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  • Title: The Whore of Babylon: The Legacy of Tilbury
  • Author: Shannon Ford
  • Editors: Frances E. Dolan, Anna Pruitt
  • Coordinating editor: Brett Greatley-Hirsch
  • Research assistants: Shannon Ford, Natalie Giannini, Natalie Grand, Tara Pederen, Vanessa Rapatz, Keri Wolfe, Barbara Zimbalit

  • Copyright Vanessa Rapatz, Shannon Ford, Natalie Giannini, Natalie Grand, Tara Pederen, Keri Wolfe, and Barbara Zimbalit. This text may be freely used for educational, non-profit purposes; for all other uses contact the Editor.
    Author: Shannon Ford
    Editors: Frances E. Dolan, Anna Pruitt
    Not Peer Reviewed

    The Whore of Babylon: The Legacy of Tilbury

    The Legacy of Tilbury

    Shannon Osborne Ford

    1Elizabeth I's "Armada Speech To The Troops At Tilbury" is one of the most celebrated speeches in British history. Elizabeth addressed her English troops encamped at Tilbury during the threat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 (see Digital Renaissance EditionsThe 1588 Spanish Armada). She is sometimes said to have addressed her troops while dressed in armor and riding a white horse. The image of Elizabeth at Tilbury has played an important part in shaping English nationalism and Elizabethan nostalgia in life and art, then and now. Certainly, when reading the speech, it is hard not to imagine a warrior-queen rallying her haggard troops to defend their beloved country: "I am come among you at this time but for my recreation and pleasure, being resolved in the midst and heat of battle to live and die amongst you all, to lay down for my God and for my kingdom and for my people mine honour and my blood even in the dust" (326). As emotionally stirring as Henry V's famous address to his troops in Shakespeare's Henry V, Elizabeth's speech is, indeed, rhetorically powerful.

    As a woman ruler during an age when female sovereignty was distrusted, Elizabeth strategically manipulated her gender to stir the hearts of her men as well as to legitimate her place as their sovereign: "I know I have 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 – and take foul scorn that Parma or any prince of Europe should dare to invade the borders of my realm" (326). Here, Elizabeth plays upon the idea of the monarch's two bodies: one, the mortal, physical body and the other, the symbolic body politic, or the body of the state. But Elizabeth does not simply gender her mortal body as feminine and her power, her sovereignty, as masculine. In declaring herself "a weak and feeble woman, " she calls attention to her physical, female body, a body in need of protection, in a manner similar to a medieval princess invoking the aid of her knights. But then she quickly reminds her troops that, as their sovereign, her body is also the body of England, a body that she presents as masculine – she is a "king" – and as invincible. Moreover, by drawing attention to her internal organs, "the heart and stomach of a king, " she distances herself from her physical appearance in order to emphasize that she bears an inherently and inalienably kingly body within the apparently "weak and feeble" carapace of her external body. She then merges these two bodies – inner and outer, masculine and feminine, particular and symbolic – when she refers to "the borders of her realm." According to Louis Montrose, as the body politic, she calls upon her troops to defend their home, but she also reminds them of her female body, and her reputation as the "Virgin Queen, " to invoke the threat of rape; she asks her knights to defend her against this threat (314-315). As Mary Beth Rose points out, Elizabeth grants her gender different meanings at different moments in her reign and even within a given speech. She is a virgin, a mother, a prince and sometimes all at the same time.

    After the English victory over the Spanish Armada, the vision or image of Elizabeth at Tilbury became a vital component in the Protestant propaganda machine. Representations of Elizabeth at Tilbury, like the numerous paintings of the victory over the Spanish, proliferated to remind people that God's grace was with Elizabeth and the Protestants. Like the playing cards depicting the defeat of the 1588 Armada, which were produced and widely circulated years after the English victory, the stories surrounding Tilbury dominated the public imagination in a very real way. Even today, scholars and students alike continue to discuss and reproduce Elizabeth at Tilbury in essays, lectures, and art.

    However, in "The Myth of Elizabeth at Tilbury" (1992), Susan Frye questions the authenticity of the speech's contents and context. She cites three versions of the Tilbury speech. The first is Dr. Leonel Sharp's "popular" version (also reproduced in this essay [[ edition links should not have query or fragment parts ]]), which appears in Sharp's 1623 letter "arguing against the Spanish marriage of Prince Charles." The second version appears in a printed sermon by William Leigh entitled Quene Elizabeth, Paraleld in Her Princely Vertues (1612). The third account is found in St. Faith's Church, Gaywood, in Norfolk underneath a painting of "Elizabeth at Tilbury." Frye believes that Sharp's version is somewhat dubious because he may have toyed with it in the interests of his own political agenda. She argues that he may have changed the speech to show Elizabeth as an exemplum of Protestant moral behavior and to encourage English unity through xenophobia, a hatred of foreigners or "others" (95). In this case, foreigners refer not only to Spaniards, but Catholics at home and abroad.

    5In their recent edition of Elizabeth's writings, Leah S. Marcus, Janel Mueller, and Mary Beth Rose claim to have "verified" the speech "in a sufficiently early manuscript version" and so to be able "to allay recent scholarly doubts that the queen's speech was indeed delivered, and in a form reasonably close to the later printed versions of it" (Preface xvii). The version that the editors refer to is a "late sixteenth or early seventeenth-century copy written on a single 6-by-8-inch leaf" in the Harley manuscript at the British Library (325). Yet their edition does not seem to have silenced debate about what, if anything, Elizabeth said and what she wore on the battlefield at Tilbury.

    Regardless of one's perception of the exact contents of the speech, Elizabeth's address was frequently reproduced in various forms and to various ends after her death. In The Whore of Babylon, the scene at Tilbury or Beria serves the play's project of anti-Catholic propaganda. In the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot (1604) (see Digital Renaissance EditionsGeneral Introduction) and James I's treaty with Spain, the play is at once a warning to James and Protestant England about the contemporary Catholic threat to the nation, and a nostalgic and revisionist nod back to the "glory days" of Elizabeth's reign, when aggression against Catholic countries was at its highest. In the play, Tilbury is a reminder of a time of great uncertainty because of English-Spanish conflicts, a time when all good Protestants and English loyalists were expected to rally against foreigners and Catholics, abroad and at home, to protect English and Protestant interests. Also, while the traitors in the play are Faeries or have close ties to Titania's court (see Digital Renaissance EditionsPlots on the Queen's Life), the scene at Tilbury evokes the prospect of an enemy outside rather than within, foreign rather than English.

    In The Whore of Babylon, Titania's (Elizabeth's) appearance at Beria (Tilbury) is staged in a quick, pageant-like manner that relies on the audience's knowledge of Tilbury to fill in the gaps. This is in stark contrast to Thomas Heywood's 1632 dramatization of the Tilbury speech in If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody, Or the Troubles of Queen Elizabeth, Part II. Dekker's reliance upon the audience's knowledge of Tilbury exemplifies not only how deeply the story was ingrained within that culture, but also the fluid relation between "fact" and "fiction" for Dekker and his audience.

    Indeed, there are moments in the play when Dekker seems to count on this fluidity between fact and fiction. For example, as Susan Frye discusses, one of the more tenuous stories about Elizabeth's appearance at Tilbury is that she appeared wearing a breast-plate of armor. In Dekker's play, however, it is not Titania who appears in armor, but Truth. In preparation for the approaching Armada, Time commands his daughter Truth to "Goe (thou most God-like maide) & buckle on / The brest-plates fetcht from thine owne Armoury, / Let euery souldier weare one, on each leader / Bestowe a guiding-staffe, and a strong shield That may as faithfull be to his good sword / As thou art to his heart" (Digital Renaissance EditionsTLN 2643-48). It seems significant that the story of Elizabeth appearing in armor (a story that might have been familiar to a seventeenth-century audience) is given to Truth, rather than Titania. In light of the way that Elizabeth at Tilbury was used as a symbol of God's favor toward Protestant England, it is particularly telling that Truth and Elizabeth, at least momentarily, become one – thus, carrying on the legacy that truth is on the side of the Protestants.

    In addition to the allusions to Tilbury scattered throughout the play, there are also interesting parallels between Titania and Elizabeth. Here, Dekker presents Titania, like Elizabeth, as a warrior-queen who addresses her "fellow souldiers":

    Trust me, I like the martiall life so well,
    I could change Courts to camper, in sultles to dwell.
    Tis a braue life: Me thinkes it best becomes
    A Prince to march thus, betweene guns and drummes.
    My fellow souldiers I dare sweare youl'e fight
    To the last man, your Captaine being in sight.
    (Digital Renaissance EditionsTLN 2731-36)

    10Just as Elizabeth vows that she "will venter [her] royall blood" (326) for her people, Titania also raises the cry for blood and rallies her troops to victory. Titania, like Elizabeth, refers to herself as a "Prince;" Titania is a "Captaine" to Elizabeth's "king." Moreover, when Florimell warns Titania against traveling to Beria, Titania counters: "How? feare? why should white bosomes / Feare a Tyrants Arme? / Tyrants may kill vs, but not doe vs harme" (Digital Renaissance EditionsTLN 2426-28). Titania's response echoes Elizabeth's boast to her troops: "I have been persuaded by some that are careful of my safety, to take heed how I committed myself to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery. But I tell you that I would not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear." (326). Gender, here, as in Elizabeth's speech, plays a significant role in how Titania represents herself to her Fairyland troops. Just as Elizabeth knew how to use her gender in a given situation, Titania also knows that a military setting requires her to play both the manly captain and the trusting "white bosom."

    Queen Elizabeth's Armada Speech To The Troops At Tilbury, August 9, 1588.

    My loving people, I have been persuaded by some that are careful of my safety, to take heed how I committed myself to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery. But I tell you that I would not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear: I have so behaved myself that under God I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and goodwill of my subjects. Wherefore I am come among you at this time but for my recreation and pleasure, being resolved in the midst and heat of battle to live and die amongst you all, to lay down for my God and for my kingdom and for my people mine honour and my blood even in the dust. I know I have 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 – and take foul scorn that Parma or any prince of Europe should dare to invade the borders of my realm. To the which rather than any dishonor shall grow by me, I myself will venter my royall blood; I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of your virtue in the field. I know that already for your forwardness you have deserved rewards and crowns, and I assure you in the word of a prince you shall not fail of them. In the meantime, my lieutenant general shall be in my stead, than whom never prince commanded a more noble or worthy subject. Not doubting but by your concord in the camp and valor in the field and your obedience to myself and my general, we shall shortly have a famous victory over those enemies of my God and of my kingdom. (Elizabeth I: Collected Works, 325-26)