Many monarchs have come and gone in the long and turbulent history of Great Britain, and they have addressed the public in times of war, uncertainty, prosperity, and hope with words that resonated with generations of people in the United Kingdom and beyond.
Of course, many other speeches have largely been lost to time through a lack of written records, and some of the most famous lines from historic speeches are of doubtful origin — or even simply made up. We can thank William Shakespeare for much of that. His plays include a multitude of stirring discourses from various royals, but he was very much exercising his right to poetic license. Who can forget, for example, Henry V’s rousing speech to the troops on Saint Crispin’s day: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” But there’s no evidence the real king ever made such a speech at the Battle of Agincourt — Shakespeare put his own spin on things (it’s more likely that the real Henry V simply said “Fellas, let's go!”).
Many monarchs have, however, made pivotal and rousing speeches that have been reliably recorded. The following quotes come from some of the most famous speeches by Britain’s kings and queens, from Elizabeth I to Elizabeth II.
I know I have but the body of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart of a king, and of a king of England, too.
— Elizabeth I
Elizabeth I’s rallying speech to her troops gathered outside the village of Tilbury was a defining moment in British history. In 1588, with the Spanish Armada approaching, the queen — wearing a silver breastplate over a white dress — rode out to address her soldiers, in what became arguably her greatest speech.
Though you have had, and may have, many princes more mighty and wise sitting in this seat, yet you never had nor shall have, any that will be more careful and loving.
— Elizabeth I
When Elizabeth I addressed the Palace Council Chamber in 1601, everyone expected her to focus on the economic issues facing the nation. Instead, she talked about love and respect. The address became known as the Golden Speech.
Estate of monarchy is the supremest thing upon earth; for kings are not only God's lieutenants upon earth, and sit upon God's throne, but even by God himself they are called gods.
— James VI and I
James VI became the first king of Great Britain with the union of the Scottish and English crowns in 1603. He was an intelligent and peace-loving king, but he was very insistent when it came to the divine right of kings — the idea that kings were higher beings than other men.
Conquest, sirs, in my opinion, is never just, except that there be a good just cause, either for matter of wrong or just title. And then if you go beyond it, the first quarrel that you have to it, that makes it unjust at the end that was just at the first.
— Charles I
Despite being mere seconds away from his own execution for high treason in 1649, Charles I’s final address was impressively calm and considered.
Many of these unhappy people may still retain their loyalty, and may be too wise not to see the fatal consequence of this usurpation, and wish to resist it, yet the torrent of violence has been strong enough to compel their acquiescence, till a sufficient force shall appear to support them.
— George III
On October 26, 1775, George III addressed the British Parliament over growing concerns about rebellion in America. He warned that the revolt in the colony must be ended quickly — but we all know how that turned out…
Through one of the marvels of modern science, I am enabled, this Christmas Day, to speak to all my peoples throughout the empire.
— George V
In 1932, George V delivered the first Christmas Day message by a British monarch, which afterwards became an annual tradition. The speech, which was written by Rudyard Kipling, celebrated the power of wireless communication to connect people around the world.
In this grave hour, perhaps the most fateful in our history, I send to every household of my peoples, both at home and overseas, this message, spoken with the same depth of feeling for each one of you as if I were able to cross your threshold and speak to you myself. For the second time in the lives of most of us, we are at war.
— George VI
On September 3, 1939, the United Kingdom declared war on Germany. On that day, George VI addressed the nation via radio broadcast. The king dreaded public speaking due to his stammer, but his powerful speech served to inspire his people — and, later, the acclaimed 2010 movie The King’s Speech.
Let us not take ourselves too seriously. None of us has a monopoly of wisdom.
— Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth’s Christmas Broadcast in 1991 highlighted the great changes taking place across eastern Europe and Russia, including the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Elizabeth spoke of the importance of democratic traditions and having respect for other points of view.
I do not think that we should be over-anxious. We can make sense of the future — if we understand the lessons of the past.
— Elizabeth II
In 1999, Britain’s longest-reigning monarch reflected upon the start of a new century and a new millennium. Elizabeth acknowledged that the future can be frightening, but that the lessons of history can help us on our path forward.
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