Elizabeth I – Speech to the Troops at Tilbury (1588) Analysis

Table of Content

In her political speech on August 9, 1588 to the land forces gathered at Tilbury in Essex, Queen Elizabeth I of England addressed the imminent threat of invasion by the Spanish Armada. Despite England’s economic struggles and ongoing war with France resulting in substantial expenses, Queen Elizabeth expressed her support for pirates who offered financial aid.

The main issue Queen Elizabeth faced was Mary I, Queen of Scots. Mary was dethroned and sought refuge in England. However, Catholics believed Mary was the rightful Queen of England, so Elizabeth imprisoned her in the Tower of London. After 18 years in captivity, Elizabeth uncovered a plot to assassinate her, with the intention of making Mary the Queen of England. As a result, Elizabeth ordered Mary’s execution in 1587. This event served as an ideal pretext for Phillip II of Spain (who shared Mary’s Catholic beliefs) to declare war on England. It is worth noting that Spain had endured attacks from English pirates for many years.

This essay could be plagiarized. Get your custom essay
“Dirty Pretty Things” Acts of Desperation: The State of Being Desperate
128 writers

ready to help you now

Get original paper

Without paying upfront

Additionally, Elizabeth, who aimed to promote Protestantism when feasible, backed the Dutch Revolt against Spain. Consequently, Philip devised a campaign to invade and conquer England, in turn stifling support for the rebellious United Provinces and thwarting English assaults on Spanish territories in the New World and the Atlantic treasure fleets. Pope Sixtus V also endorsed the king’s endeavor, considering it a crusade and pledging additional funds if the Armada successfully reached land.

This text describes the Spanish Armada, which was a fleet of ships. The purpose of the Armada was to sail through the English Channel and anchor off the coast of Flanders. This would allow the Duke of Parma’s army to invade the South East of England. The Armada successfully anchored outside Gravelines, but was driven away by an attack from English fire ships. This led to a battle at Gravelines where the Spanish had to abandon their planned meeting with Parma’s army. The fleet managed to regroup and retreat north, with the English fleet chasing them along the east coast of England. The Armada then attempted a return voyage to Spain, but severe storms caused many ships to be wrecked on the coasts of Ireland. The survivors sought refuge in Scotland. Edinger (2001) suggests that shipworms played a significant role in sinking the Spanish Armada, and approximately 50 ships from the initial fleet did not make it back to Spain.

The expedition was the largest engagement of the undeclared Anglo–Spanish War (1585–1604). During the anticipated Spanish invasion, Queen Elizabeth decided to personally review the detachment of soldiers gathered at Tilbury. On the day of her speech, the Queen left her bodyguard at the fort in Tilbury and mingled with her subjects, accompanied by six men. Leading the procession was Lord Ormonde with the Sword of State, followed by a page holding the Queen’s charger and another carrying her silver helmet on a cushion. Queen Elizabeth herself, dressed in white with a silver cuirass, rode a grey gelding.

The Earl of Leicester, Lieutenant General, rode on the right of Queen Elizabeth on horseback while her Master of the Horse, the Earl of Essex, accompanied her on the left. Sir John Norreys followed behind. The speech can be found in a letter from Leonel Sharp, chaplain to Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, who was present at Tilbury camp that day. This letter was written sometime after 1624 and addressed to the Duke of Buckingham. It is noted by the author that Queen Elizabeth was born in Greenwich Palace on September 7, 1533, and passed away on March 24, 1603 from natural causes. Her father was Henry VII.

His second wife, Anne Boleyn, was Elizabeth’s mother. Although King Henry desired a son, he instead received a daughter from his second wife. Prior to Elizabeth’s third birthday, Henry executed her mother on charges of adultery and treason. Elizabeth was raised in a different household at Hatfield (unknown location). King Henry’s third wife gave birth to a son, whom they named Edward. Edward was declared the heir to the throne, followed by Mary (Henry’s daughter from his first wife) as second in line, and Elizabeth as the third and final candidate for the throne.

Elizabeth received a comprehensive education from special tutors, which was usually reserved for men. One of her notable tutors was Roger Ascham, a humanist from Cambridge. Ascham described Elizabeth as possessing a mind that lacked the weaknesses commonly attributed to women and praised her determination, which he believed matched that of a man. He also commended her exceptional memory, allowing her to quickly retain information. Under the guidance of these tutors, Elizabeth became skilled in not only one or two languages but four. She attained fluency in Greek, Latin, French, and Italian.

After Henry’s death in 1547, his sister Elizabeth became the new ruler at the age of ten. She took over from Edward who had a short reign before his own passing in 1553. Following Edward’s death, Mary, Elizabeth’s half sister, ascended to the throne. However, like Edward and Henry before her, Mary also died in 1558. This led to Elizabeth taking over as queen that same year.

In terms of historical context, England faced a potential invasion by Spanish troops due to the execution of Mary I, Queen of Scots. To boost morale among her soldiers during this anticipated invasion, Queen Elizabeth made a visit to Tilbury.

Despite the atypical sight of a woman on the battlefield, the fearless queen addressed her soldiers, likely aiming to reinforce her authority. Speaking candidly, she acknowledged her physical weakness as an elderly woman, yet asserted that her heart and determination matched those of a king. She steadfastly scorned any notions of invasion by foreign powers, emphasizing that such affronts were personal to both the soldiers and the nation of England. Declaring herself their leader, judge, and rewarder, she pledged to fight alongside them, ready to live and die together. Queen Elizabeth I demanded obedience to her lieutenant and bravery in battle to defeat the enemies threatening God, her kingdom, and her people. Ultimately, her exceptional writing and oratory skills allowed her to overcome societal expectations and prove herself as intelligent and witty as any man.She decides to prioritize intellect and insight in her writings and speeches rather than physical appearance. When Elizabeth I addressed her soldiers at Tilbury, she played a role in establishing her connection to England.

Over the centuries, the image of Elizabeth and her armor has become a complex myth, serving various perspectives. It gained significance during the 1620s and 1630s as a symbol of national unity for the English people, due to the queen’s perceived militant Protestantism. This speech became legendary for its nationalist sentiment. Furthermore, Elizabeth’s visit played a crucial role in instilling courage among the troops in anticipation of future conflicts.

The Queen of England’s speech was exactly what was needed in that moment – a stirring, patriotic address that successfully captured the intensity of the situation. During Elizabethan England, a society dominated by men, the traditional belief in male authority was evident in all political and social aspects. However, Queen Elizabeth showcased her mastery in creating modern conceptions of monarchy and gender with her speech at Tilbury, wherein she ambiguously referenced herself as both a king and queen.

In her role as a female monarch, Elizabeth manipulates and redefines the conflicting concepts of a society governed by a queen. She does this by utilizing her gender to reshape traditional gender roles, attitudes, and characteristics. Despite not marrying or having children, Elizabeth possibly expressed maternal instincts. The army could be seen as a metaphorical family consisting of loyal and affectionate individuals, with Elizabeth serving as the matriarchal force driving them forward to ensure the unity and safety of her “family”.

The Queen argues that despite not having the physical strength of a king, her “weak and feeble body” does not hinder her willingness to engage in battle like a true king. Elizabeth declares that if it were possible, she would join the army in the “midst and heat of battle to live and die,” showing her readiness to sacrifice her “royal blood” rather than allow her realm to be invaded. Though Elizabeth recognized that as a woman she may lack the physical strength of a king, she appears to have drawn a parallel between herself and Henry VIII.

Elizabeth reaffirms her resemblance to her father and declares her strong and authoritative nature. She states that she possesses the qualities of a king and emphasizes her position as the ruler of England. Elizabeth addresses any concerns about her gender by offering a practical solution, suggesting that Leicester will act as a substitute for her. This self-propaganda presents her as a powerful figure in a male-dominated world, potentially easing concerns about her being a woman. However, there is doubt about whether Elizabeth herself wrote her speeches.

Perhaps she sought inspiration from various sources, such as Sir William Cecil, the Queen’s Principal Secretary of State. However, it’s crucial to acknowledge Elizabeth’s exceptional humanist education, which undoubtedly influenced her writings, including speeches, poems, prayers, and letters. While Elizabeth frequently delivered prepared speeches via ministers, she also possessed the ability to speak impromptu or from memory.

The Spanish invasion during Elizabeth’s reign was a major crisis. The Tilbury address offered reassurance to contemporaries that the monarchy could lead a successful campaign and that victory was guaranteed by God. However, some argue that the troops were motivated by the promise of rewards and crowns, rather than a queen fighting alongside them.

The availability of printed versions in the early seventeenth century shows ongoing interest in Elizabeth I’s image, role, and reputation. It suggests that she may have been conveying a message to the nation, which has later been used to counter foreign threats. The “spirit” of the Tilbury speech has been employed numerous times, such as in Winston Churchill’s famous “we will fight on the beaches” speech in 1940, as a means to promote nationalist sentiment.

For modern historians and researchers, the Tilbury speech showcases Elizabeth’s mastery of language in a concise, relevant, and strategic oration. This speech demonstrates Elizabeth’s use of powerful rhetoric to convey a unified and defiant stance against potential invaders. In the year 1588, Elizabeth’s Tilbury address was considered a remarkable demonstration of nationalistic unity and served as an embodiment of her iconic status.

Cite this page

Elizabeth I – Speech to the Troops at Tilbury (1588) Analysis. (2018, Apr 09). Retrieved from


Remember! This essay was written by a student

You can get a custom paper by one of our expert writers

Order custom paper Without paying upfront