In the month of December 1542, shortly after the rout of Solway, in which the English made prisoners the flower of the Scottish nobility, the same messenger brought to Henry VIII. the tidings that the grief and shame of this defeat had broken the heart of king James V., and that his queen had brought into the world a daughter, who had received the name of Mary, and was now queen of Scotland. Without stopping to deplore the melancholy fate of a nephew whom he had himself brought to destruction, Henry instantly formed the project of uniting the whole island under one crown, by the marriage of this infant sovereign with the prince his son. All the Scottish prisoners of rank then in London were immediately offered the liberty of returning to their own country on the condition, to which they acceded with apparent alacrity, of promoting this union with all their interest; and so confident was the English monarch in the success of his measures, that previously to their departure, several of them were carried to the palace of Enfield, where young Edward then resided, that they might tender homage to the future husband of their queen.
The regency of Scotland at this critical juncture was claimed by the earl of Arran, who was generally regarded as next heir to the crown, though his legitimacy had been disputed; and to this nobleman,—but whether for himself or his son seems doubtful,—Henry, as a further means of securing the important object which he had at heart, offered the hand of his daughter Elizabeth. So early were the concerns and interests blended, of two princesses whose celebrated rivalry was destined to endure until the life of one of them had become its sacrifice! So remarkably, too, in this first transaction was contrasted the high preeminence from which the Scottish princess was destined to hurl herself by her own misconduct, with the abasement and comparative insignificance out of which her genius and her good fortune were to be employed in elevating the future sovereign of England.
Born in the purple of her hereditary kingdom, the monarchs of France and England made it an object of eager contention which of them should succeed in encircling with a second diadem the baby brows of Mary; while the hand of Elizabeth was tossed as a trivial boon to a Scottish earl of equivocal birth, despicable abilities, and feeble character. So little too was even this person flattered by the honor, or aware of the advantages, of such a connection, that he soon after renounced it by quitting the English for the French party. Elizabeth in consequence remained unbetrothed, and her father soon afterwards secured to himself a more strenuous ally in the earl of Lenox, also of the blood-royal of Scotland, by bestowing upon this nobleman the hand, not of his daughter, but of his niece the lady Margaret Douglas.
Undeterred by his late severe disappointment Henry was bent on entering once more into the marriage state, and his choice now fell on Catherine Parr, sprung from a knightly family possessed of large estates in Westmoreland, and widow of lord Latimer, a member of the great house of Nevil.
A portrait of this lady still in existence, exhibits, with fine and regular features, a character of intelligence and arch simplicity extremely captivating. She was indeed a woman of uncommon talent and address; and her mental accomplishments, besides the honor which they reflect on herself, inspire us with respect for the enlightened liberality of an age in which such acquirements could be placed within the ambition and attainment of a private gentlewoman, born in a remote county, remarkable even in much later times for a primitive simplicity of manners and domestic habits. Catherine was both learned herself, and, after her elevation a zealous patroness of learning and of protestantism, to which she was become a convert. Nicholas Udal master of Eton was employed by her to translate Erasmus's paraphrase of the four gospels; and there is extant a Latin letter of hers to the princess Mary, whose conversion from popery she seems to have had much at heart, in which she entreats her to permit this work to appear under her auspices. She also printed some prayers and meditations, and there was found among her papers, after her death, a piece entitled "The lamentations of a sinner bewailing her blind life," in which she deplores the years that she had passed in popish observances, and which was afterwards published by secretary Cecil.
It is a striking proof of the address of this queen, that she conciliated the affection of all the three children of the king, letters from each of whom have been preserved addressed to her after the death of their father.
Elizabeth in particular maintained with her a very intimate and frequent intercourse; which ended however in a manner reflecting little credit on either party, as will be more fully explained in its proper place.
The adroitness with which Catherine extricated herself from the snare in which her own religious zeal, the moroseness of the king, and the enmity of Gardiner had conspired to entangle her, has often been celebrated. May it not be conjectured, that such an example, given by one of whom she entertained a high opinion, might exert no inconsiderable influence on the opening mind of Elizabeth, whose conduct in the many similar dilemmas to which it was her lot to be reduced, partook so much of the same character of politic and cautious equivocation?
Henry discovered by experiment that it would prove a much more difficult matter than he had apprehended to accomplish, either by force or persuasion, the marriage of young Edward with the queen of Scots; and learning that it was principally to the intrigues of Francis I., against whom he had other causes also of complaint, that he was likely to owe the disappointment of this favourite scheme, he determined on revenge. With this design he turned his eyes on the emperor; and finding Charles perfectly well disposed to forget all ancient animosities in sympathy with his newly-conceived indignation against the French king, he entered with him into a strict alliance. War was soon declared against France by the new confederates; and after a campaign in which little was effected, it was agreed that Charles and Henry, uniting their efforts, should assail that kingdom with a force which it was judged incapable of resisting, and without stopping at inferior objects, march straight to Paris. Accordingly, in July 1544, preceded by a fine army, and attended by the flower of his nobility splendidly equipped, Henry took his departure for Calais in a ship the sails of which were made of cloth of gold.
He arrived in safety, and enjoyed the satisfaction of dazzling with his magnificence the count de Buren whom the emperor sent with a body of horse to meet him; quarrelled soon after with that potentate, who found it his interest to make a separate peace; took the towns of Montreuil and Boulogne, neither of them of any value to him, and returned.
So foolish and expensive a sally of passion, however characteristic of the disposition of this monarch, would not merit commemoration in this place, but for the important influence which it unexpectedly exerted on the fortune and expectations of Elizabeth through the following train of circumstances.
The emperor, whose long enmity with Henry had taken its rise from what he justly regarded as the injuries of Catherine of Arragon his aunt, in whose person the whole royal family of Spain had been insulted, had required of him as a preliminary to their treaty a formal acknowledgement of the legitimacy of his daughter Mary. This Henry could not, with any regard to consistency, grant; but desirous to accede as far as he conveniently could to the wishes of his new ally, he consented to stipulate, that without any explanation on this point, his eldest daughter should by act of parliament be reinstated in the order of succession. At the same time, glad to relent in behalf of his favorite child, and unwilling perhaps to give the catholic party the triumph of asserting that he had virtually declared his first marriage more lawful than his second, he caused a similar privilege to be extended to Elizabeth, who was thus happily restored to her original station and prospects, before she had attained sufficient maturity of age to suffer by the cruel and mortifying degradation to which she had been for several years subjected.
Henceforth, though the act which declared null the marriage of the king with Anne Boleyn remained for ever unrepealed, her daughter appears to have been universally recognised on the footing of a princess of England; and so completely were the old disputes concerning the divorce of Catherine consigned to oblivion, that in 1546, when France, Spain and England had concluded a treaty of peace, proposals passed between the courts of London and Madrid for the marriage of Elizabeth with Philip prince of Spain; that very Philip afterwards her brother-in-law and in adversity her friend and protector, then a second time her suitor, and afterwards again to the end of his days the most formidable and implacable of her enemies. On which side, or on what assigned objections, this treaty of marriage was relinquished, we do not learn; but as the demonstrations of friendship between Charles and Henry after their French campaign were full of insincerity, it may perhaps be doubted whether either party was ever bent in earnest on the completion of this extraordinary union.
The popish and protestant factions which now divided the English court, had for several years acknowledged as their respective leaders the duke of Norfolk and the earl of Hertford. To the latter of these, the painful impression left on Henry's mind by the excesses of Catherine Howard, the religious sentiments embraced by the present queen, the king's increasing jealousy of the ancient nobility of the country, and above all the visible decline of his health, which brought into immediate prospect the accession of young Edward under the tutelage of his uncle, had now conspired to give a decided preponderancy. The aged duke, sagacious, politic, and deeply versed in all the secrets and the arts of courts, saw in a coalition with the Seymours the only expedient for averting the ruin of his house; and he proposed to bestow his daughter the duchess of Richmond in marriage on sir Thomas Seymour, while he exerted all his authority with his son to prevail upon him to address one of the daughters of the earl of Hertford. But Surry's scorn of the new nobility of the house of Seymour, and his animosity against the person of its chief, was not to be overcome by any plea of expedience or threatening of danger. He could not forget that it was at the instance of the earl of Hertford that he, with some other nobles and gentlemen, had suffered the disgrace of imprisonment for eating flesh in Lent; that when a trifling defeat which he had sustained near Boulogne had caused him to be removed from the government of that town, it was the earl of Hertford who ultimately profited by his misfortune, in succeeding to the command of the army. Other grounds of offence the haughty Surry had also conceived against him; and choosing rather to fall, than cling for support to an enemy at once despised and hated, he braved the utmost displeasure of his father, by an absolute refusal to lend himself to such a scheme of alliance. Of this circumstance his enemies availed themselves to instil into the mind of the king a suspicion that the earl of Surry aspired to the hand of the princess Mary; they also commented with industrious malice on his bearing the arms of Edward the Confessor, to which he was clearly entitled in right of his mother, a daughter of the duke of Buckingham, but which his more cautious father had ceased to quarter after the attainder of that unfortunate nobleman.
The sick mind of Henry received with eagerness all these suggestions, and the ruin of the earl was determined. An indictment of high treason was preferred against him: his proposal of disproving the charge, according to a mode then legal, by fighting his principal accuser in his shirt, was overruled; his spirited, strong and eloquent defence was disregarded—a jury devoted to the crown brought in a verdict of guilty; and in January 1547, at the early age of seven-and-twenty, he underwent the fatal sentence of the law.
[Note 9: One extraordinary, and indeed unaccountable, circumstance in the life of the earl of Surry may here be noticed:—that while his father urged him to connect himself in marriage with one lady, while the king was jealous of his designs upon a second, and while he himself, as may be collected from his poem "To a lady who refused to dance with him," made proposals of marriage to a third, he had a wife living. To this lady, who was a sister of the earl of Oxford, he was united at the age of fifteen, she had borne him five children; and it is pretty plain that they were never divorced, for we find her, several years after his death, still bearing the title of countess of Surry, and the guardian of his orphans. Had the example of Henry instructed his courtiers to find pretexts for the dissolution of the matrimonial tie whenever interest or inclination might prompt, and did our courts of law lend themselves to this abuse? A preacher of Edward the sixth's time brings such an accusation against the morals of the age, but I find no particular examples of it in the histories of noble families.]
No one during the whole sanguinary tyranny of Henry VIII. fell more guiltless, or more generally deplored by all whom personal animosity or the spirit of party had not hardened against sentiments of compassion, or blinded to the perception of merit. But much of Surry has survived the cruelty of his fate. His beautiful songs and sonnets, which served as a model to the most popular poets of the age of Elizabeth, still excite the admiration of every student attached to the early literature of our country. Amongst other frivolous charges brought against him on his trial, it was mentioned that he kept an Italian jester, thought to be a spy, and that he loved to converse with foreigners and conform his behaviour to them. For his personal safety, therefore, it was perhaps unfortunate that a portion of his youth had been passed in a visit to Italy, then the focus of literature and fount of inspiration; but for his surviving fame, and for the progress of English poetry, the circumstance was eminently propitious; since it is from the return of this noble traveller that we are to date not only the introduction into our language of the Petrarchan sonnet, and with it of a tenderness and refinement of sentiment unknown to the barbarism of our preceding versifiers; but what is much more, that of heroic blank verse; a noble measure, of which the earliest example exists in Surry's spirited and faithful version of one book of the AEneid.
The exalted rank, the splendid talents, the lofty spirit of this lamented nobleman seemed to destine him to a station second to none among the public characters of his time; and if, instead of being cut off by the hand of violence in the morning of life, he had been permitted to attain a length of days at all approaching to the fourscore years of his father, it is probable that the votary of letters would have been lost to us in the statesman or the soldier. Queen Mary, who sought by her favor and confidence to revive the almost extinguished energies of his father, and called forth into premature distinction the aspiring boyhood of his son, would have intrusted to his vigorous years the highest offices and most weighty affairs of state. Perhaps even the suspicions of her father might have been verified by the event, and her own royal hand might itself have become the reward of his virtues and attachment.
Elizabeth, whose maternal ancestry closely connected her with the house of Howard, might have sought and found, in her kinsman the earl of Surry, a counsellor and friend deserving of all her confidence and esteem; and it is possible that he, with safety and effect, might have placed himself as a mediator between the queen and that formidable catholic party of which his misguided son, fatally for himself, aspired to be regarded as the leader, and was in fact only the instrument. But the career of ambition, ere he had well entered it, was closed upon him for ever; and it is as an accomplished knight, a polished lover, and above all as a poet, that the name of Surry now lives in the annals of his country.
Of the five children who survived to feel the want of his paternal guidance, one daughter, married to the earl of Westmorland, was honorably distinguished by talents, erudition, and the patronage of letters; but of the two sons, the elder was that unfortunate duke of Norfolk who paid on the scaffold the forfeit of an inconsiderate and guilty enterprise; and the younger, created earl of Northampton by James I., lived to disgrace his birth and fine talents by every kind of baseness, and died just in time to escape punishment as an accomplice in Overbury's murder.
The duke of Norfolk had been declared guilty of high treason on grounds equally frivolous with his son; but the opportune death of Henry VIII. on the day that his cruel and unmerited sentence was to have been carried into execution, saved his life, when his humble submissions and pathetic supplications for mercy had failed to touch the callous heart of the expiring despot. The jealousies however, religious and political, of the council of regency, on which the administration devolved, prompted them to refuse liberty to the illustrious prisoner after their weakness or their clemency had granted him his life. During the whole reign of Edward VI. the duke was detained under close custody in the Tower; his estates were confiscated, his blood attainted, and for this period the great name of Howard disappears from the page of English history.
1547 TO 1549.
Testamentary provisions of Henry VIII.—Exclusion of the Scottish line.—Discontent of the earl of Arundel.—His character and intrigues.—Hertford declared protector—becomes duke of Somerset.—Other titles conferred.—Thomas Seymour made lord-admiral—marries the queen dowager.—His discontent and intrigues.—His behaviour to Elizabeth.—Death of the queen.—Seymour aspires to the hand of Elizabeth—conspires against his brother—is attainted—put to death.—Particulars of his intercourse with Elizabeth.—Examinations which she underwent on this subject.—Traits of her early character.—Verses on admiral Seymour.—The learning of Elizabeth.—Extracts from Ascham's Letters respecting her, Jane Grey, and other learned ladies.—Two of her letters to Edward VI.
The death of Henry VIII., which took place on January 28th 1547, opened a new and busy scene, and affected in several important points the situation of Elizabeth.
The testament by which the parliament had empowered the king to regulate the government of the country during his son's minority, and even to settle the order of succession itself, with as full authority as the distribution of his private property, was the first object of attention; and its provisions were found strongly characteristic of the temper and maxims of its author. He confirmed the act of parliament by which his two daughters had been rendered capable of inheriting the crown, and appointed to each of them a pension of three thousand pounds, with a marriage-portion of ten thousand pounds, but annexed the condition of their marrying with the consent of such of his executors as should be living. After them, he placed in order of succession Frances marchioness of Dorset, and Eleanor countess of Cumberland, daughters of his younger sister the queen-dowager of France by Charles Brandon duke of Suffolk; and failing the descendants of these ladies he bequeathed the crown to the next heir. By this disposition he either totally excluded, or at least removed from their rightful place, his eldest and still surviving sister the queen-dowager of Scotland, and all her issue;—a most absurd and dangerous indulgence of his feelings of enmity against the Scottish line, which might eventually have involved the nation in all the horrors of a civil war, and from which in fact the whole calamitous destinies of the house of Suffolk, which the progress of this work will record, and in some measure also the long misfortunes of the queen of Scots herself, will be found to draw their origin. Sixteen executors named in the will were to exercise in common the royal functions till young Edward should attain the age of eighteen; and to these, twelve others were added as a council of regency, invested however with no other privilege than that of giving their opinions when called upon. The selection of the executors and counsellors was in perfect unison with the policy of the Tudors. The great officers of state formed of necessity a considerable portion of the former body, and four of these, lord Wriothesley the chancellor, the earl of Hertford lord-chamberlain, lord St. John master of the household, and lord Russel privy-seal, were decorated with the peerage; but with the exception of sir John Dudley, who had lately acquired by marriage the rank of viscount Lisle, these were the only titled men of the sixteen. Thus it appeared, that not a single individual amongst the hereditary nobility of the country enjoyed in a sufficient degree the favor and confidence of the monarch, to be associated in a charge which he had not hesitated to confer on persons of no higher importance than the principal gentlemen of the bed-chamber, the treasurer of Calais, and the dean of Canterbury.
Even the council reckoned among its members only two peers: one of them the brother of the queen-dowager, on whom, since the fall of Cromwel, the title of earl of Essex had at length been conferred in right of his wife, the heiress of the Bourchiers: the other, the earl of Arundel, premier earl of England and last of the ancient name of Fitzalan; a distinguished nobleman, whom vast wealth, elegant tastes acquired in foreign travel, and a spirit of magnificence, combined to render one of the principal ornaments of the court, while his political talents and experience of affairs qualified him to assume a leading station in the cabinet. The loyalty and prudence of the Fitzalans must have been conspicuous for ages, since no attainder, during so long a period of greatness, had stained the honor of the race; and the moderation or subserviency of the present earl had been shown by his perfect acquiescence in all the measures of Henry, notwithstanding his private preference of the ancient faith: to crown his merits, his blood appears to have been unmingled with that of the Plantagenets. Notwithstanding all this, the king had thought fit to name him only a counsellor, not an executor. Arundel deeply felt the injury; and impatience of the insignificance to which he was thus consigned, joined to his disapprobation of the measures of the regency with respect to religion, threw him into intrigues which contributed not a little to the turbulence of this disastrous period.
It was doubtless the intention of Henry, that the religion of the country, at least during the minority of his son, should be left vibrating on the same nice balance between protestantism and popery on which it had cost him so much pains to fix it; and with a view to this object he had originally composed the regency with a pretty equal distribution of power between the adherents of the two communions. But the suspicion, or disgust, which afterwards caused him to erase the name of Gardiner from the list, destroyed the equipoise, and rendered the scale of reformation decidedly preponderant. In vain did Wriothesley, a man of vigorous talents and aspiring mind, struggle with Hertford for the highest place in the administration; in vain did Tunstal bishop of Durham,—no bigot, but a firm papist,—check with all the authority that he could venture to exert, the bold career of innovation on which he beheld Cranmer full of eagerness to enter; in vain did the catholics invoke to their aid the active interference of Dudley; he suffered them to imagine that his heart was with them, and that he watched an opportunity to interpose with effect in their behalf, whilst, in fact, he was only waiting till the fall of one of the Seymours by the hand of the other should enable him to crush the survivor, and rise to uncontrolled authority on the ruins of both.
The first attempt of the protestant party in the regency showed their intentions; its success proved their strength, and silenced for the present all opposition. It was proposed, and carried by a majority of the executors, that the earl of Hertford should be declared protector of the realm, and governor of the king's person; and the new dictator soon after procured the ratification of this appointment, which overturned some of the most important clauses of the late king's will, by causing a patent to be drawn and sanctioned by the two houses which invested him, during the minority, with all the prerogatives ever assumed by the most arbitrary of the English sovereigns, and many more than were ever recognised by the constitution.
As if in compensation for any disrespect shown to the memory of the deceased monarch by these proceedings, the executors next declared their intention of fulfilling certain promises made by him in his last illness, and which death alone had prevented him from carrying into effect. On this plea, they bestowed upon themselves and their adherents various titles of honor, and a number of valuable church preferments, now first conferred upon laymen, the protector himself unblushingly assuming the title of duke of Somerset, and taking possession of benefices and impropriations to a vast amount. Viscount Lisle was created earl of Warwick, and Wriothesley became earl of Southampton;—an empty dignity, which afforded him little consolation for seeing himself soon after, on pretence of some irregular proceedings in his office, stripped of the post of chancellor, deprived of his place amongst the other executors of the king, who now formed a privy council to the protector, and consigned to obscurity and insignificance for the short remnant of his days. Sir Thomas Seymour ought to have been consoled by the share allotted him in this splendid distribution, for the mortification of having been named a counsellor only, and not an executor. He was made lord Seymour of Sudley, and soon after, lord high-admiral—preferments greatly exceeding any expectations which his birth or his services to the state could properly authorize. But he measured his claims by his nearness to the king; he compared these inferior dignities with the state and power usurped by his brother, and his arrogant spirit disdained as a meanness the thought of resting satisfied or appeased. Circumstances soon arose which converted this general feeling of discontent in the mind of Thomas Seymour into a more rancorous spirit of envy and hostility against his brother, and gradually involved him in a succession of dark intrigues, which, on account of the embarrassments and dangers in which they eventually implicated the princess Elizabeth, it will now become necessary to unravel. The younger Seymour, still in the prime of life, was endowed in a striking degree with those graces of person and manner which serve to captivate the female heart, and his ambition had sought in consequence to avail itself of a splendid marriage.
It is said that the princess Mary herself was at first the object of his hopes or wishes: but if this were really the case, she must speedily have quelled his presumption by the lofty sternness of her repulse; for it is impossible to discover in the history of his life at what particular period he could have been occupied with such a design.
Immediately after the death of Henry, he found means to revive with such energy in the bosom of the queen-dowager, an attachment which she had entertained for him before her marriage with the king, that she consented to become his wife with a precipitation highly indecorous and reprehensible. The connexion proved unfortunate on both sides, and its first effect was to embroil him with his brother.
The protector, of a temper still weaker than his not very vigorous understanding, had long allowed himself to be governed both in great and small concerns by his wife, a woman of little principle and of a disposition in the highest degree violent, imperious, and insolent. Nothing could be more insupportable to the spirit of this lady, who prided herself on her descent from Thomas of Woodstock, and now saw her husband governing the kingdom with all the prerogatives and almost all the splendor of royalty, than to find herself compelled to yield precedency to the wife of his younger brother; and unable to submit patiently to a mortification from which, after all, there was no escape, she could not forbear engaging in continual disputes on the subject with the queen-dowager. Their husbands soon were drawn in to take part in this senseless quarrel, and a serious difference ensued between them. The protector and council soon after refused to the lord-admiral certain grants of land and valuable jewels which he claimed as bequests to his wife from the late king, and the, perhaps, real injury, thus added to the slights of which he before complained, gave fresh exasperation to the pride and turbulence of his character.
Taking advantage of the protector's absence on that campaign in Scotland which ended with the victory of Pinkey, he formed partisans among the discontented nobles, won from his brother the affections of the young king, and believing every thing ripe for an attack on his usurped authority, he designed to bring forward in the ensuing parliament a proposal for separating, according to ancient precedent, the office of guardian of the king's person from that of protector of the realm, and for conferring upon himself the former. But he discovered too late that he had greatly miscalculated his forces; his proposal was not even permitted to come to a hearing. Having rendered himself further obnoxious to the vengeance of the administration by menaces thrown out in the rage of disappointment, he saw himself reduced, in order to escape a committal to the Tower, to make submissions to his brother. An apparent reconciliation took place; and the admiral was compelled to change, but not to relinquish, his schemes of ambition.
The princess Elizabeth had been consigned on the death of her father to the protection and superintendance of the queen-dowager, with whom, at one or other of her jointure-houses of Chelsea or Hanworth, she usually made her abode. By this means it happened, that after the queen's remarriage she found herself domesticated under the roof of the lord-admiral; and in this situation she had soon the misfortune to become an object of his marked attention.
What were, at this particular period, Seymour's designs upon the princess, is uncertain; but it afterwards appeared from the testimony of eye-witnesses, that neither respect for her exalted rank, nor a sense of the high responsibility attached to the character of a guardian, with which circumstances invested him, had proved sufficient to restrain him from freedoms of behaviour towards her, which no reasonable allowance for the comparative grossness of the age can reduce within the limits of propriety or decorum. We learn that, on some occasions at least, she endeavoured to repel his presumption by such expedients as her youthful inexperience suggested; but her governess and attendants, gained over or intimidated, were guilty of a treacherous or cowardly neglect of duty, and the queen herself appears to have been very deficient in delicacy and caution till circumstances arose which suddenly excited her jealousy. A violent scene then took place between the royal step-mother and step-daughter, which ended, fortunately for the peace and honor of Elizabeth, in an immediate and final separation.
[Note 10: It seems that on one occasion the queen held the hands of the princess while the lord-admiral amused himself with cutting her gown to shreds; and that, on another, she introduced him into the chamber of Elizabeth before she had left her bed, when a violent romping scene took place, which was afterwards repeated without the presence of the queen.
Catherine was so unguarded in her own conduct, that the lord-admiral professed himself jealous of the servant who carried up coals to her apartment.]
There is no ground whatever to credit the popular rumor that the queen, who died in childbed soon after this affair, was poisoned by the admiral; but there is sufficient proof that he was a harsh and jealous husband; and he did not probably at this juncture regard as unpropitious on the whole, an event which enabled him to aspire to the hand of Elizabeth, though other and more intricate designs were at the same time hatching in his busy brain, to which his state of a widower seemed at first to oppose some serious obstacles.
Lady Jane Grey, eldest daughter of the marchioness of Dorset, who had been placed immediately after the two princesses in order of succession, had also resided in the house of the lord-admiral during the lifetime of the queen-dowager, and he was anxious still to retain in his hands a pledge of such importance. To the applications of the marquis and marchioness for her return, he pleaded that the young lady would be as secure under the superintendance of his mother, whom he had invited to reside in his house, as formerly under that of the queen, and that a mark of the esteem of friends whom he so highly valued, would in this season of his affliction be doubly precious to him. He caused a secret agent to insinuate to the weak marquis, that if the lady Jane remained under his roof, it might eventually be in his power to marry her to the young king; and finally, as the most satisfactory proof of the sincerity of his professions of regard, he advanced to this illustrious peer the sum of five hundred pounds in ready money, requiring no other security for its repayment than the person of his fair guest, or hostage. Such eloquence proved irresistible: lady Jane was suffered to remain under this very singular and improper protection, and report for some time vibrated between the sister and the cousin of the king as the real object of the admiral's matrimonial projects. But in his own mind there appears to have been no hesitation between them. The residence of lady Jane in his house was no otherwise of importance to him, than as it contributed to insure to him the support of her father, and as it enabled him to counteract a favorite scheme of the protector's, or rather of his duchess's, for marrying her to their eldest son. With Elizabeth, on the contrary, he certainly aimed at the closest of all connexions, and he was intent on improving by every means the impression which his dangerous powers of insinuation had already made on her inexperienced heart.
Mrs. Ashley, her governess, he had long since secured in his interests; his next step was to gain one Parry, her cofferer, and through these agents he proposed to open a direct correspondence with herself. His designs prospered for some time according to his desires; and though it seems never to have been exactly known, except to the parties themselves, what degree of secret intelligence Elizabeth maintained with her suitor; it cannot be doubted that she betrayed towards him sentiments sufficiently favorable to render the difficulty of obtaining that consent of the royal executors which the law required, the principal obstacle, in his own opinion, to the accomplishment of his wishes. It was one, however, which appeared absolutely insuperable so long as his brother continued to preside over the administration with authority not to be resisted; and despair of gaining his object by fair and peaceful means, soon suggested to the admiral further measures of a dark and dangerous character.
By the whole order of nobility the protector, who affected the love of the commons, was envied and hated; but his brother, on the contrary, had cultivated their friendship with assiduity and success; and he now took opportunities of emphatically recommending it to his principal adherents, the marquis of Northampton (late earl of Essex), the marquis of Dorset, the earl of Rutland, and others, to go into their counties and "make all the strength" there which they could. He boasted of the command of men which he derived from his office of high-admiral; provided a large quantity of arms for his followers; and gained over the master of Bristol mint to take measures for supplying him, on any sudden emergency, with a large sum of money. He likewise opened a secret correspondence with the young king, and endeavoured by many accusations, true or false, to render odious the government of his brother. But happily those turbulent dispositions and inordinate desires which prompt men to form plots dangerous to the peace and welfare of a community, are rarely found to co-exist with the sagacity and prudence necessary to conduct them to a successful issue; and to this remark the admiral was not destined to afford an exception. Though he ought to have been perfectly aware that his late attempt had rendered him an object of the strongest suspicion to his brother, and that he was surrounded by his spies, such was the violence and presumption of his temper, that he could not restrain himself from throwing out vaunts and menaces which served to put his enemies on the track of the most important discoveries; and in the midst of vain schemes and flattering anticipations, he was surprised on the sudden by a warrant for his committal to the Tower. His principal agents were also seized, and compelled to give evidence before the council. Still the protector seemed reluctant to proceed to extremities against his brother; but his own impetuous temper and the ill offices of the earl of Warwick conspired to urge on his fate.
Far from submitting himself as before to the indulgence of the protector, and seeking to disarm his indignation by promises and entreaties, Seymour now stood, as it were, at bay, and boldly demanded a fair and equal trial,—the birthright of Englishmen. But this was a boon which it was esteemed on several accounts inexpedient, if not dangerous, to grant. No overt act of treason could be proved against him: circumstances might come out which would compromise the young king himself, whom a strong dislike of the restraint in which he was held by his elder uncle had thrown pretty decidedly into the party of the younger. The name of the lady Elizabeth was implicated in the transaction further than it was delicate to declare. An acquittal, which the far-extended influence of the lord-admiral over all classes of men rendered by no means impossible, would probably be the ruin of the protector;—and in the end it was decided to proceed against him by the arbitrary and odious method of attainder.
Several of those peers, on whose support he had placed the firmest reliance, rose voluntarily in their places, and betrayed the designs which he had confided to them. The depositions before the council were declared sufficient ground for his condemnation; and in spite of the opposition of some spirited and upright members of the house of commons, a sentence was pronounced, in obedience to which, in March 1549, he was conducted to the scaffold.
The timely removal of this bad and dangerous man, however illegal and unwarrantable the means by which it was accomplished, deserves to be regarded as the first of those signal escapes with which the life of Elizabeth so remarkably abounds. Her attachment for Seymour, certainly the earliest, was perhaps also the strongest, impression of the tender kind which her heart was destined to receive; and though there may be a probability that in this, as in subsequent instances, where her inclinations seemed most to favor the wishes of her suitors, her characteristic caution would have interfered to withhold her from an irrevocable engagement, it might not much longer have been in her power to recede with honor, or even, if the designs of Seymour had prospered, with safety.
The original pieces relative to this affair have fortunately been preserved, and furnish some very remarkable traits of the early character of Elizabeth, and of the behaviour of those about her.
The confessions of Mrs. Ashley and of Parry before the privy-council, contain all that is known of the conduct of the admiral towards their lady during the lifetime of the queen. They seem to cast upon Mrs. Ashley the double imputation of having suffered such behaviour to pass before her eyes as she ought not to have endured for a moment, and of having needlessly disclosed to Parry particulars respecting it which reflected the utmost disgrace both on herself, the admiral, and her pupil. Yet we know that Elizabeth, so far from resenting any thing that Mrs. Ashley had either done or confessed, continued to love and favor her in the highest degree, and after her accession promoted her husband to a considerable office:—a circumstance which affords ground for suspicion that some important secrets were in her possession respecting later transactions between the princess and Seymour which she had faithfully kept. It should also be observed in palliation of the liberties which she accused the admiral of allowing to himself, and the princess of enduring, that the period of Elizabeth's life to which these particulars relate was only her fourteenth year.
We are told that she refused permission to the admiral to visit her after he became a widower, on account of the general report that she was likely to become his wife; and not the slightest trace was at this time found of any correspondence between them, though Harrington afterwards underwent an imprisonment for having delivered to her a letter from the admiral. Yet it is stated that the partiality of the young princess betrayed itself by many involuntary tokens to those around her, who were thus encouraged to entertain her with accounts of the admiral's attachment, and to inquire whether, if the consent of the council could be obtained, she would consent to admit his addresses. The admiral is represented to have proceeded with caution equal to her own. Anxious to ascertain her sentiments, earnestly desirous to accomplish so splendid an union, but fully sensible of the inutility as well as danger of a clandestine connexion, he may be thought rather to have regarded her hand as the recompense which awaited the success of all his other plans of ambition, than as the means of obtaining that success; and it seemed to have been only by distant hints through the agents whom he trusted, that he had ventured as yet to intimate to her his views and wishes; but it is probable that much of the truth was by these agents suppressed.
The protector, rather, as it seems, with the desire of criminating his brother than of clearing the princess, sent sir Robert Tyrwhitt to her residence at Hatfield, empowered to examine her on the whole matter; and his letters to his employer inform us of many particulars. When, by the base expedient of a counterfeit letter, he had brought her to believe that both Mrs. Ashley and Parry were committed to the Tower, "her grace was," as he expresses it, "marvellously abashed, and did weep very tenderly a long time, demanding whether they had confessed any thing or not." Soon after, sending for him, she related several circumstances which she said she had forgotten to mention when the master of the household and master Denny came from the protector to examine her. "After all this," adds he, "I did require her to consider her honor, and the peril that might ensue, for she was but a subject; and I further declared what a woman Mrs. Ashley was, with a long circumstance, saying that if she would open all things herself, that all the evil and shame should be ascribed to them, and her youth considered both with the king's majesty, your grace, and the whole council. But in no way she will not confess any practice by Mrs. Ashley or the cofferer concerning my lord-admiral; and yet I do see it in her face that she is guilty, and do perceive as yet that she will abide the storms or she accuse Mrs. Ashley.
"Upon sudden news that my lord great-master and master Denny was arrived at the gate, the cofferer went hastily to his chamber, and said to my lady his wife, 'I would I had never been born, for I am undone,' and wrung his hands, and cast away his chain from his neck, and his rings from his fingers. This is confessed by his own servant, and there is divers witnesses of the same."
The following day Tyrwhitt writes, that all he has yet gotten from the princess was by gentle persuasion, whereby he began to grow with her in credit, "for I do assure your grace she hath a good wit, and nothing is gotten off her but by great policy."
A few days after, he expresses to the protector his opinion that there had been some secret promise between the princess, Mrs. Ashley, and the cofferer, never to confess till death; "and if it be so," he observes, "it will never be gotten of her but either by the king's majesty or else by your grace." On another occasion he confirms this idea by stating that he had tried her with false intelligence of Parry's having confessed, on which she called him "false wretch," and said that it was a great matter for him to make such a promise and break it. He notices the exact agreement between the princess and the other two in all their statements, but represents it as a proof that "they had set the knot before." It appears on the whole, that sir Robert with all his pains was not able to elicit a single fact of decisive importance; but probably there was somewhat more in the matter than we find acknowledged in a letter from Elizabeth herself to the protector. She here states, that she did indeed send her cofferer to speak with the lord-admiral, but on no other business than to recommend to him one of her chaplains, and to request him to use his interest that she might have Durham Place for her town house; that Parry on his return informed her, that the admiral said she could not have Durham Place, which was wanted for a mint, but offered her his own house for the time of her being in London; and that Parry then inquired of her, whether, if the council would consent to her marrying the admiral, she would herself be willing? That she refused to answer this question, requiring to know who bade him ask it. He said, No one; but from the admiral's inquiries what she spent in her house, and whether she had gotten her patents for certain lands signed, and other questions of a similar nature, he thought "that he was given that way rather than otherwise." She explicitly denies that her governess ever advised her to marry the admiral without the consent of the council; but relates with great apparent ingenuousness, the hints which Mrs. Ashley had thrown out of his attachment to her, and the artful attempts which she had made to discover how her pupil stood affected towards such a connexion.
The letter concludes with the following wise and spirited assertion of herself. "Master Tyrwhitt and others have told me, that there goeth rumours abroad which be greatly both against my honor and honesty, (which above all things I esteem) which be these; that I am in the Tower, and with child by my lord admiral. My lord, these are shameful slanders, for the which, besides the desire I have to see the king's majesty, I shall most humbly desire your lordship that I may come to the court after your first determination, that I may show myself there as I am."
That the cofferer had repeated his visits to the admiral oftener than was at first acknowledged either by his lady or himself, a confession afterwards addressed by Elizabeth to the protector seems to show; but even with this confession Tyrwhitt declares himself unsatisfied.
Parry, in that part of his confession where he relates what passed between himself and the lord-admiral when he waited upon him by his lady's command, takes notice of the earnest manner in which the admiral had urged her endeavouring to procure, by way of exchange, certain crown lands which had been the queen's, and seem to have been adjacent to his own, from which, he says, he inferred, that he wanted to have both them and his lady for himself. He adds, that the admiral said he wished the princess to go to the duchess of Somerset, and by her means make suit to the protector for the lands, and for a town house, and "to entertain her grace for her furtherance." That when he repeated this to her, Elizabeth would not at first believe that he had said such words, or could wish her so to do; but on his declaring that it was true, "she seemed to be angry that she should be driven to make such suits, and said, 'In faith I will not come there, nor begin to flatter now.'"
Her spirit broke out, according to Tyrwhitt, with still greater vehemence, on the removal of Mrs. Ashley, whom lady Tyrwhitt succeeded in her office:—the following is the account which he gives of her behaviour.
"Pleaseth it your grace to be advertised, that after my wife's repair hither, she declared to the lady Elizabeth's grace, that she was called before your grace and the council and had a rebuke, that she had not taken upon her the office to see her well governed, in the lieu of Mrs. Ashley. Her answer was, that Mrs. Ashley was her mistress, and that she had not so demeaned herself that the council should now need to put any mo mistresses unto her. Whereunto my wife answered, seeing she did allow Mrs. Ashley to be her mistress, she need not to be ashamed to have any honest woman to be in that place. She took the matter so heavily that she wept all that night and lowered all the next day, till she received your letter; and then she sent for me and asked me whether she was best to write to you again or not: I said, if she would make answer that she would follow the effect of your letter, I thought it well done that she should write; but in the end of the matter I perceived that she was very loth to have a governor; and to avoid the same, said the world would note her to be a great offender, having so hastily a governor appointed her. And all is no more, she fully hopes to recover her old mistress again. The love she yet beareth her is to be wondered at. I told her, if she would consider her honor and the sequel thereof, she would, considering her years, make suit to your grace to have one, rather than to make delay to be without one one hour. She cannot digest such advice in no way; but if I should say my phantasy, it were more meet she should have two than one. She would in any wise write to your grace, wherein I offered her my advice, which she would in no wise follow, but write her own phantasy. She beginneth now a little to droop, by reason she heareth that my lord-admiral's houses be dispersed. And my wife telleth me now, that she cannot hear him discommended but she is ready to make answer therein; and so she hath not been accustomed to do, unless Mrs. Ashley were touched, whereunto she was very ready to make answer vehemently." &c.
[Note 11: For the original documents relative to this affair see Burleigh Papers by Haynes, passim.]
Parry had probably the same merit of fidelity as Mrs. Ashley; for though Tyrwhitt says he was found faulty in his accounts, he was not only continued at this time by his mistress in his office of cofferer, but raised afterwards to that of comptroller of the royal household, which he held till his death.
A gentleman of the name of Harrington, then in the admiral's service, who was much examined respecting his master's intercourse with the princess, and revealed nothing, was subsequently taken by her into her own household and highly favored; and so certain did this gentleman, who was a man of parts, account himself of her tenderness for the memory of a lover snatched from her by the hand of violence alone, that he ventured, several years after her accession to the throne, to present her with a portrait of him, under which was inscribed the following sonnet.
"Of person rare, strong limbs and manly shape, By nature framed to serve on sea or land; In friendship firm in good state or ill hap, In peace head-wise, in war, skill great, bold hand. On horse or foot, in peril or in play, None could excel, though many did essay. A subject true to king, a servant great, Friend to God's truth, and foe to Rome's deceit. Sumptuous abroad for honor of the land, Temp'rate at home, yet kept great state with stay, And noble house that fed more mouths with meat Than some advanced on higher steps to stand; Yet against nature, reason, and just laws, His blood was spilt, guiltless, without just cause."
The fall of Seymour, and the disgrace and danger in which she had herself been involved, afforded to Elizabeth a severe but useful lesson; and the almost total silence of history respecting her during the remainder of her brother's reign affords satisfactory indication of the extreme caution with which she now conducted herself.
This silence, however, is agreeably supplied by documents of a more private nature, which inform us of her studies, her acquirements, the disposition of her time, and the bent of her youthful mind.
The Latin letters of her learned preceptor Roger Ascham abound with anecdotes of a pupil in whose proficiency he justly gloried; and the particulars interspersed respecting other females of high rank, also distinguished by the cultivation of classical literature, enhance the interest of the picture, by affording objects of comparison to the principal figure, and illustrating the taste, almost the rage, for learning which pervaded the court of Edward VI.
Writing in 1550 to his friend John Sturmius, the worthy and erudite rector of the protestant university of Strasburgh, Ascham has the following passages.
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"Never was the nobility of England more lettered than at present. Our illustrious king Edward in talent, industry, perseverance, and erudition, surpasses both his own years and the belief of men.... I doubt not that France will also yield the just praise of learning to the duke of Suffolk and the rest of that band of noble youths educated with the king in Greek and Latin literature, who depart for that country on this very day.
[Note 12: This was the second duke of the name of Brandon, who died young of the sweating sickness.]
"Numberless honorable ladies of the present time surpass the daughters of sir Thomas More in every kind of learning. But amongst them all, my illustrious mistress the lady Elizabeth shines like a star, excelling them more by the splendor of her virtues and her learning, than by the glory of her royal birth. In the variety of her commendable qualities, I am less perplexed to find matter for the highest panegyric than to circumscribe that panegyric within just bounds. Yet I shall mention nothing respecting her but what has come under my own observation.
"For two years she pursued the study of Greek and Latin under my tuition; but the foundations of her knowledge in both languages were laid by the diligent instruction of William Grindal, my late beloved friend and seven years my pupil in classical learning at Cambridge. From this university he was summoned by John Cheke to court, where he soon after received the appointment of tutor to this lady. After some years, when through her native genius, aided by the efforts of so excellent a master, she had made a great progress in learning, and Grindal, by his merit and the favor of his mistress, might have aspired to high dignities, he was snatched away by a sudden illness, leaving a greater miss of himself in the court, than I remember any other to have done these many years.
"I was appointed to succeed him in his office; and the work which he had so happily begun, without my assistance indeed, but not without some counsels of mine, I diligently labored to complete. Now, however, released from the throng of a court, and restored to the felicity of my former learned leisure, I enjoy, through the bounty of the king, an honorable appointment in this university.
"The lady Elizabeth has accomplished her sixteenth year; and so much solidity of understanding, such courtesy united with dignity, have never been observed at so early an age. She has the most ardent love of true religion and of the best kind of literature. The constitution of her mind is exempt from female weakness, and she is endued with a masculine power of application. No apprehension can be quicker than her's, no memory more retentive. French and Italian she speaks like English; Latin, with fluency, propriety, and judgement; she also spoke Greek with me, frequently, willingly, and moderately well. Nothing can be more elegant than her handwriting, whether in the Greek or Roman character. In music she is very skilful, but does not greatly delight. With respect to personal decoration, she greatly prefers a simple elegance to show and splendor, so despising 'the outward adorning of plaiting the hair and of wearing of gold,' that in the whole manner of her life she rather resembles Hippolyta than Phaedra.
"She read with me almost the whole of Cicero, and a great part of Livy: from these two authors, indeed, her knowledge of the Latin language has been almost exclusively derived. The beginning of the day was always devoted by her to the New Testament in Greek, after which she read select orations of Isocrates and the tragedies of Sophocles, which I judged best adapted to supply her tongue with the purest diction, her mind with the most excellent precepts, and her exalted station with a defence against the utmost power of fortune. For her religious instruction, she drew first from the fountains of Scripture, and afterwards from St. Cyprian, the 'Common places' of Melancthon, and similar works which convey pure doctrine in elegant language. In every kind of writing she easily detected any ill-adapted or far-fetched expression. She could not bear those feeble imitators of Erasmus who bind the Latin language in the fetters of miserable proverbs; on the other hand, she approved a style chaste in its propriety, and beautiful by perspicuity, and she greatly admired metaphors, when not too violent, and antitheses when just, and happily opposed. By a diligent attention to these particulars, her ears became so practised and so nice, that there was nothing in Greek, Latin, or English, prose or verse, which, according to its merits or defects, she did not either reject with disgust, or receive with the highest delight.... Had I more leisure, I would speak to you at greater length of the king, of the lady Elizabeth, and of the daughters of the duke of Somerset, whose minds have also been formed by the best literary instruction. But there are two English ladies whom I cannot omit to mention; nor would I have you, my Sturmius, omit them, if you meditate any celebration of your English friends, than which nothing could be more agreeable to me. One is Jane Grey, the other is Mildred Cecil, who understands and speaks Greek like English, so that it may be doubted whether she is most happy in the possession of this surpassing degree of knowledge, or in having had for her preceptor and father sir Anthony Coke, whose singular erudition caused him to be joined with John Cheke in the office of tutor to the king, or finally, in having become the wife of William Cecil, lately appointed secretary of state; a young man indeed, but mature in wisdom, and so deeply skilled both in letters and in affairs, and endued with such moderation in the exercise of public offices, that to him would be awarded by the consenting voice of Englishmen the four-fold praise attributed to Pericles by his rival Thucydides—'To know all that is fitting, to be able to apply what he knows, to be a lover of his country, and superior to money.'"
[Note 13: This lady is commemorated at greater length in another place, and therefore a clause is here omitted.]
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The learned, excellent, and unfortunate Jane Grey is repeatedly mentioned by this writer with warm and merited eulogium. He relates to Sturmius, that in the month of August 1550, taking his journey from Yorkshire to the court, he had deviated from his course to visit the family of the marquis of Dorset at his seat of Broadgate in Leicestershire. Lady Jane was alone at his arrival, the rest of the family being on a hunting party; and gaining admission to her apartment, he found her reading by herself the Phaedo of Plato in the original, which she understood so perfectly as to excite in him extreme wonder; for she was at this time under fifteen years of age. She also possessed the power of speaking and writing Greek, and she willingly promised to address to him a letter in this language. In his English work 'The Schoolmaster,' referring again to this interview with Jane Grey, Ascham adds the following curious and affecting particulars. Having asked her how at her age she could have attained to such perfection both in philosophy and Greek, "I will tell you," said she, "and tell you a truth, which perchance you will marvel at. One of the greatest benefits that ever God gave me is, that he sent me so sharp and severe parents, and so gentle a schoolmaster. For when I am in presence either of father or mother, whether I speak, keep silence, sit, stand, or go; eat, drink, be merry or sad; be sewing, playing, dancing, or doing any thing else, I must do it, as it were, in such weight, measure, and number, even so perfectly, as God made the world, or else I am so sharply taunted, so cruelly threatened, yea presently sometimes with pinches, nips, and bobs and other ways which I will not name, for the honor I bear them, so without measure misordered, that I think myself in hell, till time come that I must go to Mr. Elmer, who teacheth me so gently, so pleasantly, with such fair allurements to learning, that I think all the time nothing while I am with him. And when I am called from him I fall on weeping, because whatsoever else I do but learning, is full of grief, trouble, fear, and whole misliking unto me. And thus my book hath been so much my pleasure, and bringeth daily to me more pleasure and more, that in respect of it, all other pleasures, in very deed, be but trifles and troubles unto me."
The epistles from which the extracts in the preceding pages are with some abridgement translated, and which are said to be the first collection of private letters ever published by any Englishman, were all written during the year 1550, when Ascham, on some disgust, had quitted the court and returned to his situation of Greek reader at Cambridge; and perhaps the eulogiums here bestowed, in epistles which his correspondent lost no time in committing to the press, were not composed without the secret hope of their procuring for him a restoration to that court life which it seems difficult even for the learned to quit without a sigh. It would be unjust, however, to regard Ascham in the light of a flatterer; for his praises are in most points corroborated by the evidence of history, or by other concurring testimonies. His observations, for instance, on the modest simplicity of Elizabeth's dress and appearance at this early period of her life, which might be received with some incredulity by the reader to whom instances are familiar of her inordinate love of dress at a much more advanced age, and when the cares of a sovereign ought to have left no room for a vanity so puerile, receive strong confirmation from another and very respectable authority.
Dr. Elmer or Aylmer, who was tutor to lady Jane Grey and her sisters, and became afterwards, during Elizabeth's reign, bishop of London, thus draws her character when young, in a work entitled "A Harbour for faithful Subjects." "The king left her rich cloaths and jewels; and I know it to be true, that in seven years after her father's death, she never in all that time looked upon that rich attire and precious jewels but once, and that against her will. And that there never came gold or stone upon her head, till her sister forced her to lay off her former soberness, and bear her company in her glittering gayness. And then she so wore it, as every man might see that her body carried that which her heart misliked. I am sure that her maidenly apparel which she used in king Edward's time, made the noblemen's daughters and wives to be ashamed to be dressed and painted like peacocks; being more moved with her most virtuous example than with all that ever Paul or Peter wrote touching that matter. Yea, this I know, that a great man's daughter (lady Jane Grey) receiving from lady Mary before she was queen good apparel of tinsel, cloth of gold and velvet, laid on with parchment lace of gold, when she saw it, said, 'What shall I do with it?' 'Mary,' said a gentlewoman, 'wear it.' 'Nay,' quoth she, 'that were a shame, to follow my lady Mary against God's word, and leave my lady Elizabeth which followeth God's word.' And when all the ladies at the coming of the Scots queen dowager, Mary of Guise, (she who visited England in Edward's time,) went with their hair frownsed, curled, and doublecurled, she altered nothing but kept her old maidenly shamefacedness." This extract may be regarded as particularly curious, as an exemplification of the rigid turn of sentiment which prevailed at the court of young Edward, and of the degree in which Elizabeth conformed herself to it. There is a print from a portrait of her when young, in which the hair is without a single ornament and the whole dress remarkably simple.
But to return to Ascham.—The qualifications of this learned man as a writer of classical Latin recommended him to queen Mary, notwithstanding his known attachment to the protestant faith, in the capacity of Latin secretary; and it was in the year 1555, while holding this station, that he resumed his lessons to his illustrious pupil.
"The lady Elizabeth and I," writes he to Sturmius, "are reading together in Greek the Orations of AEschines and Demosthenes. She reads before me, and at first sight she so learnedly comprehends not only the idiom of the language and the meaning of the orator, but the whole grounds of contention, the decrees of the people, and the customs and manners of the Athenians, as you would greatly wonder to hear."
Under the reign of Elizabeth, Ascham retained his post of Latin secretary, and was admitted to considerable intimacy by his royal mistress. Addressing Sturmius he says, "I received your last letters on the 15th of January 1560. Two passages in them, one relative to the Scotch affairs, the other on the marriage of the queen, induced me to give them to herself to read. She remarked and graciously acknowledged in both of them your respectful observance of her. Your judgement in the affairs of Scotland, as they then stood, she highly approved, and she loves you for your solicitude respecting us and our concerns. The part respecting her marriage she read over thrice, as I well remember, and with somewhat of a gentle smile; but still preserving a modest and bashful silence.
"Concerning that point indeed, my Sturmius, I have nothing certain to write to you, nor does any one truly know what to judge. I told you rightly, in one of my former letters, that in the whole ordinance of her life she resembled not Phaedra but Hippolyta; for by nature, and not by the counsels of others, she is thus averse and abstinent from marriage. When I know any thing for certain, I will write it to you as soon as possible; in the mean time I have no hopes to give you respecting the king of Sweden."
In the same letter, after enlarging, somewhat too rhetorically perhaps, on the praises of the queen and her government, Ascham recurs to his favorite theme,—her learning; and roundly asserts, that there were not four men in England, distinguished either in the church or the state, who understood more Greek than her majesty: and as an instance of her proficiency in other tongues, he mentions that he was once present at court when she gave answers at the same time to three ambassadors, the Imperial, the French, and the Swedish, in Italian, in French, and in Latin; and all this, fluently, without confusion, and to the purpose.
A short epistle from queen Elizabeth to Sturmius, which is inserted in this collection, appears to refer to that of Sturmius which Ascham answers above. She addresses him as her beloved friend, expresses in the handsomest terms her sense of the attachment towards herself and her country evinced by so eminent a cultivator of genuine learning and true religion, and promises that her acknowledgements shall not be confined to words alone; but for a further explanation of her intentions she refers him to the bearer; consequently we have no data for estimating the actual pecuniary value of these warm expressions of royal favor and friendship. But we have good proof, unfortunately, that no munificent act of Elizabeth's ever interposed to rescue her zealous and admiring preceptor from the embarrassments into which he was plunged, probably indeed by his own imprudent habits, but certainly by no faults which ought to have deprived him of his just claims on the purse of a mistress whom, he had served with so much ability, and with such distinguished advantage to herself. The other learned females of this age whom Ascham has complimented by addressing them in Latin epistles, are, Anne countess of Pembroke, sister of queen Catherine Parr; a young lady of the name of Vaughan; Jane Grey; and Mrs. Clark, a grand-daughter of sir Thomas More, by his favorite daughter Mrs. Roper. In his letter to this last lady, written during the reign of Mary, after congratulating her on her cultivation, amid the luxury and dissipation of a court, of studies worthy the descendant of a man whose high qualities had ennobled England in the estimation of foreign nations, he proceeds to mention, that he is the person whom, several years ago, her excellent mother had requested to undertake the instruction of all her children in Greek and Latin literature. At that time, he says, no offer could tempt him to quit his learned retirement at Cambridge, and he was reluctantly compelled to decline the proposal; but being now once more established at court, he freely offers to a lady whose accomplishments he so much admires, any assistance in her laudable pursuits which it may be in his power to afford.
A few more scattered notices may be collected relative to this period of the life of Elizabeth. Her talents, her vivacity, her proficiency in those classical studies to which he was himself addicted, and especially the attachment which she manifested to the reformed religion, endeared her exceedingly to the young king her brother, who was wont to call her,—perhaps with reference to the sobriety of dress and manners by which she was then distinguished,—his sweet sister Temperance. On her part his affection was met by every demonstration of sisterly tenderness, joined to those delicate attentions and respectful observances which his rank required.
It was probably about 1550 that she addressed to him the following letter on his having desired her picture, which affords perhaps the most favorable specimen extant of her youthful style.
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"Like as the rich man that daily gathereth riches to riches, and to one bag of money layeth a great sort till it come to infinite: so methinks your majesty, not being sufficed with so many benefits and gentleness shewed to me afore this time, doth now increase them in asking and desiring where you may bid and command; requiring a thing not worthy the desiring for itself, but made worthy for your highness' request. My picture I mean: in which, if the inward good mind toward your grace might as well be declared, as the outward face and countenance shall be seen, I would not have tarried the commandment but prevented it, nor have been the last to grant but the first to offer it. For the face I grant I might well blush to offer, but the mind I shall never be ashamed to present. But though from the grace of the picture the colors may fade by time, may give by weather, may be spited by chance; yet the other, nor time with her swift wings shall overtake, nor the misty clouds with their lowering may darken, nor chance with her slippery foot may overthrow.
"Of this also yet the proof could not be great, because the occasions have been so small; notwithstanding, as a dog hath a day, so may I perchance have time to declare it in deeds, which now I do write them but in words. And further, I shall humbly beseech your majesty, that when you shall look on my picture, you will witsafe to think, that as you have but the outward shadow of the body afore you, so my inward mind wisheth that the body itself were oftener in your presence. Howbeit because both my so being I think could do your majesty little pleasure, though myself great good; and again, because I see not as yet the time agreeing thereunto, I shall learn to follow this saying of Horace, 'Feras, non culpes, quod vitari non potest.' And thus I will (troubling your majesty I fear) end with my most humble thanks; beseeching God long to preserve you to his honor, to your comfort, to the realms profit, and to my joy.
(From Hatfield this 15th day of May.)
Your majesty's most humble sister and servant
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An exact memorialist has preserved an instance of the high consideration now enjoyed by Elizabeth in the following passage, which is further curious as an instance of the state which she already assumed in her public appearances. "March 17th (1551). The lady Elizabeth, the king's sister, rode through London unto St. James's, the king's palace, with a great company of lords, knights, and gentlemen; and after her a great company of ladies and gentlemen on horseback, about two hundred. On the 19th she came from St. James's through the park to the court; the way from the park gate unto the court spread with fine sand. She was attended with a very honorable confluence of noble and worshipful persons of both sexes, and received with much ceremony at the court gate."
[Note 14: Strype.]
The ensuing letter, however, seems to intimate that there were those about the young king who envied her these tokens of favor and credit, and were sometimes but too successful in estranging her from the royal presence, and perhaps in exciting prejudices against her:—It is unfortunately without date of year.
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"The princess Elizabeth to king Edward VI.
"Like as a shipman in stormy weather plucks down the sails tarrying for better wind, so did I, most noble king, in my unfortunate chance a Thursday pluck down the high sails of my joy and comfort; and do trust one day, that as troublesome waves have repulsed me backward, so a gentle wind will bring me forward to my haven. Two chief occasions moved me much and grieved me greatly: the one, for that I doubted your majesty's health; the other, because for all my long tarrying, I went without that I came for. Of the first I am relieved in a part, both that I understood of your health, and also that your majesty's lodging is far from my lord marques' chamber: of my other grief I am not eased; but the best is, that whatsoever other folks will suspect, I intend not to fear your grace's good will, which as I know that I never deserved to faint, so I trust will still stick by me. For if your grace's advice that I should return, (whose will is a commandment) had not been, I would not have made the half of my way the end of my journey.
"And thus as one desirous to hear of your majesty's health, though unfortunate to see it, I shall pray God to preserve you. (From Hatfield this present Saturday.)
"Your majesty's humble sister to commandment,
* * * * *
1549 TO 1553.
Decline of the protector's authority.—He is imprisoned—accused of misdemeanors—loses his office—is liberated—reconciled with Dudley, who succeeds to his authority.—Dudley pushes on the reformation.—The celebration of mass prohibited.—Princess Mary persecuted.—The emperor attempts to get her out of the kingdom, but without success—interferes openly in her behalf.—Effect of persecution on the mind of Mary.—Marriage proposed for Elizabeth with the prince of Denmark.—She declines it.—King betrothed to a princess of France.—Sweating sickness.—Death of the duke of Suffolk.—Dudley procures that title for the marquis of Dorset, and the dukedom of Northumberland for himself.—Particulars of the last earl of Northumberland.—Trial, conviction, and death of the duke of Somerset.—Christmas festivities of the young king.—Account of George Ferrers master of the king's pastimes, and his works.—Views of Northumberland.—Decline of the king's health.—Scheme of Northumberland for lady Jane Grey's succession.—Three marriages contrived by him for this purpose.—He procures a settlement of the crown on the lady Jane.—Subserviency of the council.—Death of Edward concealed by Northumberland.—The princesses narrowly escape falling into his hands.—Courageous conduct of Elizabeth.—Northumberland deserted by the council and the army.—Jane Grey imprisoned.—Northumberland arrested.—Mary mounts the throne.
It was to little purpose that the protector had stained his hands with the blood of his brother, for the exemption thus purchased from one kind of fear or danger, was attended by a degree of public odium which could not fail to render feeble and tottering an authority based, like his, on plain and open usurpation.
Other causes conspired to undermine his credit and prepare his overthrow. The hatred of the great nobles, which he augmented by a somewhat too ostentatious patronage of the lower classes against the rich and powerful, continually pursued and watched the opportunity to ruin him. Financial difficulties pressed upon him, occasioned in great measure by the wars with France and Scotland which he had carried on, in pursuance of Henry's design of compelling the Scotch to marry their young queen to his son. An object which had finally been frustrated, notwithstanding the vigilance of the English fleet, by the safe arrival of Mary in France, and her solemn betrothment to the dauphin. The great and glorious work of religious reformation, though followed by Somerset, under the guidance of Cranmer, with a moderation and prudence which reflect the highest honor on both, could not be brought to perfection without exciting the rancorous hostility of thousands, whom various motives and interests attached to the cause of ancient superstition; and the abolition, by authority, of the mass, and the destruction of images and crucifixes, had given birth to serious disturbances in different parts of the country. The want and oppression under which the lower orders groaned,—and which they attributed partly to the suppression of the monasteries to which they had been accustomed to resort for the supply of their necessities, partly to a general inclosure bill extremely cruel and arbitrary in its provisions,—excited commotions still more violent and alarming. In order to suppress the insurrection in Norfolk, headed by Kett, it had at length been found necessary to send thither a large body of troops under the earl of Warwick, who had acquired a very formidable degree of celebrity by the courage and conduct which he exhibited in bringing this difficult enterprise to a successful termination.
A party was now formed in the council, of which Warwick, Southampton, Arundel, and St. John, were the chiefs; and strong resolutions were entered into against the assumed authority of the protector. This unfortunate man, whom an inconsiderate ambition, fostered by circumstances favorable to its success, had pushed forward into a station equally above his talents and his birth, was now found destitute of all the resources of courage and genius which might yet have retrieved his authority and his credit. He suffered himself to be surprised into acts indicative of weakness and dismay, which soon robbed him of his remaining partisans, and gave to his enemies all the advantage which they desired.
His committal to the Tower on several charges, of which his assumption of the whole authority of the state was the principal, soon followed. A short time after he was deprived of his high office, which was nominally vested in six members of the council, but really in the earl of Warwick, whose private ambition seems to have been the main-spring of the whole intrigue, and who thus became, almost without a struggle, undisputed master of the king and kingdom.
That poorness of spirit which had sunk the duke of Somerset into insignificance, saved him at present from further mischief. In the beginning of the ensuing year, 1550, having on his knees confessed himself guilty of all the matters laid to his charge, without reservation or exception, and humbly submitted himself to the king's mercy, he was condemned in a heavy fine, on remission of which by the king he was liberated. Soon after, by the special favor of his royal nephew, he was readmitted into the council; and a reconciliation was mediated for him with Warwick, cemented by a marriage between one of his daughters and the son and heir of this aspiring leader.
The catholic party, which had flattered itself that the earl of Warwick, from gratitude for the support which some of its leaders had afforded him, and perhaps also from principle, no less than from opposition to the duke of Somerset, would be led to embrace its defence, was now destined to deplore its disappointment.
Determined to rule alone, he soon shook off his able but too aspiring colleague, the earl of Southampton, and disgraced, by the imposition of a fine for some alleged embezzlement of public money, the earl of Arundel, also a known assertor of the ancient faith, finally, having observed how closely the principles of protestantism, which Edward had derived from instructors equally learned and zealous, had interwoven themselves with the whole texture and fabric of his mind, he resolved to merit the lasting attachment of the royal minor by assisting him to complete the overthrow of popery in England.
A confession of faith was now drawn up by commissioners appointed for the purpose, and various alterations were made in the Liturgy, which had already been translated into the vulgar tongue for church use. Tests were imposed, which Gardiner, Bonner, and several others of the bishops felt themselves called upon by conscience, or a regard to their own reputation, to decline subscribing, even at the price of deprivation; and prodigious devastations were made by the courtiers on the property of the church. To perform or assist at the performance of the mass was also rendered highly penal. But no dread of legal animadversion was capable of deterring the lady Mary from the observance of this essential rite of her religion; and finding herself and her household exposed to serious inconveniences on account of their infraction of the new statute, she applied for protection to her potent kinsman the emperor Charles V., who is said to have undertaken her rescue by means which could scarcely have failed to involve him in a war with England. By his orders, or connivance, certain ships were prepared in the ports of Flanders, manned and armed for an attempt to carry off the princess either by stealth or open force, and land her at Antwerp. In furtherance of the design, several of her gentlemen had already taken their departure for that city, and Flemish light vessels were observed to keep watch on the English coast. But by these appearances the apprehensions of the council were awakened, and a sudden journey of the princess from Hunsdon in Hertfordshire towards Norfolk, for which she was unable to assign a satisfactory reason, served as strong confirmation of their suspicions.
A violent alarm was immediately sounded through the nation, of foreign invasion designed to co-operate with seditions at home; bodies of troops were dispatched to protect different points of the coast; and several ships of war were equipped for sea; while a communication on the subject was made by the council to the nobility throughout the kingdom, in terms calculated to awaken indignation against the persecuted princess, and all who were suspected, justly or unjustly, of regarding her cause with favor. A few extracts from this paper will exhibit the fierce and jealous spirit of that administration of which Dudley formed the soul.
"So it is, that the lady Mary, not many days past, removed from Newhall in Essex to her house of Hunsdon in Hertfordshire, the cause whereof, although we knew not, yet did we rather think it likely that her grace would have come to have seen his majesty; but now upon Tuesday last, she hath suddenly, without knowledge given either to us here or to the country there, and without any cause in the world by us to her given, taken her journey from Hunsdon towards Norfolk" &c. "This her doing we be sorry for, both for the evil opinion the king's majesty our master may conceive thereby of her, and for that by the same doth appear manifestly the malicious rancour of such as provoke her thus to breed and stir up, as much as in her and them lieth, occasion of disorder and unquiet in the realm" &c. "It is not unknown to us but some near about the said lady Mary have very lately in the night seasons had privy conferences with the emperor's embassador here being, which councils can no wise tend to the weal of the king's majesty our master or his realm, nor to the nobility of this realm. And whatsoever the lady Mary shall upon instigation of these forward practices further do, like to these her strange beginnings, we doubt not but your lordship will provide that her proceedings shall not move any disobedience or disorder—The effect whereof if her counsellors should procure, as it must be to her grace, and to all other good Englishmen therein seduced, damnable, so shall it be most hurtful to the good subjects of the country" &c.
[Note 15: Burleigh Papers by Haynes.]
Thus did the fears, the policy, or the party-spirit, of the members of the council lead them to magnify the peril of the nation from the enterprises of a young and defenceless female, whose best friend was a foreign prince, whose person was completely within their power, and who, at this period of her life "more sinned against than sinning," was not even suspected of any other design than that of withdrawing herself from a country in which she was no longer allowed to worship God according to her conscience. Some slight tumults in Essex and Kent, in which she was not even charged with any participation, were speedily suppressed; and after some conference with the chancellor and secretary Petre, Mary obeyed a summons to attend them to the court, where she was now to be detained for greater security.
On her arrival she received a reprimand from the council for her obstinacy respecting the mass, with an injunction to instruct herself, by reading, in the grounds of protestant belief. To this she replied, with the inflexible resolution of her character, that as to protestant books, she thanked God that she never had read any, and never intended so to do; that for her religion she was ready to lay down her life, and only feared that she might not be found worthy to become its martyr. One of her chaplains was soon after thrown into prison; and further severities seemed to await her, when a message from the emperor, menacing the country with war in case she should be debarred from the free exercise of her religion, taught the council the expediency of relaxing a little the sternness of their intolerance. But the scruples of the zealous young king on this head could not be brought to yield to reasons of state, till he had "advised with the archbishop of Canterbury and the bishops of London and Rochester, who gave their opinion that to give license to sin was sin, but to connive at sin might be allowed in case it were neither long, nor without hope of reformation."
[Note 16: Hayward's Life of Edward VI.]
By this prudent and humane but somewhat jesuitical decision this perplexing affair was set at rest for the present; and during the small remainder of her brother's reign, a negative kind of persecution, consisting in disfavor, obloquy, and neglect, was all, apparently, that the lady Mary was called upon to undergo. But she had already endured enough to sour her temper, to aggravate with feelings of personal animosity her systematic abhorrence of what she deemed impious heresy, and to bind to her heart by fresh and stronger ties that cherished faith, in defence of which she was proudly conscious of having struggled and suffered with a lofty and unyielding intrepidity.