September 07, 2006

Happy Birthday, Good Queen Bess!


Today is the anniversary of the birth of Elizabeth I, born this day in 1533.

A pal of mine recently added me to a quote of the day email list she's on. Here's today's entry honoring the occassion:

This royal infant, -- heaven still move about her! Though in her cradle, yet now promises Upon this land a thousand blessings, Which time shall bring in ripeness.
- William Shakespeare (1564-1616) (King Henry VIII, Act V, Sc. 5)

I am your annointed Queen. I will never be by violence constrained to do anything. I thank God that I am endued with such qualities that if I were turned out of the Realm in my petticoat, I were able to live in any place in Christome.
- Queen Elizabeth I (speech to members of Parliament, November 1566)

I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and 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.
- Elizabeth (speech to her soldiers at Tilbury, on the approach of the Spanish Armada, July 1588)

Today is the 473rd anniversary of the birth of England's "Good Queen Bess,"
Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603), the daughter of King Henry VIII and Anne
Boleyn. Elizabeth acceded to the throne in 1558 after the death of Queen
Mary I ("Bloody Mary"), who had attempted to revive Catholicism in England
during her tempestuous five-year reign. Elizabeth restored Anglicanism, uni-
fied the country, oversaw the rise of England as a major European power
with a first-rate navy, and ushered in a golden age of music, literature, and
drama that still enriches our lives today. Moreover, her diplomacy secured
defensive alliances against the Spanish, culminating in the defeat of the
Spanish Armada in 1588. As the "Virgin Queen," Elizabeth never married
and left no heir. She was succeeded by James [VI] of Scotland, who then be-
came James [I] of England. Ironically, James was the son of Mary Queen of
Scots, whom Elizabeth had reluctantly executed in 1587 for plotting against
the crown. Good Queen Bess was not without humor. She remarked to
Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford*, after he had spent seven years in voluntary
exile from acute embarrassment over breaking wind in her presence, "My Lord, I had forgot the fart."

* N.B. This is the same Earl of Oxford (1550-1604) who is regularly
suggested as the "real" author of Shakespeare's plays.

(Show of hands, btw, of those who think this fellah should be blogging.)

It is fascinating how much of England's achievement during her reign can be directly ascribed to the power and force of Elizabeth herself. She was, to put it simply, truly inspirational to her people. As it happens, I concentrated primarily on Tudor and Stuart literature in college. The energy and exuberance evident in the plays and poems written during the heyday of Elizabeth's reign contrast remarkably with the general gloomy, often bloody and sometimes outright lurid works produced in her last years and during the subsequent reign of James. Elizabeth left a tremendous vacuum behind her when she died, one that poor James couldn't hope to fill.

Posted by Robert at September 7, 2006 08:23 AM | TrackBack

"weak and feeble woman" indeed. She's gotta be in the top five most important British monarchs of all time.

Posted by: rbj at September 7, 2006 08:54 AM