This was one of the two great speeches of Elizabeth’s career (the other was the speech to her troops at Tilbury right before the expected invasion of the Spanish Armada). This one was delivered to Parliament only 16 months before her death, and is viewed as marking the symbolic end of her reign. She really sets up her legacy, speaking eloquently of the love and respect she had for her country. The Six Wives of Henry VIII does a beautiful job with it – they have Cecil’s son mentioning how a candle always flares up before its flame is extinguished…
The following is the full text of the speech, from a document from the University of Munich; I have cleaned it up a bit, and highlighted the portions that are best known – they really do sing…
We perceive your coming is to present thanks unto us; know, I accept them with no less joy, than your loves can have desire to offer such a present, and do more esteem it, than any treasure of riches; for those we know how to prize, but loyalty, love, and thanks, I account them invaluable: and though God hath raised me high, yet this I account the glory of my Crown, that I have reigned with your loves. This makes that I do not so much rejoice that God hath made me to be a Queen, as to be a Queen over so thankful a people, and to be the mean, under God, to conserve you in safety, and to preserve you from danger; yea, to be the instrument to deliver you from dishonor, shame, and infamy; to keep you from servitude, and from slavery under our enemies, and cruel tyranny, and vile oppression intended against us: for the better withstanding whereof, we take very acceptably your intended helps, and chiefly in that it manifesteth your loves, and largeness of heart to your sovereign.
Of myself I must say this, I never was any greedy scraping grasper, nor a strict fast-holding Prince, nor yet a waster; My heart was never set upon any worldly goods, but only for my subjects’ good. What you do bestow on me, I will not hoard up, but receive it to bestow on you again; yea, mine own properties I account yours, to be expended for your good, and your eyes shall see the bestowing of it for your welfare.
Mr. Speaker, I would wish you, and the rest to stand up, for I fear I shall yet trouble you with longer speech. Mr. Speaker, you give me thanks, but I am more to thank you, and I charge you, thank them of the Lower House from me, for had I not received knowledge from you, I might a fallen into the lapse of an error, only for want of true information. Since I was Queen, yet did I never put my pen to any grant but upon pretext, and semblance made me, that it was for the good, and avail of my subjects generally, though a private profit to some of my ancient servants who have deserved well: but that my grants shall be made grievances to my people, and oppressions, to be privileged under color of our patents, our princely dignity shall not suffer it. When I heard it, I could give no rest unto my thoughts until I had reformed it, and those varlets, lewd persons, abusers of my bounty, shall know I will not suffer it. And Mr. Speaker, tell the House from me, I take it exceeding grateful that the knowledge of these things are come unto me from them. And though amongst them the principal members are such as are not touched in private, and therefore need not speak from any feeling of the grief, yet we have heard that other gentlemen also of the House, who stand as free, have spoken as freely in it, which gives us to know that no respects or interests have moved them other then the minds they bear to suffer no dimi∣nution of our Honour, and our Subjects love unto us. The zeal of which affection tending to ease my people, and knit their hearts unto us, I embrace with a princely care far above all earthly treasures. I esteem my peoples love, more than which I desire not to merit; And God that gave me here to sit, and placed me over you, knows that I never respected my self, but as your good was concerned in me: yet what dangers, what practices, and what perils I have passed, some, if not all of you know, but none of these things do move Me, or ever made me fear, but it is God that hath delivered me. And in my governing this land, I have ever set the last judgement day before mine eyes, and so to rule, as I shall be judged and answer before a higher Judge, to whose Judgment-Seat I do appeal in that, never thought was cherished in my heart that tended not to my peoples’ good. And if my princely bounty have been abused, and my grants turned to the hurt of my people contrary to my will and meaning, or if any in authority under me have neglected, or converted what I have committed unto them, I hope God will not lay their culps to my charge. To be a king and wear a Crown is a thing more glorious to them that see it, than it is pleasant to them that bear it: for my self, I never was so much enticed with the glorious name of a king, or the royal authority of a queen, as delighted that God hath made me His instrument to maintain His truth and glory, and to defend this kingdom from dishonor, damage, tyranny, and oppression. But should I ascribe any of these things unto my self, or my sexly weakness, I were not worthy to live, and of all most unworthy of the mercies I have received at God’s hands: but to God only and and wholly all is given and ascribed. The cares and trouble of a Crown I cannot more fitly resemble, than to the drugs of a learned physician, perfumed with some aromatical savor, or to bitter pills gilded over, by which they are made more acceptable or less offensive, which indeed are bitter and unpleasant to take; and for mine own part, were it not for conscience sake to discharge the duty that God hath laid upon me, and to maintain His glory, and keep you in safety, in mine own disposition I should be willing to resign the place I hold to any other, and glad to be freed of the glory with the labors: For it is not my desire to live or reign longer than my life and reign shall be for your good. And though you have had and may have many mightier and wiser princes sitting in this seat, yet you never had, nor shall have, any that will love you better.
Thus Mr. Speaker, I commend me to your loyal loves, and yours to my best care, and your further counsels; and I pray you Mr. Controllor, and Mr. Secretary, and you of my Council, that before these gentlemen depart into their countries you bring them all to kiss my hand.
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