In “The Prologue” Anne Bradstreet writes:
To sing of wars, of captains, and of kings.
Of cities founded, commonwealths begun.
For my mean pen are too superior things:
Simply put, Bradstreet is saying that her “mean,” or humble pen is not up to the task of writing about “wars,” “captains,” or “kings.” Nor, she suggests, is she up to the task of writing the histories of “cities founded,” or “commonwealths begun.” We soon get a hint, though, that she is being somewhat too modest. When she asks that “poets and historians” write about these things, the readers asks, “isn’t she a poet, writing in perfectly controlled poetic meter?” This is the first clue that Bradstreet intends to undercut the assumptions of what women “can do.”
We see her systematically overturn each of these things (“wars, captains, kings”) in the poem “In Honour of that High and Mighty Princess, Queen ELIZABETH.” In lines 25 and 26 she writes:
Who was so good, so just, so learn’d so wise,
From all the kings on earth she won the prize.
Bradstreet is comparing Queen Elizabeth to all the Kings who have come before her, and argues that she is better than they are because of her fairness and intelligence. She continues her argument a few lines later when she writes:
She hath wip’d off the’ aspersion of her sex,
That women wisdom lack to play the rex;
Here she says straightforwardly that The Queen has proven the sexist stereotype wrong that women lack the smarts to rule a country. Later on in the poem in lines 49 and 50 she continues with this theme:
She frankly helped Frank’s brave distressed king,
The states united now her fame do sing.
In this passage she goes a step further by discussing an instance where Elizabeth came to the rescue of the King of France. This puts the Queen in a position of power over a man who is the ruler of a large country, and makes the king the subservient character at her mercy.
Throughout the poem Bradstreet also writes often about wars and captains, just like she said she would not do in the prologue. One good example of this begins on line 31:
Spain’s monarch says not so, nor yet his host:,
She taught them better manners, to their cost.
Here she is referring to a historical battle between Spain and England. While under Elizabeth’s rule, the English Navy defeated Spain’s “Invincible Armada,” led by Spain’s monarch Phillip II. This triumph was again mentioned on lines 45 and 46:
Ships more invincible than Spain’s, her foe,
She wracked, she sacked, she sunk his Armado;
The very next line speaks of another naval battle, led by famous captain Sir Francis Drake, this time it was England invading Portugal:
Her stately troops advanc’d to Lisbon’s wall,
Don Anthony in’s right there to install.
The result was different this time though, with England being turned away by Portugal’s military. This was not one of The Queen’s greatest moments; it surprises me that she would include it in her poem. However, Bradstreet quickly regroups on lines 55 and 56:
The rude untamed Irish, she did quell,
Before her picture the proud Tyrone fell.
In these lines she is referring to Irish leader Hugh O’Neill, the second earl of Tyrone, who surrendered to The Queen in 1603. The Irish have historically been the mortal enemies of the English; thus her derogatory remarks about them. She follows those lines up soon after with a direct mentioning of “captains:”
Such captains and such soldiers never seen,
As were the subjects of our Pallas Queen.
This time, while comparing Elizabeth to the Greek Goddess of Wisdom, she speaks of the successes and discoveries accomplished by the English captains and soldiers during her reign. She includes a few examples in lines 60 through 64, such as Drake’s revenge on Spain and Essex capturing Cadiz, before admitting she could not possibly list all her accomplishments in this poem on lines 65 and 66:
Her seamen through all straits the world did round;
Terra incognita might know the sound
Her Drake came laden home with Spanish gold;
Her Essex took Cadiz, their Herculean hold,
But time would fail me, so my tongue would too.
To tell of half she did, or she could do.
These are a few examples of how Bradstreet systematically overturns the notion that women have no place discussing or having anything to do with wars, captains, or kings. Throughout her poem “In Honour of that High and Mighty Princess, Queen ELIZABETH.” Bradstreet writes with an undertone that men have never given women the credit that they deserve and that women can accomplish greatness, just like men. Let me end this with one last piece of evidence to back up this claim from lines 97 and 98 of her poem
Nay masculines, you have thus taxed us long,
But she, though dead, will vindicate our wrong.