- [Puttenham, George]
- A Justificacion of Queene Elizabeth in Relacion to the affaire of Mary Queene of Scottes
- Paper, Ink
[with:] bound with a printed copy of the preface to the 1867 Camden Society edition of the text (see below).
This text is remarkable both as the work of a major Elizabethan prose writer, George Puttenham, and also as an insight into the public discourse that surrounded the most controversial act of Queen Elizabeth’s long reign. Puttenham begins by outlining the accusations made against Queen Elizabeth by “discontented persons” who oppose her religious policy or who were “undeservedlie maligning her Highnes greate prosperityes and glorie.”He admits that potentially damaging arguments had been advanced, such as that a foreign sovereign was not subject to English law, that pleas for clemency from across Europe had been ignored, and that it was unmerciful that “a Quene to a Quene, a woman to a woman, whould shew soo smale favour.”The tract is dedicated to defending Queen Elizabeth against such accusations. The arguments range from detailed examinations of the Queen’s action to precedents from British and even Biblical history. He dwells on the luxurious conditions of Mary’s imprisonment and explains that although the Queen has not repented of the execution, she “never absolutelie determined her pleasure in it, more than by subsignacion of the sayd warrant in generall tearmes.” She had hoped that the threat of imminent execution would be sufficient to prevent Mary’s followers from acting in a manner that would require that the sentence be carried out, and blame that the sentence was carried out is neatly devolved to overeager councillors.
This is the only manuscript copy of the “Justificacion” known to be in private hands, but the work survives in fourteen manuscripts, indicating that it enjoyed an extensive scribal circulation. The text was undoubtedly written in the immediate aftermath of the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, probably the final months of 1587; however, manuscript copies continued to be made into the early decades of the seventeenth century. Two surviving manuscripts (both in the British Library) identify the author as George Puttenham and the work is nowhere attributed to any other author, so this attribution is generally accepted. Puttenham is also generally thought to have been the author of The Arte of English Poesie, the most ambitious and systematic work on English poetics of the Elizabethan period. He also wrote plays, romances and other prose tracts, almost all of them lost. There is nothing to indicate that Puttenham was commissioned to write the “Justificacion,”so this treatise was almost certainly written in the hope that its display of sophisticated rhetoric and enthusiastic loyalty would bring future patronage. He may in fact have had some success in this: Puttenham was gifted property by the crown in May 1588, and this reward may well have been connected to the “Justificacion,” a rare gesture of support from Elizabeth’s parsimonious court.