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Queen Elizabeth I, Clopton portrait, c1560. NPG


      Public Record Office, Scotland, vol. vii. no. 84, fol. 181, a contemporary copy. This is the only surviving Lettre intime from Elizabeth to Mary, belonging to this period, and may be said to mark the close of the intimacy between the two queens. A war of religion had broken out in France, and Elizabeth had allied herself with the Huguenots, giving them men and money, and receiving Havre and Dieppe in pledge, until her loans were returned and Calais resotre.  For her 'declaration' of policy, see Foreign Calendar, 1562, pp. 310 to 314.   The bloody outrages, of which Elizabeth here complains in powerful, though sometimes obscure classical similes, certainly took place.  But it was a mere affectation to pretend that such crimes were perpetrated by one side only.       The malady spoken of in the last line was the dangerous attack of smallpox, which reached its crisis on the next day, October the 16th.


[? Kingston, 15 October 1562]

     VERY DEAR SISTER,—If it were not a thing impossible that one should forget her own heart, I should fear you suspected that I had drunk of the waters of Lethe.  But I assure you that besides there being no such river in England, so of this fault you are the principal cause.  For if the waiting for your messenger, who, as you wrote to me, ought long since to have come hither, had not so much delayed [me], I would have visited your by my letters according to our previous custom.  But when I heard that you were going on such a long pilgrimage to so great a distance from hence, I thought that would hinder you [from receiving my note].  On my part there was another occasion which hindered me greatly, the fear of tiring you with hearing the tragedies, with which every week my ears have been all too much wearied.  Would to God they were as hidden to others as they have been concealed by me.1  And I assure you on my honour that right up till when the ravens croaked of them, I kept my ears sealed up like those of Ulysses.  But when I saw that all my councillors and subjects thought me of sight too dim, of hearing too deaf, of spirit too improvident, I roused myself from such slumber, and deemed myself unworthy to govern a kingdom, such as I possess, if I were not also skilled in my own affairs : a Prometheus, as well as acquainted with Epimetheus.2
      And when it came to my mind how it touch your [kinsfolk], Mon Dieu, how I gnawed my heart!  Not for them (you know it well), but for her on whose behalf I long for all the good that can be desired, having a great fear lest you should think that the old sparks would be fanned by this new fire.  Notwithstanding, when I saw that necessity had no law, and that it behoves us carefully to guard our houses from spoil, when those of our neighbours are ablaze so close at hand, I have not even so much as a suspicion that you would refuse to draw away nature's veil and gaze on the naked cause of reason.3
      For what hope is left for strangers when cruelty so much abounds among those of the family.  I would sooner pass over in silence the murders on land than tell in writing of the burials in water, and would say nothing of men cut in pieces, if the cries of pregnant women strangled with the wails of infants at their mothers' breasts did not stir me.  What rhubarb drug will purge away the choler which these tyrannies engender? Amid these broils my own subjects in divers places have lost their goods, their ships, nay, their very lives, being baptized with nicknames which their godfathers never gave them—a name to me heretofore quite unknown, though staled by custom, now too well-known, that is 'huguenots.'  Which injuries being excessive [?], the blame was places on the poor soldiers ; but the fault rested with the wicked movers of these quarrels, who, although admonished of them every day, in place of correcting them, for one evil do twenty.  Likewise, having received letters from the king and the queen-mother that they could do nothing, I well perceived that though king by title, in fact he was ruled by others.
      Seeing this I devoe myself entirely to prevent those evils which would come to pass, if that realm became a prey within their talons.  Rather [will I] so shape my actions that the king will think me a good neighbour, one who keeps safe rather than destroys.  Your kinsfolk will not have cause to think me vindictive as I will not injure them, if they do not begin.  You will have no occasion to accuse me of fraud, I having never promised so much as I do not more than fulfil, if it can be done.  And I assure you in good faith, that it will not be due to me, if there is not soon a firm peace for all those who will be guided by the rule of reason.
      Although I am sending a naval force to Havre, I have in that no other thought, except that there they should do every good office to the king and to all others, provided that [those others] do not come into a place whence they may do me injury.  And in order that the whole world may understand the good intention that I have with regard to peace, and [also] to remove any other suspicion that thence might arise, I had [?] to make this declaration, which will make everything clear to you without any deceit.
      Hoping that you will think of me as honourably as my good will to you merits, and although I am by no means ignorant of what craft will be, or has been, employed in your regard in this matter [by those] who think to draw you from that affection which I am assured you bear me.  Nevertheless, I confide so much in this heart, which I keep inviolate, that sooner shall rivers flow up their natural [courses], than it shall change its intention.  The burning fever, which now holds me entirely in its grasp, prevents me from writing more.

  1. The meaning is—Would that they had never existed.  I at least have never
    spoken of them.
  2. The legend of Prometheus and Eimpetheus (that is of forethought and after-
    thought] may have come to Elizabeth through Claudian, lib. ii. In Eutropium, 490.
  3. The meaning is—I am sure that you are not so infatuated about your
    relatives, that you will refuse to look the facts in the face.


  A Letter from Mary Queen of Scots to the Duke of Guise.  Appendix.
  John Hungerford Pollen, S.J., ed.
  Edinburgh: Scottish History Society, 1904. 75-77.

Works of Queen Elizabeth

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Chart of the English Succession from William I through Henry VII

Medieval English Drama

London in the time of Henry VII. MS. Roy. 16 F. ii.
London, 1510, the earliest view in print
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