Essay on Compare How Any Two Monarchs Managed Their Self-Presentation by Way of Literary Production
Number of words: 3497
Elizabeth I has been known historically as ‘quick tempered, a clever wordsmith and a resourceful strategist’. Having ‘received one of the finest humanist educations of her day; and from the age of eleven, if not earlier’ leading her to produce a ‘steady flow’ of works, it is apparent that reading and writing played a vital role in the young princesses development. The posthumous revival of many of her speeches, prayers and letters as well as the legendary tales told of her by others, has particularly contributed to the longevity of this powerful imagery, revealing her learned mind and unwavering strength. The truth behind many of these tales reveals the extent of Elizabeth’s talent for imagery, following a Tudor trend of supplying the nation with tales of greatness, and diminishing (sometimes truthful) slander. However, focussing on her early literature, a personal and private insight into both the princess’s fears and the young queen’s eventual hopes is gained, offering an interesting alternate perception. James VI of Scotland, her eventual successor as James I, held a similar passion for the acquirement of knowledge through the arts of literature, history and classics. His seemingly boastful application of this knowledge, asking for the correction of ‘innumerable and intolerable faultes’ which do not occur, provides a youthful and trouble-free view to his early writing development. However, upon closer exploration, James reveals that the differences between the two monarchs are not as stark in contrast as may seem. Despite the opposing levels of privacy regarding the publication of their texts, the sense of the troublesome contexts in which they are attempting to establish their early monarchic self-presentation is clear.
Elizabeth’s state of imprisonment due to her alleged involvement in Wyatt’s rebellion against her sister’s rule, is reflected through the private manner of her early works. It is through her poetry in particular, that we find the more inner workings of her mind:
Much suspected by me,
Nothing proved can be.
The use of a diamond to etch this seemingly simple rhyming couplet, does however, provide a kaleidoscope of emotions, hopes and fears, and are perhaps why ‘Leah Marcus describes the queen as “an accomplished graffiti artist — tossing off hasty and topically loaded lines in odd, impromptu places”. This later critical assessment of her differs vastly to the ‘semi-mythical status’ Eales envisages her as.  The assurance Elizabeth shows in ‘nothing proved can be’ of her ‘suspected’ wrongdoings, aligns with the strong mentality seen later in her reign. However, the suspicion which encompasses her life in this particular moment reveals her need to express her thoughts in a manner that will not draw negative attention to herself – very much unlike a ‘graffiti artist’. Though ‘topically loaded’ in the politics of the meaning, her hastiness in the creation of the poem in an ‘odd, impromptu place’ speaks equal volumes to the words which are etched themselves. Elizabeth’s audience needed to be of her own choosing and not that of Mary’s spies who ‘suspected’ Elizabeth to continue plots to overthrow her sister. As Herman sums up ‘Elizabeth seems to have used verse as a repository for emotions and reactions that she banished from the public realm’. Though the fear does not lie necessarily in the ‘public realm’ reading the poetry, for anyone to find and distribute it could see the end of Elizabeth should it fall in the wrong hands. The aforementioned quality of her being a ‘resourceful strategist’ therefore, is seen here in its early stages. The anonymity of a scratch on a window allows Elizabeth an opportunity to apply her intelligence in a manner where her worries may temporarily be relieved without it costing her life; though she cannot control who enters her room, she has the ability to control who reads her expressed thoughts. Furthermore, with the first line comprising of ‘much’ being ‘suspected’ of her, it appears as though proof is a secondary afterthought dominated by the wealth of suspicion she faces. Leaning on the side of caution both in what she writes as well as how she writes it therefore, appears to be crucial. The innocence solidified in her mind could easily be misinterpreted in her poetry (a form often found to be open to interpretation), and thus could be used as the proof which Elizabeth states has so far, been non-existent. Elizabeth’s intelligence, therefore, has not just occasioned a short poem, but also served to rationalise her mind and keep her from losing her imminent throne. She is shown to have an artistic flare in line with rationality.
James VI found himself King of Scotland in 1584, ‘at a time when the Scottish monarchy was under increasing scrutiny’ and ‘poetry was one of the earliest means by which the king attempted to establish his own monarchical power’. Stepping out of a minority rule after numerous attempts to ‘contain James’s burgeoning assertion of kingship’ by nobles, granted him more independent power. However, James still faced threats to this control not just from noblemen, but from the reduction in ‘religious jurisdiction’ as well as the now established feudal system which granted localities in Scotland autonomy to a ‘highly unusual degree’. His reinforcement of power therefore, found itself prominently in his first collection entitled The Essayes of a Prentise, in the Divine Art of Poesie, and in particular, The Twelve Sonnets of Invocations to the Gods. With focus on Sonnet 1, James’ establishment of rubrication by italicising ‘Jove’ (l. 1), ‘Gyants’ (l. 10). and ‘Phaethon’ (l. 13), emphasises the beings he wants to highlight and the Roman and Greek God’s he wants to invoke. Beginning with the ‘greatest God above the rest’ (l. 1), Jove, James marks the start of both a literary journey through mythological tales, as well as how he intends to start his monarchic journey – by invoking first the ‘greatest’, he turns to the strongest role model he has. If Jove has the strength to make ‘Gyants heads to fall’ (l. 10), then perhaps James can find the strength to rid himself of those trying to control him. It is particularly the rhetorical device of enargeia therefore, which James hopes to employ in his writing to enforce power over Scotland; Writing with similarly ‘threatening thunders’ (l. 14) calls for both the fear and inspiration of his people to follow his rule. Combining James’ boastful assertion of his talent for writing whereby readers are unlikely to find ‘innumerable and intolerable faultes’, with his imploration to write in a similarly powerful manner should Jove ‘grant thou’ his ‘desire’ (l. 2), equates to an immense literary power. Wielding such power in the poetic form reveals a new manner of monarchic control – rather than reigning supreme through physical force, James conveys ‘a poetry which avoids (a) direct confrontational style’. A young king appears to make it clear to his new subjects that he will rule with a learned mind; both fair and just. Though perhaps egotistical in his belief of fitting the unearthly powerful mould of a Roman God, the comparison offers a sense of comfort that as a king, he would not make the mistakes which he himself saw his mother do. James’ asking for speculation of his work therefore, ‘wherein I have erred, to the effect, that with lesse difficulty he may escape those snares wherein I have fallen’, allows for his message to enter a direct dialogue to both God and his readers. A middle ground is created between the unearthly powers his invoked Gods hold which he hopes to inhabit, and the Scottish people who are demanding for change. He is able to shape his own monarchic control to suit his strengths through calling for the power to turn literature into a physical force in a similarly artful, yet rational manner to Elizabeth.
Another poem speculatively attributed to Elizabeth and written early in her reign is ‘Twas Christ the Word:
Hoc est corpus meum
‘Twas Christ the Word that spake it.
The same took bread and brake it,
And as the Word did make it,
So I believe and take it.
This poem offers a more forward side to Elizabeth’s writing in comparison to the private resourcefulness seen earlier and acts as strong defence to her position both as Queen and Head of the Church in England. Although this difference in tone might appear to support the speculation in attribution to the text, Jennifer Summit reminds readers that Elizabeth may have been struck as an author from her literature, ‘not because of uncertainty over authorship, (but) because of reticence to admit the queen’s authorship in a forum more public than the Privy Chamber’. Whilst Elizabeth re-establishes the Protestant route laid down by her father, the Catholic presence still lurks close to her throne through Mary Stuart; a reply to Roman Catholic priests therefore could prove troublesome to the newly established, and untried queen. Just like James, Elizabeth had to ‘avoid (a) direct confrontational style’ whilst still making it emphatic that her place was righteous, Holy and unquestionable. The changing of the final line from ‘Do thou believe’ or ‘That I believe’, to ‘So I believe and take it’ through scribe alterations, appears to make all previous lines a literary sort of equation whereby Elizabeth’s poetic response is the correct answer. Because Christ ‘spake it’, ‘took bread’ ‘and as the Word did make it’, ‘So’ too does Elizabeth follow in his footsteps. She does not question Christ’s actions which partially appeases her religious scrutinisers but does not conform to the idea that the wine and bread literally or spiritually represent Christ. Opening up the poem with ‘Hoc est corpus meum’ (‘This is my body’), whilst conforming to the Catholic appeasement in using the words said prior to a consecration, does however appear to set the tone of Elizabeth reinterpreting Christs words to suit her dual position as queen and Head of the Church. It is her body which embodies Christ’s work through her divine rights. Her message, much like James’ middle ground, calls for a parting from the extremism seen under her sister’s rule, whilst still championing the Protestant belief. As Gordon states in a chapter particularly about extreme Protestant reformation in Europe, Elizabeth ‘though a Protestant, her instincts were conservative’. In fact, in 1558 (roughly the time of this poetry’s origin) ‘Elizabeth was incandescent with rage’ in relation to extreme Protestant beliefs being circulated by the likes of Knox and Goodman, leaving ‘considerable fear among the Reformed that they were in disgrace with the new queen’. Whilst not agreeing with the practice of consecration therefore, she makes it clear in this text that she will abide by neither Edward’s extreme Protestantism nor her sister’s Catholicism but abide herself to Christ’s ‘Word’ as no one else has the authority to command her. Her strength permeates through this poem, showing a far more public stance in comparison to the previous prison etching, marking her resolute reign early on.
Focussing on Sonnet 12 in James’ Essayes, with it marking the end of the legendary journey James takes his reader on, there is also a shift in tone as seen by Elizabeth. Rather than just the amalgamation of James’ own writing with that of the Greek mythology, he intertwines it with his own manifesto for his reign, marking the beginning of the next journey. His strength and independence appear to develop throughout the sonnets, ending with the rhyming couplet of ‘Essay me one, and if ye find me swerve, /Then think, I do not grace such deserve’ (ll. 13-14). This mirrors in some ways the offer of correction to his ‘innumerable and intolerable faultes’ he states in his preface; should he swerve from the promises he makes within these fourteen lines then his people may judge him in a similar fashion to his writing ability. This perhaps gives the dual impression of a grounded monarch, but a confident one. It is easy to see why this may be interpreted as boastful, as James appears as overly confident in his goals just as he is in his translations. To effectively state that should he fail, he is willing to accept a fall from ‘grace’ (line 14), is to accept an overthrow of his monarchy if his people do not agree with him. The relationship between critic and writer here, however, proves also to convey itself in a calmer manner. Asking for critique is to show one’s vulnerability – not always a negative characteristic to show. James presents himself as wise, but approachable and willing to learn, thus lending his ear to his people and vice versa. ‘Through patronage, but also through his own poetic practice, the king developed a cultural policy to strengthen his position’, revealing the success of this collection in the long-term. Although ‘some critics fault James for his limited description of poetry’ and lack of originality towards the end of the collection whereby ‘the “Treatise” accumulates material also discussed’ by many other contemporary writers, it is clear James’ success lies in building the foundations of his early reign, not in originality. However, through the contents of the collection, it is clear originality is not what James is striving for. The translations of texts, the focus on well-known mythological tales and the calling for corrections proves James is merely striving to perfect already established skills. Just like the power of monarchy had been established for centuries prior to James, he is not offering a new type of power, but a reign where lessons have been learnt from those past mistakes. Him accepting that he will not ‘deserve’ ‘grace’ (line 14) should he fail, is an acceptance that there is no excuse for failure. Rather than ego, he hopes to apply his worldly knowledge which he has been gifted with from such a young age, in the hopes for ‘immortall gloir’ (line 12: immortal glory) for all the right reasons.
For both these monarchic authors therefore, literature works alongside their political, social and religious goals from early in their royal lives. Both reveal similar troubles in the contexts of how they start their assent to the throne, having to consolidate their power in perhaps milder forms in comparison with their tyrannous forebearers. In order to establish that power, a middle ground needed to be formed through understanding their opposers, whilst affirming their own goals in their reigns. The differing levels of publicity they use to achieve these goals sets the monarchs a part. This does not diminish the effectiveness of their work however, both laying strong foundations for two long reigns. Whilst Elizabeth relied on her early literary privacy and allusions to maintain her life, James mass produced his texts to succinctly establish his newfound independent power. Both however, convey their wit, intelligence and rationality, proving early on to envisage their Renaissance status and powerful reigns.
Elizabeth I, Queen of England, edited by Leah S Marcus, Janel M Mueller, Mary Beth Rose, Elizabeth I: Collected Works, (University of Chicago Press, Chicago: 2000).
James VI, King of Scotland, Essayes of a Prentise, in the Divine art of Poesie, 2nd Ed., (Thomas Vautroullier, Edinburgh: 1585).
Bell, Sandra, J., ‘Kingcraft and Poetry: James VI’s Cultural Policy’ in Reading Monarchs Writing: The Poetry of Henry VIII, Mary Stuart, Elizabeth I, and James VI/I, (Arizona State University, Arizona: 2002), pp. 155-178.
Eales, Jackie, ‘Polychronicon: Interpreting Elizabeth I’ in Teaching History, No. 154, (Historical Association: March 2014), pp. 1-2.
Gordon, Bruce, ‘European Reformer’ in Calvin (Yale University Press: 2009), pp. 250-275.
Herman, Peter C., and Ray G. Siemens, ‘Reading Monarchs Writing: Introduction’ in Reading Monarchs Writing: The Poetry of Henry VIII, Mary Stuart, Elizabeth I, and James VI/I, (Arizona State University, Arizona: 2002), pp. 1-10
Jordan, Constance, ‘States of Blindness: Doubt, Justice, and Constancy in Elizabeth I’s “Avec l’aveugler si estrange” in Reading Monarchs Writing: The Poetry of Henry VIII, Mary Stuart, Elizabeth I, and James VI/I, (Arizona State University, Arizona: 2002), pp. 109-134.
Wormland, Jenny, James VI and I, (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: September 2014).
 Jordan, Constance, ‘States of Blindness: Doubt, Justice, and Constancy in Elizabeth I’s “Avec l’aveugler si estrange” in Reading Monarchs Writing: The Poetry of Henry VIII, Mary Stuart, Elizabeth I, and James VI/I, (Arizona State University, Arizona: 2002), p. 111.
 Elizabeth I, Queen of England, edited by Leah S Marcus, Janel M Mueller, Mary Beth Rose, Elizabeth I: Collected Works, (University of Chicago Press, Chicago: 2000), p. xi.
 James VI, King of Scotland, ‘The Preface’ in The Essayes of a Prentise, in the Divine Art of Poesie, 2nd Ed., (Thomas Vautroullier, Edinburgh: 1585), p. 16.
 Elizabeth I, Queen of England, edited by Leah S Marcus, Janel M Mueller, Mary Beth Rose, Elizabeth I: Collected Works, (University of Chicago Press, Chicago: 2000), p. 46.
 Constance, p. 110.
 Eales, Jackie, ‘Polychronicon: Interpreting Elizabeth I’ in Teaching History, No. 154, (Historical Association: March 2014), p. 1
 Elizabeth I, Queen of England, edited by Leah S Marcus Janel M Mueller, Mary Beth Rose, ‘Source 1 notes’ in Elizabeth I: Collected Works, (University of Chicago Press, Chicago: 2000), p. 45.
 Herman, Peter, C., ‘Elizabeth I, Privacy, and the Performance of Monarchic Verse’ in Royal Poetrie: Monarchic Verse and the Political Imagery of Early Modern England, (Cornell University Press: 2010), p. 101.
 Bell, Sandra, J., ‘Kingcraft and Poetry: James VI’s Cultural Policy’ in Reading Monarchs Writing: The Poetry of Henry VIII, Mary Stuart, Elizabeth I, and James VI/I, (Arizona State University, Arizona: 2002), p. 156.
 Wormland, Jenny, James VI and I, (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: September 2014).
 Ibid., p. 158.
 All references to James VI Essayes from James VI, King of Scotland, Essayes of a Prentise, in the Divine art of Poesie, 2nd Ed., (Thomas Vautroullier, Edinburgh: 1585), pp. 8-13.
 James VI, ‘Sonnet 1’, p. 8.
 Bell, p. 162.
 James VI, King of Scotland, ‘The Preface’ in The Essayes of a Prentise, in the Divine Art of Poesie, 2nd Ed., (Thomas Vautroullier, Edinburgh: 1585), p. 16.
 Elizabeth I, Queen of England, edited by Leah S Marcus Janel M Mueller, Mary Beth Rose, ‘Twas Christ the Word’ in Elizabeth I: Collected Works, (University of Chicago Press, Chicago: 2000), p. 47.
 Herman, Peter C., and Ray G. Siemens, ‘Reading Monarchs Writing: Introduction’ in Reading Monarchs Writing: The Poetry of Henry VIII, Mary Stuart, Elizabeth I, and James VI/I, (Arizona State University, Arizona: 2002), p. 8.
 Elizabeth I, Queen of England, edited by Leah S Marcus Janel M Mueller, Mary Beth Rose, ‘Source 1 notes’ in Elizabeth I: Collected Works, (University of Chicago Press, Chicago: 2000), p. 47.
 Gordon, Bruce, ‘European Reformer’ in Calvin (Yale University Press: 2009), p. 264.
 Bruce, pp. 263-264.
 James VI, Sonnet 12, pp. 287-288.
 Bell, p. 161.
 Bell, p. 163.