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3.6 Elizabeth I (1533–1603)

PLEASE NOTE: This book is currently in draft form; material is not final.

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify the political and literary achievements of Elizabeth I.
  2. Recognize the influence of 16th-century religious turmoil on the literature of the time.


Daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth became queen only after the deaths of her younger brother Edward VI and her older sister Mary I. Leading England to an unprecedented position of world power and influence, Elizabeth gave her name to the age while encouraging trade, exploration, and the arts, including Shakespeare. This portrait of Elizabeth by George Gower (1540–1596) is known as the Armada portrait, picturing Elizabeth after the defeat of the Spanish Armada, at the height of her and her country’s power. The defeated Armada can be seen in the upper left, a crown below signifying Elizabeth’s royal power, her hand resting on a globe indicating England’s world dominance. Even the sumptuous costume, jewels, and surroundings evoke the glories of Elizabeth and her court. In addition to being a patron of the arts, Elizabeth I was a poet and musician.

“Written on a Wall at Woodstock”

When her half-sister Mary Tudor ascended the throne as Mary I, Elizabeth, age 21, was imprisoned in the Tower of London and for a time at Woodstock Manor. Mary I and her advisors feared that the Princess Elizabeth would be a rallying point for Protestants who wanted to replace the Roman Catholic Mary. Confined in the Woodstock Manor Gatehouse, Elizabeth wrote verses expressing her frustration at her fate.


Written on a Wall at Woodstock

By Princess Elizabeth (later Elizabeth I)

O FORTUNE! how thy restless wavering State

Hath fraught with Cares my troubled Wit!

Witness this present Prison whither Fate

Hath borne me, and the Joys I quit.

Thou causedest the Guilty to be loosed

From Bands, wherewith are Innocents inclosed;

Causing the Guiltless to be strait reserved,

And freeing those that Death had well deserved:

But by her Envy can be nothing wrought,

So God send to my Foes all they have thought.


A.D. M.D.LV.

“The Doubt of Future Foes”

Later as Queen, Elizabeth again expressed her fears and frustration at being surrounded by those who would seek to influence her or even to replace her on the throne, particularly her cousin Mary Queen of Scots, the “daughter of debate” referred to in the poem. Like Elizabeth’s half-sister Mary Tudor, Mary Queen of Scots was Roman Catholic, and after the death of Mary Tudor she became a rallying point for those who wanted a Catholic monarch. Just as Mary Tudor had Elizabeth imprisoned, Elizabeth ordered the imprisonment of Mary Queen of Scots. While Mary Tudor had stopped short of having Elizabeth executed, Elizabeth eventually was persuaded to order Mary Queen of Scots beheaded.


The Doubt of Future Foes

By Elizabeth I, Queen of England

The doubt of future foes exiles my present joy,

And wit me warns to shun such snares as threaten mine annoy;

For falsehood now doth flow, and subjects’ faith doth ebb,

Which should not be if reason ruled or wisdom weaved the web.

But clouds of joys untried do cloak aspiring minds,

Which turn to rain of late repent by changèd course of winds.

The top of hope supposed, the root of rue shall be,

And fruitless all their grafted guile, as shortly ye shall see.

The dazzled eyes with pride, which great ambition blinds,

Shall be unsealed by worthy wights whose foresight falsehood finds.

The daughter of debate that discord aye doth sow

Shall reap no gain where former rule still peace hath taught to know.

No foreign banished wight shall anchor in this port;

Our realm brooks not seditious sects, let them elsewhere resort.

My rusty sword through rest shall first his edge employ

To poll their tops that seek such change or gape for future joy.

“Speech to the Troops at Tilbury”

One of the highlights of Elizabeth’s reign was the defeat of the Spanish Armada, a victory which established England as a world power. The following speech purportedly was given by Elizabeth to her troops gathered at Tilbury to repel the Spanish troops that succeeded in getting through the English navy and invading England itself. These land troops, however, were never needed because of the success of the English navy. Whether Elizabeth actually delivered this speech, including the famous line “I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too…,” or whether it was composed later and circulated as a means of reinforcing Elizabeth’s reputation and the importance of the battle in the minds of the people, no one is sure.


Speech to the Troops at Tilbury

My loving people,

We have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit our selves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery; but I assure you I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear, I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good-will of my subjects; and therefore I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live and die amongst you all; to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and my people, my honour and my blood, even in the dust. I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of 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; to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field. I know already, for your forwardness you have deserved rewards and crowns; and We do assure you in the word of a prince, they shall be duly paid you. In the mean time, my lieutenant general shall be in my stead, than whom never prince commanded a more noble or worthy subject; not doubting but by your obedience to my general, by your concord in the camp, and your valour in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory over those enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people.

Key Takeaway

  • In an age in which few women wrote literature, particularly literature that survives, Elizabeth I, because of her royal birth, is an exception in education and social acceptance of activities not usually considered suitable for women.


  1. In “Written on a Wall at Woodstock” Elizabeth I addresses fortune, an example of the literary technique apostrophe, an address to an inanimate object or an abstract quality. What specific events does she ascribe to fortune? What fate does she request that God send her foes?
  2. How does the tone of “Written on a Wall at Woodstock” compare with that of “The Doubt of Future Foes”? How do the circumstances in which the two poems were written compare?
  3. How would you evaluate “Speech to the Troops at Tilbury” as a public relations tool?
  4. What does Elizabeth mean when she says, “I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too.…” Why would it be important for her to include this remark?



  • Elizabeth (1533–1603).” Anniina Jokinen. Luminarium.
  • Elizabeth I. Historic Figures. BBC.
  • Woodstock Manor.” Anniina Jokinen. Luminarium. rpt. from Paul Hentzner. A Journey Into England, (1598). Horace Walpole, ed. 1757. Fugitive Pieces on Various Subjects. Vol II. Robert Dodsley, ed. London: J. Dodsley, 1771. 258.


“Written on a Wall at Woodstock”

“The Doubt of Future Foes”

“Speech to the Troops at Tilbury”


“The Doubt of Future Foes”

“Speech to the Troops at Tilbury”