There is perhaps no greater feminist moment in historical costume film or TV than this, Queen Elizabeth I’s speech to the troops at Tilbury. Given in 1588 on the eve of the invading Spanish Armada, the actual historical event was surely a sight to behold and the text alone is stirring to the soul. But to hear a great actor proclaim these words — especially in a decent costume — well, it’s the kind of inspiration that gives even a modern woman hope.
Thus, in these days when we need all the stirring, inspirational rhetoric we can get, here are five great Tilbury speeches by women portraying Queen Elizabeth I over the years.
Fire Over England (1937)
This movie doesn’t tell the actual history of the Spanish Armada, so Flora Robson gives a short version of the Tilbury speech at the end, 1:17:25 in.
Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)
Cate Blanchett does a fine job with a shortened version of this speech.
Elizabeth R (1971)
In episode 5 of this series, Glenda Jackson delivers the speech, at the 1:09:40 mark of this video, complete with commentary from the soldiers.
The Virgin Queen (2005)
Perhaps the longest and most complete version of the speech.
There’s a lovely setup for the speech here, with as Jeremy Iron’s Leicester to Helen Mirren’s Elizabeth.
For reference, here is the original text of the speech, as printed around 1624:
My loving people
We have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit our selves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery; but I assure you I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear. I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good-will of my subjects; and therefore I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live and die amongst you all; to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and my people, my honour and my blood, even in the dust.
I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.
I know already, for your forwardness you have deserved rewards and crowns; and We do assure you on a word of a prince, they shall be duly paid. In the mean time, my lieutenant general shall be in my stead, than whom never prince commanded a more noble or worthy subject; not doubting but by your obedience to my general, by your concord in the camp, and your valour in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory over these enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people.
Are you inspired?