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Accession To The Throne

Lady Jane Grey

Personal Character

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Elizabeth's Mother

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The Conclusion

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The Childhood Of A Princess

Elizabeth's Lovers

Elizabeth In The Tower

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The Conclusion

The War In Scotland

Elizabeth's Mother

The Invincible Armada

Personal Character






Personal Character








1560-1586

Opinions of Elizabeth's character.--The Catholics and
Protestants.--Parties in England.--Elizabeth's wise
administration.--Mary claims the English throne.--She is made prisoner
by Elizabeth.--Various plots.--Execution of Mary.--The impossibility
of settling the claims of Mary and Elizabeth.--Elizabeth's
duplicity.--Her scheming to entrap Mary.--Maiden ladies.--Their
benevolent spirit.--Elizabeth's selfishness and jealousy.--The
maids of honor.--Instance of Elizabeth's cruelty.--Her
irritable temper.--Leicester's friend and the gentleman of
the black rod.--Elizabeth in a rage.--Her invectives against
Leicester.--Leicester's chagrin.--Elizabeth's powers of
satire.--Elizabeth's views of marriage.--Her insulting conduct.--The
Dean of Christ Church and the Prayer Book.--Elizabeth's good
qualities.--Her courage.--The shot at the barge.--Elizabeth's
vanity.--Elizabeth and the embassador.--The pictures.--Elizabeth's
fondness for pomp and parade.--Summary of Elizabeth's character.


Mankind have always been very much divided in opinion in respect to the
personal character of Queen Elizabeth, but in one point all have agreed,
and that is, that in the management of public affairs she was a woman of
extraordinary talent and sagacity, combining, in a very remarkable
degree, a certain cautious good sense and prudence with the most
determined resolution and energy.

She reigned about forty years, and during almost all that time the whole
western part of the Continent of Europe was convulsed with the most
terrible conflicts between the Protestant and Catholic parties. The
predominance of power was with the Catholics, and was, of course,
hostile to Elizabeth. She had, moreover, in the field a very prominent
competitor for her throne in Mary Queen of Scots. The foreign Protestant
powers were ready to aid this claimant, and there was, besides, in her
own dominions a very powerful interest in her favor. The great
divisions of sentiment in England, and the energy with which each party
struggled against its opponents, produced, at all times, a prodigious
pressure of opposing forces, which bore heavily upon the safety of the
state and of Elizabeth's government, and threatened them with continual
danger. The administration of public affairs moved on, during all this
time, trembling continually under the heavy shocks it was constantly
receiving, like a ship staggering on in a storm, its safety depending on
the nice equilibrium between the shocks of the seas, the pressure of the
wind upon the sails, and the weight and steadiness of the ballast below.

During all this forty years it is admitted that Elizabeth and her wise
and sagacious ministers managed very admirably. They maintained the
position and honor of England, as a Protestant power, with great
success; and the country, during the whole period, made great progress
in the arts, in commerce, and in improvements of every kind. Elizabeth's
greatest danger, and her greatest source of solicitude during her whole
reign, was from the claims of Mary Queen of Scots. We have already
described the energetic measures which she took at the commencement of
her reign to counter act and head off, at the outset, these dangerous
pretensions. Though these efforts were triumphantly successful at the
time, still the victory was not final. It postponed, but did not
destroy, the danger. Mary continued to claim the English throne.
Innumerable plots were beginning to be formed among the Catholics, in
Elizabeth's own dominions, for making her queen. Foreign potentates and
powers were watching an opportunity to assist in these plans. At last
Mary, on account of internal difficulties in her own land, fled across
the frontier into England to save her life, and Elizabeth made her
prisoner.

In England, to plan or design the dethronement of a monarch is, in a
subject, high treason. Mary had undoubtedly designed the dethronement
of Elizabeth, and was waiting only an opportunity to accomplish it.
Elizabeth, consequently, condemned her as guilty of treason, in effect;
and Mary's sole defense against this charge was that she was not a
subject. Elizabeth yielded to this plea, when she first found Mary in
her power, so far as not to take her life, but she consigned her to a
long and weary captivity.

This, however, only made the matter worse. It stimulated the enthusiasm
and zeal of all the Catholics in England, to have their leader, and as
they believed, their rightful queen, a captive in the midst of them, and
they formed continually the most extensive and most dangerous plots.
These plots were discovered and suppressed, one after another, each one
producing more anxiety and alarm than the preceding. For a time Mary
suffered no evil consequences from these discoveries further than an
increase of the rigors of her confinement. At last the patience of the
queen and of her government was exhausted. A law was passed against
treason, expressed in such terms as to include Mary in the liability for
its dreadful penalties although she was not a subject, in case of any
new transgression; and when the next case occurred, they brought her to
trial and condemned her to death. The sentence was executed in the
gloomy castle of Fotheringay, where she was then confined.

As to the question whether Mary or Elizabeth had the rightful title to
the English crown, it has not only never been settled, but from its very
nature it can not be settled. It is one of those cases in which a
peculiar contingency occurs which runs beyond the scope and reach of
all the ordinary principles by which analogous cases are tried, and
leads to questions which can not be decided. As long as a hereditary
succession goes smoothly on, like a river keeping within its banks, we
can decide subordinate and incidental questions which may arise; but
when a case occurs in which we have the omnipotence of Parliament to set
off against the infallibility of the pope--the sacred obligations of a
will against the equally sacred principles of hereditary succession--and
when we have, at last, two contradictory actions of the same ultimate
umpire, we find all technical grounds of coming to a conclusion gone.
We then, abandoning these, seek for some higher and more universal
principles--essential in the nature of things, and thus independent of
the will and action of man--to see if they will throw any light on the
subject. But we soon find ourselves as much perplexed and confounded in
this inquiry as we were before. We ask, in beginning the investigation,
What is the ground and nature of the right by which any king or queen
succeeds to the power possessed by his ancestors? And we give up in
despair, not being able to answer even this first preliminary inquiry.

Mankind have not, in their estimate of Elizabeth's character, condemned
so decidedly the substantial acts which she performed, as the duplicity,
the false-heartedness, and the false pretensions which she manifested in
performing them. Had she said frankly and openly to Mary before the
world, if these schemes for revolutionizing England and placing yourself
upon the throne continue, your life must be forfeited, my own safety and
the safety of the realm absolutely demand it; and then had fairly, and
openly, and honestly executed her threat, mankind would have been silent
on the subject, if they had not been satisfied. But if she had really
acted thus, she would not have been Elizabeth. She, in fact, pursued a
very different course. She maneuvered, schemed, and planned; she
pretended to be full of the warmest affection for her cousin; she
contrived plot after plot, and scheme after scheme, to ensnare her; and
when, at last, the execution took place, in obedience to her own formal
and written authority, she pretended to great astonishment and rage. She
never meant that the sentence should take effect. She filled England,
France, and Scotland with the loud expressions of her regret, and she
punished the agents who had executed her will. This management was to
prevent the friends of Mary from forming plans of revenge.

This was her character in all things. She was famous for her false
pretensions and double dealings, and yet, with all her talents and
sagacity, the disguise she assumed was sometimes so thin and transparent
that her assuming it was simply ridiculous.

Maiden ladies, who spend their lives, in some respects, alone, often
become deeply imbued with a kind and benevolent spirit, which seeks its
gratification in relieving the pains and promoting the happiness of all
around them. Conscious that the circumstances which have caused them to
lead a single life would secure for them the sincere sympathy and the
increased esteem of all who know them, if delicacy and propriety allowed
them to be expressed, they feel a strong degree of self-respect, they
live happily, and are a continual means of comfort and joy to all around
them. This was not so, however, with Elizabeth. She was jealous,
petulant, irritable. She envied others the love and the domestic
enjoyments which ambition forbade her to share, and she seemed to take
great pleasure in thwarting and interfering with the plans of others for
securing this happiness.

One remarkable instance of this kind occurred. It seems she was
sometimes accustomed to ask the young ladies of the court--her maids of
honor--if they ever thought about being married, and they, being cunning
enough to know what sort of an answer would please the queen always
promptly denied that they did so. Oh no! they never thought about being
married at all. There was one young lady, however, artless and sincere,
who, when questioned in this way, answered, in her simplicity, that she
often thought of it, and that she should like to be married very much,
if her father would only consent to her union with a certain gentleman
whom she loved. "Ah!" said Elizabeth; "well, I will speak to your father
about it, and see what I can do." Not long after this the father of the
young lady came to court, and the queen proposed the subject to him. The
father said that he had not been aware that his daughter had formed such
an attachment, but that he should certainly give his consent, without
any hesitation, to any arrangement of that kind which the queen desired
and advised. "That is all, then," said the queen; "I will do the rest."
So she called the young lady into her presence, and told her that her
father had given his free consent. The maiden's heart bounded with joy,
and she began to express her happiness and her gratitude to the queen,
promising to do every thing in her power to please her, when Elizabeth
interrupted her, saying, "Yes, you will act so as to please me, I have
no doubt, but you are not going to be a fool and get married. Your
father has given his consent to me, and not to you, and you may rely
upon it you will never get it out of my possession. You were pretty bold
to acknowledge your foolishness to me so readily."

Elizabeth was very irritable, and could never bear any contradiction. In
the case even of Leicester, who had such an unbounded influence over
her, if he presumed a little too much he would meet sometimes a very
severe rebuff, such as nobody but a courtier would endure; but
courtiers, haughty and arrogant as they are in their bearing toward
inferiors, are generally fawning sycophants toward those above them, and
they will submit to any thing imaginable from a queen.

It was the custom in Elizabeth's days, as it is now among the great in
European countries, to have a series or suite of rooms, one beyond the
other, the inner one being the presence chamber, and the others being
occupied by attendants and servants of various grades, to regulate and
control the admission of company. Some of these officers were styled
gentlemen of the black rod, that name being derived from a peculiar
badge of authority which they were accustomed to carry. It happened, one
day, that a certain gay captain, a follower of Leicester's, and a sort
of favorite of his, was stopped in the antechamber by one of the
gentlemen of the black rod, named Bowyer, the queen having ordered him
to be more careful and particular in respect to the admission of
company. The captain, who was proud of the favor which he enjoyed with
Leicester, resented this affront, and threatened the officer, and he was
engaged in an altercation with him on the subject when Leicester came
in. Leicester took his favorite's part, and told the gentleman usher
that he was a knave, and that he would have him turned out of office.
Leicester was accustomed to feel so much confidence in his power over
Elizabeth, that his manner toward all beneath him had become exceedingly
haughty and overbearing. He supposed, probably, that the officer would
humble himself at once before his rebukes.

The officer, however, instead of this, stepped directly in before
Leicester, who was then going in himself to the presence of the queen;
kneeled before her majesty, related the facts of the case, and humbly
asked what it was her pleasure that he should do. He had obeyed her
majesty's orders, he said, and had been called imperiously to account
for it, and threatened violently by Leicester, and he wished now to know
whether Leicester was king or her majesty queen. Elizabeth was very much
displeased with the conduct of her favorite. She turned to him, and,
beginning with a sort of oath which she was accustomed to use when
irritated and angry, she addressed him in invectives and reproaches the
most severe. She gave him, in a word, what would be called a scolding,
were it not that scolding is a term not sufficiently dignified for
history, even for such humble history as this. She told him that she had
indeed shown him favor, but her favor was not so fixed and settled upon
him that nobody else was to have any share, and that if he imagined that
he could lord it over her household, she would contrive a way very soon
to convince him of his mistake. There was one mistress to rule there,
she said, but no master. She then dismissed Bowyer, telling Leicester
that, if any evil happened to him, she should hold him, that is,
Leicester, to a strict account for it, as she should be convinced it
would have come through his means.

Leicester was exceedingly chagrined at this result of the difficulty. Of
course he dared not defend himself or reply. All the other courtiers
enjoyed his confusion very highly, and one of them, in giving an account
of the affair, said, in conclusion, that "the queen's words so quelled
him, that, for some time after, his feigned humility was one of his best
virtues."

Queen Elizabeth very evidently possessed that peculiar combination of
quickness of intellect and readiness of tongue which enables those who
possess it to say very sharp and biting things, when vexed or out of
humor. It is a brilliant talent, though it always makes those who
possess it hated and feared. Elizabeth was often wantonly cruel in the
exercise of this satirical power, considering very little--as is usually
the case with such persons--the justice of her invectives, but obeying
blindly the impulses of the ill nature which prompted her to utter them.
We have already said that she seemed always to have a special feeling of
ill will against marriage and every thing that pertained to it, and she
had, particularly, a theory that the bishops and the clergy ought not to
be married. She could not absolutely prohibit their marrying, but she
did issue an injunction forbidding any of the heads of the colleges or
cathedrals to take their wives into the same, or any of their precincts.
At one time, in one of her royal progresses through the country, she was
received, and very magnificently and hospitably entertained, by the
Archbishop of Canterbury, at his palace. The archbishop's wife exerted
herself very particularly to please the queen and to do her honor.
Elizabeth evinced her gratitude by turning to her, as she was about to
take her leave, and saying that she could not call her the archbishop's
wife, and did not like to call her his mistress, and so she did not know
what to call her; but that, at all events, she was very much obliged to
her for her hospitality.

Elizabeth's highest officers of state were continually exposed to her
sharp and sudden reproaches, and they often incurred them by sincere and
honest efforts to gratify and serve her. She had made an arrangement,
one day, to go into the city of London to St. Paul's Church, to hear
the Dean of Christ Church, a distinguished clergyman, preach. The dean
procured a copy of the Prayer Book, and had it splendidly bound, with a
great number of beautiful and costly prints interleaved in it. These
prints were all of a religious character, being representations of
sacred history, or of scenes in the lives of the saints. The volume,
thus prepared, was very beautiful, and it was placed, when the Sabbath
morning arrived, upon the queen's cushion at the church, ready for her
use. The queen entered in great state, and took her seat in the midst of
all the parade and ceremony customary on such occasions. As soon,
however, as she opened the book and saw the pictures, she frowned, and
seemed to be much displeased. She shut the book and put it away, and
called for her own; and, after the service, she sent for the dean, and
asked him who brought that book there. He replied, in a very humble and
submissive manner, that he had procured it himself, having intended it
as a present for her majesty. This only produced fresh expressions of
displeasure. She proceeded to rebuke him severely for countenancing such
a popish practice as the introduction of pictures in the churches. All
this time Elizabeth had herself a crucifix in her own private chapel,
and the dean himself, on the other hand, was a firm and consistent
Protestant, entirely opposed to the Catholic system of images and
pictures, as Elizabeth very well knew.

This sort of roughness was a somewhat masculine trait of character for a
lady, it must be acknowledged, and not a very agreeable one, even in
man; but with some of the bad qualities of the other sex, Elizabeth
possessed, also, some that were good. She was courageous, and she
evinced her courage sometimes in a very noble manner. At one time, when
political excitement ran very high, her friends thought that there was
serious danger in her appearing openly in public, and they urged her not
to do it, but to confine herself within her palaces for a time, until
the excitement should pass away. But no; the representations made to her
produced no effect. She said she would continue to go out just as freely
as ever. She did not think that there was really any danger; and
besides, if there was, she did not care; she would rather take her
chance of being killed than to be kept shut up like a prisoner.

At the time, too, when the shot was fired at the barge in which she was
going down the Thames, many of her ministers thought it was aimed at
her. They endeavored to convince her of this, and urged her not to
expose herself to such dangers. She replied that she did not believe
that the shot was aimed at her; and that, in fact, she would not believe
any thing of her subjects which a father would not be willing to believe
of his own children. So she went on sailing in her barge just as before.



Elizabeth was very vain of her beauty, though, unfortunately, she had
very little beauty to be vain of. Nothing pleased her so much as
compliments. She sometimes almost exacted them. At one time, when a
distinguished embassador from Mary Queen of Scots was at her court, she
insisted on his telling her whether she or Mary was the most beautiful.
When we consider that Elizabeth was at this time over thirty years of
age, and Mary only twenty-two, and that the fame of Mary's loveliness
had filled the world, it must be admitted that this question indicated a
considerable degree of self-complacency. The embassador had the prudence
to attempt to evade the inquiry. He said at first that they were both
beautiful enough. But Elizabeth wanted to know, she said, which was
most beautiful. The embassador then said that his queen was the most
beautiful queen in Scotland and Elizabeth in England. Elizabeth was not
satisfied with this, but insisted on a definite answer to her question;
and the embassador said at last that Elizabeth had the fairest
complexion, though Mary was considered a very lovely woman. Elizabeth
then wanted to know which was the tallest of the two. The embassador
said that Mary was. "Then," said Elizabeth, "she is too tall, for I am
just of the right height myself."

At one time during Elizabeth's reign, the people took a fancy to engrave
and print portraits of her, which, being perhaps tolerably faithful to
the original, were not very alluring. The queen was much vexed at the
circulation of these prints, and finally she caused a grave and formal
proclamation to be issued against them. In this proclamation it was
stated that it was the intention of the queen, at some future time, to
have a proper artist employed to execute a correct and true portrait of
herself, which should then be published; and, in the mean time, all
persons were forbidden to make or sell any representations of her
whatever.

Elizabeth was extremely fond of pomp and parade. The magnificence and
splendor of the celebrations and festivities which characterized her
reign have scarcely ever been surpassed in any country or in any age.
She once went to attend Church, on a particular occasion, accompanied by
a thousand men in full armor of steel, and ten pieces of cannon, with
drums and trumpets sounding. She received her foreign embassadors with
military spectacles and shows, and with banquets and parties of
pleasure, which for many days kept all London in a fever of excitement.
Sometimes she made excursions on the river, with whole fleets of boats
and barges in her train; the shores, on such occasions, swarming with
spectators, and waving with flags and banners. Sometimes she would make
grand progresses through her dominions, followed by an army of
attendants--lords and ladies dressed and mounted in the most costly
manner--and putting the nobles whose seats she visited to a vast expense
in entertaining such a crowd of visitors. Being very saving of her own
means, she generally contrived to bring the expense of this magnificence
upon others. The honor was a sufficient equivalent. Or, if it was not,
nobody dared to complain.

To sum up all, Elizabeth was very great, and she was, at the same time,
very little. Littleness and greatness mingled in her character in a
manner which has scarcely ever been paralleled, except by the equally
singular mixture of admiration and contempt with which mankind have
always regarded her.





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