Princess Elizabeth and Her New Year’s Gift Translations

Valerie Schutte

New Year’s was an important occasion to both give and receive gifts at the Tudor court

New Year’s was an important occasion to both give and receive gifts at the Tudor court, as there was an established protocol of gift-giving that required reciprocity and recognition. Gifts were used to create and enhance bonds between the monarch and their people. Prior to her accession, Princess Elizabeth Tudor gave at least four manuscript translations of religious texts that she handwrote and dedicated to various family members as New Year’s gifts. Importantly, she began giving translated manuscripts as gifts after she was reinstated into the crown succession in 1544. In these dedications, Elizabeth showed allegiance to her relatives, as her own position, demoted princess, was not always secure. At eleven years old, for New Year’s 1545, Elizabeth translated from French into English Marguerite of Navarre’s The Glass of the Sinful Soul and dedicated it to her stepmother, Katherine Parr. Elizabeth meant for this text to be special and private to Katherine so that she would find favor with it and treat Elizabeth well, especially if Katherine and Henry were to have any children of their own. However, three years later, John Bale corrected her translation, added Scriptural citations, and printed the book as A Godly Medytacyon of the christen sowle. It went on to be published four more times by the end of the sixteenth century.
Princess Elizabeth and Her New Year’s Gift Translations
Prayerbook of Elizabeth I

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Princess Elizabeth and Her New Year’s Gift Translations
Elizabeth I

Elizabeth gave two translated manuscripts as gifts

The next year, New Year’s 1546, at twelve years old, Elizabeth gave two translated manuscripts as gifts; one she gave to her father, and the other she gave to Katherine Parr. Elizabeth’s second extant gift manuscript to Katherine is an English translation of John Calvin’s Institution of the Christian Religion. Elizabeth gave her father a trilingual translation of Katherine Parr’s own Prayers or Meditations. The books were given as a pair and have matching embroidery on their covers, with the cover of the book given to Henry being red with blue and silver monogram and that given to Katherine having a blue cover with red and silver monogram. Gifts to the king were traditionally displayed on buffet tables, so Elizabeth’s matching manuscripts were both demonstrative of her skill with languages and performative of her place within the royal family. Elizabeth’s fourth extant manuscript translation that she completed as a princess is a Latin translation of Bernardino Ochino’s sermon “What is Christ and Why He Came into the World.” She gave this particular manuscript to her brother Edward, sometime when he was king, as the Latin dedication is dated 30 December but does not give a year. Most likely, Elizabeth gave it to him in 1548, for his first New Year’s as king. The book contains no embroidered cover, and the dedication to Edward is by far the shortest dedication that Elizabeth added to translations. However, Elizabeth offered Edward this gift for the same reasons that she gave translations to Henry and Katherine Parr: she used her translation gifts as offerings of deference and obedience so that she could stay in the monarch’s good favor. She could have given an impersonal gift of clothing or gold, but she spent time reading, writing, and translations so that each dedicatee knew she was devoted to earning and keeping their good will. Elizabeth’s translations show her incredible ability as an eleven, twelve, and fourteen-year-old girl, the influence of Katherine Parr over Elizabeth’s religion and learning, and the blossoming of writing and translations activities that Elizabeth continued to undertake for the rest of her life. Importantly, Elizabeth’s gifts also connected her to the literary activities of females in her family, such as her mother and Lady Margaret Beaufort. Elizabeth’s strategy of gift-giving – offering elaborate, hand crafted, acceptable feminine translations – demonstrated her knowledge of what would capture attention, yet were capable of interacting with religious discourse and decision making.
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Princess Elizabeth and Her New Year’s Gift Translations

Valerie Schutte

Valerie Schutte is an independent scholar who has published widely on books dedicated to Tudor queens. She is currently writing a cultural biography of Anne of Cleves. She can be found on Instagram @TudorQueenship.
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