Maybe we should be more like Elizabeth I

To my extraordinary fellow students and professor, Ann-Kathrin exhaustingly presents you this week’s blog.

I want to talk about the various salutation which show not only the hierarchy between the writer of the letters and their recipients but also changes in her career.

Each letter is addressed to someone, where their name and rank are stated. In addition the addresses also include adjectives concerned with the recipient. Mostly also the writer, Elizabeth, is included. I thought that was very fascinating.

Elizabeth’s letter to her mother Queen Katherine include both in its address. Additionally the address states the main focus of the letter: “To the most high, most illustrious and magnanimous Princess Katherine, queen of England, France, and Ireland, Elizabeth, her most humble daughter, gives greeting and due obedience” (10). It does not include either an additional salutation nor closing. The letters to her father, King Edward, don’t include Elizabeth in the address, lack a salutation, but do have a closing: “[Addressed] To the most illustrious and most nobel King Edward the Sixth … Your majesty’s most humble daughter, Elizabeth” (14-15). Then we have several letters for Lord Edward Seymour and Elizabeth’s sister Mary which include both a salutation and closing. Those are also a lot more personal than the ones sent to her parents. Is this inclusion or exclusion of salutations a way to show subordination and respect?

After Elizabeth became queen the addresses and salutations changed. The letters were now signed at the beginning of the letter, with a combination of Elizabeth R, Elizabeth Regina, or “By the queen” (205). Only more personal letters or ones to friends still had a salutation and a closing. Again, this seems like a power shift, an indication of hierarchy established through a simple address.

The only letters missing any kind mentioning of royalty seem to be the ones to the duke of Anjou/Alençon. But then again they were love letters, which, at least, in my mind had to be distinctly different than those to family or subordinates.

Does anyone else think it is sad that we today have lost the “ability” to greet someone when writing to them? Not that we should show any kind of hierarchy, but so many forms of communications have lost any sense of address/salutation/closing. I have observed how I communicate through different social media modes the last two days and I do have admit that I sometimes forgo a simple “Dear …” or “Hello …,” I mean they do know I am writing to them why do I have to emphasis it (how horrible!)? Sign an email? How redundant, they recipient knows who the email is from right? But then some modes of communication are not made to be personal anymore, yes I am talking about you, twitter.

Your humble blogger, Ann-Kathrin



8 thoughts on “Maybe we should be more like Elizabeth I

  1. I am so glad you brought this up because it is also what I am so fascinated about with these letters! However, before I get started, I thought Kind Edward VI was Elizabeth’s brother, and King Henry VIII was her father? I could be wrong though because wow, I find this time period so interesting, but I instinctually shy away from it because it gets so complicated! Everyone is someone’s brother, sister, or cousin it seems like; and they are all married to each other which makes it confusing; and they all execute each other so they can marry another cousin which makes it scandalously confusing! This is also a side note but I found it amazing that there was only one recorded or archived letter that Elizabeth actually wrote to her father; I’m curious as to why this is?Anyways, onto an actual response…

    I was originally struck by how the greetings and closings, or salutations, drastically change as Elizabeth becomes the Faerie Queen. Just in the quote you cited, Elizabeth seems enamored with whom she is writing to since she uses words like, “most high” and “magnanimous” when describing her step-mother. It seems so interesting that Elizabeth is so kind and loving to Katherine since she in a sense, married King Henry which caused her own mother to be executed. These salutations also seem so formal, and yet so personal at the same time; which, also makes it curious to wonder about our own addresses to people we send letters to or are writing to in any format. I personally, only use “proper” greetings and salutations when I am writing to someone who I work with, a professor, or a student. In any other form I rarely use a such a formal greeting. It seems that with this development of social media, salutations have become almost obsolete, as if they no longer matter and are irrelevant. However, if i receive an email that is from a student or co-worker, I judge the fact that they have not properly addressed or closed the “letter’. I suppose I am a hypocrite!

  2. Just a quick history lesson. And I don’t blame any of you for not knowing this. It’s terribly confusing. I’ve gone over this many times and still get perplexed.

    Edward VI was indeed Elizabeth’s half-brother, son of Jane Seymour, who produced the male heir for Henry VIII that Anne Boleyn could not. In fact, we read one of Edward’s letters (or at least written in his name) during our first day at the BPL. Queen Katherine, at least Queen Katherine of Aragon (there were two other Katherines who married Henry), was Henry’s first wife, so Elizabeth had good reason to be nice to her. Her mother had, in some sense, caused the end of Katherine’s marriage and as the daughter of Henry’s new wife, Elizabeth understandably feared Katherine’s retribution.

    To make matters more confusing, and this gets back to Ann-Kathrin’s (note the irony of an Anne-Katherine name now!) original point about salutations, Elizabeth often refers to her addressees as “mother” or “brother” in ways that don’t signify any biological relationship. They are terms of affection. For example, she refers to James VI of Scotland (future James I of England) as her “brother” but they are actually first cousins once removed. As sweet as these salutations are, we have good reason to doubt their sincerity. In other words, if these salutations are simply rhetorical devices, have we really lost that much by not including them as often anymore? I’m not suggesting that the answer to this question is yes. It’s a genuine question.

  3. I am sorry for the confusion, I thought that calling someone brother or signing with “daughter” held truth. But than I have experienced this in America many times that some get called “Aunt” and they are just good family friends.

  4. To my most noble and virtuous fellow students and Professor,
    Write trusty and well-beloved cousins, I greet you well. This generation of ours is losing the art of letter writing. Where there once was salutations and closings, today there is none. The speed in which we are able to communicate and the instant gratification gained by not having to wait, has caused the inclusion of these to be cumbersome and a hindrance to the whole process. Etiquette and decorum have been sacrificed.
    Did Elizabeth have to write as elaborately as she did with such formal salutations and closings (especially seen in the early letters)? Did the recipients of these letters not know who they had come from? Ahh, the formality of it all! However, they do serve some useful purposes. The salutations and closings to the hierarchy demonstrate her respect and humbleness. I can picture her bowing to them as she writes (though the writing at times seems long-windeth). And then there is the purpose for the addressed persons sake and posterity too.
    The latter years exhibit a simplistic form of address, probably due to the number of letters she had to write as Queen. Cecil just had to ask, “How would you like them addressed your Highness?” Her replies: “The standard will be fine Cecil” or on an angry note, “By the Queen!” (Cecil would be a good name for a “Word Program”). The reader is prepared for the tone of the letter set in its salutation.
    I personally favor the formality and feel that it adds a personal touch to the history all these letters share. Would I use it personally? Not a chance! On this note I take leave of you, my fellow academic scholars, to partake in other forms in which to meet you in the Social Scriptorium.
    Humbly yours,
    Arthur S

  5. I had also found this very interesting because it offers great historical insight into how people began and closed their letters. I kept on thinking about Heloise reprimanding Abelard for not following the norms (according to her) of formal letter writing.

    Like you, Ann-Kathrin, I always thought that there has to be a distinction between formal letter writing and love letter writing. This is why I was wondering if Heloise was actually reprimanding Abelard for writing a formal letter and not just for not following the norms of formal letter writing. But enough of those two!

    Once again I have to admit I’m fascinated with Elizabeth’s early letters. I find they provide a lot more of who Elizabeth was as a person than her later epistles probably because as a Queen she was always under surveillance. And yet…Elizabeth is always careful of what she’s saying and if she was careful when she was a young Princess I cannot imagine how careful she became after she was crowned and had so many counselors and secretaries to advise her.

    She writes to her brother Edward, then King, that it is “rather characteristic of my nature not only not to say in words as much as I think in my mind, but also, indeed, not to say more than I think” (16). Like Alex said we have reason to doubt the sincerity of her salutations. Of course, being such an educated woman she knew exactly what to say and when to say it.

    And in a somewhat related note, this might be a stupid question but why does Elizabeth start her letters (from letter 30 on) with “we greet you well”? What does she mean by this?

    PS: I truly enjoyed your salutations ☺

  6. To begin: Andi, I think I can answer that question for you. When a monarch says ‘we’, they mean ‘I’. It’s called the royal ‘we’; since the monarch is the head of the body politic, they simultaneously speak for themselves as well as their entire kingdom and so they use ‘we’ whenever they reference the first person.

    Art, I want to take you to task on your conclusions about why we don’t address letters in such a grandiose way anymore. I’m not sure I agree that the lack of formality we see in average letter writing is specifically a symptom of modern culture, wherein we all demand instant gratification. Maybe I’m just being optimistic, but I feel that the increased lack of formality in all of our communication today is, in part, the combined result of practicality and the traditional structure of class breaking down. I agree with what Ann-Katherine says in her last paragraph, but I don’t view it as a lamentation; rather, I see it as a population dispensing with outdated formalities that have little to no practical use in modern correspondence. I kind of like the idea that we all agreed to ‘just get on with it’.

    I also think our comparative lack of formality is, in part, a result of the dissolution of traditional class structure. Although, yes, we still have an impressive divide among classes today, they are economic classes, not feudal. People may be richer, but I don’t think there’s a ready association to consider those of an upper class to be our ‘betters’. Although it is still rather common for people to view others as their superior, it is only usually in the professional sense (modern bureaucracy holds some striking similarity to feudal class structure), not the social. A multi-billionaire walking into a Starbucks would most likely be treated the same as a debt-plagued college student.

    Although I find the formality of Early Modern letter addressing extremely interesting, I do feel hesitant to say that we ‘lost’ it as a culture, as I feel that that sort of sentimentality leads us to a sort of “good ol’ days” thinking, and if there’s one thing history has shown us, it’s that there was never such a thing.

    • Well, a multibillionaire wouldn’t make it into Starbucks (their PAs have PAs for that), and a quick sweep across the very fine Starbucks I’m writing this in, $4.35 mocha in hand, doesn’t show *that* much class diversity, but Jerimiah, I get your point. I do think that class structure is at least more mobile — or there’s the perception that it is. Who was it, maybe Steinbeck, who commented that everyday Americans all consider themselves not the proletariat so much as temporarily embarassed millionaires?

      As a whole, I do have to throw in with you on this one though. “Decorum” and “society” rules have only ever applied to the wealthy, powerful, and those seeking favor from them. It’s just that now we know what people outside the leisure class are doing, both because it’s happening contemporaneously and because communication tools are more accessible.

      Having not a lot of nostalgia for the lost days of salad forks or feudal titles, but acknowledging that it’s an interesting stylistic conceit at least to use in the modern era for an epistolary touch, at least among people who are clear-eyed about it, I remain, respectfully yours,

  7. AK I am so glad you mentioned the salutations. I too find them especially intriguing. In trying to connect all of my posts back to my email discussion… I find her salutations to be another strategic move to gain the respect of a patriarchal society. I think the way that she portrays herself as fitting in normal gender roles for women at the time is another way that Elizabeth maintains her virtuous reputation, while at the same time making it easier for a patriarchal society to accept the fact that she is a woman ruling over them. In many of the letters she normalizes herself by calling herself a sister, a daughter, a maiden, a virgin, a woman of virtue, pious and devoted to her faith and the well being of her country. Naming herself with these conventional female roles is a strategic rhetorical move to gain respect and maintain her power as a woman. Minimizing her role to be seen as a woman of virtue helps her gain the respect of a patriarchal society and to lessen the blow to the male ego that a woman is ruling them, and in turn she can use this respect to maintain her power as Queen. Her rhetorical strategies, like giving a male, namely Cecil, the authority to pen her letters, maintaining her innocence in her letters, and portraying herself as fitting into these normal or conventional female gender roles in her salutations and otherwise allows her to gain respect as a reigning Queen and maintain and exert her power as such. Her rhetorical strategies go beyond this, but I see this as being particularly significant.
    See you all at the Houghton!

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