Elizabeth I was a great orator. At Tilbury did the Tudor Queen deliver greatest speech in history?
9th August 1588.
England is in fear.
Out in the English Channel, the Spanish Armada is being chased by Drake.
If they reach the Duke of Palma’s troops in the Netherlands and succeed in escorting them over the channel…
England would be right royally screwed.
Her queen, almost certainly, burnt at the stake as a heretic.
If Drake fails, then a small, unprepared, ill-armed force awaits at Tilbury.
It is England’s last defence against the might of Spain.
They need a shot of courage and they need it now.
Out of the morning fog emerges a sight to behold.
Elizabeth I, her flame-red hair loose down her back, rides on a huge white warhorse. She is dressed in an armour breastplate….ready for battle.
The Tudors were magicians of the spectacle. Elizabeth was the grandmaster of them all and a skilled orator.
Over the next five minutes, she captured the hearts, minds and souls of her troops. When she had finished her speech, those men thought they could have defeated the armies of hell itself.
She didn’t just inspire the troops in the battlefield, but speechwriters through history.
Elizabeth used powerful imagery, “I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king!”
You see echo’s in Shakespeare’s Henry V “St Crispin’s Day” Speech
Churchill’s “fight them on the beaches” speech took inspiration from this section, “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.”
Is Elizabeth I’s Tilbury speech the greatest speech in history?
Consider the context and then you judge…
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 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 on a word of a prince, they shall be duly paid. In the mean time, 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 these enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people.