Queen Elizabeth I’s Tilbury Speech

On 9th August 1588, the fifty-four-year-old Queen Elizabeth I, daughter of King Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn gave a rousing speech. She gave it to the English troops that had been gathered at Tilbury Fort by her good friend, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, in anticipation of the expected invasion by the Spanish Armada. Of course, the Spanish Armada wouldn’t get that far, but nobody knew that at this time.

Elizabeth I had always had a way with words, and words did not fail her at Tilbury. She was the iconic Gloriana.

There are several versions of her speech and you can read my article about them over on the Tudor Society – click here – but here is actress Anne-Marie Duff giving this speech in the BBC’s “The Virgin Queen”:

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24 thoughts on “Queen Elizabeth I’s Tilbury Speech”
  1. The first time I ever read the entire Tilbury speech was in ‘The Spanish Armada’ by Robert Hutchinson published in 2013. The version quoted in that was the first one cited by Claire by Sharpe.

    I don’t know exactly how Elizabeth gave the speech, what the actual words were, what she wore or rode or whether or not she wore a breastplate. I would like to believe it’s all true. The image iny mind gives me chills! Regardless of the truth, for this to have such a mythos surrounding it whatever happened had a huge impact. I’ve heard the term ‘cult of Elizabeth’ used before. I would have to agree. For such an almost apotheosis to have taken place even so soon after her death (or before) she would really have to have been very highly thought of. She had a lot of flaws but what matters is image. We know in our own world that image is everything and Elizabeth was a master of creating what she wanted the world to see and think of her.

    My favorite rendition of the Tilbury speech is by Cate Blanchett in ‘Elizabeth the Golden Age’. A lot of problems historically with the two movies but I do enjoy her performance.

      1. I do agree with Christine that Cate was too young and too attractive to be Elizabeth but the way she delivered the speech who wouldn’t fight for her?

  2. Elizabeth could well have appeared in armour as she loved the power of dress, like her father whom himself had loved a masquerade, she understood the power it expelled the image of divine majesty and strength, against the advice of William Cecil her chief minister and adviser and those of her council she decided to travel to Tilbury and address her soldiers, myths have arisen as stated in this which was Elizabeth’s finest hour, there are several variations of her speech but I think it matters little which is the correct one as we can sense the fighting spirit she wished to arouse in her army, as she gazed at the sea of faces turned upwards towards her she knew some would not live to tell their tale and that she and her realm and herself was in very real danger, she had spent many a sleepless night and had a companion share her bed for comfort, extra gaurds had been posted outside her door, all along the coast of Cornwall and Devon there had been beacons ready to be lit when the Armada was sighted, and the whole kingdom was in a heightened sense of fear of the Spanish who we’re known for their dreaded inquisition, Elizabeth knew if they succeeded in their quest for victory she would be taken prisoner and worse – maybe an assassin’s bullet would find its way to her as Philip once Englands King, and her brother in law would not dare to have her executed, this was not the first time she had faced death, as a teenager many years before she had been inprisoned in the Tower and had lived in the shadow of the axe, she had survived and had achieved the impossible becoming queen and now she was in danger again, she knew now she needed all the courage she could muster as a frightened queen was no role model for a country at risk of invasion, maybe in those moments she recalled her mothers sad ending and was aware how she had faced her own death with fortitude and courage and was determined she also would do the same, exhausted and maybe suffering from the same physcomatic illness that had plagued her in her youth, and which was no doubt brought on by terror, suffering from nervous exhaustion she must have appeared frail and yet the sight of their queen must have instilled courage in them, maybe she herself thought she had the spirit of Boudicea the warrior queen of the Inceni who had led her tribe to victory against the Roman army, unlike Cate Blanchetts interpretation of her Elizabeth was no smooth skinned beauty with long flowing hair on a white charger, she was a middle aged woman of fifty four who had been queen for twenty nine years, had suffered smallpox and wore thick piles of white make up and powder on her face to hide the scars, she wore wigs as her own hair was now grey and they were tightly curled and of a unnatural red colour, in fact her own hair was said to be quite sparse, she had a love of sugary confections which led to her losing several teeth and the ones she had left were possibly yellow, (dentistry was not an art in Tudor times and many had lost most of their teeth by the time they reached middle age), she was said to be quite tall, ones height is determined by the height of ones parents, Henry V111 was over six foot, Anne Boleyn was said to be above average height for a woman and a study of her bones if they were indeed hers, by Dr Mout the Victorian determined she was about five foot three, so Elizabeth could well have been about five foot five to five feet six, she also was said to be quite tall, although bewigged and frail she must still have cut an impressive figure on her stallion, and that image has perpetrated the myth of Elizabeth and further added to the ‘Golden Age’, the death of many of those seaman who died from disease and sickness is not widely known about, neither is the fact that many of their families were not recompensed for their loss, the cunning of Drake who is also associated with the victory over the Armarda who slipped into the sunken galleon and who stole of with one of her cannons is also not well known, the stormy unpredictable weather of England often the bane of the native, was then the greatest asset as it tossed the bulky Spanish ships to and fro in the channel causing drowning and of course, the faster smaller ships of the Royal Navy who could manoeuvre between the top heavy Spanish galleons, the pride of Spain suffered an overwhelming defeat and as they limped back to Spain broken, defeated their King sank into a very real depression while his hated sister in law toasted her victory and the pealing bells ring out over the city and the land, it was not only a victory for England but for Elizabeth which added to her image of the all powerful virgin queen, a medal was struck and a portrait was painted, the words ‘ God blew and they were scattered’ was a gratitude for the Almighty who had been soundly on the side of England that day not Spain, it was an event spoken of for years afterwards but there were still raids along the coast by some Spanish and the English still attacked ships of the coast of Spain, cessation of hostilities as we call it today did not exist then and there was always trouble, but Elizabeth knew there would never be another attempt at invasion and she could sleep safe at night, the myth of Elizabeth also added to the myth of Drake whom his own countryman honoured with a statue in his home county of Devon, and the story about how he was playing bowls on the sandy beach when a messenger informed him the Armada had been sighted and he declared he would finish his game first before doing battle with the Spanish has also been widely talked about, and found its way into the history books at school and this story is forever associated with the defeat of the Armada, true or not and Elizabeth 1st and her famous ‘ Tilbury’ speech.

    1. Correction: Boadicea and her people did not win. The Romans were ready for them. It is thought the Celts may have imbibed the night before to fortify themselves and on the battlefield they had no coordinated plan. On top of that all of their wagons and supplies were kept behind them blocking any escape route. The Romans on the other hand chose this spot and as professional soldiers were ready for them. Many of the tribespeople were slaughtered and many escaped. Though with difficulty because of their wagons and supplies being an obstacle. No real info on what happened to Boadicea. They may have lost but they certainly made the Romans fight for their victory. They are all heroes in my book.

      1. The iceni tribe did win several battles and they did march through London or Londonium as she was called then, and razed that city to the ground, they did slaughter thousands of Roman citizens cutting of the women’s breasts and neither children or old folk were spared, and their barbarity was greatly feared, however we do no Rome won in the end and Boudicea is said to have poisoned herself but wether that is true is unknown, the comparison between Elizabeth and Boudicea I just added as to me they both inspire great courage against all odds.

        1. You are right. I made the assumption (my fault) that you were referring to the final battle. Because she and her people caused such destruction and were such a thorn in the side of Roman rule is why the Romans want them destroyed. Was it Colchester where they torched the Roman temple with so many hiding inside? I don’t remember?

        2. Yes, in Colchester, the Temple dedicated and built by Claudius was burnt. Boudicca definitely didn’t mess around. Afterwards she executed by a variety of horrible methods every Roman civilian captured as well as any Celt who fought with them or who resisted. Just living with a British Roman was a crime that drew her wrath and it wasn’t just adults she butchered either. A fearsome woman, she had after all been beaten and raped and saw her two daughters raped over and over again. I don’t like her or Rome’s butchering civilians, but hey, what a woman! For taking them on, she gets my vote.

    1. Wow. I have not seen this. Thank you for posting this clip. The scene is much more realistic in it’s execution than how it is described in accounts. Much more off the cuff and I’m the moment.

      1. I ordered the DVD of Helen Mirren’s ‘Elizabeth I’ Should be here soon. Really looking forward to watching it.

  3. This was a rousing speech no matter which words Elizabeth used and it would have been essential to raise the morale of the troops, hungry and tired at Tiltury just in case a Spanish invasion did come. With the benefit of hindsight, we know that by now the worst was over as the Armarda had been broken at Gravelines. However, back home didn’t know that and the Spanish had not yet been completely destroyed. Thanks to the Great British weather that final defeat and destruction by storms would soon follow. Elizabeth would definitely have worn a breast plate, but whether or not she was on a white horse with flowing hair is debatable. She could well have had a white warhorse to create an illusion of the heavenly Queen come to save her people. Elizabeth loved and had a flare for the dramatic so yes, that is probable. However, her hair had fallen out years earlier and now she wore a wig, which was short and done up in curls. Elizabeth was a Queen and she would have to look like a Queen, even on the battlefield. She had people to dress her and I have no doubt that she was dressed as finely as possible, again to give the illusion that she was semi divine and would save or sacrifice herself for her people. The army was probably bored stiff and afraid. Many soldiers would have been on the verge of desertion. The harvest still had to be brought in and England had sent her farmers and yoemen to war. After days of no news and no activity, many a man would have wanted to be back home to ensure he and his family lived through another coming Winter. English Winters were hard and you needed an excess of food for you and your remaining animals because you cannot work at this time of the year. The last thing these men wanted was to be sat around doing nothing, waiting for an enemy that they feared to come and end their misery. The sight of their Queen raised their spirits and their hearts and the fact that she came there alone would have had a great impact on them. Her speech may have been mythologised for the big screen and history, but she used such words and gave the men under her command new hope. I am a bit doubtful that Elizabeth would have led them into battle or stuck around to die with them, because her advisers would have taken her to safety and there is no evidence that she ever trained for battle or had any such experience. However, she was a fiery red head and the daughter of Anne Boleyn so had courage. She had seen her firebrand sister rouse and lead her people to establish her crown and knew her to be the daughter and grand daughter of warrior Queens. Mary’s example must have stuck in her mind. I don’t doubt that Elizabeth had it in her to lead the army or personally defend her crown and country, but I am also thinking that her male Council would have hurried her to safety. There is, of course, a noble reason for Elizabeth not fighting. As Sovereign she was the head of state. If the Spanish dud land and it looked gloomy, in order to save lives, Elizabeth had the only authority to surrender and come to an agreement. Of course, the Spanish were not on the way and instead we have Elizabeth giving a victorious and encouraging speech and making an important piece of history.

    1. I agree with you. I believe if Elizabeth had been in a position to do so she would have fought right alongside her troops, trained or not. Another English leader, Winston Churchill wanted to be on one of the ships off the Normandy coast during the D-DAY landings and had to be told ‘NO’ that he was too important. How would you like to tell Churchill ‘NO’?

      1. Yes, agreed. Winston Churchill was a right tyrant with his gun boats in the Mersey aimed at people protesting on Saint George’s Plateau and his no tolerance of terrorism or women marching for the vote, but he was also a war hero. He was just the sort of man we needed to take on Hitler. I would not want to say no to him. He once caused a panic during the war while staying at the Grand Hotel in Llandudno because he asked for matches. They wanted to know why and came in a delegation because they thought he would start a fire. He only wanted to light his cigars. Considering he had a stammer and suffered from a lack of confidence and was bullied at school he did o.k, did Winnie. I would have paid good money to see him leading a raid on D Day.

        1. A great man, it made me laugh when President Bush compared himself and Tony Blair to Churchill and Roosevelt, no doubt the two of them were shaking in their graves in indignation.

  4. Alas, as one cut from the same cloth as Bravely Bold Sir Robin, I salute ALL women who,
    when ‘danger reared it’s ugly head’, did not scarper but held their ground and put on a show.
    I do love a good speech.

  5. If this is ‘play amongst yourselves quietly’ time – I just read a piece Howard Brenton wrote for the Independent about his ‘Anne Boleyn’ play for the Globe (Aug 2010) and he writes: “Today there is a fast growing Anne Boleyn cult. Her story has a Wagnerian intensity of love, death and betrayal, shot through with a very unWagnerian sense of reckless fun, of daring sexiness. She appeals to adolescents and ageing romantics.”
    Anyone catch this play at the Globe? Do you agree with him? How does Anne appeal to you?

  6. Well I haven’t got a clue what he means by Wagnerian intensity of love as I haven’t seen the play, but if he is reflected on the intensity of the passion of the love between Anne Boleyn and Henry and the tragedy of that love turning to hate, yes I think that sums it up very well. I believe, yes, Anne Boleyn appeals to a cross spectrum of people but she also draws criticism from those same groups. Anne is the woman who took on a King and took down a Queen, who caused a devoted father and husband sweep away the old order and
    who defied every convention to become Queen. She can either inspire or she finds herself condemned, as women often are and Henry is rarely criticised. Even though it was Henry who pursued Anne, she is often blamed for bringing down the family Henry loved and her own family are blamed for throwing her into the way of the King, neither of which is true. Henry wanted Anne before she accepted him and he was looking into his marriage before he saw Anne as a future wife. Their relationship became mutual but Anne is the one called a home wrecker.

    For me, Anne was a woman who wanted to make an impact on history and who was tragically cut short before the full potential of her Queenship was realised. Yes, Anne took over from a true Queen, from Katherine of Aragon, who for me was the real heroine, but she also contributed positively to many changes in England. She had the qualities of a good Queen and did make an effort. Anne was a scholar and had an interest in helping ordinary people. She had an interest in reforms but not to the extremes of Thomas Cromwell or Thomas Cramner. She encouraged the break from Rome but remained mostly a traditional Catholic. She certainly didn’t approve of the sale of monastic land or the closure en mass of religious houses. Anne was not a feminist, despite being a feminist idol, nor a saint, nor a martyr, victim or any other idealistic vision. She wasn’t a wh*re or a woman who was cruel, despite the fact she did approve of mistreatment of Mary and Katherine. Her reputation has suffered badly and continues to be attacked, mainly by people who can’t be bothered to read about her from a wider selection of sources. Unfortunately all a lot of people know about Anne is derived from the Other Boleyn Girl. Few people know of her role in reforms, which is explored in Benton’s play. (I have read and heard reviews of the play) Anne was a woman who had a strong mind and wanted to live and achieve everything based on that mind. However, there is still something of the traditional about Anne. She believed, as Henry did that she needed a living son to succeed him. We know the achievement of Elizabeth I, Anne’s clever daughter because of hindsight and history. Anne and Henry couldn’t foresee any of that. Anne was still desperately trying to have a son and would not have seen Elizabeth as Henry’s ultimate heir. However, Anne failed to move from pushy and outspoken mistress to obedient Tudor wife, and that wasn’t something Henry found easy to handle. Tragically Anne lost her battle, less than three years into her marriage with the miscarriage of her third child, a baby boy. Henry found he couldn’t carry on in his marriage which was reproducing the fatal pattern of miscarriages he had sadly experienced with Katherine. In the months following this last miscarriage, everything fell apart. Henry’s one time passion turned to hate and he had every way out of his marriage explored. Finally, whether as the result of a political coup or the King’s wish, Anne found herself the victim of false allegations and arrested with seven other men. Together with five of them, including her own brother, Anne was tried for adultery, treason and incest. Her name has been blackened ever since, although most people agree that she was not guilty. For me this is how Anne inspired so many people, through her courageous demeanour at this time, her robust defence and her dignity in death. Few women could have faced this fearful time and Anne was afraid, distressed and we see this in her words in the Tower. However, she overcame that fear to make a good end, to make a defiant speech at her trial and to remain dignified on the scaffold. I don’t see her as a victim, because I don’t believe such a description does Anne justice. I see her as a woman who tried to be everything she could be politically, but ultimately came up against the harsh reality of her husband’s world and no matter how much she had influenced Henry in the past, once she was no longer able to provide him with a male heir, she was powerless to stand up to him and in that she fell victim to a man who now was starting to turn cruel and who had become unreasonable and unpredictable and who wanted her out of the way.

  7. Thanks BQ – even as I began reading Brenton’s piece, the “Ride of the Valkyries’ began sounding in my head – not very Tudor but stirring enough. I don’t know if he was writing a tragedy, in which the downfall of the main character is the thing….or whether he saw himself as an ‘ageing romantic’, but what I gather from Claire and yourself is far more concerned with digging out the truth of this heroine’s story, mulling stuff over and over, sifting for little pieces of gold. And definitely refuting rubbish. Not sure if I feel ‘guilty’ about our long lost queen, as Brenton implies, just infinitely curious and not daunted by the immense complexity of change through time. Plodding on… that’s me.

    1. The only ones who should harbor any guilt are those those responsible for the murders of Anne and five other innocent people. Anne may have become a pain in the rear as far as Henry was concerned but she did nothing to warrant death.

  8. Anne to me is the original ‘no ‘ girl, a prime example of how saying no to a would be ardent lover can serve her very well, it made her Queen of England, though she paid with her life she is the very epitome of tenacity and courage, I agree with Brenton you can see the comical undertones in the way she handled the King, especially the occasion where he was arguing with Katherine and feeling rather annoyed, went of to see Anne and soothe himself in her loving embrace, only to have her castigate him also, it is rather a droll picture to see this mighty monarch whose very glance from those piercing blue eyes could make a man quake in fear, to see him being hassled by two women, and for so many years to, they certainly were not afraid to tell Henry what they thought of him! A few months back I was surprised to see on the bus a whole advert devoted to Anne, with the words ‘Anne Boleyn is back in the Tower’, it was the event on the video Claire posted, she does indeed seem to appeal to many women but some women, and dare I say those who are quite self righteous still think of her as a hussy the ‘other’ woman who wrecked a marriage and ruined the life of two women, but nothing in life is black and white and the way media and books portray her do not help, Natalie Dormer was seen as a sex mad adventuress showing more naked flesh than was proper and pursuing the King, when it was the other way round, most movies do not do her justice as they concentrate more on her seductive wiles and flirting with her male contemporaries than her other talents, also she had a real love of dogs and was heartbroken when one favourite died, she was very maternal and spent lots of time and money measuring up her daughter for new gowns and hats, she tried to help her family and friends and her loyalty to them again is often overlooked, also what I feel the media does fail Anne on is the way that her very obvious passion on the new religion is often overlooked as does her extreme piety and hatred of vulgarity, the way she tried to do her duty as queen by observing the religious festivals and devoting herself to charitable causes, the very efficient way her household was run, the way she wished them to read her new book by William Tyndale, all this is overlooked because Anne the pious charitable queen is quite possibly not as attractive as Anne the sexy temptress who a King split his kingdom in half for, to see her in our minds eye arguaing with the king or other nobles at court her uncle maybe, and mocking Katherine and saying she wished all her country folk were in the sea, to see her singing with her acclaimed beautiful voice surrounded by her ardent admirers by candlelight is so much more appealing to the romantic than a woman ardently reading passages from Tyndales book, and stitching quietly gowns for the poor, there is the way she argued with Cromwell and possibly the King about the riches pilfered from the monasteries, she wished it to help the unfortunate and if she was this cold hearted woman who was indifferent to the suffering of others, she would not have cared where it went, true maybe a lot of it was she wished to gain the love of the people but she still tried, when she could have just devoted herself to balls and masquerades, once queen she found she was in a position to help others and I believe she genuinely felt for those less fortunate than herself, Henry and his wives are always taught in history lessons at school, but they do not teach the whole drama of his marital escapades, and his wives are merely names in a textbook accompanied by the odd picture here and there, his life and those of his queens are like a soap opera, Anne is described as his second wife who lost her head because she failed to give the King a son, there is no mention of the passion and drama and the heartbreak that was part of her story, the misery his first queen endured and in fact the very sheer terror of his fifth and sixth wife, the very real humiliation his fourth queen suffered, they all suffered in their quest to serve their King and their suffering was very real and all too human, and I’m sure a good many women can relate to them in some way or other.

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