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Elizabeth page 8

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Mary now prepared to make her way home by sea. Her false half-brother, the Lord James, instead of being to her, at this trying moment, a friend and staunch counsellor, was, and had long been, leagued with her most troublesome and rebellious subjects, and was expecting, by the aid of Elizabeth of England, to engross the chief power in the State, if not eventually to push his unsuspecting sister from the throne. The Roman Catholics of Scotland were quite alive to the dangers which attended their sovereign in such company, and deputed Lesley, the Bishop of Ross, a man of high integrity, which, through a long series of troubles, he manifested towards his queen, to go over and return with her. Lesley was so much alarmed by the dangers which menaced her amongst her turbulent and zeal-excited subjects, that he advised her in private to extend her voyage to the Highlands, and put herself under the protection of the Earl of Huntley, who, at the head of a large army, would conduct her to her capital, and place her in safety on her throne, at the same time that he enabled her to protect the ancient religion. But Mary would not listen to anything like a return by force. She determined to throw herself on the affections of her subjects, and to go amongst them peaceably.

The return of this youthful queen to her own country and capital is one of the saddest things on record. She had left it as a child, to avoid being forcibly seized and married, from political motives, to the boy king of England. She had been educated in all the ease and gaiety of the French court. Far removed from the perpetual storms and struggles of her own country and race, she had given herself up to the enjoyments of a peaceful and pleasant life, to social pleasures, music and poetry, in which she excelled. All that she knew of her country from history showed her a race of proud, rude, half-savage nobles, who had made the lives of her ancestors miserable; who had murdered some, pursued others with perpetual rebellions, and sent them to their graves in broken-hearted despair. All that she had heard from her own mother were the eternal details of the same conflict of weapons, factions, and opinions. With a divided people, with an aristocracy to a great extent sold to do the work of her powerful and, as it proved, deadly enemy, the Queen of England, with all the disadvantages of attractive charms and inexperienced youth, she was going, as it were, from calm sunshine to perpetual tempest, and into a very whirlpool of dark passions and heated antipathies, which required a far more vigorous hand, a far cooler and more worldly temperament than her own to steer through. If she could have known her enemies from her friends, that would have been something; but the basest and most deeply bribed traitors, the cruellest and most unfeeling of her enemies, were immediately around her throne, which they had already undermined with treason, and overshadowed with death.

Mary embarked at Calais on the loth of August. So long as the coast of France remained in sight she continued to gaze upon it; and when at length it faded from her straining vision, she stretched her arms towards it, and exclaimed, "Farewell, beloved France, farewell! I shall never see thee more!" There had passed her youth in honour and happiness. It was the only happy portion of her short existence; and no sooner did she turn to face the dark, rude sea, than her indefatigable enemy of England appeared. Elizabeth was there by her admiral to obstruct her progress, and, if possible, to seize her person. So soon as the intention of Mary to return to Scotland was known, Elizabeth collected a squadron of men-of-war in the Downs, on pretence of cruising for pirates in the narrow seas. In defiance of this, Mary put to sea, with only two galleys and four transports, and accompanied by the Lord James, Bishop Lesley, three of her relatives, the Duke of Aumerle, the Grand Prior of France, and the Marquis d’Elboeuf, the Marquis Damville, and other French noblemen. They were not long in falling in with the English fleet; but a thick fog enabled them to escape, except one transport, on board of which was the Earl of Eglinton. Yet so near was the British admiral to the queen, that he overtook and searched two other transports containing her trunks and effects. Failing, however, of the great prize, they let the ships go, and then pretended that they were only in quest of the pirates. But, on the 12th, only three days before Mary sailed, Cecil had written to the Earl of Sussex, that "there were three ships in the North Seas to preserve the fishers from pyrates," and he added that he thought they would be sorry to see the Queen of Scots pass. Elizabeth, having missed the mark, thought it necessary to apologise for the visit of her admiral, and wrote to Mary that she had sent a few barques to sea to cruise after certain Scottish pirates at the request of the King of Spain; and Cecil wrote to Throckmorton that '' the queen's majesty's ships that were on the seas to cleanse them from pirates, saw her (the Queen of Scots), and saluted her galleys; and, staying her ships, examined them gently. One they detained as vehemently suspected of piracy."

On August the 19th, after a few days' voyage, Mary landed on her rugged native shore at Leith. She had come a fortnight earlier than she had fixed, to prevent the schemes of her enemies; but the mass of the people flew to welcome her, and crowded the beach with hearty acclamations: the lords, however, says a contemporary, had taken small pains to honour her reception, and "cover the nakedness of the land." Instead of the gay palfreys of France to which she had been accustomed, in their rich accoutrements, she saw a wretched set of Highland shelties prepared to convey her and her retinue to Holyrood; and when she surveyed their tattered furniture, and mounted into the bare wooden saddle, the past and the present came so mournfully over her, that her eyes filled with tears. The honest joy of her people, however, was an ample compensation, had she not known what ill-will lurked in the back-ground against her amongst the nobles and clergy.

Mary was unquestionably the finest woman of her time. Tall, beautiful, accomplished, in the freshness of her youth, not yet nineteen, distinguished by the most graceful manners, and the most fascinating disposition, she was formed to captivate a people sensible to such charms. But she came into her country, in every past age turbulent and independent, at a crisis when the public spirit was divided and embittered by religious controversy, and she was exposed to the deepest suspicion of the reforming party, by belonging to a family notorious for its bigoted attachment to the old religion. Yet the open candour of her disposition, and her easy condescension, seemed to make a deep impression on the mass. They not only cheered her enthusiastically on the way to her ancient ancestral palace, but about 200 of the citizens of Edinburgh, playing on three-stringed fiddles, kept up a deafening serenade under her windows all night; and such was her good-natured appreciation of the motive, that she thanked them in the morning for having really kept her awake after the fatiguing voyage. Not quite so agreeable, though, was the conduct of her liege subjects on the Sunday in her chapel, where, having ordered her chaplain to perform mass, such a riot was raised, that had not her natural brother, the Lord James Stuart, interfered, the priest would have been killed at the altar.

This was a plain indication that, although the Reformers demanded liberty of conscience for themselves, they meant to allow none, and a month afterwards the same riot was renewed so violently in the royal chapel at Stirling, that Randolph, writing to Cecil, said that the Earl of Argyll and the Lord James himself this time "so disturbed the quire, that some, both priests and clerks, left their places with broken heads and bloody ears."

Mary bore this rude and disloyal conduct with an admirable patience. She had the advantage of the counsels of D'Oyselles, who had spent some years in the country, and had learned the character of the people. She placed the leaders of the Congregation in honour and power around her, making the Lord James her chief minister, and Maitland of Lethington her Secretary of State, both of whom, however, we are already aware, were in the pay and interests of the English queen. It was not in the nature of Knox to delay long- appearing in her presence, and opening upon her the battery of his fierce zeal.

"Mr. Knox," wrote Randolph to Cecil, "spoke on Tuesday unto the queen. He knocked so hastily upon her heart that he made her weep, as well you know there be of that sex that will do that, as well for anger as for grief." Mary's feelings, undoubtedly, were those of injury and indignation at the rude violence with which the religion of her youth, of her family, of her education, and of her inmost heart, was thus attacked. According to Knox, her parents had died in such error and idolatry that they went to the regions of weeping and gnashing of teeth. Randolph continued - "I commend better the success of Mr. Knox's doctrines and preachings than the manner of them, though I acknowledge his doctrine to be sound. His daily prayer for her is that God will turn her heart, now obstinate against God and his truth; and if his holy will be otherwise, that he will strengthen the hands and hearts of the chosen and the elect, stoutly to withstand the rage of tyrants."

But it was not merely the religion of Queen Mary which was exposed to this cynical and domineering spirit: the most innocent actions of her life, the most graceful and innocuous of her acquirements, were subjected to the iron shears of the Calvinistic philosophy. Mary had been accustomed to the enjoyment of music and the exhilaration of a social dance. All this was vile and scandalous in the eyes of Knox and his associates. She could not follow her hawks to the field, nor scarcely enjoy the pleasure of a ride amid her court, without being denounced as a vain and sinful Jezebel.

"It is difficult," says Knight's History, "to conceive a greater vulgarity of ideas or coarseness of language than that in which the Presbyterian clergy assailed these pastimes, which can be only sinful in excess - an excess not proved in the case of the queen. The preachers, one and all, were at least as bold in public as John Knox had been in his private conference. Every pulpit and hill-side was made to shake with awful denunciations of God's wrath and vengeance; and, following the example of their leader, they affirmed that, instead of dancing and singing, and hearing vile masses - the worst offence of all - the queen ought to go constantly to the kirk and hear them preach the only true doctrine. It was repeated daily that idolatry was worthy of death; that Papistry was rank idolatry; that the person who upheld or in any way defended the Roman Church was on the high-road to hell, however sincerely convinced of his religion being the true one. This sour spirit fermented wonderfully among the citizens of Edinburgh. The town-council, of their own authority, issued a proclamation, banishing from their town all the wicked rabble of antichrist, the Pope - such as priests, monks, and friars, together with all adulterers and fornicators. The Privy Council, indignant at this assumption of an authority which could only belong to the sovereign and the Parliament, suspended the magistrates; and then the magistrates, the preachers, and the people declared that the queen, by an unrighteous sympathy, made herself the protector of adulterers and fornicators. Before any circumstance had occurred calculated to throw suspicion on Mary's conduct, either as a queen or a woman, she was openly called Jezebel in the pulpit; and this became the appellation by which John Knox usually designated the sovereign. It was in vain that Mary tried to win the favour of the zealous reformer. She promised him ready access to her whenever he should desire it; and entreated him, if he found her conduct blameable, to reprehend her in private rather than vilify her in the kirk before the whole people. But Knox, whose notions of the rights of his clerical office were of the most towering kind, and who, upon other motives besides those connected with religion, had declared a female reign to be an abomination, was not willing to gratify the queen in any of her demands. He told her it was her duty to go to kirk to hear him, not his duty to wait upon her; and then came the usual addition, that if she gave up her mass-priest, and diligently attended upon the servants of the Lord, her soul might possibly be saved and her kingdom spared the judgments of an offended God. There was certainly a Calvinistic republicanism interwoven with this wonderful man's religious creed. Elizabeth blamed Mary that she had not sufficiently conformed to the advice of the Protestant teachers; but if Elizabeth herself had had to do with such a preacher as John Knox, she would, having the power, have sent him to the Marshalsea in one week, and to the pillory, or a worse place, in the next."

It is, perhaps, impossible to conceive a situation more appalling than that of this young and accomplished queen suddenly thrown into the midst of this effervescence of spiritual pride and boorish dogmatism, so totally insensible to the finer influences of social life, so utterly unconscious of the rights of conscience in those of a different opinion. Mary certainly showed a far more Christian spirit. She reminded Knox of his offensive and contemptuous book against women, gently admonished him to be more liberal to those who could not think as he did, and use more meekness of speech in his sermons.

But the Scottish clergy at that moment received a severe recompence for their contempt of the social amenities, in their aristocratic coadjutors treating them as men who had no need of temporal advantages. The nobles used them to overturn by their preaching the ancient church; and that done, they quietly but firmly appropriated the substance of it to themselves. The example of the English hierarchy had not been lost upon them. When the clergy put in their claim for a fair share of the booty, the nobles affected great surprise at such a worldly appetite in such holy men. The clergy proposed that the property of the Church should be divided into three portions: one-third for the pastors of the new church, one-third for the poor, and one-third for the endowment of schools and colleges. Maitland of Lethington asked Knox, "Where, then, was the portion of the nobles? Were they to become hod-bearers in this building of the kirk?" Knox replied that they might be worse employed. But he and his fellow ministers had different material to operate upon in the hard-fisted nobles. They might browbeat and insult a young queen, but they could not force the plunder from the gripe of their aristocratic patrons. The whole sum which they could obtain for the maintenance of 1,000 parish churches was only about £4,000, or about £6 sterling as the annual income of a parish priest.

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