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August 9, 1588 – Elizabeth’s Speech to her Troops at Tilbury

Elizabeth at Tilbury - portrayed by Glenda Jackson in the BBC's wonderful 1971 series, Elizabeth R
Elizabeth at Tilbury – portrayed by Glenda Jackson in the BBC’s wonderful 1971 series, Elizabeth R

This is one of the most famous speeches of all time – delivered by Elizabeth I to inspire her forces just before the arrival of the Spanish Armada. And inspire she did. Carolly Erickson describes her riding “through their ranks on a huge white warhorse, armed like a queen out of antique mythology in a silver cuirass and silver trauncheon.” The speech was received with thunderous applause, and word of it quickly warmed the hearts of her entire country. As Leicester wrote to the Earl of Shrewsbury, “Our royal mistress hath been here with me to see her camp and people, which so inflamed the hearts of her good subjects, as I think the weakest person among them is able to match the proudest Spaniard that dares land in England.”

My loving people,

We have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit ourselves 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 meantime, 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.

SOURCES:

Wikipedia has a specific page for this: Speech to the Troops at Tilbury.  If you want something more in-depth, Carolly Erickson’s The First Elizabeth offers a wonderful  description. And if you really want a deep dive, you can’t beat Susan Frye’s article, The Myth of Elizabeth at Tilbury.

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Published inInteresting Letters and Speeches

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