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II. A GREATER BRITAIN
THE CHARACTER OF ELIZABETH
JOHN RICHARD GREEN
[From A Short History of the English
People] Never had the fortunes of England sunk to a lower ebb than at the moment when Elizabeth mounted the throne. The country was humiliated by defeat and brought to the verge of rebellion by the bloodshed and misgovernment of Mary's reign. The old social discontent, trampled down for a time by the horsemen of Somerset, remained a menace to public order. The religious strife had passed beyond hope of reconciliation, now that the reformers were parted from their opponents by the fires of Smithfield and the party of the New Learning all but dissolved. The more earnest Catholics were bound helplessly to Rome. The temper of the Protestants, burned at home or driven into exile abroad, had become a fiercer thing, and the Calvinistic refugees were pouring back from Geneva with dreams of revolutionary change in Church and State. Eng. land, dragged at the heels of Philip into a useless and ruinous war, was left without an ally save Spain; while France, mistress of Calais, became mistress of the Channel. Not only was Scotland a standing danger in the north, through the French marriage of its Queen Mary Stuart and its consequent bondage to French policy; but Mary Stuart and her husband now assumed the style and arms of English sovereigns, and threatened to rouse every Catholic throughout the realm against Elizabeth's title. In presence of this host of dangers the country lay helpless, without army or fleet, or the means of manning one, for the treasury, already drained by the waste of Edward's reign, had been utterly exhausted by Mary's restoration of the Church-lands in possession of the Crown, and by the cost of her war with France.
England's one hope lay in the character of her Queen Elizabeth was now in her twenty-fifth year. Personally she had more than her mother's beauty; her figure was commanding, her face long but queenly and intelligent, her eyes quick and fine. She had grown up amidst the liberal culture of Henry's court a bold horsewoman, a good
shot, a graceful dancer, a skilled musician, and an accomplished scholar. She studied every morning the Greek Testament, and followed this by the tragedies of Sophocles or orations of Demosthenes, and could "rub up her rusty Greek” at need to bandy pedantry with a Vice-Chancellor. But she was far from being a mere pedant. The new literature which was springing up around her found constant welcome in her court. She spoke Italian and French as fluently as her mother-tongue. She was familiar with Ariosto and Tasso. Even amidst the affection and love of anagrams and puerilities which sullied her later years, she listened with delight to the “Faery Queen,” and found a smile for “Master Spenser” when he appeared in her presence. Her moral temper recalled in its strange contrasts the mixed blood within her veins. She was at once the daughter of Henry and of Anne Boleyn. From her father she inherited her frank and hearty address, her love of popularity and of free intercourse with the people, her dauntless courage and her amazing self-confidence. Her harsh, manlike voice, her impetuous will, her pride, her furious outbursts of anger came to her with her Tudor blood. She rated great nobles as if they were schoolboys; she met the insolence of Essex with a box on the ear; she would break now and then into the gravest deliberations to swear at her ministers like a fish wife. But strangely in contrast with the violent outlines of her Tudor temper stood the sensuous, self-indulgent nature she derived from Anne Boleyn. Splendor and pleasure were with Elizabeth the very air she breathed. Her delight was to move in perpetual progresses from castle to castle through a series of gorgeous pageants, fanciful and extravagant as a caliph's dream. She loved gaiety and laughter and wit. A happy retort or a finished compliment never failed to win her favor. She hoarded jewels. Her dresses were innumerable. Her vanity remained, even to old age, the vanity of a coquette in her teens. No adulation was too fulsome for her, no flattery of her beauty too gross. “To see her was heaven,” Hatton told her, “the lack of her was hell.” She would play with her rings that her courtiers might note the delicacy of her hands; or
dance a coranto that the French ambassador, throne, to keep England out of war, to rehidden dexterously behind curtain, store civil and religious order. Something of might report her sprightliness to his mas- womanly caution and timidity perhaps ter. Her levity, her frivolous laughter, backed the passionless indifference with her unwomanly jests gave color to a thou- which she set aside the larger schemes of sand scandals. Her character in fact, like ambition which were ever opening before her portraits, was utterly without shade. her eyes. She was resolute in her refusal Of womanly reserve or self-restraint she of the Low Countries. She rejected with a knew nothing. No instinct of delicacy veiled laugh the offers of the Protestants to make the voluptuous temper which had broken out her "head of the religion” and “mistress of in the romps of her girlhood and showed the seas.” But her amazing success in the itself almost ostentatiously throughout her end sprang mainly from this wise limitation later life. Personal beauty in a man was a of her aims. She had a finer sense than any sure passport to her liking. She patted hand- of her counselors of her real resources; she some young squires on the neck when they knew instinctively how far she could go, and knelt to kiss her hand, and fondled her what she could do. Her cold, critical intel"sweet Robin,” Lord Leicester, in the face lect was never swayed by enthusiasm or by of the court.
panic either to exaggerate or to underIt was no wonder that the statesmen estimate her risks or her power. whom she outwitted held Elizabeth almost Of political wisdom indeed in its larger to the last to be little more than a frwolous
and more generous sense Elizabeth had litwoman, or that Philip of Spain wondered tle or none; but her political tact was unhow "a wanton" could hold in check the erring. She seldom saw her course at a policy of the Escurial. But the Elizabeth glance, but she played with a hundred whom they saw was far from being all of courses, fitfully and discursively, as Elizabeth. The wilfulness of Henry, the musician runs his fingers over the keytriviality of Anne Boleyn played over the board, till she hit suddenly upon the right surface of a nature hard as steel, a temper Her nature was essentially pracpurely intellectual, the very type of reason tical and of the present. She distrusted a untouched by imagination or passion. Lux- plan in fact just in proportion to its urious and pleasure-loving as she seemed, speculative range or its outlook into the Elizabeth lived simply and frugally, and she future. Her notion of statesmanship lay worked hard. Her vanity and caprice had in watching how things turned out around no weight whatever with her in state affairs.
her, and in seizing the moment for making The coquette of the presence-chamber be- the best of them. A policy of this limited, came the coolest and hardest of politicians practical, tentative order was not only best at the council-board. Fresh from the flat- suited to the England of her day, to its tery of her courtiers, she would tolerate no small resources, and the transitional charflattery in the closet; she was herself plain acter of its religious and political belief, and downright of speech with her coun- but it was one eminently suited to Elizaselors, and she looked for a corresponding beth's peculiar powers. It was a policy plainness of speech in return. If any trace of detail, and in details her wonderful of her sex lingered in her actual statesman- readiness and ingenuity found scope for ship, it was seen in the simplicity and their exercise. “No War, my Lords,” the tenacity of purpose that often underlies a Queen used to cry imperiously at the counwoman's fluctuations of feeling. It was cil-board, “No War!” but her hatred of this in part which gave her her marked war sprang less from her aversion to blood superiority over the statesmen of her time.
or to expense, real as was her aversion to No nobler group of ministers ever gathered both, than from the fact that peace left the round a council-board than those who gath- field open to the diplomatic maneuvers and ered round the council-board of Elizabeth. intrigues in which she excelled. Her deBut she was the instrument of none. She light in the consciousness of her ingenuity listened, she weighed, she used or put by broke out in a thousand puckish freaks, the counsels of each in turn, but her policy freaks in which one can hardly see any as a whole was her own. It was a policy, purpose beyond the purpose of sheer mysnot of genius, but of good sense. Her aims tification. She revelled in "bye-ways" and were simple and obvious: to preserve her “crooked ways.” She played with grave
cabinets as a cat plays with a mouse, and of her greatness is almost lost in a sense with much of the same feline delight in the of contempt. But wrapped as they were mere embarrassment of her victims. When in a cloud of mystery, the aims of her policy
were throughout temperate and simple, and men she turned to find fresh sport in mys- they were pursued with a singular tenacity. tifying her own ministers. Had Elizabeth The sudden acts of energy which from time written the story of her reign she would to time broke her habitual hesitation proved have prided herself, not on the triumph of that it was no hesitation of weakness. ElizaEngland or the ruin of Spain, but on the betb could wait and finesse; but when the skill with which she had hoodwinked and hour was come she could strike, and strike outwitted every statesman in Europe, dur- hard. Her natural temper indeed tended ing fifty years. Nor was her trickery with- to a rash self-confidence rather than to out political value. Ignoble, inexpressibly self-distrust. She had, as strong natures wearisome as the Queen's diplomacy seems always have, an unbounded confidence in her
to us now, tracing it as we do through a luck. “Her Majesty counts much on For· thousand despatches, it succeeded in its tune,” Walsingham wrote bitterly; “I wish main end. It gained time, and every year she would trust more in Almighty God.” that was
gained doubled Elizabeth's The diplomatists who censured at strength. Nothing is more revolting in the moment her irresolution, her delay, her Queen, but nothing is more characteristic, changes of front, censure at the next her than her shameless mendacity. It was an "obstinacy,” her iron will, her defiance of age of political lying, but in the profusion what seemed to them inevitable ruin. “This and recklessness of her lies Elizabeth stood woman, Philip's envoy wrote after without a peer in Christendom. A false- wasted remonstrance, “this woman is poshood was to her simply an intellectual means sessed by a hundred thousand devils." To of meeting a difficulty; and the ease with her own subjects, indeed, who knew nothwhich she asserted or denied whatever suited ing of her maneuvers and retreats, of her her purpose was only equaled by the "bye-ways" and "crooked ways,” she cynical indifference with which she met seemed the embodiment of dauntless resothe exposure of her lies as soon as their lution. Brave as they were, the men who purpose was answered. The same purely swept the Spanish Main or glided between intellectual view of things showed itself in the icebergs of Baffin's Bay never doubted the dexterous use she made of her very that the palm of bravery lay with their faults. Her levity carried her gaily over Queen. Her steadiness and courage in the moments of detection and embarrassment pursuit of her aims was equaled by the where better women would have died of wisdom with which she chose the men to shame. She screened her tentative and accomplish them. She had a quick eye for hesitating statesmanship under the natural merit of any sort, and a wonderful power timidity and vacillation of her sex. She of enlisting its whole energy in her service. turned her very luxury and sports to good The sagacity which chose Cecil and Walaccount. There were moments of grave singham was just as unerring in its choice danger in her reign when the country re- of the meanest of her agents. Her success mained indifferent to its perils, as it saw the indeed in securing from the beginning of Queen give her days to hawking and hunt- her reign to its end, with the single exceping, and her nights to dancing and plays. tion of Leicester, precisely the right men Her vanity and affectation, her womanly for the work she set them to do sprang in fickleness and caprice, all had their part in great measure from the noblest characterthe diplomatic comedies she played with istic of her intellect. If in loftiness of aim the successive candidates for her hand. If her temper fell below many of the tempers political necessities made her life a lonely of her time, in the breadth of its range, in one, she had at any rate the satisfaction of the universality of its sympathy it stood far averting war and conspiracies by love son- above them all. Elizabeth could talk poetry nets and romantic interviews, or of gain- with Spenser and philosophy with Bruno; ing a year of tranquillity by the dexterous she could discuss Euphuism with Lyly, and spinning out of a flirtation.
enjoy the chivalry of Essex; she could turn As we track Elizabeth through her tor- from talk of the last fashions to pore with tuous mazes of lying and intrigue, the sense Cecil over despatches and treasury books;
she could pass from tracking traitors with Walsingham to settle points of doctrine with Parker, or to calculate with Frobisher the chances of a north-west passage to the Indies. The versatility and many-sidedness of her mind enabled her to understand every phase of the intellectual movement of her day, and to fix by a sort of instinct on its higher representatives. But the greatness of the Queen rests above all on her power over her people. We have had grander and nobler rulers, but none so popular as Elizabeth. The passion of love, of loyalty, of admiration which finds its most perfect expression in the "Faery Queen," throbbed as intensely through the veins of her meanest subjects. To England, during her reign of half a century, she was a virgin and a Protestant Queen; and her immorality, her absolute want of religious enthusiasm, failed utterly to blur the brightness of the national ideal. Her worst acts broke fruitlessly against the general devotion. A Puritan, whose hand she cut off in a freak of tyrannous resentment, waved his hat with the hand that was left, and shouted "God save Queen Elizabeth!" Of her faults, indeed, England beyond the circle of her court knew little or nothing. The shiftings of her diplomacy were never seen outside the royal closet. The nation at large could only judge her foreign policy by its main outlines, by its temperance and good sense, and above all by its success. But every Englishman was able to judge Elizabeth in her rule at home, in her love of peace, her instinct of order, the firmness and moderation of her government, the judicious spirit of conciliation and compromise among warring factions which gave the country an unexampled tranquillity at a time when almost every other country in Europe was torn with civil war. Every sign of the growing prosperity, the sight of London as it became the mart of the world, of stately mansions as they rose on every manor, told, and justly told, in Elizabeth's favor. In one act of her civil administration she showed the boldness and originality of a great ruler; for the opening of her reign saw her face the social difficulty which had so long impeded English progress, by the issue of a commission of inquiry which ended in the solution of the problem by the system of poor-laws. She lent a ready patronage to the new commerce; she considered its extension and
protection as a part of public policy, and her statue in the center of the London Exchange was a tribute on the part of the merchant class to the interest with which she watched and shared personally in its enterprises. Her thrift won a general gratitude. The memories of the Terror and of the Martyrs threw into bright relief the aversion from bloodshed which was conspicuous in her earlier reign, and never wholly wanting through its fiercer close. Above all there was a general confidence in her instinctive knowledge of the national temper. Her finger was always on the public pulse. She knew exactly when she could resist the feeling of her people, and when she must give way before the new sentiment of freedom which her policy unconsciously fostered. But when she retreated, her defeat had all the grace of victory; and the frankness and unreserve of her surrender won back at once the love that her resistance had lost. Her attitude at home in fact was that of a woman whose pride in the well-being of her subjects, and whose longing for their favor, was the one warm touch in the coldness of her natural temper. If Elizabeth could be said to love anything, she loved England. "Nothing," she said to her first Parliament in words of unwonted fire, "nothing, no worldly thing under the sun, is so dear to me as the love and goodwill of my subjects." And the love and good-will which were so dear to her she fully won.
THE MENACE OF SPAIN
JOHN RICHARD GREEN
[From A Short History of the English People]
But if a fierce religious struggle was at hand, men felt that behind this lay a yet fiercer political struggle. Philip's hosts were looming over sea, and the horrors of foreign invasion seemed about to be added to the horrors of civil war. Spain was at this moment the mightiest of European powers. The discoveries of Columbus had given it the New World of the West; the conquests of Cortes and Pizarro poured into its treasury the plunder of Mexico and Peru; its galleons brought the rich produce of the Indies, their gold, their jewels, their ingots of silver, to the harbor of Cadiz. To the New World its King added the fair
est and wealthiest portions of the Old; he of power, as well as the wide distribution was master of Naples and Milan, the rich- of his dominions, perpetually drew him. est and the most fertile districts of Italy; To coerce the weaker States of Italy, to of the busy provinces of the Low Countries,
command the Mediterranean, to preserve of Flanders, the great manufacturing dis- his influence in Germany, to support trict of the time, and of Antwerp, which Catholicism in France, to crush heresy in had become the central mart for the com- Flanders, to despatch one Armada against merce of the world. His native kingdom, the Turk and another against Elizabeth, poor as it was, supplied him with the stead- were aims mighty enough to exhaust even iest and the most daring soldiers that the the power of the Spanish Monarchy. But world has seen since the fall of the Roman was rather on the character of Philip than Empire. The renown of the Spanish in- on the exhaustion of his treasury that Elizafantry had been growing from the day beth counted for success in the struggle when it flung off the onset of the French which had so long been going on between chivalry on the field of Ravenna; and the them. The King's temper slow, Spanish generals stood without rivals in cautious even to timidity, losing itself contheir military skill, as they stood without tinually in delays, in hesitations, in anrivals in their ruthless cruelty. The whole, ticipating remote perils, in waiting for distoo, of this enormous power was massed in tant chances; and on the slowness and hesithe hands of a single man. Served as he tation of his temper his rival had been was by able statesmen and subtle diplo- playing ever since she mounted the throne. matists, Philip of Spain was his own sole The diplomatic contest between the two minister; laboring day after day, like a was like the fight which England was soon clerk, through the long years of his reign, to see between the ponderous Spanish galamidst the papers which crowded his leon and the light pinnace of the buccloset; but resolute to let nothing pass
The agility, the sudden changes without his supervision, and to suffer noth- of Elizabeth, her lies, her mystifications, ing to be done save by his express com
though they failed to deceive Philip, puzmand. It was his boast that everywhere zled and impeded his mind. But amidst all in the vast compass of his dominions he was this cloud of intrigue the actual course of "an absolute King.” It was to realize this their relations had been clear and simple. idea of unshackled power that he crushed In her earlier days France rivaled Spain in the liberties of Aragon, as his father had its greatness, and Elizabeth simply played crushed the liberties of Castille, and sent the two rivals off against one another. She Alva to tread under foot the constitutional hindered France from giving effective aid freedom of the Low Countries. His bigo- to Mary Stuart by threats of an alliance try went hand in hand with his thirst for with Spain; while she induced Philip to rule. Italy and Spain lay hushed beneath wink at her heresy, and to discourage the the terror of the Inquisition, while Flanders risings of the English Catholics, by playing was being purged of heresy by the stake on his dread of her alliance with France. and the sword. The shadow of this gigantic But as the tide of religious passion which power fell like a deadly blight over Europe. had so long been held in check broke at The new Protestantism, like the new spirit last over its banks, the political face of of political liberty, saw its real foe in Philip. Europe changed. The Low Countries, It was Spain, rather than the Guises, driven to despair by the greed and perseagainst which Coligni and the Huguenots cution of Alva, rose in a revolt which after struggled in vain; it was Spain with which strange alternations of fortune gave to William of Orange was wrestling for re- Europe the Republic of the United Provligious and civil freedom; it was Spain inces. The opening which their rising afwhich was soon to plunge Germany into the forded was seized by the Huguenot leadchaos of the Thirty Years' War, and to ers of France as a political engine to break which the Catholic world had for twenty the power which Catharine of Medicis exeryears been looking, and looking in vain, for cised over Charles the Ninth, and to set a victory over heresy in England. Vast in aside her policy of religious balance by fact as Philip's resources were, they were placing France at the head of Protestantism drained by the yet vaster schemes of ambi- in the West. Charles listened to the countion into which his religion and his greed sels of Coligni, who pressed for war upon