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Elizabeth I’s letter to Henry IV of France

In this personal letter, Elizabeth I gives advice to the French king about navigating tensions between Catholics and Protestants.

Full page of handwritten text signed
Elizabeth I. Letter to Henry IV of France. ca. 1590.

Most letters from one monarch to another were hand-written by a court official, but this one—from Elizabeth I to Henry IV of France—is very different. Elizabeth wrote it herself, in French, one of the five languages that she knew fluently. The letter ends with her elegant signature, Elizabeth R. Like other royal correspondence, the letter was folded into a thin strip that was closed with the royal seal in red wax.

The tone of the letter is also unusually personal. It almost seems that Elizabeth is addressing the king as the son she never had. The topic at hand is the enduring and violent religious strife between French Catholics and the Huguenots, who were Protestants. She reminds Henry that his survival is crucially important to England and other Protestant nations. Although Henry had converted to Catholicism about a year before this letter was written, he continued to face strong opposition from French Catholics aided by Spain, England’s great enemy.

Having encountered religious unrest upon her own accession to the throne, Elizabeth in her letter counsels Henry to follow a course of restraint. “Perhaps you will despise this advice coming from a—from the heart of a woman,” runs a partial translation, “but when you remember how many times I have not shown too much fear in my breast of pistols and swords which have been prepared for me this idea will pass away.”

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