QUEEN ELIZABETH AND THE EARL OF LEICESTER
History has many romantic stories to tell of the part which women
have played in determining the destinies of nations. Sometimes it
is a woman's beauty that causes the shifting of a province. Again
it is another woman's rich possessions that incite invasion and
lead to bloody wars. Marriages or dowries, or the refusal of
marriages and the lack of dowries, inheritance through an heiress,
the failure of a male succession
-in these and in many other ways
women have set their mark indelibly upon the trend of history.
However, if we look over these different events we shall find that
it is not so much the mere longing for a woman--the desire to have
her as a queen--that has seriously affected the annals of any
nation. Kings, like ordinary men, have paid their suit and then
have ridden away repulsed, yet not seriously dejected. Most royal
marriages are made either to secure the succession to a throne by
a legitimate line of heirs or else to unite adjoining states and
make a powerful kingdom out of two that are less powerful. But, as
a rule, kings have found greater delight in some sheltered bower
remote from courts than in the castled halls and well-cared-for
nooks where their own wives and children have been reared with all
the appurtenances of legitimacy.
There are not many stories that hang persistently about the love-
making of a single woman. In the case of one or another we may
find an episode or two--something dashing, something spirited or
striking, something brilliant and exhilarating, or something sad.
But for a woman's whole life to be spent in courtship that meant
nothing and that was only a clever aid to diplomacy--this is
surely an unusual and really wonderful thing.
It is the more unusual because the woman herself was not intended
by nature to be wasted upon the cold and cheerless sport of
chancellors and counselors and men who had no thought of her
except to use her as a pawn. She was hot-blooded, descended from a
fiery race, and one whose temper was quick to leap into the
passion of a man.
In studying this phase of the long and interesting life of
Elizabeth of England we must notice several important facts. In
the first place, she gave herself, above all else, to the
maintenance of England--not an England that would be half Spanish
or half French, or even partly Dutch and Flemish, but the Merry
England of tradition--the England that was one and undivided, with
its growing freedom of thought, its bows and bills, its nut-brown
ale, its sturdy yeomen, and its loyalty to crown and Parliament.
She once said, almost as in an agony:
"I love England more than anything!"
And one may really hold that this was true.
For England she schemed and planned. For England she gave up many
of her royal rights. For England she descended into depths of
treachery. For England she left herself on record as an arrant
liar, false, perjured, yet successful; and because of her success
for England's sake her countrymen will hold her in high
remembrance, since her scheming and her falsehood are the offenses
that one pardons most readily in a woman.
In the second place, it must be remembered that Elizabeth's
courtships and pretended love-makings were almost always a part of
her diplomacy. When not a part of her diplomacy they were a mere
appendage to her vanity. To seem to be the flower of the English
people, and to be surrounded by the noblest, the bravest, and the
most handsome cavaliers, not only of her own kingdom, but of
others--this was, indeed, a choice morsel of which she was fond of
tasting, even though it meant nothing beyond the moment.
Finally, though at times she could be very cold, and though she
made herself still colder in order that she might play fast and
loose with foreign suitors who played fast and loose with her--the
King of Spain, the Duc d'Alencon, brother of the French king, with
an Austrian archduke, with a magnificent barbarian prince of
Muscovy, with Eric of Sweden, or any other Scandinavian suitor--
she felt a woman's need for some nearer and more tender
association to which she might give freer play and in which she
might feel those deeper emotions without the danger that arises
when love is mingled with diplomacy.
Let us first consider a picture of the woman as she really was in
order that we may understand her triple nature--consummate
mistress of every art that statesmen know, and using at every
moment her person as a lure; a vain-glorious queen who seemed to
be the prey of boundless vanity; and, lastly, a woman who had all
a woman's passion, and who could cast suddenly aside the check and
balance which restrained her before the public gaze and could
allow herself to give full play to the emotion that she inherited
from the king, her father, who was himself a marvel of fire and
impetuosity. That the daughter of Henry VIII. and Anne Boleyn
should be a gentle, timid maiden would be to make heredity a
Elizabeth was about twenty-five years of age when she ascended the
throne of England. It is odd that the date of her birth cannot be
given with precision. The intrigues and disturbances of the
English court, and the fact that she was a princess, made her
birth a matter of less account than if there had been no male heir
to the throne. At any rate, when she ascended it, after the deaths
of her brother, King Edward VI., and her sister, Queen Mary, she
was a woman well trained both in intellect and in physical
Mr. Martin Hume, who loves to dwell upon the later years of Queen
Elizabeth, speaks rather bitterly of her as a "painted old
harridan"; and such she may well have seemed when, at nearly
seventy years of age, she leered and grinned a sort of skeleton
smile at the handsome young courtiers who pretended to see in her
the queen of beauty and to be dying for love of her.
Yet, in her earlier years, when she was young and strong and
impetuous, she deserved far different words than these. The
portrait of her by Zucchero, which now hangs in Hampton Court,
depicts her when she must have been of more than middle age; and
still the face is one of beauty, though it be a strange and almost
artificial beauty--one that draws, attracts, and, perhaps, lures
you on against your will.
It is interesting to compare this painting with the frank word-
picture of a certain German agent who was sent to England by his
emperor, and who seems to have been greatly fascinated by Queen
Elizabeth. She was at that time in the prime of her beauty and her
power. Her complexion was of that peculiar transparency which is
seen only in the face of golden blondes. Her figure was fine and
graceful, and her wit an accomplishment that would have made a
woman of any rank or time remarkable. The German envoy says:
She lives a life of such magnificence and feasting as can hardly
be imagined, and occupies a great portion of her time with balls,
banquets, hunting, and similar amusements, with the utmost
possible display, but nevertheless she insists upon far greater
respect being shown her than was exacted by Queen Mary. She
summons Parliament, but lets them know that her orders must be
obeyed in any case.
If any one will look at the painting by Zucchero he will see how
much is made of Elizabeth's hands--a distinctive feature quite as
noble with the Tudors as is the "Hapsburg lip" among the
descendants of the house of Austria. These were ungloved, and were
very long and white, and she looked at them and played with them a
great deal; and, indeed, they justified the admiration with which
they were regarded by her flatterers.
Such was the personal appearance of Elizabeth. When a young girl,
we have still more favorable opinions of her that were written by
those who had occasion to be near her. Not only do they record
swift glimpses of her person, but sometimes in a word or two they
give an insight into certain traits of mind which came out
prominently in her later years.
It may, perhaps, be well to view her as a woman before we regard
her more fully as a queen. It has been said that Elizabeth
inherited many of the traits of her father--the boldness of
spirit, the rapidity of decision, and, at the same time, the fox-
like craft which often showed itself when it was least expected.
Henry had also, as is well known, a love of the other sex, which
has made his reign memorable. And yet it must be noted that while
he loved much, it was not loose love. Many a king of England, from
Henry II. to Charles II., has offended far more than Henry VIII.
Where Henry loved, he married; and it was the unfortunate result
of these royal marriages that has made him seem unduly fond of
women. If, however, we examine each one of the separate espousals
we shall find that he did not enter into it lightly, and that he
broke it off unwillingly. His ardent temperament, therefore, was
checked by a certain rational or conventional propriety, so that
he was by no means a loose liver, as many would make him out to
We must remember this when we recall the charges that have been
made against Elizabeth, and the strange stories that were told of
her tricks--by no means seemly tricks--which she used to play with
her guardian, Lord Thomas Seymour. The antics she performed with
him in her dressing-room were made the subject of an official
inquiry; yet it came out that while Elizabeth was less than
sixteen, and Lord Thomas was very much her senior, his wife was
with him on his visits to the chamber of the princess.
Sir Robert Tyrwhitt and his wife were also sent to question her,
Tyrwhitt had a keen mind and one well trained to cope with any
other's wit in this sort of cross-examination. Elizabeth was only
a girl of fifteen, yet she was a match for the accomplished
courtier in diplomacy and quick retort. He was sent down to worm
out of her everything that she knew. Threats and flattery and
forged letters and false confessions were tried on her; but they
were tried in vain. She would tell nothing of importance. She
denied everything. She sulked, she cried, she availed herself of a
woman's favorite defense in suddenly attacking those who had
attacked her. She brought counter charges against Tyrwhitt, and
put her enemies on their own defense. Not a compromising word
could they wring out of her.
She bitterly complained of the imprisonment of her governess, Mrs.
Ashley, and cried out:
"I have not so behaved that you need put more mistresses upon me!"
Altogether, she was too much for Sir Robert, and he was wise
enough to recognize her cleverness.
"She hath a very good wit," said he, shrewdly; "and nothing is to
be gotten of her except by great policy." And he added: "If I had
to say my fancy, I think it more meet that she should have two
governesses than one."
Mr. Hume notes the fact that after the two servants of the
princess had been examined and had told nothing very serious they
found that they had been wise in remaining friends of the royal
girl. No sooner had Elizabeth become queen than she knighted the
man Parry and made him treasurer of the household, while Mrs.
Ashley, the governess, was treated with great consideration. Thus,
very naturally, Mr. Hume says: "They had probably kept back far
more than they told."
Even Tyrwhitt believed that there was a secret compact between
them, for he said, quaintly: "They all sing one song, and she hath
set the note for them."
Soon after this her brother Edward's death brought to the throne
her elder sister, Mary, who has harshly become known as Bloody
Mary. During this time Elizabeth put aside her boldness, and
became apparently a shy and simple-minded virgin. Surrounded on
every side by those who sought to trap her, there was nothing in
her bearing to make her seem the head of a party or the young
chief of a faction. Nothing could exceed her in meekness. She
spoke of her sister in the humblest terms. She exhibited no signs
of the Tudor animation that was in reality so strong a part of her
But, coming to the throne, she threw away her modesty and brawled
and rioted with very little self-restraint. The people as a whole
found little fault with her. She reminded them of her father, the
bluff King Hal; and even those who criticized her did so only
partially. They thought much better of her than they had of her
saturnine sister, the first Queen Mary.
The life of Elizabeth has been very oddly misunderstood, not so
much for the facts in it as for the manner in which these have
been arranged and the relation which they have to one another. We
ought to recollect that this woman did not live in a restricted
sphere, that her life was not a short one, and that it was crowded
with incidents and full of vivid color. Some think of her as
living for a short period of time and speak of the great
historical characters who surrounded her as belonging to a single
epoch. To them she has one set of suitors all the time--the Duc
d'Alencon, the King of Denmark's brother, the Prince of Sweden,
the russian potentate, the archduke sending her sweet messages
from Austria, the melancholy King of Spain, together with a number
of her own brilliant Englishmen--Sir William Pickering, Sir Robert
Dudley, Lord Darnley, the Earl of Essex, Sir Philip Sidney, and
Sir Walter Raleigh.
Of course, as a matter of fact, Elizabeth lived for nearly seventy
years--almost three-quarters of a century--and in that long time
there came and went both men and women, those whom she had used
and cast aside, with others whom she had also treated with
gratitude, and who had died gladly serving her. But through it all
there was a continual change in her environment, though not in
her. The young soldier went to the battle-field and died; the wise
counselor gave her his advice, and she either took it or cared
nothing for it. She herself was a curious blending of forwardness
and folly, of wisdom and wantonness, of frivolity and unbridled
fancy. But through it all she loved her people, even though she
often cheated them and made them pay her taxes in the harsh old
way that prevailed before there was any right save the king's
At the same time, this was only by fits and starts, and on the
whole she served them well. Therefore, to most of them she was
always the good Queen Bess. What mattered it to the ditcher and
yeoman, far from the court, that the queen was said to dance in
her nightdress and to swear like a trooper?
It was, indeed, largely from these rustic sources that such
stories were scattered throughout England. Peasants thought them
picturesque. More to the point with them were peace and prosperity
throughout the country, the fact that law was administered with
honesty and justice, and that England was safe from her deadly
enemies--the swarthy Spaniards and the scheming French.
But, as I said, we must remember always that the Elizabeth of one
period was not the Elizabeth of another, and that the England of
one period was not the England of another. As one thinks of it,
there is something wonderful in the almost star-like way in which
this girl flitted unharmed through a thousand perils. Her own
countrymen were at first divided against her; a score of greedy,
avaricious suitors sought her destruction, or at least her hand to
lead her to destruction; all the great powers of the Continent
were either demanding an alliance with England or threatening to
dash England down amid their own dissensions.
What had this girl to play off against such dangers? Only an
undaunted spirit, a scheming mind that knew no scruples, and
finally her own person and the fact that she was a woman, and,
therefore, might give herself in marriage and become the mother of
a race of kings.
It was this last weapon, the weapon of her sex, that proved,
perhaps, the most powerful of all. By promising a marriage or by
denying it, or by neither promising nor denying but withholding
it, she gave forth a thousand wily intimations which kept those
who surrounded her at bay until she had made still another deft
and skilful combination, escaping like some startled creature to a
new place of safety.
In 1583, when she was fifty years of age, she had reached a point
when her courtships and her pretended love-making were no longer
necessary. She had played Sweden against Denmark, and France
against Spain, and the Austrian archduke against the others, and
many suitors in her own land against the different factions which
they headed. She might have sat herself down to rest; for she
could feel that her wisdom had led her up into a high place,
whence she might look down in peace and with assurance of the
tranquillity that she had won. Not yet had the great Armada rolled
and thundered toward the English shores. But she was certain that
her land was secure, compact, and safe.
It remains to see what were those amatory relations which she may
be said to have sincerely held. She had played at love-making with
foreign princes, because it was wise and, for the moment, best.
She had played with Englishmen of rank who aspired to her hand,
because in that way she might conciliate, at one time her Catholic
and at another her Protestant subjects. But what of the real and
inward feeling of her heart, when she was not thinking of
political problems or the necessities of state!
This is an interesting question. One may at least seek the answer,
hoping thereby to solve one of the most interesting phases of this
perplexing and most remarkable woman.
It must be remembered that it was not a question of whether
Elizabeth desired marriage. She may have done so as involving a
brilliant stroke of policy. In this sense she may have wished to
marry one of the two French princes who were among her suitors.
But even here she hesitated, and her Parliament disapproved; for
by this time England had become largely Protestant. Again, had she
married a French prince and had children, England might have
become an appanage of France.
There is no particular evidence that she had any feeling at all
for her Flemish, Austrian, or Russian suitors, while the Swede's
pretensions were the laughing-stock of the English court. So we
may set aside this question of marriage as having nothing to do
with her emotional life. She did desire a son, as was shown by her
passionate outcry when she compared herself with Mary of Scotland.
"The Queen of Scots has a bonny son, while I am but a barren
She was too wise to wed a subject; though. had she married at all,
her choice would doubtless have been an Englishman. In this
respect, as in so many others, she was like her father, who chose
his numerous wives, with the exception of the first, from among
the English ladies of the court; just as the showy Edward IV. was
happy in marrying "Dame Elizabeth Woodville." But what a king may
do is by no means so easy for a queen; and a husband is almost
certain to assume an authority which makes him unpopular with the
subjects of his wife.
Hence, as said above, we must consider not so much whom she would
have liked to marry, but rather to whom her love went out
spontaneously, and not as a part of that amatory play which amused
her from the time when she frisked with Seymour down to the very
last days, when she could no longer move about, but when she still
dabbled her cheeks with rouge and powder and set her skeleton face
amid a forest of ruffs.
There were many whom she cared for after a fashion. She would not
let Sir Walter Raleigh visit her American colonies, because she
could not bear to have him so long away from her. She had great
moments of passion for the Earl of Essex, though in the end she
signed his death-warrant because he was as dominant in spirit as
the queen herself.
Readers of Sir Walter Scott's wonderfully picturesque novel,
Kenilworth, will note how he throws the strongest light upon
Elizabeth's affection for Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester.
Scott's historical instinct is united here with a vein of
psychology which goes deeper than is usual with him. We see
Elizabeth trying hard to share her favor equally between two
nobles; but the Earl of Essex fails to please her because he
lacked those exquisite manners which made Leicester so great a
favorite with the fastidious queen.
Then, too, the story of Leicester's marriage with Amy Robsart is
something more than a myth, based upon an obscure legend and an
ancient ballad. The earl had had such a wife, and there were
sinister stories about the manner of her death. But it is Scott
who invents the villainous Varney and the bulldog Anthony Foster;
just as he brought the whole episode into the foreground and made
it occur at a period much later than was historically true. Still,
Scott felt--and he was imbued with the spirit and knowledge of
that time--a strong conviction that Elizabeth loved Leicester as
she really loved no one else.
There is one interesting fact which goes far to convince us. Just
as her father was, in a way, polygamous, so Elizabeth was even
more truly polyandrous. It was inevitable that she should surround
herself with attractive men, whose love-locks she would caress and
whose flatteries she would greedily accept. To the outward eye
there was very little difference in her treatment of the handsome
and daring nobles of her court; yet a historian of her time makes
one very shrewd remark when he says: "To every one she gave some
power at times--to all save Leicester."
Cecil and Walsingham in counsel and Essex and Raleigh in the field
might have their own way at times, and even share the sovereign's
power, but to Leicester she intrusted no high commands and no
important mission. Why so? Simply because she loved him more than
any of the rest; and, knowing this, she knew that if besides her
love she granted him any measure of control or power, then she
would be but half a queen and would be led either to marry him or
else to let him sway her as he would.
For the reason given, one may say with confidence that, while
Elizabeth's light loves were fleeting, she gave a deep affection
to this handsome, bold, and brilliant Englishman and cherished him
in a far different way from any of the others. This was as near as
she ever came to marriage, and it was this love at least which
makes Shakespeare's famous line as false as it is beautiful, when
he describes "the imperial votaress" as passing by "in maiden
meditation, fancy free."