Queen Elizabeth I
During the first, the enemies of her government and of the Protestant religion labored by secret conspiracies to undermine both, until they were disconcerted not less by the vigilance of her ministers, than by the fall and imprisonment of Mary Queen of Scots, in whose person all their plots centered
In the second period, Elizabeth's foreign enemies were preparing, as their domestic troubles gave them leisure, to crush her by open force, till in the ever-memorable eighty-eight the invincible Armada was defeated by the bravery of her subjects.
The third period, though not one of peace, was one in which the English government was freed from the fear of its enemies, and when the cause of Protestantism was triumphant.
There can be no more convincing proof of the greatness of Elizabeth's mind, than the self-humility with which her wisest counselors bowed to her judgment, and the facility with which all allowed themselves to be ruled. The great Burghley, after a life spent in the closest communion with her, declared in his old age, that "in all graces, by nature, by calling, by long experience, she was of such perfection as none can attain unto;" and on many occasions, even when her opinion differed from his own, he acknowledges in private his entire confidence in the accuracy of her judgment. Her ministers, who knew the dangers with which she was constantly surrounded, and her consciousness of them, and indeed all her contemporaries, joined in admiration of the calm resignation which she ever manifested. It was, indeed, an extraordinary thing, to see a monarch surrounded on every side by plots and conspiracies, who never concealed herself from the view of her subjects, or shrunk for a moment from her public duties. But the plots which threatened Elizabeth's life were the work of foreign and not of domestic enemies.
Almost the first act of Elizabeth's reign was the establishment of the Protestant religion throughout the realm, which, amid the general disgust that had been raised by the violent proceedings of the Catholics during Mary's reign, caused a universal satisfaction. But abroad, the feeling was very different—the Pope, as the supreme head of the Catholic world, declared the new Queen of England to be illegitimate, and prepared, by what he considered his prescriptive right, to transfer her crown to some worthier member of the church— the King of Spain, equally governed by the hatred of the Protestants, was further instigated by his ambition, but for a time he flattered and courted with the hope of an easier and unobstructed conquest—while the King of France, whose power was already strong in Scotland by the regency of Mary of Guise, looked still further by advancing the claims of Mary Stuart, who was united with the heir of France, to the crown of England. At the same time, the cause of Elizabeth became that of the Protestants throughout Europe, and in the position they were then in, she seemed as one raised up by Heaven for their support. In France, and in the Netherlands, (then an appendage to Spain,) they were already beginning to take courage, and in Scotland the Protestant nobles took up arms with the avowed object, not less of putting down papacy, than of ridding themselves of French interference. At the same time that the domestic dissensions amongst her neighbors delivered Elizabeth from the immediate danger with which her enemies seemed to threaten her, by giving them work at home, they embarrassed extremely her foreign relations; for the resources of her kingdom were so much reduced by the bad government of her predecessors, that she was neither willing nor able to undertake a great war; and at the same time if she left the Protestants in other countries to their fate, she only hastened its approach, while at the same time she allowed the ramparts which defended her to be overthrown. It was fortunate in these circumstances that she had advisers and ambassadors, who far exceeded those of her enemies in faithfulness, conduct, and honesty, and yet were inferior to none of them in that far-sighted policy, and sometimes even in the deep cunning which the circumstances required. It would have been impossible to discover men more fitted than Randolph, Smith, and Throgmorton, for their missions in Scotland and France, from whence, during the first part of the reign, the greatest dangers impended.
So long as there were any hopes that Queen Elizabeth would marry an English nobleman, all eyes were turned upon the Lord Robert Dudley, but the Queen herself did not allow such hopes to be entertained long. After the arrival of Queen Mary in Scotland, it became necessary to seek a husband for her, and Elizabeth and the Scottish Protestants were equally desirous of the promotion of the Lord Robert, now created Earl of Leicester, to that honor, as the person most he was her friend, and because Cecil has noted that in 1565, Leicester and the Earl of Pembroke were in disgrace for their participation in an attempt to have the succession declared by parliament. Now if we bear in mind that any declaration of the parliament must, from their known sentiments, have been against Mary, it will at once be seen that the one of these assertions goes far towards contradicting the other, and indeed there are many reasons for thinking that Melvil's diary, like many other similar productions, is' full of falsehood and misrepresentation. It is very necessary to ascertain the value and bearing of our documents before we use them likely to hold her steady to her first professions of moderation, and to watch over the interests of England and the Protestants. Leicester seems never to have been very anxious for the match, and it is probable that he was sufficiently far-sighted to foresee the probable results. But Mary soon disappointed both her enemies and her friends. The person in whom the Pope and the Catholics placed their hopes, overthrew herself and her cause, by giving the rein to her gross passions and wicked propensities. After a short reign, a scene of bloodshed and the most disgusting crimes, Mary was deposed and imprisoned by her own subjects, escaped, was defeated, fled from her country, and became a prisoner in England.
Queen of England
Defeat of the Armada to the Death of Elizabeth
By Edward Potts Cheyney
Published by Longmans, Green, and co., 1914
The strongest personal influence upon the course of events was undoubtedly that which was exercised by the queen. In November, 1588, Elizabeth was in the fifty-fifth year of her age and had been reigning just thirty years. She had still the erect and spare figure that made so many observers think of her as a tall woman, though she was but of medium height. She was evidently in the prime of life. Her activity and endurance were great and her health almost constantly good. She was always impatient of her ailments, such as they were. Secretary Cecil writing to Essex that the queen was unable to sign a letter says "The queen hath now a desperate ach in her right thumb, but will not be known of it; nor the gout it cannot be, nor dare not be, but to sign will not be indured." Again we hear of her with an inflammation of the chest, and "her mind altogether averse from physic." Representations of her during this the later period of her life show the familiar smooth, somewhat retreating forehead, arched brows, narrow face, long profile of nose and chin, light eyes and hair, that appear in paintings, engravings, coins and on her tomb. Contemporary writers describe her more vividly. Her sharp eyes and features, loud voice, vivacious manner and constant activity are repeatedly mentioned. She was her father's own daughter and played the queen well. It was not only her native flatterers speaking in her presence, but foreign visitors in their private correspondence who described her royal manner. One speaks of her "terrible eyes," another of her "stately air," a third of her "majestic deportment"; a foreign ambassador is daunted by her anger and leaves her presence in confusion; a courtier records that "When she smiled it was a pure sunshine that everyone did chose to baske in if they could; but anon came a storm from a sudden gathering of clouds, and the thunder fell in wondrous manner on all alike."
Her usual manner, however, was pleasant and affable, sometimes even insinuating. Many of her courtiers she called by their first names, several by fanciful nicknames she had fastened upon them. Foreigners she often flattered by speaking to them in terms of intimacy and confidence. She was often merry, not infrequently uproarious, easily pleased by the coarser forms of humor. "Her Highnesse loveth merrie tales," is the testimony of a courtier. One gets a glimpse of her in the midst of the Armada campaign, laughing to excess at the clown Tarlton playing the god Luz, armed with a flitch of bacon for a shield and a long staff for a spear, pretending to fight with her little pet dog Perrico de Faldas and appealing to her to "call off her mastiff." She expressed her humorous feelings with disconcerting frankness. Sir John Harington, her godson and long time courtier, records in his memoranda, "The queen loveth to see me in my last frize jerkin — she spit on Sir Matthew's fringed clothe, and said, 'the fool's wit has gone to ragges.' Heaven spare me from suche jibing." He quotes another and a still more characteristic jest of the queen on the subject of clothes and the duties of clergymen. "One Sunday, April last, my Lord of London preached to the Queen's Majesty, and seemed to touched on the vanities of decking the body too finely. Her Majesty told the Ladies, that if the Bishop held more discourse on such matters, she would fitte him for heaven, but he should walk thither without a staff, and leave his mantle behind him. Perchance the bishop hath never sought her Highnesses wardrobe, or he would have chosen another text."
It is hard to judge of Elizabeth's religion. She was certainly not devout. She seldom talked or apparently thought of religious matters, paid scant respect to clergymen, and took no interest in the church controversies of the time, except when they became matters of state. On the other hand, she was regular in all formal religious observances, her state papers are full of expressions of recognition of her position as a Christian ruler, and she shared in the practice of pious appeal and ascription usual at the time. She even composed certain eloquent prayers for public uses. But her devotion was quite impersonal. In her times of depression she sought her consolation rather in the classics than in the Bible. Harington remarks, "Her Highnesses was wont to soothe her ruffled temper with reading every morning. . . . She did much admire Seneca's wholesome advising, when the soul's quiet was flown away." When her ally Henry IV changed his religion she found refuge and comfort in translating the De Consolatione Philosophies. A contemporary, though hostile, writer expresses what is probably a correct judgment of her belief, when he says, " She considers it of the first importance that she should live peacefully and pleasantly and pass her days in well-being. She is not greatly influenced by either hatred or love of any particular religion or sect."
Elizabeth had few generous impulses. No one of the great men of her time, in literature, learning, civil, military or naval life was fully recognized or adequately rewarded by her. She was occasionally liberal to her favorites, but never lavish, except for her own personal adornment or gratification. While her mariners and soldiers starved, her unpaid servants suffered and patriots found themselves neglected or disowned, her signature was being affixed to warrants for £1,700 for a pearl chain for herself, or £1,200 "for a great diamond with a pendant," or "£761, 45, 4d for fine linen for her Majesty's own person." It is to be remembered that all sums of money named during this period must be multiplied by a factor which can perhaps be fairly chosen as five or six, to transform them into modern values, and such sums as those just given, as will later appear, are not unusual in connection with her personal expenditures. But in matters not involving money or serious sacrifice on her part, she often spoke or wrote kindly and thoughtfully, as in a letter of condolence to Lord and Lady Norris on the "bitter accident" of the death of their two sons in Ireland; or that to the earl of Pembroke addressed to "My very good old man." Occasionally we get a still more attractive glimpse of her, as for instance yielding to the persuasions of her maid of honor Bridget Carew, or pinning up the dress of the little Lady Talbot, kissing her and taking her with her in the state barge. In a very real sense also she was conscientious. As the lord keeper testified of her "She will have her wyndinge sheet unspotted."
She showed little originality or power of initiative in statesmanship. All the bold or constructive ideas of her reign came from her ministers or from entirely outside the government. Moreover, patriotic as she was, she was slow to respond to such ideas. Unimaginative and opinionated, she never understood the great questions, realized the great crises, or perceived the great possibilities of her position.
She was a hard mistress to serve. Irresolute and yet obstinate, she frequently refused to act or decide, procrastinated, delayed, hesitated, while her ministers watched disaster approach or opportunity vanish. Even her most influential advisers found it impossible to overcome this inveterate trait of indecision. Their correspondence shows them driven almost to despair in times of exigency at the queen's vacillation and unreasonableness. An endorsement by a clerk on a letter of 1600 still exists in faded handwriting, to testify to this habit. "A letter which Her Majesty willest me to write to her Secretary, and to send it by post, but before I had fully ended the letter she sent to me to bring it to her before it was closed, which I did upon the point of six o'clock, and then Her Majesty having read and scanned it three or four times and sometimes willing me to send it away, and sometimes altering that purpose, commanded me at last to stay both the letter and the post."
Those ministers who had served her longest naturally conformed themselves most successfully to the requirements of her character. Burghley writes in 1591 to the French ambassador, who had retired from the court in vexation at the queen's behavior, reminding him that they were both servants of an almighty king in heaven and of great princes upon earth, that both of these must be obeyed, and that they could only wait in patience till the heavenly ruler should change the mind of the earthly one. Or again, he writes to Walsingham, "I am very sorry that our counsels . . . doth not like her — but fiat wluntas sua." Burghley was inclined to charge her irresolution to her sex. He writes: "Many times she yeldeth State Papers, Dom., Elizabeth, cckxiv, as overcome with argument, but yet that which is natural to her sex hundredth resolution. I hope time will gain that which is necessary. Corda reginarum in manu dei." Occasionally even these devoted servants lost patience at being held responsible for her vacillation and its results, as in a letter of Burghley to Walsingham, November, 1588, "All irresolutions and lucks are thrown upon us two in all her speeches to everybody. The wrong is intolerable." Sometimes she tricked her ministers. One of her courtiers states that "Her wisest men and best counselors were oft sore troubled to know her wile in matters of State. So covertly did she pass her judgment as seemed to leave all to their discrete management, and when the businesses did turn to better advantage, she did most cunningly commit the good issue to her own honor and understanding; but when ought fell out contraire to her wile and intent, the Council were in great strait to defend their own acting and not blemished the Queen's good judgment." Another official records an additional weakness. "Amongst her manifold and rare virtues of nature and arte this was the only detraction, that she had not power to give where it was merited, ... If she had disposed of twenty or thirty thousand pounds to the comfort of her long worn thred bare pore old servants, and paid her debts, she had died, as she did, the mirror of her sex."
Her experience was less varied than might at first thought be supposed. Except for her brother and sister, she was the first English monarch in the long line since the Norman Conquest who had not crossed the Channel. She never saw Scotland, Ireland, or Wales, and during her seventy years of life was never more than one hundred and twenty-five miles from her birthplace. She was even more than other sovereigns deprived of the stimulation that comes from open discussion with others on an equal plane. Without parents whom she knew, husband, brother, sister or child, habituated from girlhood to caution, reticence, deceit and concealment of her real opinions, separated from all others by her position, she lived alone, though in a crowded court, and never spoke to others or heard speech from them such as they used to one another. Most of the praise and some of the blame directed toward her came to her ears; but it all came through artful and indirect ways, and she was seldom called upon to justify the one or to defend herself against the other. Such success as her administration attained was in spite of her deficiencies as a ruler rather than a result of her abilities. From repeated dangers the country was extricated only by good fortune, and golden opportunities in a long series were wasted largely by the queen's incapacity to see them or unwillingness to make use of them.
Her relations with her ministers and courtiers, her allies and enemies, will come out more fully later. But it will always remain impossible to give a complete analysis of Elizabeth's character. A writer of the next generation says, "For her own mind, what that really was, I must leave, as a thing doubly inscrutable, both as she was a woman and a queen." But her mind was trebly inscrutable both as a woman and a queen because of its complexity. Stripped, however, of the flattery and the abuse of her own time, and tested as far as possible by what she did and said, Elizabeth stands an unlovely but not an unheroic figure; exasperating to those who had to work with her and to the modern student who has to trace her career, but so thoroughly representative of her own age, so many-sided, so queenly, so long the occupant of a throne, and above all so fortunate that the extravagant laudation of her own time and the tradition of her greatness that has survived to ours are easily comprehensible, however they may fade away on greater familiarity with her mind and her actions.