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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 51

Elizabeth (1559—1603)

page 50

Elizabeth (1559—1603).

To the Bloody Mary succeeded the "Virgin Queen,', Elizabeth, daughter of Anne Boleyn. As a matter of fact, Elizabeth was hardly less bloody than her sister. She was beyond a doubt the most shameless dissimulator and liar of her own or almost any age. The very fact that she laid claim to purity of life is about the best proof that she was as even charitable observers were compelled to believe, a woman of the most abandoned morals. Her Court Warrington describes as a place "where there was no love but that of the lusty god of gallantry, Asmodeus," where, according to Faunt, "all enormities reigned in the highest degree." Dudley, the husband of the hapless Amy Robsart, the most callous libertine of the day, the queen openly fondled before the whole Court, calling him her "sweet Robin." His bedroom was placed next to her own. She indulged habitually in the coarsest jests, and swore like a trooper. Hatton, Raleigh, Oxford, Blunt, Simier, Anjou, were all reputed among the number of her lovers.

Her hatreds, like her loves, were not speculative merely. They took instant shape. She collared Hatton, spat on Sir Mathew Arundel, and boxed the ears of the earl marshal.

Her vanity was unbounded. When she died her wardrobe was found to consist of nearly 3,000 dresses, all in the most approved "girl of the period" style. She was dissatisfied with certain portraits of herself, which she imagined conveyed an inadequate impression of her charms. She accordingly announced that an authorized portrait would be taken, which alone it should be lawful to reproduce. In point of fact, though it was almost high treason not to praise her charms, she was anything but a beauty. Her eyes were small, her lips thin, her teeth black, her nose hooked, and her hair red; yet when Hatton told her that "to see her was heaven, the lack of her was hell," she regarded him as a discriminating person. When she made a progress the people en route were expected to fall down on their knees, and they did so. The genuflexions which she exacted from all were Oriental rather than English. Her train, which was of ridiculous length, was borne by a marchioness.

Her greed was insatiable. While dropping a tear on page 51 "Sweet Robin's" grave she was careful to cause his goods to be sold by auction for the payment of certain debts to herself. The faithful Walsingham, who spent his life and fortune in her service, she allowed to die a beggar.

Secretary Davison, who screened the infamous part she played in the execution of Mary Queen of Scots, she committed to the Tower (where he died), and robbed him of £10,000.

While the nation was in ecstacies over the defeat of the Armada, the Queen was grumbling at the cost of the great deliverance, and making profit out of the spoilt provisions of the fleet.

She was, perhaps, the only soul in England who regarded the Massacre of St. Bartholomew with as much indifference as if it had occurred in the planet Mars. Her sister Mary declared on her death-bed that if her bosom were opened, the word "Calais" would be found written on her heart. If Elizabeth's body had been opened, her heart might have been sought for in vain.

Her cruelties, unlike those of her sister Mary, had not even the poor excuse of religious bigotry. It is doubtful if she had any personal faith. The life she led was Pagan, not Christian. "Her majesty counts much on fortune," wrote Walsingham; "I wish she would trust more in Almighty God." When she persecuted, it was simply to enforce her own supremacy as head of the Church. What the Church taught she cared not. Within twenty years it is calculated that no fewer than two hundred Catholic priests were put to death, while a still greater number perished in the pestilential gaols into which they were cast. Cuthbert Mayne met a traitor's doom chiefly because there was found in his possession a copy of a papal bull or jubilee which he alleged he had bought at a shop out of mere curiosity. Nelson and Sherwood gave unsatisfactory answers, even under the rack, and were, after an interview with the queen, drawn, hanged, and quartered. Campian, the eloquent Jesuit was four times racked, and eventually suffered at Tyburn, along with Shirwin, Briant, and other distinguished Seminarists, it was these shameful severities that at last stirred the sluggish hostility of Spain, and brought the Armada into English waters. Yet the threatened danger was as loyally faced by page 52 Catholics as Protestants—Howard, of Effingham, a Catholic, actually commanding the English fleet.

But it was not Catholics alone that suffered. Two Anabaptists, Peters and Turwert, were committed to the flames, the queen "calling to mind that she was head of the Church, and that it was her duty to extirpate error, and that heretics ought to be cut off from the flock of Christ, that they may not corrupt others." Thacker and Copping, Brownists, perished in like manner, because, by objecting to the Book of Common Prayer, they were held constructively to have questioned the royal supremacy. The gaols swarmed with "recusants." Indeed it is on the whole hard to say why Queen Mary should have a monopoly of the epithet "bloody."

Elizabeth has been credited by most historians with profound political sagacity; but the fact is, she had no settled policy of any kind. Her chief weapons were sickening dissimulation and ceaseless intrigue; and when she died everyone was glad to be rid of her and her crooked ways.

Her last days were terrible to behold. She refused to go to bed by reason of what she enigmatically said she saw there. She kept beside her a drawn sword, which, like Hamlet, she from time to time thrust through the arras. She died as she had lived, a cruel, self-willed, heartless woman, possessed of few, if any, of the good qualities which the lying legends called history have ascribed to her.