‘The cares and trouble of a Crown’: Queen Elizabeth I’s speech to her last Parliament November 30th 1601

On Thursday January 9th, the same day that The Sun told us WORLD WAR III IS OFF, I heard that the Duke of Duchess of Sussex were planning to step back from their duties as working members of the Royal Family, and spend more time in Canada.  On Monday January 13th, the couple were, with great regret, given the Queen’s blessing to begin their new life. 

The job of working royal, with its code of duty first, self last, is not for everyone. The sad business of this last few days has increased our admiration for all those who perform it so faultlessly.  If new members of the Royal Family are given an orientation pack, I wonder if it includes Queen Elizabeth I’s ‘Golden Speech’.  It’s a reliable guide to the qualities demanded of the job.  On November 30th 1601, the Queen summoned the House of Commons to the Council Chamber at Whitehall Palace.  Parliament had petitioned her to abolish monopolies, a way of rewarding ministers and favourites by granting them a monopoly to trade a particular commodity.  Monopolies were ingenious, because the Queen didn’t have to spend the nation’s money, but unpopular with the rest of the Elizabethan business community, many of whom sat in Parliament.  To their delight Elizabeth revoked the monopolies.  The speech is a masterpiece – Robert Cecil wrote it down as soon as he heard it – but it’s most famous for this bit, when the Queen at 68 after 43 years on the throne speaks her mind about a life of service:

To be a King, and wear a Crown, is a thing more glorious to them that see it, than it is pleasant to them that bear it; for my selfe, I never was so much inticed with the glorious name of a King, or the royal authority of a Queen, as delighted that God hath made Me his Instrument to maintain his Truth and Glory, and to defend this Kingdom from dishonor, damage, tyranny, and oppression… The cares and trouble of a Crown I cannot more fitly resemble, than to the Drugges of a learned Physitian, perfumed with some Aromatical savour, or to bitter Pills gilded over, by which they are made more acceptable or lesse offensive, which indeed are bitter and unpleasant to take; and for mine own part, were it not for conscience sake to discharge the duty that God hath laid upon Me, & to maintain his Glory, and keep you in Safety, in mine own disposition I should be willing to resigne the place I hold to any other, and glad to be freed of the Glory with the Labors: For it is not my desire to live or reign longer, than my life & reign shall be for your good. And though you have had and may have many mightier and wiser Princes sitting in this Seat, yet you never had, nor shall have any that will love you better.


Here is the complete speech from Early English Books University of Michigan Library.


Marcus Gheeraerts the younger (1561/2 – 1636) Queen Elizabeth I (1533 – 1603) ‘The Ditchley Portrait’ c.1592 oil on canvas, 241.3 x 152.4 cm National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG 2561, bequeathed by Harold-Lee Dillon 17th Viscount Dillon, 1932,  image (c) NPG








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