N EVER had a queen a greater variety of difficulties to meet. If she favored the Catholics, the Protestants would not support her; the Puritans were beginning to be of some importance, and they were eager to have every trace of Catholicism destroyed; but if she introduced Protestant changes too rapidly, the Catholics might revolt. She wished, it is probable, to refuse her numerous suitors, but she needed to keep on friendly terms with each as far as possible. The royal treasury was low, and among the nations of Europe there was not one upon whose assistance England could count in case of need.
Such were Elizabeth's troubles at the beginning of her reign, and as the months passed, the difficulties became even more complicated. Scotland was ruled by Mary's mother, who acted as regent for her daughter. She was French and a Catholic, and as more and more of the Scotch became Protestants, they were determined to have freedom for Protestant worship. Persecution followed, imprisonment, torture, and burning at the stake. Then came a fierce revolt. By the aid of France this was suppressed, but the Protestants appealed to Elizabeth.
"No war, my lords, no war," declared she to her council. "A queen does not lend aid to rebels."
"The rebels are in a fair way to become the government," suggested one councilor.
"England cannot afford war," declared another. "We have no money to spend on fleets and armies."
"The French are already in Scotland," said one. "More will follow, and their next step will be across the border. If they are once in England, we shall have to raise armies whether we can or not."
"True," agreed another, "and surely it is better to fight them in Scotland than on our own soil."
"If we attack the French, Philip will aid them and try to put Mary on our throne."
"No, no," shouted three or four voices. "To unite France, Scotland, and England under one ruler would weaken his own power. He'll not do that."
"This is a question of religion as well as policy," said another. "Shall not the government of the church of England aid the Protestants of Scotland?"
This last argument did not count for very much with Elizabeth, but there was another one that did. She left the council and thought over the matter carefully and anxiously. "If I can get power in Scotland," she said to herself, "I can induce the Scotch government to agree that Mary shall never claim the title of queen of England." Money was borrowed from Antwerp, and England began to prepare for fighting.
France became uneasy and sent word to Elizabeth:—
"We do protest and remonstrate against the ruler of a neighboring kingdom giving aid to rebels and revolters." The French well knew how sorely aggrieved the English felt at the loss of Calais, and as a bribe to the queen they offered to give her back the town and citadel if she would agree not to aid the Scotch Protestants.
Elizabeth knew then that the French feared her, and she replied:—
"So long as the Queen of Scots doth falsely claim to be also queen of this my realm, then so long must I guard myself in the way that seems to me wisest and best. To free my throne from the attacks of false claimants and so secure peace and safety for my people is worth far more to me than any little fishing village in a foreign country."
The French were driven from Scotland, and a treaty was made agreeing that Mary should give up all claim to the throne of England. Mary had empowered her agents to make whatever terms they thought best, but when she saw this provision she refused to sign the treaty.
One year later a beautiful young woman stood at the stern of a vessel, looking back with tearful eyes at the shore from which she had sailed. The twilight deepened, and night settled around her. She turned away. "Adieu, my beloved France," she whispered, "farewell, farewell."
Thus it was that a queen returned to her kingdom, for the fair young woman was Mary, Queen of Scots. Her husband had died, and there was no longer any place in France for her. Scotland asked her to return to the throne that had been her own ever since she was a few days old. She was only nineteen, and she was leaving the gay, merry court in which nearly all her life had been spent; she was leaving her friends and companions, and for what? Scotland was the land of her birth, but it was a foreign country to her. It was not like her sunny France, it was a land of mist and of cold, of plain habits and stern morals. The queen was coming to her own, but her own was strange to her.
Mary had asked Elizabeth's permission to shorten the voyage by passing through England. "That must not be," thought the English queen. "Her presence here would be the signal for all the discontented Catholics in the kingdom to follow her banner." Permission was refused, unless Mary would agree beforehand to give up all claim to the English crown.
"I ask but Elizabeth's friendship," said Mary. "I do not trouble her state nor try to win over her subjects, though I do know there be some in her realm that are not unready to hear offers"—but she would not promise to give up her claim to the crown. She was fully as independent as Elizabeth, and she added regretfully, "I grieve that I so far forgot myself as to ask a favor that I needed not. Surely, I may go home into my own realm without her passport or license. I came hither safely, and I may have means to return."
Scotland rejoiced that the queen had come, and welcomed her with bonfires and music and speeches of welcome. The Scotch supposed that they were pleasing her, but Mary wrote to her friends:—
"In Edinburgh when I would have slept, five or six hundred ragamuffins saluted me with wretched fiddles and little rebecks, and then they sang psalms loudly and discordantly; but one must have patience."
No one can help feeling sympathy with the lonely girl of nineteen who had left all that she loved to come and rule over a country that seemed to her almost barbarous in contrast with her beloved France. She was a Catholic; most of her people were Protestants. She won many friends and admirers, but she never gained the confidence and steady affection of her people that made Elizabeth strong. The queen and her subjects grew further apart. Mary had been brought up to believe that the marriage of Anne Boleyn was not lawful, and that therefore she herself and not Elizabeth was the rightful queen of England. The French king had taught her to sign herself "Queen of Scotland and England." Now that she had returned to Scotland, she dropped the latter part of the title, but demanded that Elizabeth should declare her heir to the throne, as she certainly was by all laws of the hereditary descent of the crown. Elizabeth firmly refused.
It was probable that Mary would marry, and it was a matter of importance to Elizabeth that the husband should not be one who could strengthen the Scotch claim to the throne. Mary consulted Elizabeth about one or two of her suitors, and suddenly the English queen surprised all Europe by offering to Mary the unwilling hand of her own favorite, the Earl of Leicester, and hinted, though in her usual equivocal fashion, that if Mary would marry the earl, she would be recognized as the next heir to the crown. "I would marry Robin myself," declared the queen to Mary's commissioner, Sir James Melville, "save that I am determined to wed no man."
Elizabeth talked with Sir James most familiarly, and this woman who was so shrewdly guiding her millions of Englishmen and guarding her throne from Mary of Scotland, often seemed to think of nothing but whether she or her rival had the prettier face.
"Which is the fairer?" she demanded, "I or the queen of Scotland?"
"Your Majesty is the fairest queen in England, and ours is the fairest queen in Scotland," replied Sir James wisely.
"That is not an answer," declared Elizabeth. "Which of us two is the fairer?"
"Your Majesty is whiter, but our queen is very winsome."
"Which is of greater stature?"
"Our queen," replied Sir James.
"Your queen is over high then," said Elizabeth, "for I am neither too high nor too low. But tell me, how does she amuse herself?"
"She hunts and reads and sometimes she plays on the lute and the virginals."
"Does she play well?"
"Reasonably well for a queen," declared Sir James audaciously.
"I wish I could see her," said Elizabeth.
"If your Grace should command me, I could convey you to Scotland in the dress of a page, and none be the wiser," suggested Sir James gravely, and Elizabeth did not seem at all displeased with the familiarity.
When the commissioner was again in Scotland, Mary asked what he thought of Elizabeth. "She has neither plain dealing nor upright meaning," said he, "and she is much afraid that your Highness's princely qualities will drive her from her kingdom."
Leicester was refused. Mary was now twenty-three, but she chose for her husband Lord Darnley, a handsome, spoiled child of nineteen. He was a Catholic and after herself the next heir to the English throne. Elizabeth was angry, but she was helpless.
A year later Sir James made a journey from Scotland to London in four days, as rapid traveling as was possible at that time. He called upon Lord Burleigh and gave him an important message. It was evening, and the queen was dancing merrily with her ladies and nobles when Cecil whispered a word in her ear. No more mirth did she show. She sat down, resting her head on her hand. The ladies pressed around her. Suddenly she burst out, "The Queen of Scots has a fair young son, and I am but a barren stock."
When Elizabeth found that it was impossible to have her own way, she usually accepted the situation gracefully. Sir James came to see her in the morning. She met him with a "volt," a bit of an old Italian dance, and declared the news was so welcome that it had cured her of a fifteen-days' illness. She agreed to be godmother to Mary's son, and as a christening gift she sent a font of pure gold.
The next news from Scotland was that Lord Darnley had been murdered, and that there was reason for believing the Earl of Bothwell, a bold, reckless adventurer, to have been the murderer. Mary had soon tired of the silly, arbitrary boy and had kept her dislike no secret. Two months later she married Bothwell, and there were so many reasons for thinking that she had helped to plan the murder that the Scotch nobles took up arms against her, and imprisoned her in Lochleven Castle, until she could be tried. She was forced to sign a paper giving up all claim to the Scotch throne, and her baby son James, only one year old, was crowned king of Scotland.
Elizabeth raged that mere subjects should venture to accuse a queen as if she were an ordinary person. "How dare they call their sovereign to account?" demanded the angry ruler of England. She declared that Mary's throne should be restored to her and that the rebels should be punished. Indeed, in her wrath she made all sorts of wild vows and threats which she had no power to keep.
This support, however, encouraged Mary's friends to attempt her rescue. She escaped from Lochleven; her followers fought an unsuccessful battle; she rode on horseback, sixty miles in a single day; she was taken in a fishing boat to the English side of Solway Frith; and then the deposed queen was safe in England, in the realm of the sovereign from whom she believed she might expect assistance.
Elizabeth and her council considered the matter long and earnestly.
"Let us return her to Scotland."
"Then she will be put to death, and the Catholics of Scotland and England will be aroused against Queen Elizabeth."
"Shall we place her back upon the Scotch throne?"
"We could not without war with Scotland and probably with France."
"Shall we invite her to remain in England as the guest of the queen?"
"And offer her as a head for every conspiracy that may be formed against her Majesty? No."
"There is something else. We have a right to know whether we are protecting an innocent young woman who had fled to us for help, or a criminal who has aided in the murder of her husband."
So the question was discussed, and it was finally decided that Mary should be kept as a prisoner and tried before special commissioners appointed for the purpose. At the end of this investigation Elizabeth declared that she had been proved neither innocent nor guilty. That question was dropped, but in spite of her angry protest and her demands to be set free, the queen of Scotland was kept in England for eighteen years, treated in many respects with the deference due to a sovereign, but guarded as closely as any prisoner.
In the midst of these complications that required the keenest acumen of the most vigorous intellect, Elizabeth did not lay aside her whims and vanities. One of her favorite customs was that of wearing an "impress," a device somewhat like a coat of arms, which was changed as often as the wearer chose. Each "impress" had a motto, and the queen used a different one almost every day. One of her mottoes was, "I see and am silent;" another was, "Always the same."
At one time she devoted herself to the works of the early Christian writers, but she found leisure to complain of the poor portraits that people were making of her. They were not nearly so handsome as she thought they ought to be, and she actually had a proclamation drawn up forbidding all persons to attempt her picture until "some special cunning painter" should produce a satisfactory likeness. Her "loving subjects" were then to be permitted to "follow the said pattern."
For even the most "cunning artist" to satisfy both her Majesty and himself must have been a difficult matter, for she positively forbade having any shade given to her features. "By nature there is no shade in a face," said the queen, "it is only an accident."
Another of her foibles was that of wearing the dress of different countries on different days, one day Italian, the next day French, and so on. It seems not to have been easy to have these gowns made in England, and Elizabeth sent to the continent for a dressmaker. The secretary of state had been the one ordered to draw up the proclamation restraining all save the "cunning artist" yet to be discovered from making her picture, and now we find him ordering the English ambassador to France to "cause" his wife to find the queen "a tailor that hath skill to make her apparel both after the French and the Italian manner." This command was given only a few days after the murder of Lord Darnley which aroused all England.
Elizabeth always enjoyed going about among her subjects, and one of her early visits was to the University of Cambridge. She entered the town on horseback in a habit of black velvet. Her hat was heaped up with feathers, and under it she wore a sort of net, or head-dress, that was all ablaze with precious stones. The beadles of the university gave her their staffs, signifying that all power was in her hands. She could not hold them all, and she gave them back, saying jestingly, "See that you minister justice uprightly, or I will take them into mine hands again." According to ancient custom at a royal visit, she was presented with two pairs of gloves, two sugarloaves, and some confectionery. Long orations were made to her. She was praised as showing forth all the virtues, and although she sometimes interrupted the orators by saying, "That is not true," she commended them at the end so warmly that they had no fear of having offended her.
She did not hesitate to break in upon any speaker, and the next day, when the minister was preaching, she sent a noble lord to tell him to put his cap on. Another high official was despatched to him before he left the pulpit to inform him that the queen liked his sermon. This was on Sunday morning. That evening the chapel was made into a theatre, and an old Latin play was acted for her amusement.
Elizabeth went from college to college, and at each she listened to an oration in her praise and received the usual gift of gloves, sugarloaves, and confectionery. Cambridge had long expected the honor of this visit, and the members of the various learned societies had made preparations for it by composing poems of welcome and praise in Greek, Hebrew, and several other languages. Copies of these verses had been richly bound, and the volume was presented to her as a memorial of her welcome.
All the sermons and speeches and plays were in Latin, and near the close of the queen's stay, a humble petition was made to her that she would speak to her hosts in that language.
"I am but a poor scholar," said she, "but if I might speak my mind in English, I would not stick at the matter."
Then answered the chancellor of the university:—
"Your Highness, in the university nothing English may be said in public."
"Then speak you for me," bade the queen. "The chancellor is the queen's mouth."
"True, your Majesty," he responded, "but I am merely the chancellor of the university; I have not the honor to be the chancellor of your Grace."
After a little more urging, the queen delivered an excellent Latin speech, which she had evidently composed beforehand, and gave the authorities to understand that she should make the university a generous gift either during her life or at her death. This manner of arousing the expectations of her subjects was one of her ways of securing their faithfulness. She used to keep long lists of men of ability and worth, and a man, knowing that his name was on that list, would not fail to be true to her, expecting every day a pension or some other reward of his devotion.
Robert Dudley was high steward of Cambridge, and Elizabeth seems to have exhausted her generous intentions toward the university by presenting him with Kenilworth Castle and manor and other lands. Then it was that she made him Lord Leicester, and when in the ceremony he was kneeling gravely before her with bowed head, this queen of magnificence and barbarism, of subtlety of intellect and coarseness of manner, thought it a brilliant jest to stretch out the royal forefinger to tickle the back of his neck and arouse him from his unwonted seriousness.