Monday, June 13, 2011

The Tide Letter

After Wyatt’s Rebellion, a failed attempt to depose Queen Mary Tudor and replace her with her Protestant sister Elizabeth, Mary’s suspicion immediately turned to her half sister. Had Elizabeth had knowledge of the rebel’s plans? Had she given them her orders to attack? Or was she an innocent, with the rebels acting on her behalf without Elizabeth’s actual approval? Mary had her half-sister arrested as a suspected traitor. Elizabeth, stalling for time and craving an audience with the queen in order to prove her innocence, begged her captors to allow her to write one letter to the Queen before they took her to be incarcerated in the Tower. This letter, below, is now called ‘The Tide Letter’ because in the time it took Elizabeth to write her words, the tide of the Thames river had changed, so that she could no longer be taken by boat to the prison that day.

At the bottom of the original letter, there is extra space above Elizabeth’s signature. Knowing full well that her enemies would use the space to add a damning “post script’ to her letter, Elizabeth drew horizontal lines across to deter any additions. To see a scan of this remarkable letter, visit:

For a Transcript of its contents, see below. Despite the frenzied state of mind Elizabeth must have been in when writing this letter, she still manages to make a coherent argument requesting an audience with her sister. Please note some spelling has been corrected by me for the sake of clarity for modern readers:

The Tide Letter

If any ever did try this old saying, ‘that a king’s word was more than another man’s oath’, I most humbly beseech your majesty to verify it to me, and to remember your last promise and my last demand, that I be not condemned without answer and due proof, which it seems that I now am; for without cause proved, I am by your Council from you commanded to go to the Tower, a place more wanted for a false traitor than a true subject, which though I know I desire it not, yet in the face of all this realm it appears proved.

I pray to God I may die the shamefullest death that any ever died, if I may mean any such thing; and to this present hour I protest before God (Who shall judge my truth, whatsoever malice shall devise), that I never practiced, counseled, nor consented to anything that might be prejudicial to your person any way, or dangerous to the state by any means. And therefore I humbly beseech your majesty to let me answer afore yourself, and not suffer me to trust to your councilors, yea, and that afore I go to the Tower, if it be possible; if not, before I be further condemned. Howbeit, I trust assuredly your highness will give me leave to do it afore I go, that thus shamefully I may not be cried out on, as I now shall be; yea, and that without cause.

Let conscience move your highness to pardon this my boldness, which innocency procures me to do, together with hope of your natural kindness, which I trust will not see me cast away without desert, which what it is I would desire no more of God but that you truly knew. Which thing I think and believe you shall never by report know, unless by yourself you hear. I have heard in my time of many cast away for want of coming to the presence of their prince; and in late days I heard my Lord of Somerset say that if his brother had been suffered to speak with him he had never suffered; but persuasions were made to him so great that he was brought in belief that he could not live safely if the Admiral lived, and that made him give consent to his death. Though these persons are not to be compared to your majesty, yet I pray God the like evil persuasions persuade not one sister against the other, and all for that they have heard false report, and the truth not known.

Therefore, once again, kneeling with humbleness of heart, because I am not suffered to blow the knees of my body, I humbly crave to speak with your highness, which I would not be so bold as to desire if I knew not myself most clear, as I know myself most true. And as for the traitor Wyatt, he might peradventure write me a letter, but on my faith I never received any from him. And as for the copy of the letter sent to the French king, I pray God confound me eternally if ever I sent him word, message, token, or letter, by any means, and to this truth I will stand in till my death. Your highness’s most faithful subject, that hath been from the beginning, and will be to my end, Elizabeth I humbly crave but only one word of answer from yourself

Your highness most faithful subject that hath been from the beginning and will to the end,