30. Elizabeth, A.D. 1558—1587
All through Queen Mary's time, her sister Elizabeth, Anne Boleyn's daughter, had been in trouble. Those who held by Queen Mary, and maintained Henry's first marriage, said that his wedding with Anne was no real one, and so that Elizabeth ought not to reign; but then there was no one else to take in her stead, except the young Queen Mary of Scotland, wife to the French dauphin. All who wished for the Reformation, and dreaded Mary's persecutions had hoped to see Elizabeth queen, and this had made Mary much afraid of her; and she was so closely watched and guarded that once she even said she wished she was a milkmaid, to be left in peace. While she had been in the Tower she had made friends with another prisoner, Robert Dudley, brother to the husband of Lady Jane Grey, and she continued to like him better than any other person as long as he lived.
When Mary died, Elizabeth was twenty-five, and the English were mostly willing to have her for their queen. She had read, thought, and learnt a great deal; and she took care to have the advice of wise men, especially of the great Thomas Cecil, whom she made Lord Burleigh, and kept as her adviser as long as he lived. She did not always follow even his advice, however; but, whenever she did, it was the better for her. She knew Robert Dudley was not wise, so, though she was so fond of him, she never let him manage her affairs for her. She would have wished to marry, but she knew her subjects would think this disgraceful, so she only made him Earl of Leicester: and her liking for him prevented her from ever bringing herself to accept any of the foreign princes who were always making proposals to her. Unfortunately he was not a good man, and did not make a good use of her favor, and he was much disliked by all the queen's best friends.
She was very fond of making stately journeys through the country. All the poor people ran to see her and admire her; but the noblemen who had to entertain her were almost ruined, she brought so many people who ate so much, and she expected such presents. These journeys were called Progresses. The most famous was to Lord Leicester's castle of Kenilworth, but he could quite afford it. He kept the clock's hands at twelve o'clock all the time, that it might always seem to be dinner time!
Elizabeth wanted to keep the English Church a pure and true branch of the Church, free of the mistakes that had crept in before her father's time. So she restored the English Prayer-book, and cancelled all that Mary had done; the people who had gone into exile returned, and all the Protestants abroad reckoned her as on their side. But, on the other hand, the Pope would not regard her as queen at all, and cut her and her country off from the Church, while Mary of Scotland and her husband called themselves the true queen and king of England; and such of the English as believed the Pope to have the first right over the Church, held with him and Mary of Scotland. They were called Roman Catholics, while Elizabeth and her friends were the real Catholics, for they held with the Church Universal of old: and it was the Pope who had broken off with them for not accepting his doctrines, not they with the Pope. The English who had lived abroad in Mary's time wanted to have much more altered, and to have churches and services much less beautiful and more plain than they were. But Elizabeth never would consent to this; and these people called themselves Puritans, and continued to object to the Episcopal form of worship.
Mary of Scotland was two years queen of France, and then her husband died, and she had to come back to Scotland. There most of the people had taken up the doctrines that made them hate the sight of the clergy and services she had brought home from France; they called her an idolater, and would hardly bear that she should hear the old service in her own chapel. She was one of the most beautiful and charming women who ever lived, and if she had been as true and good as she was lovely, nobody could have done more good; but the court of France at that time was a wicked place, and she had learnt much of the wickedness. She married a young nobleman named Henry Stuart, a cousin of her own, but he turned out foolish, selfish and head-strong, and made her miserable; indeed, he helped to kill her secretary in her own bedroom before her eyes. She hated him so much at last, that there is only too much reason to fear that she knew of the plot, laid by some of her lords, to blow the poor man's house up with gunpowder, while he lay is his bed ill of smallpox. At any rate, she very soon married one of the very worst of the nobles who had committed the murder. Her subjects could not bear this, and they rose against her and made her prisoner, while her husband fled the country. They shut her up in a castle in the middle of a lake, and obliged her to give up her crown to her little son, James VI.—a baby not a year old. However, her sweet words persuaded a boy who waited on her to steal the keys, and row her across the lake, and she was soon at the head of an army of her Roman Catholic subjects. They were defeated, however, and she found no place safe for her in Scotland, so she fled across the Border to England. Queen Elizabeth hardly knew what to do. She believed that Mary had really had to do with Henry Stuart's death, but she could not bear to make such a crime known in a cousin and queen; and what made it all more difficult to judge was, that the kings of France and Spain, and all the Roman Catholics at home, thought Mary ought to be queen instead of Elizabeth, and she might have been set up against England if she might had gone abroad, or been left at large, while in Scotland she would have been murdered. The end of it was that Elizabeth kept her shut up in different castles. There she managed to interest the English Roman Catholics in her, and get them to lay plots, which always were found out. Then nobles were put to death, and Mary was more closely watched. This went on for nineteen years, and at last a worse plot than all was found out—for actually killing Queen Elizabeth. Her servants did not act honorably, for when they found out what was going on they pretended not to know, so that Mary might go on writing worse and worse things, and then, at last, the whole was made known. Mary was tried and sentenced to death, but Elizabeth was a long time making up her mind to sign the order for her execution, and at last punished the clerks who sent it off, as if it had been their fault.
So Queen Mary of Scotland was beheaded at Fotheringay Castle, showing much bravery and piety. There are many people who still believe that she was really innocent of all that she was accused of, and that she only was ruined by the plots that were laid against her.