Elizabeth's Lovers


Claimants to the throne.--General character of Elizabeth's

reign.--Elizabeth's suitors.--Their motives.--Philip of Spain

proposes.--His strange conduct.--Elizabeth declines Philip's

proposal.--Her reasons for so doing.--The English people wish

Elizabeth to be married.--Petition of the Parliament.--Elizabeth's

"gracious" reply.--Elizabeth attacked with the small-pox.--Alarm of

the country.--The Earl of Leicester.--His character.--Services of

Cecil.--Elizabeth's attachment to Leicester.--Leicester's wife.--Her

mysterious death.--Leicester hated by the people.--Various

rumors.--The torch-light conversation.--The servants

quarrel.--Splendid style of living.--Public ceremonies.--Elizabeth

recommends Leicester to Mary Queen of Scots.--Mary marries

Darnley.--Elizabeth's visit to Kenilworth.--Leicester's

marriage.--Elizabeth sends him to prison.--Prosperity of Elizabeth's

reign.--The Duke of Anjou.--Catharine de Medici.--She proposes her son

to Elizabeth.--Quarrels of the favorites.--The shot.--The people

oppose the match.--The arrangements completed.--The match broken

off.--The duke's rage.--The duke's departure.--The farewell.

Elizabeth was now securely established upon her throne. It is true that

Mary Queen of Scots had not renounced her pretensions, but there was no

immediate prospect of her making any attempt to realize them, and very

little hope for her that she would be successful, if she were to

undertake it. There were other claimants, it is true, but their claims

were more remote and doubtful than Mary's. These conflicting pretensions

were likely to make the country some trouble after Elizabeth's death,

but there was very slight probability that they would sensibly molest

Elizabeth's possession of the throne during her life-time, though they

caused her no little anxiety.

The reign which Elizabeth thus commenced was one of the longest, most

brilliant, and, in many respects, the most prosperous in the whole

series presented to our view in the long succession of English

sovereigns. Elizabeth continued a queen for forty-five years, during all

which time she remained a single lady; and she died, at last, a

venerable maiden, seventy years of age.

It was not for want of lovers, or, rather, of admirers and suitors, that

Elizabeth lived single all her days. During the first twenty years of

her reign, one half of her history is a history of matrimonial schemes

and negotiations. It seemed as if all the marriageable princes and

potentates of Europe were seized, one after another, with a desire to

share her seat upon the English throne. They tried every possible means

to win her consent. They dispatched embassadors; they opened long

negotiations; they sent her ship-loads of the most expensive presents:

some of the nobles of high rank in her own realm expended their vast

estates, and reduced themselves to poverty, in vain attempts to please

her. Elizabeth, like any other woman, loved these attentions. They

pleased her vanity, and gratified those instinctive impulses of the

female heart by which woman is fitted for happiness and love. Elizabeth

encouraged the hopes of those who addressed her sufficiently to keep

them from giving up in despair and abandoning her. And in one or two

cases she seemed to come very near yielding. But it always happened

that, when the time arrived in which a final decision must be made,

ambition and desire of power proved stronger than love, and she

preferred continuing to occupy her lofty position by herself, alone.

Philip of Spain, the husband of her sister Mary, was the first of these

suitors. He had seen Elizabeth a good deal in England during his

residence there, and had even taken her part in her difficulties with

Mary, and had exerted his influence to have her released from her

confinement. As soon as Mary died and Elizabeth was proclaimed, one of

her first acts was, as was very proper, to send an embassador to

Flanders to inform the bereaved husband of his loss. It is a curious

illustration of the degree and kind of affection that Philip had borne

to his departed wife, that immediately on receiving intelligence of her

death by Elizabeth's embassador, he sent a special dispatch to his own

embassador in London to make a proposal to Elizabeth to take him for

her husband!

Elizabeth decided very soon to decline this proposal. She had ostensible

reasons, and real reasons for this. The chief ostensible reason was,

that Philip was so inveterately hated by all the English people, and

Elizabeth was extremely desirous of being popular. She relied solely on

the loyalty and faithfulness of her Protestant subjects to maintain her

rights to the succession, and she knew that if she displeased them by

such an unpopular Catholic marriage, her reliance upon them must be very

much weakened. They might even abandon her entirely. The reason,

therefore, that she assigned publicly was, that Philip was a Catholic,

and that the connection could not, on that account, be agreeable to the

English people.

Among the real reasons was one of a very peculiar nature. It happened

that there was an objection to her marriage with Philip similar to the

one urged against that of Henry with Catharine of Aragon. Catharine had

been the wife of Henry's brother. Philip had been the husband of

Elizabeth's sister. Now Philip had offered to procure the pope's

dispensation, by which means this difficulty would be surmounted. But

then all the world would say, that if this dispensation could legalize

the latter marriage, the former must have been legalized by it, and this

would destroy the marriage of Anne Boleyn, and with it all Elizabeth's

claims to the succession. She could not, then, marry Philip, without, by

the very act, effectually undermining all her own rights to the throne.

She was far too subtle and wary to stumble into such a pitfall as that.

Elizabeth rejected this and some other offers, and one or two years

passed away. In the mean time, the people of the country, though they

had no wish to have her marry such a stern and heartless tyrant as

Philip of Spain, were very uneasy at the idea of her not being married

at all. Her life would, of course, in due time, come to an end, and it

was of immense importance to the peace and happiness of the realm that,

after her death, there should be no doubt about the succession. If she

were to be married and leave children, they would succeed to the throne

without question; but if she were to die single and childless, the

result would be, they feared, that the Catholics would espouse the cause

of Mary Queen of Scots, and the Protestants that of some Protestant

descendant of Henry VII., and thus the country be involved in all the

horrors of a protracted civil war.

The House of Commons in those days was a very humble council, convened

to discuss and settle mere internal and domestic affairs, and standing

at a vast distance from the splendor and power of royalty, to which it

looked up with the profoundest reverence and awe. The Commons, at the

close of one of their sessions, ventured, in a very timid and cautious

manner, to send a petition to the queen, urging her to consent, for the

sake of the future peace of the realm, and the welfare of her subjects,

to accept of a husband. Few single persons are offended at a

recommendation of marriage, if properly offered, from whatever quarter

it may come. The queen, in this instance, returned what was called a

very gracious reply. She, however, very decidedly refused the request.

She said that, as they had been very respectful in the form of their

petition, and as they had confined it to general terms, without

presuming to suggest either a person or a time, she would not take

offense at their well-intended suggestion, but that she had no design of

ever being married. At her coronation, she was married, she said, to her

people, and the wedding ring was upon her finger still. Her people were

the objects of all her affection and regard. She should never have any

other spouse. She said she should be well contented to have it engraved

upon her tomb-stone, "Here lies a queen who lived and died a virgin."

This answer silenced the Commons, but it did not settle the question in

the public mind. Cases often occur of ladies saying very positively

that they shall never consent to be married, and yet afterward altering

their minds; and many ladies, knowing how frequently this takes place,

sagaciously conclude that, whatever secret resolutions they may form,

they will be silent about them, lest they get into a position from which

it will be afterward awkward to retreat. The princes of the Continent

and the nobles of England paid no regard to Elizabeth's declaration, but

continued to do all in their power to obtain her hand.

One or two years afterward Elizabeth was attacked with the small-pox,

and for a time was dangerously sick, in fact, for some days her life was

despaired of, and the country was thrown into a great state of confusion

and dismay. Parties began to form--the Catholics for Mary Queen of

Scots, and the Protestants for the family of Jane Grey. Every thing

portended a dreadful contest. Elizabeth, however, recovered; but the

country had been so much alarmed at their narrow escape, that Parliament

ventured once more to address the queen on the subject of her marriage.

They begged that she would either consent to that measure, or, if she

was finally determined not to do that, that she would cause a law to be

passed, or an edict to be promulgated, deciding beforehand who was

really to succeed to the throne in the event of her decease.

Elizabeth would not do either. Historians have speculated a great deal

upon her motives; all that is certain is the fact, she would not do


But, though Elizabeth thus resisted all the plans formed for giving her

a husband, she had, in her own court, a famous personal favorite, who

has always been considered as in some sense her lover. His name was

originally Robert Dudley, though she made him Earl of Leicester, and he

is commonly designated in history by this latter name. He was a son of

the Duke of Northumberland, who was the leader of the plot for placing

Lady Jane Grey upon the throne in the time of Mary. He was a very

elegant and accomplished man, and young, though already married.

Elizabeth advanced him to high offices and honors very early in her

reign, and kept him much at court. She made him her Master of Horse, but

she did not bestow upon him much real power. Cecil was her great

counselor and minister of state. He was a cool, sagacious, wary man,

entirely devoted to Elizabeth's interests, and to the glory and

prosperity of the realm. He was at this time, as has already been

stated, forty years of age, thirteen or fourteen years older than

Elizabeth. Elizabeth showed great sagacity in selecting such a minister,

and great wisdom in keeping him in power so long. He remained in her

service all his life, and died at last, only a few years before

Elizabeth, when he was nearly eighty years of age.

Dudley, on the other hand, was just about Elizabeth's own age. In fact,

it is said by some of the chronicles of the times that he was born on

the same day and hour with her. However this may be, he became a great

personal favorite, and Elizabeth evinced a degree and kind of attachment

to him which subjected her to a great deal of censure and reproach.

She could not be thinking of him for her husband, it would seem, for he

was already married. Just about this time, however, a mysterious

circumstance occurred, which produced a great deal of excitement, and

has ever since marked a very important era in the history of Leicester

and Elizabeth's attachment. It was the sudden and very singular death of

Leicester's wife.

Leicester had, among his other estates, a lonely mansion in Berkshire,

about fifty miles west of London. It was called Cumnor House.

Leicester's wife was sent there, no one knew why; she went under the

charge of a gentleman who was one of Leicester's dependents, and

entirely devoted to his will. The house, too, was occupied by a man who

had the character of being ready for any deed which might be required of

him by his master. The name of Leicester's wife was Amy Robesart.

In a short time news came to London that the unhappy woman was killed by

a fall down stairs! The instantaneous suspicion darted at once into

every one's mind that she had been murdered. Rumors circulated all

around the place where the death had occurred that she had been

murdered. A conscientious clergyman of the neighborhood sent an account

of the case to London, to the queen's ministers, stating the facts, and

urging the queen to order an investigation of the affair, but nothing

was ever done. It has accordingly been the general belief of mankind

since that time, that the unprincipled courtier destroyed his wife in

the vain hope of becoming afterward the husband of the queen.

The people of England were greatly incensed at this transaction. They

had hated Leicester before, and they hated him now more inveterately

still. Favorites are very generally hated; royal favorites always. He,

however, grew more and more intimate with the queen, and every body

feared that he was going to be her husband. Their conduct was watched

very closely by all the great world, and, as is usual in such cases, a

thousand circumstances and occurrences were reported busily from tongue

to tongue, which the actors in them doubtless supposed passed unobserved

or were forgotten.

One night, for instance, Queen Elizabeth, having supped with Dudley, was

going home in her chair, lighted by torch-bearers. At the present day,

all London is lighted brilliantly at midnight with gas, and ladies go

home from their convivial and pleasure assemblies in luxurious

carriages, in which they are rocked gently along through broad and

magnificent avenues, as bright, almost, as day. Then, however, it was

very different. The lady was borne slowly along through narrow, and

dingy, and dangerous streets, with a train of torches before and behind

her, dispelling the darkness a moment with their glare, and then leaving

it more deep and somber than ever. On the night of which we are

speaking, Elizabeth, feeling in good humor, began to talk with some of

the torch-bearers on the way. They were Dudley's men, and Elizabeth

began to praise their master. She said to one of them, among other

things, that she was going to raise him to a higher position than any of

his name had ever borne before. Now, as Dudley's father was a duke,

which title denotes the highest rank of the English nobility, the man

inferred that the queen's meaning was that she intended to marry him,

and thus make him a sort of king. The man told the story boastingly to

one of the servants of Lord Arundel, who was also a suitor of the

queen's. The servants, each taking the part of his master in the

rivalry, quarreled. Lord Arundel's man said that he wished that Dudley

had been hung with his father, or else that somebody would shoot him in

the street with a dag. A dag was, in the language of those days, the

name for a pistol.

Time moved on, and though Leicester seemed to become more and more a

favorite, the plan of his being married to Elizabeth, if any such were

entertained by either party, appeared to come no nearer to an

accomplishment. Elizabeth lived in great state and splendor, sometimes

residing in her palaces in or near London, and sometimes making royal

progresses about her dominions. Dudley, together with the other

prominent members of her court, accompanied her on these excursions, and

obviously enjoyed a very high degree of personal favor. She encouraged,

at the same time, her other suitors, so that on all the great public

occasions of state, at the tilts and tournaments, at the plays--which,

by-the-way, in those days were performed in the churches--on all the

royal progresses and grand receptions at cities, castles, and

universities, the lady queen was surrounded always by royal or noble

beaux, who made her presents, and paid her a thousand compliments, and

offered her gallant attentions without number--all prompted by ambition

in the guise of love. They smiled upon the queen with a perpetual

sycophancy, and gnashed their teeth secretly upon each other with a

hatred which, unlike the pretended love, was at least honest and

sincere. Leicester was the gayest, most accomplished, and most favored

of them all, and the rest accordingly combined and agreed in hating him

more than they did each other.

Queen Elizabeth, however, never really admitted that she had any design

of making Leicester, or Dudley, as he is indiscriminately called, her

husband. In fact, at one time she recommended him to Mary Queen of Scots

for a husband. After Mary returned to Scotland, the two queens were, for

a time, on good terms, as professed friends, though they were, in fact,

all the time, most inveterate and implacable foes; but each, knowing how

much injury the other might do her, wished to avoid exciting any

unnecessary hostility. Mary, particularly, as she found she could not

get possession of the English throne during Elizabeth's life-time,

concluded to try to conciliate her, in hopes to persuade her to

acknowledge, by act of Parliament, her right to the succession after her

death. So she used to confer with Elizabeth on the subject of her own

marriage, and to ask her advice about it. Elizabeth did not wish to have

Mary married at all, and so she always proposed somebody who she knew

would be out of the question. She at one time proposed Leicester, and

for a time seemed quite in earnest about it, especially so long as Mary

seemed averse to it. At length, however, when Mary, in order to test her

sincerity, seemed inclined to yield, Elizabeth retreated in her turn,

and withdrew her proposals. Mary then gave up the hope of satisfying

Elizabeth in any way and married Lord Darnley without her consent.

Elizabeth's regard for Dudley, however, still continued. She made him

Earl of Leicester, and granted him the magnificent castle of Kenilworth,

with a large estate adjoining and surrounding it; the rents of the lands

giving him a princely income, and enabling him to live in almost royal

state. Queen Elizabeth visited him frequently in this castle. One of

these visits is very minutely described by the chroniclers of the times.

The earl made the most expensive and extraordinary preparations for the

reception and entertainment of the queen and her retinue on this

occasion. The moat--which is a broad canal filled with water surrounding

the castle--had a floating island upon it, with a fictitious personage

whom they called the lady of the lake upon the island, who sung a song

in praise of Elizabeth as she passed the bridge. There was also an

artificial dolphin swimming upon the water, with a band of musicians

within it. As the queen advanced across the park, men and women, in

strange disguises, came out to meet her, and to offer her salutations

and praises. One was dressed as a sibyl, another like an American

savage, and a third, who was concealed, represented an echo. This visit

was continued for nineteen days, and the stories of the splendid

entertainments provided for the company--the plays, the bear-baitings,

the fireworks, the huntings, the mock fights, the feastings and

revelries--filled all Europe at the time, and have been celebrated by

historians and story-tellers ever since. The Castle of Kenilworth is now

a very magnificent heap of ruins, and is explored every year by

thousands of visitors from every quarter of the globe.

Leicester, if he ever really entertained any serious designs of being

Elizabeth's husband at last gave up his hopes, and married another

woman. This lady had been the wife of the Earl of Essex. Her husband

died very suddenly and mysteriously just before Leicester married her.

Leicester kept the marriage secret for some time, and when it came at

last to the queen's knowledge she was exceedingly angry. She had him

arrested and sent to prison. However, she gradually recovered from her

fit of resentment, and by degrees restored him to her favor again.

Twenty years of Elizabeth's reign thus passed away, and no one of all

her suitors had succeeded in obtaining her hand. All this time her

government had been administered with much efficiency and power. All

Europe had been in great commotion during almost the whole period, on

account of the terrible conflicts which were raging between the

Catholics and the Protestants, each party having been doing its utmost

to exterminate and destroy the other. Elizabeth and her government took

part, very frequently, in these contests; sometimes by negotiations, and

sometimes by fleets and armies, but always sagaciously and cautiously,

and generally with great effect. In the mean time, however, the queen,

being now forty-five years of age, was rapidly approaching the time when

questions of marriage could no longer be entertained. Her lovers, or,

rather, her suitors, had, one after another, given up the pursuit, and

disappeared from the field. One only seemed at length to remain, on the

decision of whose fate the final result of the great question of the

queen's marriage seemed to be pending.

It was the Duke of Anjou. He was a French prince. His brother, who had

been the Duke of Anjou before him, was now King Henry III. of France.

His own name was Francis. He was twenty five years younger than

Elizabeth, and he was only seventeen years of age when it was first

proposed that he should marry her. He was then Duke of Alencon. It was

his mother's plan. She was the great Catharine de Medici, queen of

France, and one of the most extraordinary women, for her talents, her

management, and her power, that ever lived. Having one son upon the

throne of France, she wanted the throne of England for the other. The

negotiation had been pending fruitlessly for many years, and now, in

1581, it was vigorously renewed. The duke himself, who was at this time

a young man of twenty-four or five, began to be impatient and earnest in

his suit. There was, in fact, one good reason why he should be so.

Elizabeth was forty-eight, and, unless the match were soon concluded,

the time for effecting it would be obviously forever gone by.

He had never had an interview with the queen. He had seen pictures of

her, however, and he sent an embassador over to England to urge his

suit, and to convince Elizabeth how much he was in love with her charms.

The name of this agent was Simier. He was a very polite and accomplished

man, and soon learned the art of winning his way to Elizabeth's favor.

Leicester was very jealous of his success. The two favorites soon

imbibed a terrible enmity for each other. They filled the court with

their quarrels. The progress of the negotiation, however, went on, the

people taking sides very violently, some for and some against the

projected marriage. The animosities became exceedingly virulent, until

at length Simier's life seemed to be in danger. He said that Leicester

had hired one of the guards to assassinate him; and it is a fact, that

one day, as he and the queen, with other attendants, were making an

excursion upon the river, a shot was fired from the shore into the

barge. The shot did no injury except to wound one of the oarsmen, and

frighten all the party pretty thoroughly. Some thought the shot was

aimed at Simier, and others at the queen herself. It was afterward

proved, or supposed to be proved, that this shot was the accidental

discharge of a gun, without any evil intention whatever.

In the mean time, Elizabeth grew more and more interested in the idea of

having the young duke for her husband; and it seemed as if the maidenly

resolutions, which had stood their ground so firmly for twenty years,

were to be conquered at last. The more, however, she seemed to approach

toward a consent to the measure, the more did all the officers of her

government, and the nation at large, oppose it. There were, in their

minds, two insuperable objections to the match. The candidate was a

Frenchman, and he was a papist. The council interceded. Friends

remonstrated. The nation murmured and threatened. A book was published

entitled "The Discovery of a gaping Gulf wherein England is like to be

swallowed up by another French marriage, unless the Lord forbid the Bans

by letting her see the Sin and Punishment thereof." The author of it had

his right hand cut off for his punishment.

At length, after a series of most extraordinary discussions,

negotiations, and occurrences, which kept the whole country in a state

of great excitement for a long time, the affair was at last all settled.

The marriage articles, both political and personal, were all arranged.

The nuptials were to be celebrated in six weeks. The duke came over in

great state, and was received with all possible pomp and parade.

Festivals and banquets were arranged without number, and in the most

magnificent style, to do him and his attendants honor. At one of them,

the queen took off a ring from her finger, and put it upon his, in the

presence of a great assembly, which was the first announcement to the

public that the affair was finally settled. The news spread every where

with great rapidity. It produced in England great consternation and

distress, but on the Continent it was welcomed with joy, and the great

English alliance, now so obviously approaching, was celebrated with

ringing of bells, bonfires, and grand illuminations.

And yet, notwithstanding all this, as soon as the obstacles were all

removed, and there was no longer opposition to stimulate the

determination of the queen, her heart failed her at last, and she

finally concluded that she would not be married, after all. She sent for

the duke one morning to come and see her. What takes place precisely

between ladies and gentlemen when they break off their engagements is

not generally very publicly known, but the duke came out from this

interview in a fit of great vexation and anger. He pulled off the

queen's ring and threw it from him, muttering curses upon the fickleness

and faithlessness of women.

Still Elizabeth would not admit that the match was broken off. She

continued to treat the duke with civility and to pay him many honors. He

decided, however, to return to the Continent. She accompanied him a

part of the way to the coast, and took leave of him with many

professions of sorrow at the parting, and begged him to come back soon.

This he promised to do, but he never returned. He lived some time

afterward in comparative neglect and obscurity, and mankind considered

the question of the marriage of Elizabeth as now, at last, settled


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