We possess many particulars relative to the captivity of Elizabeth at Woodstock. In some of them we may recognise that spirit of exaggeration which the anxious sympathy excited by her sufferings at the time, and the unbounded adulation paid to her afterwards, were certain to produce; others bear all the characters of truth and nature.
It is certain that her present residence, though less painful and especially less opprobrious than imprisonment in the Tower, was yet a state of rigorous constraint and jealous inspection, in which she was haunted with cares and fears which robbed her youth of its bloom and vivacity, and her constitution of its vigor. On June 8th such was the state of her health that two physicians were sent from the court who remained for several days in attendance on her. On their return, they performed for their patient the friendly office of making a favorable report of her behaviour and of the dutiful humility of her sentiments towards her majesty, which was received, we are told, with more complacency by Mary than by her bishops. Soon after, she was advised by some friend to make her peace with the queen by submissions and acknowledgements, which, with her usual constancy, she absolutely refused, though apparently the only terms on which she could hope for liberty.
Under such circumstances we may give easy belief to the touching anecdote, that "she, hearing upon a time out of her garden at Woodstock, a milkmaid singing pleasantly, wished herself a milkmaid too; saying that her case was better, and her life merrier than hers."
The instances related of the severity and insolence of sir Henry Beddingfield are to be received with more distrust. We are told, that observing a chair of state prepared for the princess in an upper chamber at lord Williams's house, he seized upon it for himself and insolently ordered his boots to be pulled off in that apartment. Yet we learn from the same authority that afterwards at Woodstock, when she seems to have been in his sole custody, Elizabeth having called him her jailor, on observing him lock the gate of the garden while she was walking in it, he fell on his knees and entreated her grace not to give him that name, for he was appointed to be one of her officers. It has also been asserted, that on her accession to the throne she dismissed him from her presence with the speech, that she prayed God to forgive him, as she did, and that when she had a prisoner whom she would have straitly kept and hardly used, she would send for him. But if she ever used to him words like these, it must have been in jest; for it is known from the best authority, that Beddingfield was frequently at the court of Elizabeth, and that she once visited him on a progress. If there is any truth in the stories told of persons of suspicious appearance lurking about the walls of the palace, who sought to gain admittance for the purpose of taking away her life, the exact vigilance of her keeper, by which all access was barred, might more deserve her thanks than her reproaches.
During the period that the princess was thus industriously secluded from conversation with any but the few attendants who had been allowed to remain about her person, her correspondence was not less watchfully restricted. We are told, that when, after urgent application to the council, she had at length been permitted to write to the queen, Beddingfield looked over her as she wrote, took the paper into his own keeping when she paused, and brought it back to her when she chose to resume her task.
Yet could not his utmost precaution entirely cut off her communications with the large and zealous party who rested upon her all their hopes of better times for themselves or for the country. Through the medium of a visitor to one of her ladies, she received the satisfactory assurance that none of the prisoners for Wyat's business had been brought to utter any thing by which she could be endangered. Perhaps it was with immediate reference to this intelligence that she wrote with a diamond on her window the homely but expressive distich,
"Much suspected by me Nothing proved can be, Quoth Elizabeth prisoner."
But these secret intelligencers were not always fortunate enough to escape detection, of which the consequences were rendered very grievous through the arbitrary severity of Mary's government, and the peculiar malice exercised by Gardiner against the adherents of the princess.
Sir John Harrington, son to the gentleman of the same name formerly mentioned as a follower of admiral Seymour, thus, in his Brief View of the Church, sums up the character of this celebrated bishop of Winchester, with reference to this part of his conduct.
"Lastly, the plots he laid to entrap the lady Elizabeth, and his terrible hard usage of all her followers, I cannot yet scarce think of with charity, nor write of with patience. My father, for only carrying a letter to the lady Elizabeth, and professing to wish her well, he kept in the Tower twelve months, and made him spend a thousand pounds ere he could be free of that trouble. My mother, that then served the lady Elizabeth, he caused to be sequestered from her as an heretic, insomuch that her own father durst not take her into his house, but she was glad to sojourn with one Mr. Topcliff; so as I may say in some sort, this bishop persecuted me before I was born."
In the twelfth month of his imprisonment, this unfortunate Harrington, having previously sent to the bishop many letters and petitions for liberty without effect, had the courage to address to him a "Sonnet," which his son has cited as "no ill verse for those unrefined times;" a modest commendation of lines so spirited, which the taste of the more modern reader, however fastidious, need not hesitate to confirm.
TO BISHOP GARDINER.
1. "At least withdraw your cruelty, Or force the time to work your will; It is too much extremity To keep me pent in prison still, Free from all fault, void of all cause, Without all right, against all laws. How can you do more cruel spite Than proffer wrong and promise right? Nor can accuse, nor will acquight.
2. Eleven months past and longer space I have abode your dev'lish drifts, While you have sought both man and place, And set your snares, with all your shifts, The faultless foot to wrap in wile With any guilt, by any guile: And now you see that will not be, How can you thus for shame agree To keep him bound you should set free?
3. Your chance was once as mine is now, To keep this hold against your will, And then you sware you well know how, Though now you swerve, I know how ill. But thus this world his course doth pass, The priest forgets a clerk he was, And you that have cried justice still, And now have justice at your will, Wrest justice wrong against all skill.
4. But why do I thus coldly plain As if it were my cause alone? When cause doth each man so constrain As England through hath cause to moan, To see your bloody search of such As all the earth can no way touch. And better were that all your kind Like hounds in hell with shame were shrined, Than you add might unto your mind.
5. But as the stone that strikes the wall Sometimes bounds back on th' hurler's head, So your foul fetch, to your foul fall May turn, and 'noy the breast that bred. And then, such measure as you gave Of right and justice look to have, If good or ill, if short or long; If false or true, if right or wrong; And thus, till then, I end my song."
Such were the trials and sufferings which exercised the fortitude of Elizabeth and her faithful followers during her deplorable abode at Woodstock. Mary, meanwhile, was rapt in fond anticipations of the felicity of her married life with a prince for whom, on the sight of his picture, she is said to have conceived the most violent passion. The more strongly her people expressed their aversion and dread of the Spanish match, the more vehemently did she show herself bent on its conclusion; and having succeeded in suppressing by force the formidable rebellion to which the first report of such an union had given birth, she judged it unnecessary to employ any of those arts of popularity to which her disposition was naturally adverse, for conciliating to herself or her destined spouse the good will of her subjects. After many delays which severely tried her temper, the arrival of the prince of Spain at Southampton was announced to the expecting queen, who went as far as Winchester to meet him, in which city Gardiner blessed their nuptials on July the 27th, 1554.
The royal pair passed in state through London a few days after, and the city exhibited by command the outward tokens of rejoicing customary in that age. Bonfires were kindled in the open places, tables spread in the streets at which all passers-by might freely regale themselves with liquor: every parish sent forth its procession singing Te Deum; the fine cross in Cheapside was beautified and newly gilt, and pageants were set up in the principal streets. But there was little gladness of heart among the people; and one of these festal devices gave occasion to a manifestation of the dispositions of the court respecting religion, which filled the citizens with grief and horror. A large picture had been hung over the conduit in Gracechurch street representing the nine Worthies, and among them king Henry VIII. made his appearance, according to former draughts of him, holding in his hand a book on which was inscribed "Verbum Dei." This accompaniment gave so much offence, that Gardiner sent for the painter; and after chiding him severely, ordered that a pair of gloves should be substituted for the bible.
Religion had already been restored to the state in which it remained at the death of Henry; but this was by no means sufficient to satisfy the conscience of the queen, which required the entire restoration in all its parts, of the ancient church-establishment. It had been, in fact, one of the first acts of her reign to forward to Rome a respectful embassy which conveyed to the sovereign pontiff her recognition of the supremacy of the holy see, and a petition that he would be pleased to invest with the character of his legate for England Cardinal Pole,—that earnest champion of her own legitimacy and the church's unity, who had been for so many years the object of her father's bitterest animosity.
Mary's precipitate zeal had received some check in this instance from the worldly policy of the emperor Charles V., who, either entertaining some jealousy of the influence of Pole with the queen, or at least judging it fit to secure the great point of his son's marriage before the patience of the people of England should be proved by the arrival of a papal legate, had impeded the journey of the cardinal by a detention of several weeks in his court at Brussels. But no sooner was Philip in secure possession of his bride, than Pole was suffered to proceed on his mission. The parliament, which met early in November 1554, reversed the attainder which had laid him under sentence of death, and on the 24th of the same month he was received at court with great solemnity, and with every demonstration of affection on the part of his royal cousin.
From this period the cause of popery proceeded triumphantly: a reign of terror commenced; and the government gained fresh strength and courage by every exertion of the tyrannic power which it had assumed. After the married clergy had been reduced to give up either their wives or their benefices, and the protestant bishops deprived, and many of them imprisoned, without exciting any popular commotion in their behalf, the court became emboldened to propose in parliament a solemn reconciliation of the country to the papal see. A house of commons more obsequious than the former acceded to the motion, and on November 29th the legate formally absolved the nation from all ecclesiastical censures, and readmitted it within the pale of the church.
The ancient statutes against heretics were next revived; and the violent counsels of Gardiner proving more acceptable to the queen than the milder ones of Pole, a furious persecution was immediately set on foot. Bishops Hooper and Rogers were the first victims; Saunders and Taylor, two eminent divines, succeeded; upon all of whom Gardiner pronounced sentence in person; after which he resigned to Bonner, his more brutal but not more merciless colleague, the inglorious task of dragging forth to punishment the heretics of inferior note and humbler station. In the midst however of his barbarous proceedings, of which London was the principal theatre, the bench of bishops thought proper in solemn assembly to declare that they had no part in such severities; and Philip, who shrank from the odium of the very deeds most grateful to his savage soul, caused a Spanish friar his confessor to preach before him in praise of toleration, and to show that Christians could bring no warrant from Scripture for shedding the blood of their brethren on account of religious differences. But justly apprehensive that so extraordinary a declaration of opinion from such a person might not of itself suffice to establish in the minds of the English that character of lenity and moderation which he found it his interest to acquire, he determined to add some few deeds to words.
About the close of the year 1554, sir Nicholas Throgmorton, Robert Dudley, and all the other prisoners on account of the usurpation of Jane Grey or the insurrection of Wyat, were liberated, at the intercession, as was publicly declared, of king Philip; and he soon after employed his good offices in the cause of two personages still more interesting to the feelings of the nation,—the princess Elizabeth and the earl of Devonshire.
It is worth while to estimate the value of these boasted acts of generosity. With regard to Courtney it may be sufficient to observe, that a close investigation of facts had proved him to have been grateful for the liberation extended to him by Mary on her accession, and averse from all schemes for disturbing her government, and that the queen's marriage had served to banish from her mind some former grounds of displeasure against him. Nothing but an union with Elizabeth could at this time have rendered him formidable; and it was easy to guard effectually against the accomplishment of any such design, without the odious measure of detaining the earl in perpetual imprisonment at Fotheringay Castle, whither he had been already removed from the Tower. After all, it was but the shadow of liberty which he was permitted to enjoy; and he found himself so beset with spies and suspicion, that a very few months after his release he requested and obtained the royal license to travel. Proceeding into Italy, he shortly after ended at Padua his blameless and unfortunate career. Popular fame attributed his early death to poison administered by the Imperialists, but probably, as in a multitude of similar cases, on no sufficient authority.
As to Elizabeth, certain writers have ascribed Philip's protection of her at this juncture to the following deduction of consequences;—that if she were taken off, and if the queen should die childless, England would become the inheritance of the queen of Scots, now betrothed to the dauphin, and thus go to augment the power of France, already the most formidable rival of the Spanish monarchy. Admitting however that such a calculation of remote contingencies might not be too refined to act upon the politic brain of Philip, it is yet plainly absurd to suppose that the life or death of Elizabeth was at this time at all the matter in question. Secret assassination does not appear to have been so much as dreamed of, and Mary and her council, even supposing them to have been sufficiently wicked, were certainly not audacious enough to think of bringing to the scaffold, without form of trial, without even a plausible accusation, the immediate heiress of the crown, and the hope and favorite of the nation. The only question must now have been, what degree of liberty it would be advisable to allow her; and a due consideration of the facts, that she had already been removed from the Tower, and that after her second release, (that, namely, from Woodstock), she was never, to the end of the reign, permitted to reside in a house of her own without an inspector of her conduct, will reduce within very moderate limits the vaunted claims of Philip to her lasting gratitude.
The project of marrying the princess to the duke of Savoy had doubtless originated with the Spanish court; and it was still persisted in by Philip, from the double motive of providing for the head of the protestant party in England a kind of honorable exile, and of attaching to himself by the gift of her hand, a young prince whom he favored and destined to high employments in his service. But as severity had already been tried in vain to bring Elizabeth to compliance on this point, it seems now to have been determined to make experiment of opposite measures. The duke of Savoy, who had attended Philip to England, was still in the country; and as he was in the prime of life and a man of merit and talents, it appeared not unreasonable to hope that a personal interview might incline the princess to lend a more propitious ear to his suit. To this consideration then we are probably to ascribe the invitation which admitted Elizabeth to share in the festivals of a Christmas celebrated by Philip and Mary at Hampton Court with great magnificence, and which must have been that of the year 1554, because this is well known to have been the only one passed by the Spanish prince in England.
A contemporary chronicle still preserved amongst the MSS of the British Museum, furnishes several particulars of her entertainment. On Christmas eve, the great hall of the palace being illuminated with a thousand lamps artificially disposed, the king and queen supped in it; the princess being seated at the same table, next to the cloth of estate. After supper she was served with a perfumed napkin and a plate of "comfects" by lord Paget, but retired to her ladies before the revels, masking, and disguisings began. On St. Stephen's day she heard mattins in the queen's closet adjoining to the chapel, where she was attired in a robe of white satin, strung all over with large pearls; and on December the 29th she sat with their majesties and the nobility at a grand spectacle of justing, when two hundred spears were broken by combatants of whom half were accoutered in the Almaine and half in the Spanish fashion.
How soon the princess again exchanged the splendors of a court for the melancholy monotony of Woodstock does not appear from this document, nor from any other with which I am acquainted; but several circumstances make it clear that we ought to place about this period an incident recorded by Holinshed, and vaguely stated to have occurred soon after "the stir of Wyat" and the troubles of Elizabeth for that cause. A servant of the princess's had summoned a person before the magistrates for having mentioned his lady by the contumelious appellation of a jill, and having made use of other disparaging language respecting her. Was it to be endured, asked the accuser, that a low fellow like this should speak of her grace thus insolently, when the greatest personages in the land treated her with every mark of respect? He added, "I saw yesterday in the court that my lord cardinal Pole, meeting her in the chamber of presence, kneeled down on his knee and kissed her hand; and I saw also, that king Philip meeting her made her such obeisance that his knee touched the ground."
If this story be correct, which is not indeed vouched by the chronicler, but which seems to bear internal evidence of genuineness, it will go far to prove that the situation of Elizabeth during her abode at Woodstock was by no means that opprobrious captivity which it has usually been represented. She visited the court, it appears, occasionally, perhaps frequently; and was greeted in public by the king himself with every demonstration of civility and respect;—demonstrations which, whether accompanied or not by the corresponding sentiments, would surely suffice to protect her from all harsh or insolent treatment on the part of those to whom the immediate superintendance of her actions was committed.
Her enemies however were still numerous and powerful; and it is certain that she found no advocate in the heart of her sister. That able, but thoroughly profligate politician lord Paget, notwithstanding his serving the princess with "comfects," is reported to have said, that the queen would never have peace in the country till her head were smitten off; and Gardiner never ceased to look upon her with an evil eye. Lord Williams, it seems, had made suit that he might be permitted to take her from Woodstock to his own home, giving large bail for her safe keeping; and as he was a known catholic and much in favor, it was supposed at first that his petition would be heard; but by some secret influence the mind of Mary was indisposed to the granting of this indulgence and the proposal was dropped. But the Spanish counsellors who attended their prince never ceased, we are told, to persuade him "that the like honor he should never obtain as he should in delivering the lady Elizabeth" out of her confinement: and Philip, who was now labouring earnestly at the design, which he had entertained ever since his marriage, of procuring himself to be crowned king of England, was himself aware of the necessity of previously softening the prejudices of the nation by some act of conspicuous popularity: he renewed therefore his solicitations on this point with a zeal which rendered them effectual. The moment indeed was favorable;—Mary, who now believed herself far advanced in pregnancy, was too happy in her hopes to remain inflexible to the entreaties of her husband; and the privy-council, in their sanguine expectations of an heir, viewed the princess as less than formerly an object of political jealousy. And thus, by a contrariety of cause and effect by no means rare in the complicated system of human affairs, Elizabeth became indebted for present tranquillity and comparative freedom to the concurrence of projects and expectations the most fatal to all her hopes of future greatness.
About the end of April, 1555, the princess took at length her final departure from Woodstock, and proceeded,—but still under the escort of Beddingfield and his men,—to Hampton Court. At Colnbrook she was met by her own gentlemen and yeomen to the number of sixty, "much," says John Fox, "to all their comforts, which had not seen her of long season before, notwithstanding they were immediately commanded in the queen's name to depart the town, and she not suffered once to speak to them."
The next day she reached Hampton Court, and was ushered into the prince's lodgings; but the doors were closed upon her and guarded as at Woodstock, and it was a fortnight, according to the martyrologist, before any one had recourse to her.
At the end of this time she was solaced by a visit from lord William Howard, son of the old duke of Norfolk, and first-cousin to her mother, who "very honorably used her," and through whom she requested to speak to some of the privy-council. Several of its members waited upon her in consequence, and Gardiner among the rest, who "humbled himself before her with all humility," but nevertheless seized the opportunity to urge her once more to make submission to the queen, as a necessary preliminary to the obtaining of her favor. Elizabeth, with that firmness and wisdom which had never, in her severest trials, forsaken her, declared that rather than do so, she would lie in prison all the days of her life; adding, that she craved no mercy at her majesty's hand, but rather the law, if ever she did offend her in thought, word, or deed. "And besides this," said she, "in yielding I should speak against myself, and confess myself an offender, by occasion of which the king and queen might ever after conceive of me an ill opinion; and it were better for me to lie in prison for the truth, than to be abroad and suspected of my prince." The councillors now departed, promising to deliver her message to the queen. The next day Gardiner waited upon her again and told her that her majesty "marvelled she would so stoutly carry herself, denying to have offended; so that it should seem the queen had wrongfully imprisoned her grace:" and that she must tell another tale ere she had her liberty. The lady Elizabeth declared she would stand to her former resolution, for she would never belie herself. "Then," said the bishop, "your grace hath the 'vantage of me and the other councillors for your long and wrong imprisonment." She took God to witness that she sought no 'vantage against them for their so dealing with her. Gardiner and the rest then kneeled, desiring that all might be forgotten, and so departed; she being locked up again.
About a week after the failure of this last effort of her crafty enemy to extort some concession which might afterwards be employed to criminate her or justify himself, she received a sudden summons from the queen, and was conducted by torch-light to the royal apartments.
Mary received her in her chamber, to which she had now confined herself in expectation of that joyful event which was destined never to arrive. The princess on entering kneeled down, and protested herself a true and loyal subject, adding, that she did not doubt that her majesty would one day find her to be such, whatever different report had gone of her. The queen expressed at first some dissatisfaction at her still persisting so strongly in her assertions of innocence, thinking that she might take occasion to inveigh against her imprisonment as the act of injustice and oppression which in truth it was; but on her sister's replying in a submissive manner, that it was her business to bear what the queen was pleased to inflict and that she should make no complaints, she appears to have been appeased. Fox's account however is, that they parted with few comfortable words of the queen in English, but what she said in Spanish was not known: that it was thought that king Philip was there behind a cloth, and not seen, and that he showed himself "a very friend" in this business. From other accounts we learn, that Elizabeth scrupled not the attempt to ingratiate herself with Mary at this interview by requesting that her majesty would be pleased to send her some catholic tractates for confirmation of her faith and to counteract the doctrines which she had imbibed from the works of the reformers. Mary showed herself somewhat distrustful of her professions on this point, but dismissed her at length with tokens of kindness. She put upon her finger, as a pledge of amity, a ring worth seven hundred crowns;—mentioned that sir Thomas Pope was again appointed to reside with her, and observing that he was already well known to her sister commended him as a person whose prudence, humanity, and other estimable qualities, were calculated to render her new situation perfectly agreeable.
To what place the princess was first conveyed from this audience does not appear, but it must have been to one of the royal seats in the neighbourhood of London, to several of which she was successively removed during some time; after which she was permitted to establish herself permanently at the palace of Hatfield in Hertfordshire.
From this auspicious interview the termination of her prisoner-state may be dated. Henceforth she was released from the formidable parade of guards and keepers; no doors were closed, no locks were turned upon her; and though her place of residence was still prescribed, and could not, apparently, be changed by her at pleasure, she was treated in all respects as at home and mistress of her actions.
Sir Thomas Pope was a man of worth and a gentleman; and such were the tenderness and discretion with which he exercised the delicate trust reposed in him, that the princess must soon have learned to regard him in the light of a real friend. It is not a little remarkable at the same time, that the person selected by Mary to receive so distinguished a proof of her confidence, should have made his first appearance in public life as the active assistant of Cromwel in the great work of the destruction of monasteries; and that from grants of abbey lands, which the queen esteemed it sacrilege to touch, he had derived the whole of that wealth of which he was now employing a considerable portion in the foundation of Trinity college Oxford.
But sir Thomas Pope, even in the execution of the arbitrary and rapacious mandates of Henry, had been advantageously distinguished amongst his colleagues by the qualities of mildness and integrity; and the circumstance of his having obtained a seat at the council-board of Mary from the very commencement of her reign, proves him to have acquired some peculiar merits in her eyes. Certain it is, however, that a furious zeal, whether real or pretended, for the Romish faith, was not amongst his courtly arts; for though strictly enjoined to watch over the due performance and attendance of mass in the family of the princess, he connived at her retaining about her person many servants who were earnest protestants.
This circumstance unfortunately reached the vigilant ears of Gardiner; and it was to a last expiring effort of his indefatigable malice that Elizabeth owed the mortification of seeing two gentlemen from the queen arrive at Lamer, a house in Hertfordshire which she then occupied, who carried away her favorite Mrs. Ashley and three of her maids of honor, and lodged them in the Tower.
Isabella Markham, afterwards the wife of that sir John Harrington whose sufferings in the princess's service have been already adverted to, was doubtless one of these unfortunate ladies. Elizabeth, highly to her honor, never dismissed from remembrance the claims of such as had been faithful to her in her adversity; she distinguished this worthy pair by many tokens of her royal favor; stood godfather to their son, and admitted him from his tenderest youth to a degree of affectionate intimacy little inferior to that in which she indulged the best beloved of her own relations.
In the beginning of September 1555 king Philip, mortified by the refusal of his coronation, in which the parliament with steady patriotism persisted; disappointed in his hopes of an heir; and disgusted by the fondness and the jealousy of a spouse devoid of every attraction personal and mental, quitted England for the continent, and deigned not to revisit it during a year and a half. Elizabeth might regret his absence, as depriving her of the personal attentions of a powerful protector; but late events had so firmly established her as next heir to the crown, that she was now perfectly secure against the recurrence of any attempt to degrade her from her proper station; and her reconciliation with the queen, whether cordial or not, obtained for her occasional admission to the courtly circle.
A few days after the king's departure we find it mentioned that "the queen's grace, the lady Elizabeth, and all the court, did fast from flesh to qualify them to take the Pope's jubilee and pardon granted to all out of his abundant clemency;" a trait which makes it probable that Mary was now in the habit of exacting her sister's attendance at court, for the purpose of witnessing with her own eyes her punctual observance of the rites of that church to which she still believed her a reluctant conformist.
[Note 27: Strype's Ecclesiastical Memorials.]
A few weeks afterwards, the death of her capital enemy, Gardiner, removed the worst of the ill instruments who had interposed to aggravate the suspicions of the queen, and there is reason to believe that the princess found in various ways the beneficial effects of this event.
1555 TO 1558.
Elizabeth applies herself to classical literature.—Its neglected state.—Progress of English poetry.—Account of Sackville and his works.—Plan of his Mirror for Magistrates.—Extracts.—Notice of the contributors to this collection.—Its popularity and literary merits.—Entertainment given to Elizabeth by sir Thomas Pope.—Dudley Ashton's attempt.—Elizabeth acknowledged innocent of his designs.—Her letter to the queen.—She returns to London—quits it in some disgrace after again refusing the duke of Savoy.—Violence of Philip respecting this match.—Mary protects her sister.—Festivities at Hatfield, Enfield, and Richmond.—King of Sweden's addresses to Elizabeth rejected.—Letter of sir T. Pope respecting her dislike of marriage.—Proceedings of the ecclesiastical commission.—Cruel treatment of sir John Cheke.—General decay of national prosperity.—Loss of Calais.—Death of Mary.
Notwithstanding the late fortunate change in her situation, Elizabeth must have entertained an anxious sense of its remaining difficulties, if not dangers; and the prudent circumspection of her character again, as in the latter years of her brother, dictated the expediency of shrouding herself in all the obscurity compatible with her rank and expectations. To literature, the never failing resource of its votaries, she turned again for solace and occupation; and claiming the assistance which Ascham was proud and happy to afford her, she resumed the diligent perusal of the Greek and Latin classics.
The concerns of the college of which sir Thomas Pope was the founder likewise engaged a portion of her thoughts; and this gentleman, in a letter to a friend, mentions that the lady Elizabeth, whom he served, and who was "not only gracious but right learned," often asked him of the course which he had devised for his scholars.
Classical literature was now daily declining from the eminence on which the two preceding sovereigns had labored to place it. The destruction of monastic institutions, and the dispersion of libraries, with the impoverishment of public schools and colleges through the rapacity of Edward's courtiers, had inflicted far deeper injury on the cause of learning than the studious example of the young monarch and his chosen companions was able to compensate. The persecuting spirit of Mary, by driving into exile or suspending from the exercise of their functions the able and enlightened professors of the protestant doctrine, had robbed the church and the universities of their brightest luminaries; and it was not under the auspices of her fierce and ignorant bigotry that the cultivators of the elegant and humanizing arts would seek encouragement or protection. Gardiner indeed, where particular prejudices did not interfere, was inclined to favor the learned; and Ascham owed to him the place of Latin secretary. Cardinal Pole also, himself a scholar, was desirous to support, as much as present circumstances would permit, his ancient character of a patron of scholars, and he earnestly pleaded with sir Thomas Pope to provide for the teaching of Greek as well as Latin in his college; but sir Thomas persisted in his opinion that a Latin professorship was sufficient, considering the general decay of erudition in the country, which had caused an almost total cessation of the study of the Greek language.
It was in the department of English poetry alone that any perceptible advance was effected or prepared during this deplorable aera; and it was to the vigorous genius of one man, whose vivid personifications of abstract beings were then quite unrivalled, and have since been rarely excelled in our language, and whose clear, copious, and forcible style of poetic narrative interested all readers, and inspired a whole school of writers who worked upon his model, that this advance is chiefly to be attributed. This benefactor to our literature was Thomas Sackville, son of sir Richard Sackville, an eminent member of queen Mary's council, and second-cousin to the lady Elizabeth by his paternal grandmother, who was a Boleyn. The time of his birth is doubtful, some placing it in 1536, others as early as 1527. He studied first at Oxford and afterwards at Cambridge, distinguishing himself at both universities by the vivacity of his parts and the excellence of his compositions both in verse and prose. According to the custom of that age, which required that an English gentleman should acquaint himself intimately with the laws of his country before he took a seat amongst her legislators, he next entered himself of the Inner Temple, and about the last year of Mary's reign he served in parliament. But at this early period of life poetry had more charms for Sackville than law or politics; and following the bent of his genius, he first produced "Gorboduc," confessedly the earliest specimen of regular tragedy in our language; but which will be noticed with more propriety when we reach the period of its representation before queen Elizabeth. He then, about the year 1557 as is supposed, laid the plan of an extensive work to be called "A Mirror for Magistrates;" of which the design is thus unfolded in a highly poetical "Induction."
The poet wandering forth on a winter's evening, and taking occasion from the various objects which "told the cruel season," to muse on the melancholy changes of human affairs, and especially on the reverses incident to greatness, suddenly encounters a "piteous wight," clad all in black, who was weeping, sighing, and wringing her hands, in such lamentable guise, that
"——never man did see A wight but half so woe-begone as she."
Struck with grief and horror at the view, he earnestly requires her to "unwrap" her woes, and inform him who and whence she is, since her anguish, if not relieved, must soon put an end to her life. She answers,
"Sorrow am I, in endless torments pained Among the furies in th' infernal lake:"
from these dismal regions she is come, she says, to bemoan the luckless lot of those
"Whom Fortune in this maze of misery, Of wretched chance most woful Mirrors chose:"
and she ends by inviting him to accompany her in her return:
"Come, come, quoth she, and see what I shall show, Come hear the plaining and the bitter bale Of worthy men by Fortune's overthrow: Come thou and see them ruing all in row. They were but shades that erst in mind thou rolled, Come, come with me, thine eyes shall then behold."
He accepts the invitation, having first done homage to Sorrow as to a goddess, since she had been able to read his thought. The scenery and personages are now chiefly copied from the sixth book of the AEneid; but with the addition of many highly picturesque and original touches.
The companions enter, hand in hand, a gloomy wood, through which Sorrow only could have found the way.
"But lo, while thus amid the desert dark We passed on with steps and pace unmeet, A rumbling roar, confused with howl and bark Of dogs, shook all the ground beneath our feet, And struck the din within our ears so deep, As half distraught unto the ground I fell; Besought return, and not to visit hell."
His guide however encourages him, and they proceed by the "lothly lake" Avernus,
"In dreadful fear amid the dreadful place."
"And first within the porch and jaws of hell Sat deep Remorse of Conscience, all besprent With tears; and to herself oft would she tell Her wretchedness, and cursing never stent To sob and sigh: but ever thus lament With thoughtful care, as she that all in vain Should wear and waste continually in pain.
Her eyes, unsteadfast rolling here and there, Whirled on each place as place that vengeance brought, So was her mind continually in fear, Tossed and tormented with tedious thought Of those detested crimes that she had wrought: With dreadful cheer and looks thrown to the sky, Longing for death, and yet she could not die.
Next saw we Dread, all trembling how he shook With foot uncertain proffered here and there, Benumbed of speech, and with a ghastly look Searched every place, all pale and dead with fear, His cap borne up with staring of his hair." &c.
All the other allegorical personages named, and only named, by Virgil, as well as a few additional ones, are pourtrayed in succession, and with the same strength and fullness of delineation; but with the exception of War, who appears in the attributes of Mars, they are represented simply as examples of Old age, Malady, &c., not as the agents by whom these evils are inflicted upon others. Cerberus and Charon occur in their appropriate offices, but the monstrous forms Gorgon, Chimaera, &c., are judiciously suppressed; and the poet is speedily conducted to the banks of that "main broad flood"
"Which parts the gladsome fields from place of woe."
"With Sorrow for my guide, as there I stood, A troop of men the most in arms bedight, In tumult clustered 'bout both sides the flood: 'Mongst whom, who were ordained t' eternal night, Or who to blissful peace and sweet delight, I wot not well, it seemed that they were all Such as by death's untimely stroke did fall."
Sorrow acquaints him that these are all illustrious examples of the reverses which he was lately deploring, who will themselves relate to him their misfortunes; and that he must afterwards
"Recount the same to Kesar, king and peer."
The first whom he sees advancing towards him from the throng of ghosts is Henry duke of Buckingham, put to death under Richard III.: and his "Legend," or story, is unfortunately the only one which its author ever found leisure to complete; the favor of his illustrious kinswoman on her accession causing him to sink the poet in the courtier, the ambassador, and finally the minister of state. But he had already done enough to earn himself a lasting name amongst the improvers of poetry in England. In tragedy he gave the first regular model; in personification he advanced far beyond all his predecessors, and furnished a prototype to that master of allegory, Spenser. A greater than Spenser has also been indebted to him; as will be evident, I think, to all who compare the description of the figures on the shield of war in his Induction, and especially those of them which relate to the siege of Troy, with the exquisitely rich and vivid description of a picture on that subject in Shakespeare's early poem on Tarquin and Lucretia.
The legend of the duke of Buckingham is composed in a style rich, free and forcible; the examples brought from ancient history, of the suspicion and inward wretchedness to which tyrants have ever been a prey, and afterwards, of the instability of popular favor, might in this age be accounted tedious and pedantic; they are however pertinent, well recited, and doubtless possessed the charm of novelty with respect to the majority of contemporary readers. The curses which the unhappy duke pours forth against the dependent who had betrayed him, may almost compare, in the energy and inventiveness of malice, with those of Shakespeare's queen Margaret; but they lose their effect by being thrown into the form of monologue and ascribed to a departed spirit, whose agonies of grief and rage in reciting his own death have something in them bordering on the burlesque.
The mind of Sackville was deeply fraught, as we have seen, with classic stores; and at a time when England possessed as yet no complete translation of Virgil, he might justly regard it as a considerable service to the cause of national taste to transplant into our vernacular poetry some scattered flowers from his rich garden of poetic sweets. Thus he has embellished his legend with an imitation or rather paraphrase of the celebrated description of night in the fourth book of the AEneid. The lines well merit transcription.
"Midnight was come, when ev'ry vital thing With sweet sound sleep their weary limbs did rest; The beasts were still, the little birds that sing Now sweetly slept besides their mother's breast, The old and all were shrowded in their nest; The waters calm, the cruel seas did cease; The woods, the fields, and all things held their peace.
The golden stars were whirled amid their race, And on the earth did laugh with twinkling light, When each thing nestled in his resting place Forgat day's pain with pleasure of the night: The hare had not the greedy hounds in sight; The fearful deer had not the dogs in doubt, The partridge dreamt not of the falcon's foot.
The ugly bear now minded not the stake, Nor how the cruel mastives do him tear; The stag lay still unroused from the brake; The foamy boar feared not the hunter's spear: All things were still in desert, bush and breer. With quiet heart now from their travails ceast Soundly they slept in midst of all their rest."
The allusion to bear-bating in the concluding stanza may offend the delicacy of a modern reader; but let it be remembered that in the days of Mary, and even of Elizabeth, this amusement was accounted "sport for ladies."
The "Mirror for Magistrates" was not lost to the world by the desertion of Sackville from the service of the muses; for a similar or rather perhaps the same design was entertained, and soon after carried into execution, by other and able though certainly inferior hands.
During the reign of Mary,—but whether before or after the composition of Sackville's Induction does not appear,—a certain printer, having communicated to several "worshipful and honorable persons" his intention of republishing Lydgate's translation in verse of Boccacio's "Fall of Princes," was by them advised to procure a continuation of the work, chiefly in English examples; and he applied in consequence to Baldwyne, an ecclesiastic and graduate of Oxford. Baldwyne declined to embark alone in so vast a design, and one, as he thought, so little likely to prove profitable; but seven other contemporary poets, of whom George Ferrers has already been mentioned as one, having promised their assistance, he consented to assume the editorship of the work. The general frame agreed upon by these associates was that employed in the original work of Boccacio, who feigned, that a party of friends being assembled, it was determined that each of them should contribute to the pleasure of the company by personating some illustrious and unfortunate character, and relating his adventures in the first person. A contrivance so tame and meagre compared with the descent to the regions of the dead sketched with so much spirit by Sackville, that it must have preceded, in all probability, their knowledge at least of his performance. The first part of the work, almost entirely by Baldwyne, was written, and partly printed, in Mary's time, but its publication was prevented by the interference of the lord-chancellor,—a trait of the mean and cowardly jealousy of the administration, which speaks volumes. In the first year of Elizabeth lord Stafford, an enlightened patron of letters, procured a licence for its appearance. A second part soon followed, in which Sackville's Induction and Legend were inserted. The success of this collection was prodigious; edition after edition was given to the public under the inspection of different poetical revisers, by each of whom copious additions were made to the original work. Its favor and reputation continued during all the reign of Elizabeth, and far into that of James; for Mr. Warton tells us that in Chapman's "May-day," printed in 1611, "a gentleman of the most elegant taste for reading and highly accomplished in the current books of the times, is called 'one that has read Marcus Aurelius, Gesta Romanorum, and the Mirror of Magistrates.'"
[Note 28: History of English Poetry, vol. iii.]
The greater part of the contributors to this work were lawyers; an order of men who, in most ages and nations, have accounted it a part of professional duty to stand in opposition to popular seditions on one hand, and to the violent and illegal exertion of arbitrary power on the other. Accordingly, many of the legends are made to exemplify the evils of both these excesses; and though, in more places than one, the unlawfulness, on any provocation, of lifting a hand against "the Lord's anointed" is in strong terms asserted, the deposition of tyrants is often recorded with applause; and no mercy is shown to the corrupt judge or minister who wrests law and justice in compliance with the wicked will of his prince.
The newly published chronicles of the wars of York and Lancaster by Hall, a writer who made some approach to the character of a genuine historian, furnished facts to the first composers of the Mirror; the later ones might draw also from Holinshed and Stow. There is some probability that the idea of forming plays on English history was suggested to Shakespeare by the earlier of these legends; and it is certain that his plays, in their turn, furnished some of their brightest ornaments of sentiment and diction to the legends added by later editors.
To a modern reader, the greater part of these once admired pieces will appear trite, prosaic, and tedious; but an uncultivated age—like the children and the common people of all ages—is most attracted and impressed by that mode of narration which leaves the least to be supplied by the imagination of the hearer or reader; and when this collection of history in verse is compared, not with the finished labors of a Hume or a Robertson, but with the prolix and vulgar narratives of the chroniclers, the admiration and delight with which it was received will no longer surprise.
One circumstance more respecting a work so important by the quantity of historical knowledge which it diffused among the mass of readers, and the influence which it exerted over the public mind during half a century, deserves to be here adverted to. Baldwyne and his fellow-laborers began their series from the Norman conquest, and the same starting-point had been judiciously chosen by Sackville; but the fabulous history of Geffrey of Monmouth still found such powerful advocates in national vanity, ignorance and credulity, that succeeding editors found it convenient to embellish their work with moral examples drawn from his fictitious series of British kings before the invasion of the Romans. Accordingly they have brought forward a long line of worthies, beginning with king Albanact, son of Brute the Trojan, and ending with Cadwallader the last king of the Britons, scarcely one of whom, excepting the renowned prince Arthur, is known even by name to the present race of students in English history; though amongst poetical readers, the immortal verse of Spenser preserves some recollection that such characters once were fabled. In return for this superfluity, our Saxon line of kings is passed over with very little notice, only three legends, and those of very obscure personages, being interposed between Cadwallader and king Harold. The descent of the royal race of Britain from the Trojans was at this period more than an article of poetical faith; it was maintained, or rather taken for granted, by the gravest and most learned writers. One Kelston, who dedicated a versified chronicle of the Brutes to Edward VI., went further still, and traced up the pedigree of his majesty through two-and-thirty generations, to Osiris king of Egypt. Troynovant, the name said to have been given to London by Brute its founder, was frequently employed in verse. A song addressed to Elizabeth entitles her the "beauteous queen of second Troy;" and in describing the pageants which celebrated her entrance into the provincial capitals which she visited in her progresses, it will frequently be necessary to introduce to the reader personages of the ancient race of this fabled conqueror of our island, who claimed for his direct ancestor,—but whether in the third or fourth degree authors differ,—no less a hero than the pious AEneas himself.
But to return to the personal circumstances of Elizabeth.
The public and splendid celebration of the festivals of the church was the least reprehensible of the measures employed by Mary for restoring the ascendancy of her religion over the minds of her subjects. She had been profuse in her donations of sacred vestments and ornaments to the churches and the monasteries, of which she had restored several; and these gaudy trappings of a ceremonial worship were exhibited, rather indeed to the scandal than the edification of a dejected people, in frequent processions conducted with the utmost solemnity and magnificence. Court entertainments always accompanied these devotional ceremonies, and Elizabeth seems by assisting at the latter to have purchased admission to the former. The Christmas festivities in which she shared have already been described in the words of a contemporary chronicler; and from the same source we derive the following account of the "antique pageantries" with which another season of rejoicing was celebrated for her recreation, by the munificence of the indulgent superintendent of her conduct and affairs. "In Shrove-tide 1556, sir Thomas Pope made for the lady Elizabeth, all at his own costs, a great and rich masking in the great hall at Hatfield, where the pageants were marvellously furnished. There were there twelve minstrels anticly disguised; with forty six or more gentlemen and ladies, many of them knights or nobles, and ladies of honor, apparelled in crimson sattin, embroidered upon with wreaths of gold, and garnished with borders of hanging pearl. And the devise of a castle of cloth of gold, set with pomegranates about the battlements, with shields of knights hanging therefrom; and six knights in rich harness tourneyed. At night the cupboard in the hall was of twelve stages mainly furnished with garnish of gold and silver vessul, and a banquet of seventy dishes, and after a voidee of spices and suttleties with thirty six spice-plates; all at the charges of sir Thomas Pope. And the next day the play of Holophernes. But the queen percase misliked these folleries as by her letters to sir Thomas it did appear; and so their disguisings ceased."
[Note 29: See Nichols's "Progresses," vol. i. p. 19.]
A circumstance soon afterwards occurred calculated to recall past dangers to the mind of the princess, and perhaps to disturb her with apprehensions of their recurrence.
Dudley Ashton, formerly a partisan of Wyat, had escaped into France, after the defeat and capture of his leader, whence he was still plotting the overthrow of Mary's government. By the connivance or assistance of that court, now on the brink of war with England, he was at length enabled to send over one Cleberry, a condemned person, whom he instructed to counterfeit the earl of Devonshire, and endeavour to raise the country in his cause. Letters and proclamations were at the same time dispersed by Ashton, in which the name of Elizabeth was employed without scruple. The party had even the slanderous audacity to pretend, that between Courtney and the heiress of the crown the closest of all intimacies, if not an actual marriage, subsisted; and the matter went so far that at Ipswich, one of the strong holds of protestantism, Cleberry proclaimed the earl of Devonshire and the princess, king and queen. But the times were past when any advantage could be taken of this circumstance against Elizabeth, whose perfect innocence was well known to the government; and the council immediately wrote in handsome terms to sir Thomas Pope, directing him to acquaint her, in whatever manner he should judge best, with the abominable falsehoods circulated respecting her. A few days after, the queen herself wrote also to her sister in terms fitted to assure her of perfect safety. The princess replied, says Strype, "in a well penned letter," "utterly detesting and disclaiming all concern in the enterprise, and declaiming against the actors in it." Of the epistle thus commended, a single paragraph will probably be esteemed a sufficient specimen.... "And among earthly things I chiefly wish this one; that there were as good surgeons for making anatomies of hearts, that might show my thoughts to your majesty, as there are expert physicians of the bodies, able to express the inward griefs of their maladies to the patient. For then I doubt not, but know well, that whatsoever others should suggest by malice, yet your majesty should be sure by knowledge; so that the more such misty clouds offuscate the clear light of my truth, the more my tried thoughts should glister to the dimming of their hidden malice." &c. It must be confessed that this erudite princess had not perfectly succeeded in transplanting into her own language the epistolary graces of her favorite Cicero;—but to how many much superior classical scholars might a similar remark be applied!
The frustration of Mary's hope of becoming a mother, her subsequent ill state of health, and the resolute refusal of the parliament to permit the coronation of her husband, who had quitted England in disgust to attend his affairs on the continent, conferred, in spite of all the efforts of the catholic party, a daily augmenting importance on Elizabeth. When therefore in November 1556 she had come in state to Somerset Place, her town-residence, to take up her abode for the winter, a kind of court was immediately formed around her; and she might hope to be richly indemnified for any late anxieties or privations, by the brilliant festivities, the respectful observances, and the still more welcome flatteries, of which she found herself the distinguished object:—But disappointment awaited her.
She had been invited to court for the purpose of receiving a second and more solemn offer of the hand of the duke of Savoy, whose suit was enforced by the king her brother-in-law with the whole weight of his influence or authority. This alliance had been the subject of earnest correspondence between Philip and the English council; the Imperial ambassadors were waiting in England for her answer; and the disappointment of the high-raised hopes of the royal party, by her reiteration of a decided negative, was followed by her quitting London in a kind of disgrace early in the month of December.
But Philip would not suffer the business to end here. Indignant at the resistance opposed by the princess to his measures, he seems to have urged the queen to interfere in a manner authoritative enough to compel obedience; but, by a remarkable exchange of characters, Mary now appeared as the protectress of her sister from the violence of Philip.
In a letter still preserved, she tells him, that unless the consent of parliament were first obtained, she fears that the accomplishment of the marriage would fail to procure for him the advantages which he expected; but that, however this might be, her conscience would not allow her to press the matter further. That the friar Alphonso, Philip's confessor, whom he had sent to argue the point with her, had entirely failed of convincing her; that in fact she could not comprehend the drift of his arguments. Philip, it is manifest, must already have made use of very harsh language towards the queen respecting her conduct in this affair, for she deprecates his further displeasure in very abject terms; but yet persists in her resolution with laudable firmness. Her husband was so far, however, from yielding with a good grace a point on which he had certainly no right to dictate either to Mary or to her sister, that soon afterwards he sent into England the duchesses of Parma and Lorrain for the purpose of conducting the princess into Flanders:—but this step was ill-judged. His coldness and neglect had by this time nearly extinguished the fond passion of the queen, who is said to have torn his picture in a fit of rage, on report of some disrespectful language which he had used concerning her since his departure for the continent. Resentment and jealousy now divided her gloomy soul; and Philip's behaviour, on which she had doubtless her spies, caused her to regard the duchess of Lorrain as the usurper of his heart. The extraordinary circumstances of pomp and parade with which this lady, notwithstanding the smallness of her revenues, now appeared in England, confirmed and aggravated her most painful suspicions; and so far from favoring the suit urged by such an ambassadress, Mary became more than ever determined on thwarting it. She would not permit the duchesses to pay the princess a single visit at Hatfield; and her reception gave them so little encouragement to persevere, that they speedily returned to report their failure to him who sent them.
These circumstances seem to have produced a cordiality of feeling and frequency of intercourse between the sisters which had never before existed. In February 1557 the princess arrived with a great retinue at Somerset Place, and went thence to wait upon the queen at Whitehall; and when the spring was somewhat further advanced, her majesty honored her by returning the visit at Hatfield. The royal guest was, of course, to be entertained with every species of courtly and elegant delight; and accordingly, on the morning after her arrival, she and the princess, after attending mass, went to witness a grand exhibition of bear-bating, "with which their highnesses were right well content." In the evening the chamber was adorned with a sumptuous suit of tapestry, called, but from what circumstance does not appear, "the hangings of Antioch." After supper a play was represented by the choristers of St. Paul's, then the most applauded actors in London; and after it was over, one of the children accompanied with his voice the performance of the princess on the virginals.
Sir Thomas Pope could now without offence gratify his lady with another show, devised by him in that spirit of romantic magnificence equally agreeable to the taste of the age and the temper of Elizabeth herself. She was invited to repair to Enfield Chase to take the amusement of hunting the hart. Twelve ladies in white satin attended her on their "ambling palfreys," and twenty yeomen clad in green. At the entrance of the forest she was met by fifty archers in scarlet boots and yellow caps, armed with gilded bows, one of whom presented to her a silver-headed arrow winged with peacock's feathers. The splendid show concluded, according to the established laws of the chase, by the offering of the knife to the princess, as first lady on the field; and her taking 'say of the buck with her own fair and royal hand.
During the summer of the same year the queen was pleased to invite her sister to an entertainment at Richmond, of which we have received some rather interesting particulars. The princess was brought from Somerset Place in the queen's barge, which was richly hung with garlands of artificial flowers and covered with a canopy of green sarcenet, wrought with branches of eglantine in embroidery and powdered with blossoms of gold. In the barge she was accompanied by sir Thomas Pope and four ladies of her chamber. Six boats attended filled with her retinue, habited in russet damask and blue embroidered satin, tasseled and spangled with silver; their bonnets cloth of silver with green feathers. The queen received her in a sumptuous pavilion in the labyrinth of the gardens. This pavilion, which was of cloth of gold and purple velvet, was made in the form of a castle, probably in allusion to the kingdom of Castile; its sides were divided in compartments, which bore alternately the fleur de lis in silver, and the pomegranate, the bearing of Granada, in gold. A sumptuous banquet was here served up to the royal ladies, in which there was introduced a pomegranate-tree in confectionary work, bearing the arms of Spain:—so offensively glaring was the preference given by Mary to the country of her husband and of her maternal ancestry over that of which she was a native and in her own right queen! There was no masking or dancing, but a great number of minstrels performed. The princess returned to Somerset Place the same evening, and the next day to Hatfield.
The addresses of a new suitor soon after furnished Elizabeth with an occasion of gratifying the queen by fresh demonstrations of respect and duty. The king of Sweden was earnestly desirous of obtaining for Eric his eldest son the hand of a lady whose reversionary prospects, added to her merit and accomplishments, rendered her without dispute the first match in Europe. He had denied his son's request to be permitted to visit her in person, fearing that those violences of temper and eccentricities of conduct of which this ill-fated prince had already given strong indications, might injure his cause in the judgement of so discerning a princess. The business was therefore to be transacted through the Swedish ambassador; but he was directed by his sovereign to make his application by a message to Elizabeth herself, in which the queen and council were not for the present to participate. The princess took hold of this circumstance as a convenient pretext for rejecting a proposal which she felt no disposition to encourage; and she declared that she could never listen to any overtures of this nature which had not first received the sanction of her majesty. The ambassador pleaded in answer, that as a gentleman his master had judged it becoming that his first application should be made to herself; but that should he be so happy as to obtain her concurrence, he would then, as a king, make his demand in form to the queen her sister. The princess replied, that if it were to depend on herself, a single life would ever be her choice; and she finally dismissed the suit with a negative.
On receiving some hint of this transaction, Mary sent for sir Thomas Pope, and having learned from him all the particulars, she directed him to express to her sister her high approbation of her proper and dutiful conduct on this occasion; and also to make himself acquainted with her sentiments on the subject of matrimony in general. He soon after transmitted to her majesty all the information she could desire, in the following letter:
"First after I had declared to her grace how well the queen's majesty liked of her prudent and honorable answer made to the same messenger; I then opened unto her grace the effects of the said messenger's credence; which after her grace had heard, I said, the queen's highness had sent me to her grace, not only to declare the same, but also to understand how her grace liked the said motion. Whereunto, after a little pause taken, her grace answered in form following: 'Master Pope, I require you, after my most humble commendations to the queen's majesty, to render unto the same like thanks that it pleased her highness, of her goodness, to conceive so well of my answer made to the same messenger; and herewithal, of her princely consideration, with such speed to command you by your letters to signify the same unto me: who before remained wonderfully perplexed, fearing that her majesty might mistake the same: for which her goodness, I acknowledge myself bound to honor, serve, love, and obey her highness during my life. Requiring you also to say unto her majesty, that in the king my brother's time there was offered me a very honorable marriage, or two; and ambassadors sent to treat with me touching the same; whereupon I made my humble suit unto his highness, as some of honor yet living can be testimonies, that it would like the same to give me leave, with his grace's favor, to remain in that estate I was, which of all others best liked me, or pleased me. And, in good faith, I pray you say unto her highness, I am even at this present of the same mind, and so intend to continue, with her majesty's favor: and assuring her highness I so well like this estate, as I persuade myself there is not any kind of life comparable unto it. And as concerning my liking the said motion made by the said messenger, I beseech you say unto her majesty, that to my remembrance I never heard of his master before this time; and that I so well like both the message and the messenger, as I shall most humbly pray God upon my knees, that from henceforth I never hear of the one nor the other: assure you that if he should eftsoons repair unto me, I would forbear to speak to him. And were there nothing else to move me to mislike the motion, other than that his master would attempt the same without making the queen's majesty privy thereunto, it were cause sufficient.'
"And when her grace had thus ended, I was so bold as of myself to say unto her grace, her pardon first required, that I thought few or none would believe but that her grace could be right well contented to marry; so that there were some honorable marriage offered her by the queen's highness, or by her majesty's assent. Whereunto her grace answered, 'What I shall do hereafter I know not; but I assure you, upon my truth and fidelity, and as God be merciful unto me, I am not at this time otherwise minded than I have declared unto you; no, though I were offered the greatest prince in all Europe.' And yet percase, the queen's majesty may conceive this rather to proceed of a maidenly shamefacedness, than upon any such certain determination."
[Note 30: The hint of "some honorable marriage" in the above letter, has been supposed to refer to the duke of Savoy; but if the date inscribed upon the copy which is found among the Harleian MSS. be correct (April 26th 1558), this could not well be; since the queen, early in the preceding year, had declined to interfere further in his behalf.]
This letter appears to have been the last transaction which occurred between Mary and Elizabeth: from it, and from the whole of the notices relative to the situation of the latter thrown together in the preceding pages, it may be collected, that during the three last years of her sister's reign,—the period, namely, of her residence at Hatfield,—she had few privations, and no personal hardships to endure: but for individuals whom she esteemed, for principles to which her conscience secretly inclined, for her country which she truly loved, her apprehensions must have been continually excited, and too often justified by events the most cruel and disastrous.
The reestablishment, by solemn acts of the legislature, of the Romish ritual and the papal authority, though attended with the entire prohibition of all protestant worship, was not sufficient for the bigotry of Mary. Aware that the new doctrines still found harbour in the bosoms of her subjects, she sought to drag them by her violence from this last asylum; for to her, as to all tyrants, it appeared both desirable and possible to subject the liberty of thinking to the regulation and control of human laws.
By virtue of her authority as head of the English church,—a title which the murmurs of her parliament had compelled her against her conscience to resume after laying it aside for some time,—she issued an ecclesiastical commission, which wanted nothing of the Spanish inquisition but the name. The commissioners were empowered to call before them the leading men in every parish of the kingdom, and to compel them to bind themselves by oath to give information against such of their neighbours as, by abstaining from attendance at church or other symptoms of disaffection to the present order of things, afforded room to doubt the soundness of their belief. Articles of faith were then offered to the suspected persons for their signature, and on their simple refusal they were handed over to the civil power, and fire and faggot awaited them. By this barbarous species of punishment, about two hundred and eighty persons are stated to have perished during the reign of Mary; but, to the disgrace of the learned, the rich, and the noble, these martyrs, with the exception of a few distinguished ecclesiastics, were almost all from the middling or lower, some from the very lowest classes of society.
Amongst these glorious sufferers, therefore, the princess could have few personal friends to regret; but in the much larger number of the disgraced, the suspected, the imprisoned, the fugitive, she saw the greater part of the public characters, whether statesmen or divines, on whose support and attachment she had learned to place reliance.
The extraordinary cruelties exercised upon sir John Cheke, who whilst he held the post of preceptor to her brother had also assisted in her own education, must have been viewed by Elizabeth with strong emotion of indignation and grief.
It has been already mentioned, that after his release from imprisonment incurred in the cause of lady Jane Grey,—a release, by the way, which was purchased by the sacrifice of his landed property and all his appointments,—this learned and estimable person obtained permission to travel for a limited period. This was regarded as a special favor; for it was one of Mary's earliest acts of tyranny to prohibit the escape of her destined victims, and it was only by joining themselves to the foreign congregations of the reformed, who had license to depart the kingdom, or by eluding with much hazard the vigilance of the officers by whom the seaports were watched, that any of her protestant subjects had been enabled to secure liberty of conscience in a voluntary exile. It is a little remarkable that Rome should have been Cheke's first city of pilgrimage; but classical associations in this instance overcame the force of protestant antipathies. He took the opportunity however of visiting Basil in his way, where an English congregation was established, and where he had the pleasure of introducing himself to several learned characters, once perhaps the chosen associates of Erasmus.
In the beginning of 1556 he had reached Strasburgh, for it was thence that he addressed a letter to his dear friend and brother-in-law sir William Cecil, who appears to have made some compliances with the times which alarmed and grieved him. It is in a strain of the most affectionate earnestness that he entreats him to hold fast his faith, and "to take heed how he did in the least warp or strain his conscience by any compliance for his worldly security." But such exhortations, however salutary in themselves, did not come with the best grace from those who had found in flight a refuge from the terrors of that persecution which was raging in all its fierceness before the eyes of such of their unfortunate brethren as had found themselves necessitated to abide the fiery trial. A remark by no means foreign to the case before us! Sir John Cheke's leave of absence seems now to have expired; and it was probably with the design of making interest for its renewal that he privately repaired, soon after the date of his letter, to Brussels, on a visit to his two learned friends, lord Paget and sir John Mason, then residing in that city as Mary's ambassadors. These men were recent converts, or more likely conformists, to the court religion; and Paget's furious councils against Elizabeth have been already mentioned. It is to be hoped that they did not add to the guilt of self-interested compliances in matters of faith the blacker crime of a barbarous act of perfidy against a former associate and brother-protestant who had scarcely ceased to be their guest;—but certain it is, that on some secret intimation of his having entered his territories, king Philip issued special orders for the seizure of Cheke. On his return, between Brussels and Antwerp, the unhappy man, with sir Peter Carew his companion, was apprehended by a provost-marshal, bound hand and foot, thrown into a cart, and so conveyed on board a vessel sailing for England. He is said to have been brought to the Tower muffled, according to an odious practice of Spanish despotism introduced into the country during the reign of Mary. Under the terror of such a surprise the awful alternative "Comply or burn" was laid before him. Human frailty under these trying circumstances prevailed; and in an evil hour this champion of light and learning was tempted to subscribe his false assent to the doctrine of the real presence and the whole list of Romish articles. This was but the beginning of humiliations: he was now required to pronounce two ample recantations, one before the queen in person, the other before cardinal Pole, who also imposed upon him various acts of penance. Even this did not immediately procure his liberation from prison; and while he was obliged in public to applaud the mercy of his enemies in terms of the most abject submission, he bewailed in private, with abundance of bitter tears, their cruelty, and still more his own criminal compliance. The savage zealots knew not how to set bounds to their triumph over a man whom learning and acknowledged talents and honorable employments had rendered so considerable.
Even when at length he was set free, and flattered himself that he had drained to the dregs his cup of bitterness, he discovered that the masterpiece of barbarity, the refinement of insult, was yet in store. He was required, as evidence of the sincerity of his conversion and a token of his complete restoration to royal favor, to take his seat on the bench by the side of the savage Bonner, and assist at the condemnation of his brother-protestants. The unhappy man did not refuse,—so thoroughly was his spirit subdued within him,—but it broke his heart; and retiring at last to the house of an old and learned friend, whose door was opened to him in Christian charity, he there ended within a few months, his miserable life, a prey to shame, remorse and melancholy. A sadder tale the annals of persecution do not furnish, or one more humbling to the pride and confidence of human virtue. Many have failed under lighter trials; few have expiated a failure by sufferings so severe. How often must this victim of a wounded spirit have dwelt with envy, amid his slower torments, on the brief agonies and lasting crown of a courageous martyrdom!
It is happily not possible for a kingdom to flourish under the crushing weight of such a tyranny as that of Mary. The retreat of the foreign protestants had robbed the country of hundreds of industrious and skilful artificers; the arbitrary exactions of the queen impoverished and discouraged the trading classes, against whom they principally operated; tumults and insurrections were frequent, and afforded a pretext for the introduction of Spanish troops; the treasury was exhausted in efforts for maintaining the power of the sovereign, restoring the church to opulence and splendor, and re-edifying the fallen monasteries. To add to these evils, a foreign marriage rendered both the queen and country subservient to the interested or ambitious projects of the Spanish sovereign. For his sake a needless war was declared against France, which, after draining entirely an already failing treasury, ended in the loss of Calais, the last remaining trophy of the victories by which the Edwards and the Henrys had humbled in the dust the pride and power of France.
This last stroke completed the dejection of the nation; and Mary herself, who was by no means destitute of sensibility where the honor of her crown was concerned, sunk into an incurable melancholy. "When I die," said she to her attendants who sought to discover the cause of her despondency, "Calais will be found at my heart."
The unfeeling desertion of her husband, the consciousness of having incurred the hatred of her subjects, the unprosperous state of her affairs, and the well founded apprehension that her successor would once more overthrow the whole edifice of papal power which she had labored with such indefatigable ardor to restore, may each be supposed to have infused its own drop of bitterness into the soul of this unhappy princess. The long and severe mortifications of her youth, while they soured her temper, had also undermined her constitution, and contributed to bring upon her a premature old age; dropsical symptoms began to appear, and after a lingering illness of nearly half a year she sunk into the grave on the 17th day of November 1558, in the forty-fourth year of her age.
1558 AND 1559.
General joy on the accession of Elizabeth.—Views of the nobility—of the middling and lower classes.—Flattery with which she is addressed.—Descriptions of her person.—Her first privy-council.—Parry and Cecil brought into office.—Notices of each.—Death of cardinal Pole.—The queen enters London—passes to the Tower.—Lord Robert Dudley her master of the horse.—Notices respecting him.—The queen's treatment of her relations.—The Howard family.—Sir Richard Sackville.—Henry Cary.—The last, created lord Hunsdon.—Preparations in London against the queen's coronation.—Splendid costume of the age.—She passes by water from Westminster to the Tower.—The procession described.—Her passage through the city.—Pageants exhibited.—The bishops refuse to crown her.—Bishop of Carlisle prevailed on.—Religious sentiments of the queen.—Prohibition of preaching—of theatrical exhibitions.
Never perhaps was the accession of any prince the subject of such keen and lively interest to a whole people as that of Elizabeth.
Both in the religious establishments and political relations of the country, the most important changes were anticipated; changes in which the humblest individual found himself concerned, and to which a vast majority of the nation looked forward with hope and joy.
With the courtiers and great nobles, whose mutability of faith had so happily corresponded with every ecclesiastical vicissitude of the last three reigns, political and personal considerations may well be supposed to have held the first place; and though the old religion might still be endeared to them by many cherished associations and by early prejudice, there were few among them who did not regard the liberation of the country from Spanish influence as ample compensation for the probable restoration of the religious establishment of Henry or of Edward. Besides, there was scarcely an individual belonging to these classes who had not in some manner partaken of the plunder of the church, and whom the avowed principles of Mary had not disquieted with apprehensions that some plan of compulsory restitution would sooner or later be attempted by an union of royal and papal authority.
With the middling and lower classes religious views and feelings were predominant The doctrines of the new and better system of faith and worship had now become more precious and important than ever in the eyes of its adherents from the hardships which many of them had encountered for its sake, and from the interest which each disciple vindicated to himself in the glory and merit of the holy martyrs whose triumphant exit they had witnessed. With all the fervor of pious gratitude they offered up their thanksgivings for the signal deliverance by which their prayers had been answered. The bloody tyranny of Mary was at an end; and though the known conformity of Elizabeth to Romish rites might apparently give room for doubts and suspicions, it should seem that neither catholics nor protestants were willing to believe that the daughter of Anne Boleyn could in her heart be a papist. Under this impression the citizens of London, who spoke the sense of their own class throughout the kingdom, welcomed the new queen as a protectress sent by Heaven itself: but even in the first transports of their joy, and amid the pompous pageantries by which their loyal congratulations were expressed, they took care to intimate, in a manner not to be misunderstood, their hopes and expectations on the great concern now nearest to their hearts.
Prudence confined within their own bosoms the regrets and murmurs of the popish clergy; submission and a simulated loyalty were at present obviously their only policy: thus not a whisper breathed abroad but of joy and gratulation and happy presage of the days to come.
The sex, the youth, the accomplishments, the graces, the past misfortunes of the princess, all served to heighten the interest with which she was beheld: the age of chivalry had not yet expired; and in spite of the late unfortunate experience of a female reign, the romantic image of a maiden queen dazzled all eyes, subdued all hearts, inflamed the imaginations of the brave and courtly youth with visions of love and glory, exalted into a passionate homage the principle of loyalty, and urged adulation to the very brink of idolatry.
The fulsome compliments on her beauty which Elizabeth, almost to the latest period of her life, not only permitted but required and delighted in, have been adverted to by all the writers who have made her reign and character their theme: and those of the number whom admiration and pity of the fair queen of Scots have rendered hostile to her memory, have taken a malicious pleasure in exaggerating the extravagance of this weakness, by denying her, even in her freshest years, all pretensions to those personal charms by which her rival was so eminently, distinguished. Others however have been more favorable, and probably more just, to her on this point; and it would be an injury to her memory to withhold from the reader the following portraitures which authorize us to form a pleasing as well as majestic image of this illustrious female at the period of her accession and at the age of five-and-twenty.
"She was a lady of great beauty, of decent stature, and of an excellent shape. In her youth she was adorned with a more than usual maiden modesty; her skin was of pure white, and her hair of a yellow colour; her eyes were beautiful and lively. In short, her whole body was well made, and her face was adorned with a wonderful and sweet beauty and majesty. This beauty lasted till her middle age, though it declined." &c.
[Note 31: Bohun's "Character of Queen Elizabeth."]
"She was of personage tall, of hair and complexion fair, and therewith well favored, but high-nosed; of limbs and feature neat, and, which added to the lustre of those exterior graces, of stately and majestic comportment; participating in this more of her father than her mother, who was of an inferior allay, plausible, or, as the French hath it, more debonaire and affable, virtues which might suit well with majesty, and which descending as hereditary to the daughter, did render her of a more sweeter temper and endeared her more to the love and liking of her people, who gave her the name and fame of a most gracious and popular prince."
[Note 32: Naunton's "Fragmenta Regalia."]
The death of Mary was announced to the two houses, which were then sitting, by Heath bishop of Ely, the lord-chancellor. In both assemblies, after the decorum of a short pause, the notification was followed by joyful shouts of "God save queen Elizabeth! long and happily may she reign!" and with great alacrity the members issued out to proclaim the new sovereign before the palace in Westminster and again at the great cross in Cheapside.
The Londoners knew not how to contain their joy on this happy occasion:—the bells of all the churches were set ringing, bonfires were kindled, and tables were spread in the streets according to the bountiful and hospitable custom of that day, "where was plentiful eating, drinking, and making merry." On the following Sunday Te Deum was sung in the churches; probably an unexampled, however merited, expression of disrespect to the memory of the former sovereign.
Elizabeth received the news of her own accession at Hatfield. We are not told that she affected any great concern for the loss of her sister, much less did any unbecoming sign of exultation escape her; but, "falling on her knees, after a good time of respiration she uttered this verse of the Psalms; A Domino factum est istud, et est mirabile oculis nostris: which to this day we find on the stamp of her gold; with this on her silver, Posui Deum adjutorem meum."
[Note 33: It is the Lord's doing, it is marvellous in our eyes.]
[Note 34: I have chosen God for my helper.]
[Note 35: "Fragmenta Regalia."]
Several noblemen of the late queen's council now repairing to her, she held at Hatfield on November the 20th her first privy-council; at which she declared sir Thomas Parry comptroller of her household, sir Edward Rogers captain of the guard, and sir William Cecil principal secretary of state, all three being at the same time admitted to the council-board. From these appointments, the first of her reign, some presages might be drawn of her future government favorable to her own character and correspondent to the wishes of her people.
Parry was the person who had filled for many years the office of her cofferer, who was perfectly in the secret of whatever confidential intercourse she might formerly have held with the lord-admiral, and whose fidelity to her in that business had stood firm against all the threats of the protector and council, and the artifices of those by whom his examination had been conducted. That mindfulness of former services, of which the advancement of this man formed by no means a solitary instance in the conduct of Elizabeth, appeared the more commendable in her, because she accompanied it with a generous oblivion of the many slights and injuries to which her defenceless and persecuted condition had so long exposed her from others.
The merit of Cecil was already in part known to the public; and his promotion to an office of such importance was a happy omen for the protestant cause, his attachment to which had been judged the sole impediment to his advancement under the late reign to situations of power and trust corresponding with the opinion entertained of his integrity and political wisdom. A brief retrospect of the scenes of public life in which he had already been an actor will best explain the character and sentiments of this eminent person, destined to wield for more than forty years with unparalleled skill and felicity, under a mistress who knew his value, the energies of the English state.
Born, in 1520, the son of the master of the royal wardrobe, Cecil early engaged the notice of Henry VIII. by the fame of a religious dispute which he had held in Latin with two popish priests attached to the Irish chieftain O'Neal. A place in reversion freely bestowed on him by the king at once rewarded the zeal of the young polemic, and encouraged him to desert the profession of the law, in which he had embarked, for the political career.
His marriage with the sister of sir John Cheke strengthened his interest at court by procuring him an introduction to the earl of Hertford, and early in the reign of Edward this powerful patronage obtained for him the office of secretary of state. In the first disgrace of the protector he lost his place, and was for a short time a prisoner in the Tower; but his compliant conduct soon restored him to favor: he scrupled not to draw the articles of impeachment against the protector; and Northumberland, finding him both able in business and highly acceptable to the young monarch, procured, or permitted, his reinstatement in office in September 1550.