The preposterous publication history of Elizabeth I’s “Golden Speech”

The preposterous publication history of Elizabeth I’s “Golden Speech”

This is a post in a series authored by our research collaborators on the Intertextual Networks project. For more information, see here.

By Kristen Abbott Bennett, Framingham State University

Working in the Women Writers Online (WWO) collection, I encountered variants of Elizabeth’s “Golden Speech” presenting apparently mismatched titles and contents.1 For example, an initial search of the WWO collection produces two variants of Elizabeth’s “Speech to Her Last Parliament” (1642) and “Last Speech and Thanks” (1679), yet each text echoes, in varying degree, Sir Simond D’Ewes’s 1693 “Golden Speech,” and A.B.’s 1601 edition of “Her Majesty’s Most Princely Answer (The Golden Speech).” Neither WWO edition of Elizabeth’s “last” speech bears any textual resemblance to the 19 December variants in Marcus et. al.’s edition. Alternatively, each recalls, in varying degree, manuscript and printed editions of the 30 November speech. Closer investigation revealed that the WWO editors were faithful to their copy-texts. The printers and, in D’Ewes’s case, what Leah Marcus would call a “comfortable consensus,” appear responsible for the misleading titles in the collection (Unediting 40).2 Frances Teague already has recognized the “convoluted publication history” of “Elizabeth’s so-called ‘Golden Speech”’ insofar as it was conflated and/or confused with her “Last Speech to Parliament” (“Speeches of Elizabeth I”). But this titular turmoil has been compounded by cataloguers and editors attempting to clarify what these textual witnesses represent.

This essay reviews the publication history of Elizabeth’s I’s final speeches to raise questions about how editors may retain documentary and historical accuracy when modernizing, abbreviating, and otherwise altering early modern titles. Digital spelunking in the British Library’s English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC) and cross-checking my findings in Early English Books Online has so far revealed that all printed variants of Elizabeth’s 30 November 1601 speech to Parliament that follow A.B.’s contemporaneous edition, Her majesties most princelie answere, delivered by herselfe at the Court at White-hall, on the last day of November 1601,” have historically inaccurate titles. The confusion begins in 1628[?] when one finds an edition of “Queene Elizabeth’s Speech to Her Last Parliament” that was published twice again in 1642[?] with the same title. Yet these texts bear no resemblance to what Leah Marcus, Janel Mueller, and Mary Beth Rose have identified as Elizabeth’s “last” speech to Parliament, dated 19 December 1601 (Elizabeth I Collected Works 346–354); each is a variant of the 30 November speech. In 1659, Thomas Milbourn compounded the confusion when he published “The Golden Speech of Queen Elizabeth to her last Parliament 30 November, anno Domini 1601.” Many of Elizabeth’s editors have yet to clarify the historical and documentary discrepancies, following a centuries-long habit of gilding Elizabeth’s penultimate Parliamentary speech.3 Broadly speaking, the upshot of these titular emendations has been to historicize Elizabeth’s last acts in Parliament as “Golden,” and to forget the Spanish threat to Ireland that she discussed in her December 1601 address.4

The following screenshots of ESTC tables further illustrate the confusion surrounding Elizabeth’s 30 November 1601 speech. The first features a set of six speeches that are either entitled, or have been tagged “Golden Speech”; the second represents eleven speeches that have been tagged “1601-11-30” regardless of title. These tables illustrate, at least in part, how many documents have been impacted by retro-fitting both the 1628 emendation describing this as Elizabeth’s “Last” speech, and Milbourn’s 1659 addition of “Golden” to the titles of these editions and variants. The ESTC has not identified, perhaps understandably, an additional variant of the 30 November speech printed in 1688 by D. Mallet entitled “A speech made by Queen Elizabeth (of famous memory) in Parliament, anno 1593” (WWO).

ESTC documents given the “Uniform title” Golden Speech

ESTC documents given the “Uniform title” Speeches. 1601-11-30

These ESTC entries and their accompanying metadata in the form of “uniform titles” reflect cataloguers’ efforts to correct documentary misrepresentations of history and offer insight into the transmission history and editorial practices surrounding Elizabeth’s 30 November speech. As we see in the first table, A.B.’s 1601 edition has acquired “Golden Speech” as its uniform title, a historically and documentarily imprecise trend that continues into the 2009 Norton Critical Edition, Elizabeth I and Her Age. That said, the additions of “1601-11-30” uniform titles to the metadata of “last” and “golden” speech variants offer helpful correctives, but are inconsistent in practice. For example, D. Mallet’s 1688 publication of A speech made by Queen Elizabeth, (of famous memory) in Parliament, anno 1593,” that also contains a 30 November variant is not represented because it has been tagged with the uniform title “Speeches. 1688.”5

Common sense might lead one to speculate that the foregoing confusion simply resulted from the fact that Elizabeth delivered these speeches to Parliament within a month of one another in 1601. In the context of early modern print culture, the 30 November 1601 speech was the “last” speech printed, so one might (almost) conceivably argue that there is no problem with the title and it should stand. Yet such a claim would not account for the retro-projected gilding of the speech’s title.

Despite the anachronisms, W.W. Greg might have argued that editors should stick with the title “Golden Speech” as a title across these variants:

By the title of a play, whether proper or descriptive, I mean of course, in this connexion, the name or designation by which the play is known and referred to…I want to insist that the title, in the sense here relevant is merely a label that we affix to a literary work and that it should not be regarded as in any way a transcript or quotation from any particular part of any particular edition of that work. (A Bibliography cviii)

For Greg, it was “obvious” that “we” pick a label and go with it; the title is not to be thought of as historically accurate. More recently, Leah Marcus has recognized the “deep-seated need on the part of the scholar and public alike to have our literary works in the form we have grown comfortable with, even if that form can be shown to be inaccurate by any reasonable standard of perception” (Unediting 101). To be fair, these approaches facilitate finding works in library catalogs; both Greg and Marcus had printed editions in mind. In Scholarly Editing in the Computer Age, Peter L. Shillingsburg observes that “insofar as editorial work is designed to eliminate errors and ‘textual corruption,’ its purpose is to mitigate the ‘ravages’ or the ‘accidents’ of history” (18). Hans Walter Gabler has argued lately that the authority to mitigate such ravages lies in the documents themselves: “it is from the materiality of the documents alone that the authoriality behind them may be discerned, we may legitimately declare ‘authoriality’ a function of the documents” (Text Genetics 169). Shillingsburg and Gabler are more open to challenging editorial transmission errors in part, I believe, because digital editions allow editors to represent both the accrual of emendatory permutations and their own corrections. As the WWO texts demonstrate, the addition of metadata documenting the published titles, “became known as” titles (Marcus et. al., n.1 335), and additional information would not compromise the identification and searchability of works that appear to have been Greg’s and Marcus’s primary concerns. For example, were one searching for D’Ewes’ A compleat journal of the votes, speeches, and debates both of the House of Lords and the House of Commons Throughout the whole reign of Queen Elizabeth, Of Glorious Memory in the WWO collection, one may indeed find it with a simple short title search.

Still, the ESTC tables offer a microcosm of the historical and documentary challenges that editors face, as well as opportunities to convey more exact information to future scholars. In digital editions and catalogs, one may follow both Shillingsburg and Gabler to redress historical and documentary errors by following Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) guidelines for adding alternate titles, as well as indicating varying degrees of editorial certainty.6 But one cannot use XML to encode metadata onto title pages of printed scholarly editions of collected works.

Marcus, Mueller, and Rose addressed this challenge by apparently following centuries of consensus in their printed edition of three variants of “what became known as the Golden Speech” (Speech 23, version 1, n.1, pp. 335-336). They cite the manuscript of Hayward Townshend’s Commons Journal as “Version 1” of the 30 November speech, Sir Simond D’Ewes’s 1682 printed edition as “Version 2,” and A.B.’s contemporary 1601 publication as “Version 3.” The editors acknowledged that they had chosen not to include later variants of Elizabeth’s work, interesting though they may be (xxi–xxii). Therefore, they did not discuss Milbourn’s remarkable titular revision that has become what I think we all might agree is a huge piece of Elizabeth’s legacy pie. And there have been consequences. Donald Stump and Susan M. Felch’s Elizabeth I and Her Age feature a section entitled “The Queen in Her Final Glory,” including “The Golden Speech” as it was transcribed by Townshend, as well as A.B.’s “official version.” Elizabeth’s “Final Glory” features no “final” speech, no 19 December 1601 speech about the threat Spain posed to Ireland (502–506). One might debate whether the A.B. version is the “official” variant, however, it does carry Crown authority. It was printed by Robert Barker, who, like his father Christopher, served as printer to the Queen.7 Although reverting to documentary titles in print may temporarily confuse scholars and students, as well as undermine the stability of catalogs like the ESTC, and reference dictionaries and the OED (see Marcus Unediting 40), it may be worth the trouble.8

For the sake of argument, if one were to accept A.B.’s variant as an authoritative copy text, would one follow Shillingsburg to remedy the “ravages” of history, and revert to the original title in a scholarly edition? Or, because scholars, students, and Hollywood know this speech as “Golden,” should it simply be left alone? The latter solution occludes the circumstances surrounding Milbourn’s mid-seventeenth-century title emendation, which may be as historically interesting to scholars as Elizabeth’s initial delivery, and extends this problem to later variants.9 Furthermore, the loss of the 19 December speech to most histories and scholarly editions skews readers’ interpretations of Elizabeth’s reign and consequently the literature surrounding it.

The convoluted transmission and documentary history of Elizabeth’s final speeches challenge received wisdom about treating titles as labels, or assigning them based on convenient editorial conventions. As more digital witnesses and original spelling editions become increasingly available, and as computational analyses become more widely practiced, a (dare I say) restoration of documentary titles may ultimately facilitate scholarly access to these texts. The emendatory chaos surrounding Elizabeth’s speeches demonstrates that editors come to some kind of consensus, comfortable or not, about how best to make forward-thinking and consistent decisions about how to treat titles across printed and digital media.



To further—yet briefly—illustrate the publication history of Elizabeth’s last two speeches, I offer the following excerpts from the WWO editions of A.B.’s (1601) and D’Ewes’s (1682) editions labeled “The Golden Speech,” plus the “Speech to Her Last Parliament (1642) and 1679 “Last Speech and Thanks” (1679) to illustrate shared thematic and verbal echoes. I have provided short descriptions for readability. Each excerpt features variants of Elizabeth’s expression of gratitude for her advisors saving her from “the lapse of error,” or in D’Ewes’s case, “the lap of error.”

  1. A.B.’s “Her majesties most princelie answere” [“The Golden Speech”]. Following is the opening address:

M. Speaker, We perceiue by you, whome we did conſtitute the mouth of our Lower Houſe, howe with euen conſent they are fallen into the due conſideration of the precious gift of thankefulneſſe, most, vſually least esteemed, where it is best deſerued. And therefore we charge you tell them how acceptable ſuch ſacrifice is woorthily receiued of a louing King (handwriting: Queene), who doubteth much whether the giuen thanks can be of more poiſe then the owed is to them: and ſuppoſe that they haue done more for vs, then they themſelues beleeue. And this is our reaſon: Who keepes their Souereigne from the lapſe of error, in which, by ignorance, and not by intent, they might haue fallen; what thanke they deſerue, we know, though you may geſſe. (A.B., WWO A3r–A3v)

  1. Speech to Her Last” rephrases what appears to be the Townshend MS’s augmentations:

Mr. Speaker, I would wiſh you and the reſt to ſtand vp, for I feare I ſhall yet trouble you with longer ſpeech. Mr. Speaker, you give me thankes, but I am to thanke you, and I charge you, thanke them of the Lower-Houſe from Me, for had I not received knowledge from you, I might a fallen into lapſe of an Error, onely for want of true information. (WWO A2v)

  1. The D’Ewes variant, excerpted in the WWO as “The Golden Speech,” yet intially published as part of The Journals of all the Parliaments, augments the introduction and arrives at the A.B. variant’s introductory remarks later in the document:

Therefore render unto them from me I beſeech you, Mr Speaker, ſuch thanks as you imagine my Heart yieldeth, but my Tongue cannot expreſs. Mr. Speaker, You give me thanks, but I doubt me, I have more cauſe to thank you all than you me; And I charge you to thank them of the Houſe of Commons from me:  for had I not received a knowledge from you, I might have fallen into the Lap of an Error, only for lack of true Information. (D’Ewes, WWO Pppp2r)

  1. The “Last Speech and Thanks” conflates verbal echoes from multiple variants in 1679, but starts roughly where A.B.’s edition does:

Mr. Speaker, You give Me thanks, but I am more to thank you, and I charge you thank them of the Lower Houſe from me; for had I not received knowledge from you, I might have fallen into the lapſe of an errour, only for want of true Information. (WWO A2r)


Works Cited

“Barker, Christopher.” British Book Trade Index. Bodleian Libraries, Oxford,

“Barker, Robert.” British Book Trade Index. Bodleian Libraries, Oxford,

D’Ewes, Simond. The journals of all the Parliaments during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, both of the House of Lords and House of Commons. Collected by Sir Simonds D’Ewes of Stow-Hall in the County of Suffolk, Knight and Baronet. Revised and published by Paul Bowes, of the Middle-Temple London, Esq;, Printed by John Starkey, 1682. Wing, D1250ESTC,

English Short Title Catalogue. “golden speech.” British Library

English Short Title Catalogue. “1601-11-30.” British Library. 

Elizabeth I. “Queen Elizabeths Speech to Her Last Parliament.” 1628 [?], STC 7579, EEBO

—.  “Queen Elizabeths Speech to Her Last Parliament.” 1628 [?], STC 7579.2. EEBO

—.  “Her majesties most princelie answere, delivered by herselfe at the Court at White-hall, on the last day of November 1601 [“The Golden Speech”].” A.B. 1601, STC 7578. Northeastern Women Writers Project,

—.  “Queen Elizabeth’s Speech to Her Last Parliament.” [1642], by Jo. Sudbury for Humble, Wing E534, STC 7579. Northeastern University Women Writers Project,

—. “Queen Elizabeth’s Speech to her Last Parliament, made 30 November 1601.” Edward Husband, 1647, Wing E535, EEBO,

—. “The golden speech of Queen Elizabeth to her last Parliament, 30 November, anno Domini, 1601.” Thomas Milbourn, 1659, Wing E528. EEBO,

—.  “The Last Speech and Thanks of Queen Elizabeth Of ever Blessed Memory, to her Last Parliament, after her Delivery from the Popish Plots, &c.” 1679. Wing E530. Northeastern University Women Writers Project,

—.  “A speech made by Queen Elizabeth.” Printed by D. Mallet, 1688, Wing E533, Northeastern University Women Writers Project,

—. “A speech made by Queen Elizabeth, (of famous memory) in Parliament, anno 1593. and in the 35th year of her reign, concerning the Spanish invasion.” Alt title. “Second speech of Queen Elizabeth (of famous memory) 1601, in the 44th year of her reign.” English Short Title Catalogue, Wing E533, British Library.

—. “The Golden Speech, 1601” in A compleat journal of the votes, speeches, and debates both of the House of Lords and the House of Commons Throughout the whole reign of Queen Elizabeth, Of Glorious Memory by Sir Simonds D’Ewes. Paul Bowes, 1693, Wing D1248. Northeastern Women Writers Project,

—.  “The golden speech of Queen Elizabeth to her last parliament, November 30. Anno Domini, 1601. With observations adapted to these times.” 1695, Wing E528aA. EEBO,

Gabler, Hans Walter. Text Genetics in Literary Modernism and other Essays, 2008, JSTOR,

Greg, W.W. A Bibliography of the English Printed Drama to the Restoration. Vol. 4, The Bibliographical Society at UP Oxford, 1959.

Loades, David. Elizabeth I. Hambledon Continuum, 2003.

Marcus, Leah. Unediting the Renaissance, Shakespeare, Marlowe, Milton. Routledge, 1996.

Marcus, Leah, Janel Mueller, and Mary Beth Rose, editors. Elizabeth I Collected Works. U Chicago P, 2000.

Shillingsburg, Peter L. Scholarly Editing in the Computer Age, Theory and Practice. 3rd ed., U Michigan P, 1999.

Stump, Donald, and Susan M. Felch, editors. Elizabeth I and Her Age. Norton Critical Editions, 2009.

Teague, Frances. “Introduction to Speeches by Queen Elizabeth I.” Women Writers in Context, Northeastern University Women Writers Project, September 1999, December 2017,

Women Writers Project. “Statement of WWP Editorial Principles,”


  1. I am grateful to Sarah Connell of The Women Writers Project for her brilliant editorial feedback, as well as to Martin Butler, Jennifer Richards, and my fellow participants in the 2019 Shakespeare Association of America seminar, “Modern Scholarly Editions: Challenges and Opportunities,” whose conversations greatly enlivened this work.
  2. Although the D’Ewes edition is searchable as the “golden speech,” the variant itself contains correct documentary information indicating that this excerpt was originally printed for Jonathan Robinson in The journals of all the Parliaments during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, both of the House of Lords and House of Commons.
  3. According to the ESTC, variants of the 30 November “Golden Speech” were republished in 1695[?], 1698[?], 1745[?], and 1749. Two editions of this speech were again published as her “Last” speech in 1679 and 1702. I have yet to find a printed edition of Elizabeth’s 19 December 1601 speech to Parliament, historically her final address. Date searches in the ESTC and a review of Arber’s Transcript of the Registers of the Company of Stationers revealed no entries for the 19 December 1601 speech. However, A.B.’s 1601 speech printed by Robert Barker was not entered either, presumably because Barker’s position as the Queen’s Printer did not require him to enter works into the public registry. There may be an extant printed edition of that speech that has simply not been catalogued accordingly by the ESTC, or that resides in an archive with a different title elsewhere, but I have yet to discover it.
  4. In the last speech, Elizabeth claims that Phillip IV of Spain has threatened to take Ireland. She asks Parliament to subsidize a war to protect her “two crowns” (see Marcus et. al. 346–354).
  5. This document contains two speeches, the first is a variant of the 1593 speech the title advertises, the second is yet another variant of the 30 November 1601 speech. The WWO editors assigned the short, descriptive title “Two Speeches” to Mallet’s edition, but the WWO interface does not currently indicate that this is yet another variant of Elizabeth’s 30 November speech.
  6. By using robust TEI annotation, one may indicate documentary titles, as well as alternate titles, including catalog and known-as titles. The WWO encoding principles exemplify the kind of robust encoding principles that can preserve documentary and historical evidence, while offering readability: “We treat the text as a document more than as a work of literature: hence our approach emphasizes transcription of the full document rather than only the ‘work,’ and preservation of renditional details, original spellings, and errors, rather than their effacement. In addition, each document is treated as a circulating cultural artifact, whose historical specificity is part of its value. As a result, we do not emend the text or create critical or synthetic editions; each encoded text is a transcription of a particular physical object” (“Statement of WWP Editorial Principles”).
  7. Barker also served as a porter to the Queen; see BBTI entries for Robert Barker and Christopher Barker.
  8. I concede that these titles would require shortening, and that I have failed to address modernization. In digital editions, one may include metadata that captures alternate spellings and titles. Printed editions can be less flexible and informed as much by commercial viability as well as ideal editorial theories.
  9. Teague has argued that Elizabeth’s 1576 “Speech at the Closing of Parliament” was revised and repurposed by a 1643 printer to undermine Charles I and offer Elizabeth as an ideal ruler. Of this 1643 edition, Teague observes that “we may not read a speech that Elizabeth I ever gave, but we can see a tribute to her continuing power in English politics” (“Introduction to Speeches of Elizabeth I”). Milbourn’s variant is similarly positioned.

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