How to butter a monarch's backside

butter_wikicomFlattery was an essential art in the English Court under both Elizabeth and James, two individuals with an apparently insatiable appetite for compliments — the more outlandishly lavish the blandishments, the better.

Here’s a classic example, written by Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy to Queen Elizabeth*:

“Sacred Majesty,

If darkness be the mother of fearful apprehensions, excuse that so long have wanted those beams of yours, that only give light and lightness to your heart, which cannot but be troubled in so tempestuous a sea, having lost the sight of my only star. But since by your divine letters I feel the influence, though I cannot see the heavenly substance, my mind shall sing in the midst of all dangers: for I cannot be so weary, but your voice will make me go cheerfully forwards; nor so sick but I shall be sound if bid me be whole.”


In the dedication to The Advancement of Learning, Bacon applied so much butter to James’ posterior it’s a wonder his Majesty didn’t slide right off the throne. Here’s a small slice of the stuff:

“Wherefore, representing your Majesty many times unto my mind, and beholding you, not with the inquisitive eye of presumption, to discover that which the Scripture telleth me is inscrutable, but with the observant eye of duty and admiration; leaving aside the other parts of your virtue and fortune, I have been touched, yea, and possessed with an extreme wonder at those your virtues and faculties, which the Philosophers call intellectual; the largeness of your capacity, the faithfulness of your memory, the swiftness of your apprehension, the penetration of your judgment, and the facility and order of your elocution: and I have often thought that of all the persons living that I have known, your Majesty were the best instance to make a man of Plato’s opinion, that all knowledge is but remembrance, and that the mind of man by nature knoweth all things, and hath but her own native and original notions again revived and restored: such a light of nature I have observed in your Majesty, and such a readiness to take flame and blaze from the least occasion presented, or the least spark of another’s knowledge delivered.”

Yowzer! I suspect Bacon was performing the requisite duty of flattery and simultaneously proving to everyone that he could out-flatter the rest.

 * Quoted on p139 of Nicholas Esler 1966 The Aspiring Mind of the Elizabethan Younger Generation.

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