Thursday, June 02, 2016

Question from begob - Elizabeth I assassination attempt

Trying to find information on The Barge Incident, an attempt on the life of Elizabeth I.

I found this:
"Be of good cheer, for you will never want, for the bullet was meant for me, though it hit you."

Elizabeth I (1533-1603), Queen of England (1558-1603). As quoted in The Sayings of Queen Elizabeth, ch. 13, by Frederick Chamberlin (1923). "To one of her boatmen who was shot when within six feet of her on her barge in the Thames. She took off her scarf and gave it to him to bind over his wound, which was bleeding profusely."

Chamberlin's book is not a reliable source, and my searches turned up nothing for the state papers.

Help please.


Anonymous said...

You can find the ballad here:

Anna Whitelock, "Elizabeth's Bedfellows", has a paragraph (p. 178) about the shooting incident, citing also the Fugger newsletters and Nichols Progresses.

Foose said...

The incident is recorded in John Speed's Historie of Great Britain, published in 1611. Speed is generally known as a cartographer, but he was also a colleague of Camden, the famous historian, and apparently wrote his Historie with Camden's encouragement (and possible government support).

A book I consulted, Reading History in Early Modern England (D.R. Woolf, Cambridge University Press, 2000) asserts that the Historie was likely a "collaborative effort by the author and a quartet of booksellers and printers, in which the efforts of a number of scholars were coordinated by Speed."

Speed and his collaborators may have been recounting a true incident - they are close enough in time to the queen's reign to interview surviving witnesses and sources. I don't see his work often cited nowadays, but Agnes Strickland uses his account of the attempted assassination, so other 19th-century and early 20th-century historians may have considered him reputable.

Speed's anecdote runs (in the 1623 edition I found online):
"... when being in her Barge upon Thames to take the aire, accompanied with the French Ambassador, the Earle of Lincolne, and others, a Serving-man in the Court from his Caliver discharged a Bullet, and shot the waterman, within sixe foote of her seat, (the second to her Bales) through both the armes; whereat all other being amazed, and the man abundantly bleeding, she threw him her scarfe, and with words of comfort bad him be of good cheer, he should not want, for the bullet was aimed at her, though it hit him ..."

A Caliver is a light musket.

Foose said...

Oh, to clarify: I was focusing on the origin of the scarf story, not the possible assassination attempt that precipitated the queen's action in Speed's account. The actual incident of the queen having a gun fired near or at her while she was in her barge seems fairly well attested by other sources, with one Appletree arrested for the crime.

begob said...

Thank you so much. Apologies for not replying sooner, but when I posted the query I think the blog was on holiday and by the time it returned I'd lost track of my activity.