Friday, February 17, 2012

Question from Jo - Origin of Elizabeth I's motto

How did Elizabeth i took her motto "semper eadem" frome her mother or writes Alison Weir in her book frome lady Tyrwhitt?


Foose said...

Weir's account is fishy in The Children of Henry VIII, the curious construction of her statement being, "Lady Tyrwhitt was fond of collecting proverbs and mottoes ... 'Be always one,' she would say to Elizabeth ... This caught the girl's imagination so much that, says Camden, her earliest biographer, 'she took this device unto herself,' translating it into Latin as 'Semper eadem'." Weir implies that the contemporary Elizabethan historian Camden says that the motto came from Lady Tyrwhitt.

Camden's history of Elizabeth's reign does not say this, merely stating that Elizabeth adopted the motto to emphasize her dedication to pursuing a consistent course. He doesn't say where the motto came from.

Rootling around, I found Elizabeth Jenkins' Elizabeth the Great has much the same weird construction, but at least footnotes it, identifying Bentley's Monuments of Matrones, a mid-Elizabeth compilation of pious works and memorials by Protestant women of the period - including Lady Tyrwhitt. I can't find this book in full or preview access on Google Books, but in reading other works talking about it, it looks like the story of Elizabeth adopting the motto isn't there, either.

More rummaging. The story appears in a 1940 novel about Elizabeth by Marian King, and in Elsie Thornton-Cook's Her Majesty: The Queens of England, no sources cited. An 1882 magazine refers to the story and cites the "Rev. Stevenson" in connection with it.

Rev. Joseph Stevenson wrote the Preface to the Calendar of State Papers to Elizabeth's Reign, 1863, and in that Preface we find:

"... her new guardian [Lady Tyrwhitt] had deep religious convictions ... she has left behind her various devotions, meditations and anthems ... giving indubitable proofs of an earnest seeking after God. A prayer for the evening, in which we may imagine Elizabeth to have joined [italics mine], is expressed thus ..." (Here Stevenson cites Monuments of Matrones as the source)

"Of greater interest are 'certain godly sentences written by the Lady E[lizabeth] T[yrwhitt];' sayings which she used in conversation, or maxims used in rules of conduct. They may have had their weight in the formation of their pupil's character [italics mine] ... Kill anger with patience. Make much of modesty. Be always one [italics mine, i.e., semper eadem] ..."

So the Rev. Stevenson is speculating, but he doesn't say outright that Elizabeth got the idea for Semper Eadem as her motto through the instrumentality of Lady Tyrwhitt.

Foose said...

However, later authors appear to have enlarged upon Stevenson's ideas. Wiesener's 1879 The Youth of Queen of Elizabeth states, "There is in existence a book of morning and evening prayers .. that were composed by this lady [Tyrwhitt] for the use of her royal pupil. It abounds in wise and useful precepts ..." including, of course, "Be always one," and the footnoted source is Stevenson. Ewald's 1882 Stories from the State Papers describes Lady Tyrwhitt as "drawing up" maxims for "her pupil." Thornton Cook says "Lady Tyrwhitt composed a book of precepts for her difficult pupil."

So I think this is how the Lady Tyrwhitt story got started. I'd know more if I could get a look at Monuments of Matrones, but I suspect all the Tyrwhitt maxims are in it. I have seen sources that say Lady Tyrwhitt presented her prayer book - including these maxims - to Elizabeth, but as historian Margaret Aston says, "there are problems with the story." Some indicate that the prayer-book Elizabeth received from Lady Tyrwhitt had the date "1574" on it, which is well after Elizabeth adopted the Semper Eadem motto.

As you note, Anne Boleyn previously adopted Semper Eadem as her motto, in her case perhaps suggesting fixity of purpose. Perhaps Elizabeth chose it for reasons of sentiment or to consciously highlight her connection to a Protestant heroine, but there is also the consideration that the phrase was something of a Neoplatonist shibboleth of the period, with connections to Plato and Cicero. It's not unusual that three evangelical women of the mid-Tudor period - Boleyn, Tyrwhitt and Elizabeth - embraced it. (Ironically, it became the motto of the Catholic Church.)

I can't say conclusively why Elizabeth chose the motto, and looking through the various sources I think that there is no conclusive answer. Possibly there were a combination of reasons why she felt it appropriate, including perhaps her prolonged exposure to Lady Tyrwhitt ("not learned in divinity, but half a scripture woman," according to her husband, and a familiar of Catherine Parr). Camden’s silence on the origins of the choice might indicate that he thought it was the Boleyn influence that was paramount – in Judith Richards’ recent Elizabeth I, the author discusses evidence about the continuing unpopularity of Anne Boleyn among the general populace of England and a contrasting upsurge of affection for the memory of Katherine of Aragon late in Elizabeth’s reign and after (Camden wrote his history in the early years of James I’s reign). But that’s just a guess.

Jo said...

Thanks for the answer Foose

Mary R said...

I seem to remember reading that Lady Tyrwhitt detested Elizabeth (because she had hurt Katherine Parr through her flirtation with Thomas Seymour) and was appointed by the Lord Protector as a kind of spy. Does anyone have any information on this? If this is true, why would Elizabeth have taken as her motto something from Lady Tyrwhitt?

Anonymous said...

I think she took the motto from her mother and not from the lady Tyrwhitt

Foose said...

Lady Tyrwhitt (Tirwitt, Tyrwhit, Tirrett, as she is variously called) is usually presented at best as a strict guardian and at worst as a brutal jailer in a lot of books on Elizabeth, especially fiction.

In the 2008 Elizabeth Tyrwhitt's Morning and Evening Prayers, Susan Felch analyses the evidence on Elizabeth's attitude to the lady and her family. "Elizabeth, on becoming queen, may not have been favorably disposed toward Sir Robert and Lady Elizabeth Tyrwhit ... especially given the unhappy circumstances of their encounter in the first few months of 1549." She deprived them of a couple pieces of property, but "the elder Tywhits were neither destitute or without political connections during the reign of Elizabeth." They received a reasonable amount of political appointments and favorable decisions on property for themselves and their son-in-law. Lady Tyrwhitt died, very comfortably well-off and respected as a patroness of the evangelicals, in the late 1570s.

I couldn't find any evidence that she was received at court, or corresponded with Queen Elizabeth (except for the story about her presenting the book of prayers to the queen), and Susan Felch disputes Patrick Collinson's contention that she was an "influential lady at court." Some authors suggest that in 1549 the relationship between Lady Tyrwhitt and Elizabeth warmed up after the first rocky months, on the basis of their shared religion or scholarly interests, but there are no sources cited.

Anonymous said...

It may be that finding her mother's motto in Lady Tyrwhitt's book made Elizabeth decide to take it for her own. After the Thomas Seymour mess, Elizabeth was restoring her reputation ... using something from the book would please the Tyrwhitts and their allies, as well as allowing her to use something of her mother's.