The Tillbury Speech of 1588

This is a short and powerful piece of oratory in which Queen Elizabeth 1 delivers a stirring rally cry to the English troops. Coming in at only 312 words and lasting about two minutes it is a little verbal rocket. Sometimes called The Tilbury Speech, this masterful display continues to deliver a punch more than 430 years later.

Context

Queen Elizabeth the first ascended to the throne in 1558, succeeding her half-sister, Queen Mary.

To say that she came to rule in tumultuous times would be a gross understatement. Elizabeth was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, his second wife, who was executed two-and-a-half years after Elizabeth’s birth. The now infamous house of Tudor was punctuated with stories of adultery, illegitimacy, treason, assassination, divorce, murder and religious upheaval. These people would make the Lannisters look like the suburban family next door.

The challenges Elizabeth was made to encounter during her reign extended beyond the boundaries of her family. The ongoing conflict of Protestants versus Catholics was to take human form as England entered a large scale battle with Spain in 1588.

Let’s explore some of the magic that make this speech so powerful…

Character and Conviction

Though confronted with threats from all sides, Elizabeth adopts of tone of composure. The Aristotelean concept of ethos, or trust in the character of the speaker, is evident here in force.

Perhaps the most striking characteristic of this speech is its controlled power. We hear this in the crescendo, the biblical allusions and the strikingly personal commitment.

This her platform. Her moment to boldly assert her intention to assume the power she clearly takes to be her just birthright. It is a ‘don’t mess with me’ kind of throw-down.

Elizabeth’s ethos is one of resolve. All or nothing. Complete commitment no matter the cost. Though the salutation covers all her subjects the audience is actually the troops about to fight.

We see absolute clarity of purpose. These men are faced with the imminent proposition of placing their very lives on the line in service of the crown. This speech bestows meaning on that sacrifice. More importantly, we hear repeated and unmistakable conviction.

The warning is clear and the threat of forceful retaliation is emphasised throughout:

God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good-will of my subjects; and therefore I am come amongst you, as you see at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved in the midst and heat of battle, to live and die amongst you all,to lay down for my God and for my kingdom and my people, my honour and my blood, even in the dust

A Sense of Connection

We need to use our imagination when considering the pace and delivery of this message. Or, we can experience the emotional interpretation of the character by Cate Blanchett.

However, the written word is enough to appreciate how these few words would have galvanised an unquestionable bond between monarch and fighter.

She begins with the salutation; ‘my loving people‘, then doubles down, not a few lines later with ‘my faithful and loving people’ who are noted to have ‘loyal hearts‘. They are said to be deserving of great rewards already and ‘shall be duly paid‘. (The terms of payment are unclear.)

She shifts between the third person, – we, us, ourselves, to the first person thus asserting her power and personal commitment – ‘my God, my kingdom, my honour, my blood…‘ Elizabeth Regina promises to avenge the violation of her kingdom personally – ‘I myself will take up arms…” As if to say – I am with you to the end (at least in spirit).

A touch of hyperbole…

Well, you’d expect a bit of blood and guts, maybe some glory and triumph – it is, after all, a call to arms. But Elizabeth takes this to the utmost limits by invoking the most heinous enemy imaginable. Just in case her soldiers thought they were about to enter into a battle with some Spaniards about the finer points of contention between the two Christian factions, she sets them straight. She exalts the soldiers and vilifies the enemy without any concern for being interpreted as overly dramatic.

These chosen ones are not just ordinary conscripted fighters, they are ‘noble and worthy subjects‘ and they will be not be fighting the Spanish Armada but ‘the enemies of God’!

Hard to say no to that.

The Kill Shot

If a forceful speech from a leader is to stand the test of time it requires a kill shot. A sentence, phrase or slogan that will spring to mind on the battlefield or in the boardroom. The memorable, quotable, essence of the message.

Here is Elizabeth’s:

I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king.

Drop the mike.

Full Script

My loving people.

We have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety, to take a heed how we commit ourselves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery; but I assure you I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear, I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good will of my subjects; and therefore I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live and ie amonst you all; to lay down for my God, and for my kinddom, and my people, my honour and my blood, even in the dust.

I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble womn; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scoren that Parma or Spain or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishounour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field. I know already, for your forwardness you have deserved rewards and crowns; and we do assure you in the word of a prince, they shall be duly paid you. In the meantime, my lieutenant general shall be in my stead, than whom never prince commanded a more noble or worthy subjectt; not doubting but by your obedience to my general, by your concord in the camp, and your valour in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory over those enemies of God, of my kingdom and of my people.

Elizabeth the 1st, Queen of England. 1588.

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A Speech a Week Series

Words have the power to change the world. Speeches are used by leaders, revolutionaries and evangelists to persuade people to think differently, to feel something new and to behave in remarkable ways.

In this series we will examine one notable speech per week. We hope to cast a wide net – including politicians, business leaders, preachers, entertainers and philosophers. We will consider matters of content and style to uncover the secrets of oratorical success.

By examing the components of speechcraft we can improve our own powers of persuasion. We will come to appreciate the craft of eloquence – girding ourselves from silver-tongued miscreants whilst gradually building our own expressive capability.

If you would like to contribute to the series by suggesting a speech, please send us a message via the mojologic website.