Sylva III: ad Reginae Angliae Oratorem, Pictavium ingredientem (June-July 1577)

Rollock wrote this piece for Sir Amias Paulet (c.1532-1588), who succeeded Dr Valentine Dale as English ambassador to France in September 1576. A staunch Protestant, Paulet had administered the predominantly French-speaking island of Jersey since 1556 (intially alongside his father Sir Hugh Paulet, but then as sole governor from 1572) and had gained extensive experience in dealing with French Huguenot refugees to the island, which may explain why Elizabeth chose him as ambassador (see Michael Hicks, 'Paulet, Sir Amias (c.1532-1588)', ODNB. Paulet's embassy lasted from 25 September 1576 to 1 November 1579, but he spent most of the summer of 1577 in Poitiers, where Henri III resided while he negotiated the peace of Bergerac and the resulting Edict of Poitiers. The edict, promulgated in September of that year, greatly circumscribed Protestant rights of public worship and brought to a close the hostilities of the fifth war of religion (see Hilary Bernstein, Between Crown and Community: Politics and Civic Culture in Sixteenth-Century Poitiers (Ithaca, 2004), p. 162; Gregory Champeaud, 'The Edict of Poitiers and the Treaty of Nerac, or Two Steps towards the Edict of Nantes', in The Sixteenth Century Journal, vol. 32, No. 2 (Summer, 2001), pp. 319-334; Mack P. Holt, The French Wars of Religion, 1562-1629 (Cambridge, 1995), p. 111.). Paulet's surviving copy-book of correspondence from May 1577 to January 1578 narrates that he arrived in Poitiers at some point between 22 June and 10 July (Octavius Ogle (ed.), Copy-book of Sir Amias Poulet's Letters Written during his Embassy to France (A.D. 1577) (London, Roxburghe Club, 1866), esp. pp. 55-158; we are extremely grateful to Professor Paul Hammer of the University of Colorado for alerting us to the existence of this volume. These letters are also calendared in Arthur John Butler (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Foreign, 1577-1578 (London, 1901)). It was probably at some point between these two dates when Rollock delivered this poem to Paulet. The poem pays tribute to the virtues and riches of England and Elizabeth, presumably with the hopes of encouraging some patronage from the ambassador. If this was Rollock's intention, it appears he was sorely disappointed. Paulet's account of his stay in the city (he left for Paris at some point between 19 and 30 October) outlines in detail several meetings he had with Henri III, Catherine de Medici, and the Duc d'Anjou, and provides a full account of the meetings that led to the edict. He also says much about his relationships with his staff and his fellow ambassadors. However, he never mentions Rollock once. In connection with this poem, Rollock also apparently wrote a (now lost) piece for the royal entry celebrations which was published at Poitiers in 1577 (Invictissimi Galliae et Poloniae regis Henrici III. Pictavium ingredientis pompa, listed in J. H. Baxter and C. J. Fordyce, 'Books Published Abroad by Scotsmen before 1700', Records of the Glasgow Bibliographical Society, vol. 11 (1933), pp. 1-55, at p. 48.). Metre: hexameter.

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SYLVA III: ad Reginae Angliae Oratorem, Pictavium ingredientem

1Dum Francae gazas et luxum exoticus aulae
suspicio, ac regi pompis praelata superbis
fercula, tantum unus qui fraenat legibus orbem:
et rerum haec mandare modis miracula vates
Link to an image of this page  [p352] 5molior: immemorem vellit mihi Cynthius aurem, 1
vertendosque alio versus, alioque sagacis
ingenii suadet vires. 'Quid finibus', inquit,
'sepostis procul orbe tuo praeconia pangis
irrita, et ornandos nulla mercede labores
10suspicis? Ipsa Caledoniis contermina regnis,
fœta viris, faelix opibus, bello inclyta, pace
intemerata, doli indocilis, pietate serena
Anglia sufficiet segetem tibi dives opimam,
quam subigas, vatesque canas sacro entheus œstro.
15Illic Oceani Nymphe sata marmore (cujus
par Cytherea tibi, tibi par Cytherea figurae
illecebris, animi sed major dotibus), orbi
divulsis 2 dat jura plagis: atque invida regnat
non ulli, nulli sed non invisa tyranno.
20Haec te sollicet, 3 generosa Aeneide major
materies, 4 haec sola fides et plectra fatiget.
Dumque ingens moliris opus, contermina clavo
tecta quibus capitur scitare, vicarius, almae
principis orator, cui sacros exhibe honores
25versibus, et supplex multam impertire salutem.
Ille aditus pandet magnis tibi forsitan orsis,
sufficietque animos cunctanti, et grandibus olim
inseret, assertum populi contage, poetis.'
Tantum effata, leves mea Musa recessit in auras,
30praecipitisque haec sola fugae monumenta reliquit.

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Sylva III: to the ambassador of the queen of England, arriving in Poitiers

While as a foreigner I look enviously upon the treasure and wealth of the court of France, and at the dishes laid out for the king with proud ceremony, who alone bridles almost the whole world under his law: a and as a poet I try to commit these wonders of the world to meter: Link to an image of this page  [p352] Cynthius plucks at my inattentive ears, and on one side recommends the verses to be rendered, and on the other spurs on the power of my natural skills. 'Why', he says, 'do you compose useless laudations far off from your sphere, in remote lands, and why do you take up work to be provided with no reward? Rich England, bordered by the Caledonian kingdom, teeming with people, blessed with riches, in war celebrated, in peace unviolated, ignorant of sorrow, unclouded in piety, will furnish you with a fertile crop for you to harvest, and allow you to sing as an inspired poet with a divine passion. In that place a Nymph, b sprung from the glassy surface of the Ocean (she is your equal, Venus, and her alluring form, Venus, is equal to yours, but she is greater in the attributes of her mind), gives laws to the regions cut off from the world: c and hostile to no-one, but hated by some as a tyrant, d she rules. May this noble subject, e greater than the Aeneid, rouse you, and may it alone exhaust the lyres and plectrums. And while you attempt the great task, and come to know the roof from the nail on which it is fixed, confer upon the ambassador, the deputy of the f kind princess, venerable praises in your verses, and as a supplicant bestow upon him many a wish for his health. Through your great words perhaps he will present opportunities to you, and fortify your spirits as you lie idle, and one day place you among the great poets, free from the touch of the people.' Having said this much, my Muse receded into the heavens, and left behind this record of his fleeting visit.



1: Virgil, Eclogues VI.3-4

2: Virgil, Eclogues I.66

3: Either corrupted form of 'scilicet' or syncopated form of 'sollicitet'. The latter form is the more likely both metrically and contextually.

4: Rollock plays on both the physicality of Elizabeth's 'matter' (her well-bred nobility) and her as a noble 'subject' for a poem, which are both contained within the semantic range of 'materies'. The latter is the more prominent given the comparison with Virgil's work.


a: It seems strange that Rollock should be lavishing praise on Henri III in a poem dedicated to the English ambassador, but given that he had also produced work for the entry of the French king to Poitiers (see introduction above), and given that Paulet may have mentioned this poem to Henri III in their meetings, he may simply be trying to flatter English sensibilities while still appearing pro-French.

b: Elizabeth I.

c: This is an allusion to Virgil, Eclogues I.66, where Virgil describes the Britons as cut off from the whole world. Rollock uses the phrase again to describe the British in his first poem to Joseph Juste Scaliger. In that poem he directly quotes from Virgil. See d2_RolH_013.

d: Elizabeth was an object of hatred for much of Catholic Europe, and was the target of assassination by the papacy. Philip II of Spain (r. 1554-1598) was also an inveterate enemy, and the Spanish Armada of 1588 was simply the most strident military manifestation of the intermittent but undeclared conflict between the two rulers, known as the Anglo-Spanish War (1585-1604).

e: For the semantic import of the word 'materies/subject' see note to Latin text above.

f: The gist of Rollock's meaning is clear - that the diplomatic game involves trying to understand a larger picture of events and motivations from limited information - but it is unclear if he is referencing a specific set of negotiations and discussions between Paulet and Henri III. The nature and aims of Paulet's embassy were never fully defined, but his letters suggest that his brief included watching the developments in the French civil wars, pacifying Henri III and Catherine de Medici with regards to Elizabeth's support of French Huguenots, and ensuring the French crown did not provide support to the Irish rebellion. He may also have been involved in very early discussions for a potential marriage between Elizabeth and the Duc d'Anjou. See Ogle, Copy-Book, pp. iii-iv.