Editor's note: The historical fiction pieces in our Namesake series were originally submitted as part of the Namesake Competition at The King's College. As such, they follow certain guidelines used in the competition. One of these requires them to have an annotated bibliography of sources used in the writing of the story. We have reprinted these bibliographies at the end of each piece. This piece received third place in the writing portion of the competition. It was submitted on behalf of the House of Queen Elizabeth I.
Queen Elizabeth I
by Morgan Siedell
“Your Majesty, they number about 30,000 men. What are we to do?”
“Of course we will have to stand our ground, Sir Francis Drake. Do we have another choice?” My voice remained steady and my words articulate, the proper manner and speak of a queen. One must never show her own fear in front of her people. War and death could be encompassing England and still, it was my duty to be stoic, calm in the eye of the tornado. Although my feminine frame showed no hesitation for the future battle, my heart crashed hard against my rib cage, trying to escape and go somewhere else. Somewhere safe.
“Yes, Your Majesty, we will fight. We will defend the great country that is England. We will not go down easily, I can promise Your Majesty that.” Sir Frances Drake, one of the most revered sea captains in England brushed a curl of molasses hair that had escaped his cap with a calloused, worn hand. He was silent for a moment, collecting his composure and adapting his being to the new mission at hand. A small crooked smile crept stealthily on the corner of his mouth, “Your Majesty, I assume we will have plenty of time to play a bowling game on the Plymouth Hoe before defeating those Spaniards.”
I nodded my head reassuringly. “Yes, Sir Francis Drake, I presume you will. England shall be honored to have such a courageous and skilled seaman as you, leading us in the defense of our beautiful, little island.”
The masterful sea captain bent his head in acceptance of the compliment. “I must warn you, Your Majesty, The Spanish Armada keeps to a tight crescent moon formation. It will be very difficult to infiltrate this formation.”
I reminded myself of the time I had been crowned Queen of England after once being considered the illegitimate daughter of King Henry VIII of England. Twenty-five years old and I had a kingdom to lead. That day I stood still with a peaceful smile pasted on my thin lips, but my insides were trembling with the weight of my newfound responsibility. Today was very much like that moment. I pasted that smile back on my now aged face, “Yes, Captain, you should probably start that game of bowls now. You are dismissed, Captain. Thank you for your service.”
As soon as Sir Francis Drake left the chamber and the heavy oak door clicked shut, I crumbled into my velvet cushioned desk chair. I reached for a fresh sheet of parchment and my quill and inkbottle. I began to write. As always, the words began to flow from the quill tip, like they were not my own words, but words already formed and waiting within the inkbottle. My wrinkle adorned hand slid smoothly across the fresh parchment. I knew that I needed to write something, but my mind did not yet know what. The pen seemed to know, however, for a prayer to thy Heavenly Father dripped out:
“Most powerful and largest –giving God, whose ears can hear the petitions of Thy devoted servant, if we are found in Thy Mighty’s favor, please protect our army from foe’s prey and from sea’s danger. This vow accept, most dear God, in lieu of better merit: that our breaths, we hope to their last gasps, shall never cease the memorial of such flowering grace as Thy bounty fills us with, but with such thoughts shall end the world and live to Thee. All these with Thy good grace, we trust in Thee.”
Immediately my hear felt tame within its cage. The ensuing battle would be in the hands of God, the only right and true Judge. He would protect England if He so desired. With my mind and my heart now resolved to be practical and unaffected, I called for one of my advisors. “Bring me Sir Francis Walsingham, please.”Sir Francis Walsingham was my principal secretary, a man who spearheaded all foreign policies and also served me as ambassador to France. He had rightly earned the title of Spymaster, for his incredible triumphs as an intel spy.
“You wished to see me, Your Majesty.” The Spymaster stood before me, broad shouldered, tall, and a face made of unmovable stone.
I stood up from my writing desk, feeling confident in the practical next steps in standing ground against the Spaniards. “Yes, Sir Walsingham, thank you for meeting me, I wish for you to assemble a spy team to gather intel on the Spanish’s army and navy. They seem to be on the verge of waging war against England. We must be as prepared as possible for this looming battle.”
I surveyed Sir Francis Walsingham as his blue eyes became murky with gravity. “Your Majesty, the Spaniard’s fleet is named the Great and Most Fortunate Navy, they are many and powerful. We are but a young naval country. Your Majesty, please do not take offense, but is it possible the rumors of war are only rumors?”
My chest swelled with admiration for this man’s hope and desire for the easy answer. We both knew that there was no such answer. “I am afraid the rumors are very much true statements. Captain Francis Drake has been able to deplete a few of their number over the past year, suspending the battle as much as possible. This has given our little navy time to become more stabilized, ready for the Great and Most Fortunate Navy to approach. It is time, I am afraid. England can stall no more; this is perhaps our own Judgment Day. Walsingham, I pray that you follow my direction and congregate the finest spies in the kingdom and gather as much information as you and your men can. The kingdom of England rests its hope for survival on your capable shoulders. I have unshakeable faith in your ability.”
That did it, Walsingham’s eyes cleared again, returning to its original sapphire hue. My men were all brave men. My men were all loyal to the kingdom. My men were all intelligent and upstanding. I knew it, but sometimes, unwonted fear would deafen the sound of their steadily beating hearts.
Walsingham took an extravagant bow. “Thank you, Your Majesty. We shall not go down without a fight.”
“That is right, my good Sir, we shall not. I shall be on the front lines with you. This shall be fun, Sir. You are dismissed, Sir, thank you for your loyal service.” I pasted my smile back on for the Spymaster, who returned a similar smile to me.
Over the past several decades I had become quite attached to my kingdom and the people within it. When I had become Queen, I had promised to care for these men, women, and children through sickness and health, through times of war and periods of peace. I had made a personal oath to my kingdom of England, never to marry, in order to be solely married to my one true love and lifelong companion: England.
My men knew me to be loyal and always looking for their best interests because they are not just tools for me to further my kingdom in wealth and in power, but they are my spouses, each and every one, I must protect and further them as human individuals. For they deserve only the best commander and spouse.
“Your Majesty, it is time to address the troops. The ships are ready, they are only waiting now for your approval and send-off.” Sir Francis Drake, dressed in his captain’s garb, stood straight, his big shoulders back in confidence, every curl of hair in place under his captain’s cap.
I took his large square hand which was extended towards me, for I was sitting at my writing desk, praying or writing or thinking—they all were the same to me, I hardly knew which I was doing at this time. His palm was thick-skinned and scratchy against my delicate, thin hand. “Alright, Captain, it is time, I pray this battle is no more challenging than the bowls game you participated in earlier.”
“Let us hope I have better luck with a ship than I do with bowls, my dear Queen, for I lost rather terribly that game.”
Captain Drake held my chamber door open and let me pass. I had to slow my walk to steady my frame. My insides were shaking, as if I had caught a rather bad cold, but I knew it was only fear infecting my bloodstream. Fear must not be shown, not by me.
Once in the audience of my beloved troops in Tilbury, 16,000 men suited up to guard this beautiful land we call our home, my eyes began to drip. God Almighty had blessed me beyond my deserving. The room had become silent with my appearance, thousands of eyes were heavy on me. I inhaled through my nose, controlling my breath as I had learned over the years to keep composure. My hands clasped together tightly to keep them from shaking visibly. I did not yet know what I was going to say, but knew words would flow out, rather like writing works for me.
“My loving people,” I let my dark eyes meet as many pairs as I could, registering each face, remembering each man who stood before me. “let tyrants fear: I have so behaved myself that under God I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and goodwill of my subjects. Whether I am come among you at this time but for my recreation and pleasure, being resolved in the midst and heat of the battle to live and die amongst you all, to lay down for my God, and my kingdom and my people, mine honor and my blood, even in the dust. I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king and a king of England too...I myself will venter my royal blood; I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of you virtue in the field...We shall shortly have a famous victory over these enemies of my God and of my kingdom.”
I took a deep breath through my nose, this time to calm my excitement. The room was no longer silent, but a quiet rustle had reverberated around the space. Men were shifting restlessly in their spots. My words of confidence and courage had awaken in them the urge to fight for what is ours. There was nothing left to say. My kingdom, my lifelong spouse, was going to triumph or fall. Here. I had made my vows, until death do us part.
This was the part I hated as a Queen: waiting. I loathed not being in the midst of battle with my men, my faithful, unshakable men. I would have tied myself to the bow of the fleet head if it was at all possible, to be near my men. It irked me that I had to simply sit in my plush writing desk seat and wait for something to happen, one way or another. I was, although commander of the army and navy, a damsel waiting for my man to come rescue me. I felt it was my duty as head of this kingdom to be thrown into the tumultuous waves, rather than sending my loyal companions out to kill or be killed.
I resolved myself to making myself useful in the only way I could at this point in the battle. I plead with my Heavenly Father to reward my men.
“O God, All-maker, Keeper, and Guider, inurement of Thy rare-seen unused and seld- heard-of goodness, poured in so plentiful sort upon us full oft, breeds now this boldness—to crave with bowed knees and hearts of humility Thy large hand of helping power to assist with wonder our just cause, not founded on pride’s motion nor begun on malice-stock but, as Thou best knowest to whom naught is hid, grounded on just defense from wrongs, hate, and bloody desire of conquest. Warrant, dear Lord, all this with Thy command, amen.”
“Your Majesty, we have won. The Great and Most Fortunate Navy is no more great and fortunate. Dearest Queen we have received word from Captain Drake himself, they only lost a few in number, and are voyaging back to us.”
“This is magnificent news, my dear, God has protected us from destruction. The glory is not of our own doing but that of our Creator and King.” This time the smile on my face was not pasted there in necessity but formed unconsciously on my lips. My heart hammered in my breast but I dared not quiet it. Today was a day for not keeping composure. “Bring me Captain Drake as soon as he has returned.” I could hardly wait to see the cocky smile on Captain Drake’s weather worn face.
“Captain, this is under most wonderful circumstances that we meet. You have proven yourself to be the most reliable and skilled seaman of not just England but also of Spain. Now, tell me, dear Sir, how it was that our underdeveloped fleet came to upstage the Spaniards?”
The smile I had been searching for had appeared wide across the Captain’s face. “I have to say, Your Majesty, it was rather easier to defeat those blasted Spaniards than to beat my fellow seamen at a game of bowls. However, I am thankful of your gracious remarks of my performance but without a fearless leader as our Queen, we would not have found the courage within our cowardly chests to fight with just confidence as we have. Our only chance of success was to get the wind behind them and attack any ship unfortunate enough straggle behind. Our modest little navy had the upper hand on the Great and Most Fortunate Navy for our ships are longer, lower, and faster than the most venerated Spanish Navy. Our young navy’s fleet was much more maneuverable than the large, clunky vessels of the Spaniards. Our ships also allowed for more guns to be carried upon them to be fired broadsides. As each ship went down I felt as if I was singeing of the King of Spain’s beard, a little chunk of hair at a time.”
Captain Drake chuckled boastfully and I took the liberty to join him.
In the late hours of the night, after all the celebrations had ceased and my spouse was silent with peaceful sleep, I perched myself at my beloved writing desk to think, write, or pray, whichever came out.
“Look and bow down Thine ear, O Lord. From Thy bright sphere behold and see Thy handmaid and Thy handiwork, Amongst Thy priests, offering to Thee Zeal for incense, reaching the skies; Myself and scepter, sacrifice.
My soul, ascend His holy place. Ascribe Him strength and sing Him praise, For He refraineth princes’ sprites And hath done wonders in my days. He made the winds and waters rise To scatter all mine enemies—
This Joseph’s Lord and Israel’s God, The fiery Pillar and day’s Cloud, That saved his saints from wicked men And drenched the honor of the proud; And hath preserved in tender love
The spirit of his turtle dove. Finis.”
Green, Janet M. “‘I My Self’: Queen Elizabeth I's Oration at Tilbury Camp”. The Sixteenth Century Journal 28.2 (1997): 421–445. Web. According to legend, at the sighting of the Armada while playing bowls on Plymouth Hoe, Francis Drake answered that ‘there is plenty of time to finish the game and beat the Spaniards.’ Source for details on the English and Spanish naval strategies and ship builds.
Marcus, Leah S., Janel M. Mueller, and Mary Beth Rose. Elizabeth I: Collected Works. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2000. Print. Poetry and speech excerpts.
Martin, Christopher. “The Breast and Belly of a Queen: Elizabeth After Tilbury”. Early Modern Women 2 (2007): 5–28. Web. With the extensive spy network assembled by Walsingham, intelligence about the impending invasion was available almost as soon as the plans were laid. Drake described the victory as his 'singeing of the King of Spain's beard.'
Mason, Antony. Kings & Queens of Great Britain: A Very Peculiar History. East Sussex: Book House, 2014. Print. In response to fear of a Spanish invasion, a meeting was arranged for Queen Elizabeth to visit Tilbury to rally the troops.
Weir, Alison. The Life of Elizabeth I. New York: Ballantine, 1998. Print. The invasion of the Spanish Armada, a navy of 30,000 men, in 1588 purposed to avenge the death of Mary Queen of Scots, marking a turn in religiously opposed countries.