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October 19, 1558 – Elizabeth’s Condolences to Philip

Glenda Jackson from the BBC's 1971 production of Elizabeth R
Glenda Jackson from the BBC’s 1971 production of Elizabeth R

This letter was sent a little less than a month before Elizabeth acceded to the throne and is a fascinating glimpse into the relationship she had so carefully cultivated with her brother-in-law.

At this point, Elizabeth was aware that her sister would not live much longer – Mary had been suffering from intermittent fevers since August, and then Charles V’s death on September 21st had sent her into a further depression from which she never really recovered. Elizabeth was also aware that Philip was likely to propose marriage (his ambassador may already have hinted at it…) – and while she was not about to accept him, she wanted to keep him hopeful enough that Spain would continue to support her accession. This letter is masterfully written to both draw him in and keep him at a distance. It is Elizabeth at her finest…

Sire and dearest cousin,

The honour which your majesty has done me by sending a gentleman to advise me of the death of the august emperor, your father, of most glorious memory, agreeably reminds me that your majesty continues to honour me with that generous good-will which you have been pleased ever to bestow on me, and from which I have felt so much advantage that, in calling to mind these graces and favours, I can find no other fit means of evincing my gratitude than by earnestly remembering that the life I enjoy is equally the fruit of the queen my sister’s goodness and of your majesty’s magnanimous protection.

You do me justice, sire, in being persuaded that I feel as much joy at the victories you gain, and the happy successes that attend your arms, as I am pierced with affliction at the distresses which befall you. The happiness I have in being so nearly allied to you, and not less my veneration, esteem, and obligation for your majesty’s great merit, touch me too sensibly not to make me sympathize with you in the loss of a father so great and glorious. But since I should offer some consolation to your affliction, I cannot do it better than reminding you that your august father thought death so glorious that he even wished to die before going out of the world. And it is certain that if his life has been an epitome of wonders, his death will also be a miracle of glory to all posterity. We ought not, then, to mourn the Emperor Charles, your father, as one dead; we ought rather to look on him as one who shall live in all future ages; and if his body is reduced to ashes, his name is too immortal to ever die. I am employed at present in reading the history of his warlike actions, and his great feats of courage and valour, in order to redouble, by the glorious memory of the father, the veneration and esteem which I have for the son.

I pray God that, amidst the afflictions which such a loss causes you, he may load your life with prosperity and happiness; so shall I ever with greater satisfaction, assure you that I am your majesty’s very humble servant and sister-in-law,


Letters of Royal and Illustrious Ladies of Great Britain
From the Commencement of the Twelfth Century to the Close of the Reign of Queen Mary · Volume 3


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Published inInteresting Letters and Speeches


  1. Patricia Patricia

    The letter is a masterpiece of subtle persuasion (flattery, revelation, shared values — religion, etc.).

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