ELIZABETH I LETS FLY AT THE POLISH AMBASSADOR `She is only a woman, only mistress of half an island, and yet she makes herself feared by Spain, by France, by the Empire, by all.' - Pope Sixtus V This ex tempore rebuke was delivered by Queen Elizabeth I in 1597 to the Polish ambassador, who, when received in open court, had not stuck to diplomatic pleasantries but launched straight into a denunciation of the English policy of intercepting Polish ships that were trading with Spain, with which England was then at war. The episode demonstrates her thorough command of the language but the fact that contemporaries were so impressed by it also shows that rulers at this time, though certainly possessing some knowledge of Latin, were not expected to be fully fluent. The Latin text has been taken from Janet Green, `Queen Elizabeth I's Latin Reply to the Polish Ambassador', The Sixteenth Century Journal, vol.31, no.4, pages 987-1006. It must be remembered, of course, that we are dependent on the memory of one of Elizabeth's listeners and that there are probably some variations from what the queen actually said. For an account of Elizabeth's early education, and her exceptional talent as a linguist, see Jackson and Kaylor's essay here. The 2019 discovery of a translation of Tacitus with corrections in the queen's own hand is described in a BBC report.
Eh, quam dēcepta fuī, expectāvī lēgātiōnem, tū vērō querelam mihi addūxistī. Per literās accēpī Oh how deceived I-have-been I-expected embassy you indeed complaint to-me have-brought through letters I-ascertained tē esse lēgātum, vērō Heraldum; nunquam in vītā meā audīvī tālem ōrātiōnem. Mīror sānē, mīror you to-be ambassador in-fact Herald never in life my have-I-heard such speech I-am-amazed indeed amazed tantam, et tam īnsolentem in pūblicō audāciam, neque possum crēdere sī rēx tuus adesset quod ipse (at)so-great and so insolent in public audacity and-not I-am-able to-believe if king your were-present that himself tālia verba prōtulisset, quī vērō tāle aliquid tibi fortasse in mandātīs commīsit (quod quidem such words would-have-said (if)he indeed such something to-you perhaps in instructions authorised which indeed valdē dubitō) eō tribuendum, quod cum rēx sit iuvenis, et nōn tam iūre sanguinis, quam iūre stronly I-doubt to-fact-to-be-attributed that since king is young-man and not so by-right-of-blood as by-right ēlectiōnis, et noviter ēlēctus, nōn tam perfectē intellegat ratiōnem tractandī huiusmodī nēgōtia cum of-election and newly elected not so perfectly he-understands method of-treating of-this-kind business with other aliīs prīncipibus,quam vel maiōrēs illīus nōbīscum observāvērunt, vel fortasse observābunt aliī quī princes as either ancestors his with-us observed or perhaps will-observe others who posthāc eius locum tenēbunt. hereafter his place will-hold
Quod ad tē attinet, tū mihi vidēris multōs librōs lēgisse, librōs tamen prīncipum nōn attigisse, As-far-as to you attains you to-me seem many books to-have-read books however of-princes not to-have-touched sed prōrsus ignōrāre quid inter rēgēs convēnerit. Iam quod iūris nātūrae et gentium mentiōnem but actually not-to-know what among kings has-been-convention now as of-law of-nature and of-nations mention facis, scītō esse iūris nātūrae gentiumque ut cum bellum inter rēgēs intercēdat, liceat alterī you-make know to-be of-law of-nature and-of-nations that when war between kings occurs it-is-permitted to-one alterīus bellica subsidia, undicumque allāta intercipere, et nē in damnum suum convertantur other’s military resources from-wherever brought to-intercept and lest into loss their-own they-be-converted praecāvēre; hoc, inquam, esse iūris nātūrae et gentium. to-take-precaution this I-say to-be of-law of-nature and of-nations
Quod novam affīnitātem cum domō Austriācā commemorēs, quam tantī iam fierī velīs, Because new connection with house of-Austria you-mention which so-important now to-become you-would-like nōn tē fugiat, ex eādem domō nōn dēfuisse, quī rēgī tuō Polōniae rēgnum praeripere not you let-it-escape from same house not to-have-lacked one-who from-king your of-Poland kingship to-snatch-away voluisset. would-have-liked
Dē cēterīs quae nōn sunt huius locī et temporis, cum plūra sint et singulātim cōnsīderanda, illud about other-things which not are of-this place and time since more are and individually to-be-considered for-that expectābis quod ex quibusdam meīs cōnsiliāriīs huius reī dēsignandīs intellege. Intereā vērō you-will-wait which [shall come] from certain(of) my advisors for-this-matte to-be-appointed understand meanwhile indeed valeās et quiēscās. farewell and hold-your-peace