THE PAPAL ATTACK: 1570-1583
SOVEREIGNS and statesmen in the sixteenth century are to be honoured or condemned according to the degree in which they aimed on the one hand at preserving political order, and on the other at allowing freedom of opinion. It was not always easy to reconcile these two aims. The first was a temporary necessity, and yet was the more urgent–as indeed is always the case with the tasks of the–statesman. He is responsible for the present; it is not for him to attempt to provide for a remote future. Political order and the material well-being of nations may be disastrously impaired by the imprudence or weakness of a ruler. Thought, after all, may be trusted to take care of itself in the long-run.
To the modern Liberal, with his doctrine of absolute religious equality, toleration seems an insult, and anything short of toleration is regarded as persecution. In the sixteenth century the most advanced statesmen did not see their way to proclaim freedom of public worship and of religious discussion. It was much if they tolerated freedom of opinion, and connived at a quiet, private propagation of other religions than those established by law. It would be wrong to condemn and despise them as actuated by superstition and narrow-minded prejudice. Their motives were mainly political, and it is reasonable to suppose that they knew better than we do whether a larger toleration was compatible with public order.
We have seen that under the Act of Supremacy, in the first year of Elizabeth, the oath was only tendered to persons holding office, spiritual or temporal, under the crown, and that the penalty for refusing it was only deprivation. But in her fifth year (1563), it was enacted that the oath might be tendered to members of the House of Commons, schoolmasters, and attorneys, who, if they refused it, might be punished by forfeiture of property and perpetual imprisonment. To those who had held any ecclesiastical office, or who should openly disapprove of the established worship, or celebrate or hear mass, the oath might be tendered a second time, with the penalties of high treason for refusal.
That this law authorised an atrocious persecution cannot be disputed, and there is no doubt that many zealous Protestants wished it to be enforced. But the practical question is, Was it enforced? The government wished to be armed with the power of using it, and for the purpose of expelling Catholics from offices it was extensively used. But no one was at this time visited with the severer penalties, the bishops having been privately forbidden to tender the oath a second time to any one without special instructions.
The Act of Uniformity, passed in the first year of Elizabeth, prohibited the use of any but the established liturgy, whether in public or private, under pain of perpetual imprisonment for the third offence, and imposed a fine of one shilling on recusants–that is, upon persons who absented themselves from church on Sundays and holidays. To what extent Catholics were interfered with under this Act has been a matter of much dispute. Most of them, during the first eleven years of Elizabeth, either from ignorance or worldliness, treated the Anglican service as equivalent to the Catholic, and made no difficulty about attending church, even after this compliance with the law had been forbidden by Pius IV in the sixth year of Elizabeth. Only the more scrupulous absented themselves, and called in the ministrations of the “old priests,” who with more or less secrecy said mass in private houses. Some of these offenders were certainly punished before Elizabeth had been two years on the throne. The enforcement of laws was by no means so uniform in those days as it is now. Much depended on the leanings of the noblemen and justices of the peace in different localities. Both from disposition and policy Elizabeth desired, as a general rule, to connive at Catholic nonconformity when it did not take an aggressive and fanatical form. But she had no scruple about applying the penalties of these Acts to individuals who for any reason, religious or political, were specially obnoxious to her.
So things went on till the northern insurrection: the laws authorising a searching and sanguinary persecution; the Government, much to the disgust of zealous Protestants, declining to put those laws in execution. Judged by modern ideas, the position of the Catholics was intolerable; but if measured by the principles of government then universally accepted, or if compared with the treatment of persons ever so slightly suspected of heresy in countries cursed with the Inquisition, it was not a position of which they had any great reason to complain; nor did the large majority of them complain.
Pope Pius IV (1559-1566) was comparatively cautious and circumspect in his attitude towards Elizabeth. But his successor Pius V (1566-1572), having made up his mind that her destruction was the one thing necessary for the defeat of heresy in Europe, strove to stir up against her rebellion at home and invasion from abroad. A bull deposing her, and absolving her subjects from their allegiance, was drawn up. But while Pius, conscious of the offence which it would give to all the sovereigns of Europe, delayed to issue it, the northern rebellion flared up and was trampled out. The absence of such a bull was by many Catholics made an excuse for holding aloof from the rebel earls. When it was too late the bull was issued (February 1570). Philip and Charles IX–sovereigns first and Catholics afterwards–refused to let it be published in their dominions.
After the northern insurrection the Queen issued a remarkable appeal to her people, which was ordered to be placarded in every parish, and read in every church. She could point with honest pride to eleven years of such peace abroad and tranquillity at home as no living Englishman could remember. Her economy had enabled her to conduct the government without any of the illegal exactions to which former sovereigns had resorted. “She had never sought the life, the blood, the goods, the houses, estates or lands of any person in her dominions.” This happy state of things the rebels had tried to disturb on pretext of religion. They had no real grievance on that score. Attendance at parish church was indeed obligatory by law, though, she might have added, it was very loosely enforced. But she disclaimed any wish to pry into opinions, or to inquire in what sense any one understood rites or ceremonies. In other words, the language of the communion service was not incompatible with the doctrine of transubstantiation, and loyal Catholics were at liberty, were almost invited, to interpret it in that sense if they liked.
This compromise between their religious and political obligations had in fact been hitherto adopted by the large majority of English Catholics. But a time was come when it was to be no longer possible for them. They were summoned to make their choice between their duty as citizens and their duty as Catholics. The summons had come, not from the Queen, but from the Pope, and it is not strange that they had thenceforth a harder time of it. Many of them, indignant with the Pope for bringing trouble upon them, gave up the struggle and conformed to the Established Church. The temper of the rest became more bitter and dangerous. The Puritan Parliament of 1571 passed a bill to compel all persons not only to attend church, but to receive the communion twice a year; and another making formal reconciliation to the Church of Rome high treason both for the convert and the priest who should receive him. Here we have the persecuting spirit, which was as inherent in the zealous Protestant as in the zealous Catholic. Attempts to excuse such legislation, as prompted by political reasons, can only move the disgust of every honest-minded man. The first of these bills did not receive the royal assent, though Cecil–just made Lord Burghley–had strenuously pushed it through the Upper House. Elizabeth probably saw that its only effect would be to enable the Protestant zealots in every parish to enjoy the luxury of harassing their quiet Catholic neighbours, who attended church but would scruple to take the sacrament.
The Protestant spirit of this House of Commons showed itself not only in laws for strengthening the Government and persecuting the Catholics, but in attempts to puritanise the Prayer-book, which much displeased the Queen. Strickland, one of the Puritan leaders, was forbidden to attend the House. But such was the irritation caused by this invasion of its privileges, that the prohibition was removed after one day. It was in this session of Parliament that the doctrines of the Church of England were finally determined by the imposition on the clergy of the Thirty-nine Articles, which, as every one knows, are much more Protestant than the Prayer-book. Till then they had only had the sanction of Convocation.
During the first forty years or so, from the beginning of the Reformation, Protestantism spread in most parts of Europe with great rapidity. It was not merely an intellectual revolt against doctrines no longer credible. The numbers of the reformers were swelled, and their force intensified by the flocking in of pious souls, athirst for personal holiness, and of many others who, without being high-wrought enthusiasts, were by nature disposed to value whatever seemed to make for a purer morality. The religion which had nurtured Bernard and À Kempis was deserted, not merely as being untrue, but as incompatible with the highest spiritual life–nay, as positively corrupting to society. This imagination, of course, had but a short day. The return to the Bible and the doctrines of primitive Christianity, the deliverance from “the Bishop of Rome and his detestable enormities,” were not found to be followed by any general improvement of morals in Protestant countries. He that was unjust was unjust still; he that was filthy was filthy still. The repulsive contrast too often seen between sanctimonious professions and unscrupulous conduct contributed to the disenchantment.
In the meanwhile a great regeneration was going on within the Catholic Church itself. Signs of this can be detected quite as early as the first rise of Protestantism. It is, therefore, not to be attributed to Protestant teaching and example, though doubtless the rivalry of the younger religion stimulated the best energies of the older. No long time elapsed before this regeneration had worked its way to the highest places in the Church. The Popes by whom Elizabeth was confronted were all men of pure lives and single-hearted devotion to the Catholic cause.
The last two years of the Council of Trent (1562-3) were the starting-point of the modern Catholic Church. Many proposals had been made for compromise with Protestantism. But the Fathers of Trent saw that the only chance of survival for a Church claiming to be Catholic was to remain on the old lines. By the canons and decrees of the Council, ratified by Pius IV., the old doctrines and discipline were confirmed and definitely formulated. One branch indeed of the Papal power was irretrievably gone. Royal authority had become absolute, and the kings, including Philip II., refused to tolerate any interference with it. The Papacy had to acquiesce in the loss of its power over sovereigns. But as regards the bishops and clergy, and things strictly appertaining to religion, its spiritual autocracy, which the great councils of the last century had aimed at breaking, was re-established, and has continued. The new situation, though it seemed to place the Popes on a humbler footing than in the days of Gregory VII. or Innocent III., was a healthy one. It confined them to their spiritual domain, and drove them to make the best of it.
Until the decrees of the Council of Trent, the split between Protestants and Catholics was not definitely and irrevocably decided. Many on both sides had shrunk from admitting it. The Catholic world might seem to be narrowed by the defection of the Protestant States. But all the more clearly did it appear that a Church claiming to be universal is not concerned with political boundaries. The resistance to the spread of heresy had hitherto consisted of many local struggles, in which the repressive measures had emanated from the orthodox sovereigns, and had therefore been fitful and unconnected. But not long after the Tridentine reorganisation, the Pope appears again as commander-in-chief of the Catholic forces, surveying and directing combined operations from one end of Europe to the other. Pius IV. had been with difficulty prevented by Philip from excommunicating Elizabeth. Pius V had launched his bull, as we have seen, a few months too late (1570); and even then it was not allowed to be published in either Spain or France. The life of that Pope was wasted in earnest remonstrances with the Catholic sovereigns for not executing the sentence of the Church against the heretic Queen. Gregory XIII, who succeeded him just before the Bartholomew Massacre, took the attack into his own hands. He was a warm patron of the Jesuits, who were especially devoted to the centralising system re-established at Trent. He and they had made up their minds that England was the key of the Protestant position; that until Elizabeth was removed no advance was to be hoped for anywhere.
The decline of a religion may be accompanied by a positive increase of earnestness and activity on the part of its remaining votaries, deluding them into a belief that they are but passing through, or have successfully passed through, a period of temporary depression and eclipse. Among the Catholics of the latter part of the sixteenth century there was all the enthusiasm of a religious revival. In no place did this show itself more than at Oxford. There the weak points of popular movements have never been allowed to pass without challenge, and what is really valuable or beautiful in time worn faiths has been sure of receiving fair-play and something more. The gloss of the Reformation was already worn off. The worldly and carnal were its supporters and directors. It no longer demanded enthusiasm and sacrifice. It walked in purple and fine linen. Young men of quick intellect and high aspirations who, a generation earlier, would have been captivated by its fair promise and have thrown themselves into its current, yielded now to the eternal spell of the older Church, cleansed as she was of her pollutions, and purged of her dross by the discipline of adversity.
The leader of these Oxford enthusiasts was a young fellow of Oriel, William Allen. In the third year of Elizabeth, at the age of twenty-eight, he resigned the Principalship of St. Mary Hall. The next eight years were spent partly abroad, partly in secret missionary work in England, carried on at the peril of his life. The old priests, who with more or less concealment and danger continued to exercise their office among the English Catholics, were gradually dying off. In order to train successors to them, Allen founded an English seminary at Douai (1568). To this important step it was mainly due that the Catholic religion did not become extinct in this country. In the first five years of its existence the college at Douai sent nearly a hundred priests to England.
It was the aim of Allen to put an end to the practical toleration allowed to Catholic laymen of the quieter sort. The Catholic who began by putting in the compulsory number of attendances at his parish church was likely to end by giving up his faith altogether. If he did not, his son would. Allen deliberately preferred a sweeping persecution–one that would make the position of Catholics intolerable, and ripen them for rebellion. He wanted martyrs. The ardent young men whom he trained at Douai and (after 1578) at Rheims, went back to their native land with the clear understanding that of all the services they could render to the Church the greatest would be to die under the hangman’s knife.
Gregory XIII hoped great things from Allen’s seminary, and furnished funds for its support. In 1579 Allen went to Rome, and enlisted the support of Mercurian, General of the Jesuits. Two English Jesuits, Robert Parsons and Edward Campion, exfellows of Balliol and St. John’s, were selected as missionaries. Campion was eight years younger than Allen. He had had a brilliant career at Oxford, being especially distinguished for his eloquence. He was at that time personally known to both Cecil and the Queen, and enjoyed their favour. He took deacon’s orders in 1568, but not long afterwards joined Allen at Douai, and formally abjured the Anglican Church. He had been six years a Jesuit when he was despatched on his dangerous mission to England.
Tired of waiting for the initiative of Philip, Gregory XIII. and the Jesuits had planned a threefold attack on Elizabeth in England, Scotland, and Ireland. In England a revivalist movement was to be carried on among the Catholics by the missionaries. Catholic writers have been at great pains to argue that this was a purely religious movement, prosecuted with the single object of saving souls. The Jesuits have always known their men and employed them with discrimination. Saving of souls was very likely the simple object of a man of Campion’s saintly and exalted nature. He himself declared that he had been strictly forbidden to meddle with worldly concerns or affairs of State, and nothing inconsistent with this declaration was proved against him at his trial. But without laying any stress on statements extracted from prisoners under torture, we cannot doubt that his employers aimed at re-establishing Catholicism in England by rebellion and foreign invasion. This was thoroughly understood by every missionary who crossed the sea; and if Campion never alluded to it even in his most familiar conversations he must have had an extraordinary control over his tongue.
The evidence that the assassination of the Queen was a recognised part of the Jesuit plan, determined by the master spirits and accepted by all the subordinate agents, is perhaps not quite conclusive. If proved, it would only show that they were not more scrupulous than most statesmen and politicians of the time. Lax as sixteenth century notions were about political murder, there were always some consciences more tender than others. It is likely enough that Campion personally disapproved of such projects, and that they were not thrust upon his attention. But he can hardly have avoided being aware that they were contemplated by the less squeamish of his brethren.
Campion and Parsons came to England in disguise in the summer of 1580. Their mission was not a success. It only served to show how much more securely Elizabeth was seated on her throne than in the earlier years of her reign. In his letters to Rome, Campion boasts of the welcome he met with everywhere, the crowds that attended his preaching, the ardour of the Catholics, and the disrepute into which Protestantism was falling. He had evidently worked himself up to such a state of ecstasy that he was living in a world of his own imagination, and was no competent witness of facts. He crept about England in various disguises, and when he was in districts where the nobles and gentry favoured the old religion, he preached with a publicity which seems extraordinary to us in these days when the laws are executed with prompt uniformity by means of railways, telegraphs, and a well-organised police. In the sixteenth century England had nothing that can be called an organised machinery for the prevention and detection of crime. If an outbreak occurred the Government collected militia, and trampled it out with an energy that took no account of law and feared no consequences. But in ordinary times it had to depend on the local justices of the peace and parish constables, and if they were remiss the laws were a dead letter. There were no newspapers. The high-roads were few and bad. One parish did not know what was going on in the next. Campion could be passed on from one gentleman’s house to another on horses quite as good as any officer of the Government rode, and could travel all over England without ever using a high-road or showing his face in a town. If he preached to a hundred people in some Lancashire village, Lord Derby did not want to know it, and before the news reached Burghley or Walsingham he would be in another county, or perhaps back in London–then, as now, the safest of all hiding-places. Thus, though a warrant was issued for his arrest as soon as he arrived in England, it was not till July in the next year (1581) that he was taken, after an unusually public and pro. tracted appearance in the neighbourhood of Oxford.
He had little or nothing to show for his twelve months’ tour, and this although the Government had, as Allen hoped, allowed itself to be provoked into an increase of severity which seems to have been quite unnecessary. The large majority of Catholic laymen would evidently have preferred that both Seminarists and Jesuits should keep away. They did not want civil war. They did not want to be persecuted. They were against a foreign invasion, without which they knew very well that Elizabeth could not be deposed. They were even loyal to her. They were content to wait till she should disappear in the course of nature and make room for the Queen of Scots. Mendoza writes to Philip that “they place themselves in the hands of God, and are willing to sacrifice life and all in the service, but scarcely with that burning zeal which they ought to show.”
By the bull of Pius V, Englishmen were forbidden to acknowledge Elizabeth as their Queen; in other words, they were ordered to expose themselves to the penalties of treason. If the Pope would be satisfied with nothing less than this, it was quite certain that he would alienate most of his followers in England. Gregory XIII therefore had authorised the Jesuits to explain that although the Protestants, by willingly acknowledging the Queen, were incurring the damnation pronounced by the bull, Catholics would be excused for unwillingly acknowledging her until some opportunity arrived for dethroning her. Protestant writers have exclaimed against this distinction as treacherous. It was perfectly reasonable. It represents, for instance, the attitude of every Alsatian who accords an unwilling recognition to the German Emperor. But the English Government intolerantly and unwisely made it the occasion for harassing the consciences of men who were most of them guiltless of any intention to rebel.
Amongst other persecuting laws passed early in 1581, was one which raised the fine for non-attendance at church to twenty pounds a month. Such a measure was calculated to excite much more wide-spread disaffection than the hanging of a few priests. It was not intended to be a brutum fulmen. The names of all recusants in each parish were returned to the Council. They amounted to about 50,000, and the fines exacted became a not inconsiderable item in the royal revenue. That number certainly formed but a small portion of the Catholic population. But if all the rest had been in the habit of going to church, contrary to the Pope’s express injunction, rather than pay a small fine, the Government ought to have seen that they were not the stuff of which rebels are made.
Campion, after being compelled by torture to disclose the names of his hosts in different counties, was called on to maintain the Catholic doctrines in a three days’ discussion before a large audience against four Protestant divines, who do not seem to have been ashamed of themselves. He was offered pardon if he would attend once in church. As he steadfastly refused, he was racked again till his limbs were dislocated. When he had partially recovered he was put on his trial, along with several of his companions, not under any of the recent anti-catholic laws but under the ordinary statute of Edward III., for “compassing and imagining the Queen’s death”–such a horror had the Burghleys and Walsinghams of anything like religious persecution! Being unable to hold up his hand to plead Not Guilty, “two of his companions raised it for him, first kissing the broken joints.” According to Mendoza (whom on other occasions we are invited to accept as a witness of truth), his nails had been torn from his fingers. Apart from his religious belief nothing treasonable was proved against him in deed or word. He acknowledged Elizabeth for his rightful sovereign, as the new interpretation of the papal bull permitted him to do, but he declined to give any opinion about the Pope’s right to depose princes. This was enough for the judge and jury, and he was found guilty. At the place of execution he was again offered his pardon if he would deny the papal right of deposition, or even hear a Protestant sermon. He wished the Queen a long and quiet reign and all prosperity, but more he would not say. At the quartering “a drop of blood spirted on the clothes of a youth named Henry Walpole, to whom it came as a divine command. Walpole, converted on the spot, became a Jesuit, and soon after met the same fate on the same spot.”
Mr. Froude’s comment is that “if it be lawful in defence of national independence to kill open enemies in war, it is more lawful to execute the secret conspirator who is teaching doctrines in the name of God which are certain to be fatal to it.” It would perhaps be enough to remark that this reasoning amply justifies some of the worst atrocities of the French Revolution. Hallam and Macaulay have condemned it by anticipation in language which will commend itself to all who are not swayed by religious, or, what is more offensive, anti-religious bigotry.
Cruel as the English criminal law was, and long remained, it never authorised the use of torture to extract confession. The rack in the Tower is said to have made its appearance, with other innovations of absolute government, in the reign of Edward IV But it seems to have been little used before the reign of Elizabeth, under whom it became the ordinary preliminary to a political trial. For this the chief blame must rest personally on Burghley. Opinions may differ as to his rank as a statesman, but no one will contest his eminent talents as a minister of police. In the former capacity he had sufficient sense of shame to publish a Pecksniffian apology for his employment of the rack. “None,” he says, “of those who were at any time put to the rack were asked, during their torture, any question as to points of doctrine, but merely concerning their plots and conspiracies, and the persons with whom they had dealings, and what was their own opinion as to the Pope’s right to deprive the Queen of her crown.” What was this but a point of doctrine? The wretched victim who conscientiously believed it (as all Christendom once did), but wished to save himself by silence, was driven either to tell a lie or to consign himself to rope and knife. “The Queen’s servants, the warders, whose office and act it is to handle the rack, were ever, by those that attended the examinations, specially charged to use it in so charitable a manner as such a thing might be.” It may be hoped that there are not many who would dissent from Hallam’s remark that “such miserable excuses serve only to mingle contempt with our detestation.” He adds: “It is due to Elizabeth to observe that she ordered the torture to be disused.” I do not know what authority there is for this statement. Three years later the Protestant Archbishop of Dublin was puzzled how to torture the Catholic Archbishop of Cashel, because there was no “rack or other engine” in Dublin. Walsingham, on being consulted, suggested that his feet might be toasted against the fire, which was accordingly done. Some of the Anglican bishops, as might be expected from fanatics, were forward in recommending torture. But Cecil was no more of a fanatic than his mistress. What both of them cared for was not a particular religious belief–they bad both of them conformed to Popery under Queen Mary–but the sovereign’s claim to prescribe religious belief, or rather religious profession, and they were provoked with the missionaries for thwarting them. Provoking it was, no doubt. But everything seems to show that it would have been better to pursue the earlier policy of the reign; to be content with enacting severe laws which practically were not put into execution.
The English branch of the Jesuit attack was, for political purposes, a dead failure. A few persons of rank, who at heart were Catholics before, were formally reconciled to the Pope. Mendoza claims that among them were six peers whose names he conceals. These peers, if he is to be believed, were treasonable enough in their designs. But, even by his account, they were determined not to stir unless a foreign army should have first entered England.
How far Mendoza’s master was from seeing his way to attack England at this time was strikingly shown by his behaviour under the most audacious outrage that Elizabeth had yet inflicted on him. Some twelve months before (October 1580), Drake had returned from his famous voyage round the world. That voyage was nothing else than a piratical expedition, for which it was notorious that the funds had been mainly furnished by Elizabeth and Leicester. On sea and land Drake had robbed Philip of gold, silver, and precious stones to the value of at least £750,000. In vain did Mendoza clamour for restitution and talk about war. Elizabeth kept the booty, knighted Drake, and openly showed him every mark of confidence and favour. When Mendoza told her that as she would not hear words, they must come to cannon and see if she would hear them, she replied (“quietly in her most natural voice”) that, if he used threats of that kind, she would throw him into prison. The correspondence between the Spanish ambassador and his master shows that, however big they might talk about cannon, they felt themselves paralysed by Elizabeth’s intimate relations with France. She had managed to keep free from any offensive alliance with Henry III. But at the first sound of the Spanish cannon she could have it. She was, therefore, secure. Probably the whole history of diplomacy does not show another instance of such a complicated balance of forces so dexterously manipulated.
The Irish branch of the Papal attack, the landing of the legate Sanders, the insurrection of Desmond (1579-1583), the massacre of the Pope’s Italian soldiers at Smerwick (1580), must be passed over here. It is enough to say that, in Ireland, too, the Catholics were beaten. We turn now to their attempt to get hold of Scotland (1579-1582).
Scotland was in a state of anarchy, from which it could only be rescued by an able and courageous king. The nobles, instead of becoming weaker, as elsewhere, had acquired a strength and independence greater even than their fathers had enjoyed. Thirty years earlier, the Church had possessed quite half the land of the country, and had steadily supported the crown. Almost the whole of this wealth had been seized in one form or another by the nobles. And though, as compared with English noblemen, they were still poor in money, they were much bigger men relatively to their sovereign. The power of the crown was extensive enough in theory. What was wanted was a king who should know how to convert it into a reality. That was more than any regent could do. Even Moray had not succeeded. The house of Douglas was one of the most powerful in Scotland, and Morton, who had been looked on as its head during the minority of the Earl of Angus, was an able and daring man. But he had not the large views, the public spirit, or the integrity of Moray. He was feared by all, hated by many, respected by none. As a mere party chief, no one would have been better able to hold his own. As representing the crown, he had every man’s hand against him. To subsidise such a man was perfectly useless. If Elizabeth was to make his cause her own, she might just as well undertake the conquest of Scotland at once.
The essence of the good understanding between England and France was that both countries should keep their hands off Scotland. Elizabeth, knowing that if worst came to worst, she could always be beforehand with France in the northern kingdom, could afford to respect this arrangement, and she did mean to respect it, France, on the other hand, being also well aware of the advantage given to England by geographical situation, was always tempted to steal a march on her, and even when most desirous of her alliance, never quite gave up intrigues in Scotland. This was equally the case whatever party was uppermost at the French court, whether its policy was being directed by the King or by the Duke of Guise.
The Jesuits looked on Guise as their fighting man, who was to do the work which they could not prevail on crowned heads to undertake. James, though only thirteen, had been declared of age. It was too late to think of deposing him. If his character was feeble, his understanding and acquirements were much beyond his years, and his preferences were already a force to be reckoned with in Scotch politics. His interests were evidently opposed to those of his mother. But the Jesuits hoped to persuade him that his seat would never be secure unless he came to a compromise with her on the terms that he was to accept the crown as her gift and recognise her joint-sovereignty. This would throw him entirely into the hands of the Catholic nobles, and would be a virtual declaration of war against Elizabeth. He would have to proclaim himself a Catholic, and call in the French. It was hoped that Philip, jealous though he had always been of French interference, would not object to an expedition warranted by the Jesuits and commanded by Guise, who was more and more sinking into a tool of Spain and Rome. A combined army of Scotch and French would pour across the Border. It would be joined by the English Catholics. Elizabeth would be deposed, and Mary set on the throne.
It was a pretty scheme on paper, but certain to break down in every stage of its execution. James might chaffer with his mother; but, young as he was, he knew well that she meant to overreach him. He would be glad enough to get rid of Morton, but he did not want to be a puppet in the hands of the Marians. He did not like the Presbyterian preachers; but the young pedant already valued himself on his skill in confuting the apologists of Popery. He resented Elizabeth’s lectures; but he knew that his succession to the English crown depended on her good will, and he meant to keep on good terms with her. No approval of the scheme could be obtained from Philip, and if he did not peremptorily forbid the expedition, it was because he did not believe it would come off. If a French army had appeared in Scotland, it would have been treated as all foreigners were in that country. And finally, if, per impossibile, the French and Scotch had entered England, they would have been overwhelmed by such an unanimous uprising of the English people of all parties and creeds as had never been witnessed in our history.
Historians, who would have us believe that Elizabeth was constantly bringing England to the verge of ruin by her stinginess and want of spirit, represent this combination as highly formidable. It required careful watching; but the only thing that could make it really dangerous was rash and premature employment of force by England–the course advocated not only by Burghley, but by the whole Council. Elizabeth seems to have stood absolutely alone in her opinion; but here, as always, though she allowed her ministers to speak their minds freely, she did not fear to act on her own judgment against their unanimous advice.
To carry out their schemes, Guise and the Jesuits sent to Scotland a nephew of the late Regent Lennox, Esmé Stuart, who had been brought up in France, and bore the title of Count d’Aubigny (September 1579). He speedily won the heart of the King, who created him Earl, and afterwards Duke of Lennox. Elizabeth soon obtained proof of his designs, and urged Morton to resist them by force. But the favourite, professing to be converted to Protestantism, enlisted the preachers on his side, and, by this unnatural coalition, Morton was brought to the scaffold (June 1581). During the interval between his arrest and execution, the English Council were urgent with Elizabeth to invade Scotland, rescue the Anglophile leader, and crush Lennox. She went all lengths in the way of threats. Lord Hunsdon was even ordered to muster an army on the Border. But this last step at once produced an energetic protest from the French ambassador; and in Scotland there was a general rally of all parties against the “auld enemies.” Elizabeth had never meant to make her threats good, and Morton was left to his fate. She was quite right not to invade Scotland; but, that being her intention, she should not have tempted Morton to treason by the promise of her protection. No male statesman would have been so insensible to dishonour.
The death of the man who, next to Moray, had been the mainstay of the Reformation and the scourge of the Marian party, was received with a shout of exultation from Catholic Europe. Already in their heated imaginations the Jesuits saw the Kirk overthrown and the vantage ground gained for an attack on England. Some modern historians–with less excuse, since they have the sequel before their eyes –make the same blunder. The situation was really unchanged. Morton, who had the true antipathy of a Scottish noble to clerics of all sorts, had plundered the Kirk ministers, and tried to bring them under the episcopal yoke. He had quarrelled with most of his old associates of the Congregation. It was their enmity quite as much as the attack of Lennox that had pulled him down. When he was out of the way they naturally reverted to an Anglophile policy. The weakness of the Catholic party was plainly shown by the fact that Lennox himself, the pupil of the Jesuits, never ventured to throw off the disguise of a heretic.
The further development of the Jesuit scheme met with difficulties on all sides. Most even of the Catholic lords were alarmed by the suggestion that James should hold the crown by the gift of his mother, because it would imply that hitherto he had not been lawful King; and this would invalidate their titles to all the lands they had grabbed from Church and crown during the last fourteen years. It would seem therefore that, if they had harassed the Government during all that time, it was from a liking for anarchy rather than from attachment to Mary. Two Jesuits, Crichton and Holt, who were sent in disguise to Scotland, found Lennox desponding. He was obliged to confess that, greatly as he had fascinated the King, he could not move him an inch in his religious opinions. On the contrary, James imagined that his controversial skill had converted Lennox, and was extremely proud of the feat. The only course remaining was to seize him, and send him to France or Spain, Lennox in the meantime administering the Government in the name of Mary. But to carry out this stroke, Lennox said he must have a foreign army. In view of the mutual jealousy of France and Spain it was suggested that, if Philip would furnish money underhand, the Pope might send an Italian army direct to Scotland, via the Straits of Gibraltar. Crichton went to Rome to arrange this precious scheme, and Holt was proceeding to Madrid. But Philip forbade him to come. If Lennox could convert James, or send him to Spain, well and good. But until one of these preliminaries was accomplished he was to expect no help from Philip. Nor were prospects more hopeful on the side of France. Mary from her prison implored Guise to undertake the long-planned expedition. But he would not venture it without the assent of his own sovereign and the King of Spain. While he was hesitating, the Anglophiles patched up their differences and got possession of the King’s person (Raid of Ruthven, August 1582). His tears were unavailing. “Better bairns greet,” said the Master of Glamis, “than bearded men.” The favourite fled to France, where he died in the next year.
Thus once more had it been clearly shown that if the Anglophiles were left to depend on themselves they would not fail to do all that was necessary to safeguard English interests. “Anglophiles” is a convenient appellation. But, strictly speaking, there was no party in Scotland that loved England. There was a religious party to whom it was of the highest importance that Elizabeth should be safe and powerful. She was therefore certain of its co-operation. This party would not be always uppermost; for Scottish nobles were too selfish, too treacherous, too much interested in disorder to permit any stability. But, whether in power or in opposition, it would be able and it would be obliged to serve English interests. There was only one way in which it could be paralyzed or alienated, and that was by a recurrence on the part of England to the traditions of armed interference inherited by Elizabeth’s councillors from Henry VIII, and the Protector Somerset.
Such is the plain history of this Jesuit and Papal scheme which we are asked to believe was so dangerous to England and so inadequately handled by Elizabeth. She had not shown much concern for her honour. But her coolness, her intrepidity, her correct estimate of the forces with which she had to deal, her magnificent confidence in her own judgment, saved England from the endless expenditure of blood and treasure into which her advisers would have plunged, and prolonged the formal peace with her three principal neighbours, a peace of already unexampled duration, and of incalculable advantage to her country.
The policy which Elizabeth had thus deliberately adopted towards Scotland she persisted in. The successful Anglophiles clamoured for pensions, and her ministers were for gratifying them. She was willing to give a moderate pension to James, but not a penny to the nobles. “Her servants and favourites,” she said, “professed to love her for her high qualities, Alençon for her beauty, and the Scots for her crown; but they all wanted the same thing in the end; they wanted nothing but her money, and they should not have it.” She had ascertained that James regarded his mother as his rival for the crowns of both kingdoms, and that, whatever he might sometimes pretend, his real wish was that she should be kept under lock and key. She had also satisfied herself that the Scottish noblemen on whom Mary counted would, with very few exceptions, throw every difficulty in the way of her restoration, out of regard for their own private interest–the only datum from which it was safe to calculate in dealing with a Scottish nobleman. She therefore felt herself secure. By communicating her knowledge to Mary she could show her the hopelessness of her intrigues in Scotland; while a resumption of friendly negotiations for her restoration would always be a cheap and effectual way of intimidating James. Thus she could look on with equanimity when his new favourite Stewart, Earl of Arran, again chased the Anglophiles into England ( December 1583). Arran himself urgently entreated her to accept him and his young master as the genuine Anglophiles. Walsingham’s voice was still for war. But, with both factions at her feet and suing for her favour, Elizabeth had good reason to be satisfied with her policy of leaving the Scottish nobles to worry it out among themselves.
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 VII" https://englishhistory.net/tudor/queen-elizabeth-edward-spencer-beesly-1892-chapter-vii/, March 6, 2015