Queen Elizabeth I’s speech to the her army at Tilbury Fort is considered one of the greatest speeches in history. In this lesson, you’ll learn about the speech and its historical significance.
Most people tend to think that there has only been one Cold War in history–the one between the Soviet Union and the United States in the 20th century– but there have actually been several others. In the 1580s, Queen Elizabeth I of England was very much engaged in a Cold War of her own with King Phillip II of Spain.
By 1580, King Phillip was fed up with Queen Elizabeth I. She had earlier turned down his proposal of marriage and to add insult to injury, Sir Francis Drake was attacking Spanish treasure ships in the Caribbean and elsewhere as a kind of ‘Royal Pirate’ for the English throne. Also, a religious contention existed between Phillip, who was Catholic and generally seen as the protector of the faith, and the Protestant Elizabeth I.
Complicating matters was the fact that King Phillip, along with the Spanish and some English Catholics, wanted Mary Stuart (Mary Queen of Scots) to assume the throne of England in place of Queen Elizabeth I. With diplomacy failing, Philip began to prepare for the invasion of England with the intent of overthrowing Elizabeth I and placing a Catholic, Spanish controlled, monarch on the throne.
The Spanish Armada
To accomplish this goal, on May 30th of 1587, the famed Spanish Armada — which was 130 ships strong — left Cadiz under the command of the Duke of Medina Sidonia. This impressive fleet was to link up with the Spanish army under the command of the Duke of Parma, whose men numbered from 35,000 to 50,000, a massive army for that time period.Once the ships made landfall, the Spanish Army planned to offload and make for London. However, a number of events collectively boded ill for the doomed Armada.
The English fleet had positioned themselves so that they had the weather-gauge (a nautical term meaning the winds favored the English ships in speed and maneuverability). In addition, a series of storms also hampered the Armada, and with the winds favoring the English, Sir Francis Drake and others set ships on fire and guided them into the Spanish fleet.Many Spanish ships caught fire, and the fleet never picked up Parma’s army. A full one-third of the ships never made it back to Spain. The result was a stunning English victory that signaled the end of Spain’s dominance as a world power and the ascendancy of England.
Most of this action was taking place on the western side of the British Isles. On the Eastern side, an English Army was stationed at Tilbury Fort, which sits on the mouth of the Thames River in Essex.
It was a strategic location, and it was believed that Spanish ships might try to offload the Duke of Parma’s army and move up the Thames to London.Elizabeth I’s army was understandably nervous, and Elizabeth left behind her bodyguard and went out among her soldiers. In front of her was the ‘Sword of State’, carried by a courtier.
Queen Elizabeth I must have been an impressive site on a gray mount, wearing silver body armor around her torso. In this guise, she said the following words to her assembled army:My loving peopleWe 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, 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 valor in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory over these enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people.
Analysis of the Speech
Elizabeth I’s speech at Tilbury was powerful and impressive, most assuredly to those who heard it spoken and touched upon her stern belief in her people and her steadfast assurance that they would be victorious.The speech can be broken down into three distinct parts for the sake of analysis:1) Defense of her rule2) Refusal to accept Spanish rule3) Assurance of victoryIn the part of her speech that begins with, I have so behaved myself . . .
. Elizabeth talks about trusting her people rather than fearing them. That her subjects come first rings clear and true. The second part of the speech specifically names Parma and gives a stern warning to other would-be European invaders.
In the third part, she assures listeners that victory will come from their efforts and not hers with the words, your valour in the field.Ultimately, the speech was masterful, with its inspiring style and implicit reference to the right of her rule, powerful in its elegant presentation and steadfast pronouncement of England’s might. And reflective of Elizabeth’s resolve to keep England Protestant, honorable and free of foreign influence or rule.History has shown over and over again that leaders who lead from the front are respected and elicit strong responses from their soldiers.
Alexander the Great led his army in person and was wounded frequently. General Douglas MacArthur was derisively nicknamed, ‘Dugout Doug’ due to his penchant for leading from a protected bunker. With this speech, Elizabeth I joined their ranks.
In the1580s, Queen Elizabeth I of England was very much engaged in a Cold War with King Phillip II of Spain.
A failed marriage proposal, the English sponsored pirating of Spanish treasure ships and religious contention had turned the two nations against each other. Diplomacy failing, Philip decided to invade England. To accomplish this, the famed Spanish Armada consisting of 130 ships, left Cardiz under the command of the Duke of Medina Sidonia and sailed for England.However a number of events ultimately doomed the Armada, and the result was a stunning English victory that signaled the end of Spain’s dominance as a world power and the ascendancy of England.Queen Elizabeth I gave a famous, inspirational speech to her soldiers stationed at Tilbury Fort while the Armada attempted to make its way to British shores. The speech was powerful and impressive and touched upon her belief in her people and her assurance that they would be victorious.
It can be broken down into three distinct parts for the sake of analysis:1) Defense of her rule2) Refusal to accept Spanish rule3) Assurance of victoryIn the first part of the speech, Elizabeth talks about trusting her people rather than fearing them. The second part of the speech gives a stern warning to would-be European invaders. In the third part, she assures listeners that victory will come from their efforts and not hers. Ultimately, the speech was masterful, with its inspiring style and implicit reference to the right of her rule, powerful in its elegant presentation and steady pronouncement of England’s might.
And reflective of Elizabeth’s resolve to keep England Protestant, honorable, and free of foreign influence or rule.