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The Reign of Elizabeth. (Continued) page 12


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At the time, however, that it was deemed necessary to send out an expedition to Spain to hunt up the hostile fleet and destroy it as before, Essex stood undoubted in the queen's confidence, and she gave him the command of the fleet for this purpose, with Lord Thomas Howard and Sir Walter Raleigh under him. This time there was no subjection to a council of war. On the 11th of July, 1597, the fleet set sail; but had not sailed more than forty leagues when it was driven back by a tempest, which raged for four days. Essex himself disdained to turn back, but, with his utter contempt of danger and dogged obstinacy, he, to use his own words, beat up his ship in the teeth of the storm, till it was actually falling asunder, having a leak which obliged them to pump eight tons of water per day out of her; her main and foremast being cracked, and most of her beams broken and reft. The gentlemen volunteers were so completely satisfied with sailing with such a man, that on reaching land at Falmouth they all stole away home. But Essex himself was as resolved as ever to prosecute the voyage, though the queen would advance nothing more for refitting the fleet. He got as many of his ships into order as he could, and on the 17th of August was enabled to sail again, though the men by this time had consumed most of their provisions. He made now, not for the coast of Spain, but the Azores, where they took Fayal, Graciosa, and Flores useless conquests, as they could not keep them, and which led to immediate quarrels, for Raleigh, with his indomitable ambition, took Fayal himself without orders, which Essex very properly deeming an honour stolen from him, resented greatly. He ordered several of the officers concerned to be arrested; but when he was advised to try Raleigh by a court-martial, he replied, "So would had he been one of my friends." Such was Essex's high feeling of honour, that he would not risk his proceedings against the offender being attributed to malice or pique. What was worse than this dispute, however, was that the Spanish treasure-vessels returning from America, which Elizabeth had expressly ordered them to lay wait for, had escaped into Tercera, and they were obliged to return with the capture of three Spanish ships and other plunder, valued at 100,000.

In the meantime, the Adelantado had sailed from Ferrol and menaced the British coast. He contemplated seizing the Isle of Wight, or some town on the Cornish coast, which he might retain till the next spring, so as to favour the landing of the grand fleet, which was then to sail. Essex was already returning, and approaching this Spanish fleet without being aware of it, and. a day or two might have seen the two navies engaged; but another storm arose when, the Adelantado was off the Scilly Isles, and dispersed his fleet. Essex's fleet was also involved in the same tempest, but could escape into friendly ports, whilst the Spanish was compelled to brave the hurricane, and, pursued by it across the Bay of Biscay, reached the Tagus minus sixteen of its best ships.

Essex, on landing, hastened to Court, but the queen was in the worst of humours at the missing of the treasure-ships, and complained that he had done nothing to discharge the expenses of the expedition. She laid all the blame of failure on him, and gave all the credit to Sir Walter Raleigh, whom she accused him of oppressing and insulting. With his usual choleric petulance, he hastily left the Court and retired to his own house at Wanstead. He was so far from admitting that he was in the wrong, that he demanded satisfaction for the injuries which he considered had been done him in his absence. The Chancellorship of the Duchy of Lancaster, which he had asked for a dependent, had been conferred on Cecil, and the Lord Admiral Howard had been created Earl of Nottingham, and thus had attained an official precedency over him. Worse still, and more unjust, the honour of the capture of Cadiz was allowed to be usurped by Lord Howard in his new patent, though it really belonged to Essex. The passionate favourite was so enraged that he offered to fight Nottingham in vindication of his claim, or one of his sons, or any gentleman of the name of Howard.

Elizabeth at length began to relent; and knowing very well that she had in her anger been very unjust to Essex, she now upbraided the Cecils with being the cause of his natural resentment at the infringement of his honour. Happening about this time to meet with Sir Francis Vere in Whitehall Gardens, she entered into conversation with him on the causes of the escape of the treasure-fleet, and on the Spanish fleet not being attacked and burnt in the port of Ferrol. Sir Francis had been in the expedition, and when he heard the queen charge Essex with the failure, he boldly defended him, and did him justice in regard to the whole affair. Elizabeth saw that she had, through the misrepresentations of interested courtiers, been guilty of a still greater injustice, and she set about making the necessary amends. On the 18th of December all was made smooth, and Essex again appeared at Court, being created Earl Marshal, by which he regained the precedency over the new Earl of Nottingham. But in pacifying Essex the unlucky queen had only offended Nottingham, for the office of Earl Marshal had been in his family for many generations, being claimed by right of descent from Thomas of Brotherton, their Royal ancestor, and transferred by his daughter, Margaret Plantaganet, to her grandson, Mowbray, Earl of Norfolk, as her deputy, not being capable of discharging its duties as a woman. Nottingham, deeply offended, on the 20th resigned his staff as Lord Steward of the Household, and retired to his house at Chelsea.

The King of France, in the commencement of the year 1598, announced to the Queen of England his intention to seek peace with Spain. This was news by no means agreeable to Elizabeth, as such a peace would leave Philip at liberty to pursue his designs against her; and she endeavoured by her ambassador to dissuade Henry from such a measure. But Henry had now for thirteen years been harassed by the cares of a kingdom involved on two sides in war with Philip, and rent in every quarter by religious dissension. The death of the Guises had broken up, in a great measure, the Roman Catholic League,^ but the spirit of opposition was still as much alive as ever, and was fanned into flame by a Protestant League, formed on the same principles. He longed intensely for peace, that he might more fully exert himself to abate this religious discord. His anxiety for it had been doubled by the capture of Amiens by the Spaniards in February, 1597; and his recovery of it in the following September only rendered him the more willing to treat, because he could do it on better terms. It was necessary to send over Sir Robert Cecil as ambassador extraordinary, to attend the negotiations: and fearing the influence of Essex in his absence, the cunning minister had been induced to favour his advancement to the post of Earl Marshal, and he sought to win the earl over more completely by moving the queen to present Essex with a cargo of cochineal worth 7,000, and a contract for the sale of a much larger amount out of the Royal stores. Greatly pleased by these instances of Cecil's friendship, as he deemed it, Essex transacted the business of the secretaryship for Sir Robert in his absence, and that politic gentleman took his departure for France on the 10th of February, 1598.

At the conference both Cecil and the Dutch deputies did everything in their power to prevent the peace, but in vain. Henry was resolved on giving tranquillity to his kingdom; and when reproached by Cecil for deserting Elizabeth, he replied, in aiding him she had served her own interests. On the 20th of April he published the Edict of Nantes, giving security and toleration to the Protestants; and on May the 2nd he signed the treaty with Spain, which was so advantageous that he recovered Calais and all other places which had been taken during the war. Elizabeth was, in reality, a gainer, for she thus became freed from a charge of 126,000 per annum in holding the cautionary towns; and the States gave an acknowledgment of a debt of 800,000, which they engaged to pay by instalments.

On the return of Cecil he submitted to the queen the proposals which Philip had made for the extension of the peace to England, and Burleigh and Sir Robert contended that Spain having made peace with France, it was wise for this kingdom to do the same. Essex, on the contrary, contended for war, and for still punishing the Spaniards for their attempt at invasion. In the midst of one of the debates in the Council, Burleigh put his pocket Bible gently before him, open at these words in the Psalms: - "Blood-thirsty men shall not live out half their days." Essex took no apparent notice of it, but after his death the circumstance came to be looked on as prophetic. The Council was in favour of peace. The nation sympathised with Essex, and especially the army and navy, who hated the Spaniards, and thought Essex stood up for the honour of the country. But if Essex's favour rose with the people, it was in utmost peril at Court. Bacon wrote warningly to him, telling him that in his conversation with the queen it was palpable to every one that he was paying compliments with a bad grace; "that anyone might read the insincerity of his words in his countenance." Bacon saw and remarked, too, that he had fallen into his old intrigue with the fair Bridges, and that if Elizabeth discovered it there would be an end of Essex. Other circumstances were soon added, which precipitated his fall. His sister, the Lady Rich, one of the queen's ladies of the bedchamber, and notorious for her infidelities, had entered into a correspondence along with her husband - with whom on all other points she was always at variance - with the King of Scots. Rich was called "Ricardo;" Lady Rich, "Rialta;" James, "Victor;" and every person in the English Court had a nickname. Elizabeth they termed "Venus" and Essex "The Weary Knight," because, they said, he was so weary of his post as favourite, in which he was a mere slave, and hoped for a change, which was that the queen would die in a year or two. The correspondence was carried on in cipher; but Burleigh got hold of it, and must have felt the long-deferred hour of revenge had arrived at last. He knew Elizabeth too well to believe that she would ever forgive such a stab to her self-love. Meantime, whilst his sister and brother-in-law were thus unconsciously cutting the very ground from under his feet, Essex was acting every day with increasing assurance in the Court and Council-room.

A scene soon occurred in the Council-chamber which hastened this event. There was a warm debate on the appointment of a new lord-deputy for Ireland. That country was in such a cruelly distracted state, and the population, both English and Irish, so hostile to the English Government, that no one would willingly accept the office. At this moment the Cecils were warmly recommending Sir William Knollys to that unenviable office, Essex still more vehemently urging the appointment on Sir George Carew. But each party was not striving to confer the post as a favour, but as an annoyance. Sir William Knollys was the uncle of Essex, and, therefore, when the queen named him, the Cecils supported the nomination; and Essex, on the contrary, named Sir George Carew as. a partisan of the Cecils. The debate grew vehement, and Essex, without regard to the wishes of the queen, spoke violently against the appointment of Sir William. The queen made a sarcastic observation on Essex's advocacy, and the petted favourite turned his back upon her with an expression neither respectful nor prudent. The soul of "the royal virago," as Agnes Strickland terms her, rose in all its Tudor fury, and she fetched the rash and forgetful youth a sound buffet on the ear. Instead of being called to his senses by this action, the fiery earl started to his feet and clapped his hand on his sword; but the lord admiral threw himself betwixt the ungallant earl and the queen; and Essex, exclaiming that "it was an insult which he would not have taken from her father, much less from a king in petticoats," rushed out of the room.

The sensation produced by this violent breach in the Court was intense. Every one prognosticated the ruin of Essex, who retired to his house at Wanstead, and would listen to no persuasions of his friends to humble himself and make an apology. His mother and sisters implored him to forget what had occurred, and make his peace with the incensed queen. Egerton, the lord-keeper, wrote him a long letter, counselling him to forget his wrath and remember his duty to a sovereign who had conferred so many obligations upon him. From the fact that the lord-keeper does not use in his letter the most natural of all arguments - the reverence due from a young man to a princess of her advanced age, and his near relative - for lie was the great-grandson of Elizabeth's aunt, Mary Boleyn - it has been shrewdly suggested that the letter was dictated by the queen herself. Essex, however, replied with undiminished rage, saying, "Let Solomon's fool laugh when he is stricken; let those that mean to make their profit of princes show no sense of princes' injuries: as for me, I have received wrong, and I feel it."

The rupture took place in June, and not till the 6th of November did the haughty favourite and the offended queen become reconciled; and it is not probable that the reconciliation was ever sincere on the part of Elizabeth. She had read the letters of his sister to her heir-apparent, in which he was represented as "the weary knight," waiting impatiently for her death; and his defiant air and words under such circumstances were not likely to be forgotten. Meantime, whilst this quarrel had been proceeding, death had removed two persons of great consequence in the history of Elizabeth - her aged minister Burleigh, and Philip of Spain.

Burleigh died on the 4th of August, 1598, in the seventy-eighth year of his age. It has been the fashion to style him a great minister; it is a grand misnomer: he was clever, but a very different man to a great minister. A truly great minister is a man who, with great natural abilities and an accomplished education, possesses great and noble principles, and endeavours to serve his country by means that are honest and honourable. Burleigh had but one principle - that of serving himself and the queen by any means that promised to obtain the end he had in view - which end with him might be safe, but was never generous or elevated. His guiding-star was the doctrine of expediency, not high nor honourable policy. He was cold, calculating, and selfish; and his self-love prompted him to be the obsequious instrument of a lawless and imperious queen. On his deathbed he wrote to his son, concluding with this notable sentiment, which was, indeed, the sole law of his life, "Serve God by serving the queen, for all other service is bondage to the devil." Now the really great statesman serves his sovereign by serving God, and by that means makes him or her remembered in the world with love and benedictions. But he was a minister after Elizabeth's own heart, obedient, worldly-wise, and what is called - by those who estimate a man, not by his honour, his truth, or his conscientiousness - a safe man. She therefore maintained him in his office against all enemies, and especially her own favourites, for forty years; and in his last illness she waited on him like a nurse, and wept bitterly for his loss. "He has left behind him," says Lingard, "a voluminous mass of papers, his own composition, the faithful index of his head and heart. They bear abundant testimony to his habits of application and business, to the extent and variety of his correspondence, and to the solicitude with which he watched the conduct and anticipated the designs of both foreign and domestic enemies; but it is difficult to discern in them a trace of original genius, of lofty and generous feeling, or of enlightened views and commanding intellect." His son, modelled on his own principles, succeeded him in the councils of the queen, and perpetuated the same cautious, creeping, and timeserving system.

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