Performing the Apocalypse: Sibylline Prophecy and Elizabeth I



Many of the narratives connected to Elizabeth I which feature sibyls and sibylline prophecy were fashioned long before her birth. Elizabeth’s first performance within these narratives occurred during the coronation celebrations for Anne Boleyn in 1533. The description of this celebration, published as ‘The noble tryumphaunt coronacyon of quene Anne wyfe vnto the moost noble kynge Henry the viij’, features a ‘sumptuous pagent’ at St Paul’s gate where three sibyls, ‘fayre ladyes virgyns’, held tablets of gold and silver upon which were written: ‘Come my love thou shalbe crowned’, ‘Lord god dyrecte my wayes’, and ‘Trust in god’. Beneath the sibyls’ feet was a ‘longe rol wherein was written this. Queen Anne thou shalte beare a newe sone of the kynges bloode and there shalbe a golden worlde unto thy people’. The pamphlet reports that ‘wafers’ of paper containing these lines were thrown over Anne’s head. These scraps of paper were likely intended as souvenirs of potent political propaganda designed to communicate the message the King wished the audience to receive — that Anne would bear a son, like the ‘son’ of sibylline prophecy, who would bring about the return of the Christianized Golden Age (The noble tryumphaunt coronacyon, 1533, n.p.). These allusions were neatly employed to validate not only Henry VIII’s marriage, but to imbue his unborn child with the myth of an apocalyptic destiny. The prophecy of the sibyls given in celebration of Anne Boleyn’s coronation did not, of course, manifest itself in quite the way the audience expected. Instead, the sibylline verses would come to be reinterpreted and reinvigorated in Elizabeth’s reign. Elizabeth I came to be figured as a new ‘Sun’ in many prophetic interpretations.


Strange Star British Library Protestant Church Roman Emperor Henry VIII 
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© Jessica L. Malay 2011

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