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May 13, 1577 – Elizabeth I as Understood by the Venetian Ambassador

Detail of Elizabeth's hands from the William Scots portrait of the young Elizabeth, to illustrate the quote from the Ambassador's analysis, "...She has...above all a beautiful hand of which she makes a display..."
“…She has… above all a beautiful hand of which she makes a display…” (detail from the William Scrots portrait of the young Elizabeth, public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Giovanni Michiel served as Venetian Ambassador to England during almost all of Mary’s reign. When he left England in 1557, about six months before Mary I died, he prepared a comprehensive analysis of England – her climate, geography, economy, people, defenses, politics, everything – to bring his successor up to speed.  

The report was quite long, and its insights rivaled anything Eustace Chapuys or Charles Marillac ever wrote (and they wrote some doozies – like this one!). Last year on this date, I posted the portion of the letter that described Mary…this year, it’s time to focus on Elizabeth and the person she was shortly before she took the throne. This is excerpted from Letters and Papers and cleaned up just a smidge. If you want to see the occasional Italian words they included, if you prefer UK spelling, or if you just want to see the whole letter:

Of this sister of [Mary’s] I must remind your Serenity that after the repudiation of Queen Katharine (the present Queen’s mother) she was born of Henry VIII. and of his second wife Anne Boleyn, an Englishwoman and of noble birth, although two years afterwards she was beheaded for adultery. My Lady Elizabeth was born in September 1533, so she is now 23 years old. She is a young woman, whose mind is considered no less excellent than her person, although her face is comely rather than handsome, but she is tall and well formed, with a good skin, although swarthy; she has fine eyes and above all a beautiful hand of which she makes a display; and her intellect and understanding are wonderful, as she showed very plainly by her conduct when in danger and under suspicion. As a linguist she excels the Queen, for besides Latin she has no slight knowledge of Greek, and speaks Italian more than the Queen does, taking so much pleasure in it that from vanity she will never speak any other language with Italians. She is proud and haughty, as although she knows that she was born of such a mother, she nevertheless does not consider herself of inferior degree to the Queen, whom she equals in self-esteem; nor does she believe herself less legitimate than her Majesty, alleging in her own favor that her mother would never cohabit with the King unless by way of marriage, with the authority of the Church, and the intervention of the Primate of England; so that even if deceived, having as a subject acted with good faith, the fact cannot have invalidated her mother’s marriage, nor her own birth, she having been born under that same faith; and supposing her to be a b*stard, she prides herself on her father and glories in him; everybody saying that she also resembles him more than the Queen does; and he therefore always liked her and had her brought up in the same way as the Queen, and bequeathed to each of them 10,000 scudi per annum, and, what matters more, substituted her in the stead of the Queen as successor to the Crown, should he die without male heirs. She now lives upon this settlement from her father, but is always in debt, and would be much more so did she not steadily restrain herself to avoid any increase of the Queen’s hatred and anger, either by increasing the number of gentlemen and servants of her household, or by adding to her expenditure in any other way; and here I may add that there is not a lord or gentleman in the kingdom who has failed, and continues endeavoring, to enter her service himself or to place one of his sons or brothers in it, such being the love and affection borne her. When requested to take servants she always excuses herself on account of the straits and poverty in which she is kept, and by this astute and judicious apology she adroitly incites a tacit compassion for herself and consequently yet greater affection, as it seems strange and vexatious to everybody that being the daughter of a King she should be treated and acknowledged so sparingly. Since Wyatt’s rebellion she may be said never to have been at liberty, for although she is allowed to live at a house of hers called Hatfield, 12 miles from London, the Queen has nevertheless many spies and guards in the neighborhood who keep strict watch on all persons passing to and fro, nor is anything said or done that is not immediately reported to the Queen, so she is obliged to act very cautiously.


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May 13, 1577 – Elizabeth I as Understood by the Venetian Ambassador
Published inOn This Day

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