The Tudor Society

30 November – Elizabeth I’s Golden Speech brings men to tears

On this day in Tudor history, 30th November 1601, sixty-eight-year-old Queen Elizabeth I delivered her famous Golden Speech to the House of Commons.

In this final speech to Parliament, Elizabeth spoke of her position as Queen and her love and respect for her realm, her people, and for her members of Parliament. It was a speech that brought many of those listening to tears. It was obviously a very heartfelt speech by a queen who truly loved her people.

In today's talk, I share Elizabeth I's Golden Speech, along with some beautiful portraits of the queen.

Harleian Miscellany version -

Also on this day in Tudor history, 30th November 1529, the feast of St Andrew, Henry VIII was reproached by the two women in his life: his wife, Catherine of Aragon, and the woman he wanted to marry, Anne Boleyn. Catherine of Aragon was not impressed by the way her husband was treating her, and Anne Boleyn didn't like the fact that the king was letting Catherine get the upper hand. They both told the king exactly what they thought. Find out what happened in last year’s video:

Also on this day in history:

  • 1554 – Both Houses of Parliament presented a petition to Mary I and her husband Philip to intercede with Cardinal Reginald Pole, the papal legate, for absolution for the years of separation from Rome and for reconciliation with Rome. Pole then absolved England and restored it to the Catholic fold, pronouncing “Our Lord Jesus Christ, which with his precious blood has redeemed us, and purified all our sins and pollutions, in order to make himself a glorious bride without stains and without wrinkle, whom the Father made chief over the church, he through his mercy absolves you.”
  • 1554 – Birth of Philip Sidney, the poet, courtier and soldier, at Penshurst Place in Kent. Sidney is known for his famous work “Astrophel and Stella”.
  • 1558 – Death of Elizabeth Howard (née Stafford), Duchess of Norfolk, eldest daughter of Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham, and wife of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk. Her marriage to Norfolk broke down after he took Elizabeth (Bess) Holland as a mistress in 1527. She gave evidence against her husband when he was accused of treason in 1546, and she bore Mary I's train at her coronation in 1553. Elizabeth was buried in the Howard Chapel at St Mary's Church, Lambeth, now a garden museum.
  • 1577 – Execution of Cuthbert Mayne, Roman Catholic priest, at Launceston in Cornwall after refusing to accept Elizabeth I as supreme head of the church in England. He was hanged, drawn and quartered, and his head was put on display on the gate of Launceston Castle and his quarters sent to Bodmin, Barnstaple, Tregony and Wadebridge as a warning to others.


On this day in Tudor history, 30th November 1601, sixty-eight-year-old Queen Elizabeth I delivered her famous Golden Speech to the House of Commons, to address their concerns over England’s economic state of affairs. It was the last speech that she gave to Parliament, and as the National Archives page about this speech points out, the queen had been expected to address members’ economic concerns, their concerns about rising prices. However, instead, Elizabeth addressed these issues in a royal proclamation, and used her speech to the Commons for something completely different. She spoke of her position as Queen and her love and respect for her realm, her people, and for her members of Parliament.

It was a fitting speech for her final Parliament, given by a queen who had ruled for 43 years.

There are several versions of this speech, and in a version printed in the Harleian Miscellany, the editor writes “This Speech ought to be set in Letters of Gold, that as well the Majesty, Prudence, and Virtue of her gracious Majesty, Queen Elisabeth, might in general most exquisitely appear ; as also that her Religious Love, and tender Respect, which she particularly, and constantly, did bear to her Parliament, in unfeigned Sincerity, might be nobly and truly vindicated, and proclaimed, with all grateful Recognition to God for so great a Blessing to his People of England, in vouchsafing them heretofore such a gracious Princess, and magnanimous Defender of the Reformed Religion, and heroick Patroness of the Liberty of her Subjects, in the Freedom and Honour of their Parliaments ; which have been, under God, the continual Conservators of the Splendor, and Wealth of this Kingdom, against Tyranny and Oppression.”

So perhaps the name of the speech, the Golden Speech, comes from the idea that it should have been printed in gold letters!
I’ll give you a link to read the Harleian transcript, but the one I’m going to read to you today is taken from diarist and MP Hayward Townshend's “Commons Journal”, printed in “Historical Collections: Or, An Exact Account of the Proceedings of the Four Last Parliaments of Q. Elizabeth”.

Townshend sets the scene by explaining that 140 members of the Commons attended the Queen at Whitehall at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, plus the Speaker of the House, and that she sat under a cloth of state as she listened to the speaker of the house make a speech to her. In his speech, he thanked her for her “most abundant Goodness, extended and performed to Us”, her “sacred ears” that were “ever open” to them and her “blessed hands” that “ever stretched out” to relieve them, and went on to call on the queen to watch over them for their “good”. He closed by saying:
“'But, in all Duty and Thankfulness, prostrate at Your Feet, We present our most Loyal and Thankful Hearts; even 'the last Drop of Blood in our Hearts, and the last Spirit of Breath in our Nostrils, to be pour'd out, to be Breathed up for Your Safety.”

The Commons then fell to their knees and the queen addressed them. As I read Elizabeth’s speech, I’ll share portraits of her with you. I won’t be anywhere near as good as Elizabeth, I lack her queenly authority, but perhaps you can imagine her talking to the House of Commons…

“WE have heard your Declaration, and perceive your Care of Our State, by falling into the Consideration of a grateful Acknowledgment of such Benefits as you have Received; and that your Coming is to present Thanks unto Us, which I Accept with no less Joy, than your Loves can have Desire to offer such a Present.
I do assure you, There is no Prince that loveth his Subjects better, or whose Love can countervail Our Love. There is no Jewel, be it of never so Rich a Price, which I set before this Jewel; I mean, your Love: For I do more Esteem of It, than of any Treasure or Riches; for That we know how to prize, but Love and Thanks I count Unvaluable.
And, though God hath raised Me high; yet This I count the Glory of my Crown, That I have Reigned with your Loves. This makes me that I do not so much rejoyce, That God hath made Me to be a Queen, as, To be a Queen over so Thankful a People.
Therefore, I have Cause to wish nothing more, than to Content the Subjects; and that is a Duty which I owe: Neither do I desire to live longer Dayes, than that I may see your Prosperity; and That's my only Desire.
And as I am that Person, that still (yet under God) hath Deliver'd you; so I trust, (by the Almighty Power of God) that I still shall be His Instrument to Preserve you from Envy, Peril, Dishonour, Shame, Tyranny, and Oppression; partly by Means of your intended Helps, which We take very Acceptably, because it manifests the Largeness of your Loves and Loyalty to your Sovereign.
Of My Self, I must say this, I was never any greedy scraping Grasper, nor a straight, fast-holding Prince, nor yet a Waster. My Heart was never set on Worldly Goods, but only for my Subjects Good. What You do bestow on Me, I will not hoard it up, but Receive it to bestow on You again: Yea, My own Proprieties I count Yours, and to be Expended for your Good; and your Eyes shall see the Bestowing of All, for your Good. Therefore, render unto Them from Me, I beseech you, Mr. Speaker, such Thanks as you imagine my Heart yieldeth, but my Tongue cannot express.”

The queen then stopped to bid her listeners to get up off their knees, saying “Mr. Speaker, I would wish You, and the Rest to stand up; for I shall yet trouble you with longer Speech”
and then she continued…

“You give Me Thanks; but I doubt Me, that I have more Cause to Thank You all, than You Me. And I charge you, to Thank them of the Lower-House, from Me: For had I not received a Knowledge from you, I might have fallen into the Lapse of an Errour, only for Lack of True Information.
Since I was Queen, yet, did I never put my Pen unto any Grant, but that, upon Pretext and Semblance made unto Me, it was both Good and Beneficial to the Subject in general; though a private Profit to some of My Ancient Servants, who had deserved well at My Hands. But the Contrary being found by Experience, I am exceedingly beholding to such Subjects, as would move the same at the first. And I am not so Simple to suppose, but that there are some of the Lower-House, whom these Grievances never touched. And for Them, I think they spake out of Zeal for their Countries, and not out of Spleen, or Malevolent Affection, as being Parties grieved. And I take it exceeding Gratefully from them; because it gives Us to know, that no Respects or Interests had moved them other than the minds they bear to suffer no diminution of our Honour, and our subjects Loves unto Us. The zeal of which Affection, tending to ease my People, and Knit their hearts unto Me, I embrace with a Princely care; for (above all earthly Treasure) I esteem my People's Love, more than which I desire not to Merit.
'That my Grants should be grievous to my People, and Oppressions privileged under colour of our Patents; our Kingly Dignity shall not suffer it: yea, when I heard it, I could give no rest unto my Thoughts untill I had Reformed it.
Shall they think to escape unpunished, that have thus Oppressed you, and have been respectless of their Duty, and regardless of Our Honour? No, Mr. Speaker, I assure you, were it not more for Conscience-sake, than for any Glory or Increase of Love, that I desire; these Errours, Troubles, Vexations and Oppressions done by these Varlets and lewd Persons, not worthy the name of Subjects, should not escape without Condigne Punishment. But I perceive they dealt with Me like Physicians, who Administering a Drug, make it more acceptable by giving it a good Aromatical Savour, or when they give Pills, do Gild them all over.
I have ever used to set the last Judgment-Day before my Eyes, as so to Rule, as I shall be Judged to Answer before a higher Judge, to whose Judgment Seat I do Appeal, That never Thought was Cherished in my Heart, that tended not to my People's Good. And now, if my Kingly 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 perverted what I have Committed to them; I hope God will not lay their Culps and Offences to my Charge; who though there were danger in repealing our Grants, yet what danger would I not rather incur for your Good, than I would suffer them still to continue?
I know the Title of a KING is a Glorious Title. But assure your self, That the Shining Glory of Princely Authority, hath not so dazelled the Eyes of our Understanding; but that we well know and remember that We also are to yield an Account of our Actions, before the Great Judge.
To be a KING, and wear a Crown, is a thing more Glorious to them that see it, than it is pleasing to them that bear it: For my self, I was never so much inticed with the Glorious Name of a KING, or Royal Authority of a QUEEN, as delighted that GOD had made Me his Instrument to maintain his Truth and Glory, and to Defend this Kingdom (as I said) from Peril, Dishonour, Tyranny, and Oppression.
There will never Queen sit in my Seat, with more Zeal to my country, Care for my Subjects, and that sooner with willingness will venture her Life for your Good and Safety, than My Self. For it is not my desire to Live nor Reign longer, than my Life and Reign shall be for your Good. And though you have had, and may have many Princes, more Mighty and Wife, sitting in this State; yet you never had, or shall have any that will be more Careful and Loving.
Shall I ascribe any thing to my Self, and my Sexly Weakness? I were not worthy to Live then; and of all, most unworthy of the great Mercies I have had from God, who hath ever yet given me a Heart, which never yet feared Foreign or Home-Enemy. I speak it to give God the Praise, as a Testimony before you, and not to Attribute any thing to My Self. For I, O Lord, What am I, whom Practices and Perils past should not fear? Or, What can I do? That I should speak for any Glory, God forbid.
This, Mr. Speaker, I pray you deliver to the House, to whom heartily commend Me. And so, I commit you All to your best Fortunes, and further Councels. And I pray you, Mr. Comptroller, Mr. Secretary, and You of My Councel, That before these Gentlemen depart into their Countries, you bring them All to Kiss My Hand.”

And there she ended her speech.

Townshend notes that she spoke the words “For I, O Lord, What am I, whom Practices and Perils past should not fear? Or, What can I do? That I should speak for any Glory, God forbid.” with great emphasis.

The speech had a major impact on those listening, with some leaving the rooms in tears. Elizabeth would never address Parliament again. She died on 24th March 1603, leaving the throne to King James VI of Scotland, son of Mary, Queen of Scots, who became King James I of England.

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30 November – Elizabeth I’s Golden Speech brings men to tears