Elizabeth—The Story of the Queen's Favourite
ANOTHER brave and handsome man, who was a great favourite with the Queen, was the Earl of Essex. He was so handsome and graceful that the Queen liked to have him always near her, although she quarrelled with him very often.
Essex loved fighting more than attending upon the Queen, and twice when there was war he ran away without leave. Elizabeth was angry, but Essex did great deeds and helped to make the name of England famous, so she forgave him. Later she made him commander of an expedition which, however, was not very successful. Again they quarrelled.
One day the Queen and her councillors were talking about who should govern Ireland. Elizabeth wanted one man, Essex another. He grew so angry because she would not take his advice, that he turned his back upon her. This was a very rude thing to do, for one must never turn one's back to a king or queen, but must even walk out of the room backwards when leaving their presence.
Elizabeth was furious, and, springing up, she boxed the Earl's ears.
Essex had been angry before, now he was in a terrible rage. Forgetting that a man must never fight with a woman, he laid his hand upon his sword. Then a gentleman who was there threw himself between the angry Queen and Earl, trying to calm them both.
But Essex would not be calmed. "I will take a blow from no one," he cried. "I would not have endured it from her father, King Henry. I will not take it from a king in petticoats." And, swearing dreadfully, he flung himself out of the room, refusing to return.
For some time the advisers of the Queen, and the friends of the Earl, tried to make peace between them, but in vain. Essex would not apologise, the Queen would not say that she was sorry. But in the end the Queen forgave Essex, and he came back to court.
As they had quarrelled over who should be sent to govern Ireland, Elizabeth decided to send Essex himself. This was not at all what Essex wanted. It was a very difficult post, and he did not wish to accept it, but he was obliged to do so.
He went to Ireland, but he did not succeed in ruling as the Queen would have liked. She wrote bitter, angry letters to him, and he replied with letters as bitter and angry as hers.
At last Essex decided to come back to England to see the Queen, and try to make friends with her again. Elizabeth forbade him, but in spite of her orders, he came.
Early one morning he arrived in London, dusty, dirty, and untidy from his long journey. He was in such haste to see the Queen that he did not stop to make himself fit to appear at court. Dusty and untidy as he was, he rushed straight to the palace. It was so early that the Queen was not up. Hearing that, Essex ran to her room, without even waiting till some one had told her that he had arrived.
The Queen was sitting in her room with her hair hanging down, waiting for her ladies to dress her, when Essex rushed in and, flinging himself on his knees beside her, kissed her hand again and again. The Queen was so surprised to see Essex, and so sorry when she saw how miserable he looked, that she spoke gently to him and comforted him. So presently he rose from his knees, and went away feeling that he was forgiven.
But it was only surprise which had made the Queen kind to Essex. Later in the day she received him very coldly. Later still she sent him to prison.
For some time Essex was kept a prisoner, then he was set free, but he could not again win the Queen's favour. Her unkindness hurt him so much, that he grew more and more unhappy, and more and more angry. He began to say unkind things about the Queen, calling her a foolish old woman who was growing crooked in mind and body.
It was quite true that Elizabeth was growing old and, being as vain as ever, she liked to think that she was still young and pretty. She covered her grey hair with a wig and painted her face; she sang and danced although she was nearly seventy years old. But it was wrong and foolish of Essex to speak as he did, and people were not slow to carry his words to the Queen.
At last Essex grew so angry, that he tried to raise a rebellion against Elizabeth. The rebellion failed, and Essex and those who had helped him were sent to the Tower.
In spite of all their quarrels Elizabeth really loved Essex. Now she felt it very hard to condemn him to death. Still she did.
Long before this, Elizabeth had one day given Essex a ring telling him, that if ever she should be angry with him, she would forgive him, if he sent this ring back to her.
When Essex heard that he was to die he remembered this promise, and he made up his mind to send the ring to Elizabeth, hoping that she would pardon him. But he did not know how to send it. He was afraid to give it to any of the Queen's courtiers, for he knew that many of them were his enemies. They were only too glad that he should be in disgrace, and would never deliver the ring to the Queen.
At length one day, as he looked sadly from his prison window, he saw a boy passing. The boy had a pleasant, honest face, and Essex felt sure that he might be trusted. He called to him and, throwing the ring down, told him to take it to his cousin, who was a kind lady and loved him. "Tell the lady," he said, "to show this ring to the Queen, and all will be well."
The boy took the ring, promising to do as he was asked. Then Essex threw down a purse full of gold, as a reward for his kindness, and the boy went away very pleased.
But by mistake he gave the ring to the wrong lady. Instead of giving it to the cousin of Essex, who loved him, he gave it to another lady, who hated him. This lady showed the ring to her husband, and as he, too, hated Essex, they resolved to keep the ring and say nothing about it. So Elizabeth never knew that Essex had sent it.
She, too, had remembered her promise, and hoped that Essex would send the ring. She waited and waited, but day after day went past, and it never came. At last, thinking that he was too proud to ask forgiveness, she ordered his head to be cut off. So proud and foolish Essex died, believing his Queen was still angry with him.
Elizabeth was growing old; many of her friends had died and left her, and after the death of Essex she was often very sad. The people too, who had loved Essex, were angry with her for having put him to death, and that made her more sad still.
When the lady who had kept back the ring was about to die she felt very sorry for what she had done. She could not find peace until she had confessed to the Queen, and asked her forgiveness. She sent a message to the Queen, begging her to come to her. Elizabeth came, but when she heard the story, instead of forgiving the poor dying lady, she shook her fiercely, saying, "God may forgive you, I never can."
At last Elizabeth herself grew very ill, but she would not go to bed. She sat day and night upon cushions on the floor, doing nothing but staring before her, with her finger in her mouth.
Then Sir Robert Cecil, the son of the great Lord Burleigh, who had been so wise and faithful a friend to Elizabeth, said, "For the sake of your people, madam, you must go to bed."
"Must!" exclaimed the Queen, " 'must' is not a word to use to princes. Little man, little man, your father would not have dared to use that word. But you know I must die, and that makes you so bold."
But at last she allowed herself to be carried to bed. Some of her lords, knowing that she had not long to live, asked whom she wished to reign after her. "I will have no rascal's son in my seat," she said, and would say no more.
Later they asked again, "Do you desire your cousin, the King of Scotland, to have the crown?"
The Queen only moved her head, but it seemed to those around that she meant to say, "Yes." She never spoke again.
On March 24, 1603 A.D., this great queen died, having reigned forty-five years. She had loved her country and her people, and her people loved her and wept for her at her death. No ruler had ever before been so mourned.
She was the last of the Tudor sovereigns, and with her successor, James, a new race of kings, called the Stuarts, began to reign in England.