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When Elizabeth I was just 11 years old she made an English translation of Marguerite of Navarre's Mirrors, calling it The Glass of a Sinful Soul. The translation was first published in Germany as A Godly Medytacyon of the Christen Sowle in 1548, when she was just 14 years old. It was later reprinted in London in 1590, and the body of her translated text was also used in 1568-70 and again in 1582 by James Cancellar in his own edited editions of Navarre..
However, the 1590 London edition of Elizabeth's translation was the last for nearly 300 years, until it was reproduced in a rare 1897 edition by Percy W. Ames, and then remained unpublished and unstudied for nearly another century, until Marc Shell reproduced it in his 1993 book Elizabeth's Glass, a book that finally took a close, scholarly look at this work and what it may tell us about the young Elizabeth in the years before she became Queen Elizabeth.
In his Introduction to Elizabeth's Glass, Shell asks, "Why has this particular work, listed in the oldest bibliographies, been virtually ignored?"
"The answer to that question," he continues, "is finally inseparable from the real subjects of the 'Glass'--the queen, her family, and the nation."
Shell's comments in the concluding paragraphs of the Introduction lay out the case for how and why this remarkable work from a future English monarch has been ignored for so long:
What is most interesting about the "Glass" may go some way toward explaining its relative obscurity. Elizabeth's work expresses, as we shall see, an ideology both important and discomforting in its personal and historical aspects. Its treatment of bastardy and incest, for example, has potentially disconcerting ramifications for ideas of liberty and politics generally and illuminates the historical rise of the English nations and biographical role of Elizabeth herself. For the most profound themes of "Glass" involve the reworking and expansion in nationalist and secular terms of such medieval theological notions concerning kinship as universal siblinghood, whereby all men and women are equally akin, and dormition, wherein the Virgin Mary plays at once the role of mother and daughter as well as wife ... It thus reflects the beginnings of a new ideal and real political organization, which, partly out of Elizabeth's own concerns with incest and bastardy, and partly out of political exigencies of the time, England's great monarch introduced as a kind of "national siblinghood" to which she was simultaneously the mother and wife.
The "Glass" is a reflection of Elizabeth herself ... [contextualized in] terms both of individual psychology and of national politics--not only [about] how a preadolescent young women of 1544 formed her spirit, but also how that spirit informed the political identity of the English nation... (Shell, p. 6-7)
Marguerite of Navarre
To appreciate more completely how Elizabeth came to preside over this national siblinghood, we need to understand the author whose book she chose to translate at the tender age of 11.
Marguerite of Navarre was the sister of Francis the First …