All these preparations for defence being finally arranged, her majesty resolved to visit in person the camp at Tilbury, for the purpose of encouraging her troops.
It had been a part of the commendation of Elizabeth, that in her public appearances, of whatsoever nature, no sovereign on record had acted the part so well, or with such universal applause. But on this memorable and momentous occasion, when,—like a second Boadicea, armed for defence against the invader of her country,—she appeared at once the warrior and the queen, the sacred feelings of the moment, superior to all the artifices of regal dignity and the tricks of regal condescension, inspired her with that impressive earnestness of look, of words, of gesture, which alone is truly dignified and truly eloquent.
Mounted on a noble charger, with a general's truncheon in her hand, a corselet of polished steel laced on over her magnificent apparel, and a page in attendance bearing her white-plumed helmet, she rode bare-headed from rank to rank with a courageous deportment and smiling countenance; and amid the affectionate plaudits and shouts of military ardor which burst from the animated and admiring soldiery, she addressed them in the following short and spirited harangue.
"My loving people; we have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit ourselves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery; but, assure you, I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear: I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good-will of my subjects. And therefore I am come amongst you at this time, not as for my recreation or sport, but being resolved in the midst and heat of the battle, to live or die amongst you all; to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and for my people, my honor and my blood, even in the dust. I know I have but the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart of a king, and of a king of England too; and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realms: To which, rather than any dishonor should grow by me, I myself will take up arms; I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.
"I know already by your forwardness, that you have deserved rewards and crowns; and we do assure you, on the word of a prince, they shall be duly paid you. In the meantime, my lieutenant-general shall be in my stead, than whom never prince commanded a more noble and worthy subject; not doubting by your obedience to my general, by your concord in the camp, and your valor in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory over those enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people."
The extraordinary reliance placed by the queen in this emergency upon the counsels of Leicester encouraged the insatiable favorite to grasp at honor and authority still more exorbitant; and he ventured to urge her majesty to invest him with the office of her lieutenant in England and Ireland; a dignity paramount to all other commands. She had the weakness to comply; and it is said that the patent was actually drawn out, when the defeat of the armada, by taking away all pretext for the creation of such an officer, gave her leisure to attend to the earnest representations of Hatton and Burleigh on the imprudence of conferring on any subject powers so excessive, and capable even in some instances of controlling her own prerogative. On better consideration the project therefore was dropped.
It is foreign from the business of this work to detail the particulars of that signal victory obtained by English seamanship and English valor against the boasted armament of Spain, prodigiously superior as it was in every circumstance of force excepting the moral energies employed to wield it. While the history of the year 1588 in all its details must ever form a favorite chapter in the splendid tale of England's naval glory, it will here suffice to mark the general results.
Not a single Spaniard set foot on English ground but as a prisoner; one English vessel only, and that of smaller size, became the prize of the invaders. The duke of Parma did not venture to embark a man. The king of Scots, standing firm to his alliance with his illustrious kinswoman, afforded not the slightest succour to the Spanish ships which the storms and the English drove in shattered plight upon his rugged coasts; while the lord-deputy of Ireland caused to be butchered without remorse the crews of all the vessels wrecked upon that island in their disastrous circumnavigation of Great Britain: so that not more than half of this vaunted invincible armada returned in safety to the ports of Spain. Never in the records of history was the event of war on one side more entirely satisfactory, and glorious, on the other more deeply humiliating and utterly disgraceful. Philip did indeed support the credit of his personal character by the dignified composure with which he heard the tidings of this great disaster; but it was out of his power to throw the slightest veil over the dishonor of the Spanish arms, or repair the total and final failure of the great popish cause.
By the English nation, this signal discomfiture of its most dreaded and detested foe was hailed as the victory of protestant principles no less than of national independence; and the tidings of the national deliverance were welcomed, by all the reformed churches of Europe, with an ardor of joy and thankfulness proportioned to the intenseness of anxiety with which they had watched the event of a conflict where their own dearest interests were staked along with the existence of their best ally and firmest protector.
Repeated thanksgivings were observed in London in commemoration of this great event: on the anniversary of the queen's birth a general festival was proclaimed and celebrated with "sermons, singing of psalms, bonfires, &c." and on the following Sunday her majesty went in state to St. Paul's, magnificently attended by her nobles and great officers, and borne along on a sumptuous chariot formed like a throne, with four pillars supporting a canopy, and drawn by a pair of white horses. The streets through which she passed were hung with blue cloth, in honor doubtless of the navy, and the colors taken from the enemy were borne in triumph.
Her majesty rewarded the lord-admiral with a considerable pension, and settled annuities on the wounded seamen and on some of the more necessitous among the officers; the rest she honored with much personal notice and many gracious terms of commendation, which they were expected to receive in lieu of more substantial remuneration;—for parsimony, the darling virtue of Elizabeth, was not forgotten even in her gratitude to the brave defenders of her country.
Two medals were struck on this great occasion; one, representing a fleet retiring under full sail, with the motto, "Venit, vidit, fugit;" the other, fire-ships scattering a fleet; the motto, "Dux faemina facti;" a compliment to the queen, who is said to have herself suggested the employment of these engines of destruction, by which the armada suffered severely.
The intense interest in public events excited in every class by the threatened invasion of Spain, gave rise to the introduction in this country of one of the most important inventions of social life,—that of newspapers. Previously to this period all articles of intelligence had been circulated in manuscript; and all political remarks which the government had found itself interested in addressing to the people, had issued from the press in the shape of pamphlets, of which many had been composed during the administration of Burleigh, either by himself or immediately under his direction. But the peculiar convenience at such a juncture of uniting these two objects in a periodical publication becoming obvious to the ministry, there appeared, some time in the month of April 1588, the first number of The English Mercury; a paper resembling the present London Gazette, which must have come out almost daily; since No. 50, the earliest specimen of the work now extant, is dated July 23d of the same year. This interesting relic is preserved in the British Museum.
In the midst of the public rejoicings an event occurred, which, in whatever manner it might be felt by Elizabeth herself, certainly cast no damp on the spirits of the nation at large; the death of Leicester.
After the frequent notices of this celebrated favorite contained in the foregoing pages, a formal delineation of his character is unnecessary;—a few traits may however be added.
Speaking of his letters and public papers, Naunton says, "I never yet saw a style or phrase more seeming religious and fuller of the streams of devotion;" and notwithstanding the charge of hypocrisy on this head usually brought against Leicester in the most unqualified terms, many reasons might induce us to believe his religious faith sincere, and his attachment for certain schemes of doctrine, zealous. On no other supposition does it appear possible to account for that steady patronage of the puritanical party,—so odious to his mistress,—which gave on some occasions such important advantages over him to his adversary Hatton,—the only minister of Elizabeth who appears to have aimed at the character of a high church-of-England man. The circumstance also of his devoting during his lifetime a considerable sum of ready money, which he could ill spare, to the endowment of a hospital, has much the air of an act of expiation prompted by religious fears. As a statesman Leicester appears to have displayed on some occasions considerable acuteness and penetration, but in the higher kind of wisdom he was utterly deficient. His moral insensibility sometimes caused him to offer to his sovereign the most pernicious counsels; and had not the superior rectitude of Burleigh's judgement interposed, his influence might have inflicted still deeper wounds on the honor of the queen and the prosperity of the nation.
Towards his own friends and adherents he is said to have been a religious observer of his promises; a virtue very remarkable in such a man. In the midst of that profusion which rendered him rapacious, he was capable of acts of real generosity, and both soldiers and scholars tasted largely of his bounty. That he was guilty of many detestable acts of oppression, and pursued with secret and unrelenting vengeance such as offended his arrogance by any failure in the servile homage which he made it his glory to exact, are charges proved by undeniable facts; but it has already been observed that the more atrocious of the crimes popularly imputed to him, remain, and must ever remain, matters of suspicion rather than proof.
His conduct during the younger part of life was scandalously licentious: latterly he became, says Camden, uxorious to excess. In the early days of his favor with the queen, her profuse donations had gratified his cupidity and displayed the fondness of her attachment; but at a later period the stream of her bounty ran low; and following the natural bent of her disposition, or complying with the necessity of her affairs, she compelled him to mortgage to her his barony of Denbigh for the expenses of his last expedition to Holland. Immediately after his death she also caused his effects to be sold by auction, for the satisfaction of certain demands of her treasury. From these circumstances it may probably be inferred, that the influence which Leicester still retained over her was secured rather by the chain of habit than the tie of affection; and after the first shock of final separation from him whom she had so long loved and trusted, it is not improbable that she might contemplate the event with a feeling somewhat akin to that of deliverance from a yoke under which her haughty spirit had repined without the courage to resist.
Leicester died, beyond all doubt, of a fever; but so reluctant were the prejudices of that age to dismiss any eminent person by the ordinary roads of mortality, that it was judged necessary to take examinations before the privy-council respecting certain magical practices said to have been employed against his life. The son of sir James Croft comptroller of the household, made no scruple to confess that he had consulted an adept of the name of Smith, to learn who were his father's enemies in the council; that Smith mentioned the earl of Leicester; and that a little while after, flirting with his thumbs, he exclaimed, alluding to this nobleman's cognisance, "The bear is bound to the stake;" and again, that nothing could now save him. But as it might after all have been difficult to show in what manner the flirting of a thumb in London could have exerted a fatal power over the life of the earl at Kennelworth, the adept seems to have escaped unpunished, notwithstanding the accidental fulfilment of his denunciations.
FROM 1588 TO 1591.
Effects of Leicester's death.—Rise of the queen's affection for Essex.—Trial of the earl of Arundel.—Letter of Walsingham on religious affairs.—Death of Mildmay.—Case of don Antonio.—Expedition to Cadiz.—Behaviour of Essex.—Traits of sir C. Blount.—Sir H. Leigh's resignation.—Conduct of Elizabeth to the king of Scots.—His marriage.—Death and character of sir Francis Walsingham.—Struggle between the earl of Essex and lord Burleigh for the nomination of his successor.—Extracts of letters from Essex to Davison.—Inveteracy of the queen against Davison.—Robert Cecil appointed assistant secretary.—Private marriage of Essex.—Anger of the queen.—Reform effected by the queen in the collection of the revenue.—Speech of Burleigh.—Parsimony of the queen considered.—Anecdotes on this subject.—Lines by Spenser.—Succours afforded by her to the king of France.—Account of sir John Norris.—Essex's campaign in France.—Royal progress.—Entertainment at Coudray—at Elvetham—at Theobald's.—Death and character of sir Christopher Hatton.—Puckering lord-keeper.—Notice of sir John Perrot.—Puttenham's Art of Poetry.—Verses by Gascoigne.—Warner's Albion's England.
The death of Leicester forms an important aera in the history of the court of Elizabeth, and also in that of her private life and more intimate feelings. The powerful faction of which the favorite had been the head, acknowledged a new leader in the earl of Essex, whom his step-father had brought forward at court as a counterpoise to the influence of Raleigh, and who now stood second to none in the good graces of her majesty. But Essex, however gifted with noble and brilliant qualities totally deficient in Leicester, was on the other hand confessedly inferior to him in several other endowments still more essential to the leader of a court party. Though not void of art, he was by no means master of the profound dissimulation, the exquisite address, and especially the wary coolness by which his predecessor well knew how to accomplish his ends in despite of all opposition. His character was impetuous, his natural disposition frank; and experience had not yet taught him to distrust either himself or others.
With the friendships, Essex received as an inheritance the enmities also of Leicester, and no one at court could have entertained the least doubt whom he regarded as his principal opponent; but it would have been deemed too high a pitch of presumption in so young a man and so recent a favorite as Essex, to place himself in immediate and open hostility to the long established and far extending influence of Burleigh. With this great minister therefore and his adherents he attempted at first a kind of compromise, and the noted division of the court into the Essex and the Cecil parties does not appear to have taken place till some years after the period of which we are treating. Meantime, the death of Walsingham afforded the lord-treasurer an occasion of introducing to the notice and confidence of her majesty, and eventually to the important office of secretary of state, his son Robert, whose transcendent talents for affairs, joined to the utmost refinement of intrigue and duplicity, immediately established him in the same independence on the good will of the new favorite, as the elder Cecil had ever asserted on that of the former one; and appears finally to have enabled him to prepare in secret that favorite's disastrous fall.
With regard to Elizabeth herself, it has been a thousand times remarked, that she was never able to forget the woman in the sovereign; and in spite of that preponderating love of sway which all her life forbade her to admit a partner of her bed and throne, her heart was to the last deeply sensible to the want, or her imagination to the charm, of loving and being beloved. The death therefore of the man who had been for thirty years the object of a tenderness which he had long repaid by every flattering profession, every homage of gallantry, and every manifestation of entire devotedness, left, notwithstanding any late disgusts which she might have entertained, a void in her existence which she felt it necessary to supply. It was this situation, doubtless, of her feelings which led to the gradual conversion into a softer sentiment, of that natural and innocent tenderness with which she had hitherto regarded the brilliant and engaging qualities of her youthful kinsman the earl of Essex;—a change which terminated so fatally to both.
The enormous disproportion of ages gave to the new inclination of the queen a stamp of dotage inconsistent with the reputation for good sense and dignity of conduct which she had hitherto preserved. Nor did she long receive from the indulgence of so untimely a sentiment any portion of the felicity which she coveted. The careless and even affronting behaviour in which Essex occasionally indulged himself, combined with her own sagacity to admonish her that her fondness was unreturned; and that nothing but the substantial benefits by which it declared itself could have induced its object to meet it with even the semblance of gratitude. As this mortifying conviction came home to her bosom, she grew restless, irritable, and captious to excess; she watched all his motions with a self-tormenting jealousy; she fed her own disquiet by listening to the malicious informations of his enemies; and her heart at length becoming callous by repeated exasperations, she began to visit his delinquencies with an unrelenting sternness. This conduct, attempted too late and persisted in too long, hurried Essex to his ruin, and ended by inflicting upon herself the mortal agonies of an unavailing repentance.
Lord Bacon relates, in his Apophthegms, that "a great officer about court when my lord of Essex was first in trouble, and that he and those that dealt for him would talk much of my lord's friends and of his enemies, answered to one of them; 'I will tell you, I know but one friend and one enemy my lord hath; and that one friend is the queen, and that one enemy, is himself.'" But rather might both have been esteemed his enemies; for what except the imprudent fondness of the queen, and the excess of favor which she at first lavished upon him, was the original cause of that intoxication of mind which finally became the instrument of his destruction?
But from observations which anticipate perhaps too much the catastrophe of this melancholy history, it is time to return to a narrative of events.
The Spanish armament incidentally became the occasion of involving the earl of Arundel in a charge of a capital nature. Ever since the treachery of his agents, in the year 1585, had baffled his design of quitting for ever a country in which his religion and his political attachments had rendered him an alien, this unfortunate nobleman had remained close prisoner in the Tower. Such treatment might well be supposed calculated to augment the vehemence of his bigotry and the rancor of his disaffection; and it became a current report that, on hearing news of the sailing of the armada, he had caused a mass of the Holy Ghost and devotions of twenty-four hours continuance to be celebrated for its success. This rumor being confirmed by one Bennet, a priest then under examination, and other circumstances of suspicion coming out, the earl, on April the 14th, 1589, was brought to the bar of the house of lords on a charge of high treason. Bennet, struck with compunction, addressed to him a letter acknowledging his testimony to have been false, and extorted from him solely by the fear of the rack. But it appears that this letter, still extant among the Burleigh papers, was intercepted by the government; and the prisoner, by this cruel and iniquitous artifice, was deprived of all means of invalidating the testimony of Bennet, who was brought into court as a witness against him. By a second violation of every principle of justice, the matters for which, as contempts, he had already undergone the sentence of the Star-chamber, were now introduced into his indictment for high treason, to which the following articles were added;—that he had engaged to assist cardinal Allen in the restoration of popery;—that he had intimated the unfitness of the queen to govern;—that he had caused masses to be said for the success of the armada;—that he had attempted to withdraw himself beyond seas for the purpose of serving under the duke of Parma;—and that he had been privy to the bull of Pope Sixtus V. transferring the sovereignty of England from her majesty to the king of Spain.
To all these articles, which he was not allowed to separate, the earl pleaded Not guilty; but afterwards, in his defence, confessed some of them, though with certain extenuations. He asserted, that the prayers and masses which he had caused to be said, were for the averting of a general massacre of the English catholics, alleged to be designed; and not for the success of the armada. The aid to the catholic cause, which he had promised in his correspondence with cardinal Allen, he declared to refer only to peaceful attempts at making converts, not to the encouragement of any plan of rebellion. He acknowledged a design of going to serve under the prince of Parma, since he was denied the exercise of his religion at home; but he argued his innocence of any view of cooperating in plans of invasion, from the circumstance, that his attempt to leave England had taken place during the year fixed by cardinal Allen and the queen of Scots for the execution of a scheme of this nature.
The crown-lawyers, in order to make out a case of constructive treason, urged the reconcilement of the prisoner with the church of Rome, which they held to be of itself a traitorous act; his correspondence with declared traitors; and the high opinion entertained of him by the queen of Scots and cardinal Allen, as the chief support of popery in England. They likewise exhibited an emblematical picture found in his house, representing in one part a hand shaking off a viper into the fire, with the motto, "If God is for us who can be against us?" and in another part a lion, the cognisance of the Howard family, deprived of his claws, under him the words, "Yet still a lion." On these charges, none of which, though proved by the most unexceptionable witnesses, could bring him within the true meaning of the old statute of Edward III., on which he was indicted, the peers were base enough to pronounce an unanimous verdict of Guilty; which he received, as his father had done before him, with the words "God's will be done!" But here the queen felt herself concerned in honor to interpose. It had ever been her maxim and her boast, to punish none capitally for religious delinquencies unconnected with traitorous designs; and sensible probably how imperfectly in this case the latter had been proved, she was pleased, in her abundant mercy, to commute the capital part of the sentence against her unhappy kinsman for perpetual imprisonment, attended with the forfeiture of the greater part of his estate.
In 1595, this victim of the religious dissensions of a fierce and bigoted age ended in his thirty-ninth year an unfortunate life, shortened, as well as embittered, by the more than monkish austerities which he imagined it meritorious to inflict upon himself.
From the period of the abortive attempt at insurrection under the earls of Northumberland and Westmorland, the whole course of public events had tended to increase the difficulties and aggravate the sufferings in which the catholics of England found themselves inextricably involved. Their situation was thus forcibly depicted by Philip Sidney, in a passage of his celebrated letter to her majesty against the French marriage, which at the present day will probably be read in a spirit very different from that in which it was written.
"The other faction, most rightly indeed to be called a faction, is the papists; men whose spirits are full of anguish; some being infested by others whom they accounted damnable; some having their ambition stopped because they are not in the way of advancement; some in prison and disgrace; some whose best friends are banished practisers; many thinking you an usurper; many thinking also you had disannulled your right because of the pope's excommunication; all burthened with the weight of their consciences. Men of great numbers, of great riches (because the affairs of state have not lain on them), of united minds, as all men that deem themselves oppressed naturally are."
A further commentary on the hardships of their condition may be extracted from an apology for the measures of the English government towards both papists and puritans, addressed by Walsingham to M. Critoy the French secretary of state.
* * * * *
"Whereas you desire to be advertised touching the proceedings here in ecclesiastical causes, because you seem to note in them some inconstancy and variation, as if we sometimes inclined to one side, sometimes to another, as if that clemency and lenity were not used of late that was used in the beginning, all which you impute to your own superficial understanding of the affairs of this state, having notwithstanding her majesty's doing in singular reverence, as the real pledges which she hath given unto the world of her sincerity in religion and her wisdom in government well meriteth; I am glad of this occasion to impart that little I know in that matter to you, both for your own satisfaction, and to the end you may make use thereof towards any that shall not be so modestly and so reasonably minded as you are. I find therefore her majesty's proceedings to have been grounded upon two principles.
"1. The one, that consciences are not to be forced, but to be won and reduced by the force of truth, with the aid of time, and use of all good means of instruction and persuasion.
"2. The other, that the causes of conscience, wherein they exceed their bounds, and grow to be matter of faction, lose their nature; and that sovereign princes ought distinctly to punish the practice in contempt, though coloured under the pretence of conscience and religion.
"According to these principles, her majesty, at her coming to the crown, utterly disliking the tyranny of Rome, which had used by terror and rigor to settle commandments of men's faiths and consciences; though, as a prince of great wisdom and magnanimity, she suffered but the exercise of one religion, yet her proceedings towards the papists was with great lenity, expecting the good effects which time might work in them. And therefore her majesty revived not the laws made in the 28 and 35 of her father's reign, whereby the oath of supremacy might have been offered at the king's pleasure to any subject, though he kept his conscience never so modestly to himself; and the refusal to take the same oath without further circumstance was made treason. But contrariwise her majesty, not liking to make windows into men's hearts and secret thoughts, except the abundance of them did overflow into overt or express acts or affirmations, tempered her laws so as it restraineth every manifest disobedience in impugning and impeaching advisedly and maliciously her majesty's supreme power, maintaining and extolling a foreign jurisdiction. And as for the oath, it was altered by her majesty into a more grateful form; the hardness of the name and appellation of supreme head was removed; and the penalty of the refusal thereof turned only into disablement to take any promotion, or to exercise any charge, and yet with liberty of being reinvested therein if any man should accept thereof during his life. But when, after Pius Quintus had excommunicated her majesty, and the bills of excommunication were published in London, whereby her majesty was in a sort proscribed; and that thereupon, as a principal motive or preparative, followed the rebellion in the North; yet because the ill-humors of the realm were by that rebellion partly purged, and that she feared at that time no foreign invasion, and much less the attempt of any within the realm not backed by some potent succour from without, she contented herself to make a law against that special case of bringing and publishing any bulls, or the like instruments; whereunto was added a prohibition, upon pain, not of treason, but of an inferior degree of punishment, against the bringing in of agnus Dei, hallowed bread, and such other merchandise of Rome, as are well known not to be any essential part of the Romish religion, but only to be used in practice as love-tokens to inchant the people's affections from their allegiance to their natural sovereign. In all other points her majesty continued her former lenity: but when, about the twentieth year of her reign, she had discovered in the king of Spain an intention to invade her dominions, and that a principal part of the plot was, to prepare a party within the realm that might adhere to the foreigner; and after that the seminaries began to blossom, and to send forth daily priests and professed men, who should by vow taken at shrift reconcile her subjects from their obedience, yea, and bind many of them to attempt against her majesty's sacred person; and that, by the poison which they spread, the humors of papists were altered, and that they were no more papists in conscience, and of softness, but papists in faction; then were there new laws made for the punishment of such as should submit themselves to such reconcilements, or renunciations of obedience. And because it was a treason carried in the clouds, and in wonderful secresy, and came seldom to light, and that there was no presupposition thereof so great, as the recusants to come to divine service, because it was set down by their decrees, that to come to church before reconcilement was absolutely heretical and damnable. Therefore there were laws added containing punishment pecuniary against such recusants, not to enforce conscience, but to enfeeble and impoverish the means of those of whom it resteth indifferent and ambiguous whether they were reconciled or no. And when, notwithstanding all this provision, this poison was dispersed so secretly, as that there were no means to stay it but by restraining the merchants that brought it in; then, lastly, there was added another law, whereby such seditious priests of new erection were exiled, and those that were at that time within the land shipped over, and so commanded to keep hence on pain of treason.
"This hath been the proceeding, though intermingled not only with sundry examples of her majesty's grace towards such as she knew to be papists in conscience, and not in faction and singularity, but also with an ordinary mitigation towards offenders in the highest degree committed by law, if they would but protest, that in case the realm should be invaded with a foreign army, by the Pope's authority, for the catholic cause, as they term it, they would take part with her majesty and not adhere to her enemies." &c.
* * * * *
The country sustained a heavy loss in 1589 by the death of sir Walter Mildmay chancellor of the exchequer, one of the most irreproachable public characters and best patriots of the age. He was old enough to have received his introduction to business in the time of Henry VIII., under whom he enjoyed a gainful office in the court of augmentations. During the reign of Edward he was warden of the mint. Under Mary, he shrowded himself in that profound obscurity in which alone he could make safety accord with honor and conscience. Elizabeth, on the death of sir Richard Sackville in 1568, advanced Mildmay to the important post of chancellor of the exchequer, which he held to the end of his life; but not so, it should appear, the favor of her majesty, some of his back friends, or secret enemies, having whispered in her ear, that he was a better patriot than subject, and over-popular in parliament, where he had gone so far as to complain that many subsidies were granted and few grievances redressed. Another strong ground of royal displeasure existed in the imputation of puritanism under which he labored.
Generously sacrificing to higher considerations the aggrandizement of his children, Mildmay devoted a large share of the wealth which he had gained in the public service to the erection and endowment of a college;—that of Emanuel at Cambridge,—an action little agreeable it seems to her majesty,—for, on his coming to court after the completion of this noble undertaking, she said tartly to him; "Sir Walter, I hear you have erected a puritan foundation." "No, Madam," replied he; "far be it from me to countenance any thing contrary to your established laws; but I have set an acorn, which, when it comes to be an oak, God alone knows what will be the fruit of it." That this fruit however proved to be of the flavor so much distasted by her majesty, there is good evidence.
"In the house of pure Emanuel I had my education, Where some surmise I dazzled my eyes With the light of revelation;"
says "the Distracted Puritan," in a song composed in king James's days by the witty bishop Corbet.
Mildmay was succeeded in his office by sir John Fortescue, master of the wardrobe, a gentleman whose accomplishments in classical literature had induced the queen to take him for her guide and assistant in the study of the Greek and Latin writers. In the discharge of his new functions he too was distinguished by moderation and integrity, so that in this important department of administration no oppression was exercised upon the subject during the whole of the reign;—a circumstance highly conducive both to the popularity of the queen, and to the alacrity in granting supplies usually exhibited by her parliaments.
The late attempt at invasion, so gloriously and happily frustrated, had given a new impulse to the public mind; the gallant youth of the country were seized with an universal rage for military enterprise, and burned at once for vengeance and renown. The riches and the weakness of the Spanish empire, both of them considerably exaggerated in popular opinion, tempted the hopes and the cupidity of adventurers of a different class; and by means of the united stimulus of gain and glory, a numerous fleet was fitted out in the spring of 1589 for an expedition to Portugal, which was equipped and manned almost entirely by the exertions of individuals, the queen contributing only sixty-six thousand pounds to the expenses, and six of her ships to the armament.
It will be remembered, that on the death in 1580 of Henry king of Portugal, Philip of Spain had possessed himself of that kingdom as rightful heir; having compelled don Antonio, an illegitimate nephew of the deceased sovereign, who had ventured to dispute the succession, to quit the country, and take refuge first in France and afterwards in England.
This pretender had hitherto received little support or encouragement at the hands of Elizabeth; in fact, she had suffered him to languish in the most abject poverty; for there is a letter extant from a person about him to lord Burleigh, entreating that he would move her majesty either to advance don Antonio two hundred thousand crowns out of her share of the rich Portuguese carrack captured by sir Francis Drake, to enable him to recover his kingdom,—or at least to take upon herself the payment of his debts, amounting to twelve or thirteen pounds, without which his poor creditors are likely to be ruined. The first part of this extraordinary alternative the prudent princess certainly declined; what might be the fate of the second does not in this place appear: but we learn elsewhere, that during the long vacancy of the see of Ely which the queen caused to succeed to the death of bishop Cox in 1581, a part of its revenues were appropriated to the maintenance of this unfortunate competitor for royalty. It was imagined however, by the projectors of the present expedition, that the discontent of the Portuguese under the yoke of Spain would now incline them to receive as a deliverer even this spurious representative of their ancient race of monarchs; and don Antonio received an invitation, which he joyfully embraced, to embark himself and his fortunes on board the English fleet.
[Note 99: Strype's Annals, vol. iii. p. 450.]
The armament consisted of 180 vessels of all kinds, carrying 21,000 men; it set sail from Plymouth on April 18th, sir Francis Drake being admiral and sir John Norris general. The earl of Essex, urged by the romantic gallantry of his disposition, afterwards joined the expedition with several ships fitted out at his own expense in support of don Antonio's title, though he bore in it no regular command, since he sailed without the consent or privity of her majesty. The first landing of the forces was at Corunna; where having captured four ships of war in the harbour, they took and burned the lower town and made some bold attempts on the upper, which was strongly fortified: but after defeating with great slaughter a body of Spaniards who were intrenched in the neighbourhood, sir John Norris, finding it impracticable to renew his assaults on the upper town, on account of a general want of powder in the fleet, re-embarked his men, already suffering from sickness, and made sail for Portugal.
After some consultation they landed at Penicha, about thirty miles to the north of Lisbon, took the castle; and having thrown into it a garrison, every man of which was afterwards put to the sword by the Spaniards, they began their march for the capital. So ill was the army provided, that many died on the road for want of food; and others who had fainted with the heat must also have perished, had not Essex, with characteristic generosity, caused all his baggage to be thrown out, and the carriages to be filled with the sick and weary. Instead of the troops of nobility and gentry by whom don Antonio had flattered himself and his companions that he should be joined and recognised, there only appeared upon their march a band of miserable peasants without shoes or stockings, and one gentleman who presented him with a basket of plums and cherries. The English however proceeded, and made themselves masters without difficulty of the suburbs of Lisbon, in which they found great riches; but the entreaties of don Antonio, and his anxiety to preserve the good will of the people, caused the general, to restrain his men from plunder. Essex distinguished himself in every skirmish; and, knocking at the gates of Lisbon itself, challenged the governor, or any other of equal rank, to single combat: but this romantic proposal was prudently declined; and though the city was known to be weakly guarded, the total want of battering cannon in the English army precluded the general from making an assault.
In the meantime Drake, who was to have co-operated with the land forces by an attack upon the city from the water side, found his progress effectually barred by the forts at the mouth of the Tagus, and was thus compelled to relinquish all share in the enterprise. This disappointment, joined to the want of ammunition and other necessaries, and the rapid progress of sickness among the men, rendered necessary a speedy retreat and re-embarkation. About sixty vessels lying at the mouth of the Tagus, laden with corn and other articles of commerce, were seized by the English, though the property of the Hanse Towns, and Drake and Norris in their return burned Vigo: but various disasters overtook the fleet on its homeward voyage, subsequently to its dispersion by a violent storm. On the whole, it was computed that not less than eleven thousand persons perished in this unfortunate and ill-planned expedition, by which no one important object had been attained; and that of eleven hundred gentlemen who accompanied it, not more than three hundred and fifty escaped the united ravages of famine, sickness, and the sword.
The queen, on discovering that Essex had without permission absented himself from her court and from the duties of his office of master of the horse, to embark in the voyage to Portugal, had instantly dispatched a peremptory order for his return, enforced by menaces of her utmost indignation in case of disobedience; but even to this pressing mandate he had dared to turn a deaf ear. During the four or five months therefore of his absence, the whole court had remained in fearful or exulting anticipation of the thunderbolt about to fall on his devoted head. But the laurels with which he had encircled his brows proved his safeguard: Elizabeth had listened with a secret complacency to the reports of his valor and generosity which reached her through various channels; her tenderness had been strongly excited by the image of the perils to which he was daily exposing himself; and her joy at his safe return, too genuine and too lively for concealment, left her so little of the power or the wish to chide, that his pardon seemed granted even before it could be implored. Essex had too much sensibility not to be deeply touched by this affectionate behaviour on the part of his sovereign; he redoubled his efforts to deserve the oblivion of his past offence, and with a success so striking, that it was soon evident to all that the temerity which might have ruined another had but heightened and confirmed his favor.
Essex possessed, as much as Leicester himself, the art of stimulating Elizabeth in his own behalf to acts of munificence; and she soon consoled him by some valuable grants for any anxiety which her threatened indignation might have occasioned him, or any disappointment which he might have conceived in seeing sir Christopher Hatton preferred by her to himself as Leicester's successor in the office of chancellor of the university of Cambridge.
Among the gallant adventurers in the cause of don Antonio sir Walter Raleigh had made one, and he also was received by her majesty on his return with tokens of distinguished favor. But not long after he embarked for Ireland, in which country he remained without public employment till the spring of 1592, when he undertook an expedition against the Spanish settlements in South America.
The ostensible purpose of his visit to Ireland was to superintend the management of those large estates which had been granted him in that country; but it was the story of the day, that "the earl of Essex had chased Raleigh from court and confined him into Ireland:" and the length of his absence, with the known enmity between these rival-favorites, lends some countenance to the suggestion.
[Note 100: Birch's Memoirs.]
That Essex, even in the early days of his favor, already assumed the right of treating as interlopers such as advanced too rapidly in the good graces of his sovereign, we learn from an incident which probably occurred about this time, and is thus related by Naunton. "My lord Montjoy, being but newly come to court, and then but sir Charles Blount, had the good fortune one day to run very well a tilt; and the queen therewith was so well pleased, that she sent him a token of her favor, a queen at chess of gold, richly enamelled, which his servants had the next day fastened on his arm with a crimson ribbon; which my lord of Essex, as he passed through the privy chamber, espying, with his cloak cast under his arm, the better to commend it to the view, enquired what it was, and for what cause there fixed. Sir Fulk Greville told him that it was the queen's favor, which the day before, and after the tilting, she had sent him: whereat my lord of Essex, in a kind of emulation, and as though he would have limited her favor, said, 'Now I perceive every fool must have a favor.'
"This bitter and public affront came to sir Charles Blount's ear, who sent him a challenge, which was accepted by my lord; and they went near Marybonepark, where my lord was hurt in the thigh and disarmed: the queen, missing the men, was very curious to learn the truth; and when at last it was whispered out, she swore by God's death, it was fit that some one or other should take him down, and teach him better manners, otherwise there would be no rule with him."
[Note 101: Fragmenta Regalia.]
Notwithstanding her majesty's ostentation of displeasure against her favorite on this occasion, it is pretty certain that he could not better have paid his court to her than by a duel of which, in spite of her wisdom and her age, she seems to have had the weakness to imagine her personal charms the cause. She compelled however the rivals to be reconciled: from this period all the externals of friendship were preserved between them; and there is even reason to believe, notwithstanding some insinuations to the contrary, that latterly at least the sentiment became a genuine one. If the queen had further insisted on cementing their reconciliation by an alliance, she would have preserved from its only considerable blot the brilliant reputation of sir Charles Blount. This courtier, whilst he as yet enjoyed no higher rank than that of knighthood, had conceived an ardent passion for a sister of the earl of Essex; the same who was once destined to be the bride of Philip Sidney. She returned his attachment; but her friends, judging the match inferior to her just pretensions, broke off the affair and compelled her to give her hand to lord Rich; a man of disagreeable character, who was the object of her aversion. In such a marriage the unfortunate lady found it impossible to forget the lover from whom tyrannical authority had severed her; and some years after, when Montjoy returned victorious from the Irish wars, she suffered herself to be seduced by him into a criminal connexion, which was detected after it had subsisted for several years, and occasioned her divorce from lord Rich. Her lover, now earl of Devonshire, regarded himself as bound in love and in honor to make her his wife; but to marry a divorced woman in the lifetime of her husband was at this time so unusual a proceeding and regarded as so violent a scandal, that Laud, then chaplain to the earl of Devonshire, who joined their hands, incurred severe blame, and thought it necessary to observe the anniversary ever after as a day of humiliation. King James, in whose reign the circumstance took place, long refused to avail himself further of the services of the earl; and the disgrace and vexation of the affair embittered, and some say abridged, the days of this otherwise admirable person. Whether any incidents connected with this attachment had a share in producing that hostile state of feeling in the mind of Essex towards Blount which led to their combat, remains matter of conjecture.
This year the customary festivities on the anniversary of her majesty's accession were attended by one of those romantic ceremonies which mark so well the taste of the age and of Elizabeth. This was no other than the formal resignation by that veteran of the tilt-yard, sir Henry Leigh, of the office of queen's champion, so long his glory and delight. The gallant earl of Cumberland was his destined successor, and the momentous transfer was accomplished after the following fashion.
Having first performed their respective parts in the chivalrous exercises of the band of knights-tilters, sir Henry and the earl presented themselves to her majesty at the foot of the gallery where she was seated, surrounded by her ladies and nobles, to view the games. They advanced to slow music, and a concealed performer accompanied the strain with the following song.
My golden locks time hath to silver turn'd, (Oh time too swift, and swiftness never ceasing) My youth 'gainst age, and age at' youth hath spurn'd: But spurn'd in vain, youth waneth by increasing, Beauty, strength, and youth, flowers fading been, Duty, faith, and love, are roots and evergreen.
My helmet now shall make a hive for bees, And lovers songs shall turn to holy psalms; A man at arms must now sit on his knees, And feed on pray'rs that are old age's alms. And so from court to cottage I depart; My saint is sure of mine unspotted heart.
And when I sadly sit in homely cell, I'll teach my swains this carrol for a song: "Blest be the hearts that think my sovereign well, Curs'd be the souls that think to do her wrong." Goddess, vouchsafe this aged man his right, To be your beadsman now, that was your knight.
During this performance, there arose out of the earth a pavilion of white taffeta, supported on pillars resembling porphyry and formed to imitate the temple of the Vestal virgins. A superb altar was placed within it, on which were laid some rich gifts for her majesty. Before the gate stood a crowned pillar embraced by an eglantine, to which a votive tablet was attached, inscribed "To Elizabeth:" The gifts and the tablet being with great reverence delivered to the queen, and the aged knight in the meantime disarmed, he offered up his armour at the foot of the pillar; then kneeling, presented the earl of Cumberland to her majesty, praying her to be pleased to accept of him for her knight and to continue these annual exercises. The proposal being graciously accepted, sir Henry armed the earl and mounted him on his horse: this done, he clothed himself in a long velvet gown and covered his head, in lieu of a helmet, with "a buttoned cap of the country fashion."
The king of Scots had now for a considerable time deserved extremely well of Elizabeth. During the whole period of the Spanish armament he had remained unshaken in his attachment to her cause, resolutely turning a deaf ear to the flattering offers of Philip II. with the shrewd remark, that all the favor he had to expect from this monarch in case of his success against England, was that of Polypheme to Ulysses;—to be devoured the last. A bon mot which was carefully copied into The English Mercury. The ambassador to Scotland, from an unfounded opinion that the discomfited armada sought shelter in the ports of that country under the faith of some secret engagement with James, had thought it necessary to bribe him to fidelity by some brilliant promises, of which when the danger was past Elizabeth unhandsomely evaded the fulfilment; but even on this occasion he abstained from any vehement expressions of indignation: in short, his whole demeanour towards his lofty kinswoman was that of a submissive expectant much more than of a competitor and rival prince. True it is, that he had begun to attach to himself among her nobles and courtiers as many adherents as his means permitted; but besides that his manoeuvres remained for the most part concealed from her knowledge, they certainly carried with them no danger to her government. The partisans of James were not, like those of his mother, the adherents also of a religious faction leagued with the foreign powers most inimical to her rule, and from whose machinations she was exposed to daily peril of her throne and life. They were protestants and Englishmen, and many of them possessed of such strong hereditary influence or official rank, that it could never become their interest to throw the country into confusion by ill-timed efforts in favor of the king of Scots; whose cause they in fact embraced with no other view than to secure the state from commotion, and themselves from the loss of power on the event of the queen's demise. The puritan party indeed, by whom several attempts were afterwards made in parliament to extort from the queen a settlement of the crown in James's favor, were doubtless actuated in part by discontent with the present church-establishment, and the hope of seeing it superseded under James by a presbyterian form resembling that of Scotland. For the present, however, these religionists were sufficiently repressed under the iron rod of the High-commission court, and James had entered with them into no regular correspondence, and engaged their attachment by no promises of future indulgence or support.
On the whole, therefore, the violent jealousy with which Elizabeth continued to regard this feeble and inoffensive young king, in every point so greatly her inferior, must rather be imputed to her narrowness and malignity of temper than to any dictates of sound policy or advisable precaution; and the measures with which it prompted her were impressed accordingly with every character of spite and meanness. She was peculiarly solicitous to prevent James from increasing his consequence by marriage, and through innumerable intrigues with his ministers and favorites she had hitherto succeeded in her object. When he appeared to have set his mind on a union with the eldest daughter of the king of Denmark, she contrived to interpose so many delays and obstacles that this sovereign, conceiving himself trifled with, ended the affair by giving the princess in marriage to another. To embarrass matters still more, she next proposed to James a match with the sister of the king of Navarre, a princess much older than himself, destitute of fortune, and whose brother might be influenced to protract the negotiation to any length convenient to his valuable ally the queen of England. This proposal being declined by James, and overtures made in his name to a younger daughter of the Danish house, she again set her engines at work to thwart his wishes: but indignation and an amorous impatience for once lent to James resolution sufficient to carry his point. Disregarding a declaration of his privy-council against the match, he instigated the citizens of Edinburgh to take up arms in his cause, and finally accomplished the sending out of a splendid embassy, by which the marriage-articles were speedily settled, and the princess conducted on board the fleet which was to convey her to Scotland. A violent storm having driven her for shelter into a port of Norway, the young monarch carried his gallantry so far as to set sail in quest of her; and re-conducting her, at the request of the king her father, to Copenhagen, he there passed the winter in great joy and festivity; and as soon as the season would permit, conducted his royal consort home in triumph, and crowned her with all the magnificence that Scotland could display. Seeing the turn which matters had taken, Elizabeth now made a virtue of necessity, and dispatched a solemn embassy to express to her good brother of Scotland her hearty congratulations on his nuptials, and her satisfaction in his happy return from so adventurous a voyage.
In April 1590 died sir Francis Walsingham, principal secretary of state, whose name is found in such intimate connexion with the whole domestic policy of Elizabeth during several eventful years, that his character is in a manner identified with that of the measures at this period pursued.
This eminent person, in his youth an exile for the protestant cause, retained through life so serious a sense of religion as sometimes to expose him to the suspicion of puritanism. In his private capacity he was benevolent, friendly, and accounted a man of strict integrity: but it is right that public characters should principally be estimated by that part of their conduct in which the public is concerned; and to Walsingham as a minister the unsullied reputation of virtue and honor is not to be conceded. Unlike that pure and noble patriot who "would have lost his life with pleasure to serve his country, but would not have done a base thing to save it," this statesman seems to have held that few base things ought to be scrupled by which his queen and country might be served.
That Walsingham was of unimpeached fidelity towards his sovereign requires no proof; that he was not stimulated by views of private emolument seems also to be satisfactorily evinced, though somewhat to the discredit of his mistress, by the load of debt incurred in his official capacity under the pressure of which he lived and died: but here our praise of his public virtue must end. It is impossible to regard without indignation and disgust the system of artifice and intrigue which he contrived for the purpose of insnaring the persecuted and therefore disaffected catholics; and while due credit is given to his unwearied diligence and remarkable sagacity in detecting dangerous conspiracies, it cannot be doubted that the extraordinary encouragements held out by him to spies and informers,—those pests of a commonwealth,—must in numberless instances have rendered himself the dupe, and innocent persons the victims, of designing villany. Looking even to the immediate results of his measures, it may triumphantly be demanded by the philanthropist and the sage, whether a system less artificial, less treacherous and less cruel, would not equally well have succeeded in protecting the person of the queen from the machinations of traitors, with the further and inestimable advantage of preserving her government from reproach, and the national character from degradation.
That the system of Walsingham was in the main that also of his court and of his age, is indeed true; and this consideration might in some degree plead his excuse, did it not appear that there was in his personal character a native subtilty and talent of insinuation which, aptly conspiring with the nature of his office, might truly be said to render his duty his delight:—a feature of his mind which is thus happily delineated by a witty and ingenious writer.
"None alive did better ken the secretary's craft, to get counsels out of others and keep them in himself. Marvellous his sagacity in examining suspected persons, either to make them confess the truth, or confound themselves by denying it to their detection. Cunning his hands, who could unpick the cabinets in the pope's conclave; quick his ears, who could hear at London what was whispered at Rome; and numerous the spies and eyes of this Argus dispersed in all places.
"The Jesuits, being outshot in their own bow, complained that he out equivocated their equivocation, having a mental reservation deeper and further than theirs. They tax him for making heaven bow too much to earth, oft-times borrowing a point of conscience with full intent never to pay it again; whom others excused by reasons of state and dangers of the times. Indeed his simulation (which all allow lawful) was as like to dissimulation (condemned by all good men) as two things could be which were not the same. He thought that gold might, but intelligence could not, be bought too dear;—the cause that so great a statesman left so small an estate, and so public a person was so privately buried in St. Pauls."
[Note 102: Fuller's Worthies in Kent.]
The long state of infirmity which preceded the death of Walsingham, had afforded abundant opportunity for various intrigues and negotiations respecting the appointment of his successor in office. Burleigh hoped to make the choice of her majesty fall on his son Robert; Essex was anxious to decide it in favor of the discarded Davison, who seems to have been performing some part of the functions of a secretary of state during the illness of Walsingham, though he did not venture to appear in the sight of his still-offended mistress. No one was more susceptible of generous emotions than Essex; and it ought not to be doubted that much of the extraordinary zeal which he manifested, during two or three entire years, in the cause of this unfortunate and ill-treated man, is to be ascribed to genuine friendship: but neither must it be concealed that this struggle for the nomination of a secretary was in effect the great and decisive trial of strength between himself and the Cecils. Several letters have been printed, written by Essex to Davison and bearing date between the years 1587 and 1590, from which a few extracts may be worth transcribing, both for the excellence of the style and the light which they reflect on the behaviour and sentiments of Elizabeth in this matter. "I had speech with her majesty yesternight after my departure from you, and I did find that the success of my speech (although I hoped for good) yet did much overrun my expectation.... I made her majesty see what, in your health, in your fortune, in your reputation in the world, you had suffered since the time that it was her pleasure to commit you; I told her how many friends and well-wishers the world did afford you, and how, for the most part, throughout the whole realm her best subjects did wish that she would do herself the honor to repair for you and restore to you that state which she had overthrown; your humble suffering of these harms and reverend regard to her majesty, must needs move a princess so noble and so just, to do you right; and more I had said, if my gift of speech had been any way comparable to my love. Her majesty, seeing her judgement opened by the story of her own actions, showed a very feeling compassion of you, she gave you many praises, and among the rest, that she seemed to please herself in was, that you were a man of her own choice. In truth she was so well pleased with those things that she spake and heard of you, that I dare (if of things future there be any assurance) promise to myself that your peace will be made to your content and the desire of your friends, I mean in her favor and your own fortune, to a better estate than, or at least the same you had, which with all my power I will employ myself to effect." &c.
That these sanguine hopes were soon checked, appears by the following passage of a subsequent letter. "I have, as I could, taken my opportunity since I saw you to perform as much as I promised you; and though in all I have been able to effect nothing, yet even now I have had better leisure to solicit the queen than in this stormy time I did hope for. My beginning was, as being amongst others entreated to move her in your behalf; my course was, to lay open your sufferings and your patience; in them you had felt poverty, restraint and disgrace, and yet you showed nothing but faith and humility; faith, as being never wearied nor discouraged to do her service, humbleness, as content to forget all the burdens that had been laid upon you, and to serve her majesty with as frank and willing a heart as they that have received greatest grace from her. To this I received no answer but in general terms, that her honor was much touched; your presumption had been intolerable, and that she could not let it slip out of her mind. When I urged your access she denied it, but so as I had no cause to be afraid to speak again. When I offered in them both to reply, she fell into other discourse, and so we parted." &c.
On the death of Walsingham he writes thus.... "Upon this unhappy accident I have tried to the bottom what the queen will do for you, and what the credit of your solicitor is worth. I urged not the comparison between you and any other, but in my duty to her and zeal to her service I did assure her, that she had not any other in England that would for these three or four years know how to settle himself to support so great a burden. She gave me leave to speak, heard me with patience, confessed with me that none was so sufficient, and would not deny but that which she lays to your charge was done without hope, fear, malice, envy, or any respects of your own, but merely for her safety both of state and person. In the end she absolutely denied to let you have that place and willed me to rest satisfied, for she was resolved. Thus much I write to let you know, I am more honest to my friends than happy in their cases." &c.
As the fear of giving offence to the king of Scots was one reason or pretext for the implacability of the queen towards Davison, Essex hazarded the step of writing to request, as a personal favor to himself, the forgiveness and good offices of this monarch in behalf of the man who bore the blame of his mother's death. Nothing could be more dexterous than the turn of this letter; but what reception it found we do not discover. On the whole, all his efforts were unavailing: the longer Elizabeth reflected on the matter, the less she felt herself able to forgive the presumption of the rash man who had anticipated her final resolution on the fate of Mary. Other considerations probably concurred; as, the apprehension which seems to have been of perpetual recurrence to her mind, of rendering her young favorite too confident and presuming by an uniform course of success in his applications to her; the habitual ascendency of Burleigh; and, probably, some distrust of the capacity of Davison for so difficult and important a post.
In conclusion, no principal secretary was at present appointed; but Robert Cecil was admitted as an assistant to his father, who resumed on this condition the duties of the office, and held it, as it were in trust, till her majesty, six years afterwards, was pleased to sanction his resignation in favor of his son, now fully established in her confidence and good opinion. Of Davison nothing further is known; probably he did not long survive.
Some time in the year 1590, the earl of Essex married in a private manner the widow of sir Philip Sidney, and daughter of Walsingham; a step with which her majesty did not scruple to show herself highly offended. The inferiority of the connexion in the two articles of birth and fortune to the just pretensions of the earl, and the circumstance that the union had been formed without that previous consultation of her gracious pleasure,—which from her high nobility and favorite courtiers, and especially from those who, like Essex and his lady, shared the honor of her relationship, she expected as a homage and almost claimed as a right,—were the ostensible grounds of her displeasure. But that peculiar compound of ungenerous feelings which rendered her the universal foe of matrimony, exalted on this occasion by a jealousy too humiliating to be owned, but too powerful to be repressed, formed without doubt the more genuine sources of her deep chagrin. The courtiers quickly penetrated the secret of her heart;—for what vice, what weakness, can long lurk unsuspected in a royal bosom? and it is thus that John Stanhope, one of her attendants, ventures to write on the subject to lord Talbot.
"This night, God willing, she will to Richmond, and on Saturday next to Somerset-house, and if she could overcome her passion against my lord of Essex for his marriage, no doubt she would be much quieter; yet doth she use it more temperately than was thought for, and, God be thanked, doth not strike all that she threats. The earl doth use it with good temper, concealing his marriage as much as so open a matter may be: not that he denies it to any, but for her majesty's better satisfaction, is pleased that my lady shall live very retired in her mother's house."
[Note 103: It may be regarded as dubious whether this expression is to be understood literally or metaphorically.]
[Note 104: "Illustrations" by Lodge.]
On the whole, the indignation of the queen against Essex stopped very short of the rage with which she had been transported against Leicester on a similar occasion; she never even talked of sending him to prison for his marriage. Her good sense came to her assistance somewhat indeed too late for her own dignity, but soon enough to intercept any serious mischief to the earl; and having found leisure to reflect on the folly and disgrace of openly maintaining an ineffectual resentment, she soon after readmitted the offender to the same station of seeming favor as before. There has appeared however some ground to suspect that the queen never entirely dismissed her feelings of mortification; or again reposed in Essex the same unbounded confidence with which she had once honored him. From a passage of a letter addressed by lord Buckhurst to sir Robert Sidney, then governor of the Brill, we learn, that in the autumn of the next year she still retained such displeasure against sir Robert for having been present at a banquet given by Essex, either on occasion of his marriage, or with a view to the furtherance of some design of his which excited her suspicion, that she could not be induced to grant him leave of absence for a visit to England.
But cares and occupations of a nature peculiarly uncongenial with the indulgence of sentimental sorrows, now claimed, and not in vain, the serious thoughts of this prudent and vigilant princess. The low state of her finances, exhausted by no wasteful prodigalities, but by the necessary measures of national defence and the politic aid which she had extended to the United Provinces and to the French Hugonots, now threatened to place her in a painful dilemma. She must either desert her allies, and suffer her navy to relapse into the dangerous state of weakness from which she had exerted all her efforts to raise it, or summon a new parliament for the purpose of making fresh demands upon the purses of her people; and this at the risk either of shaking their attachment, or,—a humiliation not to be endured,—seeing herself compelled to sacrifice to the importunities of the popular members some of the more oppressive branches of her prerogative; the right of purveyance for instance, or that of granting monopolies; both of which she had suffered to grow into enormous grievances. Mature reflection discovered to her, however, a third alternative; that of practising a still stricter oeconomy on one hand, and on the other, of increasing the productiveness to the exchequer of the customs and other branches of revenue, by reforming abuses, by detecting frauds and embezzlements, and by cutting off the exorbitant profits of collectors.
This last plan, which best accorded with her disposition, was that adopted by Elizabeth. It may be mentioned as a characteristic trait, that a few years before, she had accepted with thanks an offer secretly made to herself by some person holding an inferior station in the customs, of a full disclosure of the impositions practised upon her in that department. She had admitted this voluntary informer several times to her presence; had imposed silence in the tone of a mistress on the remonstrances of Leicester, Burleigh, and Walsingham, who indignantly urged that he was not of a rank to be thus countenanced in accusation of his superiors; and had reaped the reward of this judicious patronage, by finding herself entitled to demand from her farmer of the customs an annual rent of forty-two thousand pounds, instead of the twelve thousand pounds which he had formerly paid. She now exacted from him a further advance of eight thousand pounds per annum; and stimulated Burleigh to such a rigid superintendence of all the details of public oeconomy as produced a very important general result. It was probably in the ensuing parliament that a conference being held between the two houses respecting a bill for making the patrimonial estates of accountants liable for their arrears to the queen, and the commons desiring that it might not be retrospective, the lord treasurer pithily said; "My lords, if you had lost your purse by the way, would you look back or forwards to find it? The queen hath lost her purse."
This rigid parsimony, at once the virtue and the foible of Elizabeth, was attended accordingly with its good and its evil. It endeared her to the people, whom it protected from the imposition of new and oppressive taxes; but, being united in the complex character of this remarkable woman with an extraordinary taste for magnificence in all that related to her personal appearance, it betrayed her into a thousand meannesses, which, in spite of all the arts of graciousness in which she was an adept, served to alienate the affections of such as more nearly approached her. Her nobles found themselves heavily burthened by the long and frequent visits which she paid them at their country-seats, attended always by an enormous retinue; as well as by the contributions to her jewelry and wardrobe which custom required of them under the name of new year's gifts, and on all occasions when they had favors, or even justice, to ask at her hands. There were few of the inferior suitors and court-attendants composing the crowd by which she had a vanity in seeing herself constantly surrounded, who did not find cause bitterly to rue the day when first her hollow smiles and flattering speeches seduced them to long years of irksome, servile, and often profitless assiduity.
[Note 105: Lists of the New Year's Gifts received by Elizabeth during many years have more than once appeared in print. They show that not only jewels, trinkets, rich robes, and every ornamental article of dress, were abundantly supplied to her from this source, but that sets of body linen worked with black silk round the bosom and sleeves, were regarded as no inappropriate offering from peers of the realm to the maiden-queen. The presents of the bishops and of some of the nobility always consisted of gold pieces, to the value of from five to twenty or thirty pounds, contained in embroidered silk purses. Her majesty distributed at the same season pieces of gilt plate; but not always to the same persons from whom she had received presents, nor, apparently, to an equal amount.]
Bacon in his Apophthegms relates on this subject the following anecdote. "Queen Elizabeth, seeing sir Edward—— in her garden, looked out at her window and asked him, in Italian, 'What does a man think of when he thinks of nothing?' Sir Edward, who had not had the effect of some of the queen's grants so soon as he had hoped and desired, paused a little, and then made answer; 'Madam, he thinks of a woman's promise.' The queen shrunk in her head, but was heard to say; 'Well, sir Edward, I must not confute you: Anger makes dull men witty, but it keeps them poor.'"
"Queen Elizabeth," says the same author, "was dilatory enough in suits of her own nature; and the lord treasurer Burleigh, being a wise man, and willing therein to feed her humor, would say to her; 'Madam, you do well to let suitors stay; for I shall tell you, Bis dat qui cito dat; if you grant them speedily, they will come again the sooner.'"
It is probable that the popular story of this minister's intercepting the very moderate bounty which her majesty had proposed to herself the honor of bestowing on Spenser, is untrue with respect to this great poet; since the four lines relating to the circumstance,
"Madam, You bid your treasurer on a time To give me reason for my rhime, But from that time and that season I have had nor rhyme nor reason,"
long attributed to Spenser, are now known to be Churchyard's. Yet that the author of the Faery Queen had similar injuries to endure, is manifest from those lines of unrivalled energy in which the poet, from the bitterness of his soul, describes the miseries of a profitless court-attendance. Few readers will have forgotten a passage so celebrated; but it will here be read with peculiar interest, as illustrative of the character of Elizabeth and the sufferings of her unfortunate courtiers.
"Full little knowest thou that hast not tried What hell it is in suing long to bide; To lose good days that might be better spent; To waste long nights in pensive discontent; To speed today, to be put back tomorrow; To feed on hope, to pine with fear and sorrow; To have thy prince's grace, yet want her peers; To have thy asking, yet wait many years; To fret thy soul with crosses and with cares; To eat thy heart through comfortless despairs; To fawn, to crouch, to wait, to ride, to run; To spend, to give, to want, to be undone."
Mother Hubbard's Tale.
One of the most laudable objects of the parsimony exercised by Elizabeth at this period was that of enabling herself to afford effectual aid to Henry IV. of France, now struggling, with adverse fortune but invincible resolution, to conquer from the united armies of Spain and the League the throne which was his birthright. In the depth of his distress, just when his Swiss and German auxiliaries were on the point of disbanding themselves for want of pay, the friendship of Elizabeth came in aid of his necessities with a supply of twenty-two thousand pounds; a sum, trifling as it may seem in modern estimation, which sufficed to rescue Henry from his immediate embarrassment, and which he frankly avowed to be the largest he had ever seen. The generosity of his ally did not stop here; for she speedily equipped a body of four thousand men and sent them to join him at Dieppe under command of the gallant lord Willoughby. By this reinforcement Henry was enabled to march to Paris and possess himself of its suburbs, and subsequently to engage in several other enterprises, in which he gratefully acknowledged the eminent service rendered him by the valor and fidelity of this band of English.
The next year Elizabeth, alarmed at seeing several of the ports of Bretagne opposite to her own shores garrisoned by Spanish troops, whom the Leaguers had called in to their assistance, readily entered into a new treaty with Henry, by virtue of which she sent a fresh supply of three thousand men to assist him in the recovery of this province. Her expenses however were to be repaid by the king after the expulsion of the enemy.
Sir John Norris, the appointed leader of this force, ranked among the most eminent of Elizabeth's captains; and was also possessed of some hereditary claims to her regard, which she did not fail to acknowledge as far as the jealousy of her favorites would give her leave. One of sir John's grandfathers was that Norris who suffered in the cause of Anne Boleyn; the other was lord Williams of Tame, to whom she had herself been indebted for so much respectful attention in the days of her greatest adversity. She had called up his father to the house of peers, as lord Norris of Ricot; and his mother she constantly addressed by a singular term of endearment, "My own Crow." This pair had six sons, of whom sir John was the eldest;—all, it is said, brave men, addicted to arms, and much respected by her majesty. But an unfortunate quarrel with the four sons of sir Francis Knolles, their Oxfordshire neighbour, arising out of a tournament in which the two brotherhoods were opposed to each other, procured to the Norrises the lasting enmity of this family, which, strong both by its relationship to the queen and its close alliance with Leicester, was able to impede their advancement to stations equal to their merits.
Sir John Norris learned the rudiments of military science under the celebrated admiral Coligni, to whom in his early youth he acted as a page; and he enlarged his experience as captain of the English volunteers who in 1578 generously carried the assistance of their swords to the oppressed Netherlanders when they had rushed to arms in the sacred cause of liberty and conscience. This gallant band particularly signalized its valor in the repulse of an assault made by don John of Austria upon the Dutch camp; a hot action in which Norris had three horses shot under him. In 1588 he was a distinguished member of the council of war. The expedition to Portugal in which he commanded has been already related, and its ill-success was certainly imputable to no want of courage or conduct on his part. In the war of Bretagne he gained high praise by a skilful retreat, in which he drew off his small band of English safe and entire amid a host of foes. We shall afterwards hear of him in a high command in Ireland.
Military glory was the darling object of the ambition of Essex; and jealous perhaps of the fame which sir John Norris was acquiring in the French wars, he prevailed upon the queen to grant him the command of a fresh body of troops destined to assist Henry in expelling the Leaguers from Normandy. The new general was deeply mortified at being obliged to remain for some time inactive at Dieppe, while the French king was carrying his arms into another quarter, whither Essex was restrained by the positive commands of his sovereign from following him. At length they formed in concert the siege of Rouen; but when the town was nearly reduced to extremity, an unexpected march of the duke of Parma compelled Henry to desert the enterprise. Elizabeth made it a subject of complaint against her ally, that the English soldiers were always thrust foremost on every occasion of danger; but by themselves this perilous preeminence was claimed as a privilege due to the brilliancy of their valor; and their leader, delighted with the spirit which they displayed, encouraged and rewarded it by distributing among his officers, with a profusion which highly offended his sovereign, the honor of knighthood, bestowed by herself with so much selection and reserve. Essex supported his character for personal courage, and indulged his impetuous temper, by sending an idle challenge to the governor of Rouen, who seems to have known his duty too well to accept it; but his sanguine anticipations of some distinguished success were baffled by a want of correspondence between the plans of Henry and the commands of Elizabeth; perhaps also in some degree by his own deficiency in the skill of a general. He had the further grief to lose by a musket-shot his only brother Walter Devereux, a young man of great hopes to whom he was fondly attached; and leaving his men before Rouen, under the conduct of sir Roger Williams, a brave soldier, he returned with little glory in the beginning of 1592 to soothe the displeasure of the queen and combat the malicious suggestions of his enemies. In this bloodless warfare better success awaited him. His partial mistress received with favor his excuses; and not only restored him to her wonted grace, but soon after testified her opinion of his abilities by granting him admission into the privy-council.
The royal progress of this year in Sussex and Hampshire affords some circumstances worthy of mention. Viscount Montacute, (now written Montagu,) a nobleman in much esteem with Elizabeth, though a zealous catholic, solicited the honor of entertaining her at his seat of Coudray near Midhurst; a mansion splendid enough to attract the curiosity and admiration of a royal visitant. The manor of Midhurst, in which Coudray is situated, had belonged during several ages to a branch of the potent family of Bohun; thence it passed into possession of the Nevils, a race second to none in England in the antiquity of its nobility and the splendor of its alliances. It thus became a part of the vast inheritance of Margaret countess of Salisbury, daughter of George duke of Clarence. Coudray-house was the principal residence of this illustrious and injured lady, and it was here that the discovery took place of those papal bulls and emblematical banners which afforded a pretext to malice and rapacity to arm themselves against the miserable remnant of her days.
By the attainder of the countess, this with the rest of her estates became forfeited to the crown; but the tyrant Henry was prevailed upon to regrant it, in exchange for other lands, to the heirs of her great-uncle John Nevil marquis Montagu. From an heir female of this branch viscount Montagu, son of sir Anthony Brown master of the horse to Henry VIII., derived it and his title, conferred by queen Mary. But to the ancient mansion there had previously been substituted by his half-brother the earl of Southampton, a costly structure decorated internally with that profusion of homely art which displayed the wealth and satisfied the taste of a courtier of Henry VIII. The building was as usual quadrangular, with a great gate flanked by two towers in the centre of the principal front. At the upper end of the hall stood a buck, as large as life, carved in brown wood, bearing on his shoulder the shield of England and under it that of Brown with, many quarterings: ten other bucks, in various attitudes and of the size of life, were planted at intervals. There was a parlour more elegantly adorned with the works of Holbein and his scholars;—a chapel richly furnished;—a long gallery painted with the twelve apostles;—and a corresponding one hung with family pictures and with various old paintings on subjects religious and military, brought from Battle Abbey, the spoils of which had been assigned to sir Anthony Brown as that share of the general plunder of the monasteries to which his long and faithful service had entitled him from the bounty of his master.
Amongst other particulars of the visit of her majesty at Coudray, we are told that on the morning after her arrival she rode in the park, where "a delicate bower" was prepared, and a nymph with a sweet song delivered her a cross-bow to shoot at the deer, of which she killed three or four and the countess of Kildare one:—it may be added, that this was a kind of amusement not unfrequently shared by the ladies of that age; an additional trait of the barbarity of manners.
Viscount Montagu died two years after this visit, and, to complete his story, lies buried in Midhurst church under a splendid monument of many-colored marbles, on which may still be seen a figure representing him kneeling before an altar, in fine gilt armour, with a cloak and "beard of formal cut." Beneath are placed recumbent effigies of his two wives dressed in rich cloaks and ruffs, with chained unicorns at their feet, and the whole is surrounded with sculptured scutcheons laboriously executed with innumerable quarterings.
At Elvetham in Hampshire the queen was sumptuously entertained during a visit of four days by the earl of Hertford. This nobleman was reputed to be master of more ready money than any other person in the kingdom; and though the cruel imprisonment of nine years, by which Elizabeth had doomed him to expiate the offence of a clandestine union with the blood-royal, could scarcely have been obliterated from his indignant memory, certain considerations respecting the interests of his children might probably render him not unwilling to gratify her by a splendid act of homage, though peculiar circumstances increased beyond measure the expense and inconvenience of her present visit. Elvetham, which was little more than a hunting-seat, was far from possessing sufficient accommodation for the court, and the earl was obliged to supply its deficiencies by very extensive erections of timber, fitted up and furnished with all the elegance that circumstances would permit. He likewise found it necessary to cause a large pond to be dug, in which were formed three islands, artificially constructed in the likeness of a fort, a ship, and a mount, for the exhibition of fireworks and other splendid pageantries. The water was made to swarm with swimming and wading sea-gods, who blew trumpets instead of shells, and recited verses in praise of her majesty: finally, a tremendous battle was enacted between the Tritons of the pond and certain sylvan deities of the park, which was long and valiantly disputed, with darts on one side and large squirts on the other, and suddenly terminated, to the delight of all beholders, by the seizure and submersion of old Sylvanus himself.