« PreviousContinue »
II. A GREATER BRITAIN
THE CHARACTER OF ELIZABETH shot, a graceful dancer, a skilled musician,
and an accomplished scholar. She studied JOHN RICHARD GREEN
every morning the Greek Testament, and [From A Short History of the English
followed this by the tragedies of Sophocles People]
or orations of Demosthenes, and could "rub
up her rusty Greek” at need to bandy Never had the fortunes of England sunk pedantry with a Vice-Chancellor. But she to a lower ebb than at the moment when was far from being a mere pedant. The Elizabeth mounted the throne. The country new literature which was springing up was humiliated by defeat and brought to the around her found constant welcome in her verge of rebellion by the bloodshed and mis- court. She spoke Italian and French as government of Mary's reign. The old social fluently as her mother-tongue. She was discontent, trampled down for a time by the familiar with Ariosto and Tasso. Even horsemen of Somerset, remained a menace amidst the affection and love of anagrams to public order. The religious strife had and puerilities which sullied her later passed beyond hope of reconciliation, now years, she listened with delight to the that the reformers were parted from their "Faery Queen,” and found a smile for opponents by the fires of Smithfield and "Master Spenser” when he appeared in her the party of the New Learning all but dis- presence. Her moral temper recalled in solved. The more earnest Catholics were its strange contrasts the mixed blood within bound helplessly to Rome. The temper of her veins. She was at once the daughter of the Protestants, burned at home or driven Henry and of Anne Boleyn. From her into exile abroad, had become a fiercer thing, father she inherited her frank and hearty and the Calvinistic refugees were pouring address, her love of popularity and of free back from Geneva with dreams of revolu- intercourse with the people, her dauntless tionary change in Church and State. Eng- courage and her amazing self-confidence. land, dragged at the heels of Philip into a Her harsh, manlike voice, her impetuous useless and ruinous war, was left without an will, her pride, her furious outbursts of ally save Spain; while France, mistress of anger came to her with her Tudor blood. Calais, became mistress of the Channel. Not She rated great nobles as if they were only was Scotland a standing danger in the schoolboys; she met the insolence of Essex north, through the French marriage of its with a box on the ear; she would break now Queen Mary Stuart and its consequent bond- and then into the gravest deliberations to age to French policy; but Mary Stuart and swear at her ministers like a fishwife. But her husband now assumed the style and strangely in contrast with the violent outarms of English sovereigns, and threatened lines of her Tudor temper stood the sento rouse every Catholic throughout the suous, self-indulgent nature she derived realm against Elizabeth's title.
from Anne Boleyn. Splendor and pleasure ence of this host of dangers the country were with Elizabeth the very air she lay helpless, without army or fleet, or the breathed. Her delight was to move in permeans of manning one, for the treasury, petual progresses from castle to castle already drained by the waste of Edward's through a series of gorgeous pageants, fanreign, had been utterly exhausted by Mary's ciful and extravagant as a caliph's dream. restoration of the Church-lands in posses- She loved gaiety and laughter and wit. A sion of the Crown, and by the cost of her happy retort or a finished compliment never war with France.
failed to win her favor. She hoarded jewels. England's one hope lay in the character of Her dresses were innumerable. Her vanity her Queen. Elizabeth was
now in her
remained, even to old age, the vanity of a twenty-fifth year. Personally she had more coquette in her teens. No adulation was than her mother's beauty; her figure was too fulsome for her, no flattery of her beauty commanding, her face long but queenly and too gross. “To see her was heaven," Hatton intelligent, her eyes quick and fine. She had told her, "the lack of her was hell.” She grown up amidst the liberal culture of would play with her rings that her courtiers Henry's court a bold horsewoman, a good 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 a 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 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 frivolous 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 nob'er 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 she was weary of mystifying foreign states- 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 beth 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 Forthousand 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 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 suiteding 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 parely 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 protection as a part of public policy, and Walsingham to settle points of doctrine her statue in the center of the London Exwith Parker, or to calculate with Frobisher change was a tribute on the part of the merthe chances of a north-west passage to the chant class to the interest with which she Indies. The versatility and many-sided- watched and shared personally in its enterness of her mind enabled her to understand prises. Her thrift won a general gratievery phase of the intellectual movement tude. The memories of the Terror and of of her day, and to fix by a sort of instinct the Martyrs threw into bright relief the on its higher representatives. But the aversion from bloodshed which was congreatness of the Queen rests above all on spicuous in her earlier reign, and never her power over her people. We have had wholly wanting through its fiercer close. grander and nobler rulers, but none so Above all there was a general confidence in popular as Elizabeth. The passion of love, her instinctive knowledge of the national of loyalty, of admiration which finds its temper. Her finger was always on the pubmost perfect expression in the “Faery lic pulse. She knew exactly when she could Queen,” throbbed as intensely through the resist the feeling of her people, and when veins of her meanest subjects. To England, she must give way before the new sentiduring her reign of half a century, she was ment of freedom which her policy uncona virgin and a Protestant Queen; and her sciously fostered. But when she retreated, immorality, her absolute want of religious her defeat had all the grace of victory; and enthusiasm, failed utterly to blur the the frankness and unreserve of her surrender brightness of the national ideal. Her worst won back at once the love that her reacts broke fruitlessly against the general sistance had lost. Her attitude at home in devotion. A Puritan, whose hand she cut fact was that of a woman whose pride in the off in a freak of tyrannous resentment, well-being of her subjects, and whose longwaved his hat with the hand that was left, ing for their favor, was the one warm and shouted "God save Queen Elizabeth !” touch in the coldness of her natural temper. Of her faults, indeed, England beyond the If Elizabeth could be said to love anything, circle of her court knew little or nothing. she loved England. "Nothing,” she said to The shiftings of her diplomacy were never her first Parliament in words of unwonted seen outside the royal closet. The nation at fire, “nothing, no worldly thing under the large could only judge her foreign policy sun, is so dear to me as the love and goodby its main outlines, by its temperance and will of my subjects.” And the love and good sense, and above all by its success. good-will which were so dear to her she But every Englishman was able to judge fully won. Elizabeth in her rule at home, in her love of peace, her instinct of order, the firmness and
THE MENACE OF SPAIN moderation of her government, the judicious spirit of conciliation and compro
JOHN RICHARD GREEN mise among warring factions which gave the country an unexampled tranquillity at
[From A Short History of the English a time when almost every other country in
People] Europe was torn with civil war. Every But if a fierce religious struggle was at sign of the growing prosperity, the sight of hand, men felt that behind this lay a yet London as it became the mart of the world, fiercer political struggle. Philip's hosts of stately mansions as they rose on every were looming over sea, and the horrors of manor, told, and justly told, in Elizabeth's foreign invasion seemed about to be added favor. In one act of her civil administra- to the horrors of civil war. Spain was at tion she showed the boldness and originality this moment the mightiest of European of a great ruler; for the opening of her powers. The discoveries of Columbus had reign saw her face the social difficulty given it the New World of the West; the which had so long impeded English prog- conquests of Cortes and Pizarro poured ress, by the issue of a commission of in- into its treasury the plunder of Mexico and quiry which ended in the solution of the Peru; its galleons brought the rich proproblem by the system of poor-laws. She duce of the Indies, their gold, their jewels, lent a ready patronage to the new com- their ingots of silver, to the harbor of Cadiz. merce; she considered its extension and To the New World its King added the fair