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On Monsieur's Departure

           I grieve and dare not show my discontent,
           I love and yet am forced to seem to hate,
           I do, yet dare not say I ever meant,
           I seem stark mute but inwardly do prate.
                I am and not, I freeze and yet am burned,
                Since from myself another self I turned.

           My care is like my shadow in the sun,
           Follows me flying, flies when I pursue it,
           Stands and lies by me, doth what I have done.
           His too familiar care doth make me rue it.
               No means I find to rid him from my breast,
               Till by the end of things it be supprest.

           Some gentler passion slide into my mind,
           For I am soft and made of melting snow;
           Or be more cruel, love, and so be kind.
           Let me or float or sink, be high or low.
               Or let me live with some more sweet content,
               Or die and so forget what love ere meant.

           Queen Elizabeth I

The reign of Queen Elizabeth I is often called The Golden Age of English history. Elizabeth was a tremendously admired Queen and her fame has grown over the last four centuries. She became a mythic figure during her lifetime, renowned for her competence and accomplishments. Yet very little is known about Elizabeth the woman. She was the daughter of King Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn and her birth was probably the biggest disappointment of her father's life. Since he already had a daughter Mary by Catherine of Aragon, he really wanted a son and heir to the throne. As a result Elizabeth's formative years were, to say the least, troubled. Having failed to produce an heir for the King, her mother was executed

As a child she saw a quick progression of stepmothers, Jane Seymour died giving birth to the King's longed for son, Edward; Anne of Cleves was divorced; Catherine Howard was beheaded; and lastly Catherine Parr. Since then historians have deliberated about the steady stream of her father’s brides and how it may have been to blame for Elizabeth's rejection of marriage. It’s more than likely that the disastrous fates of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard intimidated her. There were other motives for the Queen's single state, like the fear of childbirth that caused the death of a significant number of women in this era. In addition to the private uncertainties of marriage, there were political troubles with just about all contenders for her hand. Not only was religion a prominent and conflict-ridden issue, there was also the predicament as to whether or Elizabeth would be required to resign her sovereignty to a husband in a time when the political fields were entirely male.

Daughters as well as sons were educated among the upper class of the times. Famous scholars such as William Grindal and Roger Asham gave Elizabeth a very impressive education and from early on it was obvious that she was very exceptional. With a talent for languages, by the time she reached adulthood she effortlessly spoke nearly a half dozen of them. When Elizabeth finally succeeded to the throne in the fall of 1558, it was a moment of supreme achievement for the unwanted daughter who had lived her life in the shadow of the courts.

I will have here but one mistress and no master

From the time of Henry VIII's accession onwards, the Tudor dynasty was plagued with problems of succession. It was of such vital importance that Elizabeth's Parliament tried to bully her into marriage. However she would not be intimidated and refused to marry in spite of having many suitors. Several historians tell about a confrontation with her council about the prospective matrimony to a Catholic Frenchman saying that Elizabeth ended up in tears, “when she realized that, for the well-being of England, she must remain single and not repeat the mistake her older sister, Mary, had made, by marrying an unpopular man and losing public favor.” Hardly a year into her reign, her response to Parliament's demand for her marriage followed:

In a matter most unpleasing, most pleasing to me is the apparent Good will of you and my People, as proceeding from a very good mind towards me and the Commonwealth. Concerning Marriage, which ye so earnestly move me to,

I have been long since perswaded, that I was sent into this world by God to think and doe those things chiefly which may tend to his Glory. Hereupon have I chosen that kind of life which is most free from the troublesome Cares of this world, that I might attend the Service of God alone. From which if either the tendred Marriages of most Potent Princes, or the danger of Death intended against me, could have removed me,

I had long agone enjoyed the honour of an Husband. And these things have I thought upon when I was a private person. But now that the publick Care of governing the Kingdom is laid upon me, to draw upon me also the Cares of Marriage may seem a point of inconsiderate Folly. Yea, to satisfie you, I have already joyned my self in Marriage to an Husband, namely, the Kingdom of England. And behold (said she which I marvell ye have forgotten,) the Pledge of this my Wedlock and Marriage with my Kingdom. (And therewith she drew the Ring from her Finger, and shewed it, wherewith at her Coronation she had in a set form of words solemnly given her self in Marriage to her Kingdom.) Here having made a pause, And do not (saith she) upbraid me with miserable lack of Children: for every one of you, and as many as are Englishmen, are Children and Kinsmen to me; of whom if God deprive me not, (which God forbid) I cannot without injury be accounted Barren. But I commend you that ye have not appointed me an Husband, for that were most unworthy the Majesty of an absolute Princess, and unbeseeming your Wisedom, which are Subjects born.

Nevertheless if it please God that I enter into another course of life, I promise you I will doe nothing which may be prejudicial to the Commonwealth, but will take such a Husband, as near as may be, as will have as great a Care of the Commonwealth as my self. But if I continue in this kind of life I have begun, I doubt not but God will so direct mine own and your Counsels, that ye shall not need to doubt of a Successour which may be more beneficial to the Commonwealth than he which may be born of me, considering that the Issue of the best Princes many times degenerateth. And to me it shall be a full satisfaction, both for the memorial of my Name, and for my Glory also, if when I shall let my last breath, it be ingraven upon my Marble Tomb, Here lieth Elizabeth, which Reigned a Virgin, and died a Virgin.
--Elizabeth’s Marriage speech to Parliament, 1559.

Anything that is mended is but patched

Whatever Elizabeth's true feelings about matrimony there were two occasions when she did come close to marriage. One scholar writes,” For many years, the most serious contender for her hand was Robert Dudley, created Earl of Leicester in 1564. He and Elizabeth had known each other for years and had been imprisoned in the Tower of London at the same time. He was the only serious personal love interest of the Queen's life. Politically, however, marrying him would have been a disaster. He was unpopular as he was the son of the traitor Northumberland, and was loathed even more after his wife was found dead in mysterious circumstances. It was thought he had murdered her so he would be free to marry Elizabeth.”

The other candidate for the Queen's hand was Francis, duke of Alençon and Anjou (1554–1584) and heir to the French throne. In January 1581 she even announced her intentions to marry the Duke, but it was the fresh memories of the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre among her subjects that made the union eventually unworkable. The queen decided not to marry either, and by October of that year Francis had grown weary of the affairs of state over the royal match. He gave up his suit and left for France.

On Monsieur's Departure was composed between 1568 and 1570. These were turbulent courtship years of both Dudley and Francis. It was eventually published the year after the Duke left and presented as prose intended for a public speech. Elizabeth deliberately set it up an interpretive puzzle exposing the genuine emotions of a queen agonizing over the role her kingdom expects her to play against the demands of her heart. An illustration in Puttenham's Rhetoric she uses a "divided self" as her motif along with the distinction of paradox with lines containing antonyms like love/hate and freeze/burned. Employing a typical Elizabethan conceit she uses anaphora and antithesis together with verses like, "I love and yet am forced to seem to hate. / I do, yet dare not say I ever meant, / I seem stark mute but inwardly do prate." It was a political document created with the intention to reveal her inner state. Not only does it suggest another dimension of Elizabeth's frustration as a ruler, but serves as a statement about the dual worlds of public and private in which Elizabeth lived. As a monarch she is required to have absolute control but she desires the luxury of expressing her sorrow over love. This representation of Elizabeth, which she herself manipulated both to "dazzle her populace with . . . pomp . . . and to reassure them of her feminine virtue and wisdom" lingers today as intriguing, if not novel. While the poem was seemingly written in response to the breaking off of her marriage negotiations with the French Duke of Anjou many historians contend that it is really about her long term love affair with Dudley.

No doubt her public could identify with these contradictions. Contradictions where making choices over the conflicts in life that will alter it forever, and with all these patches upon the soul, many of could empathize with her yearning for the purity of freedom and love. The macrocosm of the state's demands entirely eclipses her microcosmic wishes as a woman, rendering her essentially androgynous. Like all great poetry it reaches beyond the confines of its circumstances and shows her wrestling with her status as a woman and her position as the ruler of a nation.

When she ascended the throne in 1558, England was an impoverished country torn apart by religious quarrelling. It was her dual nature that aided her in ruling the nation that she inherited which was in so much disrepair that the only hope of it recovering it was to be "married" to it. It was her decision not to marry at all that made way for her to rule unchallenged. The consequences of it created the British Empire and colonized much of the known world. When she died at Richmond Palace in 1603, England was one of the most powerful and prosperous countries in the world. Elizabeth still remains an enigma to history. She was one of the most powerful women in history who was forever haunted by the murder of her mother. She was passionate yet repressed, strong yet confused, regal yet human a Queen who had the self-avowed "heart of a King" and a woman who sought out love yet spurned marriage.


Elizabeth I:

Elisabeth I:

Elizabeth I: Poetry:

Francis, French prince, duke of Alençon and Anjou:

Marlowe Society Book Reviews: Summer 1993:

[minstrels] On Monsieur's Departure -- Queen Elizabeth I:

RPO -- Elizabeth I : On Monsieur's Departure:

Wilson, Elkin Calhoun. England's Elizabeth. New York: Octagon, 1966.

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