Queen Elizabeth - Charles Williams - ebook

Queen Elizabeth ebook

Charles Williams



A brief, engaging, and beautifully written biography of Queen Elizabeth I of England. Without space for all the historical detail, Williams focuses keenly on the woman and serves us up an intriguing primer for a vast and fascinating subject.

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Queen Elizabeth


Great Lives

© 2019 Librorium Editions

First published   .   .   1936

All rights reserved

Made and printed in Great Britain






The Elizabethan period and the change in society—the conscience of Henry VIII—birth of Elizabeth—her illegitimacy—her education under Roger Ascham and afterwards under Lord Seymour of Sudely—their relations—execution of Seymour and examination of Elizabeth—her retired life, till the accession of Mary—she joins Mary and enters London with her.




Elizabeth, the Queen, and the Roman Catholic demand—her withdrawal from Court—the Wyatt rebellion—the Princess in the Tower, and her release—the Spanish marriage, and the reconciliation with Rome—prospects of Elizabeth’s succession—Mary’s distrust of her—Philip accepts her succession—proposals for her marriage—the division between France and Spain, and the schism in the Roman Catholic front—last efforts of Mary—loyalty to Elizabeth fashionable—her accession.




The Counter-Reformation—Cecil and Mary Queen of Scots—Elizabeth in London—her coronation—Churches and marriages—the Court of Elizabeth—the problem of her legitimacy—financial reforms—the first Favourite, Robert Dudley—the scandal of Amy Robsart—the war in Scotland—Treaty of Edinburgh—the return of Mary Stuart to Scotland—friendly correspondence of the Queens—the unsuccessful war in France—Mary’s proposed marriage: the offer of Dudley, the choice of Darnley.




The Archduke Charles and the private Mass—arrival of Mary Stuart in England—Elizabeth’s possible courses—Mary’s claims—the affair of the Spanish gold—the great Houses of the North—the Duke of Norfolk—the confederacy—arrest of Norfolk—the Northern Rebellion—its destruction—the Queen’s anger—the Bull of Excommunication.




Money—the captains and the voyages—the strained relations with Spain—beginnings of formal persecution—the Ridolfi plot—execution of Norfolk, after the Queen’s five months’ delay—the problem of Mary Stuart—the Anjou and Alençon courtships—the thirteen-years’ conversation on marriage—Drake—the Queen at fifty.




Ignorance of Mary Stuart—Walsingham—the Babington plot—Elizabeth’s dilemma—she consents to sin—opinion in Europe—the Spanish “Enterprise of England”—the last of the Crusades—defeat of the Armada—death of Leicester.




The years after the Armada—Martin Marprelate—the traders abroad and the poets at home—Gloriana—the new Ministers—the life and death of the Earl of Essex.




After Essex—peace and war—taxation and monopolies—the last speech to the Commons—“these fooleries”—Cecil determines the succession—death of the Queen.




Epilogue—the intentions of the Queen and their conclusions—Java and the Lateran—“so sweet a bait.”



Birth of Elizabeth.


Birth of Edward VI.


Death of Henry VIII. Seymour marries Queen Catherine Parr.


Arrest of Seymour; examination of Elizabeth.


Accession of Mary.


Elizabeth imprisoned in the Tower (18 March); removed to Woodstock (14 May); marriage of Mary.


Death of Mary; Accession of Elizabeth.


Coronation of the Queen. First Parliament; the English service again used; reformation of the finances; beginning of the courtships.


Treaty of Edinburgh; rise of Dudley; death of Amy Robsart.


Return of Mary Stuart to Scotland; English troops in France; Francis Bacon born.


Hawkins’s first slave voyage.


Robert Dudley made Earl of Leicester; Marlowe and Shakespeare born.


Marriage of Mary Stuart and Darnley.


Flight of Mary Stuart.


Norfolk conspiracy and Northern Rebellion.


The Pope issues Bull of Deposition:

Regnans in Excelsis



Beginning of the Anjou courtship; first official persecution.


Ridolfi Plot; execution of Norfolk; beginning of the Alençon (Anjou) courtship.


Coming of the Jesuit missionaries; Raleigh knighted; Drake completes voyage round the world.


Edmund Campion executed.


Death of Alençon; assassination of William of Orange; the Instrument of Association.


The Babington Plot; execution of Mary Stuart.


Essex becomes Master of the Horse; Sir C. Hatton Lord Chancellor.


Spanish Armada; death of the Earl of Leicester.


Death of Marlowe.


Deaths of Philip of Spain and Burghley.


Essex Lieutenant of Ireland.


Execution of Essex; reconciliation of the Queen and Commons on Monopolies.


Death of Elizabeth.


The Elizabethan period and the change in society—the conscience of Henry VIII—birth of Elizabeth—her illegitimacy—her education under Roger Ascham and afterwards under Lord Seymour of Sudely—their relations—execution of Seymour and examination of Elizabeth—her retired life, till the accession of Mary—she joins Mary and enters London with her.

The life of Elizabeth represents, in English history, the longest and most spectacular period of a change in society. That change began before her, and was not concluded until long after her. It was the change from a society directed, at any rate in theory, by a metaphysical idea, to a society directed, both in theory and practice, by nothing but the continual pressure of events. It is a change completed in our own day; beyond our present political accommodation to events we cannot go. We are on the point of discovering whether that accommodation is sufficient, or whether we must return to a metaphysical idea—either that of the past or some other.

This change in society was unintended, through Europe at large as through England in particular. It took place because the results of all human action are always different from anything intended or expected. No ruler and no statesman of the Elizabethan period—except perhaps Maitland of Lethington—wished to abolish metaphysical ideas from their place in society. Elizabeth no more definitely desired it than did Philip of Spain. Both she and he proposed that all events in their dominions should be subordinated to themselves, and to the metaphysical schemes which they respectively held. The nature of Philip held very intensely to his metaphysical scheme; the nature of Elizabeth much more lightly to hers. She was vividly and personally aware of events; he, impersonally and abstractly. In the great medieval society of Europe which preceded them there had been many rulers who resembled one or the other; some had tended to beliefs, some to events, but their natures, in every case, had been modified by the nature of the whole society. Before the rise of Elizabeth and Philip that society had received two violent shocks, both of which compelled princes to take immediate cognizance of beliefs other than their own. A belief other than one’s own is not, to oneself, a belief; it is an event.

The metaphysics of medieval Europe consisted of two correlated parts. The first part included the nature of God and the soul; the second, the temporal nourishment and instruction of the soul. The first dealt, largely, with the person and life of our Saviour; the second with the visible Church, the nature of the Sacraments, and the ordering of morals. The first has throughout the history of Christendom remained practically untouched, except by a few scattered and suppressed teachers; it was the second part that received the shocks, first, of the Great Schism, and, second, of the Reformation.

The Great Schism of the West concerned the person—but not primarily the office—of the Pope. It began when, in 1378, during the pontificate of Urban VI, certain Cardinals, fleeing from Rome, elected one of their number to the Papacy under the name of Clement VII. In theory, the organization of the Church remained unaffected by this action; one of the two, and later three, claimants was the true Pope, and the true Pope was the true Pope, however many claimants there might be. In fact, however, that organization suffered throughout Europe all kinds of controversies and compromises. Not only were the religious nerves of Europe seriously shaken, but a considerable impetus was given to a movement already in progress—the Rise of the Nations. This rise, which had many causes, had many results, one of the most important of which was what may be called a deflection of mass. Medieval Europe had theoretically considered the mass of mankind as one, which was the Church, corresponding to the One Man which was Christ. There were heretics and infidels, but they were an outrage on the unity of mankind. Theoretically, mankind and Christendom were identical; anything else was disease. But however much the laws of belief still compelled attention to this supreme mass which was mankind, the laws of events during and after the Schism compelled a much more immediate attention to those smaller masses which were the nations. The shadowy headship of the Emperor, and the substantial headship of the Pope, lost something of their prestige. National, or at least dynastic, glory obtruded itself upon universal glory. The close of the Schism was followed by the continual rise of these secondary national glories, and by an accompanying weariness with metaphysics after the strain of the Schism, which in turn assisted, even in the case of the Popes themselves, the other glory of the Renascence.

This variation preceded the second metaphysical shock which Europe received; namely, the outbreak of the Reformation. This second shock, again, was not directed against the primal idea of Christianity—of redemption through the Double Nature and supernatural interposition of Christ. But it very seriously affected all ideas of the nature of the visible Church, of the Sacraments, and of the official direction of morals. The question of the Papacy itself was only one among a number of questions, and was not everywhere regarded as of the first importance. The Council of Trent had not yet met; nor had the Roman Church, as it now is, been adequately formulated. On that and other subjects, however, a new series of other people’s beliefs—that is, of events—came into violent existence. The sovereigns of Europe had to deal with these events, and had to deal with them not as sporadic but as continuous. Heresy (whatever, in a short time, that came to mean in each State) was no longer a person, a sect, or even an idea; it had become an unbroken and militant series of persons, sects, and ideas. It was a permanent hostility outside each State and a permanent threat of revolt within, a threat acutely felt by the developed sense of royal and national glory which pervaded the kingdoms.

In England the serious dispute began not with metaphysics but with morals. The King of England, Henry VIII, had indeed written a book against Luther, a champion of the new metaphysics, and had been saluted as Defender of the Faith by the Pope. His marriage had been arranged by a special action on the part of the Pope. He had married his brother Arthur’s widow, by dispensation from the Papal authority, representing a moral law which normally forbade men to marry their brothers’ widows. It was pontifically declared that Catherine of Aragon had not been Arthur’s wife, and that Henry might justly marry her. The King very greatly desired a male heir. Unfortunately, in the next sixteen years Catherine bore five children—four stillborn, another dying just after birth. She had one child who lived, the daughter Mary. Presently she was beyond childbearing. It was clear that God had refused an heir to Henry by Catherine. The state of Henry’s mind has received little sympathy, since nowadays few of us desire children, fewer marry their brothers’ widows, and still fewer believe that there is a moral law forbidding such marriages. To understand his decision it is necessary to understand his dilemma: was God displeased at his marriage? His emotions said yes; the old metaphysic said no. It was an age in which natural events were held to be supernaturally significant, and, had circumstances been reversed, it is certain that Henry’s five dead children would have been declared by the vocal champions of the Church to be very certain signs of God’s displeasure.

Another series of events intensified the King’s emotional crisis, and assisted its resolution: their name was Anne Boleyn. Henry fell violently in love with her; she demanded marriage. The King’s fear, the King’s hope, the King’s desire, combined to urge him to discover a solution of his problem other than that maintained—but only just maintained—at Rome. Negotiations broke down. There was, of course, never any divorce between him and Catherine, but a decree of nullity was issued by English ecclesiastical authority without Roman assent. The breach between two metaphysics concerning the nature of the visible Church was immediately present. It was followed by an immediate and official intensification of an attack on the wealth and power of the clergy in England which had been for some time officially in motion. The monasteries were dissolved.

The decree of nullity was pronounced by Cranmer in May 1533. The King had been privately married to Anne in December 1532. The Princess Elizabeth was born in the following September. Three months afterwards she was given her own royal household at Hatfield, and her elder sister, the Lady Mary, now publicly declared illegitimate, was commanded to form part of the Court that circled round the unconscious interloper. In another sense also Elizabeth was an interloper: the King had been hoping for a male heir. But he was gracious, and proceeded to take steps further to define the situation. In 1534 an Act and Oath of Succession was promulgated, by which the marriage with Catherine was declared “against the laws of God” and the marriage with Anne “perfect ever.” A mass of detail concerning marriage and prohibited degrees was included in the Act and therefore in the Oath, as also was a renunciation of any contrary oath “to any other within the realm, or foreign authority, prince, or potentate.” The Oath was almost universally received, by laity and clergy alike. John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, refused; so, in spite of the earnest entreaty of the Abbot of Westminster, and others, did Sir Thomas More. It may be allowed that they kept their integrity, but it is impossible to believe that all the rest of the hierarchy and the priesthood deliberately and consciously abandoned their own. A much more severe Oath, expressly repudiating the jurisdiction of the Roman See “and its laws, decrees, and canons, if any of them should be found contrary to the law of God and Holy Scripture,” was addressed to all orders of friars and monks; it was refused only in three places. Meanwhile the fleet of the King of France hovered in the seas ready to assist against Catherine’s cousin, the Emperor, if he should desire to interfere. Convocation, north and south, with five dissentients, resolved that by Holy Scripture the Bishop of Rome had no greater jurisdiction in England than any other bishop; the Universities assented. In February 1535 all the bishops explicitly renounced the primacy of the See of Rome; a number of them wrote felicitating the King on his action. They provided for similar acts on the part of all their clergy. The same year saw the execution of More, Fisher, a small number of recalcitrant monks, and twice as many otherwise recalcitrant Anabaptists. Under such auspices the legitimacy of the child Elizabeth was declared and upheld; to this extent the events of the dead children and of Anne had shaken the pattern of metaphysical theory.

Nevertheless, in the very next year her legitimacy was, in a few days, utterly and royally denied. The life of the Courts of the Renascence was as bloody and spectacular as its plays; its palaces were full of a perilous domesticity, and what actual life could not attain common report provided. Fact, rumour, and imagination mingled their melodrama. The peculiarity of Henry was his passionate desire to be moral, and even legal, in his marriages and murders. In that certainly he was less than strong; his spirit demanded popular support, and he took steps to ensure it. The weakness exposed him to something like blackmail; the lands of the clergy formed an unspoken union between the Catholic lords and their Catholic sovereign. But that bargain was separate from, though politically related to, the theological controversy; the unhappy figure of Cranmer unites them. He was concerned for the truth of doctrine, and he was involved in the falsehood of politics. He is a shy literary figure among those crimson Renascence splendours and terrors, and singularly out of place.

In January 1536 Anne Boleyn gave birth to a prince; the child, as if celestial anger renewed itself against the Throne, was born dead. Again the superstition and the lust of the King grew together, but this time, Anne being his own subject, and he being more used to action, he struck more violently. On 2 May, accused of great and heinous crimes, Anne was sent to the Tower; on 17 May, in the vaults of Lambeth, the marriage was declared by Cranmer, on the evidence laid before him, to be nullum, invalidum, et inane. On 19 May the wretched woman was executed. In June the Parliament also declared the marriage void, and the Princess Elizabeth illegitimate. In the eyes of Rome and half Europe she was already so; she was now to be so to all England. It became treason for anyone to assert the legitimacy either of her or of her half-sister Mary, though, by a fantastic logic worthy of the theatre itself, the penalties against all those who had previously declared her illegitimate still remained in force. Meanwhile, Catherine and Anne both being dead, Henry achieved his first indubitably valid marriage—with Jane Seymour. Could events be certainly related to ideas, the result might be held to have justified all his doubts, all his denials, and all his destructions—a male heir was conceived, and born in July of 1537. So swift a celestial justification of his action must have hardened through his future life the King’s belief in his own interpretation of doctrine and morals. The Lady Mary and the Lady Elizabeth were brought, from that joint household to which now they were both reduced, Elizabeth as the junior member, to be present at their legitimate brother’s baptism. His mother, Jane, ensured the legal future of her son by dying soon after the ceremony.

The King had some virtue; he held no grudge against the children of his disasters. By 1544 he even established both his daughters in the right of succession to the Throne. They remained formally illegitimate, but the bar sinister was to be merely ignored; le Roi le veult