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This HTML etext of Sidney's Letter to Queen Elizabeth (1580) was created in March 2007 by Anniina Jokinen of Luminarium. The text is unaltered.
    Source text:
    Sidney, Philip. "Letter to Queen Elizabeth, 1580."
    The Miscellaneous Works of Sir Philip Sidney, Knt.
    William Gray, ed. Boston: T. O. H. P. Burnham, 1860.  289-303.
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Printer's Ornament




ANNO 1580,



      Most feared and beloved,
            Most sweet and gracious sovereign,

TO seek out excuses of this my boldness, and to arm the acknowledging of a fault with reasons for it, might better show I knew I did amiss, than any way diminish the attempt, especially in your judgment; who being able to discern lively into the nature of the thing done, it were folly to hope, by laying on better colours, to make it more acceptable.  Therefore, carrying no other olive branch of intercession, than the laying of myself at your feet; nor no other insinuation, either for attention or pardon, but the true vowed sacrifice of unfeigned love; I will, in simple and direct terms (as hoping they shall only come to your merciful eyes), set down the overflowing of my mind in this most important matter, importing, as I think, the continuance of your safety; and, as I know, the joys of my life.  And because my words (I confess shallow, but coming from the deep well-spring of most loyal affection) have delivered to your most gracious ear, what is the general sum of my travelling thoughts therein; I will now but only declare, what be the reasons that make me think, that the marriage with Monsieur will be unprofitable unto you; then will I answer the objection of those fears, which might procure so violent a refuge.
      The good or evils that will come by it, must be considered either according to your estate or person.  To your estate, what can be added to the being an absolute born, and accordingly respected, princess?  But, as they say the Irishmen are wont to call over them that die, "they are rich, they are fair, what needed they to die so cruelly:"  not unfitly of you, endowed with felicity above all others, a man might well ask, "what makes you in such a calm to change course; to so healthful a body, to apply so unsavory a medicine: what can recompense so hazardous an adventure?"  Indeed, were it but the altering of a well maintained and well approved trade: for, as in bodies natural, every sudden change is full of peril; so in this body politic, whereof you are the only head, it is so much the more dangerous, as there are more humours to receive a hurtful impression.  But hazards are then most to be regarded, when the nature of the patient is fitly composed to occasion them.
      The patient I account your realm; the agent Monsieur, and his design; for neither outward accidents do much prevail against a true inward strength; nor doth inward weakness lightly subvert itself, without being thrust at by some outward force.       Your inward force (for as for your treasures indeed, the sinews of your crown, your Majesty doth best and only know) consisteth in your subjects, generally unexpert in warlike defence; and as they are divided now into mighty factions (and factions bound on the never-dying knot of religion) the one of them, to whom your happy government hath granted the free exercise of the eternal truth; with this, by the continuance of time, by the multitude of them, by the principal offices, and strength they hold, and lastly, by your dealings both at home and abroad against the adverse party; your state is so entrapped, as it were impossible for you, without excessive trouble, to pull yourself out of the party so long maintained.  For such a course once taken in hand, is not much unlike a ship in a tempest, which how dangerously soever it may be beaten with waves, yet is there no safety or succour without it:  These, therefore, as their souls live by your happy government, so are they your chief, if not your sole, strength: these, howsoever the necessity of human life makes them lack, yet can they not look for better conditions than presently they enjoy: these, how their hearts will be galled, if not aliened, when they shall see you take a husband, a Frenchman and a Papist, in whom (howsoever fine wits may find farther dealings or painted excuses) the very common people well know this, that he is the son of a Jezebel of our age: that his brother made oblation of his own sister's marriage, the easier to make massacres of our brethren in belief: that he himself, contrary to his promise, and all gratefulness, having his liberty and principal estate by the Hugonots' means, did sack Lacharists, and utterly spoil them with fire and sword.  This, I say, even at the first sight, gives occasion to all, truly religious, to abhor such a master, and consequently to diminish much of the hopeful love they have long held to you.
      The other faction, most rightly, indeed, to be called a faction, is the Papists; men whose spirits are full of anguish, some being infested by others, whom they accounted damnable; some having their ambition stopped, because they are not in the way of advancement; some in prison and disgrace; some whose best friends are banished practisers; many thinking you are an usurper; many thinking also you had disannulled your right, because of the Pope's excommunication; all burthened with the weight of their conscience; men of great numbers, of great riches, because the affairs of state have not lain on them: of united minds, as all men that deem themselves oppressed naturally are; with these I would willingly join all discontented persons, such as want and disgrace keeps lower than they have set their hearts; such as have resolved what to look for at your hands; such, as Caesar said, "quibus opus est bello civili," and are of his mind, "malo in acie, quam in foro cadere."  These be men so much the more to be doubted, because, as they do embrace all estates; so are they commonly of the bravest and wakefulest sort; and that know the advantage of the world most.  This double rank of people, how their minds have stood, the northern rebellion, and infinite other practices, have well taught you; which, if it be said it did not prevail, that is true indeed; for if they had prevailed, it were too late now to deliberate.  But, at this present, they want nothing so much as a head, who in effect needs not but to receive their instructions; since they may do mischief enough only with his countenance.  Let the Singiniam in Henry the Fourth's time, Perkin Warbeck in your grandfather's; but of all, the most lively and proper is that of Lewis, the French King's son, in Henry the Third's time; who having at all no show of title, yet did he cause the nobility, and more, to swear direct fealty and vassalage; and they delivered the strongest holds unto him.  I say, let these be sufficient to prove, that occasion gives minds and scope to stranger things then ever would have been imagined.  If then the affectionate side have their affections weakened, and the discontented have a gap to utter their discontent; I think it will seem an ill preparative for the patient (I mean your estate) to a great sickness.
     Now the agent party, which is Monsieur: whether he be not apt to work on the disadvantage of your estate, he is to be judged by his will and power; his will to be as full of light ambition as is possible; besides the French disposition, and his own education; his inconstant temper against his brother; his thrusting himself into the Low Country matters; his sometimes seeking the King of Spain's daughter; sometimes your Majesty; are evident testimonies of his being carried away with every wind of hope; taught to love greatness any way gotten; and having for the motioners and ministers of the mind, only such young men, as have showed they think evil contentment a ground of any rebellion; who have seen no commonwealth but in faction; and divers of which have defiled their hands in odious murders: with such fancies and favourites, what is to be hoped for; or that he will contain himself within the limits of your conditions; since, in truth, it were strange that he that cannot be contented to be the second person in France, and heir apparent, should be content to come to be a second person, where he should pretend no way to sovereignty.  His power, I imagine, is not to be despised, since he is come into a country, where the way of evil-doing will be presented unto him; where there needs nothing but a head, to draw together all the ill-affected members: himself a prince of great revenues, of the most popular nation of the world, full of soldiery, and such as are used to serve without pay, so as they may have show of spoil; and, without question, shall have his brother ready to help him, as well for old revenge, as to divert him from troubling France, and to deliver his own country from evil humours. Neither is King Philip's marriage here any example; since then it was between two of one religion, so that only he in England, stood only upon her strength, and had abroad King Henry of France, ready to impeach any enterprise he should make for his greatness that way.  And yet what events time would have brought forth of that marriage, your most blessed reign hath made vain all such considerations.  But things holding in present state, I think I may easily conclude, that your country as well by long peace, and fruits of peace, as by the poison of division, wherewith the faithful shall by this means be wounded, and the contrary enabled, made fit to receive hurt; and Monsieur being every way likely to use the occasions to hurt, there can almost happen no worldly thing of more eminent danger to your estate royal.  And as to your person, in the scale of your happiness, what good there may come by it, to balance with the loss of so honourable a constancy; truly, yet I perceive not.  I will not show so much malice, as to object the universal doubt, the race's unfaithfulness; neither will I lay to his charge the ague-like manner of proceedings, sometimes hot and sometimes cold, in the time of pursuit; which always rightly is most fervent; and I will temper my speeches from any other unreverend disgracings of him, in particular; (though they might be never so true) this only will I say, that if he do come hither, he must live here in far less reputation than his mind will well brook, having no other royalty to countenance himself with; or else you must deliver him the keys of your kingdom, and live at his discretion; or, lastly, he must be separate himself, with more dishonour, and farther disuniting of heart, than ever before.  Often have I heard you, with protestation, say, no private pleasure nor self-affection could lead you to it; but if it be both unprofitable for your kingdom, and unpleasant to you, certainly it were a dear purchase of repentance; nothing can it add unto you, but the bliss of children, which, I confess, were a most unspeakable comfort; but yet no more appertaining unto him, than to any other, to whom the height of all good haps, were allotted to be your husband; and therefore I may assuredly affirm, that what good soever can follow marriage, is no more his than anybody's; but the evils and dangers are peculiarly annexed to his person and condition.  For, as for the enriching of your country with treasure, which either he hath not, or hath otherwise bestowed it; or the staying of your servants' minds with new expectations and liberality, which is more dangerous than fruitful: or the easing of your Majesty of cares, which is as much to say, as the easing of you to be queen and sovereign: I think every one perceives this way to be full of hurt, or void of help.  Now resteth to consider, what be the motives of this sudden change, as I have heard you in most sweet words deliver; fear of standing alone, in respect of forreign dealings; and in them, from whom you should have respect, doubt of contempt.  Truly, standing alone, with good foresight of government, both in peace and warlike defence, is the honourablest thing that can be, to a well-established monarchy; those buildings being ever most strongly durable, which lean to none other, but remain from their own foundation.
      So yet in the particulars of your estate at present, I will not altogether deny that a true Masinissa, were fit to countermine the enterprise of mighty Carthage: but how this general truth can be applied to Monsieur, in truth I perceive not.  The wisest that have given best rules, where surest leagues are made, have said, that it must be between such as either vehement desire of a third thing, or as vehement fear, doth knit their minds together.  Desire is counted the weaker bond, but yet that bound so many princes to the Holy Land.  It united that invincible king, Henry the Fifth, and that good Duke of Burgundy; the one desiring to win the crown of France from the Dauphin, the other desiring to revenge his father's murder upon the Dauphin; which both tended to one.  That coupled Lewis the Twelfth and Ferdinando of Spain to the conquest of Naples.  Of fear, there are innumerable examples: Monsieur's desires, and yours, how they shall meet in public matters, I think no oracle can tell; for as the geometricians say, that parallels, because they maintain divers lines, can never join: so truly, two, having in the beginning contrary principles, to bring forth one doctrine, must be some miracle.  He of the Romish religion; and if he be a man, must needs have that manlike property, to desire that all men be of his mind: you the erector and defender of the contrary, and the only sun that dazzleth their eyes: he French, and desiring to make France great; your Majesty English, and desiring nothing less than that France should not grow great: he, both by his own fancy and his youthful governors, embracing all ambitious hopes; having Alexander's image in his head, but perhaps evil painted: your Majesty with excellent virtue, taught what you should hope, and by no less wisdom, what you may hope; with a council renowned over all Christendom for their well-tempered minds, having set the utmost of their ambition in your favour, and the study of their souls in your safety.
      Fear hath as little show of outward appearance, as reason, to match you together; for in this estate he is in, whom should he fear, his brother?  alas!  his brother is afraid, since the King of Navarre is to step into his place.  Neither can his brother be the safer by his fall, but he may be the greater by his brother's; whereto, whether you will be an accessary, you are to determine.  The King of Spain certainly cannot make war upon him, but it must be upon all the crown of France, which is no likelihood he will do: well may Monsieur (as he hath done) seek to enlarge the bounds of France upon this state; which likewise, whether it be safe for you to be a countenance to, any other way, may be seen: so that if neither desire nor fear be such in him, as are to bind any public fastness, it may be said, that the only fortress of this your marriage, is of his private affection; a thing too incident to the person, laying it up in such knots.
      The other objection of contempt in the subjects: I assure your Majesty, if I had heard it proceed out of your mouth, which of all other I do most dearly reverence, it would as soon (considering the perfections both of body and mind have set all men's eyes by the height your estate) have come to the possibility of my imagination, if one should have told me on the contrary side, that the greatest princess of the world, should envy the state of some poor deformed pilgrim.  What is there, either within you or without you, that can possibly fall into the danger of contempt, to whom fortunes are tied by so long descent of your royal ancestors?  But our minds rejoice with the experience of your inward virtues, and our eyes are delighted with the sight of you.  But because your own eyes cannot see yourself, neither can there be in the world any example fit to blaze you by, I beseech you vouchsafe to weigh the grounds thereof.  The natural causes are length of government, and uncertainty of succession: the effects, as you term them, appear by cherishing some abominable speeches, which some hellish minds have uttered.  The longer a prince reigneth, it is certain the more he is esteemed; there is no man ever was weary of well-being.  And good increased to good, maketh the same good both greater and stronger: for it useth men to know no other cares, when either men are born in the time, and so never saw other; or have spent much of their flourishing time, and so have no joy to seek other; in evil princes, abuse growing upon abuse, according to the nature of evil, with the increase of time, ruins itself.  But in so rare a government, where neighbours' fires give us light to see our quietness, where nothing wants that true administration of justice brings forth; certainly the length of time, rather breeds a mind to think there is no other life but in it, than that there is any tediousness in so fruitful a government.  Examples of good princes do ever confirm this, who, the longer they lived the deeper they sunk into their subjects hearts.  Neither will I trouble you with examples, being so many and manifest.  Look into your own estate, how willingly they grant, and how dutifully they pay such subsidies, as you demand of them: how they are no less troublesome to your Majesty in certain requests, than they were in the beginning of your reign; and your Majesty shall find you have a people more than ever devoted to you.
      As for the uncertainty of succession, although for mine own part I have cast the utmost anchor of my hope; yet for England's sake, I would not say anything against such determination; but that uncertain good should bring a contempt to a certain good, I think it is beyond all reach of reason; nay, because if there were no other cause (as there are infinite) common reason and profit would teach us to hold that jewel dear, the loss of which would bring us to we know not what; which likewise is to be said of your Majesty's speech of the rising sun; a speech first used by Sylla to Pompey, in Rome, as then a popular city, where indeed men were to rise and fall, according to the flourish and breath of a many-headed confusion.  But in so lineal a monarchy, wherever the infants suck the love of their rightful prince, who would leave the beams of so fair a sun, for the dreadful expectation of a divided company of stars: virtue and justice are the only bonds of people's love; and as for that point, many princes have lost their crowns, whose own children were manifest successors; and some that had their own children used as instruments of their ruin; not that I deny the bliss of children, but only to show religion and equity to be of themselves sufficient stays.  Neither is the love was borne in the Queen your sister's days, any contradiction hereunto; for she was the oppressor of that religion, which lived in many men's hearts, and whereof you were known to be the favourer; by her loss was the most excellent prince in the world to succeed; by your loss, all blindness light upon him, that sees not our misery.  Lastly, and most properly for this purpose, she had made an odious marriage with a stranger (which is now in question whether your Majesty should do or no) so that if your subjects do at this time look for any afterchance, it is but as the pilot doth to the ship-boat, if his ship should perish; driven by extremity to the one, but as long as he can with his life, tending the other.  And this I say, not only for the lively parts that be in you; but even for their own sakes, for they must needs see what tempests threaten them.
      The last proof in this contempt, should be the venomous matter, certain men imposthumed with wickedness should utter against you.  Certainly not to be evil spoken of, neither Christ's holiness nor Caesar's might, could ever prevent or warrant; there being for that no other rule than so to do, as that they may not justly say evil of you; which whether your Majesty have not done, I leave it in you, to the sincereness of your own conscience, and wisdom of your judgment in the world, to your most manifest fruits and fame throughout Europe.  Augustus was told that men spake of him much hurt: "It is no matter," said he, "so long as they cannot do much hurt."  And lastly, Charles the Fifth, to one that told him, "Les Hollandois parlent mal;" "Mais ils patient bien," answered he.  I might make a scholar-like reckoning of many such examples; it sufficeth that these great princes knew well enough upon what way they flew, and cared little for the barking of a few curs: and truly in the behalf of your subjects, I durst with my blood answer it, that there was never monarch held in more precious reckoning of her people; and before God how can it be otherwise?  For mine own part, when I hear some lost wretch hath defiled such a name with his mouth, I consider the right name of blasphemy, whose unbridled soul doth delight to deprave that, which is accounted generally most high and holy.  No, no, most excellent lady, do not raze out the impression you have made in such a multitude of hearts; and let not the scum of such vile minds bear any witness against your subjects' devotions: which to proceed one point farther, if it were otherwise, could little be helped, but rather nourished, and in effect began by this.  The only means of avoiding contempt are love and fear; love, as you have by divers means sent into the depth of their souls; so if anything can stain so true a form, it must be the trimming yourself, not in your own likeness, but in new colours unto them; their fear by him cannot be increased, without appearance of French forces, the manifest death of your estate; but well may it against him, bear that face, which (as the tragic Seneca saith) "Metus in authorem redit," as because both in will and power, he is like enough to do harm.  Since then it is dangerous for your state, as well because by inward weakness (principally caused by division) it is fit to receive harm; since to your person it can be no way comfortable, you not desiring marriage; and neither to person nor estate, he is to bring any more good than anybody; but more evil he may, since the causes that should drive you to this, are either fears of that which cannot happen, or by this means cannot be prevented: I do with most humble heart say unto your Majesty (having assayed this dangerous help) for your standing alone, you must take it for a singular honour God hath done you, to be indeed the only protector of his church; and yet in worldly respects your kingdom very sufficient so to do, if you make that religion, upon which you stand, to carry the only strength, and have abroad those that still maintain the same course; who as long as they may be kept from utter falling, your Majesty is sure enough from your mightiest enemies.   As for this man, as long as he is but Monsieur in might, and a Papist in profession, he neither can, nor will, greatly shield you; and if he get once to be King, his defence will be like Ajax's shield, which rather weighed them down, than defended those that bare it.  Against contempt, if there be any, which I will never believe, let your excellent virtues of piety, justice, and liberality, daily, if it be possible, more and more shine.  Let such particular actions be found out (which be easy as I think to be done) by which you may gratify all the hearts of your people: let those in whom you find trust, and to whom you have committed trust, in your weighty affairs, be held up in the eyes of your subjects: lastly, doing as you do, you shall be, as you be, the example of princes, the ornament of this age, and the most excellent fruit of your progenitors, and the perfect mirror of your posterity.
                        Your Majesty's faithful, humble,
                                      and obedient subject,
                                                                            P. SYDNEY.

F  I  N  I  S.   

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