spacer1. It is said that everybody needs a hobby, and this old saw applies to reigning sovereigns no less than anyone else. A favorite pastime of Queen Elizabeth I of England (beginning in her youth and continuing until old age) NOTE 1 was that she found diversion, and doubtless occasional solace, in translating items from other languages into English. Her most interesting efforts were her English renditions of Latin literature (the addition of the present work makes nineteen of them). Janel Muell and Joshua Scodel have recently published a volume of several such works ranging from Boethius to Cicero, all done in the 1590’s, with useful introductions provided for each included item. NOTE 2 More recently John-Mark Philo published an article NOTE 3 (that unusually for a scholarly contribution) created a minor sensation in the popular press, being reported as far away as distant Chicago) in which he identified Lambeth Palace Library MS. 683 as her translation of the first Book of Tacitus’ Annales. Philo’s arguments were strictly forensic, based on the evidence of handwriting, paper stock and ink, but there is a good deal more to be said about its place in the history of English Tacitean studies, only some of which was dealt with by Philo in a subsequent article).
spacer2. But Philo (p. 44) got it wrong when he wrote that "The queen's hand was strikingly idiosyncratic and the same features which characterize her autograph works are also the found in the Lambeth translation of Tacitus." The true state of affairs can be seen from the MS. preserving her 1593 translation of Boethius' De Consolatione, which can be viewed online in its entirety here. In that one, the first few pages are written by herself, then she delegated the job of producing a fair copy of the rest, saving for the versified portions, to her secretary, Thomas Windebank. Elizabeth's undisciplined angular scrawl is as easy to recognize as it is difficult to decipher, whereas Windebank's far more regular Humanistic hand is quite different. Hence the handwriting Philo assumed to be Elisabeth's is actually Windebank's. Naturally this discovery does nothing to shake one's confidence in his conclusion that she was responsible for this translation, but the fact that the document we have needs to be reclassified as a copy MS. does compel a potential editor to view the received text in a different light. For it contains the kinds of mistake to which copyists are forever prone, and most of these are readily identified. (But one must feel both sympathy and respect for poor Windebank, who no doubt kept his job for considerable number of years at least partially on the strength of his ability to cope with his mistress' unruly handwriting).
spacer3. Philo assigned this MS. to the early 1590's, presumably on the evidence of its paper stock, but in the first of his two articles he did not look further afield for corroboration. But such exists. England's first serious Tacitus scholar was Sir Henry Savile,who according to the Oxford antiquarian Anthony à Wood went abroad to the Continent in 1578 and came home on some unspecified date, after which he was soon appointed tutor to Elizabeth. Wood provide no information about how long he held this position, but we can gather that he occupied it until at least the early 1590's. In the dedicatory epistle to the Queen prefacing his 1591 translation of Tacitus' Histories,

The cause that I published [this work] under your Maiesies name and protection (beside the testification of my bounden duetie) was the great account your Highnesse most worthily holdeth this Historie in; hoping thereby, that as some of the excellencie of the wine, have liked also the lees, so it might peradventure please you, to accept into some degree of favour this worke as it is, though by change from vessell to vessell having taken winde and lost his pleasing taste of the palate, yet retaining somewhat of his former strength, and much of his substance. But the principal cause was to incite your Maiesty by this as by a foile to communicate to the world, if not those admirable compositions of your owne, yet at the least the most rare and excellent translations of Histories (if I may call them translations, whjch have so infinitlie exceeded the originals) making evident that as the great actions of Princes are the subject of stories, so stories composed or demanded by Princes are not onely the best patterne and rule of great actions, but also the most naturall Registers thereof, the writers being persons of like degree and of proportionable conceits with the doers.

Obviously in writing this Savile reveals his awareness that his mistress had finished, or at least was currently working on, her Tacitus translation (and Savile's use of the word histories seems to indicate that he at least hoped she would do further work in this field) and it is easy to surmise that he had recommended to her this project. The idea that a reigning sovereign might publish a work such as this is highly unrealistic, NOTE 4 but at least (discounting the obligatory flattery) he is vouching that he thinks her effort is of publishable quality. Her translation may therefore be securely dated to ca. 1590. And the discovery that Saville was aware of the Queen's work on Tacitus provides a satisfactory answer to what would otherwise have been a puzzling question: why did this pioneer in Tacitean studies refrain from publishing anything about the Annales? Likely he did not care to compete with his sovereign. NOTE 5
spacer4. This is important insofar as Elizabeth's work had an impact on two important major of English literature. William Camden's monumental Annales Rerum Angliarum et Hibericarum Regnante Elizabetha (published in two installments, in 1615 and 1625) has a markedly Tacitean quality. This observation does ot merely mean that Camden adopted a year-by-format. In the course of introducing the Philological Museum edition of this work a good deal of time was devoted to pointing out the specifically Tacitizing features of that great work (which is in fact not organized on a year-to-year basis, it was not the title originally provided by its author and contains few chronological markers), so they need not be be repeated here. But at the time of writing all this stuff I had no idea why Camden adopted this auctorial tactic. Now one can be proposed. As explained in that Introduction, Lord Burghley originally approached Camden with the suggestion he write such a summary of the Queen's career, now visibly approaching its end. As an inducement for tackling this job, he promised Camden access to the full range of state papers of her reign. For many years Camden refrained from writing such a history, but eventually yielded and King James obviously abided by Burghley's promise. The result was that this history marks a giant step forward in historiographical technique by its heavy reliance on source-documents.
spacer5. We know something about the early history of the Lambeth Palace MS. According to Philo (at the beginning of his second article) “The manuscript’s transmission is traced from the Elizabethan court to Lambeth via the collection of Archbishop Thomas Tenison [1636–1715], whose acquisition of Francis Bacon’s...manuscripts helped to make Lambeth Palace Library one of the largest collections of State Papers from the Elizabethan era." It it is very tempting to surmise that early in its history our MS. had been gathered into the state papers and that Camden had seen it. Writing this Tacitizing history likely was his personal way of paying tribute to the Queen.
spacer6. If the suggestion that Camden took his inspiration from our MS. is admittedly an attractive conjecture, the same qualification need not be made about its influence on Sir Francis Bacon's Historia Regni Henrici Septimi Regis Angliae printed in 1638, since we have just seen that at one point Bacon owned the thing. For his historical account is also profoundly influenced by Tacitus It is certainly not annalstic: Bacon provides very few indications about what year any given event occcured) Rather, it is Tacitean in a very different way. The Roman historian's portrait of Tiberius is in essence an exercise in abnormal psychology. He paints the portrait of a highly effective political leader whose career is repeatedly marred by crimes against his subjects inspired by a special kind of smoldering suspicion bordering on downright paranoia (or, as Tacitus put it, he mynded nought but wrath, deceipt and secret luste), and who therefore habitually resorted to secrecy in his dealings and turned murderous. Bacon's Henry is likewise an able ruler who habitually commits crimes against his subjects, motivated by a pathological form of avarice. NOTE 6 It never crosses Bacon's mind that he was driven to these expedients because he came into a kingdom bankrupted by the extravagances of Edward IV and the War of the Roses, so that he was actually a prisoner of history. It is hard to dismiss the conviction that Bacon learned how to portray an enthroned monster by studying the handling of Tiberius in the Annales. The sum of all this is that Elizabeth's translation is no mere literary oddity. In view of its subsequent impact on major items of English literature this is the most important of her translations, her Tacitus version earns her a secure place in, so to speak, the history of English historiography.
spacer7. A little must be said about the quality and nature of her translation, executed in fine enegetic contemporary English. First and foremost, her work on Tacitus definitively goes to show that T. W. Baldwin was greatly mistaken in claiming that Elizabeth's prowess as a Latinist, or at least the claims made on her behalf by her tutor Roger Ascham and other flatterers, were substantially exaggerated. NOTE 7 The fact that she was able to handle the Roman historian's notoriously difficult Latin speaks eloquently in her favor. This is no less true even if she received plenty of coaching from Sir Henry Savile. If her versions sometimes seems thorny and hard to digest, this is in large part because of her fidelity in imitating the style of her Latin model. Devices such as sometimes writing almost telegraphic short sentences and the use of eccentric choice of word-order in excruciatingly long ones manage the convey to the English reader the authentic flavor of Tacitus' style more accurately than many smoothed-out modern versions. Contemporary translators are more concerned with reporting what Tacitus had to say than reproducing the idiosyncratic way in which he said it, and this manages to obscure an important feature of his style. Elizabeth therefore reproduces Tacitus' artistry with an uncommon degree of honesty. This is illustrated by sentences such as one this (from chapter 2): The rule of Senate and people suppressed for the great ones striffes, and magistrates avarice, nought availing lawes helpe, which by violence, ambition, at laste for money were all shaken.
spacer8. Here is not the proper place to indulge in a detailed comparison of her style with that of Savile's translations, but such an analysis might teach us much about what she learned about doing this work from her tutor. It is also worth pointing out that her Tacitus translation, like Saville's Histories, was an early harbinger of the so-called anti-Ciceronian movement. Until the early 1590's Cicero's prose had alway been held up as the summum bonum of Humanistic prose. Now it began to dawn on Englishmen writing both in Latin and in their own language that there were other and very different Silver Age models available for imitatio (the influence of Seneca on Bacon, for example, is notorious). As with her infatuation with Tasso's Gerusalleme Liberata, Elizabeth was sometimes an early adopter of new literary fashions.
spacer8. Her Tacitus would appear to be the only one of the Queen'' translations to exert any visible influence on subsequent literature, and therefore it seems useful to place it on the public record. The text presented here is somewhat more than a simple transcription but considerably less than a scientific edition. That would entail the identification of the specific edition used by the Queen in order to ascertain what errors in her version are inherited from her source text and which were commited by herself or result from Windebank's erroneous copying, and this in turn would require detailed familiarity with the editions of the Annales that would have been available in England at the time. Copying mistakes clearly attributable to Secretary Windebank have been identified and fixed, but it is not always easy to determine whether more serious textual problems result from Elizabeth's misunderstanding of the Latin, difficulties in her source text, or her secretary's error. Take as an illustration of this The Senate wonne by giftes and lewd desires willing he heald in chapter 15, where a modern translator's the Senate, being now released from the necessity of bribery and of degrading solicitations, gladly upheld the change is considerably more accurate. A small number of such difficulties of the same magnitude are recorded on a linked Textual Notes page. But, since their cause is yet to be determined, the wisest course is to leave such MS. readings untouched.
spacer9. Besides correction of obvious copying mistakes, the following kinds of editorial intervention have been made in the interest of making easier reading: 1.) for the convenience of readers wishing to compare Elizabeth's work with the original Latin or a modern translation, the text has been "chunked" (to use the Perseus Project website's delightful term), i. e. it has been divided into the standard numbered paragraphs (in the MS. chapter divisions are sometimes indicated by the insertion of an extra-wide blank space; 2.) to assist comprehension, extra commas have been added to mark off clauses, superfluous ones have been deleted, and quotation marks have been supplied; 3.) words presumably omitted by Windebank but required to complete the sense are added within angular brackets. 4.) modern equivalents of archaic words and phrases are provided, enclosed in square ones. 5.) many abbreviations have been spelled out in full, 6.) and some but not all proper nouns not respected as such in the MS. are capitalized here.
spacer10. The Armada had failed, the Spanish War no longer posed an existential threat to England, and it is not difficult to imagine that Elizabeth, now freed from anxiety, had an unaccustomed amount of free time on her hands which could be devoted to entertaining diversions. Among these, obviously, were the pleasures of scholarship. In acquiring Saville as a tutor, it is almost as if the Queen was seeking to replicate the relationship she had enjoyed with the tutor of her girlhood, the great educator Roger Ascham. Although Savile must of course have employed appropriate deference in correcting and encouraging her, in entering into this relationship Elizabeth must have exhibited the same meekness that is inevitably present in any succesful student-teacher relationship, and this displays an aspect of her character that seems to have eluded her many biographers.
spacer 11. It happens that we know a fair amount about the third persion in this team who helped bring it to a successful conclusion, Secretary Windebank, for he is a well-known personality. The son of Sir Richard Windebank of Hougham, Lincs., he was a protege of his Linconshire neighbor William Ceicil, Lord Burghley, which whom he continued a friendly relationship until Cecil's death, and afterwards with his son Robert, and by Burgheley's agency was apppinted Canon of the Fourth Stall at Worchester Cathedral. Knighted by James and appointed Clerk of the Signet, he sometimes functioned as clerk to the Privy Council. He died in 1607 and in due time his son, likewise named Thomas, was created Earl of Exeter.
spacer12. I wish to thank my great good friend and former California colleague Thomas F. Scanlon for drawing Philo's oriignal article to my attention. I must also express my gratitude to the staff of the Lambeth Palace Library. My dealings with them with them were uncommonly easy and pleasant, and a photographic reproduction of the MS. was placed in my hands with remarkable speed.


spacerNOTE 1 Roger Ellis, The Juvenile Translations of Elizabeth Tudor Translations and Literature 18 (2009) pp. 157 - 180. Available from Jstor.