Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Most Perfect Goddess of the Heavens


Queen Elizabeth’s difficulties with foreign princes and Mary Stuart continued into the new decade with the assassination in Scotland January 23, 1570, of James Stuart, the Earl of Moray.  Moray was Mary Stuart’s half-brother, one of King James V’s many bastards.  Moray had taken Mary’s part in her quarrels with the Calvinist John Knox and had won her confidence.  During her reign, until she married Lord Darnley, Mary had followed his advice.  Becoming regent of Scotland after Mary’s abdication in 1567, Moray had opposed any movement to restore her as Queen.  Elizabeth saw Mary’s restoration as a means of ridding herself of a major difficulty, but only if the stringent conditions of the Treaty of Edinburgh, which Mary had refused to ratify, were followed -- the treaty’s most important condition being that Mary renounce all claims to the English throne.  Moray had been murdered by rival lords who believed he had wanted to become King.  William Maitland, the former Scottish ambassador to England, had thereupon organized a faction to restore Mary; and the kings of France and Spain were demanding that Elizabeth assist in the restoration.

Pope Pius V’s excommunication of Elizabeth February 25 produced considerable turmoil.  The Pope’s bull deprived “the pretended Queen of England, the serpent of wickedness,” of her kingdom.  Elizabeth’s subjects were free of their oath of allegiance.  The bull’s intention was two-fold: to incite Elizabeth’s Catholic subjects to rebel and to encourage foreign princes to assist in her removal.  Its immediate consequences were counter-productive.  Pius’s action angered Spain’s Philip II and France’s Charles IX.  Each resented that he had not been consulted.  English Protestants pressed “increasingly for Mary’s execution and for tougher laws against Catholics.”  The bull “subverted the loyalty of Elizabeth’s Catholic subjects and made every one of them a potential traitor to be regarded with suspicion.  … each one of them would face an agonizing choice of loyalties, for it would no longer be possible to compromise on matters of conscience” (Weir 213).

In late April the Privy Council warned Elizabeth that if she forced Mary’s restoration she would never feel secure in her kingdom.  Conversely, the French had threatened war if she did not.  Seeking a middle course, Elizabeth sent Mary an additional condition for restoration, that her son James be brought to England as a hostage to guarantee Mary’s good conduct.  In October Mary agreed to Elizabeth’s conditions.  Because of the increased threat of Mary being crowned Queen of England, the need for Elizabeth to marry soon and give birth to a male heir now seemed imperative.  “Without that child, Elizabeth stood alone, unguarded against foreign invaders, traitors at home, and the constant fear of assassination.  If she died childless, there would be no bar to Mary’s succession” (Weir 215).

Consequently, Elizabeth sent an envoy to the Holy Roman Emperor in August to attempt to renew marriage negotiations with the Archduke.  He was not interested.  To her surprise, Elizabeth received in September a marriage proposal from France’s Henry, the Duke of Anjou, King Charles IX’s brother and heir.  Charles and his mother Catherine de Medici wanted to unite England and France in a defensive alliance against Spain, whose presence in the Netherlands Charles feared.  Additionally, Charles needed support against the increasing threat to his sovereignty of the House of Guise.  And, finally, by having Elizabeth marry his brother, he hoped to deter Elizabeth from helping the ever-increasing masses of French Huguenots.  Prolonged negotiations were precisely what Elizabeth desired.  Because France was King Philip’s most powerful rival, Philip would be obliged to tolerate Elizabeth’s religious heresy for fear that if he were to act against her, he would force her to commit to a French marriage even though her husband would be Catholic.  Anjou was luke-warm about the proposed marriage.  So was Elizabeth.  He was 19; she was 37.  It was already well know that he was bisexually promiscuous.  Even though she was insistent that he would have to obey her country’s rules and Anjou was unbending about not abandoning his faith, she encouraged the French ambassador to believe that she was ready for marriage.  The Queen Mother Catherine de Medici sent a flattering portrait of her son and a list of demands: Anjou had to be permitted to practice his faith, he would be crowned King of England the day after the marriage, and he would receive an annual income of 60,000 pounds for life.  Elizabeth’s only concession was that Anjou would not be forced to attend Anglican services.

In February 1571, Scottish commissioners, acting on behalf of the four-year-old James VI, appeared before Elizabeth.  The Scottish people do not want you to press for Mary Stuart’s restoration, they informed.  Embittered by Pope Pius’s excommunication and resentful of the desire of European monarchs to depose her, Elizabeth had no intention now of doing so.  Soon thereafter, Mary was told of Elizabeth’s refusal to help her.  She realized that only foreign princes could deliver her.  “If intrigue could secure her liberation, and hopefully the crown of England, that was the course she was now obliged to take” (Weir 270).

Mary had already received a letter from Roberto Ridolfi, a Florentine banker who acted as a papal agent.  He had conceived of a plan whereby Catholic powers would invade England, overthrow Elizabeth, and crown Mary and the English subject Lord Norfolk (who had entertained thoughts of marrying Mary previously -- and had spent time in the Tower of London because of it) Queen and King.  Philip and the Pope had agreed to the plan in principle.  Ridolfi received Mary’s consent.

According to Ridolfi’s plan, Philip’s general in the Netherlands, the Duke of Alva, would invade England with 6,000 troops, march to London, and occupy it.  Norfolk would incite loyal English Catholics to rise up against Elizabeth.  Alva would seize Elizabeth and either assassinate her or hold her hostage for Mary’s safety.  Mary would be liberated and proclaimed Queen of England.  Mary and Norfolk would be married and would reign as joint sovereigns of England and Scotland. 

The Duke of Alva rejected the plan, recognizing that it had little chance of succeeding.  Spies working for Elizabeth’s chief advisor, Lord Burghley, discovered it.  Arrested, Norfolk confessed.  The Spanish ambassador was expelled from the country.  Ridolfi fled abroad.  Elizabeth ordered her cousin Mary to be more closely confined and watched.  Never again would she consider restoring Mary to the Scottish throne.  Acting swiftly, she recognized James VI King of Scots.  She had Mary’s letters implicating her in the murders of her secretary/lover David Rizzio in 1566 and her husband Lord Darnley in 1567 published.  Norfolk was beheaded June 2, 1572.  Yet Elizabeth turned down Parliament’s request that Mary either be executed or be barred legislatively from succession and be warned that future plotting against Elizabeth would require her execution.

On April 19, 1572, England and France concluded the Treaty of Blois.  Each country would provide the other military and naval assistance against their common enemies.  France would end its support of Mary Stuart.  Catherine de Medici thereafter proposed a marriage between Elizabeth and her youngest son, Francis, the Duke of Alencon.  Seventeen years old, he was said to be somewhat sympathetic toward Huguenots.  His skin was badly marked from two childhood attacks of smallpox.  He was undersized for his age.  Elizabeth agreed to allow negotiations to proceed, hoping to prolong them indefinitely.  The Massacre of St. Bartholemew in August interceded.

Backed by the Catholic House of Guise, Catherine de Medici, jealous that the Huguenot leader Admiral de Coligny had gained influence with her son King Charles, had ordered the Huguenot murdered.  The attempt failed.  Riots broke out in Paris.  Reluctantly backed by Charles, Catherine ordered all Huguenots removed from the capital.  Catholics murdered every Huguenot they could find – between 3,000 and 4,000.  Similar attacks erupted in the provinces.  Elizabeth responded cautiously.  She could not compromise the French alliance.  She expressed deep shock and anger.  She hoped that King Charles would make amends.  She would not make a decision about marriage until she was satisfied that Charles would henceforth treat his Huguenot subjects fairly.  Secretly, she sent arms to the Huguenots. 

In July 1573 King Charles declared that all Huguenots were free to practice their religious beliefs.  Ten months later, May 30, 1574, he died.  His brother, the Duke of Anjou, became King Henry III.  Fearing an end of religious tolerance in France and possibly the peace treaty that she had signed, Elizabeth moved closer to Spain by signing in August the Treaty of Bristol.  (Henry did continue the moderate religious policies begun by Charles)  Elizabeth had agreed to meet the Duke of Alencon at Dover in March 1574, two months before Charles IX’s death.  Alencon, however, had become implicated in a series of intrigues against his brother Charles and had been put under house arrest.  (After Charles’s death, Alencon’s title became the Duke of Anjou, being that he was now the first heir to the French throne, his older brother, the original Anjou, having become King.  I will continue to identify him as Alencon, to avoid confusion)  After Charles’s death, Alencon escaped his incarceration and wandered for some time about Europe.  Elizabeth informed his mother Catherine that under no circumstance would she now marry him.

A new threat to Elizabeth’s safety began to surface in 1574.  Hundreds of highly-trained, committed, militant Catholic priests from Jesuit seminaries located throughout Europe had started to arrive in England.  These “seminarists” were comprised of two groups.  One group provided spiritual comfort for beleaguered English Catholics.  The other group strived to undermine the English church and state.  The government would view both groups as traitors deserving the worst of punishments.

In January 1575 Protestant leaders in the Netherlands asked Elizabeth to become Queen of Holland and Zeeland.  She procrastinated, not wanting to provoke Philip of Spain, who was the anointed king and hereditary ruler of the Netherlands.  Also, she opposed in principle the overthrowal of any rightful monarch.  The Protestant leaders took offense at her procrastination. 

Elizabeth’s relations with France and Spain appeared to improve.  France’s King Henry requested a renewal of the Treaty of Blois.  Yet Mary Stuart, now 32, still posed a definite threat.  Mary knew she would never again be Queen of Scotland.  Her ambition now was to dethrone Elizabeth.  With the help of attendants as well as friends who lived outside the estate where she was confined, Mary managed to communication with the Pope, King Philip, and other Catholics.  Spies working for Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s secretary, had intercepted enough of her ciphered letters to know that she was waiting for the day of her deliverance and ascension to the English throne.

1576 witnessed additional trouble in the Netherlands.  Elizabeth had not yet answered whether she would consent to be Queen of Holland and Zeeland.  In February Philip asked her if she intended to provide aid to the Protestant rebels.  She evaded his question.  In the spring she declined the Holland and Zeeland Protestant leaders’ offer.  That summer Spanish troops stationed in the Netherlands mutinied and rioted over non-payment of wages.  Dutch Protestants and some Catholics coalesced under the leadership of William of Orange.  The rebels agreed that they should elect their own assembly and fight for independence.  They wanted their and England’s military forces to combine to form a Protestant army with Elizabeth its leader.  Elizabeth rejected their proposal.  Philip appointed a new Regent for the Netherlands, his half brother Don John of Austria, “the most renowned soldier in Europe” (Weir 306).  Elizabeth had in fact given the Dutch 20,000 pounds.  She had loaned them another 106,000 pounds – almost half her annual income.  She offered to act as mediator between Don John and the Dutch rebels.  Her proposal was rejected.  Ultimately, Don John offered the rebel Dutch favorable terms for peace.

In the early months of 1577 Walsingham’s spies uncovered a Catholic conspiracy to remove Elizabeth and re-establish Catholicism as England’s official religion.  Don John would invade England with 10,000 troops.  He would marry Mary Stuart.  They would rule England jointly.  Don John was too busy in the Netherlands to initiate the plan.  Elizabeth refused to punish Mary.

In January 1578 Don John decisively defeated the Dutch Protestant armies in a major battle.  Elizabeth immediately renewed marriage negotiations with the French.  “Thanks to the provocation given to King Philip by English privateers” (information about this next month) and the help Elizabeth had given the Dutch rebels, “the peace with Spain now seemed to be on a very precarious footing, … Philip might yet invoke the Pope’s interdict and make the rumoured Enterprise of England a reality” (Weir 311).  She had also been worried about reports that the Duke of Alencon was planning to meddle in the Netherlands.  Alencon’s ambition had found no outlet at the court of France.  Regarded as a troublesome nuisance, he craved military fame and glory.  Elizabeth wanted no French presence whatsoever in the Netherlands.  When she learned that Alencon’s intention was not supported by the French government, she thought to control him by suggesting that she might yet marry him.  Alencon was amenable.  Without the backing of a powerful ruler he knew he could not achieve his ambitious goals. 

Alencon participated in a Netherlands attack upon Don John in August 1578.  Thereafter, he signed a treaty with the Protestant States that conferred upon him the title, “Defender of the Liberties of the Low Countries against Spanish Tyranny.”  Enraged, Elizabeth sent a friendly letter to King Philip.  Don John died October 1.   Philip sent another army under the Duke of Parma to subjugate the Netherlands.  Parma pushed back William of Orange’s forces to Holland and Zeeland.  Returning to France in November, Alencon, desperate for receive aid to support his next foray in the Netherlands, sent Jean de Simier, Baron de St. Marc, to England to woo Elizabeth.  “Exquisitely skilled in love toys, pleasant conceits and court dalliances,” Simier indeed wooed her.  Elizabeth responded “like a skittish girl, never happier or better-humoured than when in his company” (Weir 318, 319).  She nicknamed him her “Monkey.”  Alencon wrote from France: “If Your Majesty will consent to marry me … you will restore a languishing life, which has existed only for the service of the most perfect goddess of the heavens” (Weir 319).

In March 1579 Simier presented a draft marriage treaty to the Privy Council.  The Council rejected three of the marriage articles: that Alencon be crowned immediately after the wedding, that he share jointly with the Queen the power to grant land and church offices, and that Parliament give him an annual income of 60,000 pounds payable until his children had reached their majority.  Elizabeth stipulated that no decision could be reached about the marriage treaty until Alencon came to England to meet her.  Alencon arrived “secretly” August 17.  She appeared taken by him.  She nicknamed him her “Frog.”  Alencon returned to France at the end of the month.  Public opposition to the marriage was never greater.  Angered, Elizabeth had the right hands of the author and printer of a salacious pamphlet cut off.  The public was outraged all the more, forcing her to recognize that if she were to retain the love of her subjects she could not accept Alencon as a husband.  Yet it was necessary that the marriage negotiations be prolonged, to keep the French government friendly, to keep the Duke under control, and to keep King Philip at bay.  Therefore, she feigned a great love for her French suitor.  Into the year 1580 she wore his gift jewel at Court; she tucked his pair of gloves in her belt, kissed them hundreds of times; she wrote him many letters.  Her Councilors had no idea what she would ultimately decide.

Sources Cited:

Weir, Alison.  Elizabeth the Queen.  London: Vintage Books, 1998.  Print.