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An Historian fit for a Queen? Elizabeth I’s translation of the Annales and the Tacitean Turn

An Historian fit for a Queen?
Elizabeth I’s translation of the Annales and the Tacitean Turn

John-Mark Philo

[1] The re-emergence of Elizabeth I’s translation of Tacitus has important implications not only for our understanding of the queen’s literary tastes and pursuits, but also for our understanding of Tacitus’s reputation in the final decades of the sixteenth century (LPL MS 683; see Philo 2020b). After all, there could hardly have been a stronger endorsement for the study of a particular historian at court than the queen’s own reading and translation thereof. Elizabeth’s Tacitus encompasses the first book of the Annales, covering a period of history that witnessed extraordinary changes in the traditional political structures of Rome, namely the gradual centralisation of power in the emperor Augustus and Rome’s transition from republic to principate. Taken on its own, the first book might be read as illustrating the stabilizing effects of monarchical government for a troubled state, a theme which, as is explored below, also underpinned the queen’s translation of Cicero’s Pro Marcello. By examining Elizabeth’s choices as a translator and her implicit support of Tacitus as an historian suitable for study at court, this article underlines the significance of the queen and her translation in the early modern reception of Tacitus.

[2] The majority of scholarship to date has associated Elizabethan enthusiasm for Tacitus with the Essex circle and with the political ambitions of the Earl of Essex himself.[1] In this view, Henry Savile’s translation of Tacitus’s Historiae and Agricola (1591), despite its being dedicated to the queen, has been understood as a kind of textbook for Devereux, ‘support[ing] what seems to have been Essex’s political strategy in the early 1590s’ (Womersley 1991: 317). Though Bart van Es allows that ‘Savile himself was a proficient servant of monarchy who was successful in his pursuit of patronage under both Elizabeth and James’, he suggests nonetheless that ‘through the Essex circle […] Tacitus came increasingly to be associated with subversion’ (2015: 448). This view, though enduring, has been challenged. In her essay on Henry Savile’s Tacitus and the politics of Roman history, Paulina Kewes cautions against reading Savile’s translation ‘proleptically’, noting a tendency of scholarship to approach the work ‘as a knowing supply of images and vocabularies of corruption, despotism, and faction that had not in fact come to determine the view of Elizabeth among Essex and his followers until several years later’ (2011: 516). Instead, Kewes reads Savile’s translation as a subtle commentary on the unsettled succession, not least of all through ‘its vivid depiction of civil wars ignited by brutal competition for the throne’ (2011: 544). More recently, Mordechai Feingold has questioned the depth of Essex’s engagement with Tacitus, as well as his apparent friendship with Savile, concluding persuasively that ‘nothing like the intimacy and extended patronage between Savile and Elizabeth (and Burghley) can be found in Savile’s relations with Essex’ (2016: 863).

[3] This article instead posits the queen’s activities as a translator as one of the most important influences for the study of Tacitus at the Elizabethan court. In her negotiation and occasional dilution of the republican elements of Tacitus’s political history, there is even the sense that Elizabeth was, through translation, making him an historian fit for consumption at court. In his recent examination of the plurality of responses which Tacitus’s histories inspired in early modern England, R. Malcolm Smuts observes that ‘Tacitus did not provide a single cohesive message so much as a supply of nuggets of insight and information ready to be deployed in different situations’ (2020: 443). A key, and compelling, element of Smuts’ analysis is his observation that the reading of Tacitus in fact helped to reinforce the intellectual and cultural status quo, ‘sharpen[ing] and extend[ing] patterns of thought already present in English culture’ (2020: 450). This article argues that Tacitus, as well as early imperial history more generally, could be read in late Elizabethan England as reinforcing not only the intellectual and cultural norms of the day, but also the governmental.

[4] The first section of this article considers the patron-translator relationships that encouraged the study of Tacitus at court in the latter half of the sixteenth century, namely those enjoyed by Giovanni Maria Manelli and the Sidney brothers, Robert Greenway and Robert Devereux, and finally and most significantly, Henry Savile and Elizabeth I. The second section examines those passages of the Annales which speak to the most pressing questions of Elizabeth’s late reign, from the anxieties surrounding the unsettled succession to the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (1542–1587). More generally, this section explores the power of the historical precedent during this period as a rhetorical tool: depending on the context, the ancient past could be used to reinforce or undermine a given course of action or practice, at one moment celebrating the stability of the English legislature and, at another, subtly outlining the necessary conditions for rebellion. As this section explores, however, the most readily accessible narratives of successful revolution for an Elizabethan readership were to be found not in Tacitus, but in Livy and Ovid. Finally, the article addresses an apparent conceptual shift between the final years of the sixteenth century, when Tacitus was an historian who found favour with the queen herself, and the reign of Charles I, when the antiquarian Edmund Bolton (1574/5–c.1634) read the Annales as a fiercely pro-republican tract.[2] Just thirty years after the queen’s death, Bolton composed his Averrunci, or The Skowrers (1629–1634), a vigorous critique of Tacitus which he dedicated to ‘his Majesties most honorable Privie Counsel’ (2017: 67). Written in the first decade of Charles’s reign, Bolton underlined what he understood to be Tacitus’s pro-republican and anti-monarchical bias. He focused on the first six books of the Annales, and in doing so, attempted to salvage Tiberius from Tacitus’s alleged misrepresentation of the emperor. For Bolton, there was a very real danger lest the devoted reader of Tacitus, repelled by the historian’s depiction of Tiberius, might be persuaded of the virtues of popular government. Intriguingly, Bolton not only touched on Elizabeth’s enthusiasm for Tacitus, but also identified what he saw as the obvious parallels between her reign and that of Tiberius. The question of succession, the censorship of historiography, and the suppression of revolts at home and further afield which defined the latter years of Elizabeth’s rule all suggested to Bolton compelling similarities with Tacitus’s account of Tiberian Rome. This third section thus considers the importance of Edmund Bolton not only as an early modern critic of Tacitus, but also as a witness to the final years of Elizabeth’s Tiberian reign. By considering the queen’s contribution to Tacitus’s growing popularity in the final years of the sixteenth century and the ways in which the Annales may even have helped to reinforce Elizabeth’s approach to and method of rule, this article offers some fresh perspectives on the court reception of Tacitus and the uses of imperial history.

I. The Reception of Tacitus at the Elizabethan Court

[5] The final two decades of the sixteenth century saw the publication of three translations of Tacitus. Each of these was dedicated to a member of the Elizabethan court whose interests in the historian went beyond simply receiving these translations. The first of these was produced in Italian by Giovanni Maria Manelli in 1586 and dedicated to Robert Sidney (1563–1626). Manelli describes the presentation of this work to Robert not so much as introducing but returning Tacitus to the patronage of the Sidney brothers: ‘With regard to Cornelius Tacitus, it would seem to me to be doing him too much wrong, if I were to remove him from the protection of the Sidney gentlemen, who singularly penetrate and understand the wisdom with which he has written’.[3] As Smuts notes, Tacitus’s focus on Agricola’s career as governor of Roman-occupied Britannia may well have suggested to the Sidney brothers ‘the career of Philip’s father, Sir Henry Sidney, as lord deputy of Ireland’ (2020: 444).

[6] In October 1580, Philip Sidney had written to his younger brother, Robert, while the latter was undertaking a tour of Europe in the company of Henry Savile, the mathematician who would, of course, ultimately translate Tacitus himself. Here Philip took the opportunity to recommend the study of Livy for his ‘Sentences’, Plutarch for his ‘similitudes’, and Tacitus for his ‘wittie word’ (Sidney 2012: 1008). Robert is to pay particular attention to each area ‘wherein the Historian excelleth’, including, for example, ‘Dion Nicæus in the searching of the secrets of Gouerment. Tacitus in the pithy opening the venome of Wickedness & so of the rest’ (Sidney 2012: 1008). While he underlines the moral value of Tacitus’s history to Robert, it was with an emphasis on warfare that Philip Sidney had recommended Tacitus to Edward Denny (1547–1600) in May of the same year. Denny would leave for Ireland just two months later (July 1580), with his cousin, Walter Ralegh (1554–1618), in an effort to suppress the second Desmond rebellion. Sidney most probably had this expedition in mind when he wrote to Denny suggesting reading material that would be of most use ‘to you that with good reason bend your selfe to souldiery’ (2012: 982). Here Tacitus appears last in a long list of ancient historians, including Herodotus, Xenophon, Quintus Curtius, Polybius, Sallust, and Caesar, the reading of whom will furnish the soldier with ‘excellent examples, both of discipline & stratagemes’ (Sidney 2012: 983). As Joel Davis has explored, Robert Sidney purchased his own edition of Tacitus while serving in the cavalry of the Earl of Essex in The Hague (2006, 3–5). Robert annotated his copy of Lipsius’s 1585 edition in considerable detail, with an eye to trends and fashions ‘now in our court’ and to the machinations of competing courtiers (quoted in Davis 2006: 10).

[7] Henry Savile’s translation of the Historiae and Agricola appeared in 1591, accompanied by one of the most detailed commentaries on Tacitus to be written during the early modern period. Savile prefaced his translations with an historical supplement of his own composition, The Ende of Nero and the Beginning of Galba, filling the historiographical gap between Tacitus’s Annales and the Historiae. According to the antiquary and biographer, John Aubrey (1626–1697), Savile served the queen as personal tutor in both Greek and politics (2015: 1.264). It seems plausible that Elizabeth was also reading Tacitus in the company of Savile in his capacity as tutor, much as she had once translated ‘a great part of the History of Titus Livius’ in the company of Roger Ascham (William Camden 1625: sig. Ar). As Savile explains in the dedication to the queen, he has published his own translation ‘as by a foile to communicate to the world, if not those admirable compositions of your owne, yet at the least those most rare and excellent translations of Histories’ (1591: sig. ¶2r). Though Savile does not explicitly refer to the queen’s translation of the Annales, we might reasonably take this to suggest that by 1591, the queen had already completed her own version of Tacitus. As Mordechai Feingold proposes, Savile may in fact have deliberately avoided translating the Annales ‘precisely because he was loath to compete with – or upstage – his sovereign’ (2016: 869). Of significance to dating the queen’s own translation, the scribe responsible for copying Elizabeth’s Tacitus appears to have been active in the secretariat from the late 1580s. This scribe was responsible for preparing fair copies of letters addressed to foreign princes, including James VI and Henri IV (Philo 2020b: 57; cf. ‘The Queen to Henry IV’, TNA, SP 78/27 fol. 19r–v), whose hand bears a resemblance to that of ‘Scribe B’, as discussed in Carlo Bajetta’s study of Elizabeth’s Italian correspondence (Bajetta 2014: 48; figures 4a and 4b: 58–9). Though it is not impossible that the Lambeth scribe completed the transcription at some remove from its original composition, the example of Thomas Windebank’s preparing a fair copy of Elizabeth’s Boethius suggests a reasonably close window between rough draft and fair copy (TNA, SP 12/289: fols 100r–102v; see Elizabeth I 2009: 72 n. 1). We might tentatively suggest then that the translation was originally completed in the second half of the 1580s or even 1590, prompting Savile to undertake his own translation of the historian.

[8] It would be difficult to conjure a scholar from the period who benefitted more directly from the favour he found with the queen than Henry Savile. It was through Elizabeth’s intervention that he secured his position not only as Warden of Merton College, Oxford, but also as Provost of Eton College. In 1592, the queen visited Oxford where she exchanged speeches with Savile and appears, as Mueller and Scodel suggest, to have undertaken her translation of Cicero (Elizabeth I 2009: 3). A fair copy of the historical supplement which Savile prepared for his translation, The Ende of Nero and the Beginning of Galba, now survives among the Cecil Papers at Hatfield House (Cecil Papers, MS 139: fols 194r–203v). As Feingold proposes, ‘its provenance may suggest that prior to publication, Savile had submitted his ingenious composition to Lord Burghley for approval – as befits a long-time client of the Lord Treasurer’ (2016: 858). Even the paper on which the fair drafts of Savile’s translation were written speaks of the patronage he enjoyed under the queen. The printer’s copy of the Savile Tacitus, now preserved at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, was written on paper produced by John Spilman (d.1626), whose watermark, featuring the garter, crown, and ‘honi soit qui mal y pense’, can be found throughout the manuscript (Gravell Catalogue Arms.021.1). The same royal watermark is also present in the paper used for the fair copy of Savile’s historical supplement preserved at Hatfield House (see Philo 2021: 11–2). Savile’s translation then was not only dedicated to Elizabeth but was even drafted on paper embossed with the queen’s coat of arms.

[9] The lattermost of the three translations of Tacitus to be printed in Elizabeth’s reign was published in 1598, undertaken by Richard Greenway and dedicated to the Earl of Essex. The Earl’s wider interest in Tacitus is suggested by a letter from Henry Brooke, Baron Cobham, to an unknown recipient (possibly Richard Cotton), dated January 1602 and preserved among the Cotton Manuscripts, according to which Essex was making his own notes on the historian (BL MS Cotton Vespasian F/XIII: fol. 290r. cf. Hammer 1996: 43). Greenway himself assumes the Earl’s familiarity with the historian, remarking in the dedication that ‘the worthiness of this Author [is] well knowen vnto your honor’ (1598: s.p.). Though Mordechai Feingold has interrogated the extent of Essex’s commitment to scholarship in general, there is no reason to doubt that Greenway believed sincerely that his translation had found a suitable dedicatee (2016: 864–867). Greenway’s version was read in at least some quarters with an eye to the practical lessons that it might afford the prince. The annotator of a copy now preserved in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, next to the account of Sallustius Crispus’s advice to Livia concerning the ‘arcana domus’ (‘secrets of the royal household’), writes, for example, ‘a good rule for a wise prince to follow’ (Bod. AA3 Art. Seld.: A2r). The diplomat and administrator, Sir George Carew (1555–1629), read Greenway’s Tacitus in considerable detail, quoting directly from the translation in his extensive notes on warfare and statecraft, now preserved at Lambeth Palace Library (LPL, MS 951/1: fols 132r–133v; MS 954: fol. 36rv). It is not clear when Carew came to read Greenway’s Tacitus, but it is possible that he did so while serving in Ireland, much as Robert Sidney had read his Tacitus while on campaign in the Netherlands (Carew refers directly to the English occupation of Ireland in his notes on the Roman conquest of Britain, LPL, MS 951/1: fol. 130r). Carew appears to have taken an interest in the provisions which Augustus made for the events immediately following his death. Under the heading ‘Care of the publicke estate is most necessary for princes’, he writes: ‘Augustus example is good for princes to imitate, for after his death a booke of his owne hand writinge was found, wherein was conteyned the wealthe of the publike Treasure, how many Cittyzens and allies were in Armes, what strength the state had by sea […]’ (LPL, MS 951/1: fol. 132r). For Carew, as for Augustus, it seemed prudent for an ageing prince to attend to matters directly concerning the smooth administration of the state in the wake of the monarch’s death. Carew’s phrasing here closely echoes the translation offered by Greenway, the relevant page of which he cites immediately following this note: ‘fol: 6:’ (cf. Greenway 1598: 6). So too, for example, Carew’s pessimistic observation under ‘princes’ – ‘princes are sayed to be like vnto gods, but gods favour no petitions but suche as are Just’ – echoes closely Greenway’s wording of Gaius Cestius’s speech, as recorded in the third book: ‘Princes were like vnto gods: but yet the gods heard no supplications but iust’ (LPL, MS 951/1: fol. 132r; Greenway 1598: 75).

[10] The strongest indication of court-centered interest in Tacitus, however, is the queen’s own translation of the Annales. Elizabeth was an accomplished linguist, well versed in French, Italian, and Latin, and familiar with Spanish and Greek.[4] As Alessandra Petrina notes, the queen’s activities as a translator cover a period of over fifty years, including translations of religious works undertaken in her youth – e.g. Marguerite de Navarre’s Miroir de l’Âme Pécheresse (1544) and John Calvin’s Institution de la Religion Chrestienne (1545) – as well as translations of Seneca, Boethius, Horace, Plutarch, and Cicero completed in her maturity. If, as Petrina suggests, at least some of these works ‘were meant for semi-public perusal at court’, it seems reasonable to assume that the queen’s study and translation of Tacitus was familiar to her courtiers (2018: 39).

[11] It is not difficult to imagine why the first book of Tacitus’s Annales might have appealed in particular to an early modern prince: it shows the disintegration of the Republic and the emergence of a monarchical form of government which is able to bring stability to a state exhausted by civil war. With the first words of the Annales, Tacitus puts Rome’s remarkable political transformation in focus, offering a concise summary of the shift from monarchy to republic, and from republic to principate:

Vrbem Romam à principio reges habuere: Libertatem, & Consulatum L. Brutus instituit […] & Pompeij Craßique potentia citò in Caesarem: Lepidi, atque Antonij arma in Augustum cessere, qui cuncta discordiis ciuilibus fessa, nomine principis sub imperium accepit.

(The city of Rome was ruled by kings to begin with: Lucius Brutus established freedom and the consulship. The might of Pompey and Crassus quickly yielded to Caesar, and the arms of Anthony to Augustus, who took everything exhausted by civil strife into his power under the name of ‘prince’) (Tacitus 1574: 215. Cf. Annales: 1.1.)

For which Elizabeth gives:

Rome citye at first Kinges guided. Popularitie and Consulshipp L. Brutus ordained. […] Pompeys and Crassus rule to Cæsar fell. Lepidus and Anthonyes armes to Augustus gaue place, whom he to his rule did take with Princes title, all weryed with ciuill discordes. (LPL MS 683: fol. 1r)

[12] Here Elizabeth uses ‘popularitie’ to translate Tacitus’s ‘Libertatem’ (‘freedom’), a word which, in a political context, typically carried the sense of civil freedom or liberty.[5] Thus Cicero had used libertas in opposition with servitus in the Philippics, presenting liberty as a quintessentially Roman trait: ‘Aliae nationes seruitutem pati possunt, populi Romani est propria libertas’ (‘other nations are able to suffer slavery, but freedom is peculiar to the Roman people’) (Cicero, Philippics: 1.19). That Elizabeth chose to translate libertas as ‘Popularitie’, which in the early modern period was used of a popular or democratic form of government, suggests that she was sensitive to Tacitus’s politically-charged use of the word. ‘Popularitie’ was frequently invoked in opposition to a monarchical form of government and carried, as one might expect, distinctly negative connotations. Thus John Whitgift (1530/1–1604) in his response to Thomas Cartwright (1534/5–1603) at the height of the Admonition controversy warned that his opponents were fostering ‘contempt of magistrates, popularitie, Anabaptistrie and sundrie others pernicious and pestilent errors’ (1574: sig. aivr). At other moments, Elizabeth translates libertas with the cognate ‘liberty’, or else ignores the word completely.[6] As Augustus grows weaker, there is talk at Rome of the old libertas: ‘pauci bona libertatis incassum disserere’ (‘a few spoke in vain of the benefits of freedom’), for which Elizabeth gives: ‘few carelessly their good neglected’ (Tacitus 1574: 217, cf. Annales: 1.4; LPL MS 683: fol. 1v). Once again the emphasis has subtly shifted, and while in Tacitus the citizens of Rome find themselves longing for ‘the benefits of freedom’, that is, for the republican form of government, in Elizabeth’s version, they themselves fail to appreciate and attend to their own quality of life.

[13] In contrast with republican libertas, Tacitus sets the servitium (‘slavery’) suffered by the Roman people under the princes. Tacitus explains, for example, that Augustus found little opposition at Rome to his gradual assumption of sovereignty since many of the nobility stood to profit from this kind of political servitude:

ceteri nobilum, quanto quis seruitio promtior, opibus & honoribus extollerentur, ac nouis ex rebus aucti, tuta & præsentia, quàm vetera & periculosa mallent.

(the rest of the nobles, as much as each of them was the more inclined to slavery, were elevated by wealth and honours, and, now advanced by the revolution, preferred the stability of the present than the insecurity of the past)

For which Elizabeth gives:

The rest of the noblest, as redyest in seruice, so most aduanced in wealth and dignitie, increased by new gyftes chose rather the saffe, and present, then ancient, and dangerous. (LPL MS 683: fol. 1r)

[14] Here Elizabeth dilutes the force of Tacitus’s ‘servitio promtior’ (‘more inclined to slavery’) with ‘redyest in seruice’ – in Elizabeth’s translation, the senators are officious and dutiful subjects, rather than political slaves, and are therefore duly rewarded. Elizabeth has also missed, or perhaps deliberately ignored, the specialist sense of ‘novae res’ as ‘revolution’. Thus, for ‘nouis ex rebus aucti’ (‘made greater through revolution’), by which Tacitus implies that certain members of the nobility have actively benefitted from the alteration in regime, she gives ‘increased by new gyftes’.

[15] At another moment, Tacitus juxtaposes republican ‘freedom’ and imperial ‘slavery’ when he touches on the assassination of Julius Caesar, referring to those citizens who had witnessed, or had at least heard tell of, ‘diem illum crudi adhuc seruitij, & libertatis improsperè repetitæ, cum occisus dictator Cæsar’ (‘that day, when slavery was still young, and freedom was sought again in an ill-starred attempt, when Caesar dictator was killed’) (1574: 220; cf. Annales: 1.8). Perhaps telling of how Elizabeth was reading Tacitus more widely, she gives this line a different gloss in her translation: ‘that day shoulde be the caller in of cruell bondage and unfortunate libertie. when Cesar Dictator was slaine’ (LPL MS 683: fol. 3r). In Tacitus, slavery was ‘still young’ because Rome, under Julius Caesar, was experiencing its first taste of monarchy since the expulsion of the Tarquins almost five hundred years before. In Elizabeth’s version, however, it is now the assassination of the monarch which heralds in a new age of servitude. Elizabeth’s subtle condemnation of Caesar’s death we might contrast with the account offered by an anonymous tract entitled A Conference About the Next Succession to the Crowne of Inglande, published at Antwerp in 1595. Here in a section entitled ‘Of Kings Lawfully Chastised by their Common Wealthes for their Misgouernment’, Caesar’s assassination is directly attributed to his usurpation of governmental powers: ‘when Iulius Cæsar uppon particuler ambition had broken al law both humane and diuine, and taken al gouernment in to his owne hands alone, he was in revenge hereof, slayne as the worlde knoweth, by senators in the senate-house’ (44). There were then conflicting readings of Caesar’s rule and murder at the hands of the Roman senate circulating in the final years of the sixteenth century. For Elizabeth, however, the assassination of a monarch signified the beginning of ‘cruell bondage’.

[16] Tacitus’s description of Augustus consolidating his power in the wake of civil war and offering stability to a people ‘exhausted by civil strife’ bears a striking resemblance to Cicero’s portrait of Julius Caesar in the Pro Marcello, translated by Elizabeth in around 1592. M. Claudius Marcellus had supported Pompey’s cause in the First Civil War and, following Pompey’s defeat at Pharsalia, had retired to Mytilene. Cicero’s speech, delivered in 46BC, was part of a wider effort at Rome to have Marcellus safely repatriated. What is so striking about the Pro Marcello, however, is just how little the eponymous defendant features. Instead, the emphasis is on Caesar. As Scodel and Mueller note, Elizabeth ‘chose to translate a work that a strict republican could only have regarded as an unfortunate lapse on Cicero’s part but a believer in virtuous monarchy would find profoundly congenial’ (Elizabeth I 2009: 4; see Petrina 2018: 49–56). Here Caesar is praised for his martial prowess and urged, as Elizabeth puts it, to ‘quench the flame of civil stir’ (2009: 37; cf. Cicero, Pro Marcello: 29). Now that Caesar has proven beyond question his abilities on the battlefield, ‘yet there bides behind another part for you to play, another deed to execute; and this must be your travail: to frame a Commonwealth and compound it in so quiet sort as you may enjoy with it your ease’ (2009: 35; cf. Cicero, Pro Marcello: 27). Though Tacitus does not explicitly praise Augustus for the stability which he brought to the state – in Cicero the tone is one of celebration, in Tacitus, one of resignation – there are certainly parallels between Cicero’s Caesar and Tacitus’s Augustus, especially in their consolidation of authority in the wake of civil conflict. We might readily compare Cicero’s description, as translated by Elizabeth, of ‘this Commonwealth afflicted with this wretched and evil-destined war’, with Tacitus’s description in the above, of a city ‘weryed with ciuill discordes’ (Elizabeth I 2009: 39; cf. Cicero, Pro Marcello: 31. LPL, MS 683: fol. 1r; cf. Tacitus, Annales: 1.1). It seems probable then that Elizabeth, translating the first book of the Annales, approached Tacitus’s account much as she had Cicero’s, namely as an endorsement of the stability achieved through individual rule.

[17] There is in Elizabeth’s Pro Marcello a subtle but discernable introduction of monarchical vocabulary. The queen thus has Cicero single out Caesar’s ‘princely and wise voice’ for praise, where ‘princely’ translates ‘praeclarissimam’ (‘extremely distinguished’) (2009: 33; cf. Cicero, Pro Marcello: 25). So too Elizabeth’s Cicero refers anachronistically to ‘the acts of our emperors’, where ‘emperors’ translates ‘imperatorum’ (‘generals’) (2009: 19; cf. Cicero, Pro Marcello: 5). There is a similar effect at work in the queen’s translation of the Annales. Here the city is not merely splendidly restored by Augustus (‘magnifico ornatu’), but ‘royally adorned’, while the ‘initiis Tiberij’ (‘the beginning of Tiberius’) becomes ‘Tiberius new raigne’ (Tacitus 1574: 220; cf. Tacitus, Annales: 1.9; LPL MS 683: fol. 3r; Tacitus 1574: 224; cf. Tacitus, Annales: 1.16; LPL MS 683: fol. 4v). At another moment, Tacitus refers to Germanicus as ‘Augustæ nepos’, that is, grandson of Livia Augusta, for which Elizabeth gives ‘nephew to the Empresse’ (Tacitus 1574: 232, cf. Tacitus, Annales: 1.33; LPL MS 683: fol. 7v). Under the Republic, the adjective ‘augustus’ suggested ‘sacred’ or ‘venerable’ (see OLD s.v. ‘augustus’). In 27BC, however, the senate awarded it as a title to Octavian, whence it was adopted by subsequent emperors. Ultimately, it acquired a more general sense of ‘imperial’ or ‘royal’. In his Dictionarium of 1587, Thomas Thomas thus defines the word as ‘consecrate, holy’, but also ‘noble, royal, imperiall, full of maiestie’ (s.v. ‘augustus, a, um’). In this latter sense, it was applied to Elizabeth herself. During the Queen’s visit to Norwich of 1578, for instance, the city Mayor addressed Elizabeth as ‘Augustissima Princeps’, or, as the accompanying translation puts it, ‘most Royall Prince’ (Ber. Gar., 1578: sig. Aivr; Biv). The English ‘Empress’, which Elizabeth employs here for ‘Augusta’, was commonly used of the consort of the Roman emperor in the sixteenth century, as with Shakespeare’s description of Tamora in Titus Andronicus as ‘Rome’s royal empress’, or Bartholomew Yong’s account of Cleopatra ‘hoping […] to have been crowned Empresse of ye Romane monarchy’, reworking Boccaccio’s ‘aspirava all’altezza del romano imperio’ (we might also note Yong’s rendering of ‘imperio’ here as ‘monarchy’) (Shakespeare 2016: 3.55 (p. 206); Yong 1587: 116–7; Boccaccio 1952: cap. VIII, p. 1211). Elizabeth herself was addressed as ‘empress’ with greater frequency in the 1580s and 90s. Thus, James Aske in his poem commemorating the English victory over the Spanish, Elizabetha Triumphans (1588), refers to the queen as ‘the only Empresse that on earth hath liu’d’, while Edmund Spenser dedicated The Fairie Queene (1590) ‘to the most mightie and magnificent empresse Elizabeth’ (Aske 1588: 24; Spenser 1590: sig. Av). In the dedication to his translation of Livy’s Ab Urbe Condita, The Romane Historie (1600), Philemon Holland (1552–1637) brought together both the ancient and contemporary, addressing Elizabeth as ‘most Worthie and Powerfull Empreße’, while in the preface to the reader he refers to ‘prince Augustus, and Livia the Empresse’ (Holland 1600: s.p.). By introducing ‘Empress’ to her translation, Elizabeth thereby invoked a title of her very own.

[18] Perhaps the most striking introduction of royal lexis to the Tacitus translation, however, is found in the description of the German mutiny. Unusually for rebelling troops, Tacitus explains, there is a focus and precision to their actions: ‘Nought don at a fewes instigation, but togither they attempt, and so silent, with so like like lasting myndes, that Kinges you wolde haue thought them’ (LPL MS 683: 7v). That the queen should find monarch-like resolve in rebelling soldiers is perhaps surprising, but the wording appears to have been prompted by some confusion arising from the phrase ‘ut regi crederes’ (‘you would believe that they were being directed’), where Tacitus has left the direct object implicit (Tacitus 1574: 232; cf. Tacitus, Annales: 1.32). Elizabeth, however, treats ‘regi’ not as an infinitive (‘to be directed’), but a plural noun, ‘Kinges’, perhaps confusing ‘regi’ for ‘reges’. For the phrase ‘tanta æqualitate & Constantia’ (‘of such great uniformity and symmetry’), Elizabeth gives ‘with so like lasting myndes’, a quality which may well have appealed to a monarch who deliberately styled herself as ‘Semper Eadem’ (Camden 1615: 40). Even with the confusion over ‘regi’, however, it remains curious that the queen should associate this virtue with mutinous soldiers.

[19] The queen’s decision to focus on a moment of historiography which examines Rome’s transformation from a consular republic to what was in effect a kind of monarchy complements her choice of subject matter elsewhere. The first book of Tacitus’s Annales and Cicero’s Pro Marcello, by highlighting the stability brought to Rome by the rule of Augustus and Julius Caesar respectively, could easily be read and translated as extolling the virtues of monarchical government. In her translations of both Cicero and Tacitus alike, we can identify the queen’s negotiation with, and occasional dilution of, republican vocabularies. So too we can see the subtle introduction of monarchical lexis where there is no direct equivalent in the Latin, as well as a more general reflection of how this political lexis (princeps, augustus, libertas etc.) was being redeployed in early modern England. With their depictions of a Rome exhausted by civil war and united under a single ruler, it is not implausible to imagine that Elizabeth was reading both the Annales and the Pro Marcello as the triumph of monarchy as a means of securing the stability of the state. There were, however, some less palatable elements of the Annales for a monarch who was apparently unwilling to discuss the details of her own succession, as the next section explores.

II. The Queen’s Tacitus and Elizabethan Statecraft

[20] Elizabeth’s reign was marked from its earliest days by Parliament’s concern for a stable, and, if possible, male succession. Even towards the end of her reign, however, Elizabeth was reluctant to discuss the question of who was to inherit the English throne. As Arthur Wilson records in his History of Great Britain (1653: 2), ‘In the wane, or last Quarter of the late Queen, the Court Motions tended (by an Oblique Aspect) towards this Northern Star [i.e. James VI], and some of her great Council in her Presence, would glance at the King of Scots as her Successour which would make her break into Passion’.[7] In the Annales, however, Elizabeth was confronted directly with the question of succession and the public acknowledgment of an heir.

[21] For Scipione Ammirato (1531–1600), whose Discorsi on Tacitus were published at Florence in 1594, this was one of the most important lessons a prince might glean from the first book of the Annales. In the second discourse, entitled ‘with how much diligence a prince must seek to have a definite successor’ (‘Con quanta diligenza debba ricercar un Principe d’hauer certo successore’), he drew attention to how ‘very great the care was, and the endeavour, which Augustus employed to establish a definite successor, seeing that nature did not grant him male children’ (‘grandissimo fu lo studio, e il proccacio, che usò Augusto, non gli essendo dalla natura stati conceduti figliouoli maschi, in stabilirsi certo successore’) (Ammirato 1594: 4). Indeed, the opening chapters of Tacitus’s first book deal with the complex series of adoptions and promotions made by Augustus in an effort to secure the stability of his own sovereignty and that of his dynasty:

Ceterùm Augustus subsidia dominationi Claudium Marcellum, sororis filium admodum adolescentem, Pontificatu & curuli ædilitate: M. Agrippam ignobilem loco, bonum militia et victoriæ socium, geminatis consulatibus extulit: mox defuncto Marcello generum sumsit: Tiberium Neronem & Claudium Drusum priuignos imperatoriis nominibus auxit, integra etiamdum domo sua: nam genitos Agrippa Caium ac Lucium in familiam Cæsarem induxerat

(But Augustus, to bolster his rule, advanced Claudius Marcellus, his sister’s son, though he was still a young man, to the pontiff’s office and curule aedileship, and raised Marcus Agrippa (of low social standing, but worthy in warfare and his companion in victory) through successive consulships, and, with the death of Marcellus, soon took him as a son in law. His stepsons Tiberius Nero and Claudius Drusus he elevated with the title of ‘Imperator’, though his own household was yet intact: for he had welcomed the sons of Agrippa, Gaius and Lucius into the house of Caesar) (Tacitus 1574: 216, cf. Tacitus, Annales: 1.3)

For which Elizabeth gives:

But Augustus tooke for rules healpe Cla: Marcellus his sisters sonne, a yong man aduancing him first to be Bushoppe and Aedyle. And Agrippa also, base for his place, but a good soldier, and compagnon of his victories, he preferred to a double Consulshippe. and soone after Marcellus dying, he chose him for a sonne in lawe. Tiberius Nero and Claud: Drusus his wyfes sonnes, he endued with Emperors names, though his own howse were well filled, for he had drawen into the family of Cesar Caius and Lucius Agrippas sonnes (LPL MS 683: fol. 2r)

[22] In making provision for the succession, Augustus turns first to Marcus Claudius Marcellus (42–23BC), son of his sister, Octavia, and of Claudius Marcellus. A favourite of Augustus’s, Marcellus married Augustus’s only daughter, Julia, in 25BC, but died just two years later. Marcus Agrippa (b. c.63BC), loyal soldier and lifelong friend of Augustus, had commanded the left wing at the Battle of Actium. Following Marcellus’s untimely death in 23BC, he married the widowed Julia in 21BC. With Marcellus dead, Augustus was compelled to turn to his stepsons, Tiberius and Drusus, whom ‘he endued with Emperors names’, that is, awarded them both the title of ‘imperator’ (‘general’). Tiberius (42BC–37AD) was the eldest son of Tiberius Claudius Nero and Livia, later wife of Augustus. Augustus reluctantly named Tiberius his heir in AD4. Livia was already pregnant with Tiberius’s younger brother, Drusus (38–9BC), when Tiberius Claudius Nero was compelled to divorce her to make way for the marriage with Augustus, a fact to which Tacitus refers later in the same book: ‘abducta Neroni uxor: & consulti per ludibrium pontifices, an concepto nec dum edito partu rite nuberet’ (‘he seduced the wife of Nero, while undertaking a farcical consultation with the priests as to whether it was right for her to marry before she had given birth’), for which Elizabeth gives: ‘for marying Neros wife, in a skorne he demanded the Bushoppe whether mary he might one with childe afore the birthe’ (Tacitus 1574: 221, cf. Annales: 1.10; LPL MS 683: fol. 3v). This conglomeration of names and familial and inter-marital ties is deliberate: Tacitus stresses the complexities and machinations of the emperor’s foreplanning, remembering Augustus not only as a bringer of peace to a troubled state, but as a cunning strategist or ‘machinator’ (‘architect’) (Annales: 1.10).

[23] As Paulina Kewes notes, the MP Peter Wentworth (1524–1597) appealed to this very moment of Roman history in his Pithie Exhortation to Her Maiestie for Establishing Her Succesor to the Crowne (1598) (see Kewes 2011: 542–3). Drawing on the pagan precedent, he remarks: ‘wee reade that the Romane Emperours when otherwise their successor was not known, did in their lifetime adopt them heires, to whome by order of that gouernement, they caused the right to succeede them to be established. Thus, Iulius Cæsar adopted Octavius Augustus, and hee Tiberius Cæsar’ (Wentworth 1598: 23). To the example of Wentworth, we might add that of Charles Merbury, who, though he refrained from drawing quite such a bold comparison, also included the Roman precedent for adoption in his Briefe Discourse of Royall Monarchie (1581), which he dedicated to the queen: ‘Cæsar the dictator [adopted] his Nephew: Augustus th’Emperor, adopted Tiberius: Claudius, Nero: Nerva, Traian: Traian, Adrian, who after adopted Antoninus’ (17). For Scipione Ammirato, the securing of an heir was of pressing contemporary relevance more generally: ‘If ever there was ever a time, in which it were fit to put the present discourse into consideration, it is this one, in which we find that there are many princes living, who do not have a definite successor’ (‘Se mai fù alcun tempo, nel quale sia degno d’esser messo in considerazione il presente discorso, è questo, nel quale ci ritrouiamo, vivendo molti Principi, i quali non hanno certo successore’) (1594: 6). Such negligence on the prince’s part, Ammirato explains, has pernicious consequences for the dynasty as well as the state as a whole: ‘whence it comes to pass that either states pass into other families, or that, dismembering themselves, they become less strong, or struggling over the successor, they spill forth into civil conflicts’ (‘onde auuiene, ò che gli stati passino in altre famiglie, ò che smembrandosi diuengano men forti, o contendendosi del successore s’empiano di ciuili battaglie’) (1594: 6). Both in England and on the Continent, this moment of Roman history was read as underlining the importance for an heirless prince to secure his, or indeed her, own succession.

[24] Yet for all Augustus’s attempts to establish the stability of his dynasty, Tacitus also presents the reader with the complications and corruptions thereof. The demise of Augustus’s favourites leads to the ascendency of the imperfect Tiberius:

Vt Agrippa uita conceßit, L. Cæsarem euntem ad Hispanienses exercitus, Caium remeantem Armenia, & vulnere inualidum, mors fato propera, vel nouercæ Liuiæ dolus abstulit, Drusoque pridem extincto, Nero solus è priuignis erat, illuc cuncta vergere: filius, collega imperij, consors tribuniciæ potestatis adsumitur, omnisque per exercitus ostentatur, non obscuris vt antea matris artibus, sed palàm hortatu

(Once Agrippa had passed away, death, hastened by fate, or else the cunning of their stepmother, Livia, snatched away Lucius Caesar as he was going to the Spanish armies, along with Gaius, who remained at Armenia, already enfeebled through his wound. As Drusus was a long time dead, Nero was the last of the stepsons, and everything turned to him: he was adopted as a son, as a partner in empire, as a consort of the tribunician power, and was paraded through all of the armies, not, as previously, through his mother’s secret schemes, but with her open encouragement) (Tacitus 1574: 216; cf. Tacitus, Annales: 1.3)

For which Elizabeth has:

As Agrippa dyed. so did hastie death or stepdame Liuias crafte, depriue of lyfe Lucius Cesar going to the spanishe army, and Caius leauinge Armenia for his wound vnseruiceable. So Drusus destroyed. Nero alone remained, of all his wifes children. whom onely all respected. He was the sonne. the rules compagnon. the Tribunes powers fellow. sette out to all the army, not by slye art, as before of his mother, but openly now by a publike desire. (LPL MS 683: 2r)

[25] Augustus strives to establish the security of his dynasty with ‘pluribus munimentis’, literally ‘many defences’, a wording which Elizabeth reworks in periphrasis as ‘greater strength to enforce his rule’. Gaius Julius Caesar (20BC–AD4) was the eldest son of Agrippa and Julia. A favourite of Augustus’s, he was the most likely candidate to succeed the emperor, who had adopted him in 17BC. In 2AD, however, Gaius was severely wounded at the siege of Artagira and died two years later during his return to Rome. Gaius’s younger brother, Lucius, also adopted by Augustus in 17, died in 2AD on a journey to Spain, as Tacitus implies here, through Livia’s intervention. Tiberius’s position as Augustus’s successor was thus as much a consequence of ‘stepdame Liuias crafte’ and ‘slye art’ as it was of the emperor’s foreplanning. In Tacitus’s portrait, Livia is ruthless in securing the place of her son as Augustus’s successor and potentially dangerous in the influence she wields over the ageing emperor: ‘she had so wonne the olde Augustus, that he banished his onely nephew Agrippa Posthumus into Planasia Island’ (LPL MS 683: 2r). Livia’s influence over Roman politics was of particular concern to Annibale Scoto, valet to Pope Sixtus V (1525–1590), whose political commentary on Tacitus appeared in 1589. Of the complaint made by the citizens of Rome that, as Elizabeth translates it, ‘serue they must a woman’ (fol. 1v; cf. Annales: 1.4), Scoto comments:

Quid miserius excogitari potest, quam servire feminae viros? hoc est, liberos servis; qui ad imperandum nati sunt, ijs qui ad parendum? Hinc iure, misera Anglia, defleri status tuus potest; quæ tam peruersæ ac impiæ mulieri Iezabeli inseruis; et ei subiecta durissimam tyrannidem toleras

(What thing more wretched can be imagined, than men serving a woman? That is, free men, who are born to rule, serving slaves, who are born to obey? Therefore rightly, miserable England, we can weep for your state, who serve such a perverse and impious woman, a Jezebel, and, subject to her, endure the harshest tyranny) (Scoto 1589: 7)

Intriguingly, in at least some quarters on the Continent, Tacitus’s Livia, and the tremendous influence she wielded, was being read directly in relation to Elizabeth.

[26] Similarly desultory attempts to secure the succession were also to be found in Tacitus’s Historiae. When the emperor Galba nods to Augustus’s adoptions in Book One, he hopes to surpass what he describes as the emperor’s nepotistic precedent. As Savile puts it in his translation of 1591, Galba presents himself as:

following herein the example of Augustus, who places in estate next to himselfe, first Marcellus his sisters son, afterward Agrippa his sonne in lawe, then his daughters sonnes, and lastly his wiues sonne Tiberius Nero. But Augustus, as it seemeth, sought a succesour in his family, and I in the common wealth. (Savile 1591: 9; cf. Tacitus, Historiae: 1.15)

[27] As Kewes notes, however, Galba’s attempt to leave the Roman state in the hands of a man of ‘integritie, friendship’ and ‘round and free dealing’ ultimately comes to naught and the imperial throne falls by force to Otho (Savile 1591: 9, cf. Tacitus, Annales: 1.15; Kewes 2011: 547). Elizabeth was thus confronted with distinctly pessimistic examples of attempts to secure the succession not only through her translation of the Annales, but also through her tutor’s rendering of the Historiae.

[28] As the Annales suggest, the public naming of an heir is also a recipe for conflict. Unlike Elizabeth, Tacitus’s Augustus openly, perhaps imprudently, discusses the nomination of potential successors. As Tacitus explains,

Quippe Augustus supremis sermonibus cum tractaret, qui nam adipisci principem locum suffecturi abnuerent, aut impares vellent, vel idem possent cuperentque, M. Lepidum dixerat capacem, sed aspernantem: Gallum Asinum auidum & minorem: L: Arruntium non indignum, & si casus daretur ausurum

(Indeed, when Augustus discussed the matter in his final conversations, namely who would be able to obtain the prince’s office but refused it, and those who were unworthy of it but wanted it, and then those who were both able and desired it, he had said that Lepidus was capable but disdainful, Gallus Asinus keen but inferior, and Lucius Arruntius not unworthy, and, if the opportunity presented itself, bold enough to take it) (Tacitus 1574: 222–3; cf. Annales: 1)

For which Elizabeth gives:

For Augustus in his laste speaches, of such, as ether sufficient wolde refuse a Princes place, or vnfitt wolde haue it, or might and desired. he sayd Marc: Lepidus capable but despising it. Gallus Asinius greedy, but vnworthy. L: Aruntius not vnmeet, and if chance happened, wolde aduenture it. (LPL MS 683: fol. 4r)

[29] The potential benefits of openly discussing the succession are immediately undone, however, when Tacitus explains the dire consequences of these discussions for the candidates: ‘omnesque præter Lepidum variis mox criminibus struente Tiberio circumuenti sunt’ (‘all of them, except Lepidus, were beset by various charges fabricated by Tiberius’) (Tacitus 1575: 223; cf. Annales: 1.13), or, as Elizabeth translates it, ‘All but Lepidus alone were taxed with diuers crymes, Tiberius framing it so’ (LPL MS 683: fol. 4r). Once again, Augustus’s attempts to safeguard the succession are undermined by the machinations of those closest to him. Immediately following the death of Augustus, Tiberius removes another rival claimant to the imperial throne, Agrippa Iulius Caesar. As Elizabeth’s translation puts it, ‘The first mischief of the new rule was Post: Agrippas murder’ (LPL MS 683: 2r). Like Tiberius, Agrippa had been adopted by Augustus in AD4, but was later exiled to Planasia. Nonetheless, Tiberius, according to Tacitus’s account at least, continued to consider him a threat. After he has been dispatched, however, Tiberius hastily denies any involvement in his death:

Nuntianti centurioni, vt mos militiæ, factum esse quod imperasset, neque imperasse sese, & rationem facti reddendam apud senatum respondit

(Once the centurion had announced, as is a soldier’s wont, that what he had commanded was accomplished, Tiberius denied that he had commanded it himself, replying that an account of the deed would have to be given before the senate) (Tacitus 1574: 218; cf. Tacitus, Annales: 1.6)

For which Elizabeth gives:

The Centurion telling (like martiall guise) that don was, what was byd. he denyed that charge and sayd he shoulde make accompte to the senate for it. (LPL MS 683: 2r)

[30] With the phrase ‘what was byd’, Elizabeth makes a passive construction of Tacitus’s active ‘quod imperasset’ (‘what he had ordered’), removing Tiberius yet further from the deed and so also from culpability. Such a scenario was evidently not beyond imagining for an Elizabethan courtier. Beside this moment in the 1585 Antwerp edition, Robert Sidney writes: ‘A prince should not desauow his secret commandment but if he do the seruant must [abide] to be disauowed’ (Quoted in Davis 2006: 11). Of this same moment, Annibale Scoto remarked:

Princeps numquam probare aperte & fateri debet res improbas, etsi ipsi conducit, vt commisa sint, ne praui nomen adipiscatur. Immo præstat extrinsecus clementem, benignum, affabilem, mansuetum, & similia præseferre. Quoties vero ipsi aliter conducit agere, id caute, & quasi coactus agere videatur.

(A Prince must never openly approve nor admit to morally reprehensible deeds, even if it serves his turn that they should be undertaken, lest he acquire a reputation for depravity. Rather, it is better that on the outside he pretend to be merciful, good, courteous, gentle, and similar. However often it serves his turn to act otherwise, he should do so cautiously, and appear to have been almost forced) (Scoto 1589: 10)

[31] Even if politically expedient, the prince should at least appear reluctant to undertake deeds which might undermine his reputation. It is difficult to read this account of Tiberius’s dispatching a potential claimant to the imperial throne and subsequent (and prudent, according to Scoto) denial thereof without thinking of Elizabeth’s response to the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (1542–1587), who, as the granddaughter of Margaret Tudor (1489–1541), had once been considered a potential claimant to the English throne. In the aftermath of Mary’s death, William Davison (d.1608), a junior member of the Privy Council, served as scapegoat, not unlike Tiberius’s centurion. He was blamed by Elizabeth for having shared the signed warrant for Mary’s death with the Lord Chancellor, Sir Thomas Bromley. Davison was sent to the Tower on 14th February and was tried on the 28th March, charged with disobeying the queen’s command to retain the warrant.

[32] For the most part, Elizabeth’s biographers have focused on the queen’s emotional response to the execution. As J. E. Neale puts it, ‘She could neither eat nor sleep. Pity that with her womanly sorrow she could not maintain the tragedy at its most sublime level!’ (1934: 281). More recently, Wallace MacCaffrey describes the queen ‘hysterically disavow[ing] having ordered the execution’, while Paul Jonson ascribes her ‘nervous state’ during these months to the menopause: ‘she may also have been undergoing her climacteric’ (MacCaffrey 1993: 352; Jonson 1974: 289). Such analysis, however, distracts from the fact that it was also politically expedient for Elizabeth to deny firmly responsibility for the Scottish queen’s death. Following the execution, there was civil unrest in both Scotland and France, and Elizabeth was clearly concerned for her international reputation. The queen sent her ambassador, Robert Carey (1560–1639), to James VI, ‘to make known her innocence of her sister’s death’ (Carey 1972: 7). As Carey explains, however, the anger with which Mary’s death was met in Scotland made this a dangerous and almost impossible task: ‘I was waylaid in Scotland, if I had gone in, to have been murdered: but the King’s Majesty, knowing the disposition of his people, and the fury they were in, sent me to Berwick’ (1972: 8). In these ‘letters of credence’, ultimately conveyed to James via two of his counsellors, Elizabeth emphasized her distance from his mother’s execution, which she refers to as ‘that miserable accident’: ‘I beseech you that – as God and many more know – how innocent I am in this case’ (Elizabeth I 2000: 296).

[33] The reaction in France to Mary’s death was equally hostile. As Sir Edmund Stafford (1552–1605), Elizabeth’s ambassador in Paris, wrote to Lord Burghley in March that year:

I never sawe a thinge [more hated by] lytell great, olde yonge and of all Relligions then the Queen of Scotts deathe, and espesially the manner of ytt […] I beseeche god and so I have written to her majeste shee maye think to look well unto her self, for I think she neuer had more nor so mutche neede, for I never sawe all so desperately bent against her as theie are. (TNA, SP 78/17: fol. 19r)

There was therefore a practical benefit of denying any involvement in Mary’s death, however incredible such a denial may have seemed. Without suggesting that Elizabeth had a copy of the Annales open before her when she denied responsibility for Mary’s execution, clearly the queen found in Tacitus practical examples of statecraft which complemented, and perhaps even reinforced, her own method of rule.

[34] Intriguingly, the authority of the classical exemplum can be found in the wider political and legal contexts surrounding the imprisonment and trial of Mary Stuart. While the tracts and dialogues which emerged in the wake of Lord Darnley’s murder had compared the Scottish queen, as Cathy Shrank has explored in detail, to those infamous heroines of Greek myth, Clytemnestra and Medea, the ambassadors sent by Henri III to sue on Mary’s behalf made an appeal to the legend of Mucius Scaevola, as recorded in the second book of Livy’s History of Rome (Shrank 2010: 523–541; For Mary’s own reading of Livy in the company of George Buchanan, see TNA, SP 52/7: 32). According to Camden’s account in the Annales, Pomponne de Bellièvre made the case that, even if the queen were found guilty,

she should be pardoned, because that would remaine an eternall example of the English clemency. Alledging to this purpose the History of Porsenna, which drew out of the fire the right hand of M. Scevola, who had conspired his death, and let him go. (Camden 1625: 187)

[35] As Livy records it, the young nobleman, Gaius Mucius, having set out to assassinate Porsinna, King of the Etruscans, is captured in the attempt. Brought before the king, he thrusts his hand into the fire in a show of Roman fortitude: “en tibi’ inquit ‘ut sentias quam vile corpus sit iis qui magnam gloriam vident’ (‘this is so you can see’, he said, ‘how cheaply they value their body that look to greater glory’) (Livy, AUC: 2.12). So impressed is the Etruscan king by the young man’s bravery that he lets him go free. Though the exemplum here points to Livy, the wording of Camden’s Latin original more obviously recalls Tacitus’s Annales. The phrase ‘eternall example of the English clemency’ (‘æternum clementiæ exemplum’) echoes the speech which Tacitus puts into the mouth of Caratacus, who, captured and delivered to Rome, persuades the Emperor Claudius to spare his life: ‘si incolumem seruaueris, aeternum exemplar clementiæ ero’ (‘if you keep me unharmed, I will be an eternal example of your clemency’) (1574: 433; cf. Annales: 12.37). There are then two historical exempla at work here – one overt, the other tacit – of foreign captives who, faced with execution, successfully delivered orations to secure their freedom.

[36] It was not only Henri’s ambassadors who appealed to ancient precedent in relation to Mary’s trial. A treatise now preserved among the State Papers, dated to October 1586 and copied by William Cecil’s clerk, makes a detailed case for the legality of proceeding against Mary Stuart. It does so with an appeal to various legal authorities – Justinian, Sextus Africanus, Paulus de Castro – as well as a series of historical exempla, drawn from Livy, Pliny, Cicero, Caesar, and Sallust. Having stated that Mary Stuart ‘hath many waies committed high Treason against the whole state of this Realme’, the treatise gradually turns to discussions of this crime in antiquity. Appealing to a definition of lex majestatis recorded in Justinian’s Digest, the treatise flags up the law’s abuse under the principate, with ‘euery mans life standing at the courtesie of a bad prince’, contrasting this with the apparent stability and consistency of treason legislation in England (TNA, SP 53/20: fol. 88v). A law which, under the republic, concerned treason committed against the state ultimately came to be used, it explains, in imperial Rome to punish verbal attacks, perceived or actual, against the prince. Intriguingly, the value of this moment of Roman history for the legal tract is to emphasise the essential distance between the ancient past and the English present:

Therefore haue those Countries dealt more prouidently, which haue not lefte the Construction of this Cryme to the uncertainty of theise generall words, Qui maiestatem læserit, Etc [‘who has injured majesty’…] but doe admitt punishment by that title only for facts certaine, as for practising the death of the Prince, leauying war within his Realme, conspyring with his enimies, and such like particularly allowed either by ancient Custome, or expresly sett downe by lawe, whereof our countrie of England is a most happie paterne. (TNA, SP 53/20: fol. 89r)

[37] The Roman lex majestatis, exploited by Augustus and Tiberius alike, thus casts a comparatively positive light on the English laws concerning treason, the phrasing of which is, the treatise argues, less vulnerable to manipulation. Here the wording of the Roman law, as found in Justinian, is set against the specificity of the version developed in ‘our countrie of England’ (Cf. Justinian, Digest: 48.4). It is from a sound legal foundation then, the treatise maintains, and with the English emphasis on ‘facts certaine’, that proceedings may begin against the Scottish queen. This particular moment of Roman history could thus be read, via negativa, as lending legitimacy to governmental strategy, drawing a contrast with the robust legal framework of contemporary England and the legislature of imperial Rome, which was, the treatise suggests, all too readily abused by unscrupulous princes.

[38] Elizabeth herself had in fact translated Tacitus’s account of the shifting definition of the lex maiestatis under the principate. Towards the end of the first book, Tacitus explains how Tiberius followed in Augustus’s footsteps by harnessing the law to encompass verbal defamations of majesty:

legem maiestatis reduxerat, cui nomen apud veteres idem, sed alia in iudicium veniebant, si quis proditione exercitum, aut plebem seditionibus, denique male gesta Republica maiestatem populi Romani minuisset: facta arguebantur, dicta impune erant. Primus Augustus cognitionem de famosis libellis, specie legis eius tractauit commotus Caßii Seueri libidine, qua viros feminasque inlustres procacibus scriptis diffamauerat

([Tiberius] had renewed the lex maiestatis, which had the same name among the ancients, but other matters came under its judgement, as, for example, if someone had compromised the army through treachery, the people through sedition, or finally, the majesty of the Roman people through the misgovernment of the state: deeds were charged, but words went unpunished. Augustus was the first to conduct a trial under the pretence of this law, unsettled by the wantonness of Cassius Severus, who had slandered noble men and women with his scandalous writings) (Tacitus 1574: 251; cf. Tacitus, Annales: 1.72)

As Elizabeth translates it:

He renewed the lawe of maiesty. whose name among the auncient was the same, but other matters it extended to. If anie by betraying armies. or raising sedition, or gouerning the common wealthe, had diminished the maiestie of the Roman people. but deedes were punished, wordes without awe. Augustus was the first that under collor of that lawe, called in question infamous libels, offended with Cassius Celerus intemperancy, who men and honorable women with vilanous pamphlets defamed. (LPL MS 683: 15v)

[39] Under Tiberius, the lex majestatis was employed with greater frequency to punish slander. When consulted by the praetor Pompeius Macer as to whether ‘maiesticall iudgment shoulde be giuen’ in regard to such libel, Tiberius replies in the affirmative that ‘the laws must be executed’, spurred on by ‘verses of vnknowen authors’, which had ‘spread abroad his cruelty, pride and discorde with his mother’ (LPL MS 683: 15v). The charge of treason was thus extended by both Augustus and Tiberius to encompass slander, though in its original form under the republic it had concerned ‘betraying armies or raising sedition’. Of this manipulation of the law under Augustus and Tiberius, Robert Sidney remarked in his own copy of the Annales that: ‘A prince that wil have anything a[nd] wil find law for yt’ (quoted in Davis 2006: 15).

[40] The example of Augustus intervening on behalf of members of the nobility who had been the subject of ‘infamous libels’ and ‘vilanous pamphlets’ was of special relevance to Elizabeth in the 1580s. In 1584, the royal printer, Christopher Barker, published on the queen’s behalf ‘A Proclamation for the suppressing of seditious Bookes and Libelles’, that seek, the proclamation explains, to ‘bring in obloquie & hatred, her Maiesties principall Noblemen, Counsellers, Judges and ministers of Justice’ (Elizabeth I 1584: fol. 1r). Though not explicitly named, the proclamation most probably targets the work now known as Leicester’s Commonwealth (1584), a dialogue published on the Continent eviscerating the character and conduct of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (1532/3–1588). This is suggested by a letter, prepared by Burghley in the following year at the queen’s behest, urging the Mayor of London to take more decisive action against ‘certain seditious and traitorous bookes, and libelles, covertly spread, and scattered abroad’, and in particular, ‘among the rest one most infamous containing slanderous, and hatefull Matter against our very good Lord the Earle of Leycester’ (SP 12/179: fol. 93r).[8] Although Tacitus refrains from speculating over Augustus’s motivations in revenging the reputations of those ‘men and honorable women’ targeted by ‘vilanous pamphlets’, for the Privy Council, the danger was obvious, namely that to critique a favourite of the queen was to undermine her majesty’s judgment:

Her highness not onely knoweth in assured certainty the Libells, and Bookes against the said Earle to be most malicious, false and slanderous […] but also thinketh the same to have proceeded of the fulnes of Malice, subtilly contrived to the note and discredit of her princely government over this Realm, as though her Majesty should have failed in good Judgement, and discrecion in the choice of so principall a Counsellor about her (SP 12/179: fol. 93v)

[41] Leicester’s Commonwealth insinuates that the queen has not only made an error of judgement concerning one of her closest counsellors, but that this choice may well have disastrous consequences for the queen and her reign. In a discussion of the Earl’s apparent licentiousness, the dialogue turns to the example of Lucretia’s rape by the Roman prince, Tarquinius Sextus, and how this served as a catalyst for the overthrowing of the monarchy at Rome. The Scholar laments:

that amonge us christians […] such a riot should be permitted upon mens wives whereas we read that among the verie heathens, lesse offences then these, in the same kinde, were extremelie punished in Princes themselves, and nor onlie in the person delinquent alone, but also by extirpation of the whole familie for his sake, as apeareth in the example of the Tarquinians amonge the Romans. And here also in our own Realm, we have regestred in Chronicle, how that one king Edwin above six hundreth years past was deprived of his kingdom, for much lesse scandalous factes then these. (Anonymous 1584: 37)

[42] Of note here is the readiness with which the speaker slips from the Roman example to the English, collapsing the distance between ancient Rome and medieval England. There are, the scholar suggests, rich examples from the past, both classical and domestic, for the ‘extirpation’ of princes. The rape of Lucretia and the subsequent expulsion of the Tarquins from Rome were recorded not by Tacitus, whose histories relate the events of imperial Rome, but two staples of the early modern grammar school, Ovid and Livy (see Ovid, Fasti: 2.685–852; Livy, Ab Urbe Condita: 1.57–59; cf. Baldwin 1944: 2.418–9, 573; Mack 2002: 13–14). This episode of Roman history had long since established its place in vernacular English literature, variously reworked at the hands of Chaucer, William Painter, and Shakespeare (see Philo 2020a: 93–114). As for the English exemplum, King Edwin’s reign was, according to Holinshed’s Chronicles, defined by the ‘Kings lust’ and his corruption of noblewomen, with this misconduct ultimately leading to his dethronement: ‘At length, ye inhabitants of the middle parte of England, even from Humber to Thames rebelled against him, and elected hys brother Edgar to haue the gouernemente ouer them’ (Holinshed 1577: 231). In both the Roman and English tradition, there were compelling precedents, the dialogue suggests, of the prince’s deposition due to sexual assault or misconduct, whether committed by the king himself, or by one of his kin. It is understandable then that Elizabeth intervened, much like Augustus, in an attempt to suppress ‘infamous libels’ and ‘vilanous pamphlets’ targeting the English nobility, given that these were being used to comment as much on her own competence as a prince as they were on the misconduct of her subjects. Once again, the first book of the Annales speaks to another key event of Elizabeth’s later reign, namely the attempt to restrain and punish defamations of the nobility.

[43] In the final decades of the sixteenth century, Tacitus was an historian of the court, attracting particular attention from the Sidney brothers, Henry Savile, and, to a lesser extent, the Earl of Essex. This engagement with the historian at court can only have been encouraged by the queen’s own study and translation of the Annales. There were a number of themes explored by Tacitus which spoke directly to the events and preoccupations of Elizabeth’s late reign, namely the question of the succession, the potential threat posed by rival claimants to the throne, and the suppression of libel. It seems reasonable to assume then that the queen found in Tacitus examples which not only complemented but perhaps even reinforced her approach to and method of rule, from highlighting the potential dangers of publicly acknowledging a successor to the suppression of slanderous tracts. The favour which Tacitus found at the Elizabethan court, however, was not to last. James I appears to have had little admiration for the historian, while the responses to Tacitus under Charles I were actively hostile. The following section considers Tacitus’s fall from favour at the Stuart court as well as the parallels drawn between Elizabeth’s reign and that of Tiberius by one of Tacitus’s fiercest critics, Edmund Bolton.

III. ‘Her times were a true copie of the times of Tiberius’: Edmund Bolton on the reign of Queen Elizabeth

[44] Though Tacitus had enjoyed the favour of Queen Elizabeth, he was met with greater caution under James I and Charles I, and, in certain quarters, with hostility. As part of a wider ‘Stuart antagonism towards Tacitus’, Alan Bradford points to comments made by James to the French scholar, Isaac Casaubon (1559–1614), concerning the king’s ambivalence towards the historian (1983: 138; see Casaubon, 1656: 676–7). Casaubon himself had expressed his misgivings towards the study of Tacitus in the dedication to Henry IV, which prefaced his Latin translation of Polybius (1609): ‘what indeed could be more harmful to a prince, especially a young one, than the reading of the Annales?’ (Polybius 1609: Oiiv–Oiiir).[9] The fact that James was himself compared to Tiberius, and for less than flattering reasons, perhaps compounded Stuart distaste for Tacitus and his depiction of the emperor. In his History of Great Britain (1653), Arthur Wilson (bap.1595, d.1652) observed that ‘some parallel’d him to Tiberius for dissimulation’, while Peter Heylyn (1599–1662) in his Observations (1656) described James as ‘neglecting the affaires of State, and cares of Government, to hunt after pleasures; deserting the imperiall city, to sport himself at Raiston, Newmarket, and such obscure places (which were to him as the Isle of Capre to Tiberius Caesar)’ (Wilson 1653: 289; Heylyn 1656: 13–14; see Bolton 2017: 27). To this we might add what Bradford has identified as James’s support of, and possible contribution to, Edmund Bolton’s Nero Caesar, or Monarchie Depraved (1624), in which Bolton put forward the case that ‘No prince is so bad as not to make monarckie seeme the best forme of gouernement’ (Bolton 1627: sig. A3v). Referring to the king’s ‘sponsorship’ of Bolton’s project, Bradford suggests that ‘James wanted to set right the antimonarchist view of history that was gaining ground among his subjects along with the Tacitean revival; the mischief started by Lipsius, Savile, and Essex must be undone’ (1983: 147). Elizabeth’s translation of the Annales suggests, however, that the monarch herself had played no small part in legitimizing Tacitus’s status as an historian of the court. If James was indeed engaged in dismantling a Tacitean ‘mischief’, then it was a mischief which had been cultivated by the queen herself.

[45] Reflecting on Elizabeth’s reign some thirty years after the queen’s death, the antiquary and historian Edmund Bolton saw clear parallels between Elizabeth’s England and Tiberius’s Rome. Bolton drew his comparisons in a manuscript work entitled Averrunci, or The Skowrers (1629–1634), a vigorous critique of what he understood to be Tacitus’s gross misrepresentation of Tiberius. For Bolton, there was a pressing danger lest the ‘credulous reader poisned with those unjust preoccupations, and prejudices, sees little afterwards, or nothing in that Prince (not perhaps in any other Princes) but as through those false forestallings, and abusive interposals’ (2017: 75). Bolton’s treatise thus represents one of the earliest examples of the ‘anti-Tacitist movement’ in England, when Tacitus’s works came under greater scrutiny for their allegedly suspect political and moral values (Burke 1991: 489).

[46] Bolton had his own motivations in drawing parallels between the reigns of Tiberius and Elizabeth: if the late queen was praised for such conduct, then why not the Emperor Tiberius? Nevertheless, Bolton had lived through the latter years of the queen’s reign, even contributing ‘A Canzon Pastorall in Honour of her Maiestie’ to Englands Helicon (1600: sig. 4v), perhaps in the aspiration of royal patronage. As such, Bolton serves not only as a commentator on but also a witness to the most pressing national and governmental concerns of the late sixteenth century. By highlighting the parallels between these reigns, including the censorship of historiographical works and the question of the unsettled succession, Bolton offers a near-contemporary perspective of the queen’s rule in relation to the Annales.

[47] Touching on Elizabeth’s admiration for Tacitus, Bolton highlights those elements in particular for which ‘she might have some use in her roiall steerage’:

Queen Elizabeth was a very great Queen, a most learned, and wise, and a secund Julia Augusta, and it is not to be denied, but that the works of Cornelius Tacitus were held by her in high esteeme […] And why should they not? for her times were a true copie of the times of Tiberius, according to Tacitus his description of them, under whom the case of Germanicus Cæsar in the right of his wife Agrippina, was a pilotage in the case under her of an heir to the crown; quarrels, and warrs abroad were after that manner managed; delations, and depressions were familiar under the one, as under the other; and some verbal disparagements of Majestie were by publick authoritie made more terriblie punishable under her, then they were under Tiberius, the paines, and forfeitures for high treason, beeing laid upon them, and starr-chamber powr held to short, though erected by the prudent Henrie the seaventh; and these, and other courses of that Queens time, so farre as they were Tiberian, were caused perhaps through the necessitie of some circumstances, and considerations, with which her title, and state were inter-tangled, rather then effects of her own heroical disposition; as hapned to Tiberius. (Bolton 2017: 146)

[48] Ultimately, Bolton argues that the queen’s ‘estimation of the writings of Tacitus’ should not be taken as an endorsement of his histories in general (2017: 146). Nonetheless, both the queen’s enthusiasm for the historian and the parallels between her reign and that of Tiberius appeared obvious to Bolton. With ‘the case of Germanicus Cæsar’ and ‘the right of his wife Agrippina’, Bolton refers to Tiberius’s adoption of Germanicus and the weight lent to his claim to the imperial throne through the status of his wife, Agrippina, as the granddaughter of Augustus. That these circumstances apparently acted as a ‘pilotage in the case […] of an heir to the throne’ nods perhaps to the fact that Elizabeth was succeeded not by a direct descendent, but rather a cousin.

[49] Bolton’s allusion to ‘starr-chamber powr’ refers, as Patricia Osmond and Robert Ulery suggest, to the Star Chamber Decrees for Order in Printing of 1586 (Bolton 2017: 225). These ‘extraordinarily conservative’ Decrees stipulated that only Stationers and privileged printers were permitted to publish, and that printing was to be confined to London and to the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge (Clegg 1997: 58). Intriguingly, Bolton also refers to the widening definition of the lex maiestatis under Tiberius, which, as we saw from the previous section, not only featured in the queen’s own translation of Tacitus, but was cited by the materials prepared in advance of Mary Stuart’s trial. Whereas these materials had appealed to the law to emphasise the essential distance between imperial Rome and Elizabeth’s England, this was, for Bolton at least, another key point of contact between the two. As Bolton argues, ‘some verbal disparagements of Majestie were by publick authoritie made more terriblie punishable under her, then they were under Tiberius, the paines, and forfeitures for high treason, beeing laid upon them’ (Bolton 2017: 146).[10] Bolton returns to Elizabethan censorship in his treatment of the Cremutius Cordus episode, as found in Book 4 of the Annales, which sees Cordus charged with maiestas (treason) for his writing a history of the Civil Wars (see Tacitus, Annales: 4.34–5). For Bolton, this had an obvious relevance to Elizabeth. As he explains, ‘some points, far short of those stinging ones in Cremutius, did cost, under Queen Elizabeth, [a] learned, wise, and laudable historian, imprisonment in the Towr of London during her life’ (2017: 174). Bolton refers here to Sir John Hayward (c.1560–1627) and his Life and Raigne of King Henrie IIII (1599), copies of which were gathered and burnt after their publication, much like those of Cremutius Cordus (Cressy 2005: 366). According to Bolton, both the history’s dedicatee, the Earl of Essex, and its subject matter, the deposition of Richard II (1367–1400), brought Hayward’s work under suspicion (2017: 174). Francis Bacon referred to Hayward’s history in the Apologie (1604), where he recounts that the queen ‘asked me if I could not find any places in it, that might be drawne within case of treason’. Bacon replied that ‘for treason surely I found none, but for fellonie very many’, explaining that ‘the Author had committed very apparent theft, for he had taken most of the sentences of Cornelius Tacitus, and translated them into English, and put them into his text’ (Bacon 1604: 36). Bacon’s attempt ‘to take of the Queens bitterness with a merry conceit’ with an appeal to one of her favourite historians was unsuccessful, however (Bacon 1674: 9). The Attorney General Edward Coke (1552–1634) used Henry IV as evidence in the trial of Essex, and Hayward was imprisoned in the Tower in July 1600: ‘such were the affrights’, Bolton explains, ‘and jealouses of the later end of that Queens reign; so as none can condemn the times of Tiberius for Cordus, who applaud Queen Elizabeths for Heyward’ (Bolton 2017: 174–5).

[50] There is a certain Tacitean ambiguity in Bolton’s description of the queen as ‘a secund Julia Augusta’. Livia Drusilla (58BC–29AD), wife of Augustus and mother of Tiberius, took the title ‘Iulia Augusta’ upon her husband’s death.[11] Having ‘played a role in the Augustan system which was unusually formal and conspicuous for a woman’, she would ultimately be deified during the reign of Claudius (Purcell 2003: s.v. ‘Livia Drusilla, b.58BC’). Tacitus’s portrayal of Livia, however, was far from complimentary. In the first book of the Annales, he implicates her in the deaths of Lucius and Caius Caesar, as we saw above, and even that of her husband, referring, as Elizabeth translates it, to her ‘feminyne weakenes’ and ‘wifes mischief’ (LPL MS 683: 1v, cf. Tacitus, Annales: 1.3–5). She is curtly summarized in some quarters of Rome as ‘Livia, oppressive mother to the state, grevious stepmother to the house of Caesar’, or, as Elizabeth puts it, ‘Livia heauy mother to common wealth, more grieuous stepdame to Cæsars howse’ (Tacitus, Annales: 1.10; LPL MS 683: 3v). For Bolton, as with Annibale Scoto, there was perhaps something of ‘Livia’s crafte’ to Elizabeth’s method of rule.

[51] In the address to the reader which prefaces Henry Savile’s translation of the Historiae and Agricola, the anonymous ‘A. B.’ had stressed the distance between Elizabeth’s England and Tacitus’s depiction of imperial Rome: ‘If thou doest detest their Anarchie, acknowledge our owne happie gouernement, and thanke god for her, vnder whom England enioyes as manie benefites, as euer Rome did suffer miseries vnder the greatest Tyrant’ (Savile 1591: sig. ¶3r). For Edmund Bolton, however, writing his critique of Tacitus some thirty years after the queen’s death, there were obvious parallels between Elizabeth’s reign and that of Tiberius. Whether Elizabeth was reading the Annales, as Bolton was, to ‘refine Tiberius from Tacitus’ and to ‘thresh him out of the husk with which that author covers him’, it is, without her own commentary, difficult to say (Bolton 2017: 154). Equally difficult to determine is whether Elizabeth was able to detect in Tacitus the same pro-republican bias as Bolton evidently could when he turned to the Annales under the reign of Charles I. What is clear, however, is that the queen’s reputation as a keen reader of Tacitus lasted long after her death, to the extent that Bolton felt compelled to address the queen’s enthusiasm for the historian in one of the most detailed anti-Tacitean treatises of the seventeenth century.


[52] In the final years of the sixteenth century, Tacitus attracted considerable attention at the Elizabethan court. The engagement with Tacitus demonstrated by the Sidney brothers, the Earl of Essex, and Henry Savile can only have been encouraged by the queen’s own reading and translation of the same. As with her English rendering of the Pro Marcello, Elizabeth found in the first book of the Annales the portrait of a ruler who unified a state exhausted by civil war. Perhaps even more so than her other translations, however, Elizabeth’s Tacitus speaks to the most pressing demands and debates of her late reign. While the unsettled succession loomed large in the court politics of the late sixteenth century, Elizabeth found in the Annales an historical narrative which underlined the potentially disastrous consequences of openly nominating an heir. So too in Tiberius’s denial of involvement in the execution of rival claimants to the throne there was something of the queen’s official response to the execution of Mary Stuart. In Tacitus, the queen thus found exempla which complemented and perhaps even informed her own understanding of statecraft.

[53] Towards the end of the sixteenth century, Tacitus was an historian of the queen and her court. The royal enthusiasm for Tacitus, however, did not survive Elizabeth. James I was ambiguous in his assessment of Tacitus and under Charles I, critical responses to the historian were actively hostile. It is no small irony then that the popularity which Tacitus enjoyed at the turn of the century had been fostered by the queen herself. Not only did Elizabeth receive a translation of the Historiae and Agricola by her perennial favourite, Sir Henry Savile, but she undertook her very own translation of the Annales, helping to cement his status in the late sixteenth century as an historian of the queen and her coterie. Elizabeth’s reputation as an enthusiastic student of Tacitus lasted long after her death, as Bolton’s comments in the Averrunci suggest. For Bolton, there were obvious similarities between Elizabeth’s England and imperial Rome: the question of succession facing both Augustus and Tiberius, the extension of the lex maiestatis to include charges of libel, and the suppression of revolts at home and further afield all found their equivalents in the queen’s late reign. It does not seem improbable to suggest that the queen herself was alert to at least some of these parallels, and was able to find in Tacitus echoes of her own approach to and method of rule. The queen’s study and translation of Tacitus thus suggests that, rather than acting as a strongly subversive force in her reign, as is sometimes suggested, the historian could also be read as supporting and even reinforcing the governmental status quo.


This research was undertaken through a Frances A Yates Fellowship held at the Warburg Institute. I owe a debt of thanks to the anonymous reviewers for their helpful insights and comments, and to the editors of the Journal of the Northern Renaissance for the care and attention with which they prepared this article for publication.

[1] See David Womersley 1991; Paul Hammer 1994; Janet Dickinson 2012.[back to text]

[2] For Stuart antagonism towards Tacitus, see Alan Bradford, 1983.[back to text]

[3] ‘Quanto poi a Cornelio Tacito, mi parebbe di far troppo torto à lui, s’io lo leuassi dalla protettione de signori SIDNEI che singolarmente penetrano, & intendono la prudenza con egli hà scritto’. Manelli 1585, s.p.[back to text]

[4] For the queen’s linguistic prowess, see those chapters edited by Carlo Bajetta, Guillaume Coatalen, and Jonathan Gibson for Elizabeth I’s Foreign Correspondence: Letters, Rhetoric, and Politics.[back to text]

[5] For ‘libertas’ as used of the political status of a sovereign people, see OLD, s.v. ‘libertas’, 2.[back to text]

[6] For Elizabeth’s translation of ‘libertas’ as ‘libertie’, see LPL MS 683, fol. 16rv.[back to text]

[7] For the question of the succession in the latter years of Elizabeth’s reign, see Susan Doran and Paulina Kewes (eds). 2014.[back to text]

[8] This fair copy of the letter addressed to the Mayor of London is preceded by a rough copy with correction and an endorsement in Burghley’s hand (SP 12/179, fol. 92rv).[back to text]

[9] ‘Quid enim Principi, præsertim iuueni, lectione Annalium esse queat pernitiosius’.[back to text]

[10] For Bolton’s understanding of the lex maiestatis and its treatment by Tacitus, see Patricia C. Osmond 2020, 607–11.[back to text]

[11] ‘Julia Augusta’ may also refer to Agrippina the Younger (AD15–59), eldest daughter of Germanicus and mother of Nero, who received the title ‘Augusta’ in the reign of Claudius.[back to text]



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