Elizabeth wrote this letter after being informed that she would be taken to the Tower. Sir Thomas Wyatt (son of the poet who wrote verse about Anne Boleyn) had rebelled against Mary I following the announcement of her plan to marry Philip of Spain. Elizabeth had been implicated in the plot. It was called the “Tide Letter” because by the time Elizabeth finished writing it, the tide on the Thames had turned and they could no longer leave that day.
Elizabeth was amazing in the way she took every advantage that she could. It is said that when she arrived at the Tower, she refused to go in. When Kat Ashley shared her fear, she turned to her to comfort her and quoted Bible verses. Everything was done with an eye to how her actions would be viewed. This was a lesson she had learned from her mother’s end, from Catherine Howard’s, from Thomas Seymour’s.
One of the most striking things about the letter is the way Elizabeth drew lines after her signature – apparently to prevent anyone from adding anything to it. It was a wise move: one of the pieces of evidence against her was a forged letter from her to Henry II of France endorsing Wyatt’s rebellion.
The letter should be read slowly, as if you can hear the words being said (it also helps in trying to understand sixteenth century English!). It is truly an amazingly powerful piece, one that really shows Elizabeth’s brilliance.
If any ever did try this old saying that a king’s word was more than another man’s oath, I most humbly beseech your Majesty to verify it in me, and to remember your last promise and my last demand that I be not condemned without answer, which it seems that I now am; for that without cause proved, I am by your council from you commanded to go unto the Tower, a place more wonted for a false traitor than a true subject, which though I know I deserve it not, yet in the face of all this realm appears that it is proved. I pray God I may the shamefullest death that ever any died, if I may mean any such harm and to this present power. I protest before God (who shall judge my truth, whatsoever malice shall devise), that I never practised, counselled, nor consented to any thing that might be prejudicial to your person in any way, or dangerous to the state by any means. And therefore I humbly beseech your Majesty to let me answer afore yourself, and not suffer me to trust to your Councillors, yea, and that afore I go to the Tower (if it be possible); if not afore I be further condemned. Howbeit, I trust assuredly your Highness would give me leave to do it afore I be thus shamefully cried out on, as I now shall be; yea, and that without cause. Let conscience move your Highness to take some better way than to let me be condemned in men’s sight afore my desert I known. Also I most humbly beseech your highness to pardon this my boldness, which innocency procures me to do, together with hope of your natural kindness, which I trust will not see me cast away without desert, which what it is I would desire no more of God but that you truly knew, but which thing I think and believe you shall never by report know, unless by yourself you hear. I have heard in my time of many cast away for want of coming to the presence of their Prince; and in late days I heard my Lord of Somerset say that if his brother had been suffered to speak with him he had never suffered; but the persuasions were made to him so great that he was brought in belief that he could not live safely if the Admiral lived, and that made him give his consent to his death. Though these persons are not to be compared to your Majesty, yet I pray God that evil persuasions persuade not one sister against the other, and all for that they have heard false report, and not harkened to the truth. Now therefore, once again, with humbleness of my heart, because I am not suffered to bow the knees of my body, I humbly crave to speak with your Highness, which I would not be so bold as to desire if I knew not myself most clear, as I know myself most true. And as for the traitor Wyatt, he might peradventure write me a letter, but on my faith I never received any from him. And as for the copy of the letter sent to the French King, I pray God confound me eternally if I ever sent him word, message, token, or letter, by any means, and to this my truth I will stand to my death.
I humbly crave but only one word of answer from yourself
Your Highness’s most faithful subject, that hath been from the beginning, and will be to my end,
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