Memoirs of My Own Life

Author: James Melville  | Date: 1751

Show Summary
James Melville’s Glasgow 1751

Too Tall by a Head


During nine days that I remained at the court it pleased her Majesty to confer with me every day, and sometimes thrice in a day, in the morning, after dinner, and after supper. Sometimes she would say that, seeing she could not meet with the queen [Mary], her good sister, to confer with her familiarly, she was resolved to open a good part of her inward mind to me, that I might show it again to the queen.

"I am resolved never to marry if I be not thereto necessitated by the queen, my sister’s, harsh behavior toward me."

"I know the truth of that, madam," said I. "You need not tell it me. Your Majesty thinks, if you were married, you would be but queen of England; and now you are both king and queen. I know your spirit cannot endure a commander."

She appeared to be so affectionate to the queen, her good sister, that she expressed a great desire to see her. Because the so much, by her, desired meeting could not be so hastily brought to pass, she appeared with great delight to look upon her Majesty’s picture.

She took me to her bed-chamber, and opened a little cabinet, wherein were diverse little pictures wrapt within paper, and their names written with her own hand upon the papers. Upon the first that she took up was written: "My Lord’s picture." I held the candle, and pressed to see the picture so named. She appeared loath to let me see it, yet my importunity prevailed for a sight thereof, and found it to be the Earl of Leicester’s picture. I desired that I might have it to carry home to my queen; which she refused, alleging that she had but one picture of his. I said: "Your Majesty hath here the original"; for I perceived him at the farthest part of the chamber, speaking with Secretary Cecil. Then she took out the queen’s picture, and kissed it; and I adventured to kiss her hand, for the great love therein evidenced to my mistress.

She showed me also a fair ruby, as great as a tennis ball. I desired that she would either send it, or my Lord Leicester’s picture, as a token unto the queen. She said, if the queen would follow her counsel, that she would in process of time get all she had; that in the meantime she was resolved in a token to send her with me a fair diamond.

The queen, my mistress, had instructed me to leave matters of gravity sometimes and cast in merry purposes, lest otherwise I should be wearied, she being well informed of that queen’s natural temper. Therefore, in declaring my observations of the customs of Dutchland, Poland, and Italy, the busking of the women was not forgot, and what country weed I best thought becoming gentlewomen. The queen said that she had clothes of every sort; which every day thereafter, as long as I was there, she changed. One day she had the English weed, another the French, another the Italian, and so forth. She asked me which of them became her best. I answered, in my judgment, the Italian dress; which answer I found pleased her well, for she delighted to show her golden colored hair, wearing a caul1 and bonnet as they do in Italy.

Her hair was more reddish than yellow, curled in appearance naturally. She desired to know of me what color of hair was reputed best, and whether my queen’s hair or hers was best, and which of the two was fairest. I answered, the fairness of them both was not their worst faults. But she was earnest of me to declare which of them I judged fairest. I said she was the fairest queen in England and mine the fairest queen in Scotland. Yet she appeared earnest. I answered that they were both the fairest in their countries; that her Majesty was whiter, but my queen was very lovely.

She inquired which of them was of the higher stature. I said my queen.

"Then," saith she, "she is too high, for I myself am neither too high nor too low."

Then she asked what kind of exercises she used. I answered that when I received my dispatch the queen was but lately come from the highland hunting; that when her more serious affairs permitted she was taken up with reading of histories; that she sometimes recreated herself in playing upon the lute and virginals. She asked if she played well. I said, reasonably, for a queen.

1A kind of hair net.

Download Options

Title: Memoirs of My Own Life

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: Memoirs of My Own Life

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: James Melville, Memoirs of My Own Life, ed. James Melville’s in History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, ed. Louis Leo Snyder and Richard B. Morris (Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole Co., 1951), Original Sources, accessed April 24, 2024,

MLA: Melville, James. Memoirs of My Own Life, edited by James Melville’s, in History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, edited by Louis Leo Snyder and Richard B. Morris, Harrisburg, Pa., Stackpole Co., 1951, Original Sources. 24 Apr. 2024.

Harvard: Melville, J, Memoirs of My Own Life, ed. . cited in 1951, History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, ed. , Stackpole Co., Harrisburg, Pa.. Original Sources, retrieved 24 April 2024, from