Elizabeth I (1533-1603) was queen regnant of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death. Sometimes called The Virgin Queen, Gloriana, or Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth was the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty.
Elizabeth set out to rule by good counsel, and she depended heavily on a group of trusted advisers. One of her first moves as queen was the establishing of an English Protestant church, of which she became the Supreme Governor. This Elizabethan Religious Settlement later evolved into today’s Church of England.
It was expected that Elizabeth would marry and produce an heir so as to continue the Tudor line. She never did, however, despite numerous courtships. As she grew older, Elizabeth became famous for her virginity, and a cult grew up around her which was celebrated in the portraits, pageants, and literature of the day. (English emigrating to Virginia State in the U.S. named the state as such to honor her.)
Elizabeth was cautious in foreign affairs, moving between the major powers of France and Spain. She only half-heartedly supported a number of ineffective, poorly resourced military campaigns in the Netherlands, France and Ireland. In the mid-1580s, war with Spain could no longer be avoided, and when Spain finally decided to invade and conquer England in 1588, the defeat of the Spanish Armada associated her with what is popularly viewed as one of the greatest victories in English history.
Elizabeth’s reign is known as the Elizabethan era, famous above all for the flourishing of English drama, led by playwrights such as William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe, and for the seafaring prowess of English adventurers such as Sir Francis Drake. Some historians are more reserved in their assessment. They depict Elizabeth as a short-tempered, sometimes indecisive ruler, who enjoyed more than her share of luck. Towards the end of her reign, a series of economic and military problems weakened her popularity. Elizabeth is acknowledged as a charismatic performer and a dogged survivor, in an age when government was ramshackle and limited and when monarchs in neighboring countries faced internal problems that jeopardized their thrones. After the short reigns of Elizabeth’s brother and sister, her 44 years on the throne provided welcome stability for the kingdom and helped forge a sense of national identity.
Elizabeth’s religious stance, her foreign policy and her support of the arts would be three of her greatest achievements.
In 1588, Elizabeth I spoke to her naval troops at the port of Tilbury, located outside of London on the Thames River, before their battles with the Spanish Armada off the English coast. Her personal appearance did much for her popularity, and the defeat of the Spanish fleet was a decisive factor in ensuring England’s naval and imperial supremacy over the following decades.
In 2012, she was evaluated by TIME magazine as one of greatest 100 persons of all times.
Elizabeth I made the following speech to the troops gathered at Tilbury in Essex on the 9th August 1588 (old style date). The troops were readying themselves to defend England from Spanish invasion, and Elizabeth realized the importance of rallying the troops with her presence and rousing words. Elizabeth appeared before the troops on horseback, dressed in white with a silver cuirass (breastplate) and escorted by Lord Ormonde, carrying the Sword of State and flanked by the Earl of Leicester and his stepson the Earl of Essex.
It is not known whether this was the exact speech that Elizabeth I made to the troops, as it comes from a letter written in 1623/1624 by Dr Leonel Sharp to the Duke of Buckingham around 35 years later. Here is a transcript of the Tilbury Speech, also called “The Spanish Armada Speech”.
The speech is evaluated as follows:
- One of 65 greatest speeches of the website The History Place.
- One of 10 greatest speeches in history (website TopTenz.net).
The Spanish Armada Speech (1588)
My loving people,
We have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit ourselves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery; but I assure you I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear. I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good-will of my subjects; and therefore I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live and die amongst you all; to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and my people, my honour and my blood, even 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 think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.
I know already, for your forwardness you have deserved rewards and crowns; and We do assure you in the word of a prince, they shall be duly paid you. In the mean time, my lieutenant general shall be in my stead, than whom never prince commanded a more noble or worthy subject; not doubting but by your obedience to my general, by your concord in the camp, and your valour in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory over those enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people.
The Elizabeth Files – http://www.elizabethfiles.com/elizabeth-i-the-speechmaker/3684/