Elizabeth (The Maiden Phoenix)
Performed at Pennsic 48, August 8, 2019. Cornelia Caeciliana vocals. Johann on guitar.
Even though Elizabeth I of England did not appear to be as big a John Dowland fan as I am (Dowland was rather grumpy about not being offered a position as court lutenist in Elizabeth's Court!), she has always been one of my favorite figures from the SCA period. With this song, I wanted to tell Elizabeth's story, in song, from her point of view, while incorporating some of her famous quotes and speeches. I also wanted the song to fall within the attention span of the casual listener (3 to 5 minutes for a song). With such a story to tell, within my set time limit, I had to pick and choose moments to include. I began the song with Elizabeth fearing for her life at the Tower of London. In 4 verses, the song touches on select highlights of Elizabeth's life and speeches between 1554 and 1603. The song barely scratches the surface of the complexity of this beloved monarch, but I hope it somewhat captures her spirit in verse. Some of the references and quotes that I used include (but are not limited to!) the following:
In Shakespeare's Henry VIII, Act V, Scene V, Cranmer refers to Elizabeth as "the maiden phoenix." I incorporated this reference in the first verse lyric "...let them all die, I shall rise again." In the same scene, Shakespeare's Cranmer also 'predicts' that "... yet a virgin, a most unspotted lily shall she pass..." As Shakespeare and so many others have dwelt on Elizabeth's status as the 'Virgin Queen,' I have done the same in this song, here, treating Her single status as one of the 'burdens' of Her Crown.
Upon arriving at the Tower of London in 1554, Elizabeth reportedly said "Here landeth as true a subject, being prisoner, as ever landed at these stairs. Before Thee, O God, do I speak it, having no other friend but Thee alone." This statement by Elizabeth is paraphrased in the 2nd verse lyric "Alone and with no one, Save God as my friend..."
In Her first speech as Queen, from Hatfield in 1558, Elizabeth said "... the burden that is fallen upon me marketh me amazed, and yet, considering I am God's creature... I will thereto yield, desiring from the bottom of my heart that I may have assistance of His grace to be the minister of His heavenly will in this office now committed to me..." This first speech is paraphrased in the 2nd verse lyric (repeated as the 4th verse outtro) "... for I am God's creature, His grace I have seen, now I arise and I am your Queen." I chose to use the lyric "now I arise" specifically as another reference to Shakespeare's "maiden phoenix" mentioned above. The "burden" from Elizabeth's 1558 speech is also referenced in my 4th verse lyric "the cost of my crown is a burden to me..."
In Her 1559 speech to Parliament (in response to a request that She consider marrying, for sake of country) Elizabeth said "I have already joined myself in marriage to a husband, namely, the kingdom of England." This quote inspired the 4th verse lyric "I am a virgin, My country my groom. I cannot marry, My heart has not room."
In Her speech to her troops at Tilbury in 1588, while expecting an invasion of Spanish troops (which never materialized, due to the defeat of the Spanish Armada), Elizabeth said "I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England, too..." This is paraphrased in my 3rd verse lyric "Though feeble in body I've the heart of a King." The remainder of the verse references the English defeat of the Spanish Armada.
In Elizabeth's 'Golden Speech' from 1601, she said "To be a king and wear a crown is a thing more glorious to them that see it than it is pleasant to them that bear it." This, and other statements by Elizabeth, inspired the 4th verse lyric "...once in my life I would like to be free."
I'll stop here with my introduction, as this abridged introduction is already considerably longer than the song!
Elizabeth the Maiden Phoenix, by Johann von Solothurn