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England under the Tudors By Arthur D. Innes Characters: 27857

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


ELIZABETH (vii), 1583-87-THE END OF QUEEN MARY

[Sidenote: 1583 The Throgmorton Conspiracy]

The collapse of Alen?on was the precursor of a comprehensive conspiracy. Before the Raid of Ruthven (August 1582), the Guise faction in France had contemplated a descent on Scotland in conjunction with Lennox's friends there, with a view of course to raising England in favour of Mary. Alen?on's relations with Elizabeth had not made the French King or his mother, neither of whom loved the Guises, particularly favourable to the scheme. The Raid destroyed the prospects of the definitely Catholic party in Scotland; on the other hand, the failure of Alen?on affected, though only slightly, the objections on the part of King Henry. But any enterprise against England would have to take a somewhat different form. In May, Guise was planning a fresh scheme of assassination and invasion; [Footnote: State Papers, Spanish, iii., pp. 464, 479.] while as against the Guise intrigues still going on in Scotland, Elizabeth at the suggestion of the French ambassador was again proposing diplomatically to release Mary [Footnote: Ibid., p. 465.]-on terms.

[Sidenote: Sanguine Catholic forecast]

The English refugees and the Seminarists suffered from the same sanguine conviction that two-thirds of the country was thirsting to throw off the hated yoke of the existing Government, by which Jacobite agents were eternally possessed in the first half of the eighteenth century; and with a good deal less reason. For whereas the House of Hanover had no enthusiastic adherents, while the House of Stuart had many, and the Whig politicians were for the most part ready to transfer themselves to the other side if the other side should look like winning: at this time, the most energetic portion of the population, gentry and commons, including practically all who had practised the art of war by land or sea, in the Low Countries, in Ireland, on the Spanish Main and in Spanish waters, were fierily Protestant, and the Ministers, nearly all irrevocably bound to the Queen, were singularly prompt and alert men of action. Enthusiasts there were on the other side, but they were few. Yet in their prolific imaginations, the enthusiasts multiplied their own numbers pathetically, and believed passionately in phantom hosts only waiting for the word to draw the sword, or at least the dagger, in the sacred cause.

Neither the Spaniards nor the Guises appear ever to have allowed themselves to accept unreservedly the Churchmen's estimate of the state of feeling in England; but the Spanish Ambassadors, one after another, and Mendoza certainly not the least, gave more credence to these impressions than they deserved, placing far too high a value on the assurances of a very small number of the nobility. It is probable also that the Jesuits greatly exaggerated the exciting effect of the martyrdom of Campian and his associates; for these bore no sort of comparison with the burnings of Mary's reign, of which every man nearing forty years of age was old enough to have a tolerably vivid personal recollection. At any rate the advices of Mendoza went far to confirm the declarations of Allen that a determined Catholic rising might be relied on, in case of an invasion which should have for its object the substitution of Mary for Elizabeth and the restoration of the old Religion.

[Sidenote: Divided Counsels]

The counsels however of the plotters were divided. The priests would have kept the French out of the affair altogether. Philip was as reluctant as ever to take an English war upon his shoulders until he had completed the subjugation of the Netherlands. Mendoza, recognising that Guise was not France-for now as always, Spain could not afford to let France dominate England-was willing enough that Guise should head an expedition in which Frenchmen should otherwise play no more than an equal part; on the hypothesis that, when the revolution was accomplished, circumstances would compel the new regime to dependence on Spain. All the parties-Guise, Philip, Allen-were prepared to yield unofficial sanction to the simplification of the problem by assassination. Even when the different interests in the scheme had been compromised, prompt action was obviously essential if the English Government, with its vast network of spies and secret agents, was not to get wind of the plot. Promptitude however was the one thing of which Philip was constitutionally incapable, and Guise was obliged to consent to wait till the following spring.

[Sidenote: The plot discovered]

As a natural result, an active member of the conspiracy, Francis Throgmorton, was suddenly pounced upon in his house in London. He succeeded in conveying sundry important documents to Mendoza, but lists of the English conspirators and other conclusively incriminating documents were found. The rack did the rest. The unhappy man endured through the first application: the second conquered him. He told the whole story-possibly more than the truth, though that is hardly probable; but of course the persons incriminated denied complicity, and there was in some cases no other evidence against them, while the confessions of a victim under torture are-biased.

The main facts at any rate were indisputable-the plan of a Guise invasion, under Spanish auspices, with the complicity of a number of English Catholics, as well as of Mendoza. The presumption that Mary was cognisant of it was supported by Throgmorton's confession, but such presumptions and such evidence fall short of being absolutely conclusive. [Footnote: Mendoza's letters of this period (State Papers, Spanish, iii.) implicate Mary prima facie: but do not necessarily mean more than that her life was endangered by the discoveries.] Under such conditions however, grave and well founded suspicion was enough to justify the severest precautionary measures. Northumberland and Arundel [Footnote: Son of the late Duke of Norfolk. The title came through his mother.] were thrown into prison; several of the seminarists, already in ward, were executed; a number of arrests were made; known Catholics all over the country were placed under strict surveillance, and removed from any commands they might hold. Mendoza was ordered in uncompromising terms to leave the country; fleets were manned, and musters levied. The delay had proved fatal to the combined scheme.

The collapse of two assassination plots, not forming part of the Throgmorton conspiracy, may be mentioned. One was that of an apparently half-crazy person named Somerville, who betrayed himself by bragging; the other, the more curious affair of Parry, who got himself introduced into the Queen's presence several times, but "let I dare not wait upon I would" persistently, till he retired with nothing accomplished; to reappear presently.

[Sidenote: 1584 Death of Orange]

Elizabeth escaped; but death was soon to lay his hand on two personages of consequence. In May (1584) Alen?on decayed out of a world in which accident only had allowed him for a time to occupy a very disproportionate share of the political stage. A month later, the most heroic figure of a time when heroes were rare among politicians was struck down by the hand of a fanatic. William of Orange, the head, hand, and heart of the great fight for freedom being waged in the Netherlands, was assassinated by a zealot. More than ever it seemed that the Hollanders must submit to Philip, unless the power of France or the power of England were devoted whole-heartedly to their cause. The death of Alen?on made Henry of Navarre the actual heir presumptive to the throne of France. The King and his mother hated and feared Protestantism less than they hated and feared the Guises, and publicly acknowledged Navarre as next in succession.

As usual, Elizabeth's advisers would have had her play boldly for Protestantism; as usual, she herself was bent on evading the open collision with Spain. Her hope was to entangle France in the Netherlands war, and herself to strike in-if she must strike in at all-only when her intervention would enable her to make her own terms. The French King would not be inveigled. If he could have relied on her support, or if the Guises had been somewhat less dangerous, he would have been ready to strike; but his distrust of the English Queen was too justifiably complete. She was in fact saved from the absolute necessity of yielding to the persuasions of Burghley and Walsingham only by the dogged tenacity with which the Hollanders held out. And while they held out, she still held off.

[Sidenote: The "Association"]

In England however, one fact was more universally and vividly present in men's minds than any other. In the eyes of every Protestant, the supreme danger still lay in the death or deposition of Elizabeth and the elevation of Mary Stewart to the throne. Recent events had brought home the enormous risks of assassination; and an Association was formed for the defence of the Queen. A declaration was framed, the signatories whereof bound themselves by a solemn vow not only to pursue to the death all persons concerned in any plot against the Queen, but also any person in favour of whose succession to the throne any attempt should be made against her; to bar any such person absolutely from the succession; and to treat as perjured traitors any of the Association who failed to carry out this oath. It was sufficiently obvious that the declaration was aimed directly against Mary; but it may be said that the entire nation forthwith enrolled itself. And with the bulk of them, the enrolment was anything but an empty form.

[Sidenote: 1584-85 The Association ratified]

At the same time, it was difficult to see how the members of the Association could carry out their pledge without a breach of the law; stronger legal measures for the defence of the Queen and the frustration of assassination as a means to secure the inheritance in any particular quarter were required. Parliament was summoned at the end of November. Ministers wished to have definite provision made for carrying on the Government in case of the Queen's murder; but she would go with them no further than to sanction the Association, with the entirely laudable modification that the person for whose sake the deed was done should not be held ipso facto guilty of complicity. The differences of opinion were so strong that the session closed without the passing of any Act. In January however, an accomplice of that Parry already mentioned [Footnote: See p. 330] denounced him for intending to kill the Queen. Threatened with the rack, Parry made a full confession, and was hanged, drawn, and quartered. At the renewed Session in February, it was enacted that an invasion, rebellion, or attempt on the Queen's person, on behalf of any one with a claim to the succession, should disqualify such person from the succession absolutely, if complicity in the attempt should be proved after due enquiry. A commission was appointed to put the Act in execution in the event of assassination; and the Association was sanctioned subject to these provisions. Subsidies were then voted, and parliament prorogued, after an unusually gracious speech from the throne.

[Sidenote: 1585: France: the Holy League]

Meantime the United Provinces, despairing of an English overlordship, were again making overtures to France for a Protectorate, or even annexation if France should insist on that alternative. Relations between the King and Mendoza, now Ambassador at Paris, were so strained that war seemed all but inevitable; Henry seems to have been held back only by the well-founded fear that Elizabeth was intriguing to draw him into the war and frustrate him in carrying it on. But in that fear he declined the offer of the Provinces. In March the Guises produced a new development by the open announcement of the formation of the Holy League, for the exclusion of Navarre from the succession and the enforcement in France of the decrees of the Council of Trent.

But for the unconquerable mutual distrust of Henry and Elizabeth, Henry, relying on English support, would have bidden defiance to the League; but the memories of St. Bartholomew and Elizabeth's character as an intriguer made confidence on either side impossible. The great siege of Antwerp seemed to be on the verge of terminating in a catastrophe for the revolting States, which would enable Parma to co-operate actively with Guise; and Henry found himself threatened with excommunication. Before midsummer he capitulated, and declared for the League. On the other hand, Navarre was not the man to yield, and while Elizabeth again had the chance of playing a bold part and espousing his cause heartily, she judged rightly that he was strong enough unaided to keep the alliance of the League and the Court very thoroughly occupied for some time to come. As a factor in the Netherlands question. France was for the present at least a negligible quantity. So she left Navarre to fight his own battles in France, while she should dole out to the Netherlanders just so much or so little support as might suffice for her own ends.

While the French King was surrendering to the League, the Spanish King took a step which was intended to frighten England, and had as usual the precisely contrary result. He ordered the seizure of all English ships and crews on his coasts. The order was carried out; and England instead of being cowed was forthwith ablaze with defiance. The effect was promptly apparent.

[Sidenote: Agreement with the States]

The United Provinces were again offering themselves to England. In August an agreement was arrived at. The Queen was to hold Ostend and Sluys as well as Flushing and Brille, as security. She was to send over five thousand men with Leicester in command. Some Queen's troops and large numbers of volunteers were shippe

d off in a few days-too late however to save Antwerp. Still weeks and even months passed before pay or commanders were allowed to follow. But before the year was out, Sidney, Leicester, and others had taken up their commands, the last named representing the Queen of England.

[Sidenote: Drake's raid]

Already, however, an enterprise still more ominous to Spain was in hand-unofficial, like most other great enterprises of the reign. Letters of reprisal for the seizure of the English ships had been promptly issued, and numbers of privateers were quickly in Spanish waters. Among others, Francis Drake fitted out a flotilla, the Queen being an interested shareholder in his venture-though even under those conditions he put to sea before time, lest counter-orders should arrive. The adventurers sailed into Vigo, demanded the release of all English prisoners in the province, which was promised, captured some prizes, and betook themselves to the ocean, with a view to seizing the Spanish Plate Fleet, which was on its way from America. They just missed the Fleet, but proceeded to San Domingo (Hayti) which they held to ransom, went on to treat Cartagena in like manner, and then being attacked by Yellow Fever, came home with the spoils. Whatever fears of a Spanish war might be entertained by Elizabeth herself, the English seamen had no qualms as to their own immeasurable superiority, and desired nothing better than opportunities for demonstrating it.

[Sidenote 1: Elizabeth's intrigues]

[Sidenote 2: 1586 Leicester in the Netherlands]

While Drake was thus congenially employed, Elizabeth was carrying on her system of inaction and double-dealing. She intrigued-behind the backs of her ministers-with Parma, for the surrender to him of the towns she held, on terms which from her point of view were quite good enough for the Provinces, namely the restitution of their old Constitutional Government without religious liberty; although in their own view, religious liberty was primarily essential. Leicester complicated matters for her by accepting, in flat contradiction to her orders, the formal Governorship of the United Provinces: finding in fact that if he was to stay in the Netherlands nothing short of that would prevail against the suspicions of the Queen's treachery. At home, Burghley himself threatened to resign if she would not take a straightforward course. Walsingham wrote to Leicester, with his usual bitterness, of the "peril to safety and honour" from her behaviour. If she had indeed contemplated the surrender of the cities to Parma, that plan was frustrated. Still she stormed at Burghley and Walsingham, flatly and with contumely refused to ratify Leicester's arrangement, and continued to keep back the pay of the troops. Parma, though he too was starved in men and money by Philip, continued inch by inch to absorb the revolted territory. All that Leicester succeeded in accomplishing by the month of September was the brilliant and entirely futile action of Zutphen where in one great hour Philip Sidney won death and immortality (September 22nd). Thereafter, inaction and short supplies continued to be the rule, on both sides. In November, Leicester was back in England, where a fresh situation was developing.

[Sidenote:1585-86 The trapping of Mary]

While the arrangements for armed intervention in the Netherlands were in progress, Walsingham had been busy preparing for the last act in the Tragedy of Mary Stewart. The Secretary was foremost among those who held not only that the captive Queen deserved death, but that her death was more necessary to the welfare of England than any other event. Yet it was quite certain that Elizabeth would not assent to her death, unless she thought she could convince herself and the world that Mary had been actively engaged in treasonous plots. Recently however at Tutbury under the charge of Sir Amyas Paulet, she had been guarded so strictly that no surreptitious correspondence had a chance of passing. Walsingham was confident that if the opportunity were given, a treasonous correspondence would be opened. It became his object therefore to give her the opportunity in appearance, while securing that the channel through which communications passed should be a treacherous one, and the whole of what was supposed to be secret should be betrayed to him. To this end, the Queen was removed in December 1585 to Chartley Manor, avowedly in response to her own demands for a less rigorously unpleasant residence than Tutbury. The instrument of the plot was a young man named Giffard, supposed to be in the inner counsels of the Jesuits, actually in Walsingham's service. Through Giffard, communications were opened between Mary and a devoted adherent of hers in France named Morgan: but every letter passing was deciphered and copied, and the copies placed in the Secretary's hands.

[Sidenote: 1586 Babington's plot]

In the late spring, the great Babington conspiracy was set on foot; whereof the main features were, that Elizabeth was to be assassinated by a group of half a dozen young men who had places at court and occasional access to her person. The two leading spirits were Anthony Babington and a Jesuit named Ballard. Of course a Catholic rising and a foreign invasion were part of the plan, and Mendoza at Paris was playing his own part. Much of the plot was confided to Giffard, who reported to Walsingham. The Secretary and his Queen were satisfied to let the plot develop while they gathered all the threads in their own hands before striking. The correspondence, as copied for Walsingham at Chartley, conveyed not details but general intelligence of what was on foot to Mary, and approval from Mary to the conspirators. In August, Walsingham's moment came: the conspirators were seized; under torture or threat of torture they made complete confession. The Scottish Queen's rooms at Chartley were ransacked, and all her papers impounded. Again, as after the Throgmorton conspiracy, fleets were manned and musters called out. In September, the conspirators were tried and executed, and a Commission was appointed to try Mary herself in October.

[Sidenote: Trial of Mary]

Mary, as before, denied the jurisdiction, professing readiness to answer only before Parliament. She ignored an invitation from the Queen to obtain pardon by a confession of guilt. She assented under protest to appear before the Court, and there avowed that she had consistently appealed to the Powers of Europe to aid her, as she was entitled to do, but flatly denied complicity in the Babington plot. The evidence against her was entirely that of letters-said to be copied from her correspondence, but quite possibly invented in whole or in part-and the confessions of the conspirators or of her secretaries, extorted under torture or the fear of it. Those letters might even have been concocted to suit Walsingham without his actual privity, by the man who had the task of deciphering and copying them. Having heard her denial, the Court was transferred from Fotheringay, where it first sat, to Westminster: and at Westminster, after further examination of the documents and of Mary's secretaries, it unanimously pronounced her guilty. The sentence was left for Parliament and the Queen to settle. The Parliament which had passed the recent Act for the Defence of the Queen was dissolved, and a new one was summoned. On its meeting in November, it petitioned for Mary's execution, in accordance with the terms of the "Association" which Mary herself had offered to join. The publication of the sentence was received with public acclamation: but whether the Queen would assent to it remained to be seen.

What then were the guiding considerations, whether of Ethics or of

Expediency?

[Sidenote: The situation reviewed;]

For eighteen years, Mary had been in Elizabeth's power. Elizabeth had held her captive for the sufficient reason-amongst others-that were she outside of England and free from restraint, there was nothing to prevent her from actively agitating the Catholics of Europe to assert her claim to the English throne. No monarch having in his grip a claimant with an undeniably strong title to his throne would have allowed that claimant to escape from his clutches. Few would have hesitated to concoct some more or less plausible pretext for the claimant's death. Half England considered that a sufficient pretext was provided by Kirk o' Field; but even assuming that Mary's guilt in that matter was legally proved, which it assuredly was not, it is sufficiently obvious that the sovereign of England had no jurisdiction. Still any monarch situated like Elizabeth would have maintained, and probably have acted upon, the right to put the captive to death, if proved to be guilty of complicity in treason or subornation thereof. Throughout the eighteen years, Elizabeth had deliberately abstained from seeking to prove definitely that Mary was an accomplice in the various plots on her behalf, while she was no less careful to leave the imputation of complicity clinging to her. But now, if the Chartley correspondence were genuine, the case was decided. The Court, which cannot be said to have been packed, was satisfied. Again it does not appear that any monarch, regarding the captive's death as per se desirable, would have doubted the sufficiency of the ground for her execution.

But hitherto the English Queen had not regarded her rival's death as per se desirable. Conceivably there was an element of generosity in that view. Certainly there was the fact that Mary was an anointed Queen, and Elizabeth had a most profound respect for the sanctity of crowned heads. But apart from this, there was the purely political argument. Mary living, and in her power, was an asset. She might always be set at liberty on terms. Elizabeth hated parting with a political asset even at a high price, for good value. Hitherto she had reckoned the living Mary as worth more than Mary's death would be: for Mary might simply be replaced as a claimant by James, who was not, like his mother, in her power, and might very well think the crown of England worth a Mass.

[Sidenote: its recent developments]

Now however, a considerable change had come over the situation. Failing Mary the English Catholics were divided as to the succession. James could profess filial affection when it suited him; but for some time past he had dropped that attitude; he had just made a convenient compact with England; and his mother, making up her mind to his antagonism, had by will disinherited him and bequeathed her rights to Philip of Spain, who had a clear claim to the blood Royal of England as descending through his mother Isabella of Portugal from John of Gaunt. [Footnote: See Front. Philip's cousins, however, the duchesses of Braganza and Parma, daughters of Isabella's brother, had a better title-as they also had to the crown of Portugal. See p. 303. The exiled Westmorland had a better title still.] The accession of Philip would suit neither France, nor the Pope; the accession of James would be at best an uncertain gain to the Catholics; and so Mary's execution would leave no one claimant for the discontented to rally to. On the other hand, if Mary were allowed to live, her restoration by Elizabeth would be almost incredible. Her value as an asset had fallen, the security given by her death would be much more assured. Political expediency, therefore, entirely favoured her death, unless the execution would bring France or Scotland against Elizabeth in arms. France protested earnestly, but clearly intended nothing stronger than protests, and it very soon became equally clear that no serious trouble need be feared from James.

[Sidenote: 1587 The sentences carried out]

Still through December and January Elizabeth continued to vacillate. The sentiment as to the sanctity of an anointed Queen still influenced her; yet it is sufficiently clear that her real motive for hesitation was the desire, not to spare Mary, but herself to escape the odium of sanctioning the execution. At last however the warrant was signed, and received the Chancellor's seal. Yet she made the Secretary Davison write to Paulet and urge him to put Mary to death without waiting for the warrant. Paulet flatly refused. She used such terms to Davison that he feared on his own responsibility to forward the warrant to the appointed authorities Shrewsbury and Kent. He went to Burghley: Burghley summoned privately all members of the Council then in London. They agreed to share the responsibility for acting without further reference to the Queen. On February 4th, the letters were issued. On the 7th, in the afternoon, Kent and Shrewsbury presented themselves at Fotheringay and told Mary that on the following morning she must die.

[Sidenote: Death of Mary]

It was characteristic of her that during the few hours of life left to her, she forgot neither loyal servant nor victorious foe. Her last written words were to bid her friends remember both. When the morrow came, she mounted the low scaffold in the great hall with unfaltering step, far less moved outwardly than the six attendants whom she had chosen for her last moments, a splendid tragic figure; every word, every gesture those of a woman falsely charged and deeply wronged, majestic in her proud self-control. Was it merely a superb, an unparalleled piece of acting? [Footnote: See Appendix C. Mr. Froude is dramatically at his best in telling the story; but his partisan bias is correspondingly emphasized.] Was it the heroism of a martyr? The voice of England had doomed her; she appealed to a higher Tribunal than England. King or Queen never faced their end more triumphantly. Mary Stewart, royal in the fleeting moments of her prosperity, royal throughout the long years of her adversity, was never so supremely royal as in her last hour on earth.

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