FOREIGN AFFAIRS : 1572-1583
THE year 1572 witnessed two events of capital importance in European history: the rising in the Netherlands, which resulted in the establishment of the Dutch Republic (April); and the massacre of St. Bartholomew, which marked the decisive rejection of Protestantism by France (August).
In the beginning of that year–a few weeks before the proceedings in Parliament just narrated–Elizabeth had at last concluded the defensive alliance with France for which she had been so long negotiating (19 April). It cannot be too often repeated that this was the corner-stone of her foreign policy. For the sake of its superior importance she had abstained from the interference in Scotland which her Ministers were always urging. The more she interfered there the more she would have to interfere, till it would end in her having a rebellious province on her hands in addition to the hostility of both France and Spain; whereas an alliance with France would give her security on all sides, Scotland included. In the treaty it was agreed that if either country were invaded “under any pretence or cause, none excepted,” the other should send 6000 troops to its assistance. This was accompanied with an explanation, in the King’s handwriting, that “any cause ” included religion. The article relating to Scotland is not less significant. The two sovereigns “shall make no innovations in Scotland, but defend it against foreigners, not suffering strangers to enter, or foment the factions in Scotland; but it shall be lawful for the Queen of England to chastise by arms the Scots who shall countenance the English rebels now in Scotland.” Mary was not mentioned. France therefore tacitly renounced her cause. Immediately after the conclusion of the treaty Charles IX. formally proposed a marriage between Elizabeth and his youngest brother, Alençon. This proposal she managed to encourage and elude for eleven years.
It was just at this moment that the seizure of Brill by some Dutch rovers, who had taken refuge on the sea from the cruelty of Alva, caused most of the towns of Holland and Zealand to blaze into rebellion (1 April). Thus began the great war of liberation, which was to last thirty-seven years. The Protestant party in England hailed the revolt with enthusiasm. Large subscriptions were made to assist it, and volunteers poured across to take part in the struggle. Charles IX. and his mother, full of schemes of conquest in the Netherlands, urged Elizabeth to join them in a war against Philip. But, with a sagacity and self-restraint which do her infinite honour, she refused to be drawn beyond the lines laid down in the recent defensive alliance. Security, economy, fructification of the tax-payers’ money in the tax-payers’ pocket–such were the guiding principles of her policy. She was not to be dragged into dangerous enterprises either ambitious or Quixotic. Schemes for the partition of the Netherlands were laid before her. Zealand, it was said, would indemnify her for Calais. What Englishman with any common sense does not now see that she was right to reject the bribe?
To Elizabeth no rebellion against a legitimate sovereign could be welcome in itself. Since Philip was so possessed by religious bigotry as to be dangerous to all Protestant States, she was not sorry that he should wear out his crusading ardour in the Netherlands; and she was ready to give just as much assistance to the Dutch, in an underhand way, as would keep him fully occupied without bringing a declaration of war upon herself. But she would have vastly preferred that he should repress Catholic and Protestant fanatics alike, and get along quietly with the mass of his subjects as his father had done before him. Charles IX. was eager to strike in if she would join him. Those who blame her so severely for her refusal seem to forget that a French conquest of the Netherlands would have been far more dangerous to this country than their possession by Spain. To keep them out of French hands has indeed been the traditional policy of England during the whole of modern history.
But, it is said, such a war would have clinched the alliance recently patched up between the French court and the Huguenots; there would have been no Bartholomew Massacre; “on Elizabeth depended at that moment whether the French Government would take its place once for all on the side of the Reformation.”
Whether it would have been for the advantage of European progress in the long-run that France should settle down into Calvinism, I will forbear to inquire. Fortunately for the immediate interests of England, Elizabeth understood the situation in France better than some of her critics do, even with the results before their eyes. The Huguenots were but a small fraction of the nation. Whatever importance they possessed they derived from their rank, their turbulence, and the ambition of their leaders. In a few towns of the south and south-west they formed a majority of the population. But everywhere else they were mostly noblemen, full of the arrogance and reckless valour of their class, anything but puritans in their morals, and ready to destroy the unity of the kingdom for political no less than for religious objects. They had been losing ground for several years. The mass of the people abhorred their doctrines, and protested against any concession to their pretensions. Charles and his mother were absolutely careless about religion. Their feud with the Guises and their designs on the Netherlands had led them to invite the Huguenot chiefs to court, and so to give them a momentary influence in shaping the policy of France. It was with nothing more solid to lean on than this ricketty and short-lived combination that Burghley and Walsingham were eager to launch England into a war with the most powerful monarchy in Europe.
The massacre of St. Bartholomew (24 August) was a rude awakening from these dreams. That thunderclap did not show that, in signing the treaty with England and in proposing an attack on Philip, the French Government had been playing a treacherous game all along, in order to lure the Huguenots to the shambles. But it did show that when the Catholic sentiment in France was thoroughly roused, the dynasty itself must bend before it or be swept away. England might help the Huguenots to keep up a desultory and harassing civil war; she could no more enable them to control the policy of the French nation and wield its force, than she could at the present day restore the Bourbons or Bonapartes.
The first idea of Elizabeth and her ministers, on receiving the news of the massacre, naturally was that the French Government had been playing them false from the first, that the Catholic League for the extirpation of heresy in Europe, which had been so much talked of since the Bayonne interview in 1565, was after all a reality, and that England might expect an attack from the combined forces of Spain and France. Thanks to the prudent policy of Elizabeth, England was in a far better position to meet all dangers than she had been in 1565. The fleet was brought round to the Downs. The coast was guarded by militia. An expedition was organised to co-operate with the Dutch insurgents. Money was sent to the Prince of Orange. Huguenot refugees were allowed to fit out a flotilla to assist their co-religionists in Rochelle. The Scotch Regent Mar was informed, with great secrecy, that if he would demand the extradition of Mary, and undertake to punish her capitally for her husband’s murder, she should be given up to him.
A few weeks sufficed to show that there was no reason for panic. Confidence, indeed, between the French and English Governments had been severely shaken. Each stood suspiciously on its guard. But the alliance was too well grounded in the interests of both parties to be lightly cast aside. The French ambassador was instructed to excuse and deplore the massacre as best he could, and to press on the Alençon marriage. Elizabeth, dressed in deep mourning, gave him a stiff reception, but let him see her desire to maintain the alliance. The massacre did not restore the ascendancy of the Guises. To the Huguenots, as religious reformers, it gave a blow from which they did not recover. But as a political faction they were not crushed. Nay, their very weakness became their salvation, since it compelled them to fall into the second rank behind the Politiques, the true party of progress, who were before long to find a victorious leader in Henry of Navarre.
Philip, for his part, was equally far from any thought of a crusade against England. Sir Humphrey Gilbert, commanding several companies of English volunteers, with the hardly concealed sanction of his government, was fighting against the Spaniards in Walcheren and hanging all his prisoners. Sir John Hawkins, with twenty ships, had sailed to intercept the Mexican treasure fleet. Yet Alva, though gnashing his teeth, was obliged to advise his master to swallow it all, and to be thankful if he could get Elizabeth to reopen commercial intercourse, which had been prohibited on both sides since the quarrel about the Genoese treasure. A treaty for this purpose was in fact concluded early in 1573. Thus the chief result of the Bartholomew Massacre, as far as Elizabeth was concerned, was to show how strong her position was, and that she had no need either to truckle to Catholics or let her hand be forced by Protestants. A balance of power on the Continent was what suited her, as it has generally suited this country. Let her critics say what they will, it was no business of hers to organise a Protestant league, and so drive the Catholic sovereigns to sink their mutual jealousies and combine against the common enemy.
The Scotch Regent was quite ready to undertake the punishment of Mary, but only on condition that Elizabeth would send the Earl of Bedford or the Earl of Huntingdon with an army to be present at the execution and to take Edinburgh Castle. It need hardly be said that there was also a demand for money. Mar died during the negotiations, but they were continued by his successor Morton. Elizabeth was determined to give no open consent to Mary’s execution. She meant, no doubt, as soon as it should be over, to protest, as she did fifteen years afterwards, that there had been an unfortunate mistake, and to lay the blame of it on the Scotch Government and her own agents. This part of the negotiation therefore came to nothing. But money was sent to Morton, which enabled him to establish a blockade of Edinburgh Castle, and by the mediation of Elizabeth’s ambassador, the Hamiltons, Gordons, and all the other Marians except those in the Castle, accepted the very favourable terms offered them, and recognised James.
All that remained was to reduce the Castle. Its defenders numbered less than two hundred men. The city and the surrounding country were–as far as preaching and praying went–vehemently anti-Marian. The Regent had now no other military task on his hands. Elizabeth might well complain when she was told that unless she sent an army and paid the Scotch Protestants to co-operate with it, the Castle could not be taken. For some time she resisted this thoroughly Scotch demand. But at last she yielded to Morton’s importunity. Sir William Drury marched in from Berwick, did the job, and marched back again (May 1573). Among the captives were the brilliant Maitland of Lethington, once the most active of Anglophiles, and Kirkaldy of Grange, who had begun the Scottish Reformation by the murder of Cardinal Beaton, and had taken Mary prisoner at Carberry Hill. A politician who did not turn his coat at least once in his life was a rare bird in Scotland. Maitland died a few days after his capture, probably by his own hand. Kirkaldy was hanged by his old friend Morton.
By taking Edinburgh Castle Elizabeth did not earn any gratitude from the party who had called her in. What they wanted, and always would want, was money. Morton himself, treading in the steps of his old leader Moray, remained an unswerving Anglophile. But his coadjutors told the English ambassador plainly that, if they could not get money from England, they could and would earn it from France. Elizabeth’s councillors were always teasing her to comply with these impudent demands. If there had been a grown-up King on the throne, a man with a will of his own, and whose right to govern could not be contested, it might have been worth while to secure his good-will by a pension; and this was what Elizabeth did when James became real ruler of the country. But she did not believe in paying a clique of greedy lords to call themselves the English party. An English party there was sure to be, if only because there was a French party. Their services would be neither greater nor smaller whether they were paid or unpaid. The French poured money into Scotland, and were worse served than Elizabeth, who kept her money in her treasury. It was no fault of Elizabeth if the conditions of political life in Scotland during the King’s minority were such that a firmly established government was in the nature of things impossible.
As Mary was kept in strict seclusion during the panic that followed on the Bartholomew Massacre, she did not know how narrow was her escape from a shameful death on a Scottish scaffold. When the panic subsided she was allowed to resume her former manner of life as the honoured guest of Lord Shrewsbury, with full opportunities for communication with all her friends at home and abroad. Any alarm she had felt speedily disappeared. If Elizabeth had for a moment contemplated striking at her life or title by parliamentary procedure, that intention was evidently abandoned when the Parliament of 1572 was prorogued without any such measure becoming law. The public assumed, and rightly, that Elizabeth still regarded the Scottish Queen as her successor. Peter Wentworth in the next session (1576) asserted, and probably with truth, that many who had been loud in their demands for severity repented of their forwardness when they found that Mary might yet be their Queen, and tried to make their peace with her. Wentworth’s outburst (for which he was sent to the Tower) was the only demonstration against Mary in that session. She told the Archbishop of Glasgow that her prospects had never been better, and when opportunities for secret escape were offered her she declined to use them, thinking that it was for her interest to remain in England.
The desire of the English Queen to reinstate her rival arose principally from an uneasy consciousness that, by detaining her in custody, she was fatally impairing that religious respect for sovereigns which was the main, if not the only, basis of their power. The scaffold of Fotheringay was, in truth, the prelude to the scaffold of Whitehall. But as year succeeded year, and Elizabeth became habituated to the situation which had at first given her such qualms, she could not shut her eyes to the fact that, troublesome and even dangerous as Mary’s presence in England was, the trouble and the danger had been very much greater when she was seated on the Scottish throne. The seething caldron of Scotch politics had not, indeed, become a negligible quantity. It required watching. But experience had shown that, while the King was a child, the Scots were neither valuable as friends nor formidable as foes. This was a truth quite as well understood at Paris and Madrid as at London, though the French, no less keen in those days than they are now to maintain that shadowy thing called “legitimate French influence” in countries with which they had any historical connection, continued to intrigue and waste their money among the hungry Scotch nobles. It was a fixed principle with Elizabeth, as with all English statesmen, not to tolerate the presence of foreign troops in Scotland. But she believed–and her belief was justified by events-that a French expedition was not the easy matter it had been when Mary of Guise was Regent of Scotland and Mary Tudor Queen of England. And, more important still, in spite of much treachery and distrust, the French and English Governments were bound together by a treaty which was equally necessary to each of them. Scotland, therefore, was no longer such a cause of anxiety to Elizabeth as it had been during the first ten years of her reign. Her ministers had neither her coolness nor her insight. Yet modern historians, proud of having unearthed their croaking criticisms, ask us to judge Elizabeth’s policy by prognostications which turned out to be false rather than by the known results which so brilliantly justified it.
How to deal with the Netherlands was a much more complicated and difficult problem. Here again Elizabeth’s ministers were for carrying matters with a high hand. In their view, England was in constant danger of a Spanish invasion, which could only be averted by openly and vigorously supporting the revolted provinces. They would have had Elizabeth place herself at the head of a Protestant league, and dare the worst that Philip could do. She, on the other hand, believed that every year war could be delayed was so much
gained for England. There were many ways in which she could aid the Netherlands without openly challenging Philip. A curious theory of international relations prevailed in those days–an English Prime Minister, by the way, found it convenient not long ago to revive it–according to which, to carry on warlike operations against another country was a very different thing from going to war with that country. Of this theory Elizabeth largely availed herself. English generals were not only allowed, but encouraged, to raise regiments of volunteers to serve in the Low Countries. When there, they reported to the English Government, and received instructions from it with hardly a pretence of concealment. Money was openly furnished to the Prince of Orange. English fleets-also nominally of volunteers–were encouraged to prey on Spanish commerce, Elizabeth herself subscribing to their outfit and sharing in the booty.
We are not to suppose, because the revolt of the Netherlands crippled Philip for any attack on England, that Elizabeth welcomed it, or that she contemplated the prolongation of the struggle with cold-blooded satisfaction. Its immediate advantage to this country was obvious. But Elizabeth had a sincere abhorrence of war and disorder. She was equally provoked with Philip for persecuting the Dutch Protestants into rebellion, and with the Dutch for insisting on religious concessions which Philip could not be expected to grant, and which she herself was not granting to Catholics in England. At any time during the struggle, if Philip would have guaranteed liberty of conscience (as distinguished from liberty of public worship), the restoration of the old charters, and the removal of the Spanish troops, Elizabeth would not only have withheld all help from the Dutch, but would have put pressure on them to submit to Philip. The presence of Spanish veterans opposite the mouth of the Thames was a standing menace to England. “As they are there,” argued Burghley, we must help the Dutch to keep them employed. “If the Dutch were not such impracticable fanatics,” rejoined Elizabeth, “the Spanish veterans need not be there at all.”
The “Pacification of Ghent” (November 1576), by which the Belgian Netherlands, for a short time, made common cause with Holland and Zealand, relieved Elizabeth, for a time, from the necessity of taking any decisive step. Philip was still recognised as sovereign, but he was required to be content with such powers as the old constitution gave him. It seemed likely that Catholic bigots would have to give up persecuting, and Protestant bigots to acquiesce in the official establishment of the old religion. This was precisely the settlement Elizabeth had always desired. It would get rid of the Spanish troops. It would keep out the French. It would relieve her from the necessity of interfering. If it put some restriction on the open profession of Calvinism she would not be sorry.
If this arrangement could have been carried out, would it in the long-run have been for the benefit of Europe? Those who hold that the conflict between Protestantism and Catholicism was simply a conflict between truth and falsehood will, of course, have no difficulty in giving their answer. Others may hold that freedom of conscience was all that was needed at the time, and they may picture the many advantages which Europe would have reaped during the last three centuries from the existence of a united Netherlands, independent, as it must soon have become, of Spain, and able to make its independence respected by its neighbours.
Short-lived as the coalition was destined to be, it secured for the Dutch a breathing-time when they were most sorely pressed, and enabled Elizabeth to avoid quarrelling with Spain. The first step of the newly allied States was to apply to her for assistance and a loan of money. The loan they obtained-£40,000–a very large sum in those days. But she earnestly advised them that if the new Governor, Don John of Austria, would accept the Pacification, they should use the money to pay the arrears of the Spanish troops; otherwise they would refuse to leave the country for Don John or any one else. This was done. Don John had treachery in his heart. But the departure of the Spaniards was a solid gain; and if the Protestants and Catholics of the Netherlands had been able to tolerate each other, they would have achieved the practical independence of their country, and achieved it by their own unaided efforts.
But Don John, the crusader, the victor of Lepanto, the half-brother of Philip, was a man of soaring ambition. His dream was to invade England, marry the Queen of Scots, and seat himself with her on the English throne. It was in vain that Philip, who never wavered in his desire to conciliate Elizabeth, and was jealous of his showy brother, had strictly enjoined him to leave England alone. He persisted in his design, and sent his confidant Escovedo to persuade Philip that to conquer the Netherlands it was necessary to begin by conquering England.
For a pair of determined enemies, Elizabeth and Philip were just now upon most amicable, not to say affectionate, terms. She knew well that he had incited assassins to take her life, and that nothing would at any time give him greater pleasure than to hear that one of them had succeeded. But she bore him no malice for that. She took it all in the way of business, and intended, for her part, to go on robbing and damaging him in every way she could short of going to war. Philip bore it all meekly. Alva himself insisted that he could not afford to quarrel with her. Diplomatic relations by means of resident ambassadors, which had been broken off by the expulsion of De Espes in 1571, were resumed; and English heretics in the prisons of the Inquisition were released in spite of the outcries of the Grand Inquisitor.
In the summer of 1557 it seemed as if Don John’s restless ambition would interrupt this pacific policy which suited both monarchs. He had sent for the Spanish troops again. He was known to be projecting an invasion of England. He was said to have a promise of help from Guise. Elizabeth’s ministers, as usual, believed that she was on the brink of ruin, and implored her to send armies both to the Netherlands and to France. But she refused to be hustled into any precipitate action, and reasons soon appeared for maintaining an expectant attitude. The treaty of Bergerac between Henry III. and Henry of Navarre (September 1557) showed once more that the French King had no intention of letting the Huguenots be crushed. The invitation of the Archduke Matthias by the Belgian nobles showed that they were deeply jealous of English interference. Here, surely, was matter for reflection. The most Elizabeth could be got to do was to become security for a loan of £100,000 to the States, on condition that Matthias should leave the real direction of affairs to William of Orange, and to promise armed assistance (January 1578). At the same time she informed Philip that she was obliged to do this for her own safety; that she had no desire to contest his sovereignty of the Netherlands; on the contrary, she would help him to maintain it if he would govern reasonably; but he ought to remove Don John, who was her mortal enemy, and to appoint another Governor of his own family; in other words, Matthias. Her policy could not have been more candidly set forth, and Philip showed his disapproval of Don John’s designs in a characteristic way–by causing Escovedo to be assassinated. Don John himself died in the autumn, of a fever brought on by disappointment, or, as some thought, of a complaint similar to Escovedo’s (September 1578).
When Elizabeth feared that Don John’s scheme was countenanced by his brother, she had risked an open rupture by promising to send an army to the Netherlands. The murder of Escovedo and the arrival of the Spanish ambassador Mendoza (March 1578) reassured her. Philip was evidently pacific to the point of tameness. Instead, therefore, of sending an English army, she preferred to pay John Casimir, the Count Palatine, to lead a German army to the assistance of the States. As far as military strength went, they were probably no losers by the change. But what they wanted was to see Elizabeth committed to open war with Philip, and that was just what she desired to avoid. Indirect and underhand blows she was prepared to deal him, for she knew by experience that he would put up with them. Thus in the preceding autumn she had despatched Drake on his famous expedition to the South Pacific.
Don John was succeeded by his nephew, Alexander of Parma. The fine prospects of the revolted provinces were now about to be dashed. In the arts which smooth over difficulties and conciliate opposition, Parma had few equals. He was a head and shoulders above all contemporary generals; and no soldiers of that time were comparable to his Spanish and Italian veterans. When he assumed the command, he was master of only a small corner of the Low Countries. What he effected is represented by their present division between Belgians and Dutch. The struggle in the Netherlands continued, therefore, to be the principal object of Elizabeth’s attention.
Shortly before the death of Don John, the Duke of Alençon, (1) brother and heir-presumptive of Henry III. had been invited by the Belgian nobles to become their Protector, and Orange, in his anxiety for union, had accepted their nominee. Alençon was to furnish 12,000 French troops. It was hoped and believed that, though Henry had ostensibly disapproved of his brother’s action, he would in the end give him open support, thus resuming the enterprise which had been interrupted six years before by the Bartholomew Massacre.
Now, how was Elizabeth to deal with this new combination? The Protectorship of Alençon might bring on annexation to France, the result which most of all she wished to avoid. For a moment she thought of offering her own protection (which Orange would have much preferred), and an army equal to that promised by Alençon. But upon further reflection, she determined to adhere to the policy of not throwing down the glove to Philip, and to try whether she could not put Alençon in harness, and make him do her work. One means of effecting this would be to allow him subsidies–the means employed on such a vast scale by Pitt in our wars with Napoleon. But Elizabeth intended to spend as little as possible in this way. She relied chiefly on a revival of the marriage comedy–now to be played positively for the last time; the lady being forty-five, and her wooer twenty-four.
A dignified policy it certainly was not. All that was ridiculous and repulsive in her coquetry with Henry had now to be repeated and outdone with his younger brother. To overcome the incredulity which her previous performances had produced, she was obliged to exaggerate her protestations, to admit a personal courtship, to simulate amorous emotion, and to go through a tender pantomime of kisses and caresses. But Elizabeth never let dignity stand in the way of business. What to most women would have been an insupportable humiliation did not cost her a pang. She even found amusement in it. From the nature of the case, she could not take one of her counsellors into her confidence. There was no chance of imposing upon foreigners unless she could persuade those about her that she was in earnest. They were amazed that she should run the risk of establishing the French in the Netherlands. She had no intention of doing so. When Philip should be brought so low as to be willing to concede a constitutional government, she could always throw her weight on his side and get rid of the French.
The match with Alençon had been proposed six years before. It had lately slumbered. But there was no difficulty in whistling him back, and making it appear that the renewed overture came from his side. After tedious negotiations, protracted over twelve months, he at length paid his first visit to Elizabeth ( August 1579). He was an under-sized man with an over-sized head, villainously ugly, with a face deeply seamed by smallpox, a nose ending in a knob that made it look like two noses, and a croaking voice. Elizabeth’s liking for big handsome men is well known. But as she had not the least intention of marrying Alençon, it cost her nothing to affirm that she was charmed with his appearance, and that he was just the sort of man she could fancy for a husband. The only agreeable thing about him was his conversation, in which he shone, so that people who did not thoroughly know him always at first gave him credit for more ability than he possessed. Elizabeth, who had a pet name for all favourites, dubbed him her “frog”; and “Grenouille” he was fain to subscribe himself in his love-letters. This first visit was a short one, and he went away hopeful of success.
The English people could only judge by appearances, and for the first time in her reign Elizabeth was unpopular. The Puritan Stubbs published his Discovery of a Gaping Gulf wherein England is like to be swallowed by another French Marriage. But the excitement was by no means confined to the Puritans. Hatred of Frenchmen long remained a ruling sentiment with most Englishmen. Elizabeth vented her rage on Stubbs, who had been so rude as to tell her that childbirth at her age would endanger her life. He was sentenced to have his hand cut off. “I remember,” says Camden, “being then present, that Stubbs, after his right hand was cut off, put off his hat with his left, and said with a loud voice, ‘God save the Queen.’ The multitude standing about was deeply silent.”
Not long after Alençon’s visit, a treaty of marriage was signed (November 1579), with a proviso that two months should be allowed for the Queen’s subjects to become reconciled to it. If, at the end of that time, Elizabeth did not ratify the treaty, it was to be null and void. The appointed time came and went without ratification. Burghley, as usual, predicted that the jilted suitor would become a deadly enemy, and drew an alarming picture of the dangers that threatened England, with the old exhortation to his mistress to form a Protestant league and subsidise the Scotch Anglophiles. But in 1572 she had slipped out of the Anjou marriage, and yet secured a French alliance. She confided in her ability to play the same game now. Though she had not ratified the marriage treaty, she continued to correspond with Alençon and keep up his hopes, urging him at the same time to lead an army to the help of the States. This, however, he was unwilling to do till he had secured the marriage. The French King was ready, and even eager, to back his brother. But he, too, insisted on the marriage, and that Elizabeth should openly join him in war against Spain.
In the summer of 1580, Philip conquered Portugal, thus not only rounding off his Peninsular realm, but acquiring the enormous transmarine dominions of the Portuguese crown. All Europe was profoundly impressed and alarmed by this apparent increase of his power. Elizabeth incessantly lectured Henry on the necessity of abating a preponderance so dangerous to all other States, and tried to convince him that it was specially incumbent on France to undertake the enterprise. But she preached in vain. Henry steadily refused to stir unless England would openly assist him with troops and money, of which the marriage was to be the pledge. He did not conceal his suspicion that, when Elizabeth had pushed him into war, she would “draw her neck out of the collar” and leave him to bear the whole danger.
This was, in fact, her intention. She believed that a war with France would soon compel Philip to make proper concessions to the States; whereupon she would interpose and dictate a peace. “Marry my brother,” Henry kept saying, “and then I shall have security that you will bear your fair share of the fighting, and expenses.” “If I am to go to war,” argued Elizabeth, “I cannot marry your brother; for my subjects will say that I am dragged into it by my husband, and they will grudge the expense. Suppose, instead of a marriage, we have an alliance not binding me to open war; then I will furnish you with money underhand. You know you have got to fight. You cannot afford to let Philip go on increasing his power.”
Henry remained doggedly firm. No marriage, no war. At last, finding she could not stir him, Elizabeth again concluded a treaty of marriage, but with the extraordinary proviso that six weeks should be left for private explanations by letter between herself and Alençon. It soon appeared what this meant. In these six weeks Elizabeth furnished her suitor with money, and incited him to make a sudden attack on Parma, who was then besieging Cambray, close to the French frontier. Alençon, thinking himself now sure of the marriage, collected 15,000 men; and Henry, though not openly assisting him, no longer prohibited the enterprise. But, as soon as Elizabeth thought they were sufficiently committed, she gave them to understand that the marriage must be again deferred, that her subjects were discontented, that she could only join in a defensive alliance, but that she would furnish money “in reasonable sort” underhand.
All this is very unscrupulous, very shameless, even for that shameless age. Hardened liars like Henry and Alençon thought it too bad. They were ready for violence as well as fraud, and availed themselves of whichever method came handiest. Elizabeth also used the weapon which nature had given her. Being constitutionally averse from any but peaceful methods, she made up for it by a double dose of fraud. Dente lupus, cornu taurus. It would have been useless for a mate statesman to try to pass himself off as a fickle impulsive, susceptible being, swayed from one moment to another in his political schemes by passions and weaknesses that are thought natural in the other sex. This was Elizabeth’s advantage, and she made the most of it. She was a masculine woman simulating, when it suited her purpose, a feminine character. The men against whom she was matched were never sure whether they were dealing with a crafty and determined politician, or a vain, flighty, amorous woman. This uncertainty was constantly putting them out in their calculations. Alençon would never have been so taken in if he had not told himself that any folly might be expected from an elderly woman enamoured of a young man.
On this occasion Elizabeth scored, if not the full success she had hoped from her audacious mystification, yet no inconsiderable portion of it. Henry managed to draw back just in time, and was not let in for a big war. But Alençon, at the head of 15,000 men, and close to Cambray, could not for very shame beat a retreat. Parma retired at his approach, and the French army entered Cambray in triumph (August 1581). Alençon therefore had been put in harness to some purpose.
Though Henry III. had good reason to complain of the way he had been treated, he did not make it a quarrel with Elizabeth. His interests, as she saw all along, were too closely bound up with hers to permit him to think of such a thing. On the contrary, he renewed the alliance of 1572 in an ampler form, though it still remained strictly defensive. Alençon, after relieving and victualling Cambray, disbanded his army, and went over to England again to press for the marriage (November 1581). Thither he was followed by ambassadors from the States. By the advice of Orange they had resolved to take him as their sovereign, and they were now urgently pressing him to return to the Netherlands to be installed. Elizabeth added her pressure; but he was unwilling to leave England until he should have secured the marriage. For three months (November 1581 to February 1582) did Elizabeth try every art to make him accept promise for performance. She was thoroughly in her element. To win her game in this way, not by the brutal arbitrament of war, or even by the ordinary tricks of vicarious diplomacy, but by artifices personally executed, feats of cajolery that might seem improbable on the stage,–this was delightful in the highest degree. The more distrustful Alençon showed himself, the keener was the pleasure of handling him. One day he is hidden behind a curtain to view her elegant dancing; not, surely, that he might be smitten with it, but that he might think she desired him to be smitten. Another day she kisses him on the lips (en la boca) in the presence of the French ambassador. She gives him a ring. She presents him to her household as their future master. She orders the Bishop of Lincoln to draw up a marriage service. It is a repulsive spectacle; but, after all, we are not so much disgusted with the elderly woman who pretends to be willing to marry the young man, as with the young man who is really willing to marry the elderly woman. Unfortunately for Elizabeth, her acting was so realistic that it not only took in contemporaries, but has persuaded many modern writers that she was really influenced by a degrading passion.
Henry III. himself was at last induced to believe that Elizabeth was this time in earnest. But he could not be driven from his determination to risk nothing till he saw the marriage actually concluded. Pinart, the French Secretary of State, was accordingly sent over to settle the terms. Elizabeth demanded one concession after another, and finally asked for the restitution of Calais. There was no mistaking what this meant. Pinart, in the King’s name, formally forbade Alençon to proceed to the Netherlands except as a married man, and tried to intimidate Elizabeth by threatening that his master would ally himself with Philip. But she laughed at him, and told him that she could have the Spanish alliance whenever she chose, which was perfectly true. Alençon himself gave way. He felt that he was being played with. He had come over here, with a fatuilé not uncommon among young Frenchmen, expecting to bend a love-sick Queen to serve his political designs. He found himself, to his intense mortification, bent to serve hers. Ashamed to show his face in France without either his Belgian dominions or his English wife, he was fain to accept Elizabeth’s solemn promise that she would marry him as soon as she could, and allowed himself to be shipped off under the escort of an English fleet to the Netherlands (February 1582).
According to Mr. Froude, “the Prince of Orange intimated that Alençon was accepted by the States only as a pledge that England would support them; if England failed them, they would not trust their fortunes to so vain an idiot.” This statement appears to be drawn from the second-band tattle of Mendoza, and is probably, like much else from that source, unworthy of credit. But whether Orange sent such an “intimation” or not, it cannot be allowed to weigh against the ample evidence that Alençon was accepted by him and by the States mainly for the sake of the French forces he could raise on his own account, and the assistance which he undertook to procure from his brother. Neither Orange nor any one else regarded him as an idiot. Orange had not been led to expect that he would bring any help from England except money supplied underhand; and money Elizabeth did furnish in very considerable quantities. But the Netherlanders now expected everything to be done for them, and were backward with their contributions both in men and money. Clearly there is something to be said for the let-alone policy to which Elizabeth usually leant.
The States intended Alençon’s sovereignty to be of the strictly constitutional kind, such as it had been before the encroachments of Philip and his father. This did not suit the young Frenchman, and at the beginning of 1583 he attempted a coup d’état, not without encouragement from some of the Belgian Catholics. At Antwerp his French troops were defeated with great bloodshed by the citizens, and the general voice of the country was for sending him about his business. But both Elizabeth and Orange, though disconcerted and disgusted by his treachery, still saw nothing better to be done than to patch up the breach and retain his services. Both of them urged this course on the States–Orange with his usual dignified frankness; Elizabeth in the crooked, blustering fashion which has brought upon her policy, in so many instances, reproach which it does not really deserve. Norris, the commander of the English volunteers, had discountenanced the coup-d’état and taken his orders from the States. Openly Elizabeth reprimanded him, and ordered him to bring his men back to England. Secretly she told him he had done well, and bade him remain where he was. Norris was in fact there to protect the interests of England quite as much against the French as against Spain. There is not the least ground for the assertion that in promoting a reconciliation with Alençon, Orange acted under pressure from Elizabeth. Everything goes to show that he, the wisest and noblest statesman of his time, thought it the only course open to the States, unless they were prepared to submit to Philip. Both Elizabeth and Orange felt that the first necessity was to keep the quarrel alive between the Frenchman and the Spaniard. The English Queen therefore continued to feed Alençon with hopes of marriage, and the States patched up a reconciliation with him (March 1583). But his heart failed him. He saw Parma taking town after town. He knew that he had made himself odious to the Netherlanders. He was covered with shame. He was fatally stricken with consumption. In June 1583 he left Belgium never to return. Within a twelvemonth he was dead.
Notes: 1. He had received the Duchy of Anjou in addition to that of Alençon, and some historians call him by the former title.
From Queen Elizabeth by Edward Spencer Beesly. Published in London by Macmillan and Co., 1892.
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Link will appear as Hanson, Marilee. "Queen Elizabeth by Edward Spencer Beesly, 1892 – Chapter VI" https://englishhistory.net/tudor/queen-elizabeth-edward-spencer-beesly-1892-chapter-vi/, March 2, 2015