Saturday, October 02, 2010

Question from shtove - Deathbed quote of Elizabeth I

Deathbed quote by Elizabeth I - reliable?

"I find that I sent wolves not shepherds to govern Ireland for they have left me nothing but ashes and carcasses to reign over."

My citation for this is F.Chamberlain, The sayings of Queen Elizabeth (London 1923) p.308.

Magnificent (and truthful), but smells of propaganda!

I wonder if this book is worthwhile, and whether anyone has a view on the reliability of the quote.

Quick google yielded a flash of critical invective from JE Neale:

Here on Amazon:


Foose said...

Agnes Strickland traces this quote to "Sir John [sic] Ware's Annals of Ireland"; this document appears to be contained in Sir James Ware's Antiquities and History of Ireland, which was written in the 17th century (Ware was born in 1584). However, this book is online on Google Books and I can't find the quote within it. Strickland, in discussing the Irish troubles, also cites William Camden, Elizabeth's near-contemporary and historian of her reign.

I can't access any of Camden's books online at Google Books, but I can find other people citing his works and it appears this quote was originally in Camden's The History of the Most Renowned and Victorious Princess Elizabeth, Late Queen of England, and reads:

"Alas," said [Elizabeth], on receiving some representation of grievances from Ireland, "how I fear lest it be objected to us, as it was to Tiberius by Bato: you, you it is that are in fault, who have committed your flocks not to shepherds but to wolves!"

Because I can't access the work itself, I don't know the year in which this statement was delivered or in what specific circumstances (such as a deathbed). Bato was a Dalmatian chieftain who rebelled against Rome in the first century A.D., and reproached the not-yet-emperor Tiberius in this fashion when asked why he had broken the peace. Possibly the significance of the quote (besides the unflattering suggestion that the Irish are savages) may be that Tiberius promised Bato a pardon if he surrendered, and kept his word -- Camden's Elizabeth may have been extending an olive branch to the Irish rebels. There may perhaps be an implied comparison between Elizabeth and Tiberius, a long-lived misanthrope with few human attachments, an obsession with astrology and treason, and a culpable dependency on a cunning and treacherous favorite.

I understand that Camden began his work on Elizabeth's life and reign shortly after her death, and was acquainted with many of her advisers and servants. He is consequently a source frequently utilized by historians for information about her reign. This does not mean he is not infallible, or not above improving Elizabeth's actual quotes, but generally regarded as much more trustworthy than, say, Gregorio Leti.

kb said...

Foose has given you all the important referencing information.

I would just add that 'death bed' quote is a little suspect as she lost the power of speech before she died and so there were very few if any death bed quotes. A few days before her death she was still speaking but I do not think Ireland was much on her mind at that point.

Foose said...

The "ashes and carcasses" of the quote you found in Chamberlain's book appears to be grafted onto the original quote, possibly by Agnes Strickland herself. The phrase looks like it originates with The History of Ireland, by Thomas Leland, an 18th-century Irish historian. In discussing the "pacification" of Munster by Elizabeth's chosen deputies in the early 1580s, he says:

"Repeated complaints were made of the inhuman rigour practised by Grey and his officers. The queen was assured that he tyrannized with such barbarity, that little was left in Ireland for her majesty to reign over, but ashes and carcasses."

This latter sentence is repeated throughout much of the pro-Irish literature of the 19th century, in Catholic newsletters and in various histories. Strickland may have encountered it and doctored the original quote by Camden to emphasize the inutility and brutality of the Irish policy under Elizabeth; alternatively, she may have run across someone else's "improved" version of Camden and adopted it for her Life of Queen Elizabeth. In Denis Taafe's 1809 An Impartial History of Ireland, for example, one quote is made to flow into another:

"'Repeated complaints were made of the inhuman rigour practised by Grey and his officers. The queen was assured that he tyrannized with such barbarity, that little was left in Ireland for her majesty to reign over, but ashes and carcasses.' To which [Elizabeth] replied, in the strain of crocodile pity, 'Alas! I fear it will be said of me, as Bato said to Tiberius, You, you it is that are in fault, who have committed your flocks not to shepherds but to wolves.'"

shtove said...

Thank you both - a mine of information!

Foose, the Tiberius/Bato exchange seems significant because of the serial breaches of pacts in Ireland. The treacherous favourite is Sejanus/Essex?

kb, the final days of Elizabeth were truly pathetic. Can't recall the best account I've read, but Starkey had a crack at it in one of his TV histories. And I thought Helen Mirren portrayed it nicely in a movie.

So, this quote is probably made up to satisfy a political prejudice. But it seems to be based on a contemporary view of Roman imperial history. Essex party is the source?

I've looked for biblical references, but can't find anything.

Gareth Russell said...

It would have been an unusual quote for the Queen to make, and probably a nonsensical one. The romanticisation of Irish nationalism not withstanding, Elizabeth's government was not dealing with the downtrodden peasants so beloved of Hollywood, but rather an aristocratic rebellion headed by the Earl of Tyrone, who was every bit as "tyrannical" as the English administration in the Pale in Dublin. There is a tendency to see everything in Anglo-Irish relations as one uniform bloc, as if there was somehow a straight and unvarying line of continuity between Henry II and the Black and Tans. It was far more complicated than that and it seems that this quote is another apocryphal example of the sheer potent power of Irish romanticism over historiography.

Foose said...

I would recommend looking at Camden's work, which might be able to situate the "wolves, not shepherds" quote in a specific context. I do not know a great deal about Ireland under Elizabeth, but the conflict seems to have extended over several decades. Munster took place in the early 1580s; Essex's mismanaged expedition occurred in the late 1590s, and Camden's account may be focusing on a certain episode during Elizabeth's overall reign. "Grievances from Ireland" is nebulous until the exact context is known.

Per the reference to Roman imperial history - the (possible) equating of Elizabeth with Tiberius is just a speculation on my part. The intended parallel may be instead to England as an imperial power, but it would help to know something of Camden's themes and prejudices, if any. Leland's subsequent "ashes and carcasses" may have reference to Tacitus' famous formulation "They [the Romans] create a desolation and call it peace"; I ran across a book called Classics and Imperialism in the British Empire by Mark Bradley, who believes Leland's quote "is reminiscent of" the Roman historian in reference to "Arthur, Lord Grey's expedition against the revolting Irish in 1580 ... resulted in 'Hibernia Pacata'".

shtove said...

Gareth, Elizabeth's Irish wars have been hashed and rehashed. Whatever about the rights and wrongs, slash-and-burn was the accepted tactic and it caused great suffering. There were constant campaigns during the queen's reign, and two major wars - Grey's campaign was part of the first and is famously referred to by Spenser in his passage about the anatomies of death, and the Nine Years War caused even greater suffering. So the quote attributed to the queen is not unusual or nonsensical. I just doubt that she would have been so forthright, unless she was seeking to deflect blame from herself, which would not have been out of character.

Foose, the reason I find this quote interesting is that it does suggest regret by the queen for a sustained crown policy. The Roman analogy would put it into intellectual context appropriate to court thinking of the time. Given Essex's conduct in Ireland during the second war, when he chose to temporise rather than slash and burn (seriously angering the queen), it seems there may have been various motives to put these words in her mouth. And I mean motives on the English side, not the romantic paddies! This is supposed to have been said during her last ailment, when Cecil was preparing the Scots succession.

Thanks for the leads on Camden and Leland. Will keep digging.