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CHAPTER XII 1576-1580
We have seen that from the accession of Henry III. of France in the autumn of 1574 it suited English policy to draw closer to Spain. An event happened, however, late in 1576 which once more changed the entire position. Requesens, the Spanish Viceroy of Flanders, had died in March 1576, before his mission of pacification was complete. It is true that Catholic Flanders and Brabant had been won back again, but Holland and Zeeland still stood out. The fierce Spanish infantry cared for no distinction between Fleming and Hollander, Catholic or Protestant, and were openly discontented at the conciliatory policy which Philip’s penury rendered needful. They were unpaid, for there was no money in the treasury to pay them, and soon mutiny, pillage, and murder became the order of the day. Philip was in despair, and ordered his brother Don Juan to hurry to Flanders from Italy to pacify and withdraw the troops, and to conciliate the indignant Catholic Flemings at any cost. Don Juan scorned and hated the task—which he said a woman could do better than a soldier. He was full of a secret plan to dash over to England with the Spanish infantry from Flanders; and instead of obeying orders and going direct to his new government, he hurried to Spain for the purpose of persuading his brother to allow him to have his way.

The time thus wasted was fatal. Peace with England[314] was absolutely necessary for Philip, and he refused to countenance Don Juan’s plans. But Orange had spies everywhere; Burghley’s secretary, Herll, was in Flanders, and long before Don Juan arrived on the Flemish frontier the hopes of the murderous rabble of soldiery that the young Prince would lead them to England were well known to the Lord Treasurer and his mistress. Early in November 1576 the Spanish fury burst upon Antwerp. The Council of Regency consisted mostly of Flemish Catholic nobles, and they fought as well as they might against the blood lust of the King’s soldiers. When all hope was gone, and the fairest cities of Flanders had been devastated and ruined, and their populations massacred, without distinction of age, sex, or creed, then Catholic Flanders turned against the wreckers of their homes, and shoulder to shoulder with Orange and his Protestants, stood at bay. When Don Juan arrived at Luxemburg he was informed that the States would only allow him to take up his governorship on terms to be dictated by them in union with Orange; the first condition of which was that the Spanish troops must leave the Netherlands forthwith, and by land, in order that they might not invade England. Don Juan was mad with fury and disappointment; but chafe as he might, he had to give way, and in the end was forced to enter Brussels only as Governor on sufferance of the States in the spring of 1577.

To England there came now to beg for aid and support, not rough Zeelanders alone, not beggars of the sea, not boorish burghers, but the very nobles who had often come before as Philip’s representatives—De Croys, Montmorencis, De Granvelles, Zweveghems, and the like; Catholics of bluest blood, but ready to claim any help against the Spanish oppressor. Dr. Wilson was sent as English envoy to the States, and Sir John Smith went[315] to Madrid with a formal offer from Elizabeth to mediate.[403] Philip’s only course was to accept any terms which left him even a nominal sovereignty of his Netherlands dominions, and this he did, rather than allow Elizabeth to pose as mediatrix between him and his subjects. But the altered position in Flanders completely changed the attitude of England towards Spain, especially when in the summer of 1577 Don Juan lost patience, broke faith with the Flemings, threw himself into the fortress of Namur, and defied the States. England’s traditional alliance had not been with the crown of Spain, but with the House of Burgundy as possessor of the Netherlands; and now that Flanders and Brabant were at one with Holland and Zeeland in upholding their rights against Spain, England was naturally on their side against the foreigner, quite independently of the question of creed. There was no longer any concealment about it.[404] The Duke of Arschot’s brother was at the English court in September with the acquiescence of Orange, planning an arrangement which seemed to offer a means by which all parties might be satisfied. The young Austrian Archduke Mathias, Philip’s nephew, was suddenly spirited away from Vienna and installed by the Flemings[316] as sovereign of Flanders, with Orange as his guide and mentor. An English army under Leicester or his brother was to be raised to support him against Don Juan, who was rallying a Catholic force, crying to the Duke of Guise for help, and making a last appeal to his brother to save his honour, if not his sovereignty. The outbreak of the Protestants in Ghent, encouraged by the proximity of Orange, the capture and imprisonment of Arschot and the Catholic nobles, and the desecration of Catholic shrines (end of October), forced Philip’s hands. The Archduke Mathias as a tributary sovereign, with the Catholic Flemings paramount over Orange, might have been tolerated; but if the Protestants and Orange were going to predominate, Spain must fight to the end. So with a heavy heart Philip bent to the inevitable, and sent Alexander Farnese and a Spanish army from Italy once more to reconquer the Netherlands.

The invariable excuse given by Elizabeth for her help to the States was, that it was to keep the French out of Flanders; Don Juan’s appeal to the Guises being especially distasteful to her. “The present support desired of her,” she declared, “is only in consideration of the extreme necessity of the States by reason of the great preparations in France and elsewhere to overrun them, and bring utter ruin upon them; and it not disagreeing with the ancient treaties between the crown of England and the House of Burgundy … the purpose of the States being no other than by these succours to keep themselves in due obedience to the King their sovereign, her Majesty is content to grant the aid desired.”[405] The plausible reasons advanced, however, made no difference to Philip. It was only evident to him that the Queen of England was subsidising rebellion against him, and that her subjects held fortresses in his dominions as[317] a pledge for the money she had advanced. He could not afford to declare war with England at the time, but he did what he could. The Irish malcontents were encouraged with the aid of Papal money; and Catholic plots, with Spanish and Guisan aid, for the rescue of Mary Stuart, the assassination of Elizabeth, and the like, kept the English court in alarm,[406] and pointed the moral for ever on the lips of Philip’s many paid agents and friends in Elizabeth’s counsels.

During most of the period when the arrangements with the States were being concluded in 1577, Burghley was absent from court, and it may be fairly assumed that the less cautious attitude adopted towards Spain was owing to the unchecked influence of Leicester; but with Burghley’s return late in the autumn the astute balancing diplomacy of the master-hand becomes once more apparent, both in the declaration quoted above, and the letter drafted by the Treasurer taken by Wilkes, Clerk of the Council, to Madrid. In it Elizabeth prays Philip to have compassion upon his Flemish subjects and to grant their just demands, and again explains her support of them. Moderate and deferential, however, as the tone of the letter was, it did not alter prior facts, and Philip was indignant and wrathful at what he called an attempt of Elizabeth to lay down the law for him. “Send this man off,” he says, “before his fortnight is up, and before he commits some impertinence which will oblige[318] us to burn him.” Philip might well be angry, for he was impotent: he had to reconquer his own Flemings, Catholics and Protestants too, thanks to the aid they had obtained from Elizabeth. To make matters more galling, Antonio de Guaras had suddenly been arrested at dead of night, all his papers captured, his property sequestrated, and the poor man himself accused of consorting and plotting with the Queen’s enemies.[407] Lord Burghley, his former friend, was daily threatening him with the rack in the Tower; and for eighteen months he was treated with calculating contumely and harshness, only at last to be released, old, broken, and penniless, and sent to Spain scornfully to die.

In January 1578, Don Juan and Farnese defeated the States troops at Gemblours, and it seemed as if once more Flanders and Brabant would fall a prey to Spanish soldiery. Elizabeth’s aid had become less liberal with the return of Burghley, who had no objection at all to Spanish predominance in Catholic Flanders; his only interest there was to keep the French out.[408] But the Flemings naturally regarded the position from another point of view. What they wanted was to preserve their autonomous rights against Spain. Mathias had turned out a broken reed: he had no money, no followers, no friends, and no ability; and the really dominant man in the Government was Protestant Orange. This did not[319] please the Catholic nobles, and they cast about for another prince with a greater following than Mathias, who should at once be a Catholic and yet acceptable to Orange and the Protestants. Catharine had for some time past anticipated the position, and had been busy, but secretly, pushing the claims of her son Alen?on; but for her purpose it was necessary to manage warily, in order to avoid giving Philip open offence. Alen?on, however, was bound by no such considerations. Nothing would have suited him better than to draw France into war with Spain. He was under arrest and strictly guarded, but he contrived, on the 14th February 1578, to escape out of a second-floor window in the Louvre. All France was in a turmoil. Huguenots and malcontents flocked to the Flemish frontier, and Catharine raced half over France to beg her errant son to return. Henry III. assured Mendoza, the new Spanish Ambassador on his way to England, that his brother was obedient, and he was sure he would do nothing against Philip in Flanders. But all the world knew that he would if he could; and that whatever he might do with a French force there would be against English as well as Spanish interests. Once more, therefore, it was necessary for Elizabeth to change her policy somewhat, and Lord Burghley resumed his favourite character of a friend to the ancient Spanish alliance.

The new Spanish Ambassador saw Elizabeth on the[320] 16th March 1578, and gave her all sorts of reassuring messages from Philip. He was the most clement of sovereigns. A successor to Don Juan should be appointed who should please everybody, and all would soon be settled. A few days afterwards Mendoza had a long conversation with Burghley, in the presence of other Councillors. As Philip had, said the Treasurer, practically accepted the various concessions to the Flemings recommended by the Queen; “if the terms offered were not accepted by the States, she herself would take up arms against them.” This was probably too strong for Leicester and Walsingham, Puritans both, and Mendoza says they seemed to be urging something upon Burghley very forcibly, which he thought was the question of the withdrawal of the Spanish troops from Flanders; but it ended in Burghley again pointedly offering the Queen’s mediation.

A few days later the Duke of Arschot’s brother, the Marquis d’Havrey, Leicester’s great friend, arrived in England to counteract Mendoza’s efforts, and to beg that the troops that had been promised should be sent to the States. He was made much of by the English nobles and the Queen, who was now greatly influenced by Leicester, and Burghley at the moment seems to have stood almost alone in his resistance of open aid being sent to the States.[409] It did not take Mendoza many days to discover how things really lay. “I have found the Queen,” he writes, “much opposed to your Majesty’s interests, and most of her ministers are quite alienated from us, particularly those who are most important, as although there are seventeen Councillors … the bulk of the business really depends upon the Queen, Leicester, Walsingham, and Cecil, the latter of whom, although by virtue of his[321] office he takes part in the resolutions, absents himself from the Council on many occasions, as he is opposed to the Queen’s helping the rebels so effectively, and thus weakening her own position. He does not wish, however, to break with Leicester and Walsingham on the matter, they being very much wedded to the States and extremely self-seeking. I am assured that they are keeping the interest of the money lent to the States, besides the presents they have received out of the principal. They urge the business under the cloak of religion, which Cecil cannot well oppose.”[410]

This, indeed, was one of the periods when Burghley’s moderating influence was overborne by Leicester, Walsingham, and the Puritans. The Lord Treasurer still did his best—constantly ill though he was—to stem the violence of the tide, befriending the bishops who were being bitterly attacked,[411] and counselling caution in aiding the Flemings against Spain; but, as we have seen, he was somewhat in the background, and absented himself from court as much as possible. It is curious, however, to see, even under these circumstances, how he was still appealed to by all parties. He was very ill in April at Theobalds, and the Queen happened to be suffering from toothache. Of course Hatton must write to the Lord Treasurer, begging him to come to court and give his advice as to what should be done. The reply is very characteristic. Notwithstanding his own pain he would come up at once, he wrote, if by so doing he could relieve the Queen; but as the physicians advised that the tooth should be extracted, though they dared[322] not tell the Queen so, all he could do would be to urge her Majesty to have it done.[412] Hatton did not care to incur the responsibility of saying so himself, and simply showed the Queen Burghley’s letter. Doubtless Elizabeth took the good advice tendered; for it was only a day or two afterwards that young Gilbert Talbot, Lord Shrewsbury’s son, was walking in the Tilt Yard, Whitehall, one morning, under the Queen’s windows, when her maiden Majesty herself came to the casement in her night-dress, in full view of Talbot, who wrote: “My eye fell towards her, and she showed to be greatly ashamed thereof, for that she was unready and in her night-stuff; so when she saw me after dinner as she went to walk, she gave me a great fillip on the forehead, and told the Lord Chamberlain how I had seen her that morning, and how ashamed she was.” Talbot, in writing this to his father (1st May 1578) ends his letter by saying that the Queen was that week to stay three or four days with Burghley at Theobalds. It is plain to see that the renewed severity against the Catholics in England, and the almost ostentatious aiding of the States against Spain, did not meet with the approval of Burghley. He was much more concerned for the moment at the large levies of French troops being collected on the Flemish frontier; and his ordinary policy would have been either to side with the Spaniards against them, or to have disarmed their figurehead Alen?on (or Anjou as he was now called) by holding out hopes of his marriage with the Queen, if the earnest attempts of the English to mediate between the States and Don Juan were fruitless. But he had to reckon with Leicester and Walsingham, and the Queen’s policy wavered almost daily between her two sets of counsellors.[413]


To the Queen’s visit to Theobalds is doubtless due the entry in Burghley’s diary of 15th May, recording the despatch of Edward Stafford to inspect and report upon the French forces on the Flemish frontier. Alen?on himself used every effort to convince the Queen of his desire to look to her, rather than to his brother, as his guide and support. On the 19th May he sent her a letter by one of his friends, informing her of his intention of relieving the Netherlands; “of which intention,” he says, “she already knows so much that he will not tire her by explaining it further.” On the 7th July he crossed the frontier, and threw himself into Mons for the purpose, as he declared, “of helping this oppressed people, and humiliating the pride of Spain;” and at the same time he sent his chamberlain to offer marriage to Elizabeth, and assure her of his complete dependence upon her. It was unwelcome news for Elizabeth, for she could never trust the French. Alen?on, after all, was a Catholic, and she was uncertain whether Henry III. was not really behind his brother. Gondi, one of the leaders of Catharine’s counsels, had recently come to England with a request to be allowed to see Mary Stuart;[414] Catholic[324] intrigues in Scotland had succeeded in putting an end to Morton’s regency (March 1578); and on all sides there were indications that, if Elizabeth could only be dragged into open hostility to Spain, and so rendered powerless, an attempt would be made on the part of France to recover its lost influence over Scotland. Mendoza carefully fanned the flame of Elizabeth’s distrust against the French; and the effect of Walsingham’s absence in Flanders, whilst Leicester was away at Buxton, is noticeable at once. “The Queen,” writes Mendoza (19th July), “is now turning her eyes more to your Majesty; and her ministers have begun to get friendly with me. If your Majesty wishes to retain them, I see a way of doing it.”[415]

Alen?on’s agents in the meanwhile were not idle. One after the other came to assure her of their master’s desire to marry her, and look to her alone for guidance. He had quarrelled with his brother, he said, and had no other mistress than the Queen of England. They quite convinced Sussex, apparently, for he entered warmly into their marriage plans, which gave him another chance of revenge upon Leicester. Elizabeth’s desire to be amiable to Alen?on’s envoys at Long Melford during her progress (August) led her to insult Sussex, as Lord Steward, about the amount of plate on the sideboard. This gave an opportunity for Lord North, a creature of Leicester, to give Sussex the lie, and led to a further feud which continued for months.[416]


But though Elizabeth was somewhat tranquillised with regard to the French King’s connivance in Alen?on’s proceedings, she was cool about the marriage business. “If the Prince liked to come, she told De Bacqueville, he might do so; but he must not take offence if she did not like him when she saw him;” whereupon Burghley told the envoy that if he were in his place he would not bring his master over on such a message. All the charming of Alen?on’s attractive agents was unsuccessful in opening the Queen’s money bags, and the loan of 300,000 crowns they prayed for was refused. If he wanted her aid or affection, she said, he must first obey her and retire from Flanders, and she would then consider what she should do. Pressure was put upon Alen?on by his brother, by the Pope and the Catholics, on the other hand, to desist from his enterprise. Splendid Catholic alliances were proposed to him, and dire threats of punishment held out if he did not retire. When the Protestant Hollanders discovered that Alen?on could count neither upon England nor France to support him, they began to cry off. The only temptation they had in welcoming a Catholic prince was the hope of national aid. If he did not bring that, he was as useless to them as poor Mathias had been. And so all through the autumn of 1578 the fate of Flanders hung on Elizabeth’s caprice. Henry III. was anxious to get his brother married to Elizabeth, and a fresh national alliance concluded; but he wished to avoid pledging himself against Spain, so as to be able to hold the balance. Elizabeth’s aim was similar, and she would promise nothing; but she swore both to Flemings and Spaniards that for every Frenchman that set foot in Flanders there should be an Englishman. Fresh German[326] mercenaries were raised at her expense to aid the States; renewed attempts, backed by threats, were made to persuade Don Juan to ratify the pacification of Ghent; but Alen?on, in the meanwhile, with a dwindling force and no money, was falling to the ground between the two stools of France and England, Huguenot or Catholic. At the end of the year ominous news came that the Huguenots had been won over by the Queen-mother;[417] that the King of France had entered into a great Catholic league against Elizabeth, and was raising a force of mercenaries in Germany to help Alen?on to keep a footing in Flanders, in spite of England; whilst a Scottish nobleman, a Douglas, was at the French court carrying on some secret intrigue with Henry III.

Elizabeth was alarmed at this, and at once became warm in the Alen?on marriage, thanks partly also to the arrival of the Prince’s agent Simier, who very soon established a complete influence over the Queen, to the infinite scandal of all Europe. Against this influence Mendoza, able, bold, and crafty, battled ceaselessly: for ever pointing at the intrigues of the French in Scotland, their old jealousy of England, the approaching marriageable age of the King of Scots, which would give an opportunity for recovering French influence in his country, and much more to the same effect. After one conversation of this sort with the Queen, late in January 1579, Mendoza drove his points home one by one to Burghley and Sussex, showing them how much more profitable was an alliance with Spain than with France, and the danger of England herself being attacked if she took the Netherlands rebels under her protection. Amongst other things Burghley replied that “he had told M. Simier that one of the principal arguments in favour of the marriage,[327] namely, that Alen?on might become King of France, had turned him (Cecil) against it, as he considered that it would be a disadvantage to England, whereupon Simier had complained of him to the Queen. For his own part his desire had always been to see the Queen married to a prince of the House of Austria, with which it was well to be in alliance; but since old friends cast them off, and your Majesty refused to confirm the treaties, or receive a minister at your court,[418] they must seek new friends.”

The current of affairs and the Queen’s fickleness evidently displeased the Lord Treasurer. In September (1578) he had unsuccessfully begged leave of absence to visit Burghley,[419] where the rebuilding of the mansion was still progressing, under the care of Sir Thomas Cecil. He was not allowed to go; but the plague raged in London all the autumn, and Burghley retreated to Theobalds, where he was within easy reach of the Council. He found, moreover, Leicester’s enmity towards him more active than ever,[420] and Hatton, now his chief henchman, for Sussex was unstable, was of inferior rank, influence, and ability. But though his political influence for a time was under a cloud, there was no abatement of the appeals to his judgment and for his intercession with the Queen. Imprisoned Catholics, deprived Puritans, old friends, like the Duchess of Suffolk, Lord Lincoln, or the Earl of Bedford, claimed his advice in their affairs; suitors at law besought his good word; miners or explorers prayed for his patronage; bishops bespoke his aid to govern their clergy; the clergy appealed to him against the bishops. High and humble, friend and stranger,[328] rich and poor alike, looked to Burghley for guidance, and found at least patient consideration for their causes.[421]

By the beginning of 1579, however, the aspect of European politics had become so threatening that the practised hand of the Lord Treasurer was needed at the helm, and thenceforward his influence was again in the ascendant. Simier was making violent vicarious love to the Queen, and letters of the most extravagant description were exchanged between the young Prince and Elizabeth, whilst really sincere and earnest efforts were being made in favour of the match by Henry III. and Catharine de Medici. Commissioners and ambassadors went backwards and forwards, and the conditions, not only of the Queen’s marriage, but of a national offensive and defensive alliance between France and England, were under discussion. Henry III. was ready, he said, to submit to any conditions desired by Elizabeth, and Alen?on was almost blasphemous in his praising of the charms of his elderly flame. There were two main reasons for this drawing together of England and France. Don Juan was dead, and the military genius and diplomacy of Alexander Farnese had once more separated Catholic Belgium from Protestant Holland (Treaty of Arras, January 1579). Orange himself still clung to the hope of consolidating a united Flemish nation, including north and south, and desired to use Alen?on, with the Queen of England’s support, for that purpose but there was no enthusiasm in Holland for the idea; and in the meanwhile Alen?on was isolated in Catholic Flanders, with his own brother raging at the compromising position in which he placed him, and ordering him to return to France. It was evident to Henry that the only way in which his turbulent brother[329] could be established in Flanders, without causing both Spanish and English arms to be used against him, was to let him depend solely upon Elizabeth and Orange, whilst France stood aloof. This was one of the reasons for the closer relations desired by Catharine and her son. The other was more important still. The young King of Portugal had fallen in battle in Morocco, and the new King was an aged, childless Cardinal. Philip of Spain was already intriguing for the succession, which he claimed. The possession of the fine harbours and Atlantic seaboard of Portugal by Spain would enormously increase her maritime potency, to the detriment of England and France; and it was felt that these powers must unite to resist the common danger. That Lord Burghley was early alive to its importance is proved by a genealogical statement of his relating to the Portuguese succession immediately after the death of the King Don Sebastian[422] (August 1578), and several memoranda of subsequent date on the subject.

Under these circumstances the Alen?on approaches again became to all appearance serious. The Prince, ceding to the pressure placed upon him, consented to retire from Flanders early in the year, and was reconciled to his brother; and then the arrangements for effective action in the Netherlands and a visit of Alen?on to England were actively proceeded with. How busy Lord Burghley was in the matter will be seen by the very voluminous minutes in his own hand of the discussions in Council on the subject (Hatfield Papers). In all probability the Queen was not even now sincere in the matter of the marriage, especially as Leicester and Hatton pretended to be warmly in favour of it, until they became personally jealous of Simier; but Burghley was evidently doubtful. In his balancing papers he gives much more[330] space to the “perils” than to the advantages of the match, and his own final judgment is, that “except that her Majesty would of her own mind incline to marriage he would never advise thereto.” In the meanwhile, all England was in a veritable panic at the idea of the marriage of the Queen to a Papist. Puritan pulpits rang with denunciations; Stubbs’ famous book, “The Discovery of a Gaping Gulph,” which cost the author his right hand and deeply offended the Queen, was read widely; and the Queen herself was obliged to warn her eager suitor of the hatred of her people to the idea of his proposed visit. But the preparations went on, and the court was ordered to make itself as fine as money would make it, Leicester alone sending to Flanders for twelve hundred pounds’ worth of silks, velvets, and cloth of gold. Simier in the meanwhile was daily becoming more clamorous for a definite answer to his master’s proposal. Large bribes were paid by the French Ambassador and Mendoza respectively to the Councillors to forward or impede the match, and the probabilities shifted from day to day.[423]

When the Queen seemed really bent upon the match, Burghley did not attempt to oppose her; he simply placed before her the arguments for and against it, and left the decision to her. This is exactly what Elizabeth did not wish. Simier and her own imprudence had drawn her into an extremely dangerous position, and she wished her Council to assume the responsibility of extricating her[331] from it. Her first object in resuming the negotiations had been to get Alen?on and the French out of Flanders, whilst preventing the despair and collapse of Orange; her present aim was to secure the King of France to her side, and weaken Spain without herself being drawn into open hostility. The talk of marriage helped her in this; but if once she fell into the trap, and was married indeed, her............
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