But if all these measures seemed likely to afford her kingdom sufficient means of protection against the attacks of a foreign enemy, it was difficult for her to regard her own person as equally well secured against the dark conspiracies of her catholic subjects, instigated as they were by the sanguinary maxims of the Romish see, fostered by the atrocious activity of the emissaries of Philip, and sanctioned by the authority of the queen of Scots, to whom homage was rendered by her party as rightful sovereign of the British isles.
During the festival of Easter 1586, some English priests of the seminary at Rheims had encouraged a fanatical soldier named Savage to vow the death of the queen. About the same time Ballard, also a priest of this seminary, was concerting in France, with Mendoca and the fugitive lord Paget, the means of procuring an invasion of the country during the absence of its best troops in Flanders. Repairing to England, Ballard communicated both these schemes to Anthony Babington, a gentleman who had been gained over on a visit to France by the bishop of Glasgow, Mary's ambassador there, and whose vehement attachment to her cause had rendered him capable of any enterprise, however criminal or desperate, for her deliverance. Babington entered into both plots with eagerness; but he suggested, that so essential a part of the action as the assassination of the queen ought not to be intrusted to one adventurer; and he lost no time in associating five others in the vow of Savage, himself undertaking the part of setting free the captive Mary. With her he had previously been in correspondence, having frequently taken the charge of transmitting to her by secret channels her letters from France; and he immediately imparted to her this new design for her restoration to liberty and advancement to the English throne. There is full evidence that Mary approved it in all its parts; that in several successive letters she gave Babington counsels or directions relative to its execution; and that she promised to the perpetrators of the murder of Elizabeth every reward which it should hereafter be in her power to bestow.
All this time the vigilant eye of Walsingham was secretly fixed on the secure conspirators. He held a thread which vibrated to their every motion, and he was patiently awaiting the moment of their complete entanglement to spring forth and seize his victims.
To the queen, and to her only, he communicated the daily intelligence which he received from a spy who had introduced himself into all their secrets; and Elizabeth had the firmness to hasten nothing, though a picture was actually shown her, in which the six assassins had absurdly caused themselves to be represented with a motto underneath intimating their common design. These dreadful visages remained however so perfectly impressed on her memory, that she immediately recognised one of the conspirators who had approached very near her person as she was one day walking in her garden. She had the intrepidity to fix him with a look which daunted him; and afterwards, turning to her captain of the guards, she remarked that she was well guarded, not having a single armed man at the time about her.
At length Walsingham judged it time to interpose and rescue his sovereign from her perilous situation. Ballard was first seized, and soon after Babington and his associates. All, overcome by terror or allured by vain hopes, severally and voluntarily confessed their guilt and accused their accomplices. The nation was justly exasperated against the partakers in a plot which comprised foreign invasion, domestic insurrection, the assassination of a beloved sovereign, the elevation to the throne of her feared and hated rival, and the restoration of popery. The traitors suffered, notwithstanding the interest which the extreme youth and good moral characters of most or all of them were formed to inspire, amid the execrations of the protestant spectators. But what was to be the fate of that "pretender to the crown," on whose behalf and with whose privity this foul conspiracy had been entered into, and who was by the late statute, passed with a view to this very case, liable to condign punishment?
This was now the important question which awaited the decision of Elizabeth, and divided the judgements of her most confidential counsellors. Some advised that the royal captive should be spared the ignominy of any public proceeding; but that her attendants should be removed, and her custody rendered so severe as to preclude all possibility of her renewing her pestilent intrigues. Leicester, in conformity with the baseness and atrocity of his character, is related to have suggested the employment of treachery against the life of a prisoner whom it appeared equally dangerous to spare or to punish; and to have sent a divine to convince Walsingham of the lawfulness of taking her off by poison. But that minister rejected the proposal with abhorrence, and concurred with the majority of the council in urging the queen to bring her without fear or scruple to an open trial. In favor of this measure Elizabeth at length decided, and steps were taken accordingly.
By means of well concerted precautions, Mary had been kept in total ignorance of the apprehension of the conspirators, till their confessions had been made and their fates decided:—a gentleman was then sent to her from the court to announce that all was discovered.
It was just as she had mounted her horse to take her usual exercise with her keepers, that this alarming message was delivered to her; and for obvious reasons she was compelled to proceed on her excursion, instead of returning, as she desired, to her chamber. Meantime all her papers were seized, sealed up, and conveyed to the queen. Amongst them were letters from a large proportion of the nobility and other leading characters of the English court, filled with expressions of attachment to the person of the queen of Scots and sympathy in her misfortunes, not unmixed, in all probability, with severe reflections on the conduct of her rival and oppressor. All these Elizabeth perused, and no doubt stored up in her memory; but her good sense and prudence supplied on this occasion the place of magnanimity; and well knowing that the conscious fears of the writers would be ample security for their future conduct, she buried in lasting silence and apparent oblivion all the discoveries which had reached her through this channel.
The principal domestics of Mary were now apprehended, and committed to different keepers; and Nau and Curl her two secretaries were sent prisoners to London. She herself was immediately removed from Tutbury, and conveyed with a great attendance of the neighbouring gentry, and with pauses at several noblemen's houses by the way, to the strong castle of Fotheringay in Northamptonshire. This part of the business was safely and prudently conducted by sir Amias Paulet; and he received for his encouragement and reward the following characteristic letter, subscribed by the hand of her majesty, and surely of her own inditing.
* * * * *
"To my faithful Amias.
"Amias, my most careful servant, God reward thee treble fold in the double for thy most troublesome charge so well discharged! If you knew, my Amias, how kindly, besides dutifully, my grateful heart accepteth your double labors and faithful actions, your wise orders and safe conduct performed in so dangerous and crafty a charge, it would ease your troubles and rejoice your heart. And (which I charge you to carry this most just thought) that I cannot balance in any weight of my judgement the value I prize you at: And suppose no treasure to countervail such a faith: And condemn myself in that fault which I have committed, if I reward not such deserts. Yea, let me lack when I have most need, if I acknowledge not such a merit with a reward 'non omnibus datum.'
"But let your wicked mistress know, how with hearty sorrow her vile deserts compel those orders; and bid her from me ask God forgiveness for her treacherous dealing toward the saver of her life many years, to the intolerable peril of her own. And yet, not content with so many forgivenesses, must fall again so horribly, far passing a woman, much more a princess. Instead of excusing thereof, not one can serve, it being so plainly confessed by the authors of my guiltless death.
"Let repentance take place; and let not the fiend possess so as her best part be lost. Which I pray, with hands lifted up to him that may both save and spill. With my loving adieu and prayer for thy long life,
"Your assured and loving sovereign in heart,
by good desert induced,
* * * * *
Soon, after the arrival of Mary at Fotheringay, Elizabeth, according to the provisions of the late act, issued out a commission to forty noblemen and privy-councillors, empowering them to try and pass sentence upon Mary daughter and heir of king James V. and late queen of Scots; for it was thus that she was designated, with a view of intimating to her that she was no longer to be regarded as possessing the rights of a sovereign princess. Thirty-six of the commissioners repaired immediately to Fotheringay, where they arrived on October 9th 1586, and cited Mary to appear before them. This summons she refused to obey, on the double ground, that as an absolute princess she was free from all human jurisdiction, since kings only could be her peers; and that having been detained in England as a prisoner, she had not enjoyed the protection of the laws, and consequently ought not in equity to be regarded as amenable to their sentence. Weighty as these objections may appear, the commissioners refused to admit them, and declared that they would proceed to judge her by default. This menace she at first disregarded; but soon after, overcome by the artful representations of Hatton on the inferences which must inevitably be drawn from her refusal to justify herself for the satisfaction of a princess who had declared that she desired nothing so much as the establishment of her innocence, she changed her mind and consented to plead. None of her papers were restored, no counsel was assigned her; and her request that her two secretaries, whose evidence was princicipally relied on by the prosecutors, might be confronted with her, was denied. But all these were hardships customarily inflicted on prisoners accused of high treason and it does not appear that, with respect to its forms and modes of proceedings, Mary had cause to complain that her trial was other than a regular and legal one.
On her first appearance she renewed her protestation against the competence of the tribunal. Bromley lord-chancellor answered her, showing the jurisdiction of the English law over all persons within the country; and the commissioners ordered both the objection and the reply to be registered, as if to save the point of law; but it does not appear that it was ever referred for decision to any other authority.
Intercepted letters, authenticated by the testimony of her secretaries, formed the chief evidence against Mary. From these the crown lawyers showed, and she did not attempt to deny, that she had suffered her correspondents to address her as queen of England; that she had endeavoured by means of English fugitives to incite the Spaniards to invade the country; and that she had been negotiating at Rome the terms of a transfer of all her claims, present and future, to the king of Spain, disinheriting by this unnatural act her own schismatic son. The further charge of having concurred in the late plot for the assassination of Elizabeth, she strongly denied and attempted to disprove; but it stood on equally good evidence with all the rest; and in spite of some suggestions of which her modern partisans have endeavoured to give her the benefit, there appears no solid foundation on which an impartial inquirer can rest any doubt of the fact.
The deportment of Mary on this trying emergency exhibited somewhat of the dignity, but more of the spirit and adroitness, for which she has been famed. She justified her negotiations, or intrigues, with foreign princes, on the ground of her inalienable right to employ all the means within her power for the recovery of that liberty of which she had been cruelly and unjustly deprived. With great effrontery she persisted in denying that she had ever entertained with Babington any correspondence whatever; and she urged that his pretending to receive, or having in fact received, letters written in her cipher, was no conclusive proof against her; since it was the same which she used in her French correspondence, and might have fallen into other hands. But finding herself hard pressed by evidence on this part of the subject, she afterwards hazarded a rash attempt to fix on Walsingham the imputation of having suborned witnesses and forged letters for her destruction. The aged minister, greatly moved by this attack upon his character, immediately rose and asserted his innocence in a manner so solemn, and with such circumstantial corroboration, as compelled her to retract the accusation with an apology.
On some mention of the earl of Arundel and lord William Howard his brother, which occurred in the intercepted letters, she sighed, and exclaimed with a feeling which did her honor, "Alas, what has not the noble house of Howard suffered for my sake!"
On the whole, her presence of mind was remarkable; though the quick sensibilities of her nature could not be withheld from breaking out at times, either in vehement sallies of anger or long fits of weeping, as the sense of past and present injuries, or of her forlorn and afflicted state and the perils and sufferings which still menaced her, rose by turns upon her agitated and affrighted mind.
The commissioners, after a full hearing, of the cause, quitted Fotheringay, and, meeting again in the Star-chamber summoned before them the two secretaries, who voluntarily confirmed on oath the whole of their former depositions: after this, they proceeded to an unanimous sentence of death against Mary, which was immediately transmitted to the queen for her approbation. On the same day a declaration was published on the part of the commissioners and judges, importing, that the sentence did in no manner derogate from the titles and honors of the king of Scots.
Most of the subsequent steps taken by Elizabeth in this unhappy business are marked with the features of that intense selfishness which, scrupling nothing for the attainment of its own mean objects, seldom fails by exaggerated efforts and overstrained manoeuvres to expose itself to detection and merited contempt.
Never had she enjoyed a higher degree of popularity than at this juncture: the late discoveries had opened to view a series of popish machinations which had fully justified, in the eyes of an alarmed and irritated people, even those previous measures of severity on the part of her government which had most contributed to provoke these attempts.
The queen was more than ever the heroine of the protestant party; and the image of those imminent and hourly perils to which her zeal in the good cause had exposed her, inflamed to enthusiasm the sentiment of loyalty. On occasion of the detection of Babington's plot, the whole people gave themselves up to rejoicings. Sixty bonfires, says the chronicler, were kindled between Ludgate and Charing-Cross, and tables were set out in the open streets at which happy neighbours feasted together. The condemnation of the queen of Scots produced similar demonstrations. After her sentence had been ratified by both houses of parliament, it was thought expedient, probably by way of feeling the pulse of the people, that solemn proclamation of it should be made in London by the lord-mayor and city officers, and by the magistrates of the county in Westminster. The multitude, untouched by the long misfortunes of an unhappy princess born of the blood-royal of England and heiress to its throne,—insensible too of every thing arbitrary, unprecedented, or unjust, in the treatment to which she had been subjected, received the notification of her doom with expressions of triumph and exultation truly shocking. Bonfires were lighted, church bells were rung, and every street and lane throughout the city resounded with psalms of thanksgiving.
[Note 97: Hollinshed's Castrations.]
It is manifest, therefore, that no deference for the opinions or feelings of her subjects compelled Elizabeth to hesitate or to dissemble in this matter.
Had she permitted the execution of the sentence simply, and without delay, all orders of men attached to the protestant establishment would have approved it as an act fully justified by state-expediency and the law of self-defence; and though misgivings might have arisen in the minds of some on cooler reflection, when alarm had subsided and the bitterness of satiated revenge had begun to make itself felt,—these "compunctious visitings" could have led to no consequences capable of alarming her. It must have been felt as highly inequitable to reproach the queen, when all was past and irrevocable, for the consent which she had afforded to a deed sanctioned by a law, ratified by the legislature and applauded by the people, and from which both church and state had reaped the fruits of security and peace. Foreign princes also would have respected the vigor of this proceeding; they would not have been displeased to see themselves spared by a decisive act the pain of making disregarded representations on such a subject; and a secret consciousness that few of their number would have scrupled under all the circumstances to take like vengeance on a deadly foe and rival, might further have contributed to reconcile them to the fact. Even as it was, pope Sixtus V. himself could scarcely restrain his expressions of admiration at the completion of so strong a measure as the final execution of the sentence: his holiness had indeed a strange passion for capital punishments, and he is said to have envied the queen of England the glorious satisfaction of cutting off a royal head:—a sentiment not much more extraordinary from such a personage, than the ardent desire which he is reported to have expressed, that it were possible for him to have a son by this heretic princess; because the offspring of such parents could not fail, he said, to make himself king of the world.
But it was the weakness of Elizabeth to imagine, that an extraordinary parade of reluctance, and the interposition of some affected delays, would change in public opinion the whole character of the deed which she contemplated, and preserve to her the reputation of feminine mildness and sensibility, without the sacrifice of that great revenge on which she was secretly bent. The world, however, when it has no interest in deceiving itself, is too wise to accept of words instead of deeds, or in opposition to them; and the sole result of her artifices was to aggravate in the eyes of all mankind the criminality of the act, by giving it rather the air of a treacherous and cold-blooded murder, than of solemn execution done upon a formidable culprit by the sentence of offended laws. The parliament which Elizabeth had summoned to partake the odium of Mary's death, met four days after the judges had pronounced her doom, and was opened by commission. An unanimous ratification of the sentence by both houses was immediately carried, and followed by an earnest address to her majesty for its publication and execution; to which she returned a long and labored answer.
She began with the expression of her fervent gratitude to Providence for the affections of her people; adding protestations of her love towards them, and of her perfect willingness to have suffered her own life still to remain exposed as a mark to the aim of enemies and traitors, had she not perceived how intimately the safety and well-being of the nation was connected with her own. With regard to the queen of Scots, she said, so severe had been the grief which she had sustained from her recent conduct, that the fear of renewing this sentiment had been the cause, and the sole cause, of her withholding her personal appearance at the opening of that assembly, where she knew that the subject must of necessity become matter of discussion; and not, as had been suggested, the apprehension of any violence to be attempted against her person;—yet she might mention, that she had actually seen a bond by which the subscribers bound themselves to procure her death within a month.
So far was she from indulging any ill will against one of the same sex, the same rank, the same race as herself,—in fact her nearest kinswoman,—that after having received full information of certain of her machinations, she had secretly written with her own hand to the queen of Scots, promising that, on a simple confession of her guilt in a private letter to herself, all should be buried in oblivion. She doubted not that the ancient laws of the land would have been sufficient to reach the guilt of her who had been the great artificer of the recent treasons; and she had consented to the passing of the late statute, not for the purpose of ensnaring her, but rather to give her warning of the danger in which she stood. Her lawyers, from their strict attachment to ancient forms, would have brought this princess to trial within the county of Stafford, have compelled her to hold up her hand at the bar, and have caused twelve jurymen to pass judgement upon her. But to her it had appeared more suitable to the dignity of the prisoner and the importance of the cause to refer the examination to the judges, nobles, and counsellors of the realm;—happy if even thus she could escape that ready censure to which the conspicuous station of sovereigns on all occasions exposed them.
The statute, by requiring her to pronounce judgement upon her kinswoman, had involved her in anxiety and difficulties. Amid all her perils, however, she must remember with gratitude and affection the voluntary association into which her subjects had entered for her defence. It was never her practice to decide hastily on any matter; in a case so rare and important some interval of deliberation must be allowed her; and she would pray Heaven to enlighten her mind, and guide it to the decision most beneficial to the church, to the state, and to the people.
Twelve days after the delivery of this speech, her majesty sent a message to both houses, entreating that her parliament would carefully reconsider the matter, and endeavour to hit upon some device by which the life of the queen of Scots might be rendered consistent with her own safety and that of the country. Her faithful parliament, however, soon after acquainted her, that with their utmost diligence they had found it impracticable to form any satisfactory plan of the kind she desired; and the speakers of the two houses ended a long representation of the mischiefs to be expected from any arrangement by which Mary would be suffered to continue in life, with a most earnest and humble petition, that her majesty would not longer deny to the united wishes and entreaties of all England, what it would be iniquitous to refuse to the meanest individual; the execution of justice.
Elizabeth, after pronouncing a second long harangue designed to display her own clemency, to upbraid the malice of her libellers, and to refute the suspicion, which her conscience no doubt helped her to anticipate, that all this irresolution was but feigned, and that the decisions of the two houses were influenced by a secret acquaintance with her wishes,—again dismissed their petitions without any positive answer. Soon after, however, she permitted herself to authorize the proclamation of the sentence, and sent lord Buckhurst, and Beal clerk of the council, to announce it to Mary herself.
During the whole of this time, the kings of France and of Scotland were interceding by their ambassadors for the pardon of the illustrious prisoner. How the representations of Henry III. were received, we do not find minutely recorded; but Elizabeth knew that they might be safely disregarded: that monarch was himself too much a sufferer by the arrogance and ambition of the house of Guise, to be very strenuous in his friendship towards any one so nearly connected with it; and it is even said that, while a sense of decorum extorted from him in public some energetic expressions of the interest taken by him in the fate of a sister-in-law and queen-dowager of France, a sentiment of regard for Elizabeth, his friend and ally, prompted him to counsel her, through a secret agent, to execute the sentence with the least possible delay. Of the treatment experienced by the master of Gray, the envoy of James, we gain some particulars from an original memorial drawn up by himself.
He appears to have reached Ware on December 24th, whence he sent to desire Keith and Douglas, the resident Scotch ambassadors, to announce to the queen his approach; and she voluntarily promised that the life of Mary should be spared till his proposals were heard. His reception in London was somewhat ungracious;—no one was sent to welcome or convoy him, and it was ten days before he and sir Robert Melvil his coadjutor were admitted to an audience. Elizabeth's first address to them was, "A thing long looked for should be welcome when it comes; I would now see your master's offers." Gray desired first to be assured that the cause for which those offers were made was "still extant;" that is, that the life of Mary was still safe, and should be so till their mission had been heard. She answered, "I think it be extant yet, but I will not promise for an hour." They then brought forward certain proposals, not here recited, which she rejected with contempt; and calling in Leicester, the lord-admiral, and Hatton, "very despitefully" repeated them in hearing of them all. Gray then propounded his last offer:—that the queen of Scots should resign all her claims upon the English succession to her son, by which means the hopes of the papists would, as he said, be cut off. The terms in which this overture was made Elizabeth affected not to understand; Leicester explained their meaning to be, that the king of Scots should be put in his mother's place. "Is it so?" the queen answered; "then I put myself in a worse case than before:—By God's passion, that were to cut my own throat; and for a duchy or an earldom to yourself, you, or such as you, would cause some of your desperate knaves to kill me. No, by God, he shall never be in that place!" Gray answered, "He craves nothing of your majesty, but only of his mother." "That," said Leicester, "were to make him party (rival or adversary) to the queen my mistress." "He will be far more party," replied Gray, "if he be in her place through her death." Her majesty exclaimed, that she should not have a worse in his mother's place, and added; "Tell your king what good I have done for him in holding the crown on his head since he was born, and that I mind (intend) to keep the league that now stands between us, and if he break it, it shall be a double fault." With this speech she would have left them; but they persisted in arguing the matter further, though in vain. Gray then requested that Mary's life might be spared for fifteen days; the queen refused: sir Robert Melvil begged for only eight days; she said not for an hour, and so quitted them.
After this, the Scotch ambassadors assumed a tone of menace: but the perfidious Gray secretly fortified Elizabeth's resolution with the proverb, "The dead cannot bite;" and undertook soon to pacify, in any event, the anger of his master, whose minion he at this time was.
No sooner had Elizabeth silenced with this show of inflexibility all the pleadings or menaces by which others had attempted to divert her from her fatal aim, than she began, as in the affair of the French marriage, to feel her own resolution waver. It appears unquestionable that to affected delays a real hesitation succeeded. When her pride was no longer irritated by opposition, she had leisure to survey the meditated deed in every light; and as it rose upon her view in all its native deformity, anxious fears for her own fame and credit, yet untainted by any crime, and perhaps genuine scruples of conscience, forcibly assailed her resolution. But her ministers, deeply sensible that both she and they had already gone too far to recede with reputation or with safety, encountered her growing reluctance with a proportional increase in the vehemence of their clamors for what they called, and perhaps thought, justice. All the hazards to which her excess of clemency might be imagined to expose her, were conjured up in the most alarming forms to repel her scruples. A plot for her assassination was disclosed, to which the French ambassador was ascertained to have been privy;—rumors were raised of invasions and insurrections; and it may be suspected that the queen, really alarmed in the first instance by the representations of her council, voluntarily contributed afterwards to keep up these delusions for the sake of terrifying the minds of men into an approval of the deed of blood.
At length, on February 1st 1587, her majesty ordered secretary Davison to bring her the warrant, which had remained ready drawn in his hands for some weeks; and having signed it, she told him to get it sealed with the great seal, and in his way to call on Walsingham and tell him what she had done; "though," she added smiling, "I fear he will die of grief when he hears of it;"—this minister being then sick. Davison obeyed her directions, and the warrant was sealed. The next day he received a message from her, purporting that he should forbear to carry the warrant to the lord keeper till further orders. Surprised and perplexed, he immediately waited upon her to receive her further directions; when she chid him for the haste he had used in this matter, and talked in a fluctuating and undetermined manner respecting it which greatly alarmed him. On leaving the queen, he immediately communicated the circumstances to Burleigh and Hatton; and thinking it safest for himself to rid his hands of the warrant, he delivered it up to Burleigh, by whom it had been drawn and from whom he had at first received it. A council was now called, consisting of such of the ministers as either the queen herself or Davison had made acquainted with the signing of the warrant; and it was proposed that, without any further communication with her majesty, it should be sent down for immediate execution to the four earls to whom it was directed.
Davison appears to have expressed some fears that he should be made to bear the blame of this step; but all his fellow-councillors then present joined to assure him that they would share the responsibility: it was also said, that her majesty had desired of several that she might not be troubled respecting any of the particulars of the last dismal scene; consequently it was impossible that she could complain of their proceeding without her privity. By these arguments Davison was seduced to give his concurrence; and Beal, a person noted for the vehemence of his attachment to the protestant cause and to the title of the countess of Hertford, was dispatched with the instrument; in obedience to which Mary underwent the fatal stroke on February 8th.
The news of this event was received by Elizabeth with the most extraordinary demonstrations of astonishment, grief, and anger. Her countenance changed, her voice faltered, and she remained for some moments fixed and motionless; a violent burst of tears and lamentations succeeded, with which she mingled expressions of rage against her whole council. They had committed, she said, a crime never to be forgiven; they had put to death without her knowledge her dear kinswoman and sister, against whom they well knew that it was her fixed resolution never to proceed to this fatal extremity. She put on deep mourning, kept herself retired among her ladies abandoned to sighs and tears, and drove from her presence with the most furious reproaches such of her ministers as ventured to approach her. She caused several of the councillors to be examined as to the share which they had taken in this transaction. Burleigh was of the number; and against him she expressed herself with such peculiar bitterness that he gave himself up for lost, and begged permission to retire with the loss of all his employments. This resignation was not accepted; and after a considerable interval, during which this great minister deprecated the wrath of his sovereign in letters of penitence and submission worthy only of an Oriental slave, she condescended to be reconciled to a man whose services she felt to be indispensable.
But the manes of Mary, or the indignation of her son, could not be appeased, it seems, without a sacrifice; and a fit victim was at hand. From some words dropped by lord Burleigh on his examination, it had appeared that it was the declaration of Davison respecting the sentiments of the queen, as expressed to himself, which had finally decided the council to send down the warrant; and on this ground proceedings were instituted against the unfortunate secretary. He was stripped of his office, sent to the Tower in spite of the warm and honest remonstrances of Burleigh, and after several examinations subjected to a process in the Star-chamber for a twofold contempt. First, in revealing her majesty's counsels to others of her ministers;—secondly, in giving up to them an instrument which she had committed to him in special trust and secrecy, to be kept in case of any sudden emergency which might require its use.
Davison demanded that his own examination, which with that of Burleigh formed the whole evidence against him, should be read entire, instead of being picked and garbled by the crown lawyers; but this piece of justice the queen's counsel refused him, on the ground that they contained matter unfit to be divulged. He was found guilty, and sentenced to a fine of ten thousand marks and imprisonment during the queen's pleasure, by judges who at the same time expressed a high opinion both of his abilities and his integrity, and who certainly regarded his offence as nothing more than an error of judgement or want of due caution. Elizabeth ordered a copy of his sentence to be immediately transmitted to the king of Scots, as triumphant evidence of that perfect innocence in the tragical accident of his mother's death, of which she had already made solemn protestation. James complied so far with obvious motives of policy as to accept her excuses without much inquiry; but impartial posterity will not be disposed to dismiss so easily an important and curious investigation which it possesses abundant means of pursuing. The record of Burleigh's examination is still extant, and so likewise is Davison's apology; a piece which was composed by himself at the time and addressed to Walsingham, who could best judge of its accuracy; and which after being communicated to Camden, who has inserted an extract from it in his Annals, has at length been found entire among the original papers of sir Amias Paulet. From this authentic source we derive the following very extraordinary particulars.
It was by the lord-admiral that the queen first sent a message to Davison requiring him to bring the warrant for her signature; after subscribing it, she asked him if he were not heartily sorry it were done? to which he replied by a moderate and cautious approval of the act. She bade him tell the chancellor when he carried the warrant to be sealed, that he must "use it as secretly as might be." She then signed other papers which he had brought; dispatching them all "with the best disposition and willingness that could be." Afterwards she recurred to the subject; mentioned that she had delayed the act so long that the world might see "that she had not been violently or maliciously drawn unto it;" but that she had all along perceived the necessity of it to her own security. She then said, that she would have it done as secretly as might be, and not in the open court or green of the castle, but in the hall. Just as Davison was gathering up his papers to depart, "she fell into some complaint of sir Amias Paulet and others that might have eased her of this burthen;" and she desired that he would yet "deal with secretary Walsingham to write jointly to sir Amias and sir Drue Drury to sound them in this matter; "aiming still at this, that it might be so done as the blame might be removed from herself." This nefarious commission Davison strangely consented to execute, though he declares that he had always before refused to meddle therein "upon sundry of her majesty's motions,"—as a thing which he utterly disapproved; and though he was fully persuaded that the wisdom and integrity of sir Amias would render the application fruitless. The queen repeated her injunctions of secrecy in the matter, and he departed.
He went to Walsingham, told him that the warrant was signed for executing the sentence against the queen of Scots; agreed with him at the same time about the letter to be written to sir Amias for her private assassination;—then got the warrant sealed, then dispatched the letter.
The next morning, the queen sent him word to forbear going to the chancellor till she had spoken with him again. He went directly to acquaint her that he had already seen him. She asked, "what needed such haste?" He pleaded her commands, and the danger of delay. The queen particularized some other form in which she thought it would be safer and better for her to have the thing done. Davison answered, that the just and honorable way would, he thought, be the safest and the best, if she meant to have it done at all. The queen made no reply, but went to dinner.—It appears from another statement of Davison's case, also drawn up by himself, that it was on this very day, without waiting either for Paulet's answer or for more explicit orders from her majesty, that he had the incredible rashness to deliver up the warrant to Burleigh, and to concur in the subsequent proceedings of the council; though aware that the members were utterly ignorant of the queen's application to Paulet.
A day or two after, her majesty called him to her in the privy chamber, and told him smiling, that she had been troubled with him in a dream which she had had the night before, that the queen of Scots was put to death; and which so disturbed her, that she thought she could have run him through with a sword. He answered at first jestingly, but, on recollection, asked her with great earnestness, whether she did not intend that the matter should go forward? She answered vehemently and with an oath, that she did; but again harped upon the old string;—that this mode would cast all the blame upon herself, and a better might be contrived. The same afternoon she inquired if he had received an answer from sir Amias; which at the time he had not, but he brought it to her the next morning. It contained an absolute refusal to be concerned in any action inconsistent with justice and honor. At this the queen was much offended; she complained of what she called the "dainty perjury" of him and others, who contrary to their oath of association cast the burthen upon herself. Soon after, she again blamed "the niceness of these precise fellows;" but said she would have the thing done without them, and mentioned one Wingfield who would undertake it. Davison remonstrated against this design; and also represented the dangerous dilemma in which Paulet and Drury would have been placed by complying with her wishes; since, if she avowed their act, she took it upon herself, "with her infinite dishonor;" if she disavowed it, they were ruined. It is absolutely inconceivable how a man who understood so well the perils which these persons had skilfully avoided, should have remained so blind to those which menaced himself; yet Davison, by his own account, still suffered the queen to go on devising new schemes for the taking off of Mary, without either acquainting her that the privy-council had already sent off Beal with the warrant, or interfering with them to procure, if possible, the recall of this messenger of death. Even on his next interview with her, which he believes to have been on Tuesday, the very day before the execution of the sentence, when her majesty, after speaking of the daily peril in which she lived, swore a great oath, that it was a shame for them all that the thing was not yet done, and spoke to him to write a letter to Paulet for the dispatch of the business; he contented himself with observing generally, that the warrant was, he thought, sufficient; and though the queen still inclined to think the letter requisite, he left her without even dropping a hint that it was scarcely within the limits of possibility that it should arrive before the sentence had been put in execution.
Of this unaccountable imprudence the utmost advantage was taken against him by his cruel and crafty mistress; whose chief concern it had all along been to discover by what artifice she might throw the greatest possible portion of the blame from herself upon others. Davison underwent a long imprisonment; the fine, though it reduced him to beggary, was rigorously exacted; some scanty supplies for the relief of his immediate necessities, while in prison, were all that her majesty would vouchsafe him; and neither the zealous attestations of Burleigh in the beginning to his merit and abilities and the importance of his public services, nor the subsequent earnest pleadings of her own beloved Essex for his restoration, could ever prevail with Elizabeth to lay aside the appearances of perpetual resentment which she thought good to preserve against him. She would neither reinstate him in office nor ever more admit him to her presence; unable perhaps to bear the pain of beholding a countenance which carried with it an everlasting reproach to her conscience.
From the formidable responsibilities of this unprecedented action, the wary Walsingham had withdrawn himself by favor of an opportune fit of sickness, which disabled him from taking part in any thing but the application to sir Amias Paulet, by which he could incur, as he well knew, no hazard. A still more crafty politician, Leicester, after throwing out in the privy-council hints of her majesty's wishes, which served to accelerate the decisive steps there taken, had artfully contrived to escape from all further participation in their proceedings. Both ministers, in secret letters to Scotland, washed their hands of the blood of Mary. But Leicester, not content with these defensive measures, sought to improve the opportunity to the destruction of a rival whom he had never ceased to hate and envy. To his insidious arts the temporary disgrace of Burleigh is probably to be imputed; and it seems to have been from the apprehension of his malignant misconstructions that the lord treasurer refused to put on paper the particulars of his defence, and never ceased to implore admission to plead his cause before his sovereign in person. His perseverance at length prevailed: the queen saw him; heard his justification, and restored him to her wonted grace; after which the tacit compromise between the minister and the favorite was restored;—that compromise by which, during eight-and-twenty years, each had vindicated to himself an equality of political power, personal influence, and royal favor, with the secret enemy whom he vainly wished, or hoped, or plotted, to displace.
To relate again those melancholy details of Mary's closing scene, on which the historians of England and of Scotland, as well as the numerous biographers of this ill-fated princess, have exhausted all the arts of eloquence, would be equally needless and presumptuous. It is, however, important to remark, that she died rather with the triumphant air of a martyr to her religion, the character which she falsely assumed, than with the meekness of a victim or the penitence of a culprit. She bade Melvil tell her son that she had done nothing injurious to his rights or honor; though she was actually in treaty to disinherit him, and had also consented to a nefarious plot for carrying him off prisoner to Rome; and she denied with obstinacy to the last the charge of conspiring the death of Elizabeth, though by her will, written the day before her death, she rewarded as faithful servants the two secretaries who had borne this testimony against her. A spirit of self-justification so haughty and so unprincipled, a perseverance in deliberate falsehood so resolute and so shameless, ought under no circumstances and in no personage, not even in a captive beauty and an injured queen, to be confounded, by any writer studious of the moral tendencies of history and capable of sound discrimination, with genuine religion, true fortitude, or the dignity which renders misfortune respectable.
Let due censure be passed on the infringement of morality committed by Elizabeth, in detaining as a captive that rival kinswoman, and pretender to her crown, whom the dread of still more formidable dangers had compelled to seek refuge in her dominions: let it be admitted, that the exercise of criminal jurisdiction over a person thus lawlessly detained in a foreign country was another sacrifice of the just to the expedient, which none but a profligate politician will venture to defend; and let the efforts of Mary to procure her own liberty, though with the destruction of her enemy and at the cost of a civil war to England, be held, if religion will permit, justifiable or venial;—but let not our resentment of the wrongs, or compassion for the long misfortunes, of this unhappy woman betray us into a blind concurrence in eulogiums lavished, by prejudice or weakness, on a character blemished by many foibles, stained by some enormous crimes, and never under the guidance of the genuine principles of moral rectitude.
1587 AND 1588.
Small political effect of the death of Mary.—Warlike preparations of Spain destroyed by Drake.—Case of lord Beauchamp.—Death and character of the duchess of Somerset.—Hatton appointed chancellor.—Leicester returns to Holland—is again recalled.—Disgrace of lord Buckhurst.—Rupture with Spain.—Preparations against the Armada.—Notices of the earls of Cumberland and Northumberland—T. and R. Cecil—earl of Oxford—sir C. Blount—W. Raleigh—lord Howard of Effingham—Hawkins—Frobisher—Drake.—Leicester appointed general.—Queen at Tilbury.—Defeat of the Armada.—Introduction of newspapers.—Death of Leicester.
It is well deserving of remark, that the strongest and most extraordinary act of the whole administration of Elizabeth,—that which brought the blood of a sister-queen upon her head and indelible reproach upon her memory,—appears to have been productive of scarcely any assignable political effect. It changed her relations with no foreign power, it altered very little the state of parties at home, it recommended no new adviser to her favor, it occasioned the displacement of Davison alone.
She may appear, it is true, to have obtained by this stroke an immunity from that long series of dark conspiracies by which, during so many years, she had been disquieted and endangered. To deliver the queen of Scots was an object for which many men had been willing to risk their lives; but none were found desperate or chivalrous enough to run the same hazard in order to avenge her. But the recent detection of Babington and his associates, and the rigorous justice executed upon them, was likely, even without the death of Mary, to have deterred from the speedy repetition of similar practices; and a crisis was now approaching fitted to suspend the machinations of faction, to check the operation even of religious bigotry, and to unite all hearts in the love, all hands in the protection, of their native soil.
Philip of Spain, though he purposely avoided as yet a declaration of war, was known to be intently occupied upon the means of taking signal vengeance on the queen of England for all the acts of hostility on her part of which he thought himself entitled to complain.
Already in the summer of 1587 the ports of Spain and Portugal had begun to be thronged with vessels of various sorts and every size, destined to compose that terrible armada from which nothing less than the complete subjugation of England was anticipated;—already had the pope showered down his benedictions on the holy enterprise; and, by a bull declaring the throne of the schismatic princess forfeited to the first occupant, made way for the pretensions of Philip, who claimed it as the true heir of the house of Lancaster.
But Elizabeth was not of a temper so timid or so supine as to suffer these preparations to advance without interruption. She ordered Drake to sail immediately for the coast of Spain, and put in practice against her enemy every possible mode of injury and annoyance. To the four great ships which she allotted to him for this service, the English merchants, instigated by the hopes of plunder, cheerfully added twenty-six more of different sizes; and with this force the daring leader steered for the port of Cadiz, where a richly-laden fleet lay ready to sail for Lisbon, the final rendezvous for the whole armada. By the impetuosity of his attack, he compelled six galleys which defended the mouth of the harbour to seek shelter under its batteries; and having thus forced an entrance, he took, burned and destroyed about a hundred store-ships and two galleons of superior size. This done, he returned to Cape St. Vincent; then took three castles; and destroying as he proceeded every thing that came in his way, even to the fishing-boats and nets, he endeavoured to provoke the Spanish admiral to come out and give him battle off the mouth of the Tagus. But the marquis of Santa Croce deemed it prudent to suffer him to pillage the coast without molestation. Having fully effected this object, he made sail for the Azores, where the capture of a bulky carrack returning from India amply indemnified the merchants for all the expenses of the expedition, and enriched the admiral and his crews. Drake returned to England in a kind of triumph, boasting that he had "singed the whiskers" of the king of Spain: nor was his vaunt unfounded; the destruction of the store-ships, and the havoc committed by him on the magazines of every kind, was a mischief so great, and for the present so irreparable, that it crippled the whole design, and compelled Philip to defer, for no less than a year, the sailing of his invincible armada.
The respite thus procured was diligently improved by Elizabeth for the completion of her plans of defence against the hour of trial, which she still anticipated.—The interval seems to afford a fit occasion for the relation of some incidents of a more private nature, but interesting as illustrative of the manners and practices of the age.
It has been already mentioned, that the secret marriage of the earl of Hertford with lady Catherine Gray, notwithstanding the sentence of nullity which the queen had caused to be so precipitately pronounced and the punishment which she had tyrannically inflicted on the parties, had at length been duly established by a legal decision in which her majesty was compelled to acquiesce. The eldest son of the earl assumed in consequence his father's second title of lord Beauchamp, and became undoubted heir to all the claims of the Suffolk line. About the year 1585, this young nobleman married, unknown to his father, a daughter of sir Richard Rogers, of Brianston, a gentleman of ancient family, whose son had already been permitted to intermarry with a daughter of the house of Seymour. It might have been hoped that the earl of Hertford, from his own long and unmerited sufferings on a similar account, would have learned such a lesson of indulgence towards the affections of his children, that a match of greater disparity might have received from him a ready forgiveness. But he inherited, it seems, too much of the unfeeling haughtiness of his high-born mother; and in the fury of his resentment on discovery of this connexion of his son's, he made no scruple of separating by force the young couple, in direct defiance of the sacred tie which bound them to each other. Lord Beauchamp bore in the beginning this arbitrary treatment with a dutiful submission, by which he flattered himself that the heart of his father must sooner or later be touched; but at length, finding all entreaties vain, and seeing reason to believe that a settled plan was entertained by the earl of estranging him for ever from his wife, he broke on a sudden from the solitary mansion which had been assigned him as his place of abode, or of banishment, and was hastening to London to throw himself at the feet of her majesty and beseech her interposition, when a servant of his father's overtook and forcibly detained him.
Well aware that his nearness to the crown must have rendered peculiarly offensive to the queen what she would regard as his presumption in marrying without her knowledge and consent, he at first suspected her majesty as the author of this attack on his liberty; but being soon informed of her declaration, "that he was no prisoner of hers, and the man had acted without warrant," he addressed to lord Burleigh an earnest petition for redress. In this remarkable piece, after a statement of his case, he begs to submit himself by the lord-treasurer's means to the queen and council, hoping that they will grant him the benefit of the laws of the realm; that it would please his lordship to send for him by his warrant; and that he might not be injured by his father's men, though hardly dealt with by himself. Such were the lengths to which, in this age, a parent could venture to proceed against his child, and such the measures which it was then necessary to take in order to obtain the protection of the laws. It is not stated whether lord Beauchamp was at this time a minor; but if so, he probably made application to Burleigh as master of the wards. Apparently his representations were not without effect; for he procured in the end both a re-union with his wife and a reconciliation with his father.
The grandmother of this young nobleman, Anne duchess-dowager of Somerset, died at a great age in 1587. Maternally descended from the Plantagenets, and elevated by marriage to the highest rank of English nobility, she perhaps gloried in the character of being the proudest woman of her day. It has often been repeated, that her repugnance to yield precedence to queen Catherine Parr, when remarried to the younger brother of her husband, was the first occasion of that division in the house of Seymour by which Northumberland succeeded in working its overthrow. In the misfortune to which she had thus contributed, the duchess largely shared. When the Protector was committed to the Tower, she also was carried thither amid the insults of the people, to whom her arrogance had rendered her odious; and rigorous examinations and an imprisonment of considerable duration here awaited her. She saw her husband stripped of power and reputation, convicted of felony, and led by his enemies to an ignominious death; and what to a woman of her temper was perhaps a still severer trial, she beheld her son,—that son for whose aggrandizement she had without remorse urged her weak husband to strip of his birthright his own eldest born,—dispossessed in his turn of title and estates, and reduced by an act of forfeiture to the humble level of a private gentleman.
Her remarriage to an obscure person of the name of Newdigate, may prove, either that ambition was not the only inordinate affection to which the disposition of the duchess was subject, or that she was now reduced to seek safety in insignificance.
During the reign of Mary, no favor beyond an unmolested obscurity was to be expected by the protestant house of Seymour; but it was one of the earliest acts of Elizabeth generously to restore to Edward Seymour the whole of the Protector's confiscated estates not previously granted to his elder half-brother, and with them the title of earl of Hertford, the highest which his father had received from Henry VIII., and that with which he ought to have rested content. Still no door was opened for the return of the duchess of Somerset to power or favor; Elizabeth never ceasing to behold in this haughty woman both the deadly enemy of admiral Seymour,—that Seymour who was the first to touch her youthful heart, and whose pretensions to her hand had precipitated his ruin,—and that rigid censor of her early levities, who, dressed in a "brief authority," had once dared to assume over her a kind of superiority, which she had treated at the time with disdain, and apparently continued to recollect with bitterness.
It appears from a letter in which the duchess earnestly implores the intercession of Cecil in behalf of her son, when under confinement on account of his marriage, that she was at the time of writing it excluded from the royal presence; and it was nine whole years before all the interest she could make, all the solicitations which she compelled herself to use towards persons whom she could once have commanded at her pleasure, proved effectual in procuring his release. The vast wealth which she had amassed must still, however, have maintained her ascendency over her own family and numerous dependents, though with its final disposal her majesty evinced a strong disposition to intermeddle. Learning that she had appointed her eldest son sole executor, to the prejudice of his brother sir Henry Seymour, whom she did not love, the queen sent a gentleman to expostulate with her, and urge her strongly to change this disposition. The aged duchess, after long refusal, agreed at length to comply with the royal wish: but this promise she omitted to fulfil, and some obstruction was in consequence given to the execution of her last will. We possess a large inventory of her jewels and valuables, among which are enumerated "two pieces of unicorn's horn," an article highly valued in that day, from its supposed efficacy as an antidote, or a test, for poisons. The extreme smallness of her bequests for charitable purposes was justly remarked as a strong indication of a harsh and unfeeling disposition, in an age when similar benefactions formed almost the sole resource of the sick and needy.
In this year lord-chancellor Bromley died: and it should appear that there was at the time no other lawyer of eminence who had the good fortune to stand high in the favor of the queen and her counsellors, for we are told that she had it in contemplation to appoint as his successor the earl of Rutland; a nobleman in the thirtieth year of his age, distinguished indeed among the courtiers for his proficiency in elegant literature and his knowledge of the laws of his country, but known to the public only in the capacity of a colonel of foot in the bloodless campaign of the earl of Sussex against the Northern rebels.
How far this young man might have been qualified to do honor to so extraordinary a choice, remains matter of conjecture; his lordship being carried off by a sudden illness within a week of Bromley himself, after which her majesty thought proper to invest with this high office sir Christopher Hatton her vice-chamberlain.
This was a nomination scarcely less mortifying to lawyers than that of the earl of Rutland. Hatton's abode at one of the inns of court had been so short as scarcely to entitle him to a professional character; and since his fine dancing had recommended him to the favor of her majesty, he had entirely abandoned his legal pursuits for the life and the hopes of a courtier. It is asserted that his enemies promoted his appointment with more zeal than his friends, in the confident expectation of seeing him disgrace himself: what may be regarded as more certain is, that he was so disquieted by intimations of the queen's repenting of her choice, that he tendered to her his resignation before he entered on the duties of his office; and that in the beginning of his career the serjeants refused to plead before him. But he soon found means both to vanquish their repugnance and to establish in the public mind an opinion of his integrity and sufficiency, which served to redeem his sovereign from the censure or ridicule to which this extraordinary choice seemed likely to expose her. He had the wisdom to avail himself, in all cases of peculiar difficulty, of the advice of two learned serjeants;—in other matters he might reasonably regard his own prudence and good sense as competent guides. In fact, it was only since the reformation that this great office had begun to be filled by common-law lawyers: before this period it was usally exercised by some ecclesiastic who was also a civilian, and instances were not rare of the seals having been held in commission by noblemen during considerable intervals;—facts which, in justice to Hatton and to Elizabeth, ought on this occasion to be kept in mind.
The pride of Leicester had been deeply wounded by the circumstances of that forced return from Holland which, notwithstanding all his artful endeavours to color it to the world, was perfectly understood at court as a disgraceful recall.
The queen, in the first emotions of indignation and disappointment called forth by his ill-success, had in public made use of expressions respecting his conduct, of which he well knew that the effect could only be obviated by some mark of favor equally public; and he spared no labor for the accomplishment of this object. By an extraordinary exertion of that influence over her majesty's affections which enabled him to hold her judgement in lasting captivity, he was at length successful, and the honorable and lucrative place of chief justice in Eyre of all the forests south of Trent was bestowed upon him early in 1587. So far was well; but he disdained to rest satisfied with less than the restitution of that supreme command over the Dutch provinces which had flattered his vanity with a title never borne by Englishman before; that of Excellence. His usual arts prevailed in this instance likewise. By means of the authority which he had surreptitiously reserved to himself, he held the governors of towns and forts in Holland in complete dependence, whilst his solemn ostentation of religion had secured the zealous attachment of the protestant clergy; an order which then exerted an important influence over public opinion. It had thus been in his power to raise a strong faction in the country, through the instrumentality of which he raised such impediments to the measures of administration, that the States-general saw themselves at length compelled, as the smaller of two evils, to solicit the queen for his return. It was a considerable time before she could be brought to sanction a step of which her sagest counsellors, secretly hostile to Leicester, labored to demonstrate the entire inexpediency. The affairs of Holland suffered at once by the dissensions which the malice of Leicester had sown, and by the long irresolution of Elizabeth; and she at length sent over lord Buckhurst to make inquiry into some measures of the States which had given her umbrage, and to report upon the whole matter.
The sagacious and upright statesman was soon satisfied where the blame ought to rest, and he suggested a plan for the government of the country which excluded the idea of Leicester's return. But the intrigues of the favorite finally prevailed, and he was authorized in June 1587 to resume a station of which he had proved himself equally incapable and unworthy, having previously been further gratified by her majesty with the office of lord high-steward, and with permission to resign that of master of the horse to his stepson the earl of Essex. But fortune disdained to smile upon his arms; and his failure in an attempt to raise the siege of Sluys produced such an exasperation of his former quarrel with the States, that in the month of November the queen found herself compelled to supersede him, appointing the brave lord Willoughby captain-general in his place.
On his return to England, Leicester found lord Buckhurst preparing against him a charge of malversation in Holland, and he received a summons to justify himself before the privy-council; but he better consulted his safety by flying for protection to the footstool of the throne. The queen, touched by his expressions of humility and sorrow, and his earnest entreaties "that she would not receive with disgrace on his return, him whom she had sent forth with honor, nor bring down alive to the grave one whom her former goodness had raised from the dust," consented once again to receive him into wonted favor. Nor was this all; for on the day when he was expected to give in his answer before the council, he appeared in his place, and by a triumphant appeal to her majesty, whose secret orders limited, as he asserted, his public commission, baffled at once the hopes of his enemies and the claims of public justice. What was still more gross, he was suffered to succeed in procuring a censure to be passed upon lord Buckhurst, who continued in disgrace for the nine remaining months of Leicester's life, during which a royal command restrained him within his house. Elizabeth must in this instance have known her own injustice even while she was committing it; but by the loyal and chivalrous nobility, who knelt before the footstool of the maiden-queen, "her buffets and rewards were ta'en with equal thanks;" and Abbot, the chaplain of lord Buckhurst, has recorded of his patron, that "so obsequious was he to this command, that in all the time he never would endure, openly or secretly, by day or night, to see either wife or child." He had his reward; for no sooner was the queen restored to liberty by the death of her imperious favorite, than she released her kinsman, honored him with the garter, procured, two years after, his election to the chancellorship of the university of Oxford, and finally appointed him Burleigh's successor in the honorable and lucrative post of lord treasurer.
During the unavoidable delay which the expedition of Drake had brought to the designs of Philip II., the prince of Parma had by his master's directions been endeavouring to amuse the vigilance of Elizabeth with overtures of negotiation. The queen, at the request of the prince, sent plenipotentiaries to treat with him in Flanders; and though the Hollanders absolutely refused to enter into the treaty, they proceeded with apparent earnestness in the task of settling preliminaries. Some writers maintain, that there was, from the beginning, as little sincerity on one side as on the other; to gain time for the preparations of attack or defence, being the sole object of both parties in these manoeuvres. Yet the cautious and pacific character of the policy of Elizabeth, and the secret dread which she ever entertained of a serious contest with the power of Spain, seem to render it more probable that the wish and hope of an accommodation was at first on her side real; and that the fears of the States that their interests might become the sacrifice, must have been by no means destitute of foundation. Leicester is said to have had the merit of first opening the eyes of his sovereign to the fraudulent conduct of the prince of Parma,—who in fact was furnished with no powers to treat,—and to have earned for himself by this discovery the restoration of her favor.
In March 1588 these conferences broke off abruptly. It was impossible for either party longer to deceive or to act the being deceived; for all Europe now rang with the mighty preparations of king Philip for the conquest of England;—preparations which occupied the whole of his vast though disjointed empire, from the Flemish provinces which still owned his yoke, to the distant ports of Sicily and Naples.
The spirit of the English people rose with the emergency. All ranks and orders vied with each other in an eager devotedness to the sacred cause of national independence; the rich poured forth their treasures with unsparing hand; the chivalrous and young rushed on-board ships of their own equipment, a band of generous volunteers; the poor demanded arms to exterminate every invader who should set foot on English ground; while the clergy animated their audience against the Pope and the Spaniard, and invoked a blessing on the holy warfare of their fellow-citizens. Elizabeth, casting aside all her weaknesses, showed herself worthy to be the queen and heroine of such a people. Her prudence, her vigilance, her presence of mind, which failed not for a moment, inspired unbounded confidence, while her cheerful countenance and spirited demeanour breathed hope and courage and alacrity into the coldest bosoms. Never did a sovereign enter upon a great and awful contest with a more strenuous resolution to fulfil all duties, to confront all perils; never did a people repay with such ardor of gratitude, such enthusiasm of attachment, the noblest virtues of a prince.
The best troops of the country were at this time absent in Flanders; and there was no standing army except the queen's guard and the garrisons kept in a few forts on the coast or the Scottish border. The royal navy was extremely small, and the revenues of the crown totally inadequate to the effort of raising it to any thing approaching a parity with the fleets of Spain. The queen possessed not a single ally on the continent capable of affording her aid; she doubted the fidelity of the king of Scots to her interests, and a formidable mass of disaffection was believed to subsist among her own subjects of the catholic communion. It was on the spontaneous efforts of individuals that the whole safety of the country at this momentous crisis was left dependent: if these failed, England was lost;—but in such a cause, at such a juncture, they could not fail; and the first appeal made by government to the patriotism of the people was answered with that spirit in which a nation is invincible. A message was sent by the privy-council to inquire of the corporation of London what the city would be willing to undertake for the public service? The corporation requested to be informed what the council might judge requisite in such a case. Fifteen ships and five thousand men, was the answer. Two days after, the city "humbly intreated the council, in sign of their perfect love and loyalty, to prince and country, to accept ten thousand men and thirty ships amply furnished." "And," adds the chronicler, "even as London, London like, gave precedent, the whole kingdom kept true rank and equipage." At this time, the able-bodied men in the capital between the ages of eighteen and sixty amounted to no more than 17,083.
Without entering into further detail respecting the particular contributions of different towns or districts to the common defence, it is sufficient to remark, that every sinew was strained, and that little was left to the charge of government but the task of arranging and applying the abundant succours furnished by the zeal of the country. One trait of the times, however, it is essential to commemorate. Terror is perhaps the most merciless of all sentiments, and that which is least restrained either by shame or a sense of justice; and under this debasing influence some of the queen's advisers did not hesitate to suggest, that in a crisis so desperate, she ought to consult her own safety and that of the country, by seeking pretexts to take away the lives of some of the leading catholics. They cited in support of this atrocious proposal the example of Henry VIII. her father, who, before his departure for the French wars, had without scruple brought to the block his own cousin the marquis of Exeter and several others, whose chief crime was their attachment to the ancient faith and their enjoying a degree of popularity which might enable them to raise commotions in his absence.
Elizabeth rejected with horror these suggestions of cowardice and cruelty, at the same time that she omitted no measures of precaution which she regarded as justifiable. The existing laws against priests and seminary-men were enforced with vigilance and severity, all popish recusants were placed under close inspection, and a considerable number of those accounted most formidable were placed under safe custody in Wisbeach-castle.
To these gentlemen, however, the queen caused it to be intimated, that the step which she had taken was principally designed for their protection, since it was greatly to be apprehended that, in the event of landing of the Spaniards, the Roman catholics might become the victims of some ebullition of popular fury which it would not then be in the power of government to repress.
This lenient proceeding on the part of her majesty was productive of the best effects; the catholics who remained at liberty became earnest to prove themselves possessed of that spirit of patriotism and loyalty for which she had given them credit. Some entered the ranks as volunteers; others armed and encouraged their tenantry and dependants for the defence of their country; several even fitted out vessels at their own expense, and intrusted the command of them to protestant officers on whom the government could entirely rely.
After the defeat of the Armada, the prisoners at Wisbeach-castle, having signed the submission required by law of such as had offended in hearing mass and absenting themselves from church, petitioned the privy-council for their liberty; but a bond for good behaviour being further demanded of them, with the condition of being obedient to such orders as six members of the privy-council should write down respecting them, they refused to comply with such terms of enlargement, and remained in custody. As the submission which they had tendered voluntarily was in terms apparently no less strong than the bond which they refused, it was conjectured that the former piece had been drawn up by their ghostly fathers with some private equivocation or mental reservation; a suspicion which receives strong confirmation from the characters and subsequent conduct of some of these persons,—the most noted fanatics certainly of their party,—and amongst whom we read the names of Talbot, Catesby, and Tresham, afterwards principal conspirators in the detestable gunpowder plot.
[Note 98: Life of Whitgift, by Strype.]
The ships equipped by the nobility and gentry to combat the armada amounted in the whole to forty-three, and it was on-board these vessels that young men of the noblest blood and highest hopes now made their first essay in arms. In this number may be distinguished George Clifford third earl of Cumberland, one of the most remarkable, if not the greatest, characters of the reign of Elizabeth.
The illustrious race of Clifford takes origin from William duke of Normandy; in a later age its blood was mingled with that of the Plantagenets by the intermarriage of the seventh lord de Clifford and a daughter of the celebrated Hotspur by Elizabeth his wife, whose father was Edward Mortimer earl of March. Notwithstanding this alliance with the house of York, two successive lords de Clifford were slain in the civil wars fighting strenuously on the Lancastrian side. It was to the younger of these, whose sanguinary spirit gained him the surname of the Butcher, that the barbarous murder of the young earl of Rutland was popularly imputed; and a well-founded dread of the vengeance of the Yorkists caused his widow to conceal his son and heir under the lowly disguise of a shepherd-boy, in which condition he grew up among the fells of Westmorland totally illiterate, and probably unsuspicious of his origin.
At the end of five-and-twenty years, the restoration of the line of Lancaster in the person of Henry VII. restored to lord de Clifford the name, rank, and large possessions of his ancestors; but the peasant-noble preferred through life that rustic obscurity in which his character had been formed and his habits fixed, to the splendors of a court or the turmoils of ambition. He kept aloof from the capital; and it was only on the field of Flodden, to which he led in person his hardy tenantry, that this de Clifford exhibited some sparks of the warlike fire inherent in his race.
His successor, by qualities very different from the homely virtues which had obtained for his father among his tenantry and neighbours the surname of the Good, recommended himself to the special favor of Henry VIII., who created him earl of Cumberland, and matched his heir to his own niece lady Eleanor Brandon. The sole fruit of this illustrious alliance, which involved the earl in an almost ruinous course of expense, was a daughter, who afterwards became the mother of Ferdinando earl of Derby, a nobleman whose mysterious and untimely fate remains to be hereafter related. By a second and better-assorted marriage, the earl of Cumberland became the father of George, his successor, our present subject, who proved the most remarkable of this distinguished family. The death of his father during his childhood had brought him under wardship to the queen; and by her command he was sent to pursue his studies at Peterhouse, Cambridge, under Whitgift, afterwards primate. Here he applied himself with ardor to the mathematics, and it was apparently the bent of his genius towards these studies which first caused him to turn his attention to nautical matters. An enterprising spirit and a turn for all the fashionable profusions of the day, which speedily plunged him in pecuniary embarrassments, added incitements to his activity in these pursuits; and in 1586 he fitted out three ships and a pinnace to cruise against the Spaniards and plunder their settlements. It appears extraordinary that he did not assume in person the command of his little squadron; but combats and triumphs perhaps still more glorious in his estimation awaited him on the smoother element of the court.
In the games of chivalry he bore off the prize of courage and dexterity from all his peers; the romantic band of knights-tilters boasted of him as one of its brightest ornaments, and her majesty deigned to encourage his devotedness to her glory by an envied pledge of favor.
As he stood or kneeled before her, she dropped her glove, perhaps not undesignedly, and on his picking it up, graciously desired him to keep it. He caused the trophy to be encircled with diamonds, and ever after at all tilts and tourneys bore it conspicuously placed in front of his high-crowned hat.
But the emergencies of the year 1588 summoned him to resign the fopperies of an antiquated knight-errantry for serious warfare and the exercise of genuine valor. Taking upon him the command of a ship, he joined the fleet appointed to hang upon the motions of the Spanish armada and harass it in its progress up the British Channel; and on several occasions, especially in the last action, off Calais, he signalized himself by uncommon exertions.
In reward of his services, her majesty granted him her royal commission to pursue a voyage to the South Sea, which he had already projected; she even lent him for the occasion one of her own ships; and thus encouraged, he commenced that long series of naval enterprises which has given him an enduring name. After two or three voyages he constantly declined her majesty's gracious offers of the loan of her ships, because they were accompanied with the express condition that he should never lay any vessel of hers on-board a Spanish one, lest both should be destroyed by fire. Such was the character of mingled penuriousness and timidity which pervaded the maritime policy of this great princess, even after the defeat of the armada had demonstrated that, ship for ship, her navy might defy the world!
At this period, all attempts against the power and prosperity of Spain were naturally regarded with high favor and admiration; and it cannot be denied that in his long and hazardous expeditions the earl of Cumberland evinced high courage, undaunted enterprise, and an extraordinary share of perseverance under repeated failures, disappointments, and hardships of every kind. It is also true that his vigorous attacks embarrassed extremely the intercourse of Spain with her colonies; and, besides the direct injury which they inflicted, compelled this power to incur an immense additional expense for the protection of her treasure-ships and settlements. But the benefit to England was comparatively trifling; and to the earl himself, notwithstanding occasional captures of great value, his voyages were far from producing any lasting advantage; they scarcely repaid on the whole the cost of equipment; while the influx of sudden wealth with which they sometimes gratified him, only ministered food to that magnificent profusion in which he finally squandered both his acquisitions and his patrimony. None of the liberal and enlightened views which had prompted the efforts of the great navigators of this and a preceding age appear to have had any share in the enterprises of the earl of Cumberland. Even the thirst of martial glory seems in him to have been subordinate to the love of gain, and that appetite for rapine to which his loose and extravagant habits had given the force of a passion.
He had formed, early in life, an attachment to the beautiful daughter of that worthy character and rare exemplar of old English hospitality, sir William Holles, ancestor to the earls of Clare of that surname; but her father, from a singular pride of independence, refused to listen to his proposals, saying "that he would not have to stand cap in hand to his son-in-law; his daughter should marry a good gentleman with whom he might have society and friendship." Disappointed thus of the object of his affections, he matched himself with a daughter of the earl of Bedford; a woman of merit, as it appears, but whom their mutual indifference precluded from exerting over him any salutary influence. As a husband, he proved both unfaithful and cruel; and separating himself after a few years from his countess, on pretence of incompatibility of tempers, he suffered her to pine not only in desertion, but in poverty. We shall hereafter have occasion to view this celebrated earl in the idly-solemn personage of queen's champion; meantime, he must be dismissed with no more of applause than may be challenged by a character signally deficient in the guiding and restraining virtues, and endowed with such a share only of the more active ones as served to render it conspicuous and glittering rather than truly and permanently illustrious.
Henry earl of Northumberland likewise joined the fleet, on-board a vessel hired by himself. Immediately after the fatal catastrophe of his father in 1585, this young nobleman, anxious apparently to efface the stigma of popery and disaffection stamped by the rash attempts of his uncle and father on the gallant name of Percy, had seized the opportunity of embarking with Leicester for the wars of the Low Countries. He now sought distinction on another element, and in a cause still nearer to the hearts of Englishmen. The conversion to protestantism and loyalty of the head of such a house could not but be regarded by Elizabeth with feelings of peculiar complacency, and in 1593 she was pleased to confer upon the earl the insignia of the garter. He was present in 1601 at the siege of Ostend, where he considered himself as so much aggrieved by the conduct of sir Francis Vere, that on the return of this officer to England he sent him a challenge. During the decline of the queen's health, Northumberland was distinguished by the warmth with which he embraced the interests of the king of Scots, and he was the first privy-councillor named by James on his accession to the English throne. But the fate of his family seemed still to pursue him: on some unsupported charges connected with the gunpowder plot, he was stripped of all his offices, heavily fined, and sentenced to perpetual imprisonment: the tardy mercy of the king procured however his release at the end of fifteen years, and he spent the remnant of his life in tranquil and honorable retirement. This unfortunate nobleman was a man of parts: the abundant leisure for intellectual pursuits afforded by his long captivity was chiefly employed by him in the study of the mathematics, including perhaps the occult sciences; and as he was permitted to enjoy freely the conversation of such men of learning as he wished to assemble around him, he became one of their most bountiful patrons.
Thomas Cecil, eldest son of the lord-treasurer, formerly a volunteer in the expedition to Scotland undertaken in favor of the regent Murray, and more recently appointed governor of the Brill in consideration of his services in the war in Flanders, also embarked to repel the invaders; as did Robert his half-brother, the afterwards celebrated secretary of state created earl of Salisbury by James I.
Robert Cecil was deformed in his person, of a feeble and sickly constitution, and entirely devoted to the study of politics; and nothing, it is to be presumed, but his steady determination of omitting no means of attracting to himself that royal favor which he contemplated as the instrument by which to work out his future fortunes, could have engaged him in a service so repugnant to his habits and pursuits, and for which the hand of nature herself had so evidently disabled him.
The earl of Oxford, in expiation perhaps of some of those violences of temper and irregularities of conduct by which he was perpetually offending the queen and obstructing his own advancement in the state, equipped on this occasion a vessel which he commanded.
Sir Charles Blount, notwithstanding the narrowness of his present fortunes, judged it incumbent on him to give a similar proof of attachment to his queen and country; and the circumstance affords an occasion of introducing to the notice of the reader one of the brightest ornaments of the court of Elizabeth.
This distinguished gentleman, now in the twenty-fifth year of his age, was the second son of James sixth lord Montjoy of the ancient Norman name of Le Blonde, corruptly written Blount. The family history might serve as a commentary on the reigning follies of the English court during two or three generations. His grandfather, a splendid courtier, consumed his resources on the ostentatious equipage with which he attended to the French wars his master Henry VIII. with whom he had the misfortune to be a favorite. His father squandered a diminished patrimony still more absurdly in his search after the philosopher's stone; and the ruin of the family was so consummated by the ill-timed prodigalities of his elder brother, that when his death without children in 1594 transmitted the title of lord Montjoy to sir Charles, a thousand marks was the whole amount of the inheritance by which this honor was to be maintained. It is needless to add that the younger brother's portion with which he set out in life was next to nothing. Having thus his own way to make, he immediately after completing his education at Oxford entered himself of the Inner Temple, as meaning to pursue the profession of the law: but fortune had ordained his destiny otherwise; and being led by his curiosity to visit the court, he there found "a pretty strange kind of admission," which cannot be related with more vivacity than in the original words of Naunton. "He was then much about twenty years of age, of a brown hair, a sweet face, a most neat composure, and tall in his person. The queen was then at Whitehall, and at dinner, whither he came to see the fashion of the court. The queen had soon found him out, and with a kind of an affected frown asked the lady carver who he was? She answered, she knew him not; insomuch that enquiry was made from one to another who he might be, till at length it was told the queen that he was brother to the lord William Mountjoy. This inquisition, with the eye of majesty fixed upon him, (as she was wont to do to daunt men she knew not,) stirred the blood of this young gentleman, insomuch as his colour went and came; which the queen observing called him unto her, and gave him her hand to kiss, encouraging him with gracious words and new looks; and so diverting her speech to the lords and ladies, she said, that she no sooner observed him but that she knew there was in him some noble blood, with some other expressions of pity towards his house. And then again, demanding his name, she said, 'Fail you not to come to the court, and I will bethink myself how to do you good.' And this was his inlet, and the beginning of his grace." It does not appear what boon the queen immediately bestowed upon her new courtier; but he deserted the profession of the law, sat in the parliaments of 1585 and 1586 as the representative of two different Cornish boroughs, received in the latter year the honor of knighthood, and soon after his present expedition appeared considerable enough at court to provoke the hostility of the earl of Essex himself. Raleigh, now high in favor, and invested with the offices of captain of the queen's guard and her lieutenant for Cornwall, had been actively engaged since the last year in training to arms the militia of that county. He had also been employed, as a member of the council of war, in concerting the general plan of national defence: but his ardent and adventurous valor prompted him to aid his country in her hour of trial on both elements, and with hand as well as head: throwing himself therefore into a vessel of his own which waited his orders, he hastened to share in the discomfiture of her insulting foe.
But it would be endless to enumerate all who spontaneously came forward to partake the perils and the glory of this ever-memorable contest; and the naval commanders of principal eminence have higher claims to our notice.
The dignity of lord-high-admiral,—customarily conferred on mere men of rank, in whom not the slightest tincture of professional knowledge was required or expected,—at this critical juncture belonged to Charles second lord Howard of Effingham, of whom we have formerly spoken, and who appears never in the whole course of his life to have been at sea but once before, and that only on an occasion of ceremony. He was every way an untried man, and as yet distinguished for nothing except the accomplishments of a courtier: but he exhibited on trial courage, resolution, and conduct; an affability of manner which endeared him to the sailors; and a prudent sense of his own inexperience, which rendered him perfectly docile to the counsels of those excellent sea-officers by whom he had the good fortune to find himself surrounded. He encouraged his crew, and manifested his alacrity in the service, by putting his own hand to the rope which was to tow his ship out of harbour; and he afterwards gave proof of his good sense and his patriotism, by his opposition to the orders which her majesty's excess of oeconomy led her to issue on the first dispersion of the armada by a storm, for laying up four of her largest ships; earnestly requesting that he might be permitted to retain them at his own expense rather than the safety of the country should be risked by their dismissal. John Hawkins, one of the ablest and most experienced seamen of the age, was chiefly relied upon for the conduct of the main fleet, in which he acted as vice-admiral. For his good service he was knighted by the lord-admiral on board his own ship immediately after the action, when the like honor was bestowed on that eminent navigator Frobisher, who led into action the Triumph, one of the three first-rates which were then all that the English navy could boast.
To the hero Drake, as rear-admiral, a separate squadron was intrusted; and it was by this division that the principal execution was done upon the discomfited armada as it fled in confusion before the valor of the English and the fury of their tempestuous seas. An enormous galleon surrendered without firing a shot to the much smaller vessel of Drake, purely from the terror of his name.
Whilst the lord-admiral, with the principal fleet stationed off Plymouth, prepared to engage the armada in its passage up the Channel, sir Henry Seymour, youngest son of the protector, was stationed with a smaller force, partly English partly Flemish, off Dunkirk, for the purpose of intercepting the duke of Parma, who was lying with his veteran forces on the coast, ready to embark and co-operate in the conquest of England.
In the midst of these naval preparations, which happily sufficed in the event to frustrate entirely the designs of the enemy, equal activity was exerted to place the land-forces in a condition to dispute the soil against the finest troops and most consummate general of Europe.
An army of reserve consisting of about thirty-six thousand men was drawn together for the defence of the queen's person, and appointed to march towards any quarter in which the most pressing danger should manifest itself. A smaller, but probably better appointed, force of twenty-three thousand was stationed in a camp near Tilbury to protect the capital, against which it was not doubted that the most formidable efforts of the enemy on making good his landing would be immediately directed.
Owing to the long peace which the country had enjoyed, England possessed at this juncture no general of reputation, though, doubtless, a sufficiency of men of resolution and capacity whom a short experience of actual service would have matured into able officers. Under circumstances which afforded to the government so small a choice of men, the respective appointments of Arthur lord Grey,—distinguished by the vigor which he had exerted in suppressing the last Irish rebellion,—to the post of president of the council of war; of lord Hunsdon,—a brave soldier long practised in the desultory warfare of the northern border, as well as in several regular campaigns against Scotland,—to the command of the army of reserve; and of the earl of Essex,—a gallant youth who had fleshed his maiden sword and gained his spurs in the affair of Zutphen,—to the post of general of the horse in the main army;—seem to have merited the sanction of public approbation. But the most strenuous defender of the measures of her majesty must have been staggered by her nomination of Leicester,—the hated, the disgraced, the incapable Leicester,—to the station of highest honor, danger, and importance;—that of commander in chief of the army at Tilbury. Military experience, indeed, the favorite possessed in a higher degree than most of those to whom the defence of the country was now of necessity intrusted, but of skill and conduct he had proved himself destitute; even his personal courage was doubtful; and his recent failures in Holland must have inspired distrust in the bosom of every individual, whether officer or private, appointed to serve under him. Something must be allowed for the embarrassments of the time; the deficiency of military talent; the high rank of Leicester in the service, which forbade his employment in any inferior capacity: but, with all these palliations, the nomination of such an antagonist to confront the duke of Parma must eternally be regarded as the weakest act into which the prudence of Elizabeth was ever betrayed by a blind and unaccountable partiality.