Queen Elizabeth I

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How did Queen Elizabeth I use the rhetoric of patriotic love to establish her power in The Golden Speech?

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Elizabeth deploys much the same rhetorical strategy in The Golden Speech as she did in her famous address to English sailors before they headed off to face the might of the Spanish Armada. In both speeches, the overriding theme is love: the love that Elizabeth has for her subjects, and the love that she has received from them in return.

In The Golden Speech Elizabeth is at great pains to insist that her long, illustrious reign has been built on the solid foundations of her subjects' affection. The implication is that, without the love of her subjects, the Queen would not have lasted quite as long on the throne as she has. God may have raised her to such an exalted state, but it is the love of her people that has kept her there.

At this late stage in her reign, Elizabeth had developed into Gloriana, a national icon who had finally brought peace and stability to this previously troubled realm. Inevitably, there was more than an element of propaganda about the public image that the Queen and her acolytes projected. But there was enough truth in it to make it a credible representation of the relationship between monarch and subject.

Whatever Elizabeth had done since acceding to the throne, whether it was the crushing of the Armada or her religious Settlement of 1559, was framed in terms of selfless, patriotic devotion to the English people. And as the Queen enters her twilight years, she feels it necessary to reaffirm her commitment to the welfare of her loyal, faithful subjects:

For it is my desire to live nor reign no longer than my life and reign shall be for your good. And though you have had, and may have, many princes more mighty and wise sitting in this seat, yet you never had nor shall have, any that will be more careful and loving.

In this passage, Elizabeth plays upon her femininity—as she did during her famous Armada speech ("I may have the body of a weak and feeble woman . . . ")—to emphasize her point. She makes a concession to the prevailing belief in male superiority by accepting that, as a woman, she may not be as wise or as mighty as any of her (male) successors. But this only serves to highlight the love that she has for her country, something that no other prince could possibly match.

Elizabeth cleverly turns traditional gender roles to her advantage here, putting herself in the position of the nation's mother, with her subjects as surrogate children. This makes her rhetoric about patriotic love for her people all the more convincing. For just as any mother worth her salt would always put her children first, Queen Elizabeth I, mother of the nation, acts only out of concern for the good of her people.

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