FOREIGN RELATIONS: 1559-1563
THE successful wars waged by Edward III and Henry V are apt to cause an exaggerated estimate of the strength of England under the Tudors. The population–Wales included–was probably not much more than four millions. That of France was perhaps four times as large, and the superiority in wealth was even greater. Before the reign of Louis XI., France, weakened by feudal disunion, had been an easy prey to her smaller but better-organised neighbour. The work of concentration effected by the greatest of French kings towards the close of the fifteenth century, and the simultaneous rise of the great Spanish empire, caused England to fall at once into the rank of a second-rate power. Such she really was under Henry VIII., notwithstanding the rather showy figure he managed to make by adhering alternately to Charles v. and Francis I. Under the bad government of Edward and Mary the fighting strength of England declined not only relatively, but absolutely, until in the last year of Mary it touched the lowest point in our history. Although we were at war with France, there were no soldiers, no officers, no arms, no fortresses that could resist artillery, few ships, a heavy debt, and deep discouragement. The loss of Calais, which had been held for 200 years, was the simple and natural consequence of this prostration. Justice will not be done to the great recovery under Elizabeth unless we understand how low the country had sunk when she came to the throne.
During the early years of her reign, it was the universal opinion at home and abroad that without Spanish protection she could not preserve her throne against a French invasion in the interests of Mary Stuart. Henry II. meant that, by the marriage of the Dauphin Francis with Mary, the kingdoms of England and Scotland should be united to one another and eventually to France. Philip would thus lose the command of the sea route to the Netherlands, and the hereditary duel with the House of Austria would be decided. This scheme could not seem fantastic in a century which had seen such immense agglomerations of territory effected by political marriages. Philip, on the other hand, made sure that the danger from France must necessarily throw Elizabeth and England into his arms. Notwithstanding the warnings he received from his ambassador Feria that Elizabeth was a heretic, he felt certain that she would not venture to alter religion at the risk of offending him. The only question with him was whether he should marry her himself or bestow her on some sure friend of his house. That she would refuse both himself and his nominee was a contingency he never contemplated.
Elizabeth, from the first, made up her mind that the cards in her hand could be played to more advantage than Philip supposed. England, no doubt, needed his protection for the present. But could he please himself about granting it? Her bold calculation was that his own interests would compel him, in any case, to prevent the execution of the Stuart-Valois scheme, and that consequently she might settle religion without reference to his wishes.
The offer of marriage came in January 1559. In his letter to Feria, Philip spoke as if Elizabeth would of course jump at it. After dwelling on its many inconveniences, he said he had decided to make the sacrifice on condition that Elizabeth would uphold the Catholic religion; but she must not expect him to remain long with her; he would visit England occasionally. Feria foolishly allowed this letter to be seen, and the contents were reported to Elizabeth. She was as much amused as piqued. Their ages were not unsuitable. Philip was thirty-two, and Elizabeth was twenty-five. But she was as fastidious about men as her father was about women; and for no political consideration would she have tied herself to her ugly, disagreeable, little brother-in-law. After some fencing, she replied that she did not mean to marry, and that she was not afraid of France.
Before the death of Mary, negotiations for a peace between France, Spain, and England had already begun. Calais was almost the only difficulty remaining to be settled. Our countrymen have never been able
to understand how their possession of a fortress within the natural boundaries of another country can be disagreeable to its inhabitants. Elizabeth shared the national feeling, and she wanted Philip to insist on the restitution of Calais. He would have done so if she had pleased him as to other matters. Even as it was, the presence of a French garrison in Calais was so inconvenient to the master of the Netherlands that he was ready to fight on if England would do her part. But Elizabeth would only promise to fight Scotland–a very indirect and, indeed, useless way of supporting Philip. When once this point was made clear, peace was soon concluded between the three powers at Câteau, near Cambray (March 1559); appearances being saved by a stipulation that Calais should be restored in eight years, or half a million of crowns be forfeited.
In thus giving way Elizabeth showed her good sense. To have fought on would have meant deeper debt, terrible exhaustion, and, what was worse, dependence on Philip. Moreover, Calais could only have been recovered by reducing France to helplessness, which would have been fatal to the balance of power on which Elizabeth relied to make herself independent of both her great neighbours. The peace of Câteau Cambresis was attended with a secret compact between Philip II. and Henry II., that each monarch should suppress heresy in his own dominions and not encourage it in those of his neighbour. By the accession of Elizabeth, and the Scotch Reformation which immediately followed, Protestantism reached its highwater mark in Europe. The long wars of Charles V with France had enabled it to spread. Francis I. had intrigued with the Protestant princes of the Empire, and Charles had been obliged to humour them. Protestantism was victorious in Britain, Scandinavia, North Germany, the Palatinate, and Swabia. It had spread widely in Poland, Hungary, the Netherlands, and France. This rapid growth was now about to be checked. In some of these countries the new religion was destined to succumb; in some entirely to disappear. Men who could remember the first preachings of Luther lived to see not only the high-water, but the ebb, of the Protestant tide. The revolutionary tendencies inherent in Protestantism began to alarm the sovereigns; and all the more because the Church in Catholic, hardly less than in Protestant, countries was becoming a department of the State. Kings had been jealous of the spiritual power when it belonged to the Popes. They became jealous for it when it was annexed to the throne.
Notwithstanding its secret stipulations, the peace of Câteau Cambresis relieved England from the most pressing and immediate perils by which she was threatened. Neither French nor Spanish troops had made their appearance on our soil. A breathing-time at least had been gained, during which something might be done towards putting the country in a state of defence, and restoring the finances.
But the danger from France was by no means at an end. In the treaty with England, the title of Elizabeth had been acknowledged. But in that with Spain, the Dauphin had styled himself “King of Scotland, England, and Ireland.” He and Mary had also assumed the English arms. If a French army invaded England, it would come by way of Scotland. The English Catholics, who had for the most part frankly accepted the succession of Elizabeth, were disappointed and irritated by the change of religion. If Mary should go to Scotland with a French force, it was to be apprehended that a rebellion would immediately break out in the northern counties. Philip, no doubt, would land in the south to drive out the Dauphiness. But the remedy would be worse than the disease. For he was deeply discontented with the conduct of Elizabeth, and would probably take the opportunity of deposing her. To establish, therefore, her independence of both her powerful neighbours, Elizabeth had to begin by destroying French influence in Scotland.
The wisest heads in Scotland had long seen the advantage of uniting their country to England by marriage. The blundering and bullying policy of the Protector Somerset had driven the Scotch to renew their ancient alliance with France. But the attempts of the Regent Mary of Guise to increase French influence, and to establish a small standing army, in order at once to strengthen her authority, and to serve the designs of Henry II. against England, had again made the French connection unpopular, and caused a corresponding revival of friendly feeling towards England.
Nowhere was the Church so wealthy, relatively to the other estates, as in Scotland. It was supposed to possess half the property of the country. Nowhere were the clergy so immoral. Nowhere was superstition so gross. But the doctrines of the Reformation were spreading among the common people, and in 1557 some of the nobles, hungering for the wealth of the Church, put themselves at the head of the Protestant movement. They were known as the “Lords of the Congregation.”
The Scotch Reformation began not from the Government, as in England, but from the people. Hence, while change of supremacy was the main question in England, change of doctrine and worship took the lead in Scotland. The two parties were about equal in numbers, the Protestants being strongest in the Lowlands. But, with the exception of the murder of Beaton in 1546, there had, as yet, been no appeal to force, nor any attempt to procure a public change of religion. The accession of Elizabeth emboldened the Protestants. At Perth they took possession of the churches and burnt a monastery. On the other hand, after the peace of Câteau Cambresis, Henry II. directed the Regent to put down Protestantism, both in pursuance of the agreement with Philip, and in order to prepare for the Franco-Scottish invasion of England. The result was that the Protestants rose in open rebellion (June 1559). The Lords of the Congregation occupied Perth, Stirling, and Edinburgh. All over the Lowlands abbeys were wrecked, monks harried, churches cleared of images, the Mass abolished, and King Edward’s service established in its place. In England the various changes of religion in the last thirty years had always been effected legally by King and Parliament. In Scotland the Catholic Church was overthrown by a simultaneous popular outbreak.
The catastrophe came later than in England; but popular feeling was more prepared for it; and what was now cast down was never set up again.
It seemed at first as if the Regent and her handful of regular troops, commanded by d’Oysel, would be swept away. But d’Oysel had fortified Leith, and was even able to take the field. A French army was expected. The tumultuary forces of the needy Scotch nobles could not be kept together long, and it became clear that, unless supported by Elizabeth, the rebellion would be crushed as soon as the French reinforcements should arrive, if not sooner.
Thus early did Elizabeth find herself confronted by the Scottish difficulty, which was to cause her so much anxiety throughout the greater part of her reign. The problem, though varying in minor details, was always essentially the same. There was a Protestant faction looking for support to England, and a Catholic faction looking to France. Two or three of the Protestant leaders–Moray, Glencairn, Kirkaldy–did really care something about a religious reformation. The rest thought more of getting hold of Church lands and pursuing old family feuds. In the experience of Elizabeth, they were a needy, greedy, treacherous crew, always sponging on her treasury, and giving her very little service in return for her money. Besides, the whole Scotch nation was so touchy in its patriotism, so jealous of foreign interference, that foreign soldiers present on its soil were sure to be regarded with an evil eye, no matter for what purpose they had come, or by whom they had been invited.
The Lords of the Congregation invoked the protection of Elizabeth. They suggested that she should marry the Earl of Arran, and that he and she should be King and Queen of Great Britain. Arran was the eldest son of the Duke of Chatelherault, who, Mary being as yet childless, was heir-presumptive to the Scottish crown. There were many reasons why Elizabeth should decline interference. It was throwing down the glove to France. Interference in Scotland had always been disastrous. It might drive the English Catholics to despair, as cutting off the hope of Mary’s succession to the English crown. To make a Protestant match would irritate Philip. He might invade England to forestall the French. Almost all her Council–even Bacon–advised her to leave Scotland alone, marry the Archduke Charles, and trust to the Spanish alliance for the defence of England.
These were serious considerations; and to them was to be joined another which with Elizabeth always had great weight–more, naturally, than it had with any of her advisers. She shrank from doing anything which might have the practical effect of weakening the common cause of monarchs. She felt instinctively that with Protestants reverence for the religious basis of kingship must tend to become weaker than with Catholics. She did not desire to encourage this tendency or to familiarise her own subjects with it. Knox First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regimen of Women had been directed against Mary. The Blasts that were to follow had been dropped; but the first could not be treated as unblown. And the arrogant preacher did not mend matters by writing to Elizabeth that she was to consider her case as an exception “contrary to nature,” allowed by God “for the comfort of His kirk,” but that if she based her title on her birth or on law, “her felicity would be short.”
Nevertheless Elizabeth adopted the bolder course. The Lords of the Congregation were assured that England would not see them crushed by French arms. A small supply of money was sent to them. As to the marriage with Arran, no positive answer was given; but he was sent for to be looked at. When he came, he was found to be even a poorer creature than his father; at times, indeed, not quite right in his mind. It was hard upon the Hamiltons, among whom were so many able and daring men, that, with the crown almost in their grasp, their chiefs should be such incapables. To Elizabeth it was no doubt a relief to find that Arran was an impossible husband.
In the meantime 2000 French had arrived, and the Lords were urgent in their demands for help. But Elizabeth determined, and rightly, that they must do their own work if they could. She was willing to give them such pecuniary help as was necessary. But the demand for troops was unreasonable. Fighting men abounded in Scotland. Why should English troops be sent to do their fighting for them, with the certainty of earning black looks rather than thanks? If a large army was despatched from France, she would attack it with her fleet. If it landed, she would send an English army. But if the Lords of the Congregation did not beat the handful of Frenchmen at Leith it must be because they were either weak or treacherous. In either case Elizabeth might have to give up the policy she preferred, leave Scotland alone, and fall back upon an alliance with Philip.
In order therefore to preserve this second string to her bow, and to let the Scotch Anglophiles see that she possessed it, she reopened negotiations for the Austrian marriage. Charles, in his turn, was invited to come and be looked at. Much as she disliked the idea of marriage, she knew that political reasons might make it necessary. But, come what would, she would never marry a man who was not to her fancy as a man. She would take no one on the strength of his picture. She had heard that Charles was not overwise, and that he had an extraordinarily big head, “bigger than the Earl of Bedford’s.”
The Scotch Lords, finding that Elizabeth was determined to have some solid return for her money, went to work with more vigour. They proclaimed the deposition of the Regent, drove her from Edinburgh, and besieged her and her French garrison in Leith. But this burst of energy was soon over. The Protestants were more ready to pull down images and harry monks than make campaigns. Leith was not to be taken. In three weeks their army dwindled away, and the little disciplined force of Frenchmen re-entered Edinburgh.
The position had become very critical for Elizabeth. A French army of 15,000 men was daily expected at Leith. If once it landed, the Congregation would be crushed; the Hamiltons would make their peace; and the disciplined army of d’Elbœuf, swelled by hordes of hungry Scotchmen, would pour over the Border, and proclaim Mary in the midst of the Catholic population which ten years later rose in rebellion under the northern Earls.
In this difficulty the Spanish Ministers in the Netherlands were consulted. If Elizabeth expelled the garrison at Leith, and so brought upon herself a war with France, could she depend on Philip’s assistance? The reply was menacing. Their master, for his own interest, could not allow the Queen of France and Scotland to enforce her title to the throne of England. But he would oppose it in his own way. If a French army entered England from the north, a Spanish army would land on the south coast. Turning to her own Council for advice, Elizabeth found no encouragement. They recommended her to take Philip’s advice, and even to retrace some of her steps in the matter of religion in order to propitiate him. She made a personal appeal to the Duke of Norfolk to take the command of the forces on the Border. But he declined to be the instrument of a policy which he disapproved.
We need not wonder if Elizabeth hesitated for a while. Some of these councillors were not too well affected to her. But most of them were thoroughly loyal, and there was really much to be said for the more cautious policy. She herself was an eminently cautious politician, inclined by nature to shrink from risky courses. Never, therefore, in her whole career did she give greater proof of her large-minded comprehension of the main lines of policy which it behoved her to follow than when she determined to override the opinions of so many prudent advisers, and expel the French force from the northern kingdom.
England was not quite in the helpless, disabled position that it pleased the Spaniards to believe. Twelve months of careful and energetic administration had already done wonders. There had been wise economy and wise expenditure. Money had been scraped together, and, though there was still a heavy debt, the legacy of three wasteful reigns, the confidence of the Antwerp money-lenders had revived, and they were willing to advance considerable sums. A fleet had been equipped and manned; shiploads of arms had been imported; forces had been collected on the south coasts. The Border garrisons had been quietly raised in strength till they were able to furnish an expeditionary force at a moment’s notice.
The smallest energy on the part of the Congregation might have finished the war without the presence of an English force. Elizabeth had a right to be angry. The Scotch Protestants expected to have the hardest part of the work done for them, and to be paid for executing their own share of it. Lord James and a few of the leaders were in earnest, but others were selfish time-servers. As for the lower class, their Calvinism was still new. It had not yet bred that fierce spirit of independence which before long was to outweigh the force of nobles and gentry. But if the weakness of the Anglophile party was disappointing, it had at all events shown that Elizabeth must depend upon herself to ward off danger on that side; and after some reasonable hesitation she decided to put through the work she had begun.
It says much for the patriotism of Elizabeth’s Council that when they found she had made up her mind they did not stand sulkily aloof, but co-operated heartily and vigorously in carrying out the policy they had opposed. Norfolk himself accepted the command of the Border army, and acted throughout the affair with fidelity and diligence. He was not a man distinguished by ability of any kind, and the actual fighting was to be done by Lord Grey, a firm and experienced, though not brilliant, commander. But that the natural leader of the Conservative nobility should be seen at the head of Elizabeth’s army was a useful lesson to traitors at home and enemies abroad, who were telling each other that her throne was insecure.
An agreement between the English Queen and the Lords of the Congregation was drawn up (27 February), with scrupulous care to avoid the appearance of dictation and encroachment which had gathered all Scotland to Pinkie Cleugh eleven years before. It set forth that the English troops were entering Scotland for no other object than to assist the Duke of Chatelherault, the heir-presumptive to the throne, and the other nobles, to drive out the foreign invaders. They would build no fortress. There was no intention to prejudice Mary’s lawful authority. Cecil appears to have wanted to add something about “Christ’s true religion;” but Elizabeth struck it out. Circumstances might compel her to be the protector of foreign Protestants; but neither then nor at any other time did she desire to pose in that character.
A month later (28 March) Lord Grey crossed the Border, and marched to Leith. The siege of that place proved to be tedious. The Lords of the Congregation gave very insufficient assistance; and, when an assault had been repulsed with heavy loss, the citizens of Edinburgh would not receive the wounded into their houses. At last, when food was running short in the town, an envoy from France arrived with power to treat on behalf of the Queen of Scots. Her mother, the Regent, had died during the siege. After much haggling a treaty was signed. No French troops were in future to be kept in Scotland. Offices of State were to be held only by natives. The government during Mary’s absence was to be vested in a Council of twelve noblemen; seven nominated by her and five by the Estates. Elizabeth’s title to the kingdoms of England and Ireland was recognised (July 1560).
Such was the Treaty of Edinburgh, or of Leith, as it is sometimes called, one of the most successful achievements of a successful reign. It was gained by wise counsel and bold resolve; and its fruits, though not completely fulfilling its promise, were solid and valuable. It was not ratified by Mary. But her nonratification in the long-run injured no one but herself, besides putting her in the wrong, and giving Elizabeth a standing excuse for treating her as an enemy. England was permanently free from the menace of a disciplined French army in the northern kingdom. Nothing was settled in the treaty about religion. But this was equivalent to a confirmation of the violent change that had recently taken place; in itself a guarantee of security to England.
The moral effect of this success was even greater than its more tangible results. It had been very generally believed, at all events abroad, that Elizabeth was tottering on her throne; that the large majority were on the point of rising to depose her; that, wriggle as she might, she would find she was a mere protégée of Philip, with no option but to follow his directions and square her policy to his. Whatever small basis of fact underlay this delusive estimate had been ridiculously exaggerated in the reports sent to Philip by his ambassador De Quadra, a man who evidently paid more attention to hole-and-corner tattle than to the broad forces of English politics.
All these imaginings were now proved to be vain. Elizabeth had shown that she could protect herself by her own strength and in her own way. She had civilly ignored Philip’s advice, or rather his injunctions. She had thrown down the glove to France, and France had not taken it up. She had placed in command of her armies the very man whom she was supposed to fear, and he had done her bidding, and done it well. England once more stood before Europe as an independent power, able to take care of itself, aid its friends, and annoy its enemies.
It is true that, as far as Elizabeth personally is concerned, her Scotch policy had not always in its execution been as prompt and firm as could be desired. Those who follow it in greater detail than is possible here will find much in it that is irresolute and even vacillating. This defect appears throughout Elizabeth’s career, though it will always be ignored, as it ought to be ignored, by those who reserve their attention for what is worth observing in the course of human affairs.
In her intellectual grasp of European politics as a whole, and of the interests of her own kingdom, Elizabeth was probably superior to any of her counsellors.
No one could better than she think out the general idea of a political campaign. But theoretical and practical qualifications are seldom, if ever, combined in equal excellence. Not only are the qualities themselves naturally opposed, but the constant exercise of either increases the disparity. Her sex obliged Elizabeth to leave the large field of execution to others. Her practical gifts therefore, whatever they were, deteriorated rather than advanced as she grew older. In men, who every day and every hour of the day are engaged in action, the habit of prompt decision and persistence in a course once adopted, even if it be not quite the best, is naturally formed and strengthened. It is a habit so valuable, so indispensable to continued success, that in practice it largely compensates for some inferiority in conception and design. Elizabeth’s irresolution and vacillation were therefore a consequence of her position–that of an extremely able and well-informed woman called upon to conduct a government in which so much had to be decided by the sovereign at her own discretion. The abler she was, the more disposed to make her will felt, the less steadiness and consistency in action were to be expected from her. As the wife of a king, upon whom the final responsibility would have rested–her inferior perhaps in intellect and knowledge, but with the masculine habit of making up his mind once for all, and then steering a straight course–she would have been a wise and enlightened adviser, not afraid of consistently maintaining principles, when the time, mode, and degree of their application rested with another. As it was, Cecil and other able statesmen who served her No one could better than she think out the general idea of a political campaign. But theoretical and practical qualifications are seldom, if ever, combined in equal excellence. Not only are the qualities themselves naturally opposed, but the constant exercise of either increases the disparity. Her sex obliged Elizabeth to leave the large field of execution to others. Her practical gifts therefore, whatever they were, deteriorated rather than advanced as she grew older. In men, who every day and every hour of the day are engaged in action, the habit of prompt decision and persistence in a course once adopted, even if it be not quite the best, is naturally formed and strengthened. It is a habit so valuable, so indispensable to continued success, that in practice it largely compensates for some inferiority in conception and design. Elizabeth’s irresolution and vacillation were therefore a consequence of her position–that of an extremely able and well-informed woman called upon to conduct a government in which so much had to be decided by the sovereign at her own discretion. The abler she was, the more disposed to make her will felt, the less steadiness and consistency in action were to be expected from her. As the wife of a king, upon whom the final responsibility would have rested–her inferior perhaps in intellect and knowledge, but with the masculine habit of making up his mind once for all, and then steering a straight course–she would have been a wise and enlightened adviser, not afraid of consistently maintaining principles, when the time, mode, and degree of their application rested with another. As it was, Cecil and other able statesmen who served her against the heretics of all countries. To this appeal he replied by formally summoning Catherine to put down heresy in France. An accidential collision at Vassy, in which a number of Huguenots were slain, brought on the first of those wars of religion which were to desolate France for the next thirty years (March 1562). Both factions, equally dead to patriotism, opened their country to foreigners. The Guises called in the forces of Spain and the Pope. Condé applied to Elizabeth and the Protestant princes of Germany.
It was necessary to give the Huguenots just so much help as would prevent them from being crushed. Aggressive in appearance, such interference was in reality legitimate self-defence. But unfortunately neither Elizabeth nor her Council had forgotten Calais, and they extorted from Condé the surrender of Havre as a pledge for its restoration. In the case of Scotland they had come, as we have seen, to recognise that to establish a permanent raw by holding fortified posts on the territory of another nation is poor statesmanship. The possession of Calais was of little military value as against France. It is true that it would enable England to make sea communication between Spain and the Netherlands very insecure, and would thus give Philip a powerful motive for desiring to stand well with this country. But such a calculation had less weight with Englishmen at that moment than pure Jingoism–the longing to be again able to crow over their French enemy.
The occupation of Havre (October 1562) gave to the Huguenot cause the minimum of assistance, and brought upon it the maximum of odium. A hollow reconciliation was soon patched up between the rival factions (March 1563), and Elizabeth was summoned to evacuate Havre. She refused, loudly complaining of the Huguenots for deserting her. She “had come to the quiet possession of Havre without force or any other unlawful means, and she had good reason to keep it.” Up to this time the fiction of peace between the two nations had been maintained. It was now open war. It is only fair to Elizabeth to say that all her Council and the whole nation were even hotter than she was. The garrison of Havre, with their commander Warwick, were eager for the fray. They would “make the French cock cry Cuck,” they would “spend the last drop of their blood before the French should fasten a foot in the town.” The inhabitants were all expelled, and the siege began, Condé as well as the Catholics appearing in the Queen-mother’s army. After a valiant defence the English, reduced to a handful of men by typhus, sailed away (28 July 1563). Peace was concluded early in the next year (April 1564). Elizabeth did not repeat her mistake. Thenceforward to the end of her reign we shall find her carefully cultivating friendly relations with every ruler of France.
From Queen Elizabeth by Edward Spencer Beesly. Published in London by Macmillan and Co., 1892.
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