Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603)

elizabeth.jpg (14169 bytes)The following description of Elizabeth I was written by an unknown contemporary but I think gives us a very clear image of her demeanor at court. The selection is from James Harvey Robinson, Readings in European History, 2 vols (Boston: Ginn & Company, 1906), 2: 191-193. A list of resources follows the selection.

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I will proceed with the description of the Queen's disposition and natural gifts of mind and body, wherein she either matched or exceeded all the princes of her time, as being of a great spirit yet tempered with moderation, in adversity never dejected, in prosperity rather joyful than proud; affable to her subjects but always with due regard to the greatness of her estate, by reason whereof she was both loved and feared.

In her later time, when she showed herself in public, she was always magnificent in apparel; supposing haply thereby that the eyes of her people (being dazzled by the glittering aspect of those her outward ornaments) would not so easily discern the marks of age and decay of natural beauty; and she came abroad the more seldom, to make her presence the more grateful and applauded by the multitude, to whom things rarely seen are in manner as new.

She suffered not, at any time, any suitor to depart discontented from her, and though ofttimes he obtained not that he desired, yet he held himself satisfied with her manner of speech, which gave hope of success in the second attempt. . . .

She was accounted in her latter time to be very near, and oversparing of expense; and yet, if the rewards which she gave of mere motion and grace had been bestowed of merit, with due respect, they had doubtless purchased her the name of a very liberal prince. . . .

She was very rich in jewels, which had been given her by her subjects; for in times of progress there was no person that entertained her in his house but (besides his extraordinary charge in feasting her and her train) he bestowed a jewel upon her; a custom in former times begun by some of her especial favorites that (having in great measure tasted of her bounty) did give her only of her own; though otherwise that kind of giving was not so pleasing to gentlemen of meaner quality.

Touching these commendable qualities whereto, partly by nature and partly by education and industry, she had attained, there were few men that (when time and occasion served) could make better use of more show of them than herself. The Latin, French, and Italian she could speak very elegantly, and she was able in all those languages to answer ambassadors on the sudden. Her manner of writing was somewhat obscure and the style not vulgar, as being either learned by imitation of some author whom she delighted to read, or else affected for difference's sake, that she might not write in such phrases as were commonly used. Of the Greek tongue she was not altogether ignorant. She took pleasure in reading of the best and wisest histories, and some part of Tacitus' Annals she herself turned into English for her private exercise. She also translated Boethius' De Consolatione Philosophiae, and a treatise of Plutarch, De Curiositate, with divers others.

For her private pleasures she used them moderately and warily, without touch to her reputation or offense to her people. She was in her diet very temperate, as eating but a few kinds of meat and those not compounded; the wine she drank was mingled with water, containing three parts more in quantity than the wine itself. Precise hours of refection she observed not, as never eating but when her appetite required it. In matters of recreation, as singing, dancing, and playing upon instruments, she was not ignorant or excellent: a measure which in things indifferent best beseems a prince.

She was of nature somewhat hasty, but quickly appeased; ready there to show most kindness where a little before she had been most sharp in reproving. Her greatest grief of mind and body she either patiently endured or politicly dissembled. I have heard it credibly reported that, not long before her death, she was divers times troubled with the gout in her fingers, whereof she would never complain, as seeming better pleased to be thought insensible of the pain than to acknowledge the disease. . . .

It is credibly reported that not long before her death she had a great apprehension of her own age and declination by seeing her face (then lean and full of wrinkles) truly represented to her in a glass, which she a good while very earnestly beheld; perceiving thereby how often she had been abused by flatterers (whom she held in too great estimation) that had informed her the contrary.

Elizabeth I
(Britannia Magazine)
Elizabeth I
(Marilee Hanson)
Elizabeth I
(Lara Eakins)
Elizabeth I

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