Queen Elizabeth I – Linguistic genius?

There are many things we may associate with the great Queen Elizabeth I from her famed private life,  glorious victories at sea particularly over the Spanish Armada and that famous speech at Tilbury.  As she put it, she may have had the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too.  Is it possible though that the Queen had even more strings to her bow?

Recent research indicates that Queen Elizabeth I was something of an accomplished translator and her fair hand may be responsible for a 16th century translation on the history of the Roman Empire.


Queen Elizabeth I

The manuscript in question can be found in the Lambeth Palace library at the official London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, is a Latin-to-English translation of Annales – a history by Tacitus of the Roman Empire from the reign of Tiberius to Nero, AD 14-68.

Researchers found persuasive similarities between unique handwriting styles found in the Lambeth manuscript and numerous examples of the Queen’s distinctive handwriting which leads them to conclude that the Virgin Queen was the author.

In other translations, her extreme horizontal ‘m’, the top stroke of her ‘e’ and the break of the stem in ‘d’ have made her handwriting easily identifiable.

Historians were also able to identify the paper used for the Tacitus translation – which they claim reveals a court context. In addition, the paper had watermarks featuring a rampant lion alongside the initials ‘G.B.’, with crossbow countermark, which those studying the record say were particularly popular with the Elizabethan secretariat in the 1590s.

Elizabeth I used paper with the same watermarks in her translation of Boethius, and in personal correspondence.  The tone and style of the translation also matches her earlier known works.

Elizabeth I’s translation focuses on the first book of the Annales, which sees the death of Augustus and the rise of the emperor Tiberius, based on original works by Roman historian and senator Tacitus.


Was this translation of Annales – a history by Tacitus of the Roman Empire from the reign of Tiberius to Nero, AD 14-68 written by Elizabeth I?


The Lambeth manuscript retains the density of Tacitus’s prose and brevity, and strictly follows the contours of the Latin syntax at the risk of obscuring the sense in English.

Thanks to his interest in the Elizabethan court and in Francis Bacon, Tenison made the library at Lambeth one of the largest collections of state papers from the Elizabethan era.

Researchers from the University of East Anglia say the discovery could have important implications on our understanding of the political and cultural nature of the Elizabethan court.


Royal corrections.

Lead author John-Mark Philo, a research fellow said:  ‘The corrections made to the translation are a match for Elizabeth’s late hand, which was, to put it mildly, idiosyncratic.

‘The higher you are in the social hierarchy of Tudor England, the messier you can let your handwriting become. For the queen, comprehension is somebody else’s problem.

‘We already knew she’s great with languages – Latin, French, Italian. She’s familiar with Spanish and Greek – she actually starts using some of the Greek alphabet in her own handwriting.’

How different things are today when the idiosyncratic writings of a monarch have clearly been replaced by those of Doctors when they write their prescriptions!

For another Elizabethan related post, try out The Bacton Altar Cloth Revealed To Be The Only Surviving Gown of Queen Elizabeth I


About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including several #1 sellers. I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. I run my private tours company with one tour stated by the leading travel website as being with the #1 authentic London Experience. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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1 Response to Queen Elizabeth I – Linguistic genius?

  1. Pingback: The Most Powerful Women in History 5 – 1 | Stephen Liddell

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