This book is the first English translation of historian William Camden’s account of the reign of Elizabeth I, which was first published in Latin in 1615.
As well as the lavish frontispiece and portrait of Elizabeth, digitised here is an account of Elizabeth I’s speech to Parliament of February 10, 1559. The speech is a response to a petition from the House of Commons urging her to marry and produce an heir. It is the first of a number of speeches she gave between 1559 and 1567, following continued pressure from Parliament to marry. Throughout these debates, Elizabeth reserved the right to choose who she would marry, and indeed whether or not she would marry at all. From the early 1580s she began to be represented as a perpetual Virgin Queen.
In this speech Elizabeth explains her belief that she was born only to do what relates to the glory of God and that therefore she has ‘made choyce of this kinde of life, which is most free, and agreeable for such humane affaires as may tend to his service onely’. She also states that now she is responsible for governing the kingdom, it would seem folly ‘to draw upon my selfe the cares which might proceede of marriage’. Elizabeth reminds her audience of the rites of her coronation where she was (symbolically) married to her kingdom with the receiving of the coronation ring. She expands this metaphor, calling England her husband and her subjects her children. Elizabeth praises her subjects for not having chosen her a husband, an act that would have overstepped their bounds. Although she doesn’t rule out marriage altogether and assures her subjects she will only choose someone who would be to the common good, she ends her speech saying that it will be enough for her if she is described on her tomb: ‘A Virgin pure untill her Death’.
The version of the speech printed in Annales is the most well-known version throughout the ages. However, Camden adapted the speech for print and, although the essence is the same, there are numerous verbal differences between his text and earlier manuscript records of it (such as Lansdowne MS 94/14), so it is not a reliable record of the exact words spoken in Parliament.
The Virgin Queen and A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Oberon speaks of a ‘fair vestal’ and ‘imperial vot’ress’ in his anecdote of watching Cupid’s dart fall unspent (2.1.158–64). These are often taken to be complementary allusions to Elizabeth I in her later persona of a Virgin Queen, a spectre lurking in the background of the play’s exploration of the themes of marriage, virginity and female sexual choice and agency. Titania, a headstrong Queen, foreswears her husband’s bed while they are in dispute (2.1.62). Hermia creates her own choice when faced with the options of death, enforced virginity or an arranged marriage, by running away with her chosen lover. She is then confronted with and resists Lysander’s (and her own) sexual desires. The play’s allusions to Elizabeth (whose refusal to bend to external pressures to marry received much criticism) perhaps become darker or more dangerously pointed as the events of the wood turn cruel and the male characters exert their power over the women.