Rulers at present may be seen as practical, passionate, determined or powerful but few would think of them as intellectuals. Thus, it may be quite surprising to learn that Queen Elizabeth I, one of the most powerful English rulers during the Renaissance, was not only disciplined and independent but also an inward intellectual who devoted her teenage years to the translation of various religious texts that definitely shaped her “man’s mind”.
Elizabeth I was a successful queen in times where women were not considered suitable for holding certain positions in society. And according to Janel Mueller, professor of English language and literature at the University of Chicago, William Rainey Harper Professor in the College, and dean of the Division of the Humanities., much of her success can be related to the translations she did while still being a princess influenced by her stepmother Katherine Parr. Mueller even takes this a little bit further and says that her translations were key to her power.
In 1545, when she was still a teenager, she translated the first chapter of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. Then she took a religious work that Katherine Parr had done in English and translated it into Latin, French and Italian and gave it as a New Year’s gift to her dad.
Mueller points out that during the early period of Elizabeth’s reign she translated some devotional literature, but shifted later to classical texts from Seneca’s tragedies as she had more experience as Queen of England.
Mueller as well as other scholars looking into Elizabeth I’s translations, are interested in determining that these works are not only a proof of her refined schooling but also a way she found of making these texts available. Despite the fact that Elizabeth did quite literal translations and avoided using English references, it is undeniable that she was part of a culture highly interested in translation as a means of making something foreign available to the natives.