The British royal family today is most often associated with drama, tabloids, and gossip, yet many forget that society once revolved around the monarchy. Sure, some kings and queens certainly did more with their influence than others, though it’s clear that their impact on British history went beyond mere magazine headlines.

Culture and tradition stem directly from the royal bloodline, yet it appears one famous monarch chose to pursue more stimulating passions along with their duties as ruler. After spending more than 400 years gathering dust in the Lambeth Palace library, one document has finally revealed which British royal was more scholar than socialite.

The document in question was a translation of the Annals, the final and most notable work of the Roman historian Tacitus. In it, Tacitus recounts the history of the Roman empire across the reigns of Tiberius and Nero following the death the first emperor, Augustus.

John-Mark Philo, an honorary English fellow at the University of East Anglia, first discovered the text while researching other Tacitus translations. At first, the document seemed just like any other manuscript.

Villa I Tatti – Harvard University

But as he continued combing over the translation, Philo noticed something peculiar about the very paper it was written on. The stock was of a distinct variety, a kind most notably used in the Elizabethan secretariat.

The watermarks on the paper were also noteworthy, as they featured a rampant lion, a crossbow, and the initials “G.B.” To an expert like Philo, these symbols could only mean the translation was authored by one notable individual…


Queen Elizabeth I! In fact, much of the 16th-century queen’s existing correspondence features these markings. Yet even so, this didn’t mean Elizabeth I was the actual translator of the text: she simply could’ve signed off on it.

Fortunately, another clue seemed to lead Philo closer to the translator’s true identity. While the manuscript itself was written in the neat hand of a scribe, the corrections and markings on the pages were in “an extremely distinctive, disjointed hand,” — a trademark of Elizabeth I.

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“The thing that clinched it for me was the handwriting. That was the strongest clue,” explained Philo. “I collected as wide a sample of her handwriting as possible and compared her other translations.”

Sure enough, the samples were a match, all but confirming that the Queen herself had been the manuscript’s original translator. But why was Queen Elizabeth I, ruler of the entire British commonwealth, spending her days translating old Roman texts?

According to record, the Queen was a skilled linguist, with the ability to converse in Latin, French, and Italian and a familiarity with Spanish and Greek. She took pleasure in this kind of work, often reading and translating texts in her free time.

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This fact was more than hinted at in her other translations, as at text breaks the Queen’s scribes would note when she did not translate on certain days because of other leisure activities such as riding. Still, this didn’t mean the work she was producing was shoddy.

“Elizabeth goes to some lengths to retain the density of Tacitus’ prose and his celebrated brevity,” Philo said of her Annals translation. “She follows the contours of the Latin syntax with remarkable commitment, even at the risk of obscuring the sense in English.”


Philo continued: “Across her translations, she’s undertaking them at a pace so there are occasional slips of comprehension, words being missed out, but on the other hand she’s a better Latinist than I will ever be.”

Along with the Queen’s nature as a scholar, Philo believed her translation of the Annals was motivated by her connection to Agrippina, wife of the Roman general Germanicus. The Annals detail an attempt by Agrippina to calm her troops, an event similar to Elizabeth’s famous address at Tilbury.

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Yet why was the Queen’s handwriting, the very thing that gave her work away, so terrible? After all, wouldn’t the ruler of an entire nation be expected to have only the neatest and most well-trained pen?

Initially, the Queen’s hand was exactly so, just as elegant and legible as the scribes she employed. However, as time went on, the demands of her busy life eventually led her handwriting to take a turn.

“Her late handwriting is usefully messy — there really is nothing like it — and the idiosyncratic flourishes serve as diagnostic tools,” Philo explained. Yet the true nature of the Queen’s poor penmanship went beyond just sloppiness.

Her letters were malformed, with the strokes of her royal “e’s” and “d’s” becoming increasingly disjointed. Even her “m’s” and “n’s” became nothing more than mushed, horizontal squiggles.

In fact, the Queen’s handwriting eventually became so poor that her scribes would often include their own copies of her letters within correspondence. One letter even included a note on a scribe’s copy that read, “Sorry, please find a fair copy here.”

“The higher you are in the social hierarchy of Tudor England, the messier you can let your handwriting become,” Philo revealed. “For the queen, comprehension is somebody else’s problem.”

National Potrait Gallery

But when Elizabeth II rose to power in the early 1950s, she was afforded a very different set of privileges and perks. And just like her namesake, her ascension to the throne was filled with plenty of ups and downs.

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1. 1951: Future Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip recently welcomed their two children, Charles and Anne. The new family stands here with King George VI, the Queen Mother Elizabeth, and Elizabeth’s younger sister Margaret.

2. 1953: After the death of George VI a year earlier, his eldest daughter ascended to the throne and became Queen Elizabeth II. Philip, in turn, received the title of prince consort. Below, the couple waves to their subjects from Buckingham Palace.

3. 1960: A third royal child, Prince Andrew, arrived. The newborn enjoys a picnic with his parents and siblings during a holiday in Balmoral, Scotland. That’s right — that castle in the background was only their vacation home.

4. 1965: This Christmas photo depicts the Royal Family shortly after the birth of Elizabeth and Philip’s fourth and final child, Prince Edward. Their household grew livelier than ever, and the new generation of royals quickly endeared themselves to the British public.

5. 1971: Coming up on twenty years as monarch, Elizabeth greets onlookers with Edward, Andrew, and her niece Lady Sarah. They are headed to meet the rest of their extended family for a winter holiday at Sandringham House.

6. 1976: By this point, Elizabeth’s children are old enough to rebel a bit. Prince Andrew laughs at his mother from the second row as she nervously rides at the front of a cable car. Edward, seated next to her, looks a little bit more respectful.

7. 1977: This year marks Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee of 25 years on the British throne. She celebrated by visiting 36 different countries in the span of a few months, followed by a massive procession through London.

8. 1980: For Prince Charles, most of the 1970s were his “bachelor years.” He seemed more content to party and jump between girlfriends than seriously pursue marriage. Here, he sips a coconut drink in Bhubaneswar, India, but he wouldn’t stay a bachelor for long.

9. 1981: Incredible hype built up once Prince Charles announced that he would marry Lady Diana Spencer. The press dubbed the event “The Wedding of the Century,” and the public followed every aspect of the ceremony with fervor.

10. 1982: Diana and Charles had their first son, William. The new parents play with William in Kensington Palace, though they didn’t refer to him as William behind closed doors. Interestingly, their family nickname for the young prince was “Wombat.”

11. 1988: Four years earlier, Diana gave birth to her second son, Prince Harry. Far from shy of the many cameras around him, Harry sticks his tongue out from the Buckingham Palace balcony while Diana tells him to stop.

12. 1992: Below, Philip, Charles, Elizabeth, and the Queen Mother depart from Princess Anne’s wedding. However, 1992 was not an easy year for the family. In addition to a fire in Windsor castle, marital troubles sprung up for Elizabeth’s children.

13. 1995: Hurt by extramarital affairs and a 13-year age gap, Charles and Diana were separated throughout the early 1990s. However, they still attended official events together. They divorced a year later, though the greatest tragedy was yet to come.

14. 1997: The entire world went into shock with the news that Princess Diana died in a violent Paris car crash. Thousands of guests attended her funeral at Westminster Abbey, while millions more watched on television. Her sons were only 15 and 12 at the time.

15. 2002: More loss followed the royal family into the new millennium, though this instance was admittedly less shocking. The Queen Mother passed away at age 101. On a happier note, Queen Elizabeth reached her Golden Jubilee on this same year.

16. 2005: Prince Charles carried on an affair with Camilla Parker Bowles while still married to Diana, so Charles and Camila met controversy when they announced their engagement. As a result, they chose to marry in a civil ceremony instead of a royal wedding.

17. 2006: Now all grown up, Prince Harry decided to follow William into the military. As a Cornet in the famed Blues and Royals regiment, he stands at attention with his saber as Queen Elizabeth walks by. Still, he cannot help but crack a smile at his grandmother.

18. 2011: The Brits — and just about everyone else — went crazy for the next generation of royal weddings. Prince William married Kate Middleton, a classmate from the University of St. Andrews, and over 160 million people watched the lavish ceremony.

19. 2017: The Royal family celebrates the 91st birthday of Queen Elizabeth, who also became the longest-reigning British monarch a couple years prior. William and Kate’s young children, George and Charlotte, watch the fanfare with excitement.

20. 2018: Harry matched his brother’s fairytale wedding with one of his own. He married American actress Meghan Markle, best known from the TV show Suits. Meghan’s entry into the royal family is also notable because she is a woman of color.

21. Somehow, with all eyes on them, the Royal Family has managed to carve out somewhat normal lives for themselves. Ever annoy a sibling just because you feel like it? Prince Harry is teasing his older brother with a rather large boa constrictor. It’s all in good fun… unless you’re William.

Kensington Royals / Instagram

22. When Prince William and Duchess Kate aren’t holding down the fort in Kensington Palace, they like to escape royal life by going on a holiday. After welcoming Princess Charlotte, the two went skiing. Kate surprised William with a friendly snowball fight.

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23. They may not be blood relatives, but that doesn’t stop Kate and Meghan from gossiping like sisters while attending a tennis match with the rest of the family. What we wouldn’t give to hear what they’re talking about!

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24. Long before Kate was the Duchess of Cambridge, she was just plain-ol’ Kate Middleton. She wore silky dresses like the one below and took hackney carriages (taxis) from place to place with her baby sister Pippa.

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25. The future queen consort might be the coolest royal of them all. Not only is she holding her own on those roller skates, but she looks like she hasn’t aged. Talk about good genes.

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26. Prince Charles might be 70 years old, but this photo shows he’s still a schoolboy at heart. He’s been waiting seven decades to ascend the royal throne, but it doesn’t look like it’s happening anytime soon, so for now, this wall will have to do. Hang in there, Charles.

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27. This candid moment captured the Duchess of Cambridge catching the clumsy Countess of Wessex as she tripped while getting into the carriage. Good thing Kate caught her, otherwise that would have been a royal pain.

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28. Watching Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s love story has been like a real-life fairy-tale, and it’s only getting better. A photo like this really captures the dynamic relationship between the two. Find someone who looks at you like Harry looks at Meghan.

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29. Kate and William met while they were studying at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Who knows where they were going in this picture, but Kate sure does look annoyed with her beau. We feel you, Kate.

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30. Like we mentioned before, sports are a huge part of royal life. Unfortunately, the All England Club did not treat the Prince and Duchess well on this outing. The match must have been torturous to watch judging by their faces.

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31. Prince Harry has always been the goofball of the royal family. Here, it looks like he was participating in a charity event in place of — or without — his older brother Prince William. No worries, though: Harry made sure his brother was there in spirit.

Kensington Royals / Instagram

32. Kids are kids regardless if they have royal blood pumping through their veins. Look at little Prince Harry and Prince William enjoying a heart-pounding ride on the Nemesis at Alton Towers. We wonder if the brothers still ride roller coasters from time to time…


33. And Princess Charlotte knows all too well that having royal blood doesn’t give her the power of endless energy. Being a royal kid is hard work, and it looks like it’s cutting into the princess’ nap time. Someone get her a royal blankey!

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34. Queen Elizabeth has sat on the British throne longer than any other monarch. That’s a long time in the public eye. Apparently, when the queen isn’t attending political affairs, she is outside catching snowflakes on her tongue.

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35. Kids love to stick their tongues out whenever a camera appears, too. Prince Harry might not be king, but he has always been the king of the silly-face pose. And he’s not alone. Even Princess Charlotte has been caught a time or two sporting this face to the cameras.

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36. Royal sunglasses must not be part of the event wardrobe protocol! Not even the duchesses’ fancy hats can block the sun from their eyes.

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37. Seeing how Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are expecting parents, it makes total sense that they have paternal and maternal instincts. It’s so endearing to see the pair interact with the youth of their country.

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38. Kate looks like she is having so much fun during her university days. She’s right in the middle of St. Andrews annual foam fight that welcomes new students. Even since college, Kate’s been a leader.

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39. Most people make this face when they meet Prince Harry, but he seems to be quite shocked himself. He better hold on tight to that tray of cupcakes before he accidentally throws them in the air.

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40. Curious from a young age, William was caught peeking up the skirt of the Prince of Whales during a fishing trip. We all know there are no fish up there, but William needed to check it out for himself first.

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41. A family that jokes together stays together, and William and Harry always make sure their family is in good spirits. Here they are in their younger days teaching the fam how to do the wave!

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42. A bit of healthy competition between brothers is totally normal. William and Harry weren’t afraid to put down the suits and roll around in the mud at their polo match. It got a little messy, to say the least.

Kensington Royals / Instagram