Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Not Insensitive to Human Emotions

 
Elizabeth I was crowned Queen of England in 1558.  She was Henry VIII’s third child to rule.   
 
During her half-brother Edward’s six year reign (1547-1553) the Anglican Church underwent substantial Protestant reform.  Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon’s only child, Mary, succeeded Edward in 1553.  She was a resolute Catholic.  Dubbed “Bloody Mary,” she married Prince Philip of Spain in 1554 and persecuted Protestants severely.  Philip remained in England during Mary’s phantom pregnancy.  When it became clear that she was not with child, he left England to wage war against his arch enemy France.  He became King of Spain in 1556.  Two years later Mary died.  For 47 years Philip would be Elizabeth’s most dangerous enemy.
 
Philip II was Catholicism’s staunchest champion.  Whether it be accomplished by marriage, assassination, or military conquest, he was determined that England would again be a Catholic nation.  Elizabeth parried him adroitly.  Their conflict reached its climax in 1588 when Philip sent his great armada of war ships into the English Channel.
 
For more than a decade Elizabeth tried not to provoke him.  Her treatment of English Catholics, although restrictive, was not oppressive.  Early on, her primary advisors, believing that no woman should rule a nation independently, pressured her to marry a Catholic prince. They feared dissention, chaos, and foreign aggression.  They were adamant that she end all dispute about who should be her successor.  The birth of a child fathered by a foreign prince would settle it.  Elizabeth used their persuasions to her own advantage.  Philip offered to marry her in 1559.  He would return England to Papal authority and he would protect Spain’s commercial interests in the Netherlands by allying Spain with England.  Elizabeth rejected his proposal.  He sought then to persuade her to marry his cousin, Archduke Charles of Austria.  Interpreting Elizabeth’s conduct, Philip’s ambassador ventured that although she had “never set her heart upon, nor wished to marry anyone in the world” there was yet hope.  “She was but human and not insensible to human emotions and impulses.”  She appeared to be amenable, but she harbored reservations.  She would rather be a nun than marry “on the faith of portrait painters.” She “had heard rumours that Charles had an abnormally large head: she dared not risk accepting a deformed husband” (Weir 65).  Charles would have to come to England to be inspected.  The Holy Roman Emperor (Charles’s father) vetoed her stipulation, as Elizabeth knew he would.  Seemingly indecisive, she prolonged marriage negotiations until it became obvious to the Austrians and Philip that she would not comply.
 
Elizabeth understood that Philip needed her now as his ally in his dealings with France.  He would be willing to overlook temporarily the fact that she was Protestant if she provided him assistance.  England had long ago earned France’s enmity.  Henry VIII had invaded France.  Henry II, the current French king, believed that the English annulment of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon’s marriage had been illegal.  Elizabeth was, therefore, a bastard, not entitled to rule.  The legitimate English queen was Mary, Queen of Scots.  This was because Margaret, Henry VIII’s older sister, had been Mary’s grandmother.  Margaret and her husband, King James IV of Scotland, had produced Mary’s father, James V.  Mary’s mother was the French noblewoman Mary of the powerful House of Guise.  James V had died days after Mary’s birth.  Mary had been raised in France by the Guise family while Catholic regents had ruled Scotland.  Not yet 16, Mary had married Henry II’s son Francis, the French Dauphin in 1558, the same year Elizabeth had become Queen. 
 
An unexpected torrent of events changed Europe’s political landscape in 1559.  Philip married Elisabeth of Valois, Henry II’s daughter.  Henry II died from a jousting accident.  Mary’s husband Francis became king.  France and Spain signed a peace treaty.  England and France signed a peace settlement.  Francis II, the new King of France, influenced by Mary’s mother, his Guise uncles, and his own mother, Catherine de Medici, remained bellicose.  Francis boasted that he would have himself declared King of England.  Elizabeth fired back: “I will take a husband who will give the King of France some trouble, and do him more harm than he expects” (Weir 75).
 
Behind her bravado was alarm.  Mary of Guise was now regent of Scotland; French troops were stationed there; Elizabeth feared a two-prong attack.  She did not foresee that Francis II and Mary of Guise would both die the following year (1560), that Protestant lords would gain the upper hand in Scotland, that the Treaty of Edinburgh would remove French soldiers from Scotland, and that religious wars between Catholics and Huguenots in France were about to tear France apart.
 
With the French threat diminished, Mary, Queen of Scots, now became the focal point of Elizabeth’s concern.  Mary’s mother-in-law, Catherine de Medici, the Queen Regent of France, sent Mary back to Scotland in August 1561.  Eighteen years old, Mary needed a new husband.  Elizabeth was concerned that Mary might marry a prince from one of the royal houses of Spain, Austria, or France.  That would place the Catholic threat right back at her back doorstep.  Scotland could be used as a springboard for an invasion of England.  Elizabeth wanted Mary’s husband to be Robert Dudley, Elizabeth’s long-time Protestant friend and advisor (and presumed lover).  Philip II approved.  Dudley and Mary did not.  Dudley wanted to be Elizabeth’s husband and King Regent.  Mary believed that Dudley was beneath her.  In 1565 she married the British subject Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, a descendent of Henry VIII’s sister Margaret from her second marriage.
 
No longer needing Elizabeth as an ally, Philip now looked upon Mary as the means to return England to Catholicism.  Mary’s minimal demand had been that Elizabeth declare her to be next in line to the English throne.  Her lineage and her husband’s lineage traced back separately to Henry VIII’s older sister.  But, quickly, Mary all but destroyed her chances of a peaceful ascendency.  Unable to control her passions, much to Philip’s horror, she indulged in love affairs that led to two murders – that of her secretary/lover in 1566 and of Darnley in 1567 – murders in which many of her subjects believed she was complicit.  Fearful that she might be tried for conspiracy to commit murder, she abdicated her throne July 24, 1567.  Her year old son -- Elizabeth’s eventual successor -- was crowned James VI of Scotland.  Protestant lords placed Mary in custody in Lochleven.  She escaped May 2, 1568.  The 6,000 man army raised to defend her was defeated eleven days later.  She fled into England May 26. 
 
These events placed Elizabeth in a most precarious position.  Unless Mary was cleared of the charges of conspiring to murder Darnley, Elizabeth could not receive her.  Sending her back to Scotland would mean her death.  Sending Mary to France or Spain would encourage those countries all the more to attempt to depose her.  Philip’s large army lay close by in the Netherlands, where it had been quashing Huguenot rebellion.  Allowing Mary to be at liberty in England as a private citizen would inspire Catholic malcontents to rally to her cause.  Elizabeth decided to keep Mary in custody as an “honorable guest.”  Meanwhile, Elizabeth’s ministers would create a tribunal.  The tribunal would investigate the conspiracy charges declared against Mary.  It would then determine her innocence or guilt. 
 
The inquiry began October 4.  Letters were produced by the prosecution that clearly implicated Mary.  Her defenders claimed that the letters were forgeries.  The tribunal commissioners declared them authentic but were divided about how they should proceed.  Elizabeth would not allow them to declare Mary innocent, aware of the strength of adverse public opinion against Mary.  She was cognizant also that Catholic subjects could begin to view Mary as their champion.  Worst of all, Mary wanted Elizabeth’s crown now.  She had written the Queen of Spain that with Philip’s help she would “make ours the reigning religion” in England (Weir 199).  In January 1569 the commissioners declared that nothing had been proved -- that, in effect, Mary was neither guilty nor innocent.  Elizabeth placed Mary in the custody of George Talbot, Sixth Earl of Shrewsbury, at whose residence she would remain for most of the next 15 years.
 
There still remained the issue of Elizabeth’s eventual successor.  Would Elizabeth in fact marry and give birth?  If not, would she actually name her successor?  And how could she continue to thwart Philip II?  At the end of June 1565 she had rejected the marriage proposal of the fourteen-year-old King Charles IX of France.  Several of her advisors had then revived their efforts to convince her to marry Charles, the Austrian Archduke.  Elizabeth made conditions that the Holy Roman Emperor would not accept.  Foremost, Charles would not renounce his faith.  But the Emperor was willing to compromise.  If Elizabeth would allow Charles to attend mass in private, he would publicly accompany her to Anglican services.  If this concession was agreeable, he would marry Elizabeth at once.  Elizabeth instructed her emissary, Lord Sussex, to inform the Emperor that her conscience and her policy of religious uniformity would not allow her to permit Charles to practice his religion in private.  She knew that attitudes in her country about religion had hardened and that her acceptance of this compromise would invite controversy, quite possibly rebellion, perhaps even civil war.  “She wished to make clear to her subjects that she would do nothing to forfeit their love and loyalty, and that she would never allow the laws of her country to be broken, even by her husband” (Weir 192-193).
 
Then there was the difficulty of Protestant rebellion in the northern provinces of the Netherlands and the presence there of Philip’s soldiers.  Catholic churches had been desecrated.  Imperial officials had been attacked.  Philip had sent to the provinces the Duke of Alva and 50,000 soldiers.  The rebellion had been crushed, but the army had remained, too close to England for Elizabeth’s ease of mind.  She sympathized with the rebels, but she could not send them assistance for fear of Spanish retaliation.  It was at this time that Mary abdicated her throne, escaped her imprisonment in Scotland, and fled to England.
 
In 1569 Elizabeth witnessed just how serious was the threat that she could be deposed.  Catholic lords in northern England – led by the Earls Northumberland and Westmorland -- had conceived a plan to foment rebellion, murder royal officials, liberate Mary, whom they had been in contact, replace uncooperative royal advisors, remove Elizabeth, and crown Mary.  Spain and France had promised aid.  A royal army of 26,000 men was sent north.  By December 20, the uprising collapsed.  Northumberland and Westmorland fled into Scotland.  Between 600 and 750 commoners were subsequently hanged.  Spared their lives, 200 of the gentry were deprived of their estates. 
 
Next Month: Elizabeth pretends to entertain marriage to impede Philip’s objectives, English sea captains raid Spanish treasure ships, and daring adventurers look to colonize in North America.
 
Sources Cited:
 
Weir, Alison.  Elizabeth the Queen.  London: Vintage Books, 1998.  Print.