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CHAPTER VIII 1566-1567
Through the spring of 1566 the unfortunate Mary Stuart hurried to her destruction. Her dislike of her husband increased as Bothwell obtained more influence over her; all prudence with regard to the overt favouring of Catholicism was cast aside, Murray and the “rebels” were sternly forbidden to return to Scotland, and the breach between Mary and “her good sister” grew wider every day. Nor is this to be wondered at. Randolph was busy in supporting the Protestants, and had been warned away from Mary’s court. His letters to Cecil are full of dread foreboding of disaster to come, foreboding which most historians interpret as foreknowledge. Cecil’s enemies have sought industriously to connect him with the sanguinary scenes which were shortly afterwards enacted in Scotland; but they have always reasoned from the information contained in Randolph’s letters to him, which in no case can be considered as evidence against him. That he was aware before Rizzio’s murder that some sort of plot existed,[227] and that Murray and his friends were parties to it, is certain; but that he himself had any share in its concoction, so far as the killing of Rizzio is concerned, has never been proved, and is most improbable.[228] As has been seen, his remedy for the[180] Scottish danger was not murder; for so far-seeing a man must have known that the killing of a favourite secretary could not divert Mary from the league of Catholic sovereigns, or alter her policy towards England whilst Huntly, Bothwell, and Athol were at her side, and papal emissaries in her close confidence. The killing of Rizzio satisfied Darnley’s spite, and served Murray’s and Argyll’s personal ends, but was more likely to injure than benefit English national objects.

What Cecil was personally doing during the first three months of 1566 was to strengthen the Protestant party in Scotland by money and promises of support,[229] whilst dividing the Catholic sovereigns upon whom Mary Stuart depended, by working desperately to bring the Archduke’s match to a successful issue. With him now, in addition to the Earl of Sussex, were the Duke of Norfolk, the Earl of Arundel, and many others who usually leant[181] to the Catholic side; for Leicester was openly under French influence, always suspicious in the eyes of old-fashioned Englishmen, and now more than ever distrusted, for Cardinal Lorraine’s agents were around Mary, and the Guisan Rambouillet was carrying the Order of St. Michael to Darnley, with loving messages to the Queen of Scots.

On the last day of January 1566, Cecil and other Councillors went to Guzman’s house to discuss the eternal question of the trade regulations and the suppression of piracy. When their conference was finished, Cecil took the Ambassador aside and urgently besought him to use his great influence with the Queen in favour of the Archduke’s suit. The next day the request was pressed even more warmly by Sussex, who told Guzman that the majority of the Council had decided to address a joint note on the subject to the Queen. The Spaniard was not enthusiastic, for he did not wish to break entirely with Leicester in view of possibilities; but on the 2nd February he broached the subject to the Queen and discussed it at length. She was, as usual, diplomatic and shifty; but whenever she was uncomfortably pressed, began to talk of her marriage with Leicester as a possibility; and two days afterwards Guzman saw her walking in the gallery at Whitehall with Leicester, who, she said, was just persuading her to marry him, “as she would do if he were a king’s son.” People thought, she continued, that it was Leicester’s fault she was unmarried, and it had made him so unpopular that he would have to leave court.

Almost daily Cecil or Sussex urged the Ambassador to favour the Archduke with the Queen, and were untiring in their attempts to induce the Archduke himself to come to England, in the hope of forcing the Queen’s hand. As a means to the same end they continued to[182] sow jealousy between the Catholic sovereigns. “Cecil tells me,” writes Guzman (2nd March), “that so great and constant are the attempts of the French to hinder this marriage, and to perturb the peace and friendship between your Majesty and this country, that they leave no stone unturned with that object. They are gaining over Lord Robert with gifts and favours, and are even doing the same with Throgmorton. It is true that Cecil is not friendly with them, but I think he tells me the truth with regard to it.”[230] Again, when Sir Robert Melvil, who had come from Mary to pray Elizabeth to release Lady Margaret, was leaving London on his return, Cecil begged him to see Guzman before his departure, “as no person had done so much as he had to bring about concord between the two Queens, and he (Cecil) thought that if the differences could be referred to him (Guzman) for arbitration, they might easily be settled.” Guzman thought so too, and wrote by Melvil to Mary to that effect, advising her to abandon arrogant pretensions, and accept such honourable terms as should satisfy Elizabeth;[231] and, as a preliminary, he exhorted her to live on good terms with her husband. Before Melvil left Cecil, the latter told him that they had news of Rizzio’s murder (this was written on the 18th March), and at the same time there came a messenger from Murray, saying that he had returned into Scotland (from Newcastle) on a letter of assurance from Darnley. The Earl of Murray had entered Edinburgh in triumph the day after the murder, and the Queen and Darnley had together started for Dunbar.

Another opportunity for Cecil to breed dissensions between Spain and France came when the news arrived[183] of Pero Melendez’s massacre of the French settlement in Florida, on the ground that the territory belonged to the King of Spain. The Queen professed herself to Guzman delighted at such good news; but was surprised that Florida was claimed by Spain, as she always thought that the Frenchman Ribault had discovered it; indeed she had seriously thought of conquering it herself. Guzman saw Cecil when he left the Queen (30th March), and the Secretary had nothing but reprobation for Coligny, who had sent out the French Florida expedition. “He said your Majesty should proclaim your rights with regard to Florida, that they might be known everywhere.” Cecil, shortly before this, whilst discussing the question of Hawkins’ voyages to Guinea and South America, said that he himself had been offered a share in the enterprise, but that he did not care to have anything to do with such adventures. By all this it will be seen that Cecil’s strenuous efforts to combat the Catholic league, which might lend to Mary Stuart a united support against England, took the traditional form of drawing the House of Austria to the side of England, and causing jealousy between France and Spain. He knew that in the long-run national antipathies were stronger than religious affinities, and that the Catholic league, which had been ineffectual after the peace of Cateau-Cambresis (1559), could with time and industry be broken again.[232]


But while Cecil approached Spain in order to divide her from France, he never forgot that Philip was the champion of the Catholics throughout the world, and kept his eyes on every movement which might forebode ill to England. His spies in Flanders were daily sending reports of the rumours there of King Philip’s attitude towards the resistance of the Flemish nobles to the Inquisition; indeed, as Guzman writes to his master (29th April): “These people have intelligence from everywhere, and are watching religious affairs closely; but it is difficult to understand what they are about, and with whom they correspond, as Cecil does it all himself, and does not trust even his own secretary.”[233]

Cecil might well be vigilant, for Mary Stuart’s plots went on unceasingly.[234] Sir Robert Melvil arrived in[185] London in May, again to discuss the question of the succession, and to ask Elizabeth to stand sponsor for Mary’s expected child; but, greatly to Elizabeth’s indignation, he brought amiable letters from the Scottish Queen to the Earl of Northumberland and other English Catholic nobles; and whilst he was in London, an emissary from Mary Stuart to the Pope passed through on his return to Scotland with 20,000 crowns from the Pontiff, and a promise of 4000 crowns a month to pay a thousand soldiers for her (Mary’s) defence. An envoy, too, of the rebel Shan O’Neil was at the same time lurking in Edinburgh, conferring with the Queen.

All this was known to Cecil and Elizabeth, and drove them ever nearer to Spain and to the Archduke’s match, Leicester himself, probably out of jealousy of Ormonde, who was vigorously flirting with the Queen, now openly siding with the Austrian. Even Throgmorton was reconciled with Cecil by the Earls of Pembroke and Leicester, who promised the Secretary that Throgmorton should no longer thwart his policy.

On the 23rd June, Sir James Melvil arrived with breakneck speed in London from Edinburgh, with news of the birth of Mary Stuart’s heir.[235] It was late, but Sir Robert Melvil, the Ambassador, lost no time in conveying the tidings to Cecil, whose own entry of the event in the Perpetual Calendar at Hatfield runs thus: “1566, 19 June, was borne James at Edinburgh inter hor? 10 et 11 matutino.” Cecil promised to keep the news secret from the court until Mary’s own messenger could convey it officially to the Queen. Elizabeth was at Greenwich at the time, and when Cecil arrived she was “in great mirth dancing after supper.” Cecil approached the Queen and whispered in her ear, and in a moment the[186] secret was out and all joy vanished. With a burst of envy, Elizabeth, almost in tears, told her ladies that the Queen of Scots was mother of a fair boy, whilst she, Elizabeth, was but a “barren stock.”[236] When the Melvils saw her the next day she had recovered her composure, and promised to send Cecil to Scotland to be present at the christening, which embassy the Secretary with some difficulty evaded, “as there were so many suspicions on both sides.”[237]

The Queen had suffered a serious illness early in the summer, which, with the anxiety of her position, had reduced her to a very low condition. It was decided that a progress should be undertaken for her health, in which the University of Oxford could be visited, and Cecil be specially honoured by a stay of the Queen at his house of Burghley. She left London in July, and underwent an ordeal at Oxford similar to that which she had experienced two years before at Cambridge. The vestments controversy was raging with great bitterness, clergymen were deprived and punished for contumacy, pulpit and press were silenced, and the Protestants resentful. Cecil was firm, but diplomatic, and the Queen indignant that her laws should be called into question. Under the circumstances it required great tact on both sides to avoid any untoward event during the Queen’s visit to Oxford, where the Puritan party was very strong. Leicester and Cecil were both with the Queen, the former strongly favouring the Puritans, the latter taking his stand on the Queen’s order for the discipline of the Church. On the Queen’s reception, the Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Humphreys, one of the leaders of the anti-vestment party, approached to kiss the Queen’s[187] hand. “Mr. Doctor,” said the Queen, smiling, “that loose gown becomes you mighty well; I wonder your notions should be so narrow.” Once, during the speech of the public orator, tender ground was touched, but the visit passed over without further embittering an already bitter controversy, and Leicester and Cecil, Puritan Knollys, Catholic Howard of Effingham, and many others received the honorary degree of Master of Arts.[238]

Cecil’s own entries in his journal of the period are meagre enough:—

“1566. June. Fulsharst, a foole, was suborned to speak slanderously of me at Greenwich to the Queen’s Majesty; for which he was committed to Bridewell.

“June 16. A discord inter Com. Sussex et Leicester at Greenwych, ther appeased by Her Majesty.

“August 3. The Queen’s Majesty was at Colly Weston, in Northamptonshire.

“August 5. The Queen’s Majesty at my house in Stamford.

“August 31. The Queen in progress went from Woodstock to Oxford.”

During the progress a disagreement between Cecil and Leicester took place, as well as that mentioned between the latter and Sussex. The communications between the Earl and the French were constant, and had caused much heart-burning. The existence of a strong and active party in the English court ostentatiously leaning to the French side, at a time when Cecil’s whole policy depended upon keeping the good-will of Spain, hampered him at every turn, and he wrote a letter to Sir Thomas Hoby, privately instructing him to give out in France that Leicester’s influence over the Queen had decreased, and that the French need not[188] court him so much as they did. When the letter arrived, Hoby, the Ambassador, was dead, and it fell into other hands. Leicester heard of it, and taxed Cecil, who retorted angrily.

Even in Cecil’s own house the intrigues against his policy continued. He had sent Danett to the Emperor with the draft clauses of the proposed marriage treaty with the Archduke, and the news from Vienna seemed to confirm the best hopes of those who favoured the Austrian match. This, of course, did not suit Leicester. Vulcob, the nephew of the new French Ambassador, B?chetel de la Forest, went to Stamford to carry his uncle’s excuses for not coming earlier to see the Queen. As he was entering the presence-chamber at Burghley, Leicester stopped him, and began talking about the marriage. He hardly knew what to think, he said, but he was sure that if the Queen ever did marry, she would choose no one but himself for a husband. The Frenchman, no doubt, understood him. The Archduke’s match was getting too promising, and must be checked by the usual French move. So Vulcob took care when he saw the Queen to dwell mainly upon the attractive physical qualities of the young King Charles IX. Elizabeth was never tired of such a subject, and very soon the French Ambassador was warmly intriguing to bring forward his master’s suit again, as a counterpoise to the Austrian hopes, but really in Leicester’s interests, whilst presents and loving messages came thick and fast from France to Leicester and Throgmorton. The Emperor’s reply by Danett was, after all, not so encouraging as Cecil and Sussex had been led to expect, and Leicester’s hopes rose higher than ever. During the Queen’s progress he arranged with his friends a scheme which seemed as if it would stop the Archduke’s chances for ever. Parliament was to meet in October, and the plan was to influence both Houses to[189] press the Queen on the questions of the succession and her marriage, “so that by this means the Archduke’s business may be upset … and then he (Leicester) may treat of his own affair at his leisure.” It was clear that any attempt on the part of the Puritans and Leicester to force the Queen’s hands with regard to the marriage whilst the delicate religious question was under discussion with the Emperor, would put an end to the negotiations, and Cecil and his friends strove their utmost to avoid such a result. They urged Guzman again to persuade the Queen to the match; the Duke of Norfolk came purposely to court with the same object, and for once Cecil himself was willing, in appearance, to place the religious question in the background. “Cecil,” writes Guzman, “desires this business so greatly, that he does not speak about the religious point; but this may be deceit, as his wife is of a contrary opinion, and thinks that great trouble may be caused to the peace of the country through it. She has great influence with her husband, and no doubt discusses the matter with him; but she appears a much more furious heretic than he is.” Well might the Queen and Cecil be apparently more anxious to sink religious differences than Lady Cecil, for they probably knew how imminent the danger was better than she.

The Protestants in Flanders and Holland were in open revolt; and slow Philip was collecting in Spain and Italy an overwhelming force by land and sea, with which he himself was to come as the avenger of his injured kingship, and crush the rising spirit of religious reform. If such an army as his swept over and desolated his Netherlands, whither next might it turn? For six years Elizabeth had kept Spain from harming her, out of jealousy of France; but France was now more than half Guisan, and in favour of Mary Stuart, and the Huguenots themselves had deserted England when she[190] was fighting their battle at Havre. No help, then, could be expected from France if Spain attacked Elizabeth for her “heresy”; and the Queen and her wise minister were fain to conciliate a foe they were not powerful enough to face in the open. Elizabeth went beyond the Spaniard himself in her violent denunciation of the insurgents in the Netherlands. Their only aim, she said, was liberty against God and princes. They had neither reason, virtue, nor religion. She excused herself for having helped the French Huguenots, which she only did, she said, to recover Calais. If the Netherlands rebels came to her for help, she would show them how dearly she held the interests of her good brother King Philip; “and she cursed subjects who did not recognise the mercy that God had shown them in sending them a prince so clement and humane as your Majesty.”[239] Cecil was not quite so extravagant as this, but he missed no opportunity at so critical a juncture of drawing nearer to Spain, and was even more compliant than ever before on the vexed subject of the English right to trade in the Spanish Indies. “Cecil is well disposed in this matter,” writes Guzman, “and I am not surprised that the others are not, as they are interested. Cecil assures me that he has always stood aloof from similar enterprises.”

In the meanwhile Leicester’s persistent efforts to hamper Cecil’s policy were bearing fruit. With great difficulty Cecil persuaded the House of Commons to vote the supplies before the question of the succession was dealt with, but a free fight on the floor of the House preceded the vote. The Queen was irritated beyond measure at the inopportune activity of the extreme party about the succession. Sussex, the Spanish Ambassador, and others of Catholic leanings, pointed out to her that if she married the Archduke there would be an end of[191] the trouble, and she need not then think of any successor other than her own children. At length a joint meeting of the two Houses adopted an address to the Queen, urging her to appoint a successor if she did not intend to marry. When the address was presented, her rage passed all decency.[240] The Duke of Norfolk, her own kinsman, and the first subject of the realm, was insulted with vulgar abuse, which well-nigh reduced him to tears. Leicester, Pembroke, Northampton, and Howard were railed at and scolded in turn; only once did she soften somewhat towards Leicester. She had thought, she said, that if all the world had abandoned her, he would never do so. What do the devils want? she asked Guzman. Oh! your Majesty, replied the Ambassador, what they want is liberty, and if monarchs do not combine against it, it is easy to see how it will all end. She would send the ungrateful fellow Leicester away, she said, and the Archduke might now be without suspicion. Gradually, as she calmed, her diplomacy asserted itself, and cleverly, by alternations of threats and cajolery, she reduced Parliament to the required condition of invertebrate dependence upon her will.[241]


All this, we may be sure, did not decrease the ill-feeling in the court, which for the next six months became a hotbed of intrigue. On the one side were Norfolk, Sussex, the Conservatives, and the Catholics, aided by Guzman, and cautiously supported by Cecil and Bacon; whilst on the other, Leicester, Throgmorton, Pembroke, Knollys, and the Puritans, backed by the French Ambassador, ceaselessly endeavoured to check the Austrian-Spanish friendship, and if possible, above all, to ruin Sussex and prevent his embassy to the Emperor. That Leicester would stick at no inconsistency is seen by the curious fact that, whilst he was nominally heading the Puritan party, he, according to Melvil, was strenuously favouring the claims of the Queen of Scots to the succession. He assured Elizabeth that this would be her best safeguard, or “Cecil would undo all,” the reason for this being that Cecil was known to be in favour of Catharine Grey.

On the 14th February 1567, Cecil sent word to his friend Guzman that he had just received secret advice of the murder of Darnley, of which he gave some hasty particulars. The intelligence could hardly have come as a surprise to the Spaniard, for a month previously he had informed Philip that some such act was contemplated. Within a few hours of the reception of the news in London, Leicester sent his brother, the Earl of Warwick, to Catharine Grey’s husband, to offer him his services in the matter of the succession. Five days afterwards Sir James Melvil came with full particulars of the foul deed at Kirk o’ Field, and at once rumour was busy with the name of Mary Stuart as an accomplice in her husband’s death. Elizabeth expressed sorrow and compassion on the day she heard the news, but rather doubtfully told Guzman “that she could not believe that the Queen of Scots could be to blame for[193] so dreadful a thing, notwithstanding the murmurs of the people.” When Guzman, however, pointed out to her how dangerous it would be for the opposite party (Catharine Grey’s friends) to make capital out of the accusation, the Queen agreed that it would be wise to discountenance it, and to keep friendly with Mary Stuart, in order ............
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