Thursday, April 12, 2018

Written with a Diamond on her Window at Woodstock - Queen Elizabeth I

Much suspected by me,
Nothing proved can be,
Quoth Elizabeth prisoner.

When you think on Queen Elizabeth I, do you think of a poet?  Most likely, you think of her as the monarch first, and if you think of her in connection to poetry at all, it is as subject, rather than author, such as in The Faerei Queene.  However, Elizabeth was a skilled writer, even if her poetry is not remarkable in its own right.  Her ability as an orator and writer of epistles allowed her to so skillfully wield power in a time when women commanding a throne was not looked upon favorably.

This poem, as its title indicates, was indeed etched into a window while she was kept under house arrest by her half sister, Mary.  Mary, a Catholic, sought to undo her father, Henry VIII's English Reformation.  Suspicious of Protestant plots, she had her half sister, Elizabeth, placed under house arrest.  While Elizabeth is not known to have taken part in any plots against her sister, Elizabeth was well aware of her tenuous position.

That is what this poem shows most clearly: Elizabeth's awareness of, and sly rebuttal of, her position.  This ability to navigate life or death political situations is evident here, and indeed, the poem sound almost triumphant in its self-declaration as being prison literature.  The poem is essentially a big fat, "You can't prove anything" directed at the world.  In her state writings, Elizabeth masterfully plays off of her image, her decisions, and the motives of others to always place herself out of harm's way.  From an early time, it's clear she had mastered this skill. While not a remarkable poem, this gives us a remarkable insight into one of history's most monolithic figures.

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