The transition of English politics from the late-middle ages and into the reformation and renaissance period was a little sticky to say the least. For a daughter of King Henry VIII, life was even more complex. Elizabeth Tudor grew up with a father who had beheaded her mother, Anne Boleyn, and watched as three more wives would come and go before her father died. Henry’s sixth wife, Catherine Parr, outlived her husband, and was Elizabeth’s fourth step-mother. Elizabeth lived in various settings including the home of Catherine Parr and her deviant husband, and also spending time imprisoned in the Tower of London. Not an ideal situation, and the modeling her father had shown regarding treatment of women was something that may cause Elizabeth some concern.
There would be three monarchs come and go in quick succession between Henry VIII and Elizabeth, and at various times the likelihood of the girl who had been branded as an illegitimate child, and the prisoner becoming monarch were extremely unlikely. Yet, become monarch she did. Elizabeth sat on the throne for 44 years, the 9th longest-serving monarch in British history. Furthermore, her time on the throne is considered the Golden Age of British history, with huge advances in literature, exploration, peace, prosperity, art, and general British patriotism.
It would have been no shame for Elizabeth, having spent most of her life on the fringes of the royal family, serving others, and enduring untold trauma and hardship to have failed, been over-thrown (probably killed), and for those in the court to say “Well, this woman thing was a fun experiment, but girl power really doesn’t work for us.”
Elizabeth had other ideas. One of the reasons for her success can be seen in her motto “video et taceo” which in English translates to “I see, and say nothing.” She observed. She watched. She learned. When the time came, she wasn’t afraid to listen to others and take advice, and more importantly, she wasn’t afraid to confront the doubts people may have about her, face them head on, and inspire.
“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, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any Prince of Europe should dare to invade the borders of my realm.”
– Speech to the Troops at Tilbury, Queen Elizabeth I
Elizabeth knew who she was, and rather than trying to pretend to be something else, she embraced it and used it to her advantage clearly, demonstrating that she wasn’t another queen ready to be killed off or married to some foreign prince. Queen Elizabeth I was a leader, a figurehead, and a strong monarch with human weaknesses who had overcome trauma, doubt, rejection, and threats, and became one of the strongest and most admired leaders the world has seen.
Here are the three takeaways for today:
1 – Your beginnings don’t dictate your endings.
2 – The expectations of others don’t dictate your success or failure.
3 – Don’t cover your insecurities and weaknesses. Embrace them. Be honest about them. Know your strengths are what will set your apart.
Elizabeth’s motto was “I see, and say nothing.” By the time she became a monarch she had seen a lot, but more importantly, she had learned a lot about humanity and leadership. Elizabeth learned to lead through observing life, and when the time came she was ready.
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