She Has Talent without a Woman’s Weakness

“There are now many honorable ladies who surpass the daughters of Thomas More in all kinds of learning; but among them all the most shining star, not so much for the clarity of her mind as for the splendor of her virtue and her letters, is my mistress, Elizabeth, sister of our King.  She so shines forth that, in justly commending her great versatility, my task is not to find something to praise but to find limits to my praising.  But I shall write nothing to which I have not been an eye-witness.  She had me for a tutor in the Latin and Greek languages for two years…The ornaments of nature and of fortune, gathered together in my most illustrious mistress, are difficult to judge; I hardly know which is to be estimated the higher.  Aristotle’s excellence is wholly transfused into her.  For in her are contained all beauty, stature, prudence, and industry.  She has just passed her sixteenth birthday, and is so grave in age and so gentle in her rank to a degree unheard of.  Her study of true faith and of learning is most energetic.  She has talent without a women’s weakness, industry with a man’s perseverance, and memory than which I know none quicker to perceive or longer to retain.  She speaks in French and Italian as well as she speaks in English; in Latin easily, correctly, and thoughtfully; and she has even spoken with me in Greek tolerably well, frequently, and voluntarily.  When she writes in Greek or Latin, nothing is more beautiful than her handwriting.  She is skilled in music as she is delighted by it.”

Roger Ascham, “Roger Ascham to Johann Sturm, April 4, 1550,” in The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What It Means to Be An Educated Human Being, ed. Richard M. Gamble. Wilmington 2007, pp. 434-35.

Roger Ascham (d. 1568) served as Elizabeth’s tutor from 1548 to 1550 and again in 1555 before she became Queen Elizabeth in 1558.  Even if we believe that Roger used hyperbole when he described her, Princess Elizabeth was obviously an exceptional student and a person with great intellect.

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