Elizabeth I’s manuscript draft of a speech on her marriage, 1563

Description

This manuscript, in Elizabeth I’s own hand, is a draft version of a speech given to Parliament on 10 April 1563. The speech is a response to a petition from the House of Lords urging the Queen to marry and produce an heir. It is one of a number of speeches she wrote between 1559 and 1567 in response to 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.

The text shows numerous corrections as Elizabeth carefully selected her words. The speech was delivered by the Lord Keeper Nicolas Bacon on behalf of the Queen, although she was present at the time. Another British Library manuscript (Add MS 32379, f. 21) has Nicolas Bacon’s fair copy of the speech with some variations from Elizabeth’s draft. Bacon’s copy is most likely to be the version delivered in Parliament.

This speech is tentative and ambiguous compared to some of her other speeches on the subject of marriage, which were often angry and insistent that subjects should not rule a monarch. In the insertion written sideways along the left of the page, Elizabeth seeks to pacify the Lords by admitting that, while celibacy is best for a private woman, ‘so do I strive with my selfe to thinke it not mete [appropriate] for a prinse’. She also closes the speech by saying that she hopes she will die peacefully, which can only happen if she sees a glimpse of their security after her death, i.e. by knowing that the succession has been secured. However, she doesn’t commit herself or completely relinquish her own power. While Elizabeth urges the Lords to put from their minds the idea that she is determined never to marry, she also insists on the importance of her own will: ‘if I can bend my wyl to your nide [need] I wyl not resist suche a mynde’. In other words, if she can make herself want what they want – for her to get married – then she will not resist the idea. 

The Virgin Queen and A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Oberon speaks of a ‘fair vestal’ and ‘imperial vot’ress’ in his anecdote about watching Cupid’s dart fall unspent (2.1.158–64). These are often seen as references to Elizabeth I in her later persona of a Virgin Queen, a ghost lurking in the background of the play’s exploration of marriage, virginity and female sexual choice. Titania, a headstrong Queen, rejects her husband’s bed while they are arguing (2.1.62). Hermia makes her own choice about her future 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.

Transcript

Since there can be no duer debt than princes’ word, to keep that unspotted for my part, I was one that would be loath that the self thing that keeps the merchant's credit from craze should be the cause that princes' speech should merit blame and so their honor quail. An answer therefore I will make and this it is: the two petitions that you presented me in many words expressed contained these two things in sum as of your cares the greatest: my marriage and my successor, of which two the last I think is best be touched and of the other a silent thought may serve, for I had thought it had been so desired as none other tree's blossoms should have been minded ere hope of my fruit had been denied you. And by the way, if any here doubt that I am, as it were by vow or determination, bent never to trade that life, put out that heresy; your belief is awry, for, as I think it best for a private woman, so do I strive with myself to think it not meet for a prince; and if I can bend my will to your need I will not resist such a mind.

But to the last, think not that you had needed this desire if I had seen a time so fit and it so ripe to be denounced. The greatness of the cause therefore and need of your returns' doth make me say that which I think the wise may easily guess, that as a short time for so long a continuance ought not pass by rote, as many telleth tales, even so, as cause by conference with the learned shall shew me matter worthy utterance for your behoofs, so shall I more gladly pursue your good after my days than with my prayers be a mean to linger my living thread. And this much more than I had thought will I add for your comfort: I have good record in this place that other means than you mentioned have been thought of, perchance for your good as much and for my surety no less, which if presently could conveniently have been executed, had not been deferred. But I hope I shall die in quiet with nunc dimittis, oo which cannot be without?" I see some glimpse of your following surety after my graved bones.


Full title:
Minutes  of a second speech of the Queen to her Parliament, by the Lord Keeper, concerning her marriage and the succession to the crown, 1563. In her own hand-writing.
Created:
1563, London
Format:
Manuscript
Language:
English
Creator:
Queen Elizabeth I
Usage terms

Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.

Held by
British Library
Shelfmark:
Lansdowne MS 94/15

Full catalogue details

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