Elizabeth I's 'Golden' Speech

The queen gave her last speech to Parliament on November 30th, 1601.

Portrait of Elizabeth I made in approximately 1588 to commemorate the defeat of the Spanish ArmadaQueen Elizabeth I was the greatest master of public relations ever to occupy the English throne. Highly intelligent, maddening and enchanting, she staged a brilliantly successful one-woman show in which, spectacularly costumed and blazingly bejewelled, she created a starry image for herself as Gloriana, Spenser’s faerie queen, as the ‘chaste and fair’ Diana, virgin huntress and goddess of the moon, as Astraea, the personification of justice or ‘Albion’s golden sun’. She even acquired aspects of the Virgin Mary, queen of heaven. By November 1601, however, Elizabeth had been queen for forty-three years. She was past her sixty-eighth birthday,  in failing health and prone to bouts of depression, which she tried to dispel with feverish gaiety. The Irish campaign was costing a fortune, Robert Cecil and her other counsellors were  busy ingratiating themselves with her probable successor, the King of Scots, and the new parliament was going to be angry over monopolies, which raised prices.

Characteristically, Elizabeth rose to the challenge and the opportunity. Things went wrong at first as an official blunder excluded many members of the Commons from the Parliament Chamber, so that they missed the opening ceremony. Once grumpily gathered together, they settled down to a fierce attack on monopolies, though uneasily aware that they were challenging the royal prerogative. When her councillors failed to calm the storm, the Queen sent word that she would address the wrong immediately by proclamation. This by-passed the prerogative issue and the mood in the Commons changed from rage to joy. The members asked if they could send a deputation to wait on Her Majesty and express their thanks. A message came back that the Queen would receive their love with their gratitude when she had kept her promise. Three days later the promised proclamation was issued and when the Commons discussed which of them should go to the Queen there were cries of ‘All! All!’ At this the Queen invited all of them to come to her at Whitehall.

On November 30th the Speaker and 140 members of the Commons crowded into the council chamber at the palace and kneeled respectfully. The Queen was a highly accomplished speaker and she welcomed them in ravishing Elizabethan English. ‘Mr Speaker, we perceive your coming is to present thanks to us. Know I accept them with no less joy than your loves can have desire to offer such a present, and do more esteem it than any treasure or riches; for those we know how to prize, but loyalty, love and thanks, I account them invaluable. And though God hath raised me high, yet this I account the glory of my crown, that I have reigned with your loves. This makes 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, and to be the means under God to conserve you in safety and to preserve you from danger…’

Telling them all to stand, she proceeded to a magnificent peroration. ‘It is not my desire to live or reign longer than my life and reign shall be for your good. And though you have had, and may have, many mightier and wiser princes sitting in this seat, yet you never had, nor shall have, any that will love you better.’ Everyone knew that she was speaking to them almost certainly for the last time, and she knew they knew, and asked every one of them to kiss her hand before they left. The members went out transfigured, many of them in tears. No one who heard the oration ever forgot it and it was known at once and ever afterwards as Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Speech.

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