The recent occurrences in Scotland had procured Elizabeth some respite from the importunities of her subjects relative to the succession; but it was not the less necessary for her to take some steps in discharge of her promise respecting marriage. Accordingly the earl of Sussex, in this cause a negotiator no less zealous than able, was dispatched in solemn embassy to Vienna, to congratulate the emperor Maximilian on his coronation, and at the same time to treat with his brother the archduke Charles respecting his long agitated marriage with the queen. Two obstacles were to be surmounted,—the attachment of the archduke to the catholic faith, and the repugnance of Elizabeth to enter into engagements with a prince whose person was unknown to her. Both are attempted to be obviated in two extant letters from the ambassador to the queen, which at the same time so well display the manly spirit of the writer, and present details so interesting, that it would be an injury to give their more important passages in other language than his own.
In the first (dated Vienna, October 1567,) the earl of Sussex acquaints her majesty with the arrival of the archduke in that city, and his admission to a first audience, which was one of ceremony only; after which he thus proceeds:—
"On Michaelmas day in the afternoon, the emperor rode in his coach to see the archduke run at the ring; who commanded me to run at his side, and my lord North, Mr. Cobham, and Mr. Powel on the other side: And after the running was done, he rode on a courser of Naples: and surely his highness, in the order of his running, the managing of his horse and the manner of his seat, governed himself exceedingly well, and so as, in my judgement, it was not to be amended. Since which time I have had diverse conferences with the emperor, and with his highness apart, as well in times of appointed audience as in several huntings; wherein I have viewed, observed, and considered of his person and qualities as much as by any means I might; and have also by good diligence enquired of his state; and so have thought fit to advertise your majesty what I conceive of myself, or understand by others, which I trust your majesty shall find to be true in all respects.
"His highness is of a person higher surely a good deal than my lord marquis; his hair and beard of a light auburn; his face well proportioned, amiable, and of a good complexion, without show of redness, or over paleness; his countenance and speech cheerful, very courteous, and not without some state; his body well shaped, without deformity or blemish: his hands very good and fair; his legs clean, well proportioned, and of sufficient bigness for his stature; his foot as good as may be.
"So as, upon my duty to your majesty, I find not one deformity, mis-shape, or any thing to be noted worthy disliking in his whole person; but contrariwise, I find his whole shape to be good, worthy commendation and liking in all respects, and such as is rarely to be found in such a prince.
"His highness, besides his natural language of Dutch, speaketh very well Spanish and Italian, and, as I hear, Latin. His dealings with me be very wise; his conversation such as much contenteth me; and, as I hear, none returneth discontented from his company. He is greatly beloved here of all men: the chiefest gallants of these parts be his men, and follow his court; the most of them have travelled other countries, speak many languages, and behave themselves thereafter; and truly we cannot be so glad there to have him come to us, as they will be sad here to have him go from them. He is reported to be wise, liberal, valiant, and of great courage, which in the last wars he well showed, in defending all his countries free from the Turk with his own force only, and giving them divers overthrows when they attempted any thing against his rules; and he is universally (which I most weigh) noted to be of such virtue as he was never spotted or touched with any notable vice of crime, which is much in a prince of his years, endued with such qualities. He delighteth much in hunting, riding, hawking, exercise of feats of arms, and hearing of music, whereof he hath very good. He hath, as I hear, some understanding in astronomy and cosmography, and taketh pleasure in clocks that set forth the course of the planets.
"He hath for his portion the countries of Styria, Carinthia, Friola, Treiste, and Histria, and hath the government of that is left in Croatia, wherein, as I hear, he may ride without entering into any other man's territories, near three hundred miles... surely he is a great prince in subjects, territories, and revenues; and liveth in great honor and state, with such a court as he that seeth it will say is fit for a great prince." &c. On October 26th he writes thus:—"Since the writing of my other letters, upon the resolution of the emperor and the archduke, I took occasion to go to the archduke, meaning to sound him to the bottom in all causes, and to feel whether such matter as he had uttered to me before (contained in my other letters) proceeded from him bona fide, or were but words of form.... After some ordinary speech, used to minister occasion, I began after this sort. 'Sir, I see it is a great matter to deal in the marriage of princes; and therefore it is convenient for me, that by the queen my mistress' order intermeddle in this negotiation, to foresee that I neither deceive you, be deceived myself, nor, by my ignorance, be the cause that she be deceived; in respect whereof, I beseech your highness to give me leave to treat as frankly with you in all things, now I am here, as it pleased her majesty to give me leave to deal with her before my coming from thence; whereby I may be as well assured of your disposition, upon your assured word, as I was of hers upon her word, and so proceed in all things thereafter:' Whereunto his highness answered me that he thanked me for that kind of dealing, and he would truly utter to me what he thought and meant in all things that I should demand; which upon his word he willed me to credit, and I should not be abused myself, nor abuse your majesty. I then said that (your licence granted) I was bold humbly to beseech your majesty to let me understand your inward disposition in this cause; and whether you meant a lingering entertaining of the matter, or a direct proceeding to bring it to a good end, with a determination to consummate the marriage if conveniently you might; whereupon your majesty not only used such speeches to me as did satisfy me of your plain and good meaning to proceed in this matter without delay, if by convenient means you might, but also gave me in commission to affirm, upon your word, to the emperor, that ye had resolved to marry. Ye were free to marry where God should put it in your heart to like; and you had given no grateful ear to any motion of marriage but to this, although you had received sundry great offers from others; and therefore your majesty by your letters, and I by your commandment, had desired of his majesty some determinate resolution whereby the matter might one ways or another grow to an end with both your honors; the like whereof I had also said to his highness before, and did now repeat it. And for that his highness had given me the like licence. I would be as bold with him as I had been with your majesty; and therefore beseeched him to let me, upon his honor, understand whether he earnestly desired, for love of your person, the good success and end of this cause, and had determined in his heart upon this marriage; or else, to satisfy others that procured him thereto, was content to entertain the matter, and cared not what became thereof; that I also might deal thereafter; for in the one I would serve your majesty and him truly, and in the other, I was no person of quality to be a convenient minister.
"His highness answered, 'Count, I have heard by the emperor of the order of your dealing with him, and I have had dealings with you myself, wherewith he and I rest very well contented; but truly I never rested more contented of any thing than I do of this dealing, wherein, besides your duty to her that hath trusted you, you show what you be yourself, for the which I honor you as you be worthy;' (pardon me, I beseech your majesty, in writing the words he spake of myself, for they serve to utter his natural disposition and inclination.) 'and although I have always had a good hope of the queen's honorable dealing in this matter, yet I have heard so much of her not meaning to marry, as might give me cause to suspect the worst; but understanding by the emperor of your manner of dealing with him, perceiving that I do presently by your words, I think myself bound' (wherewith he put off his cap) 'to honor, love, and serve her majesty while I live, and will firmly credit that you on her majesty's behalf have said: and therefore, so I might hope her majesty would bear with me for my conscience, I know not that thing in the world that I would refuse to do at her commandment: And surely I have from the beginning of this matter settled my heart upon her, and never thought of other wife, if she would think me worthy to be her husband; and therefore be bold to inform her majesty truly herein, for I will not fail of my part in any thing, as I trust sufficiently appeareth to you by that I have heretofore said.'
"I thanked his highness of his frank dealing, wherein I would believe him and deal thereafter, 'And now I am satisfied in this, I beseech your highness satisfy me also in another matter, and bear with me though I be somewhat busy, for I mean it for the best. I have many times heard of men of good judgement and friends to this cause, that as the emperor's majesty, being in disposition of the Augustan confession, hath been forced in these great wars of the Turk to temporise in respect of Christendom; so your highness, being of his mind inwardly, hath also upon good policy forborne to discover yourself until you might see some end of your own causes; and expecting, by marriage or other means, a settling of yourself in further advancement of state than your own patrimony, you temporise until you see on which side your lot will fall; and if you find you shall settle in this marriage, ye will, when ye are sure thereof, discover what ye be. If this be true, trust me, sir, I beseech you, and I will not betray you, and let me know the secret of your heart, whereby you may grow to a shorter end of your desire; and as I will upon my oath assure you, I will never utter your counsel to any person living but to the queen my mistress, so do I deliver unto you her promise upon her honor not to utter it to any person without your consent; and if you will not trust me herein, commit it to her majesty's trust by your own letters or messenger of trust, and she will not deceive you.'
"'Surely,' said his highness, 'whoever hath said this of me to the queen's majesty, or to you, or to any other, hath said more than he knoweth, God grant he meant well therein. My ancestors have always holden this religion that I hold, and I never knew other, and therefore I never could have mind hitherto to change; and I trust, when her majesty shall consider my case well, my determination herein shall not hurt me towards her in this cause. For, count,' said he, 'how could you with reason give me counsel to be the first of my race that so suddenly should change the religion that all my ancestors have so long holden when I know no other; or how can the queen like of me in any other thing, that should be so light in changing of my conscience? Where on the other side, in knowing my duty constantly to God for conscience, I have great hope that her majesty, with good reason, will conceive that I will be the more faithful and constant to her in all that honor and conscience bindeth. And therefore I will myself crave of her majesty, by my letters, her granting of this my only request; and I pray you with all my heart to further it in all you may; and shrink not to assure her majesty, that if she satisfy me in this, I will never slack to serve and satisfy her, while I live, in all the rest.'
"In such like talk, to this effect, his highness spent almost two hours with me, which I thought my duty to advertise your majesty; and hereupon I gather that reputation ruleth him much for the present in this case of religion, and that if God couple you together in liking, you shall have of him a true husband, a loving companion, a wise counsellor and a faithful servant; and we shall have as virtuous a prince as ever ruled: God grant (though you be worthy a great deal better than he, if he were to be found) that our wickedness be not such as we be unworthy of him, or of such as he is." &c.
[Note 66: Lodge's "Illustrations," vol. i.]
It may be matter as much of surprise as regret to the reader of these letters, that a negotiation should have failed of success, which the manly plainness of the envoy on one hand and the honourable unreserve of the prince on the other had so quickly freed from the customary intricacies of diplomatic transactions. Religion furnished, to appearance, the only objection which could be urged against the union; and on this head the archduke would have been satisfied with terms the least favorable to himself that could be devised. He only stipulated for the performance of Catholic worship in a private room of the palace, at which none but himself and such servants of his own persuasion as he should bring with him should have permission to attend. He consented regularly to accompany the queen to the services of the church of England, and for a time to intermit the exercise of his own religion should any disputes arise; and he engaged that neither he nor his attendants should in any manner contravene, or give countenance to such as contravened, the established religion of the country. In short, he asked no greater indulgence on this head than what was granted without scruple to the ambassadors of Catholic powers. But even this, it was affirmed, was more than the queen could with safety concede; and on this ground the treaty was finally closed.
There is great room, however, to suspect that the real and the ostensible reasons of the failure of this marriage were by no means the same. It could scarcely have been expected or hoped that a prince of the house of Austria would consent to desert the religion of his ancestors, which he must have regarded himself as pledged by the honor of his birth to maintain; and without deserting it he could not go beyond the terms which Charles actually offered. This religion, as a system of faith and worship, was by no means regarded by Elizabeth with such abhorrence as would render it irksome to her to grant it toleration in a husband, though on political grounds she forbade under heavy penalties its exercise to her subjects. It is true that to the puritans the smallest degree of indulgence to its idolatrous rites appeared a heinous sin, and from them the Austrian match would have had to encounter all the opposition that could prudently be made by a sect itself obnoxious to the rod of persecution. The duke of Norfolk is said to have given great offence to this party, with which he was usually disposed to act, by the cordial approbation which he was induced, probably by his friendship for the earl of Sussex, to bestow on this measure. Leicester is believed to have thwarted the negotiations by means of one of his creatures, for whom he had procured the second rank in the embassy of the earl of Sussex; he also labored in person to fill the mind of the queen with fears and scruples respecting it. But it is probable that, after all, the chief difficulty lay in Elizabeth's settled aversion to the married state; and notwithstanding all her professions to her ambassador, the known dissimulation of her character permits us to believe, not only that small obstacles were found sufficient to divert her from accomplishing the union which she pretended to have at heart; but that from the very beginning she was insincere, and that not even the total sacrifice of his religion would have exempted her suitor from final disappointment.
The decease of sir Richard Sackville in 1566 called his son, the accomplished poet, to the inheritance of a noble fortune, and opened to him the career of public life. At the time of his father's death he was pursuing his travels through France and Italy, and had been subjected to a short imprisonment in Rome, "which trouble," says his eulogist, "was brought upon him by some who hated him for his love to religion and his duty to his sovereign."
Immediately on his return to his native country the duke of Norfolk, by the queen's command, conferred upon him the honor of knighthood, and on the same day he was advanced by her to the degree of a baron by the style of lord Buckhurst. The new peer immediately shone forth one of the brightest ornaments of the court: but carried away by the ardor of his imagination, he plunged so deeply into the expensive pleasures of the age as seriously to injure his fortune, and in part his credit: timely reflection however, added, it is said, to the counsels of his royal kinswoman, cured him of the foible of profusion, and he lived not only to retrieve, but to augment his patrimony to a vast amount.
Amid the factions of the court, lord Buckhurst, almost alone, preserved a dignified neutrality, resting his claims to consideration and influence not on the arts of intrigue, but on his talents, his merit, his extensive possessions, and his interest in his royal kinswoman. Leicester was jealous of his approach, as of that of every man of honor who affected an independence on his support; but it was not till many years afterwards, and on an occasion in which his own reputation and safety were at stake, that the wily favorite ventured a direct attack upon the credit of lord Buckhurst. At present they preserved towards each other those exteriors of consideration and respect which in the world, and especially at courts, are found so perfectly compatible with fear, hatred, or contempt.
It was about this time, that in one of her majesty's summer progresses an incident occurred which the painter or the poet might seize and embellish.
Passing through Northamptonshire, she stopped to visit her royal castle of Fotheringay, then, or soon after, committed by her to the keeping of sir William Fitzwilliam several times lord-deputy of Ireland. The castle was at this time entire and magnificent, and must have been viewed by Elizabeth with sentiments of family pride. It was erected by her remote progenitor Edmund of Langley, son of king Edward III. and founder of the house of York. By his directions the keep was built in the likeness of a fetter-lock, the well known cognisance of that line, and in the windows the same symbol with its attendant falcon was repeatedly and conspicuously emblazoned. From Edmund of Langley it descended to his son Edward duke of York, slain in the field of Agincourt, and next to the son of his unfortunate brother the decapitated earl of Cambridge; to that Richard who fell at Wakefield in the attempt to assert his title to the crown, which the victorious arms of his son Edward IV. afterwards vindicated to himself and his posterity.
In a collegiate church adjoining were deposited the remains of Edward and Richard dukes of York, and of Cecily wife to the latter, who survived to behold so many bloody deeds of which her children were the perpetrators or the victims. Elizabeth, attended by all the pomp of royalty, proceeded to visit the spot of her ancestors' interment: but what was her indignation and surprise on discovering, that the splendid tombs which had once risen to their memory, had been involved in the same destruction with the college itself, of which the rapacious Northumberland had obtained a grant from Edward VI., and that scarcely a stone remained to protect the dust of these descendants and progenitors of kings! She instantly gave orders for the erection of suitable monuments to their honor: but her commands were ill obeyed, and a few miserable plaster figures were all that the illustrious dead obtained at last from her pride or her piety. These monuments however, such as they are, remain to posterity, whilst of the magnificent castle, the only adequate commemoration of the power and greatness of its possessors, one stone is not left upon another:—it was levelled with the ground by order of James I., that not a vestige might remain of the last prison of his unhappy mother, the fatal scene of her trial, condemnation, and ignominious death.
The close of the year 1567 had left the queen of Scots a prisoner in Lochleven-castle, her infant son declared king, and the regent Murray,—a man of vigor, prudence, and in the main of virtue,—holding the reins with a firm hand. For the peace and welfare of Scotland, for the security of reformed religion, and for the ends of that moral retribution from which the crimes and vices of the rulers of mankind ought least of all to be exempt, nothing could be more desirable than that such a state of things should become permanent, by the acquiescence of the potentates of Europe, and of that powerful aristocracy which in Scotland was unhappily superior to the whole force of the laws and the constitution. But for its destruction many interests, many passions and prejudices conspired. It was rather against Bothwell than against the queen that many of the nobles had taken arms; and more favorable terms would at first have been granted her, could she have been brought to consent as a preliminary to divorce and banish him for ever from her presence. The flight of Bothwell and the prolongation of her own captivity had subdued her obstinacy on this point: it was understood that she was now willing that her marriage should be dissolved, and this concession alone sufficed to bring her many partisans. Sentiments of pity began to arise in favor of an unfortunate queen and beauty, and to cause her crimes to be extenuated or forgotten. All the catholics in Scotland were her earnest friends, and the foreign princes of the same persuasion were unceasingly stimulating them to act openly in her behalf. With these Elizabeth, either by her zeal for the common cause of sovereigns, or by some treacherous designs of her own, was brought into most preposterous conjunction, and she had actually proposed to the court of France that they should by joint consent cut off all communication with Scotland till the queen should be reinstated. The haughty and unconciliating temper of Murray had embittered the animosity entertained against him by several nobles of the blood-royal, each of whom regarded himself as the person best entitled to the office of regent; and an insurrection against his authority was already in contemplation, when Mary, having by her promises and blandishments bribed an unthinking youth to effect her liberation, suddenly reappeared in readiness to put herself at the head of such of her countrymen as still owned her allegiance.
Several leading nobles flocked hastily to her standard; a bond was entered into for her defence, and in a few days she saw herself at the head of six thousand men. Elizabeth made her an immediate offer of troops and succour, stipulating however, from a prudent jealousy of the French, that no foreign forces should be admitted into Scotland; and further, that all disputes between Mary and her subjects should be submitted to her arbitration.
Fortunately for Scotland, though disastrously for the future days of Mary and the fame of Elizabeth, this formidable rising in favor of the deposed sovereign was crushed at a single blow. Murray, with inferior forces, marched courageously against the queen, gained a complete and easy victory, and compelled her to a hasty flight.
Accompanied only by a few attendants, the defeated princess reached the English border. What should she do? Behind her was the hostile army, acting in the name of her son to whom she had signed an abdication of the throne, in virtue of which her late attempt to reinstate herself might lawfully be visited with the rigors of perpetual imprisonment, or even with death itself.
Before her lay the dominions of a princess whose titles she had once usurped, and whose government she had never ceased to molest by her intrigues,—of one who had hated her as a competitor in power and in beauty,—as an enemy in religion, and most of all as the heiress of her crown. But this very princess had interfered, generously interfered, to save her life; she had shown herself touched by her situation; she had offered her, under certain conditions, succours and protection. Perhaps she would no longer remember in the suppliant who embraced her knees, the haughty rival who had laid claim to her crown;—perhaps she would show herself a real friend. The English people too,—could they behold unmoved "a queen, a beauty," hurled from her throne, chased from her country by the rude hands of her rebellious subjects, and driven to implore their aid? No surely,—ten thousand swords would spring from their scabbards to avenge her injuries;—so she hoped, so she reasoned; for merited misfortune had not yet impaired her courage or abated her confidence, nor had the sense of guilt impressed upon her mind one lesson of humility. Her situation, also, admitted of no other alternative than to confide herself to Elizabeth or surrender to Murray,—a step not to be thought of. Time pressed; fear urged; and resolved to throw herself at the feet of her kinswoman, she crossed, never to return, the Rubicon of her destiny. A common fishing-boat, the only vessel that could be procured, landed her on May 16th 1568, with about twenty attendants, at Workington in Cumberland, whence she was conducted with every mark of respect to Carlisle-castle; and from this asylum she instantly addressed to Elizabeth a long letter, relating her fresh reverse of fortune, complaining of the injuries which she had received at the hands of her subjects, and earnestly imploring her favor and protection.
With what feelings this important letter was received it would be deeply interesting to inquire, were there any possibility of arriving at the knowledge of a thing so secret. If indeed the professions of friendship and offers of effectual aid lavished by Elizabeth upon Mary during the period of her captivity, were nothing else than a series of stratagems by which she sought to draw an unwary victim within her toils, and to wreak on her the vengeance of an envious temper and unpitying heart, we might now imagine her exulting in the success of her wiles, and smiling over the atrocious perfidy which she was about to commit. If, on the other hand, we judge these demonstrations to have been at the time sincere, and believe that Elizabeth, though profoundly sensible of Mary's misconduct, was yet anxious to save her from the severe retribution which her exasperated subjects had taken upon them to exact, we must imagine her whole soul agitated at this crisis by a crowd of conflicting thoughts and adverse passions.
In the first moments, sympathy for an unhappy queen, and the intuitive sense of generosity and honor, would urge her to fulfil every promise, to satisfy or surpass every hope which her conduct had excited. But soon the mingled suggestions of female honor, of policy, of caution, uniting with the sentiment of habitual enmity, would arise, first to moderate, then to extinguish, her ardor in the cause of her supplicant. Further reflection, enforced perhaps by the reasonings of her most trusted counsellors, would serve to display in tempting colors the advantages to be taken of the now defenceless condition of a competitor once formidable and always odious; and gradually, but not easily, not without reluctance and shame and secret pangs of compunction, she would suffer the temptation,—one, it must be confessed, of no common force and aided by pleas of public utility not a little plausible,—to become victorious over her first thoughts, her better feelings, her more virtuous resolves. For the honor of human nature, it may be believed that the latter state of feeling must have been that experienced by a princess whose life had been as yet unsullied by any considerable violations of faith, justice, or humanity: but it must not escape remark, that the first steps taken by her in this business were strong, decided in their character, and almost irretrievable.
Lady Scrope, sister of the duke of Norfolk, was indeed sent to attend the illustrious stranger at Carlisle, and lord Scrope warden of the west marches and sir Francis Knolles the vice-chamberlain were soon after dispatched thither with letters for her of kind condolence: but when Mary applied to these persons for permission to visit their queen, they replied, that, until she should have cleared herself of the shocking imputation of her husband's murder, public decorum and her own reputation must preclude a princess so nearly related to the late king of Scots from receiving her into her presence. That it was however with regret that their mistress admitted this delay; and as soon as the queen of Scots should have vindicated herself on this point, they were empowered to promise her a reception suited at once to a sovereign and a kinswoman in distress.
Had not Elizabeth previously committed herself in some degree by interference in behalf of Mary, and by promises to her of support, no one could reasonably have blamed the caution or the coldness of this reply to a request, which, under all the circumstances, might justly be taxed with effrontery. But in the judgement of Mary and her friends, and perhaps even of more impartial judges, the part already taken by Elizabeth had deprived her of the right of recurring to former events as a plea for the exclusion of the queen of Scots from her presence and favor.
Tears of grief and anger burst from the eyes of Mary on this unexpected check, which struck her heart with the most melancholy forebodings; but aware of the necessity of disguising fears which would pass for an evidence of guilt, she hastily replied, that she was willing to submit her whole conduct to the judgement of the queen her sister, and did not doubt of being able to produce such proofs of her innocence as would satisfy her and confound her enemies.
This was enough for Elizabeth: she was now constituted umpire between the queen of Scots and her subjects, and the future fate of both might be said to lie in her hands; in the mean time she had gained a pretext for treating as a culprit the party who had appealed to her tribunal. We learn that lord Scrope and sir Francis Knolles had from the first received secret instructions not only to watch the motions of Mary, but to prevent her departure; her person had also been surrounded with sentinels under the semblance of a guard of honor. But hitherto these measures of precaution had probably remained concealed from their object; they were now gradually replaced by others of a more open and decided character, and it was not much longer permitted to the hapless fugitive to doubt the dismal truth, that she was once more a prisoner.
Alarmed at her situation, and secretly conscious how ill her conduct would stand the test of judicial inquiry, Mary no sooner learned that Elizabeth had actually named commissioners to hear the pleadings on both sides, and written to summon the regent to produce before them whatever he could bring in justification of his conduct towards his sovereign, than she hastened to retract her former unwary concession.
In a letter full of impotent indignation, assumed majesty and real dismay, she now sought to explain away or evade her late appeal. She repeated her demand of admission to the presence of Elizabeth, refused to compromise her royal dignity by submitting to a trial in which her own subjects were to appear as parties against her, and ended by requiring that the queen would either furnish her with that assistance which it behoved her more than any one to grant, or would suffer her to seek the aid of other princes whose delicacy on this head would be less, or their resentment of her wrongs greater. This last proposal might have suggested to Elizabeth the safest, easiest, and most honorable mode of extricating herself from the dilemma in which, by further intermeddling in the concerns of Scotland, she was likely to become involved. Happy would it have been for her credit and her peace of mind, had she suffered her perplexing guest to depart and seek for partisans and avengers elsewhere! But her pride of superiority and love of sway were flattered by the idea of arbitrating in so great a cause; her secret malignity enjoyed the humiliation of her enemy; and her characteristic caution represented to her in formidable colors the danger of restoring to liberty one whom she had already offended beyond forgiveness. She laid Mary's letter before her privy-council; and these confidential advisers, after wisely and uprightly deciding that it would be inconsistent with the honor and safety of the queen and her government to undertake the restoration of the queen of Scots, were induced to add, that it would also be unsafe to permit her departure out of the kingdom, and that the inquiry into her conduct ought to be pursued.
In spite of her remonstrances, Mary was immediately removed to Bolton-castle in Yorkshire, a seat of lord Scrope's; her communications with her own country were cut off; her confinement was rendered more strict; and by secret promises from Elizabeth of finally causing her to be restored to her throne under certain limitations, she was led to renew her consent to the trial of her cause in England, and to engage herself to name commissioners to confer with those of the regent and of Elizabeth at York.
It would be foreign from the purpose of the present work to engage in a regular narrative of the celebrated proceedings begun soon after at the city last mentioned, and ended at Westminster: some remarkable circumstances illustrative of the character of the English princess, or connected with the fate of her principal noble, will however be related hereafter, as well as their final result;—at present other subjects claim attention.
An embassy arrived in London in 1567, from Ivan Basilowitz czar of Muscovy, the second which had been addressed to an English sovereign from that country, plunged as yet in barbarous ignorance, and far from anticipating the day when it should assume a distinguished station in the system of civilized Europe.
It was by a bold and extraordinary enterprise that the barrier of the Frozen Sea had been burst, and a channel of communication opened between this country and Russia by means of which an intercourse highly beneficial to both nations was now begun: the leading circumstances were the following.
During the reign of Henry VII., just after the unparalleled achievement of Columbus had rendered voyages of discovery the ruling passion of Europe, a Venetian pilot, named Cabot, who had resided long in Bristol, obtained from this monarch for himself and his sons a patent for making discoveries and conquests in unknown regions. By this navigator and his son Sebastian, Newfoundland was soon after discovered; and by Sebastian after his father's death a long series of maritime enterprises were subsequently undertaken with various success. For many years he was in the service of Spain; but returning to England at the close of Henry the eighth's reign, he was received with merited favor at court. Young king Edward listened with eagerness to the relations of the aged navigator; and touched by the unquenchable ardor of discovery which still burned in the bosom of this contemporary and rival of Columbus, granted with alacrity his royal license for the fitting out of three ships to explore a north passage to the East Indies. The instructions for this voyage were drawn up in a masterly manner by Cabot himself, and the command of the expedition was given to sir Hugh Willoughby, and under him to Richard Chancellor, a gentleman who had long been attached to the service of the excellent sir Henry Sidney, by whom he was recommended to this appointment in the warmest terms of affection and esteem.
The ships were separated by a tempest off the Norwegian coast; and Willoughby, having encountered much foul weather and judging the season too far advanced to proceed on so hazardous a voyage, laid up his vessel in a bay on the shore of Lapland, with the purpose of awaiting the return of spring. But such was the rigor of the season on this bleak and inhospitable coast, that the admiral and his whole crew were frozen to death in their cabin. Chancellor in the mean time, by dint of superior sailing, was enabled to surmount the perils of the way. He doubled the North Cape, a limit never passed by English keel before, and still proceeding eastward, found entrance into an unknown gulf, which proved to be the White Sea, and dropped anchor at length in the port of Archangel.
The rude natives were surprised and terrified by the appearance of a strange vessel much superior in size to any which they had before beheld; but after a time, venturing on an intercourse with the navigators, they acquainted them, that they were subjects of the czar of Muscovy, and that they had sent to apprize him of so extraordinary an arrival. On the return of the messenger, Chancellor received an invitation to visit the court of Moscow. The czar, barbarian as he was in manners and habits, possessed however strong sense and an inquiring mind; he had formed great projects for the improvement of his empire, and he was immediately and fully aware of the advantages to be derived from a direct communication by sea with a people capable of supplying his country with most of the commodities which it now received from the southern nations of Europe by a tedious and expensive land-carriage. He accordingly welcomed the Englishmen with distinguished honors; returned a favorable answer to the letter from king Edward of which they were the bearers, and expressed his willingness to enter into commercial relations with their country, and to receive an ambassador from their sovereign. Edward did not live to learn the prosperous success of this part of the expedition, but fortunately his successor extended equal encouragement to the enterprise. A Russia company was formed, of which the veteran Sebastian Cabot was made governor, and Chancellor was dispatched on a second voyage, charged with further instructions for the settlement of a commercial treaty. His voyage was again safe and prosperous, and he was accompanied on his return by a Russian ambassador; but off the coast of Scotland the ship was unhappily wrecked, and Chancellor with several other persons was drowned; the ambassador himself reaching the land with much difficulty. The vessel was plundered of her whole cargo by the neighbouring peasantry; but the ambassador and his train were hospitably entertained by the queen-regent of Scotland, and forwarded on their way to London, where their grotesque figures and the barbaric pomp of their dress and equipage astonished the court and city.
The present embassy, which reached its destination without accident, was one of greater importance, and appeared with superior dignity. It conveyed to the queen, besides all verbal assurances of the friendship of the czar, a magnificent present of the richest furs, and other articles of great rarity; and the ambassadors had it in charge to conclude a treaty of amity and commerce, of which the terms proved highly advantageous for England. They were accompanied by an Englishman named Jenkinson, who had been sent out several years before, by the Russia company, to explore the southern and eastern limits of that vast empire, and to endeavour to open an overland trade with Persia. By the assistance of the czar he had succeeded in this object, and was the first Englishman who ever sailed upon the Caspian, or travelled over the wild region which lies beyond. In return for all favors, he had now undertaken on behalf of the czar to propose to his own sovereign certain secret articles in which this prince was more deeply interested than in any commercial matters, and which he deemed it unsafe to commit to the fidelity or discretion of his own ambassadors.
Ivan, partly by a marked preference shown to foreigners, which his own barbarians could not forgive, partly by his many acts of violence and cruelty, had highly incensed his subjects against him. In the preceding year, a violent insurrection had nearly hurled him from the throne; and still apprehensive of some impending disaster, he now proposed to the queen of England a league offensive and defensive, of which he was anxious to make it an article, that she should bind herself by oath to grant a kind and honorable reception in her dominions to himself, his wife and children, should any untoward event compel them to quit their country. But that never-failing caution which, in all the complication and diversity of her connexions with foreign powers, withheld Elizabeth from ever, in a single instance, committing herself beyond the power of retreat, caused her to waive compliance with the extraordinary proposal of Ivan. She entertained his ambassadors however with the utmost cordiality, gratified his wishes in every point where prudence would permit, and finally succeeded, by the adroitness of her management, in securing for her country, without sacrifice or hazard on her own part, every real benefit which an intercourse with such a people and such a sovereign appeared capable of affording. To have come off with advantage in a trial of diplomatic skill with a barbarous czar of Muscovy, was however an exploit of which a civilized politician would be ashamed to boast,—on him no glory could be won,—and we may imagine Elizabeth turning from him with a kind of disdain to an antagonist more worthy of her talents.
The king and court of France were at this time subjected to the guidance of the execrable Catherine dei Medici. To this woman the religious differences which then agitated Europe were in themselves perfectly indifferent, and on more than one occasion she had allowed it to be perceived that they were so: but a close and dispassionate study of the state of parties in her son's kingdom, had at length convinced her that it was necessary to the establishment of his authority and her own consequence, that the Hugonot faction should be crushed, and she stood secretly prepared and resolved to procure the accomplishment of this object by measures of perfidy and atrocity from which bigotry itself, in a mind not totally depraved, must have revolted.
By the secret league of Bayonne, the courts of France and Spain had pledged themselves to pursue in concert the great work of the extirpation of heresy; and while Catherine was laying hidden trains for the destruction of the Hugonots, Philip II., by measures of open force and relentless cruelty, was striving to annihilate the protestants of the Low Countries, and to impose upon those devoted provinces the detested yoke of the inquisition.
Elizabeth was aware of all that was going on; and she well knew that when once these worthy associates had succeeded in crushing the reformation in their own dominions, Scotland and England would become the immediate theatre of their operations. Already were the catholics of the two countries privately encouraged to rely on them for support, and incited to aid the common cause by giving all the disturbance in their power to their respective governments.
Considerations of policy therefore, no less than of religion, moved her to afford such succours, first to the French protestants and afterwards to the Flemings, as might enable them to prolong at least the contest; but her caution and her frugality conspired to restrain her from involving herself in actual warfare for the defence of either. At the very time therefore that she was secretly supplying the Hugonots with money and giving them assurances of her support, she was more than ever attentive to preserve all the exteriors of friendship with the court of France.
It suited the views of the queen-mother to receive with complacency and encouragement the dissembling professions of Elizabeth; by which she was not herself deceived, but which served to deceive and to alarm her enemies the protestants, and in some measure to mask her designs against them. We have seen what high civilities had passed between the courts on occasion of the admission of the French king into the order of the garter,—but this is little to what followed.
In 1568, after the remonstrances and intercession of Elizabeth, the succours lent by the German protestants, and the strenuous resistance made by the Hugonots themselves, had procured for this persecuted sect a short and treacherous peace, Catherine, in proof and confirmation of her entire friendship with the queen of England, began to drop hints to her ambassador of a marriage between his mistress and her third son the duke of Anjou, then only seventeen years of age. Elizabeth was assuredly not so much of a dupe as to believe the queen-mother sincere in this strange proposal; yet it was entertained by her with the utmost apparent seriousness. She even thought proper to give it a certain degree of cautious encouragement, which Catherine was doubtless well able rightly to interpret; and with this extraordinary kind of mutual understanding, these two ingenious females continued for months, nay years, to amuse themselves and one another with the representation of carrying on of negotiations for a treaty of marriage. Elizabeth, with the most candid and natural air in the world, remarked that difference of religion would present the most serious obstacle to so desirable an union: Catherine, with equal plausibility, hoped that on this point terms of agreement might be found satisfactory to both parties; and warming as they proceeded, one began to imagine the conditions to which a catholic prince could with honor accede, and the other to invent the objections which ought to be made to them by a protestant princess.
The philosophical inquirer, who has learned from the study of history how much more the high destinies of nations are governed by the permanent circumstances of geographical position and relative force, and the great moral causes which act upon whole ages and peoples, than by negotiations, intrigues, schemes of politicians and tricks of state, will be apt to regard as equally futile and base the petty manoeuvres of dissimulation and artifice employed by each queen to incline in her own favor the political balance. But in justice to the memories of Catherine and Elizabeth,—women whom neither their own nor any after-times have taxed with folly,—it ought at least to be observed, that in mistaking the excess of falsehood for the perfection of address, the triumphs of cunning for the masterpieces of public wisdom, they did but partake the error of the ablest male politicians of that age of statesmen. The same narrow views of the interest of princes and of states governed them all: they seem to have believed that the right and the expedient were constantly opposed to each other; in the intercourses of public men they thought that nothing was more carefully to be shunned than plain speaking and direct dealings, and in these functionaries they regarded the use of every kind of "indirection" as allowable, because absolutely essential to the great end of serving their country.
Amongst the wiser and better part of Elizabeth's council however, such a profound abhorrence of the measures of the French court at this time prevailed, and such an honest eagerness to join heart and hand with the oppressed Hugonots for the redress of their intolerable grievances, that it required all her vigilance and address to keep them within the limits of that temporizing moderation which she herself was bent on preserving.
In the correspondence of Cecil with sir Henry Norris, then ambassador in France, the bitterness of his feelings is perpetually breaking out, and he cannot refrain from relating with extreme complacency such words of displeasure as her majesty was at any time moved to let fall against her high allies. In November 1567, when civil war had again broken out in France, he acquaints the ambassador that the queen dislikes to give assistance to Conde and his party against their sovereign, but recommends it to him to do it occasionally notwithstanding, as the council are their friends.
In September 1568 he writes thus: "The French ambassador has sent his nephew to require audience, and that it might be ordered to have her majesty's council present at the bishop's missado. Her majesty's answer was, that they forgot themselves, in coming from a king that was but young, to think her not able to conceive an answer without her council: and although she could use the advice of her council, as was meet, yet she saw no cause why they should thus deal with her, being of full years, and governing her realm in better sort than France was. So the audience, being demanded on Saturday, was put off till Tuesday, wherewith I think they are not contented." Again: "Monsieur de Montausier... was brought to the queen's presence to report the victory which God had given the French king by a battle, as he termed it, wherein was slain the prince of Conde; whereunto, as I could conceive, her majesty answered, that of any good fortune happening to the king she was glad; but that she thought it also to be condoled with the king, that it should be counted a victory to have a prince of his blood slain; and so with like speech, not fully to their contentation."
[Note 67: Scrinia Ceciliana.]
With the Spanish court the queen was on the worst possible terms short of open hostilities. Her ambassador at Madrid had been banished from the city to a little village in the neighbourhood; the Spanish ambassador at London had been placed under guard for dispersing libels against her person and government; and in consequence of her adroit seizure of a sum of money belonging to some Genoese merchants designed as a loan to the duke of Alva, to enable him to carry on the war against the protestants in Flanders, the king of Spain had ordered all commerce to be broken off between those provinces and England.
In the midst of these menaces of foreign war, cabals were forming against Elizabeth in her own kingdom and court which threatened her with nearer dangers. Of all these plots, the Scottish queen was, directly or indirectly, the cause or the pretext; and in order to place them in a clear light, it will now be necessary to return to the conferences at York.
1568 TO 1570.
Proceedings of the commissioners at York in the cause of Mary.—Intrigues of the duke of Norfolk with the regent Murray.—The conferences transferred to Westminster.—Mary's guilt disclosed.—Fresh intrigues of Norfolk.—Conspiracy for procuring his marriage with Mary.—Conduct of Throgmorton.—Attempt to ruin Cecil baffled by the queen.—Endeavour of Sussex to reconcile Norfolk and Cecil.—Norfolk betrayed by Leicester—his plot revealed—committed to the Tower.—Mary given in charge to the earl of Huntingdon.—Remarks on this subject.—Notice of Leonard Dacre—of the earls of Westmorland and Northumberland.—Their rebellion.—Particulars of the Norton family.—Severities exercised against the rebels.—Conduct of the earl of Sussex.—Rising under Leonard Dacre.—His after-fortunes and those of his family.—Expedition of the earl of Sussex into Scotland.—Murder of regent Murray.—Influence of this event on the affairs of Elizabeth.—Campaign in Scotland.—Papal bull against the queen.—Trifling effect produced by it.—Attachment of the people to her government.
The three commissioners named by Elizabeth to sit as judges in the great cause between Mary and her subjects, of which she had been named the umpire, were the duke of Norfolk, the earl of Sussex, and sir Ralph Sadler, a very able negotiator and man of business. On the part of the Scottish nation, the regent Murray, fearing to trust the cause in other hands, appeared in person, attended by several men of talent and consequence. The situation of Mary herself was not more critical or more unprecedented, and scarcely more humiliating, than that in which Murray was placed by her appeal to Elizabeth. Acting on behalf of the infant king his nephew, he saw himself called upon to submit to the tribunal of a foreign sovereign such proofs of the atrocious guilt of the queen his sister; as should justify in the eyes of this sovereign, and in those of Europe, the degradation of Mary from the exalted station which she was born to fill, her imprisonment, her violent expulsion from the kingdom, and her future banishment or captivity for life:—an attempt in which, though successful, there was both disgrace to himself and detriment to the honor and independence of his country; and from which, if unsuccessful, he could contemplate nothing but certain ruin. Struck with all the evils of this dilemma; with the danger of provoking beyond forgiveness his own queen, whose restoration he still regarded as no improbable event, and with the imprudence of relying implicitly on the dubious protection of Elizabeth, Murray long hesitated to bring forward the only charge dreaded by the illustrious prisoner,—that of having conspired with Bothwell the murder of her husband.
In the mean time Maitland, a Scottish commissioner secretly attached to Mary, found means to open a private communication with the duke of Norfolk, and to suggest to this nobleman, now a widower for the third time, the project of obtaining for himself the hand of Mary, and of replacing her by force on the throne of her ancestors. The vanity of Norfolk, artfully worked upon by the bishop of Ross, Mary's prime agent, caused him to listen with complacency to this rash proposal; and having once consented to entertain it, he naturally became earnest to prevent Murray from preferring that heinous accusation which he had at length apprized the English commissioners that he was provided with ample means of substantiating. After some deliberation on the means of effecting this object, he accordingly resolved upon the step of discovering his views to the regent himself, and endeavouring to obtain his concurrence. Murray, who seems to have felt little confidence in the stability of the government of which he was the present head, and who judged perhaps that the return of the queen as the wife of an English protestant nobleman would afford the best prospect of safety to himself and his party, readily acceded to the proposal, and consented still to withhold the "damning proofs" of Mary's guilt which he held in his hand.
But neither the Scottish associates of Murray nor the English cabinet were disposed to rest satisfied with this feeble and temporizing conduct. Mary's commissioners too, emboldened by his apparent timidity, of which the motives were probably not known to them all, began to push their advantage in a manner which threatened final defeat to his party: the queen of England artfuly incited him to proceed; and in spite of his secret engagements with the duke and his own reluctance, he at length saw himself compelled to let fall the long suspended stroke on the head of Mary. He applied to the English court for encouragement and protection in his perilous enterprise; and Elizabeth, being at length suspicious of the intrigue which had hitherto baffled all her expectations from the conferences at York, suddenly gave orders for the removal of the queen of Scots from Bolton-castle and the superintendence of lord Scrope, the duke's brother-in-law, to the more secure situation of Tutbury-castle in Staffordshire and the vigilant custody of the earl of Shrewsbury. At the same time she found pretexts for transferring the conferences from York to Westminster, and added to the number of her commissioners sir Nicholas Bacon, lord-keeper, the earls of Arundel and Leicester, lord Clinton, and Cecil.
Anxious to preserve an air of impartiality, Elizabeth declined giving to the regent all the assurances for his future security which he required; but on his arrival in London she extended to him a reception equally kind and respectful, and by alternate caresses and hints of intimidation she gradually led him on to the production of the fatal casket containing the letters of Mary to Bothwell, by which her participation in the murder of her husband was clearly proved.
After steps on the part of his sovereign from which the duke might have inferred her knowledge of his secret machinations; after discoveries respecting the conduct of Mary which impeached her of guilt so heinous, and covered her with infamy so indelible; prudence and honor alike required that he should abandon for ever the thought of linking his destiny with hers. But in the light and unbalanced mind of Norfolk, the ambition of matching with royalty unfortunately preponderated over all other considerations: he speedily began to weave anew the tissue of intrigue which the removal of the conferences had broken off; and turning once more with fond credulity to Murray, by whom his cause had been before deserted, he again put confidence in his assurances that the marriage-project had his hearty approbation, and should receive his effectual support. Melvil informs us that this fresh compact was brought about by sir Nicholas Throgmorton, "being a man of a deep reach and great prudence and discretion, who had ever travelled for the union of this isle." But notwithstanding his "deep reach," he was certainly imposed upon in this affair; for the regent, insincere perhaps from the beginning, had now no other object than to secure his present personal safety by lavishing promises which he had no intention to fulfil. Melvil, who attended him on his return to Scotland, thus explains the secret of his conduct: "At that time the duke commanded over all the north parts of England, where our mistress was kept, and so might have taken her out when he pleased. And when he was angry at the regent, he had appointed the earl of Westmorland to lie in his way, and cut off himself and so many of his company as were most bent upon the queen's accusation. But after the last agreement, the duke sent and discharged the said earl from doing us any harm; yet upon our return the earl came in our way with a great company of horse, to signify to us that we were at his mercy."
It is difficult to believe, notwithstanding this positive testimony, that the duke of Norfolk, a man of mild dispositions and guided in the main by religion and conscience, would have hazarded, or would not have scrupled, so atrocious, so inexpiable an act of violence, as that of cutting off the regent of Scotland returning to his own country under sanction of the public faith and the express protection of the queen: but he may have indulged himself in vague menaces, which Westmorland, a bigoted papist, ripe for rebellion against the government of Elizabeth, would have felt little reluctance to carry into effect, and thus the regent's duplicity might in fact be prompted and excused to himself by a principle of self-defence.
Whatever degree of confidence Norfolk and his advisers might place in Murray's sincerity, they were well aware that other steps must be taken, and other confederates engaged, before the grand affair of the marriage could be put in a train to ensure its final success. There was no immediate prospect of Mary's regaining her liberty by means of the queen of England, or with her concurrence; for since the production of the great charge against her, to which she had instructed her commissioners to decline making any answer, Elizabeth had regarded her as one who had suffered judgement to go against her by default, and began to treat her accordingly. Her confinement was rendered more rigorous, and henceforth the still pending negotiations respecting her return to her own country were carried on with a slackness which evidently proceeded from the dread of Mary, and the reluctance of Elizabeth, to bring to a decided determination a business which could not now be ended either with credit or advantage to the deposed queen.
Elizabeth had dismissed the regent to his government without open approbation of his conduct as without censure; but he had received from her in private an important supply of money, and such other effectual aids as not only served to establish the present preponderance of his authority, but would enable him, it was thought, successfully to withstand all future attempts for the restoration of Mary. Evidently then it was only by the raising of a formidable party in the English court that any thing could be effected in behalf of the royal captive; but her agents and those of the duke assured themselves that ample means were in their hands for setting this machine in action.
Elizabeth, it was now thought, would not marry: the queen of Scots was generally admitted to be her legal heir; and it appeared highly important to the welfare of England that she should not transfer her claims, with her hand, to any of the more powerful princes of Europe; consequently the duke entertained little doubt of uniting in favor of his suit the suffrages of all those leading characters in the English court who had formerly conveyed to Mary assurances of their attachment to her title and interests. His own influence amongst the nobility was very considerable, and he readily obtained the concurrence of the earl of Pembroke, the earl of Arundel (his first wife's father), and lord Lumley (a catholic peer closely connected with the house of Howard). The design was now imparted to Leicester, who entered into it with an ostentation of affectionate zeal which ought perhaps to have alarmed the too credulous duke. As if impatient to give an undeniable pledge of his sincerity, he undertook to draw up with his own hand a letter to the queen of Scots, warmly recommending the duke to her matrimonial choice, which immediately received the signatures of the three nobles above mentioned and the rest of the confederates. By these subscribers it was distinctly stipulated, that the union should not take place without the knowledge and approbation of the queen of England, and that the reformed religion should be maintained in both the British kingdoms;—conditions by which they at first perhaps believed that they had provided sufficiently for the interests of Elizabeth and of protestantism: it was however immediately obvious that the duke and his agents had the design of concealing carefully all their measures from their sovereign, till the party should have gained such strength that it would no longer be safe for her to refuse a consent which it was well known that she would always be unwilling to grant.
But when, on encouragement being given by Mary to the hopes of her suitor, the kings of France and Spain, and even the Pope himself, were made privy to the scheme and pledged to give it their assistance, all its English, and especially all its protestant supporters, ought to have been aware that their undertaking was assuming the form of a conspiracy with the enemies of their queen and country against her government and personal safety; against the public peace, and the religion by law established; and nothing can excuse the blindness, or palliate the guilt, of their perseverance in a course so perilous and so crooked.
Private interests were doubtless at the bottom with most or all of the participators in this affair who were not papists; and those,—they were not a few,—who envied or who feared the influence and authority of Cecil, eagerly seized the occasion to array against him a body of hostility by which they trusted to work his final and irretrievable ruin.
It seems to have been by an ambitious rivalry with the secretary, that sir Nicholas Throgmorton, whose early life had exhibited so bold a spirit of resistance to tyranny and popery when triumphant and enthroned, had been carried into a faction which all his principles ought to have rendered odious to him. In his intercourses with the queen of Scots as ambassador from Elizabeth, he had already shown himself her zealous partisan. In advising her to sign for her safety the deed of abdication tendered to her at Loch-Leven, he had basely suggested that the compulsion under which she acted would excuse her from regarding it as binding: to the English crown he also regarded her future title as incontrovertible. He now represented to his party, that Cecil was secretly inclined to the house of Suffolk; and that no measure favorable to the reputation or authority of the queen of Scots could be carried whilst he enjoyed the confidence of his mistress. By these suggestions, the duke, unfortunately for himself, was led to sanction an attempt against the power and reputation of this great minister.
Leicester, who had long hated his virtues; the old corrupt statesmen Winchester, Pembroke, and Arundel; and the discontented catholic peers Northumberland and Westmorland, eagerly joined in the plot. It was agreed to attack the secretary in the privy-council, on the ground of his having advised the detention of the money going into the Low Countries for the service of the king of Spain, and thus exposing the nation to the danger of a war with this potentate; and Throgmorton is said to have advised that, whatever he answered, they should find some pretext for sending him to the Tower; after which, he said, it would be easy to compass his overthrow.
But the penetration of Elizabeth enabled her to appretiate justly, with a single exception, the principles, characters, and motives of all her servants; and she knew that, while his enemies were exclusively attached to their own interests, Cecil was attached also to the interests of his prince, his country, and his religion; that while others,—with that far-sighted selfishness which involves men in so many intrigues, usually rendered fruitless or needless by the after-course of events,—were bent on securing to themselves the good graces of her successor, he was content to depend on her alone; that while others were the courtiers, the flatterers, or the ministers, of the queen, he, and perhaps he only, was the friend of Elizabeth. All the rest she knew that she could replace at a moment;—him never. Secret information was carried to her of all that her council were contriving, and had almost executed, against the secretary: full of indignation she hurried to their meeting, where she was not expected, and by her peremptory mandate put an instant stop to their proceedings; making Leicester himself sensible, by a warmth which did her honor, that the man who held the first place in her esteem was by no one to be injured with impunity.
The earl of Sussex, the true friend of Norfolk, and never his abettor in designs of which his sober judgement could discern all the criminality and all the rashness, was grieved to the soul that the artifices of his followers should have set him at variance with Cecil. He was doubtless aware of the advantage which their disagreement would minister against them both to the malignant Leicester, his and their common enemy; and trembling for the safety of the duke and the welfare of both, he addressed to the secretary, from the north, where he was then occupied in the queen's service, a letter on the subject, eloquent by its uncommon earnestness.
He tells him that he knows not the occasion of the coldness between him and the duke, of which he had acknowledged the existence; but that he cannot believe other, esteeming both parties as he does, than that it must have had its origin in misrepresentation and the ill offices of their enemies; and he implores him, as the general remedy of all such differences, to resort to a full and fair explanation with the duke himself, in whom he will find "honor, truth, wisdom and plainness."
These excellent exhortations were not without effect: it is probable that the incautious duke had either been led inadvertently or dragged unwillingly, by his faction, into the plot against the secretary, whose ruin he was not likely to have sought from any personal motive of enmity; and accordingly a few weeks after (June 1569) we find Sussex congratulating Cecil, in a second letter, on a reconciliation between them which he trusts will prove entire and permanent.
[Note 68: "Illustrations" &c. by Lodge, vol. ii.]
Hitherto the queen had preserved so profound a silence respecting the intrigues of the duke, that he flattered himself she was without a suspicion of their existence; but this illusion was soon to vanish. In August 1569, the queen being at Farnham in her progress and the duke in attendance on her, she took him to dine with her, and in the course of conversation found occasion, "without any show of displeasure," but with sufficient significance of manner, to give him the advice, "to be very careful on what pillow he rested his head." Afterwards she cautioned him in plain terms against entering into any marriage treaty with the queen of Scots. The duke, in his first surprise, made no scruple to promise on his allegiance that he would entertain no thoughts of her; he even affected to speak of such a connexion with disdain, declaring that he esteemed his lands in England worth nearly as much as the whole kingdom of Scotland, wasted as it was by wars and tumults, and that in his tennis-court at Norwich he reckoned himself equal to many a prince.—These demonstrations were all insincere; the duke remained steady to his purpose, and his correspondence with the queen of Scots was not for a single day intermitted in submission to his Sovereign. But he felt that it was now time to take off the mask; and fully confiding in the strength of his party, he requested the earl of Leicester immediately to open the marriage proposal to her majesty, and solicit her consent. This the favorite promised, but for his own ends continued to defer the business from day to day.
Cecil, who had recently been taken into the consultations of the duke, urged upon him with great force the expediency of being himself the first to name his wishes to the queen; but Norfolk, either from timidity, or, more probably, from an ill-founded reliance on Leicester's sincerity, and a distrust, equally misplaced, of that of Cecil, whom he was conscious of having ill treated, neglected to avail himself of this wise and friendly counsel, by which he might yet have been preserved. Leicester, who watched all his motions, was at length satisfied that his purpose was effected,—the victim was inveigled beyond the power of retreat or escape, and it was time for the decoy-bird to slip out of the snare.
He summoned to his aid a fit of sickness, the never-failing resource of the courtiers of Elizabeth in case of need. His pitying mistress, as he had doubtless anticipated, hastened to pay him a charitable visit at his own house, and he then suffered her to discover that his malady was occasioned by some momentous secret which weighed upon his spirits; and after due ostentation of penitence and concern, at length revealed to her the whole of the negotiations for the marriage of the duke with the queen of Scots, including the part which he had himself taken in that business.
Elizabeth, who seems by no means to have suspected that matters had gone so far, or that so many of her nobles were implicated in this transaction, was moved with indignation, and commanded the immediate attendance of the duke, who, conscious of his delinquency, and disquieted by the change which he thought he had observed in the countenance of her majesty and the carriage towards him of his brother peers, had sometime before quitted the court, and retired first to his house in London, and afterwards to his seat of Kenninghall in Norfolk. The duke delayed to appear, not daring to trust himself in the hands of his offended sovereign; and after a short delay, procured for him by the compassion of Cecil, who persisted in assuring the queen that he would doubtless come shortly of his own accord, a messenger was sent to bring him up to London. This messenger, on his arrival, found the duke apparently, and perhaps really, laboring under a violent ague; and he suffered himself to be prevailed upon to accept his solemn promise of appearing at court as soon as he should be able to travel, and to return without him.
Meanwhile the queen, now bent upon sifting this matter to the bottom, had written to require the Scottish regent to inform her of the share which he had taken in the intrigue, and whatever else he knew respecting it. Murray had become fully aware how much more important it was to his interests to preserve the favor and friendship of Elizabeth than to aim at keeping any measures with Mary, by whom he was now hated with extreme bitterness; and learning that the confidence of the duke had already been betrayed by the earl of Leicester, he made no scruple of acquainting her with all the particulars in which he was immediately concerned.
It thus became known to Elizabeth, that as early as the conferences at York, the regent had been compelled, by threats of personal violence on his return to Scotland, to close with the proposals of the duke relative to his marriage;—that it was with a view to this union that Mary had solicited from the states of Scotland a sentence of divorce from Bothwell, which Murray by the exertion of his influence had induced them to refuse, and thus delayed the completion of the contract: but it appeared from other evidence, that written promises of marriage had actually been exchanged between the duke and Mary, and committed to the safe keeping of the French ambassador. It was also found to be a part of the scheme to betroth the infant king of Scots to a daughter of the duke of Norfolk.
The anger of Elizabeth disdained to be longer trifled with; and she dispatched a messenger with peremptory orders to bring up the duke, "his ague notwithstanding," who found him already preparing to set out on his journey. Cecil in one of his letters to sir Henry Norris, dated October 1569, relates these circumstances at length, and expresses his satisfaction in the last, both for the sake of the state and of the duke himself, whom, of all subjects, he declares he most loved and honored. He then proceeds thus: "The queen's majesty hath willed the earl of Arundel and my lord of Pembroke to keep their lodgings here, for that they were privy of this marriage intended, and did not reveal it to her majesty; but I think none of them did so with any evil meaning, and of my lord of Pembroke's intent herein I can witness, that he meant nothing but well to the queen's majesty; my lord Lumley is also restrained: the queen's majesty hath also been grievously offended with my lord of Leicester; but considering that he hath revealed all that he saith he knoweth of himself, her majesty spareth her displeasure the more towards him. Some disquiets must arise, but I trust not hurtful; for her majesty saith she will know the truth, so as every one shall see his own fault, and so stay.... My lord of Huntingdon is joined with the earl of Shrewsbury for the Scots queen's safety. Whilst this matter was in passing, you must not think but the queen of Scots was nearer looked to than before."
The duke on his arrival was committed to the Tower; but neither against him nor any of his adherents did the queen think proper to proceed by course of law, and they were all liberated after a restraint of longer or shorter duration.
It is proper to mention, that the adherents of Mary in her own time, and various writers since, have conspired to cast severe reflections upon Elizabeth for committing her to the joint custody of the earl of Huntingdon, because this nobleman, being descended by his mother, a daughter of Henry Pole lord Montacute, from the house of Clarence, was supposed to put his right of succession to the crown in competition with hers, and therefore to entertain against her peculiar animosity. But on the part of Elizabeth it may be observed, First, that there is not the slightest ground to suspect that this nobleman, who was childless, entertained the most distant idea of reviving the obsolete claims of his family; and certainly if Elizabeth had suspected him of it, he would never have held so high a place in her confidence. Secondly, nothing less than the death of Mary would have served any designs that he might have formed; and by joining him in commission with others for her safe keeping, Elizabeth will scarcely be said to have put it in his power to make away with her. Thirdly, the very writers who complain of the vigilance and strictness with which the queen of Scots was now guarded, all acknowledge that nothing less could have baffled the plans of escape which the zeal of her partisans was continually setting on foot. Amongst the warmest of these partisans was Leonard Dacre, a gentleman whose personal qualities, whose errors, injuries and misfortunes, all conspire to render him an object of attention, illustrative as they also are of the practices and sentiments of his age.
Leonard was the second son of William lord Dacre of Gilsland, descended from the ancient barons Vaux who had held lordships in Cumberland from the days of the Conqueror.
In 1568, on the death without issue of his nephew, a minor in wardship to the duke of Norfolk, Leonard as heir male laid claim to the title and family estates, but the three sisters of the last lord disputed with him this valuable succession; and being supported by the interest of the duke of Norfolk their step-father, to whose three sons they were married, they found means to defeat the claims of their uncle, though indisputably good in law;—one instance in a thousand of the scandalous partiality towards the rich and powerful exhibited in the legal decisions of that age.
Stung with resentment against the government and the queen herself, by whom justice had been denied him, Leonard Dacre threw himself, with all the impetuosity of his character, into the measures of the malcontents and the interests of the queen of Scots, and he laid a daring plan for her deliverance from Tutbury-castle. This plan the duke on its being communicated to him had vehemently opposed, partly from his repugnance to measures of violence, partly from the apprehension that Mary, when at liberty, might fall into the hands of a foreign and catholic party, and desert her engagements with him for a marriage with the king of Spain. Dacre, however, was not to be diverted from his design, especially by the man with whom he was at open enmity, and he assembled a troop of horse for its execution; but suspicions had probably been excited, and the sudden removal of the prisoner to Wingfield frustrated all his measures.
This was not the only attempt of that turbulent and dangerous faction of which the inconsiderate ambition of the duke had rendered him nominally the head but really the tool and victim, which he had now the grief to find himself utterly unable to guide or restrain.
The earls of Northumberland and Westmorland, heads of the ancient and warlike families of Percy and Nevil, were the first to break that internal tranquillity which the kingdom had hitherto enjoyed, without the slightest interruption, under the wise and vigorous rule of Elizabeth. The remoteness of these noblemen from the court and capital, with the poverty and consequent simplicity, almost barbarism, of the vassals over whom they bore sway, and whose homage they received like native and independent princes, appears to have nourished in their minds ideas of their own importance better suited to the period of the wars of the Roses than to the happier age of peace and order which had succeeded.
The offended pride of the earl of Westmorland, a man destitute in fact of every kind of talent, seems on some occasion to have conducted him to the discovery that at the court of Elizabeth the representative of the king-making Warwick was a person of very slender consideration. The failure of the grand attack upon the secretary, in which he had taken part, confirmed this mortifying impression; and the committal of his brother-in-law, the great and powerful duke of Norfolk himself, must subsequently have carried home to the bottom of his heart unwilling conviction that the preponderance of the ancient aristocracy of the country was subverted, and its proudest chieftains fast sinking to the common level of subjects. His attachment to the religion, with the other practices and prejudices of former ages, gave additional exasperation to his discontent against the established order of things: the incessant invectives of Romish priests against a princess whom the pope was on the point of anathematizing, represented the cause of her enemies as that of Heaven itself; and the spirit of the earl was roused at length to seek full vengeance for all the injuries sustained by his pride, his interests, or his principles.
Every motive of disaffection which wrought upon the mind of Westmorland, affected equally the earl of Northumberland; and to the cause of popery the latter was still further pledged by the example and fate of his father, that sir Thomas Percy who had perished on the scaffold for his share in Aske's rebellion. The attainder of sir Thomas had debarred his son from succeeding to the titles and estates of the last unhappy earl his uncle, and he had suffered the mortification of seeing them go to raise the fortunes of the house of Dudley; but on the accession of Mary, by whom his father was regarded as a martyr, he had been restored to all the honors of his birth, and treated with a degree of favor which could not but strengthen his predilection for the faith of which she was the patroness. It appears, however, that the attachment of the earl to the cause of popery had not on all occasions been proof against immediate personal interest. Soon after the marriage of the queen of Scots with Darnley, that rash and ill-judging pair esteeming their authority in the country sufficiently established to enable them to venture on an attempt for the restoration of the old religion, the pope, in furtherance of their pious designs, had remitted the sum of eight thousand crowns. "But the ship wherein the said gold was," says James Melvil in his memoirs, "did shipwrack upon the coast of England, within the earl of Northumberland's bounds, who alleged the whole to appertain to him by just law, which he caused his advocate to read unto me, when I was directed to him for the demanding restitution of the said sum, in the old Norman language, which neither he nor I understood well, it was so corrupt. But all my entreaties were ineffectual, he altogether refusing to give any part thereof to the queen, albeit he was himself a catholic, and professed secretly to be her friend." And through this disappointment Mary was compelled to give up her design.
An additional trait of the earl's character is furnished by the same author, in transcribing the instructions which he carried home from his brother sir Robert Melvil, then ambassador to England, on his return from that country, after announcing the birth of the prince of Scotland. "Item, that her majesty cast not off the earl of Northumberland, albeit as a fearful and facile man he delivered her letter to the queen of England; neither appear to find fault with sir Henry Percy as yet for his dealing with Mr. Ruxbie," (an English spy in Scotland) "which he doth to gain favor at court, being upon a contrary faction to his brother the earl."
The machinations of the two earls, however cautiously carried on, did not entirely escape the penetration of the earl of Sussex, lord president of the north, who sent for them both and subjected them to some kind of examination; but no sufficient cause for their detention then appearing, he dismissed them, hoping probably that the warning would prove efficacious in securing their peaceable behaviour. In this idea, however, he was deceived: on their return they instantly resumed their mischievous designs; and they were actually preparing for an insurrection, which was to be supported by troops from Flanders promised by the duke of Alva, when a summons from the queen for their immediate attendance at court disconcerted all their measures.
To comply with the command seemed madness in men who were conscious that their proceedings had already amounted to high treason;—but to refuse obedience, and thus set at defiance a power to which they were as yet unprepared to oppose any effectual resistance, seemed equally desperate. They hesitated; and it is said that the irresolution of Northumberland was only ended by the stratagem of some of his dependents, who waked him one night with a false alarm that his enemies were upon him, and thus hurried him into the irretrievable step of quitting his home and joining Westmorland, on which the country flocked in for their defence, and they found themselves compelled to raise their standard.
The enterprise immediately assumed the aspect of a Holy War, or crusade against heresy: on the banners of the insurgents were displayed the cross, the five wounds of Christ, and the cup of the eucharist: mass was regularly performed in their camp; and on reaching Durham, they carried off from the cathedral and committed to the flames the bible and the English service books.
The want of money to purchase provisions compelled the earls to relinquish their first idea of marching to London; they took however a neighbouring castle, and remained masters of the country as long as no army appeared to oppose them; but on the approach of the earl of Sussex and lord Hunsdon from York, with a large body of troops, they gradually retreated to the Scotch borders; and there disbanded their men without a blow. The earl of Westmorland finally made his escape to Flanders, where he dragged out a tedious existence in poverty and obscurity, barely supplied with the necessaries of life by a slender pension from the king of Spain. Northumberland, being betrayed for a reward by a Scottish borderer to whom, as to a friend, he had fled for refuge, was at length delivered up by the regent Morton to the English government, and was beheaded at York.
Posterity is not called upon to respect the memory of these rebellious earls as martyrs even to a mistaken zeal for the good of their country, or to any other generous principle of action. The objects of their enterprise, as assigned by themselves, were the restoration of the old religion, the removal of evil counsellors, and the liberation of the duke of Norfolk and other imprisoned nobles. But even their attachment to popery appears to have been entirely subservient to their views of personal interest; and so little was the duke inclined to blend his cause with theirs, that he exerted himself in every mode that his situation would permit to strengthen the hands of government for their overthrow; and it was in consideration of the loyal spirit manifested by him on occasion of this rebellion, and of a subsequent rising in Norfolk, that he soon after obtained his liberty on a solemn promise to renounce all connexion with the queen of Scots.
In the northern counties, however, the cause and the persons of the two earls, who had well maintained the hospitable fame of their great ancestors, were alike the objects of popular attachment: the miserable destiny of the outlawed and ruined Westmorland, and the untimely end of Northumberland through the perfidy of the false friend in whom he had put his trust, were long remembered with pity and indignation, and many a minstrel "tuned his rude harp of border frame" to the fall of the Percy or the wanderings of the Nevil. There was also an ancient gentleman named Norton, of Norton in Yorkshire, who bore the banner of the cross and the five wounds before the rebel army, whose tragic fall, with that of his eight sons, has received such commemoration and embellishment as the pathetic strains of a nameless but probably contemporary bard could bestow. The excellent ballad entitled "The Rising in the North" impressively describes the mission of Percy's "little foot page" to Norton, to pray that he will "ride in his company;" the council held by Richard Norton with his nine sons, when
"Eight of them did answer make, Eight of them spake hastily, O father! till the day we die We'll stand by that good earl and thee;"
while Francis, the eldest, seeks to dissuade his father from rebellion, but finding him resolved, offers to accompany him "unarmed and naked." Their standard is then mentioned: and after recording the flight of the two earls, the minstrel adds,
"Thee Norton with thine eight good sons They doomed to die, alas for ruth! Thy reverend locks thee could not save, Nor them their fair and blooming youth!"
[Note 69: See Percy's "Reliques," vol. ii.]
But how slender is the authority of a poet in matters of history! It is quite certain that Richard Norton did not perish by the hands of the executioner, and it is uncertain whether any one of his sons did. It is true that the old man with three more of the family was attainted, that his great estates were confiscated, and that he ended his days a miserable exile in Flanders. We also know that two gentlemen of the name of Norton were hanged at London: but some authorities make them brothers of the head of the family; and two of the sons of Richard Norton, Francis, and Edmund ancestor of the present lord Grantley, certainly lived and died in peace on their estates in Yorkshire.
It is little to the honor of Elizabeth's clemency, that a rebellion suppressed almost without bloodshed should have been judged by her to justify and require the unmitigated exercise of martial law over the whole of the disaffected country. Sir John Bowes, marshal of the army, made it his boast, that in a tract sixty miles in length and forty in breadth, there was scarcely a town or village where he had not put some to death; and at Durham the earl of Sussex caused sixty-three constables to be hanged at once;—a severity of which it should appear that he was the unwilling instrument; for in a letter written soon after to Cecil he complains, that during part of the time of his command in the north he had nothing left to him "but to direct hanging matters." But the situation of this nobleman at the time was such as would by no means permit him at his own peril to suspend or evade the execution of such orders as he received from court. Egremond Ratcliffe his half-brother was one of about forty noblemen and gentlemen attainted for their concern in this rebellion; he had in the earl of Leicester an enemy equally vindictive and powerful; and some secret informations had infused into the mind of the queen a suspicion that there had been some wilful slackness in his proceedings against the insurgents. There was however at the bottom of Elizabeth's heart a conviction of the truth and loyalty of her kinsman which could not be eradicated, and he soon after took a spirited step which disconcerted entirely the measures of his enemies, and placed him higher than ever in her confidence and esteem. Cecil thus relates the circumstance in one of his letters to Norris, dated February 1570.
"The earl of Sussex... upon desire to see her majesty, came hither unlooked for; and although, in the beginning of this northern rebellion, her majesty sometimes uttered some misliking of the earl, yet this day she, meaning to deal very princely with him, in presence of her council, charged him with such things as she had heard to cause her misliking, without any note of mistrust towards him for his fidelity; whereupon he did with such humbleness, wisdom, plainness and dexterity, answer her majesty, as both she and all the rest were fully satisfied, and he adjudged by good proofs to have served in all this time faithfully, and so circumspectly, as it manifestly appeareth that if he had not so used himself in the beginning, the whole north part had entered into the rebellion."
A formidable mass of discontent did in fact subsist among the catholics of the north, and it was not long before a new and more daring leader found means to set it again in fierce and violent action.
Leonard Dacre had found no opportunity to take part in the enterprise of the two earls, though a deep participator in their counsels; for knowing that their design could not yet be ripe for execution, and foreseeing as little as the rest of the faction those measures of the queen by which their affairs were prematurely brought to a crisis, he had proceeded to court on his private concerns, and was there amusing her majesty with protestations of his unalterable fidelity and attachment, while his associates in the north were placing their lands and lives on the hazard of rebellion. Learning on his journey homewards the total discomfiture of the earls, he carefully preserved the semblance of a zealous loyalty, till, having armed the retainers of his family on pretence of preserving the country in the queen's obedience, and having strongly garrisoned its hereditary castles of Naworth and Greystock, which he wrested from the custody of the Howards, he declared himself, and broke out into violent rebellion.
The late severities had rather exasperated than subdued the spirit of disaffection in this neighbourhood, and three thousand men ranged themselves under the scallop-shells of Dacre;—a well known ensign which from age to age had marshalled the hardy borderers to deeds of warlike prowess. Lord Hunsdon, the governor of Berwick, marched promptly forth with all the force he could muster to disperse the rebels; but this time they stood firmly on the banks of the little river Gelt, to give him battle. Such indeed was the height of fanaticism or despair to which these unhappy people were wrought up, that the phrensy gained the softer sex; and there were seen in their ranks, says the chronicler, "many desperate women that gave the adventure of their lives, and fought right stoutly." After a sharp action in which about three hundred were left dead on the field, victory at length declared for the queen's troops; and Leonard Dacre, who had bravely sustained, notwithstanding the deformity of his person, the part of soldier as well as general, seeing that all was lost, turned his horse's head and rode off full speed for Scotland, whence he passed into Flanders and took up at Lovain his melancholy abode.
The treason of this unfortunate gentleman was, it must be confessed, both notorious and heinous; and had he been intercepted in making his escape, no blame could have attached to Elizabeth in exacting the full penalty of his offence. But when, five-and-twenty years after this time, we find his aged mother at court "an earnest suitor" for the pardon of her two sons; obtaining, probably by costly bribes, a promise of admission to the queen's presence, and at length gaining nothing more,—it is impossible not to blame or lament that relentless severity of temper which rendered Elizabeth so much a stranger to the fairest attribute of sovereign power. The case of Francis Dacre indeed was one which ought to have appealed to her sense of justice rather than to her feelings of mercy. This gentleman, after the expatriation and attainder of his elder brother, had prosecuted at law the claims to the honors and lands of the barony of Gilsland which had thus devolved upon him; but being baffled in all his appeals to the equity of the courts, he had withdrawn in disgust to Flanders, and on this account suffered a sentence of outlawry. He lived and died in exile, leaving a son, named Ranulph, heir only to poverty and misfortunes, to noble blood, and to rights which he was destitute of the power of rendering available. Lord Dacre of the south, as he was usually called, settled on this poor man, his very distant relation, a small annuity; and on his death the following lord Dacre, becoming the heir male of the family, received by way of compromise from the Howards no less than thirteen manors which they had enjoyed to the prejudice of Leonard Dacre, of his brother and of his nephew.
[Note 70: Letter of R. Whyte in "Sidney Papers."]
On the suppression of this second rising in the north, the queen, better advised or instructed by experience, granted a general pardon to all but its leader; and such was the effect of this lenity, or of the example of repeated failure on the part of the insurgents, that the internal tranquillity of her kingdom was never more disturbed from this quarter, the most dangerous of all from the vicinity of Scotland.
The earl of Sussex had been kept for some time in a state of dissatisfaction, as appears from one of his letters to Cecil, by her majesty's dilatoriness in conferring upon him such a mark of her special favor as she had graciously promised at the conclusion of his satisfactory defence of himself before the council; but she appeased at length his wounded feelings, by admitting him to the council-board and giving him the command of a strong force appointed to act on the Scottish border.
The occasion for this military movement arose out of the tragical incident of the assassination of the regent Murray, which had proved the signal for a furious inroad upon the English limits by some of the southern clans, who found themselves immediately released from the restraints of an administration vigorous enough to make the lawless tremble. Sussex was ordered to chastize their insolence; and he performed the task thoroughly and pitilessly, laying waste with fire and sword the whole obnoxious district.