This is from Rewards and Fairies by Rudyard Kipling. (E-texts.)

'Did her ministers ever open Queen Elizabeth's letters ?' said Una.
'Faith, yes! But she'd have done as much for theirs, any day. You are to think of Gloriana, then (they say she had a pretty hand), excusing herself thus to the company - - for the Queen's time is never her own .

I do not understand the meaning.

Queen Elizabeth opened the letters of her ministers on any day?

Her hands were literally pretty?

I am glad if someone would give me some advice.

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    Congratulations on finding Kipling! But you should be aware that in Puck of Pook's Hill and Rewards and Fairies Dan and Una's visitors use many expressions which were current at the times they lived, many centuries ago, but had already fallen out of use by Kipling's day, about a hundred years ago. Commented Jun 7, 2016 at 1:18
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    Thank you so much for your advice. I am so happy in reading Kipling's nice tales! And so glad having adivice about the meaning! Commented Jun 7, 2016 at 5:07

3 Answers 3



Yes, the Queen's ministers opened her letters; but equally, she would do the same thing with their letters, at any time. So you should think of the Queen (they say she had beautiful handwriting) excusing herself thus . . .

  • 1
    Hey @HiroshiInagaki I'm glad you really appreciate the answers but the way you say "thanks" on Stack Exchange is by upvoting. It's generally discouraged to just write "thanks" as a comment.
    – Catija
    Commented Jun 7, 2016 at 16:30
  • Sorry, I did not know about upvoting.Thank you for your advice! Commented Jun 8, 2016 at 1:01

In this case, Kipling is referring to the handwriting of Queen Elizabeth I.

There's an example here Her signature, in particular, is very elegant.

  • Thank so much for your kind advice! Her writings are so beautiful! Commented Jun 7, 2016 at 5:14

But she'd have done as much for theirs, any day.

She would have done as much for theirs (their letters), namely open them. The use of would talks about unreality. A queen's business is not to open her servants letters and in reality she would not have, but it means that the queen had a nice character and would have opened them if that had been part of her duties.

(they say she had a beautiful hand)

is open to interpretation

...She drew a real letter from her pocket, and held it out almost at arm’s length, like the old post-mistress in the village when she reads telegrams.

A native speaker also has to guess at what the author means by "her hand." If we are not familiar with the queen's handwriting...if we do not suspect 'hand' to refer to 'handwriting'...it is a natural assumption to think 'hand' refers to the queen's actual hand (the thing at the end of the arm). She could use her hand to excuse herself; and if she isn't wearing gloves or something else that hides her hand, her hand would be in plain view while reading the letter in the way 'the lady' demonstrates. Also, earlier it says "She held up her long jewelled hand."

But as two answers have said it refers to her handwriting, it seems this reading is not the only one, and perhaps not the most likely one. But when we read we often create meanings for ourselves which may not have been what the author intended. But this takes us to literary interpretation, which is beyond the scope of this site. Lesson: native speakers have to guess a lot too when reading older works!

  • I was moved what you have said.I have found that meaning is not fixed and we could create new meanings. Commented Jun 7, 2016 at 5:12

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