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XXXI - England Under Elizabeth

There was great rejoicing all over the land when the Lords of the Council went down to Hatfield, to hail the Princess Elizabeth as the new Queen of England.  Weary of the barbarities of Mary’s reign, the people looked with hope and gladness to the new Sovereign.  The nation seemed to wake from a horrible dream; and Heaven, so long hidden by the smoke of the fires that roasted men and women to death, appeared to brighten once more.

Queen Elizabeth was five-and-twenty years of age when she rode through the streets of London, from the Tower to Westminster Abbey, to be crowned.  Her countenance was strongly marked, but on the whole, commanding and dignified; her hair was red, and her nose something too long and sharp for a woman’s.  She was not the beautiful creature her courtiers made out; but she was well enough, and no doubt looked all the better for coming after the dark and gloomy Mary.  She was well educated, but a roundabout writer, and rather a hard swearer and coarse talker.  She was clever, but cunning and deceitful, and inherited much of her father’s violent temper.  I mention this now, because she has been so over-praised by one party, and so over-abused by another, that it is hardly possible to understand the greater part of her reign without first understanding what kind of woman she really was.

She began her reign with the great advantage of having a very wise and careful Minister, Sir William Cecil, whom she afterwards made Lord Burleigh.  Altogether, the people had greater reason for rejoicing than they usually had, when there were processions in the streets; and they were happy with some reason.  All kinds of shows and images were set up; Gog and Magog were hoisted to the top of Temple Bar, and (which was more to the purpose) the Corporation dutifully presented the young Queen with the sum of a thousand marks in gold—so heavy a present, that she was obliged to take it into her carriage with both hands.  The coronation was a great success; and, on the next day, one of the courtiers presented a petition to the new Queen, praying that as it was the custom to release some prisoners on such occasions, she would have the goodness to release the four Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and also the Apostle Saint Paul, who had been for some time shut up in a strange language so that the people could not get at them.

To this, the Queen replied that it would be better first to inquire of themselves whether they desired to be released or not; and, as a means of finding out, a great public discussion—a sort of religious tournament—was appointed to take place between certain champions of the two religions, in Westminster Abbey.  You may suppose that it was soon made pretty clear to common sense, that for people to benefit by what they repeat or read, it is rather necessary they should understand something about it.  Accordingly, a Church Service in plain English was settled, and other laws and regulations were made, completely establishing the great work of the Reformation.  The Romish bishops and champions were not harshly dealt with, all things considered; and the Queen’s Ministers were both prudent and merciful.

The one great trouble of this reign, and the unfortunate cause of the greater part of such turmoil and bloodshed as occurred in it, was Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots.  We will try to understand, in as few words as possible, who Mary was, what she was, and how she came to be a thorn in the royal pillow of Elizabeth.

She was the daughter of the Queen Regent of Scotland, Mary of Guise.  She had been married, when a mere child, to the Dauphin, the son and heir of the King of France.  The Pope, who pretended that no one could rightfully wear the crown of England without his gracious permission, was strongly opposed to Elizabeth, who had not asked for the said gracious permission.  And as Mary Queen of Scots would have inherited the English crown in right of her birth, supposing the English Parliament not to have altered the succession, the Pope himself, and most of the discontented who were followers of his, maintained that Mary was the rightful Queen of England, and Elizabeth the wrongful Queen.  Mary being so closely connected with France, and France being jealous of England, there was far greater danger in this than there would have been if she had had no alliance with that great power.  And when her young husband, on the death of his father, became Francis the Second, King of France, the matter grew very serious.  For, the young couple styled themselves King and Queen of England, and the Pope was disposed to help them by doing all the mischief he could.

Now, the reformed religion, under the guidance of a stern and powerful preacher, named John Knox, and other such men, had been making fierce progress in Scotland.  It was still a half savage country, where there was a great deal of murdering and rioting continually going on; and the Reformers, instead of reforming those evils as they should have done, went to work in the ferocious old Scottish spirit, laying churches and chapels waste, pulling down pictures and altars, and knocking about the Grey Friars, and the Black Friars, and the White Friars, and the friars of all sorts of colours, in all directions.  This obdurate and harsh spirit of the Scottish Reformers (the Scotch have always been rather a sullen and frowning people in religious matters) put up the blood of the Romish French court, and caused France to send troops over to Scotland, with the hope of setting the friars of all sorts of colours on their legs again; of conquering that country first, and England afterwards; and so crushing the Reformation all to pieces.  The Scottish Reformers, who had formed a great league which they called The Congregation of the Lord, secretly represented to Elizabeth that, if the reformed religion got the worst of it with them, it would be likely to get the worst of it in England too; and thus, Elizabeth, though she had a high notion of the rights of Kings and Queens to do anything they liked, sent an army to Scotland to support the Reformers, who were in arms against their sovereign.  All these proceedings led to a treaty of peace at Edinburgh, under which the French consented to depart from the kingdom.  By a separate treaty, Mary and her young husband engaged to renounce their assumed title of King and Queen of England.  But this treaty they never fulfilled.

It happened, soon after matters had got to this state, that the young French King died, leaving Mary a young widow.  She was then invited by her Scottish subjects to return home and reign over them; and as she was not now happy where she was, she, after a little time, complied.

Elizabeth had been Queen three years, when Mary Queen of Scots embarked at Calais for her own rough, quarrelling country.  As she came out of the harbour, a vessel was lost before her eyes, and she said, ‘O! good God! what an omen this is for such a voyage!’  She was very fond of France, and sat on the deck, looking back at it and weeping, until it was quite dark.  When she went to bed, she directed to be called at daybreak, if the French coast were still visible, that she might behold it for the last time.  As it proved to be a clear morning, this was done, and she again wept for the country she was leaving, and said many times, ‘Farewell, France!  Farewell, France!  I shall never see thee again!’  All this was long remembered afterwards, as sorrowful and interesting in a fair young princess of nineteen.  Indeed, I am afraid it gradually came, together with her other distresses, to surround her with greater sympathy than she deserved.

When she came to Scotland, and took up her abode at the palace of Holyrood in Edinburgh, she found herself among uncouth strangers and wild uncomfortable customs very different from her experiences in the court of France.  The very people who were disposed to love her, made her head ache when she was tired out by her voyage, with a serenade of discordant music—a fearful concert of bagpipes, I suppose—and brought her and her train home to her palace on miserable little Scotch horses that appeared to be half starved.  Among the people who were not disposed to love her, she found the powerful leaders of the Reformed Church, who were bitter upon her amusements, however innocent, and denounced music and dancing as works of the devil.  John Knox himself often lectured her, violently and angrily, and did much to make her life unhappy.  All these reasons confirmed her old attachment to the Romish religion, and caused her, there is no doubt, most imprudently and dangerously both for herself and for England too, to give a solemn pledge to the heads of the Romish Church that if she ever succeeded to the English crown, she would set up that religion again.  In reading her unhappy history, you must always remember this; and also that during her whole life she was constantly put forward against the Queen, in some form or other, by the Romish party.

That Elizabeth, on the other hand, was not inclined to like her, is pretty certain.  Elizabeth was very vain and jealous, and had an extraordinary dislike to people being married.  She treated Lady Catherine Grey, sister of the beheaded Lady Jane, with such shameful severity, for no other reason than her being secretly married, that she died and her husband was ruined; so, when a second marriage for Mary began to be talked about, probably Elizabeth disliked her more.  Not that Elizabeth wanted suitors of her own, for they started up from Spain, Austria, Sweden, and England.  Her English lover at this time, and one whom she much favoured too, was Lord Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester—himself secretly married to Amy Robsart, the daughter of an English gentleman, whom he was strongly suspected of causing to be murdered, down at his country seat, Cumnor Hall in Berkshire, that he might be free to marry the Queen.  Upon this story, the great writer, Sir Walter Scott, has founded one of his best romances.  But if Elizabeth knew how to lead her handsome favourite on, for her own vanity and pleasure, she knew how to stop him for her own pride; and his love, and all the other proposals, came to nothing.  The Queen always declared in good set speeches, that she would never be married at all, but would live and die a Maiden Queen.  It was a very pleasant and meritorious declaration, I suppose; but it has been puffed and trumpeted so much, that I am rather tired of it myself.

Divers princes proposed to marry Mary, but the English court had reasons for being jealous of them all, and even proposed as a matter of policy that she should marry that very Earl of Leicester who had aspired to be the husband of Elizabeth.  At last, Lord Darnley, son of the Earl of Lennox, and himself descended from the Royal Family of Scotland, went over with Elizabeth’s consent to try his fortune at Holyrood.  He was a tall simpleton; and could dance and play the guitar; but I know of nothing else he could do, unless it were to get very drunk, and eat gluttonously, and make a contemptible spectacle of himself in many mean and vain ways.  However, he gained Mary’s heart, not disdaining in the pursuit of his object to ally himself with one of her secretaries, David Rizzio, who had great influence with her.  He soon married the Queen.  This marriage does not say much for her, but what followed will presently say less.

Mary’s brother, the Earl of Murray, and head of the Protestant party in Scotland, had opposed this marriage, partly on religious grounds, and partly perhaps from personal dislike of the very contemptible bridegroom.  When it had taken place, through Mary’s gaining over to it the more powerful of the lords about her, she banished Murray for his pains; and, when he and some other nobles rose in arms to support the reformed religion, she herself, within a month of her wedding day, rode against them in armour with loaded pistols in her saddle.  Driven out of Scotland, they presented themselves before Elizabeth—who called them traitors in public, and assisted them in private, according to her crafty nature.

Mary had been married but a little while, when she began to hate her husband, who, in his turn, began to hate that David Rizzio, with whom he had leagued to gain her favour, and whom he now believed to be her lover.  He hated Rizzio to that extent, that he made a compact with Lord Ruthven and three other lords to get rid of him by murder.  This wicked agreement they made in solemn secrecy upon the first of March, fifteen hundred and sixty-six, and on the night of Saturday the ninth, the conspirators were brought by Darnley up a private staircase, dark and steep, into a range of rooms where they knew that Mary was sitting at supper with her sister, Lady Argyle, and this doomed man.  When they went into the room, Darnley took the Queen round the waist, and Lord Ruthven, who had risen from a bed of sickness to do this murder, came in, gaunt and ghastly, leaning on two men.  Rizzio ran behind the Queen for shelter and protection.  ‘Let him come out of the room,’ said Ruthven.  ‘He shall not leave the room,’ replied the Queen; ‘I read his danger in your face, and it is my will that he remain here.’  They then set upon him, struggled with him, overturned the table, dragged him out, and killed him with fifty-six stabs.  When the Queen heard that he was dead, she said, ‘No more tears.  I will think now of revenge!’

Within a day or two, she gained her husband over, and prevailed on the tall idiot to abandon the conspirators and fly with her to Dunbar.  There, he issued a proclamation, audaciously and falsely denying that he had any knowledge of the late bloody business; and there they were joined by the Earl Bothwell and some other nobles.  With their help, they raised eight thousand men; returned to Edinburgh, and drove the assassins into England.  Mary soon afterwards gave birth to a son—still thinking of revenge.

That she should have had a greater scorn for her husband after his late cowardice and treachery than she had had before, was natural enough.  There is little doubt that she now began to love Bothwell instead, and to plan with him means of getting rid of Darnley.  Bothwell had such power over her that he induced her even to pardon the assassins of Rizzio.  The arrangements for the Christening of the young Prince were entrusted to him, and he was one of the most important people at the ceremony, where the child was named James: Elizabeth being his godmother, though not present on the occasion.  A week afterwards, Darnley, who had left Mary and gone to his father’s house at Glasgow, being taken ill with the small-pox, she sent her own physician to attend him.  But there is reason to apprehend that this was merely a show and a pretence, and that she knew what was doing, when Bothwell within another month proposed to one of the late conspirators against Rizzio, to murder Darnley, ‘for that it was the Queen’s mind that he should be taken away.’  It is certain that on that very day she wrote to her ambassador in France, complaining of him, and yet went immediately to Glasgow, feigning to be very anxious about him, and to love him very much.  If she wanted to get him in her power, she succeeded to her heart’s content; for she induced him to go back with her to Edinburgh, and to occupy, instead of the palace, a lone house outside the city called the Kirk of Field.  Here, he lived for about a week.  One Sunday night, she remained with him until ten o’clock, and then left him, to go to Holyrood to be present at an entertainment given in celebration of the marriage of one of her favourite servants.  At two o’clock in the morning the city was shaken by a great explosion, and the Kirk of Field was blown to atoms.

Darnley’s body was found next day lying under a tree at some distance.  How it came there, undisfigured and unscorched by gunpowder, and how this crime came to be so clumsily and strangely committed, it is impossible to discover.  The deceitful character of Mary, and the deceitful character of Elizabeth, have rendered almost every part of their joint history uncertain and obscure.  But, I fear that Mary was unquestionably a party to her husband’s murder, and that this was the revenge she had threatened.  The Scotch people universally believed it.  Voices cried out in the streets of Edinburgh in the dead of the night, for justice on the murderess.  Placards were posted by unknown hands in the public places denouncing Bothwell as the murderer, and the Queen as his accomplice; and, when he afterwards married her (though himself already married), previously making a show of taking her prisoner by force, the indignation of the people knew no bounds.  The women particularly are described as having been quite frantic against the Queen, and to have hooted and cried after her in the streets with terrific vehemence.

Such guilty unions seldom prosper.  This husband and wife had lived together but a month, when they were separated for ever by the successes of a band of Scotch nobles who associated against them for the protection of the young Prince: whom Bothwell had vainly endeavoured to lay hold of, and whom he would certainly have murdered, if the Earl of Mar, in whose hands the boy was, had not been firmly and honourably faithful to his trust.  Before this angry power, Bothwell fled abroad, where he died, a prisoner and mad, nine miserable years afterwards.  Mary being found by the associated lords to deceive them at every turn, was sent a prisoner to Lochleven Castle; which, as it stood in the midst of a lake, could only be approached by boat.  Here, one Lord Lindsay, who was so much of a brute that the nobles would have done better if they had chosen a mere gentleman for their messenger, made her sign her abdication, and appoint Murray, Regent of Scotland.  Here, too, Murray saw her in a sorrowing and humbled state.

She had better have remained in the castle of Lochleven, dull prison as it was, with the rippling of the lake against it, and the moving shadows of the water on the room walls; but she could not rest there, and more than once tried to escape.  The first time she had nearly succeeded, dressed in the clothes of her own washer-woman, but, putting up her hand to prevent one of the boatmen from lifting her veil, the men suspected her, seeing how white it was, and rowed her back again.  A short time afterwards, her fascinating manners enlisted in her cause a boy in the Castle, called the little Douglas, who, while the family were at supper, stole the keys of the great gate, went softly out with the Queen, locked the gate on the outside, and rowed her away across the lake, sinking the keys as they went along.  On the opposite shore she was met by another Douglas, and some few lords; and, so accompanied, rode away on horseback to Hamilton, where they raised three thousand men.  Here, she issued a proclamation declaring that the abdication she had signed in her prison was illegal, and requiring the Regent to yield to his lawful Queen.  Being a steady soldier, and in no way discomposed although he was without an army, Murray pretended to treat with her, until he had collected a force about half equal to her own, and then he gave her battle.  In one quarter of an hour he cut down all her hopes.  She had another weary ride on horse-back of sixty long Scotch miles, and took shelter at Dundrennan Abbey, whence she fled for safety to Elizabeth’s dominions.

Mary Queen of Scots came to England—to her own ruin, the trouble of the kingdom, and the misery and death of many—in the year one thousand five hundred and sixty-eight.  How she left it and the world, nineteen years afterwards, we have now to see.