EXPLICATION “The Doubt of Future Foes” by Queen Elizabeth I The doubt of future foes exiles my present joy, And wit me warns to shun such snares as threaten mine annoy. For falsehood now doth flow, and subject faith doth ebb, Which would not be, if reason ruled or wisdom weaved the web. But clouds of toys untried do cloak aspiring minds, Which turn to rain of late repent, by course of changed winds. The top of hope supposed, the root of ruth will be, And fruitless all their graffed guiles, as shortly ye shall see. The dazzled eyes with pride, which great ambition blinds, Shall be unsealed by worthy wights whose foresight falsehood finds. The daughter of debate, that eke discord doth sow Shall reap no gain where former rule hath taught still peace to grow.
No foreign banished wight shall anchor in this port, Our realm it brooks no strangers force, let them elsewhere resort. Our rusty sword with rest, shall first his edge employ To poll their tops that seek such change and gape for joy. Written in 1568 by one of Englands most outstanding rulers, “The Doubt of Future Foes” captures a time of distress for Queen Elizabeth. Elizabeth Jenkins, one of the great Queens biographers, stated that “Elizabeth was not poetical, but she shared that extraordinary gift of expression that was general among the English of the time, and once or twice she wrote some remarkable verse” (Jenkens, Elizabeth the Great, 1958). In this particular “remarkable verse,” Elizabeth composed sixteen lines describing the troubled state of England and prophesied the fate of her enemies. Elizabeth uses alliteration in several lines, such as “wisdom weaved the web” and “foresight falsehood finds,” which reflects her well-educated and cultured background.
However, the poem appears to be mainly a product of Elizabeths struggles with adversaries and a threat to those who had the “aspiring minds” to attempt to remove her from the throne. The poem is written in octosyllabics: rhyming couplets with twelve syllables in the first line and fourteen syllables in the second line. This meter drums out a steady, forceful rhythm that further drills in the highly moralistic message of “loyalty or else.” The first two lines state that Elizabeths fear (“doubt”) about her enemies prevents her from being happy, and that if she were smart, she would ignore the traps those enemies had set in place to harm her with. Her cousin, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, had been giving her cousin grief about Elizabeths unfulfilled promise when Mary was imprisoned to help her regain her throne (and succeeded in labeling Elizabeth as a hypocrite), but Mary refused to acknowledge the fact that Elizabeth had saved her life countless times. Her cousin also had her eyes on the British crown and appealed to Elizabeths sympathy to begin to win it. However, advised by Sir William Cecil that her cousin had “an appetite to the Crown,” she handled Marys demands, such as for Elizabeths own royal garments, with caution and limitation.
At this point in history, Elizabeth was also angered that the northern Catholics had spurned her exceptionally tolerant religious policy. The Catholics had always wanted Elizabeth ousted from the throne because she had committed the travesty of being Protestant, and they looked at anything controversial that she did as a way to get her out. Line three describes treachery and devotion as a wave that recedes and swells; at the present time, allegiance is short of hand and treason is a constant threat. However, Elizabeth states in line four that if people had intelligence and common sense, they would be loyal to her. She feels this way not only because of her religious beliefs, but also because of the simple fact that she is Queen.
Her subjects may be rebellious now, when they feel they may have a chance at overthrowing her, but ultimately she is still in power and has a golden finger to direct their fate. She alludes to the impending tools and tricks that her adversaries will use against her as clouds that will fall as rain when her enemies change their minds and beg pardon. She also portrays their false fronts as a shoot grafted into the growing plant of the kingdom of England, with hope as the leaves (“top”) and sorrow (“ruth”) as the roots, but which will yield no profits (“fruit”) as long as they are disloyal.
She then states that their vain eyes, full of impatient anticipation, will be opened by a noble person (a “worthy wight”) who foresees their treachery. Elizabeth refers to her cousin Mary as “the daughter of debate” because she had caused so much scandal and controversy. She predicts that no matter what conflict Mary began, she would never have success because the Reformation of England has trained her, as Queen, to maintain peace. No foreign or exiled person such as Mary would sit at the throne of England, because the kingdom does not allow strangers ruling it. Let them go somewhere else, Elizabeth declares, because that will not be tolerated in my country. The poem ends with a resonating threat that foreshadows the fate of Mary.
The executioners sword which has not been used in so long will strike off the heads of those that wish to change monarchs, and these implementations of death will bring joy and prosperity back to the Kingdom. Elizabeths prediction became reality when Mary was charged with being accessory to an attempted murder of Elizabeth and was beheaded in 1587, and William Byrd wrote a song that echoed Elizabeths foretelling nearly twenty years before: “The noble famous queen/Who lost her head of late/Doth show that kings as well as clowns/Are bound to Fortunes fate,/And that no earthly Prince/Can so secure his crown/But Fortune with her whirling wheel/Hath power to pull them down” (Jenkins, 316). It was said among those who knew her that Elizabeth never wept again as she did when Mary was executed. However, as a strong ruler, she did what was necessary for the well-being of her country, and she rid England of its opponents.
She would have no more fear of future foes. Bibliography Elizabeth, I. “The Doubt of Future Foes.” 1568.
Jenkins, Elizabeth. Elizabeth the Great. 1958.