountered them without order, so that, though they were twice their number, their sudden advance caused them so great a disadvantage, that God per- mitted them to be discomfited, and several killed and taken ; some of them were cruelly killed when taken on their retreat. The pursuit was immediately inter- rupted, in order to take me on my way to Dumbarton ; they stationed people in every direction, either to kill or take me. But God, through his infinite goodness, has preserved me, and I escaped to my Lord Herries’, who, as well as other gentlemen, have come with me into your country, being assured that, hearing the cruelty of my enemies, and how they have treated UK-, you will, conformably to your kind disposition, and the confidence I have in you, not only receive for the safety of my life, but also aid and assist me in my just quarrel, and I shall solicit other princes to do the same. I entreat you to send to fetch me as soon as you possibly can, for I am in a pitiable condition, not only for a Queen, but for a gentlewoman : for I have nothing in the world but what I had on my person when I made my escape, traveling across the country the first day, and not having since ever ventured to proceed, except in the night, as I hope to declare be- fore you, if it pleases you to have pity, as I trust you will, upon my extreme misfortune; of which I will forbear complaining, in order not to importune you, and pray to God that he may give to you a happy state of health and long life, and to me patience, and that consolation which I expect to receive from you, to whom I present my humble commendations. From Wrokinton, the 17th of May. ”

Your most faithful and affectionate good sister, and cousin, and escaped prisoner, MARY R.


1587.—February 8. Narrative of the Execution, sent to the Court.

First, the said Scottish Queen, being carried by two of Sir Amias Paulett’s gentlemen, and the Sheriff going before her, came most willingly out of her chamber into an entry next the Hall, at which place the Earl of Shrewsbury and the Earl of Kent, commissioners for the execution, with the two governors of her person, and divers knights and gentlemen did meet her, where they found one of the Scottish Queen’s servants, named Melvin, kneeling on his knees, who uttered these words with tears to the Queen of Scots, his mistress, “Madam, it will be the sorrowfullest message that ever I carried, when I shall report that my Queen and dear mistress is dead.” Then the Queen of Scots, shedding tears, answered him, “You ought to rejoice rather than weep for that the end of Mary Stuart’s troubles is now come. Thou knowest, Melvin, that all this world is but vanity, and full of troubles and sorrows; carry this message from me, and tell my friends that I die a true woman to my religion, and like a true Scottish woman and a true Frenchwoman. But God forgive them that have long desired my end; and He that is the true Judge of all secret thoughts knoweth my mind, how that it ever hath been my desire to have Scotland and England united together. Commend me to my son, and tell him that I have not done anything that may prejudice his kingdom of Scotland; and so, good Melvin, farewell;” and kissing him, she bade him pray for her.


Then she turned to the Lords and told them that she had certain requests to make unto them. One was for a sum of money, which she said Sir Amyas Paulet knew of, to be paid to one Curle her servant; next, that all her poor servants might enjoy that[Pg 241] quietly which by her Will and Testament she had given unto them; and lastly, that they might be all well entreated, and sent home safely and honestly into their countries. “And this I do conjure you, my Lords, to do.”

Answer was made by Sir Amyas Paulet, “I do well remember the money your Grace speaketh of, and your Grace need not to make any doubt of the not performance of your requests, for I do surely think they shall be granted.”

“I have,” said she, “one other request to make unto you, my Lords, that you will suffer my poor servants to be present about me, at my death, that they may report when they come into their countries how I died a true woman to my religion.”

Then the Earl of Kent, one of the commissioners, answered, “Madam, it cannot well be granted, for that it is feared lest some of them would with speeches both trouble and grieve your Grace, and disquiet the company, of which we have had already some experience, or seek to wipe their napkins in some of your blood, which were not convenient.” “My Lord,” said the Queen of Scots, “I will give my word and promise for them that they shall not do any such thing as your Lordship has named. Alas! poor souls, it would do them good to bid me farewell. And I hope your Mistress, being a maiden Queen, in regard of womanhood, will suffer me to have some of my own people about me at my death. And I know she hath not given you so straight a commission, but that you may grant me more than this, if I were a far meaner woman than I am.” And then[Pg 242] (seeming to be grieved) with some tears uttered these words: “You know that I am cousin to your Queen, and descended from the blood of Henry the Seventh, a married Queen of France, and the anointed Queen of Scotland.”


Whereupon, after some consultation, they granted that she might have some of her servants according to her Grace’s request, and therefore desired her to make choice of half-a-dozen of her men and women: who presently said that of her men she would have Melvin, her apothecary, her surgeon, and one other old man beside; and of her women, those two that did use to lie in her chamber.

After this, she being supported by Sir Amias’s two gentlemen aforesaid, and Melvin carrying up her train, and also accompanied with the Lords, Knights, and Gentlemen aforenamed, the Sheriff going before her, she passed out of the entry into the Great Hall, with her countenance careless, importing thereby rather mirth than mournful cheer, and so she willingly stepped up to the scaffold which was prepared for her in the Hall, being two feet high and twelve feet broad, with rails round about, hung and covered with black, with a low stool, long cushion, and block, covered with black also. Then, having the stool brought her, she sat her down; by her, on the right hand, sat the Earl of Shrewsbury and the Earl of Kent, and on the left hand stood the Sheriff, and before her the two executioners; round about the rails stood Knights, Gentlemen, and others.

Then, silence being made, the Queen’s Majesty’s Commission for the execution of the Queen of Scots[Pg 243] was openly read by Mr. Beale, clerk of the Council; and these words pronounced by the Assembly, “God save the Queen.” During the reading of which Commission the Queen of Scots was silent, listening unto it with as small regard as if it had not concerned her at all; and with as cheerful a countenance as if it had been a pardon from her Majesty for her life; using as much strangeness in word and deed as if she had never known any of the Assembly, or had been ignorant of the English language.


Then one Doctor Fletcher, Dean of Peterborough, standing directly before her, without the rail, bending his body with great reverence, began to utter this exhortation following: “Madam, the Queen’s most excellent Majesty,” &c., and iterating these words three or four times, she told him, “Mr. Dean, I am settled in the ancient Catholic Roman religion, and mind to spend my blood in defence of it.” Then Mr. Dean said: “Madam, change your opinion, and repent you of your former wickedness, and settle your faith only in Jesus Christ, by Him to be saved.” Then she answered again and again, “Mr. Dean, trouble not yourself any more, for I am settled and resolved in this my religion, and am purposed therein to die.” Then the Earl of Shrewsbury and the Earl of Kent, perceiving her so obstinate, told her that since she would not hear the exhortation begun by Mr. Dean, “We will pray for your Grace, that it stand with God’s will you may have your heart lightened, even at the last hour, with the true knowledge of God, and so die therein.” Then she answered, “If you will pray for me, my Lords, I will[Pg 244] thank you; but to join in prayer with you I will not, for that you and I are not of one religion.”


Then the Lords called for Mr. Dean, who, kneeling on the scaffold stairs, began this prayer, “O most gracious God and merciful Father,” &c., all the Assembly, saving the Queen of Scots and her servants, saying after him. During the saying of which prayer, the Queen of Scots, sitting upon a stool, having about her neck an Agnus Dei, in her hand a crucifix, at her girdle a pair of beads with a golden cross at the end of them, a Latin book in her hand, began with tears and with loud and fast voice to pray in Latin; and in the midst of her prayers she slided off from her stool, and kneeling, said divers Latin prayers; and after the end of Mr. Dean’s prayer, she kneeling, prayed in English to this effect: “For Christ His afflicted Church, and for an end of their troubles; for her son; and for the Queen’s Majesty, that she might prosper and serve God aright.” She confessed that she hoped to be saved “by and in the blood of Christ, at the foot of whose Crucifix she would shed her blood.” Then said the Earl of Kent, “Madam, settle Christ Jesus in your heart, and leave those trumperies.” Then she little regarding, or nothing at all, his good counsel, went forward with her prayers, desiring that “God would avert His wrath from this Island, and that He would give her grief and forgiveness for her sins.” These, with other prayers she made in English, saying she forgave her enemies with all her heart that had long sought her blood, and desired God to convert them to the truth; and in the end of the prayer she desired all[Pg 245] saints to make intercession for her to Jesus Christ, and so kissing the crucifix, and crossing of her also, said these words: “Even as Thy arms, O Jesus, were spread here upon the Cross, so receive me into Thy arms of mercy, and forgive me all my sins.”


Her prayer being ended, the executioners, kneeling, desired her Grace to forgive them her death; who answered, “I forgive you with all my heart, for now, I hope, you shall make an end of all my troubles.” Then they, with her two women, helping of her up, began to disrobe her of her apparel; she never changed her countenance, but with smiling cheer she uttered these words, “that she never had such grooms to make her unready, and that she never put off her clothes before such a company.”

Then she, being stripped of all her apparel saving her petticoat and kirtle, her two women beholding her made great lamentation, and crying and crossing themselves prayed in Latin; she, turning herself to them, embracing them, said these words in French, “Ne criez vous; j’ay promis pour vous;” and so crossing and kissing them, bade them pray for her, and rejoice and not weep, for that now they should see an end of all their mistress’s troubles. Then she, with a smiling countenance, turning to her men servants, as Melvin and the rest, standing upon a bench nigh the scaffold, who sometime weeping, sometime crying out aloud, and continually crossing themselves, prayed in Latin, crossing them with her hand bade them farewell; and wishing them to pray for her even until the last hour.


This done, one of the women having a Corpus[Pg 246] Christi cloth lapped up three-corner ways, kissing it, put it over the Queen of Scots’ face, and pinned it fast to the caul of her head. Then the two women departed from her, and she kneeling down upon the cushion most resolutely, and without any token or fear of death, she spake aloud this Psalm in Latin, “In te, Domine, confido, non confundar in eternum,” &c. {Ps. xxv.}. Then, groping for the block, she laid down her head, putting her chin over the block with both her hands, which holding there, still had been cut off, had they not been espied. Then lying upon the block most quietly, and stretching out her arms, cried, “In manus tuas, Domine,” &c., three or four times. Then she lying very still on the block, one of the executioners holding of her slightly with one of his hands, she endured two strokes of the other executioner with an axe, she making very small noise or none at all, and not stirring any part of her from the place where she lay; and so the executioner cut off her head, saving one little grisle, which being cut asunder, he lifted up her head to the view of all the assembly, and bade “God save the Queen.” Then her dressing of lawn falling off from her head, it appeared as grey as one of threescore and ten years old, polled very short, her face in a moment being so much altered from the form she had when she was alive, as few could remember her by her dead face. Her lips stirred up and down a quarter of an hour after her head was cut off.

Then Mr. Dean said with a loud voice, “So perish all the Queen’s enemies;” and afterwards the Earl of Kent came to the dead body, and standing over it, with a loud voice said, “Such end of all the Queen’s and the Gospel’s enemies.”


Then one of the executioners pulling off her garters, espied her little dog which was crept under her clothes, which could not be gotten forth but by force, yet afterward would not depart from the dead corpse, but came and lay between her head and her shoulders, which being imbrued with her blood, was carried away and washed, as all things else were that had any blood was either burned or clean washed; and the executioners sent away with money for their fees, not having any one thing that belonged unto her. And so, every man being commanded out of the Hall, except the Sheriff and his men, she was carried by them up into a great chamber lying ready for the surgeons to embalm her.

Reading: Queen Elizabeth I (A Selection)

“The Darnley Portrait of Elizabeth I of England” by unknown artist, c. 1570. Wikimedia Commons.

Elizabeth Tudor (1533-1603), Queen Elizabeth I, was much loved by her subjects and presided over a time of artistic accomplishment and relative peace that the Victorians later deemed a “Golden Age.” By the end of her reign, she had helped establish England as a great European power in politics, economics, education, and the arts. Born the daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn, she was an immediate disappointment: her father had turned the country upside down to separate from the Roman Catholic Church all in the hopes of a son. Her parents’ relationship deteriorated shortly thereafter, leaving Anne vulnerable to trumped-up charges of incest and adultery. She was executed, on the orders of Elizabeth’s father, when the little girl was just over two years old. Stripped of the title “princess,” she nevertheless continued to receive a royal education, proving to be a true intellectual with a keen and brilliant mind. In time, she would be regarded as the most educated woman in all of Britain. Just before his death, Henry reinstated her in the line of succession after Edward, her younger half-brother, and Mary, her older half-sister. This made her the target of a great many suitors, including Thomas Seymour (the husband of Catherine Parr, King Henry’s last wife) who, it is speculated, tried to seduce the teenage Elizabeth and may have sexually assaulted her. He was later arrested for treason, and accused of attempting to marry Elizabeth to claim the English throne. This put Elizabeth in a tough spot as well but, after a lengthy interrogation, she was set free. Throughout her life, she was pursued by many suitors; she often engaged in flirtation and courtship as a means of alliance and diplomacy but never committed to anyone. The closest she came was to Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, who she was said to be in love with. Nevertheless, she proclaimed she was “married to England.”

After the tumultous religious conflicts that accompanied the succession of each of her siblings (and a second cousin), Elizabeth’s coronation was greeted with great longing by the English who hoped for a stable monarch. She, who had withstood numerous threats to her life already, aceeded to the thone with grace and a determination to lead. Throughout her reign, she would thwart attempts to usurp her power, whether from foreign powers (the Spanish Armada) or her own family (Mary, Queen of Scots); many of these attempts related to the continued tension between Catholic and Protestant factions. While Elizabeth was Protestant, she was more tolerant of Catholicism than Edward had been and an uneasy peace or status quo was established.

In addition to her power, she was also a learned woman who wrote many speeches, poems and letters during her long reign. The collection below begins with “Passage of our most Dread Sovereign Lady,” an account of Elizabeth’s procession (the day before her coronation) through the streets of London by Richard Mulcaster. “Response to a Joint Delegation of Lords and Commons” is an impassioned counterargument to members of her parliament who insisted she marry to secure the line of succession. After the meeting, her impromptu retort was recorded. “A Letter to Mary” was written after the news had reached Elizabeth that Henry Stuart, the erractic and arrogant husband of Mary Stuart, had been murdered. In 1586, a number of Mary Stuart’s supporters, led by Anthony Babington, plotted to murder Elizabeth and place Mary on the throne. The plot was discovered, and the plotters were executed in September. Mary, who had been complicit with them, was placed under stricter confinement, and then tried for treason. “A Letter to Sir Amyas Paulet” was sent to Mary Stuart’s keeper and, presumably, shown to Mary. “Letter to King James VI” is the letter Elizabeth sent to Mary’s son, James, following his mother’s execution. Though she relays her deep sympathy, it was Elizabeth who signed off on Mary’s demise; nonetheless, James had last seen his mother as a 10-month-old and is reported to have had little attachment to her. Her “Speech to the Troops at Tillbury” was delivered to the land forces assembled to repell the fleet of the Spanish Armada in 1588; the Armada was defeated at sea before it could make land which was seen as a sign of God’s providence. The “Golden Speech” is perhaps her most famous of all, as it was the last speech she gave publically and contains a beautiful summation of her philosophy on rulership. She says of herself, almost marvelling at the many twists of fate which that brought her to the throne, “I never was any greedy, scraping grasper…My heart was never set on wordly goods, but only for my subjects’ good….Therefore, render unto them from me, such thanks as you imagine my heart yieldeth but my tongue cannot express.” Finally, there are a selection of seemingly autobiographical poems; “On Monseniur’s Departure” is said to have been written when Elizabeth broke off marriage negotiations with her final suitor, the Duke of Anjou; “The Doubt of Future Foes” was written once Mary, Queen of Scots had escaped to England in 1568; “When I was Fair and Young” seems to be a meditation on aging and a musing on her romantic past.

by Masayoshi Sato


From Passage of our Most Dread Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth through the City of London to Westminster on the Day before her Coronation (1559)

Her Grace, by holding up her hands, and merry countenance to such as stood afar off, and most tender and gentle language to those that stood nigh to Her Grace, did declare herself no less thankfully to receive her people’s good will, than they lovingly offered it unto her.

To all that “wished Her Grace well!” she gave “Hearty thanks!” and to such as bade “GOD save Her Grace!” she said again, “GOD save them all!” and thanked with all her heart. So that, on either side, there was nothing but gladness! nothing but prayer! nothing but comfort!

The Queen’s Majesty rejoiced marvellously to see that so exceedingly shewed towards Her Grace, which all good Princes have ever desired; I mean, so earnest Love of Subjects, so evidently declared even to Her Grace’s own person, being carried in the midst of them. The people, again, were wonderfully ravished with the loving answers and gestures of their Princess; like to the which, they had before tried, at her first coming to the town, from Hatfield. This Her Grace’s loving behaviour preconceived in the people’s heads, upon these considerations, was then thoroughly confirmed; and indeed implanted a wonderful hope in them touching her worthy government in the rest of her reign.

For in all her Passage, she did not only shew her most gracious love towards the people in general; but also privately, if the baser personages had either offered Her Grace any flowers or such like, as a signification of their good will; or moved to her any suit, she most gently (to the common rejoicings of all lookers on, and private comfort of the party) stayed her chariot, and heard their requests. So that, if a man should say well, he could not better term the City of London that time, than a Stage wherein was shewed the wonderful Spectacle of a noble hearted Princess towards her most loving people; and the people’s exceeding comfort in beholding so worthy a Sovereign, and hearing so prince-like a voice.

Out at the windows and penthouses of every house did hang a number of rich and costly banners and streamers, till Her Grace came to the upper end of Cheap.

And there by appointment, the Right Worshipful Master Ranulph Cholmeley, Recorder of the City, presented to the Queen’s Majesty, a purse of crimson satin, richly wrought with gold; wherein the City gave unto the Queen’s Majesty a thousand marks in gold [= £666 = about £5,000 now]; as Master Recorder did declare briefly unto the Queen’s Majesty. [Compare the similar usual gift to her Mother25 years before, at Vol. II. p. 48.] Whose words tended to this end, that “The Lord Mayor, his brethren and commonalty of the City, to declare their gladness and good will towards the Queen’s Majesty, did present Her Grace with that gold; desiring Her Grace to continue their good and gracious Queen, and not to esteem the value of the gift, but the mind of the givers.”

The Queen’s Majesty, with both her hands took the purse, and answered to him again marvellously pithily; and so pithily that the standers by, as they embraced entirely her gracious answer, so they marvelled at the couching thereof: which was in words truly reported these. “I thank my Lord Mayor, his brethren, and you all! And whereas your request is, that I should continue your good Lady and Queen: be ye ensured that I will be as good unto you, as ever Queen was to her people! No will in me can lack! neither, do I trust, shall there lack any power! And persuade yourselves that, for the safety and quietness of you all, I will not spare, if need be, to shed my blood! GOD thank you all!”

Which answer of so noble hearted a Princess, if it moved a marvellous shout and rejoicing, it is nothing to be marvelled at; since both the heartiness thereof was so wonderful, and the words so jointly knit.

But because Princes be set in their Seat by GOD’s appointment, and therefore they must first and chiefly render the glory of Him from whom their glory issueth; it is to be noted in Her Grace, that, forasmuch as GOD hath so wonderfully placed her in the Seat of Government over this realm; she in all doings, doth shew herself most mindful of His goodness and mercy shewed unto her. And amongst all other, two principal signs thereof were noted in this Passage.

First, in the Tower: where Her Grace, before she entered her chariot, lifted up her eyes to heaven, and said:

O LORD! Almighty and everlasting GOD! I give Thee most hearty thanks, that as Thou hast been so merciful unto me, as to spare me to behold this joyful day! And I acknowledge that Thou hast dealt as wonderfully and mercifully with me, as Thou didst with thy true and faithful servant Daniel, the prophet; whom thou deliveredst out of the den, from the cruelty of the greedy and raging lions: even so, was I overwhelmed, and only by Thee! delivered. To Thee! therefore, only, be thanks, honour, and praise for ever! Amen.

The second was, the receiving of the Bible, at the Little Conduit, in Cheap. For when Her Grace had learned that the Bible in English, should there be offered; she thanked the City therefore, promised the reading thereof most diligently, and incontinent commanded that it should be brought. At the receipt whereof, how reverently, she did, with both her hands, take it! kiss it! and lay it on her breast! to the great comfort of the lookers on!

GOD will undoubtedly preserve so worthy a Prince; which, at His honour, so reverently taketh her beginning. For this saying is true, and written in the Book of Truth: “He that first seeketh the Kingdom of GOD, shall have all other things cast unto him.”

Now, therefore, all English hearts, and her natural people must needs praise GOD’s mercy, which hath sent them so worthy a Prince; and pray for Her Grace’s long continuance amongst us.


Response to Parliamentary Delegation on Her Marriage, 1566

In 1566, Parliament was still nagging Elizabeth to marry. A delegation from both houses came to petition her. Here is part of the angry dressing-down she gave them:

‘Was I not born in the realm? Were my parents born in any foreign country? Is not my kingdom here? Whom have I oppressed? Whom have I enriched to other’s harm? What turmoil have I made in this commonwealth that I should be suspected to have no regard to the same? How have I governed since my reign? I will be tried by envy itself. I need not to use many words, for my deeds do try me.

‘Well, the matter whereof they would have made their petition (as I am informed) consisteth in two points: in my marriage, and in the limitations of the succession of the crown, wherein my marriage was first placed, as for manners’ sake. I did send them answer by my council, I would marry (although of mine own disposition I was not inclined thereunto) but that was not accepted nor credited, although spoken by their Prince.

‘I will never break the word of a prince spoken in a public place, for my honour’s sake. And therefore I say again, I will marry as soon as I can conveniently, if God take not him away with whom I mind to marry, or myself, or else some other great let happen. I can say no more except the party were present. And I hope to have children, otherwise I would never marry. A strange order of petitioners that will make a request and cannot be otherwise assured but by the prince’s word, and yet will not believe it when it is spoken.

‘The second point was for the limitation of the succession of the crown, wherein was nothing said for my safety, but only for themselves. A strange thing that the foot should direct the head in so weighty a cause’, a cause, she pointed out, to which she had give careful consideration since it concerned her more nearly than it concerned them.

‘I am sure there was not one of them that ever was a second person, as I have been and have tasted of the practices against my sister, who I would to God were alive again. I had great occasion to hearken to their motions for whom some of them are of the common house.’

She forbore to name those who had plotted against the Crown in Mary’s reign, contenting herself with:

‘And were it not for my honour, their knavery should be known. There were occasions in me at that time, I stood in danger of my life, my sister was so incensed against me. I did differ from her in religion and I was sought for divers ways. And so shall never be my successor. I have conferred with those that are well learned, and have asked their opinions touching the limitation of succession.’

The lawyers, she said, had been silent; they understood the legal complications but ‘they could not tell what to say considering the great peril to the realm.’

As for those who thought they knew better:

‘They would have twelve or fourteen limited in succession and the more the better. And those shall be of such uprightness and so divine, as in them shall be divinity itself. Kings were wont to honour philosophers, but if I had such I would honour them as angels that should have such piety in them that they would not seek where they are the second to be the first, and where the third to be the second and so forth. It is said I am no divine. Indeed I studied nothing else but divinity till I came to the crown; and then I gave myself to the study of that which was meet for government, and am not ignorant of stories wherein appeareth what hath fallen out for ambition of kingdoms–as in Spain, Naples, Portugal and at home; and what cocking hath been between the father and the son for the same. You would have a limitation of succession. Truly if reason did not subdue will in me, I would cause you to deal in it, so pleasant a thing it should be unto me. But I stay it for your benefit. For if you should have liberty to treat of it, there be so many competitors–some kinsfolk, some servants, and some tenants; some would speak for their master, and some for their mistress, and every man for his friend–that it would be an occasion of a greater charge than a subsidy. And if my will did not yield to reason, it should be that thing I would gladliest desire to see you deal in it.’

And still she had not finished. She accused them of errors; she accused them of ‘lack of good foresight’; and then she turned on the bishops with withering scorn:

‘I do not marvel, though Domini Doctores, with you my Lords, did so use themselves therein, since after my brother’s death they openly preached and set forth that my sister and I were bastards. Well, I wish not the death of any man, but only this I desire, that they which have been the practisers herein may before their deaths repent the same, and show some open confession of their fault, whereby the scabbed sheep may be known from the whole. As for my own part I care not for death, for all men are mortal; and though I be a woman yet I have as good a courage answerable to my place as ever my father had. I am your anointed Queen. I will never be by violence constrained to do anything. I thank God I am indeed endowed with such qualities that if I were turned out of the realm in my petticoat I were able to live in any place in Christendom.


Letter to Mary, Queen of Scots, February 24 1567


  My ears have been so deafened and my understanding so grieved and my heart so affrighted to hear the dreadful news of the abominable  murder of your mad husband and my killed cousin that I scarcely yet have the wits to write about it. And inasmuch as my nature compels me to take his death in the extreme, he being so close in blood, so it is that I will boldly tell you what I think of it.  I cannot dissemble that I am more sorrowful for you than for him. O madame, I would not do the office of faithful cousin or affectionate friend if I studied rather to please your ears than employed myself in preserving your honor. However, I will not at all dissemble what most people are talking about: which is that you will look through your fingers at the revenging of this deed, and that you do not take measures that touch those who have done as you wished, as if the thing had been entrusted in a way that the murderers felt assurance in doing it. Among the thoughts in my heart I beseech you to want no such touch to stick at this point. Through all the dealings of the world  I never was in such miserable haste to lodge and have in my heart such a miserable opinion of any prince as this would cause me do. Much less will I have such of her to whom I whish as much good as my heart is able to imagine or as you were able a short while ago to wish. However I exhort you, I counsel you, and I beseech you to take this thing so much to heart that you will not fear to touch even him whom you have nearest to you if the thing touches him, and that no persuasion will prevent you from making an example out of this to the world: that you are both a noble princess and a loyal wife. I do not write so vehemently out of doubt that I have, but out of the affection that I bear you in particular. For I am not ignorant that you have no wiser counsellors than myself. Thus it is that, when I remember that our Lord had one Judas out of twelve, and I assure myself that there could be no one more loyal than myself, I offer you my affection in place of this prudence.


A Letter to Sir Amyas Paulet, August 1586

Amyas, my most careful and faithful servant,

God reward thee treblefold in the double for thy most troublesome charge so well discharged. If you knew, my Amyas, how kindly, besides dutifully, my careful heart accepts your double labors and faithful actions, your wise orders and safe regards performed in so dangerous and crafty a charge, to would ease your troubles travail and rejoice your heart. In which I charge you to carry this most nighest thought: that I cannot balance in any weight of my judgment the value that I prize you at. And suppose no treasure to countervail such a faith, and condemn me in that behalf which I never committed if I reward not such deserts. Yea, let me lack when I have most need if I acknowledge not such a merit with a reward non omnibus datum.

But let your wicked mistress know how, with hearty sorrow, her vile deserts compels these orders; and bid her, from me, ask God forgiveness for her treacherous dealing toward the saver of her life many years, to the intolerable peril of her own. And yet not content with so many forgivenesses, must fall again so horribly, far passing a woman’s thought, much more a princess, instead of excusing, whereof not one can serve, it being so plainly confessed by the actors of my guiltless death. Let repentance take place; and let not the fiend possess her so as her best part be lost,which I pray with hands lifted up to Him that may both save and spill, with my loving adieu and prayer for thy long life.

Your most assured and loving sovereign in heart,
by good desert induced, Elizabeth Regina.


A Letter to King James VI of Scotland, February 14, 1587

My dear Brother, I would you knew (though not felt) the extreme dolor that overwhelms my mind, for that miserable accident which (far contrary to my meaning) hath befallen. I have now sent this kinsman of mine, whom ere now it hath pleased you to favour, to instruct you truly of that which is too irksome for my pen to tell you. I beseech you that as God and many more know, how innocent I am in this case : so you will believe me, that if I had bid aught I would have bid by it. I am not so base minded that fear of any living creature or Prince should make me so afraid to do that were just; or done, to deny the same. I am not of so base a lineage, nor carry so vile a mind. But, as not to disguise, fits not a King, so will I never dissemble my actions, but cause them show even as I meant them. Thus assuring yourself of me, that as I know this was deserved, yet if I had meant it I would never lay it on others’ shoulders; no more will I not damnify myself that thought it not.
The circumstance it may please you to have of this bearer. And for your part, think you have not in the world a more loving kinswoman, nor a more dear friend than myself; nor any that will watch more carefully to preserve you and your estate. And who shall otherwise persuade you, judge them more partial to others than you. And thus in haste I leave to trouble you: beseeching God to send you a long reign.

Your most assured loving sister and cousin,
Elizabeth R.


Speech to the Troops at Tilbury (1558)

“My loving people: I have been persuaded by some, that are careful of my safety, to take heed how I committed my self to armed multitudes for fear of treachery. But I tell you, that I would not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear. I have so behaved my self, that under god I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal harts and goodwill of my subjects. Wherefore I am come among you at this time, [not] for my recreation and pleasure, [but] being resolved in the midst and heat of the battle to live and die amongst you all, to lay down for my god, and for my kingdom and for my people mine honor and my blood run in the dust. 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, and take foul scorn that Parma or any prince of Europe should dare to invade the borders of my realm.

“To the which rather than any dishonor shall grow by me, I myself will venture my blood, myself will be your general, judge and rewarder of your virtue in the field. I know that already for your forwardness you have deserved rewards and crowns and I assure you in the word of a prince you shall not fail of them. In the mean time my Lieutenant General [the Earl of Leicester] shall be in my steed, than whom never prince commanded a more noble or worthy subject. Not doubting but by your concord in the camp and valor in the field and your obedience to my self and my general, we shall shortly have a famous victory over this enemy of my god and of my kingdom.


The Golden Speech

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 never 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 hath raised me high, yet this I count the glory of my Crown, that I have reigned with your loves. This makes me 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. Therefore I have cause to wish nothing more than to content the subject 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. And as I am that person still yet, under God, hath delivered you and so I trust by the almighty power of God that I shall be His instrument to preserve you from every peril, dishonour, shame, tyranny and oppression, partly by means of your intended helps which we take very acceptably because it manifesteth the largeness of your good loves and loyalties unto your sovereign.

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 yieldeth, 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 doubt me 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.

Since I was Queen, yet did I never put my pen to any grant, but that upon pretext and semblance made unto me, it was both good and beneficial to the subject in general though a private profit to some of my ancient servants, who had deserved well at my hands. But the contrary being found by experience, I am exceedingly beholden to such subjects as would move the same at first. And I am not so simple to suppose but that there be some of the Lower House whom these grievances never touched. I think they spake out of zeal to their countries and not out of spleen or malevolent affection as being parties grieved. That my grants should be grievous to my people and oppressions to be privileged under colour of our patents, our kingly dignity shall not suffer it. Yea, when I heard it, I could give no rest unto my thoughts until I had reformed it. Shall they, think you, escape unpunished that have oppressed you, and have been respectless of their duty and regardless our honour? No, I assure you, Mr Speaker, were it not more for conscience’ sake than for any glory or increase of love that I desire, these errors, troubles, vexations and oppressions done by these varlets and lewd persons not worthy of the name of subjects should not escape without condign punishment. But I perceive they dealt with me like physicians who, ministering a drug, make it more acceptable by giving it a good aromatical savour, or when they give pills do gild them all over.

I have ever used to set the Last Judgement Day before mine eyes and so to rule as I shall be judged to answer before a higher judge, and 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 hath 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 hath made me his instrument to maintain his truth and glory and to defend his kingdom as I said from peril, dishonour, tyranny and oppression. There will never Queen sit in my seat with more zeal to my country, care to my subjects and that will sooner with willingness venture her life for your good and safety than 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 that will be more careful and loving.

‘For I, oh Lord, what am I, whom practices and perils past should not fear? Or what can I do? That I should speak for any glory, God forbid.’ And turning to the Speaker and her councilors she said, ‘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.’ ”



On Monsieur’s Departure

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,
Till by the end of things it be supprest.
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 ere meant.

The Doubt of Future Foes

The doubt of future foes exiles my present joy,
And wit me warns to shun such snares as threaten mine annoy;
For falsehood now doth flow, and subjects’ faith doth ebb,
Which should not be if reason ruled or wisdom weaved the web.
But clouds of joys untried do cloak aspiring minds,
Which turn to rain of late repent by changed course of winds.
The top of hope supposed the root upreared shall be,
And fruitless all their grafted guile, as shortly ye shall see.
The dazzled eyes with pride, which great ambition blinds,
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 not seditious sects, let them elsewhere resort.
My rusty sword through rest shall first his edge employ
To poll their tops that seek such change or gape for future joy.

When I Was Fair and Young

When I was fair and young, then favor 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 other where; 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 other where, importune me no more.
Then spake fair Venus’ son, that proud victorious boy,
Saying: You dainty dame, for that you be so coy,
I will so pluck your plumes as you shall say no more:
Go, go, go, seek some other where, 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 other where, importune me no more.

Source Texts:

“Ambassadorial Dispatch to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V.” Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 11, 1553. His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1916, is licensed under no known copyright.


Arber, Edward, ed. “Passage of our Most Dread Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth through the City of London to Westminster on the Day before her Coronation.” An English Garner, Vol. IV, 1882, is licensed under no known copyright.

Ascham, Roger. “A Talk with the Lady Jane.” British Female Biography, ed. Thomas Timpson. Aylott and Company, 1854, is licensed under no known copyright.


Foxe, John.  The Unabridged Acts and Monuments Online or TAMO (1576 edition). The Digital Humanities Institute, Sheffield, 2011, is licensed under no known copyright.


Grey, Jane. “Letter to M.H,” and “Letter to her Father.” Literary Remains of Jane Grey with a Memoir of her Life, ed. Nicholas Harris Nicholas. Harding, Triphook and Lepard, 1825, is licensed under no know copyright.


Nicholas, N.H, ed. “A Prayer for the Lady Jane.” Literary Remains of Jane Grey with a Memoir of her Life, ed. Nicholas Harris Nicholas. Harding, Triphook and Lepard, 1825, is licensed under no know copyright.


Rait, Robert S., ed. “Casket Letters No. 2,” “Letter to Elizabeth I, May 17, 1568” and “1587–February 8. Narrative of the Execution.” Mary, Queen of Scots: 1542-1587. Ballantyne, Hanson & Co, 1899, is licensed under no known copyright.


Tudor, Elizabeth. “Speech to the Troops at Tilbury,” “Golden Speech,” “The Doubt of Future Foes,” “On Monsieur’s Departure.” Wikisource, 01 Apr, 2019, is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike.

About CC Licenses - Creative Commons

–“Letter to King James VI, February 1586.” Lives of the Queens of England, Vol. 4. Lippincott, 1893, is licensed under no known copyright.


–“Letter to Mary, Queen of Scots, February 1567,” The National Archives, is licensed under Open Government License 3.0.

Open Government License for public sector information

–“Response to a Parliamentary Delegation on Her Marriage.” Modern History Sourcebook: Queen Elizabeth of England, Fordham University, 1998, is licensed under no known copyright.


–“When I was Fair and Young,” Poets.org, 2020, is licensed under no known copyright.


Tudor, Mary. “Letter to her Father” and “The Oration of Queen Mary in the Guildhall.” The History of Mary I, Queen of England. Sands & Co, 1901, is licensed under no known copyright.




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An Open Companion to Early British Literature Copyright © 2019 by Allegra Villarreal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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