Personal Character


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 spiri
.--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


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


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


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.