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CHAPTER XV 1588-1593
Whilst the tedious negotiations with Parma were dragging on, no slackness was visible in the preparations for resisting the attack on England. Drake was sent to the mouth of the Channel with a fine squadron of ships, whilst the Lord Admiral’s fleet was being put in readiness in the Thames with all haste; and Ralegh in Devonshire, Hunsdon in the north, and Lord Grey and Sir John Norris in the home counties, were busily organising the land forces. As usual, upon Lord Burghley rested much of the labour and responsibility, and to him matters great and small were referred for decision.[550] The English preparations met with many difficulties. The Queen was fractious and fickle, one day hectoring and threatening, and the next cursing Walsingham and his gang, who had drawn her into this strait, and were for ever pestering her for money, which she doled out as sparingly as possible. There was, moreover, no great alacrity shown at first by the people at large in providing special funds to meet the great national emergency, and the trading classes were grumbling at Leicester and the greedy gentlemen whose piracy was largely responsible for the coming war.

The sending of Peace Commissioners to Parma was,[430] as usual, the subject of division in the Council, Burghley naturally advocating the pacific policy, and Leicester, Walsingham, and Paulet violently opposing the negotiations except on impossible terms. The Queen wavered constantly, but was more frequently on the side of peace. Soon after Leicester returned from Holland (January 1588) he opposed in the Council the sending of Commissioners. A comedy was played the same night before the Queen and court, and as the company rose, Elizabeth turned upon Leicester in a great rage and told him she must make peace with Spain at any cost. “If my ships are lost,” she said, “nothing can save me.” Leicester tried to tranquillise her by talking about Drake; but she replied that all he did was to irritate the enemy to her detriment.[551]

The instructions to the Peace Commissioners, as drafted by Burghley,[552] seem to be an honest attempt to come to terms. England was to pledge herself not to send aid of any sort, to the prejudice of Philip, to any of the dominions he had inherited (thus excluding Portugal), and Philip was asked, at least, to bind himself to prevent the molestation by the Inquisition of English mariners on board their ships in Spanish ports. But side by side with this there is reason to believe that Lord Burghley, probably through Crofts, endeavoured to gain the Duke of Parma personally to the side of peace.[553] He had been badly treated by Philip in the matter of Portugal, and was still in the dark as to the King’s real intentions. He was liable to dismissal at any moment;[431] he was short of money, and chafing at the inexplicable delay of the Armada. It was suggested that a condition of the peace might be to give him fixity of tenure of his government of Flanders for life. How far these approaches may have influenced him it is at present difficult to say, but he certainly appealed to Philip earnestly and solemnly to allow him to make peace,[554] and when the Armada finally appeared in the Channel he did nothing to falsify his own prediction of the disaster which awaited it.

The English Commissioners[555] embarked for Ostend (a town in English-Dutch occupation) in March, but one of them, Crofts, a Spanish agent, made no hesitation of landing in Philip’s town of Dunkirk and proceeding overland to Ostend. After infinite bickering as to the place of meeting, the preliminary conferences were held in a tent between Ostend and Nieuport; but on questions of procedure and powers the negotiations were delayed until the Armada had sailed from Lisbon, and Philip’s pretence could be kept up no longer, when the Commissioners hurriedly returned. Crofts’ desire to serve his Spanish paymasters, and to obtain peace at any price, caused him to go beyond his public instructions in making concessions, and at the instance of Leicester he was cast into the Tower on his return; but the rest of the Commissioners acknowledged that they had been tricked, and that Philip had never intended peace. Many persons had thought so from the first, though the delay had been[432] advantageous for England. The Lord Admiral, writing to Walsingham before the Commissioners left England, says: “There never was since England was England such a stratagem and mask made to deceive England, withal, as this is of the treaty of peace. I pray God we have not cause to remember one thing that was made of the Scots by the Englishmen; that we do not curse for this a long grey beard with a white head, witless, that will make all the world think us heartless. You know whom I mean.”[556]

Though Burghley had struggled for thirty years to maintain peace with Spain, when war was inevitable he took far more than his share of the labour of organising it. As usual, he worked early and late, sometimes almost in despair at the Queen’s penuriousness and irritability, and himself suffering incessantly. Whilst he was still striving for peace (10th April) he thus writes to Walsingham: “I cannot express my pain, newly increased in all my left arm. My spirits are even now so extenuated as I have no mind towards anything but to groan with my pain.… Surely, sir, as God will be best pleased with peace, so in nothing can her Majesty content her realm better than in procuring it.… So forced with pain, even from my arm to my heart, I end.”[557] In the midst of the preparations, when Howard, Winter, Drake, and Hawkins were daily writing reports or requests to the over-burdened Lord Treasurer, his favourite but unfortunate daughter, Lady Oxford, died. In his diary he simply records the fact in the words, “Anna Comitissa Oxoni?, filia mia charissima, obiit in Do. Greenwici et 25, Sepult. Westminster;”[558] but the bereaved father was[433] in a few days hard at work again, though still confined to his bed.[559]

At length, on the 30th July (N.S.), the long looked for Armada appeared in the Channel. The story of how the sceptre of the sea passed to England during the next week has often been told elsewhere, and need not be here repeated; but Burghley’s share of the glory at least must not go unrecorded. We have seen how the details of organisation were largely left in his hands; but, in addition to this, like other great nobles, he raised a special force, clothed in his colours, and maintained at his expense,[560] and visited the army encamped at Tilbury, “where,” says Leicester, “I made a fair show for my Lord Treasurer, who came from London to see us.” It is usually asserted also that his two sons, Sir Thomas and Sir Robert, joined the English fleet, like so many other gentlemen of rank; and although this may be true, for certainly Sir Robert was at Dover,[561] and might perhaps have gone on board one of the ships, it is questionable, and their names do not appear in any of the records as being present.

It was hardly to be supposed that the Spaniards would[434] so readily submit to defeat as not to renew the attack, for Englishmen had not yet gauged the paralysing effect of Philip’s system upon his subjects, and, like the rest of the world, took Spain largely on trust; but Burghley was right in his forecast that the Armada itself was so broken and weak that it would run round Ireland and return no more. When the heroics in England were over and matters were settling down, there was still no cessation in the work of the Lord Treasurer. There were intricate victualling accounts to be laboriously calculated in perplexing Roman numerals;[562] there were wages to be paid; captains and admirals to be brought to book for every item of their expenditure, for the Queen would have no slackness in that respect, even though the country and herself had been rescued from a great peril; there were prisoners to interrogate, and plans to be made for future defence, and, as usual, Puritans and prelates to be appeased and reconciled. The lion’s share of all this fell to the gouty, crippled old man with the bright eyes, the grave face, and the snowy hair—to Lord Treasurer Burghley.

Shortly after the disappearance of the Armada, Leicester died (4th September), on his way to Kenilworth, and Burghley lost the political rival who had continued to thwart him for nearly thirty years. Nothing proves more clearly Burghley’s consummate prudence and tact than the fact that, to the very last, his relations with the Earl were always outwardly polite, and even friendly.[563] That[435] this was not owing to the forbearance of Leicester is seen by his violent quarrels with Sussex, Arundel, Ormonde, Heneage, Ralegh, and others who crossed his path.

The death of Leicester, together with that of Sir Walter Mildmay, which happened shortly afterwards, changed the balance of Elizabeth’s Council. The old ministers were dropping off one by one and giving place to younger men, who could not expect to exercise over the experienced and mature ruler the same influence as that of her earlier advisers. In order to strengthen his party Lord Burghley had patronised Ralegh; but Leicester had retorted by bringing forward his young stepson Essex, whom his dying father had left as a solemn charge to Burghley. Essex was a mere lad of twenty-two when Leicester died, and as yet too young to head a party against the aged minister; but he had absorbed all the traditions of the dead favourite, and henceforward thwarted the Cecils to the best of his power with all the persistence of Leicester, but with a haughty incautiousness which belonged to himself alone, and ultimately led him to his tragic death.

Notwithstanding the crushing blow that Spanish power had received, English public feeling continued apprehensive and nervous. Spies abroad still sent alarmist reports of Philip’s future plans, and few Englishmen had yet realised how completely their foe was disabled. When Parliament met, therefore, in February (1589), the largest subsidies ever voted were granted for the defence of the country, and the Houses petitioned her Majesty “to denounce open war against the King of Spain.”

There were, however, other ways of crippling the foe more acceptable both to the Queen and her principal minister. Since 1581 Elizabeth had been playing fast and loose with Don Antonio, the claimant to the[436] crown of Portugal. Leicester and Walsingham had more than once encouraged him to spend large sums of money in England—raised on the sale or security of his jewels—in fitting out naval expeditions in his favour, but nothing effectual had been done for his cause. Catharine de Medici, on the other hand, had countenanced the despatch of two fine expeditions from France to the Azores, both of which had been disastrously defeated; and in the Armada year Antonio again came to England to seek for aid against the common enemy. He was sanguine, and ready to promise anything for immediate aid. Just before the Armada arrived, the plan of diverting Philip’s forces by an attack on Portugal had been broached by the Lord Admiral in a letter to Walsingham, but the Queen would not then hear of any of her ships being sent away.

In September, however, circumstances had changed. It was useless to ask the Queen to accept the whole expense and responsibility of an expedition; but in September 1588, Antonio saw Lord Burghley, who wrote down the plans and offers he made. If, said the pretender, he could once land in Portugal with a sufficient force, all the country would rise in his favour; and his suggestion, supported by Sir John Norris and Sir Francis Drake, was to form a joint-stock undertaking with the countenance and help of the Queen and the Dutch, for the purpose of invading and capturing Portugal in his interest. In exchange he promised to pay the soldiers, and handsomely; to allow them to loot Spanish property in Lisbon; and, above all, to burn Philip’s ships in Lisbon and Seville, and recoup the adventurers their expenditure with a large bonus.[564] If war were to be made at all, this was a method of making it likely to[437] find favour in the eyes of the Queen and Burghley; and in February 1589[565] a warrant was issued authorising the expedition, and appointing rules for its government. Drake was to command at sea, and Norris by land, and the objects are carefully set forth in Burghley’s words: “first, to distress the King of Spain’s ships; second, to obtain possession of the Azores in order to intercept the treasure ships; and third, to assist Don Antonio to recover the kingdom of Portugal if it shall be found that the public voice be favourable to him.”

The Queen contributed £20,000 and seven ships of the navy, and strict conditions were made that her money should not be wasted. But the affair was mismanaged from the first. Most of the men who went were idle vagabonds, the scum of the towns and the sweepings of the jails. The Dutch contingent fell away, the promises of support in England were not kept, money ran short, and the victuals went bad. The Queen lost her temper and began to frown upon the expedition when Drake’s constant demands for further help became too pressing; but finally, after weeks of galling delay, through bad weather and other causes, the expedition put to sea (13th April), nearly 200 sail of all sorts, with 20,000 men. Shortly before it left, the Earl of Essex, with his brother and other gentlemen, had fled to Plymouth in disguise, shipped on board the Swiftsure and put to sea.[566] The Queen had specially refused him permission[438] to accompany the expedition; and when she found that her favourite had disobeyed her, her fury knew no bounds.

From that hour the expedition and commanders got nothing but ill words from her. Not content simply to burn the few ships in Coru?a, the commanders lost a precious fortnight, in direct violation to orders, in besieging the place and burning the lower town. Wine was found in plenty, and excess incapacitated the greater part of the Englishmen; pestilence and desertion worked havoc in their ranks, and subsequently, as a crowning disaster, Norris, persuaded by Antonio against Drake’s advice, marched overland from Peniche to Lisbon, instead of forcing the Tagus.

But Antonio had been deceived. None but a few country people joined him; the Portuguese in Lisbon were utterly cowed by the firmness and severity of the Archduke Albert and his few Spaniards, and Norris had no siege artillery. After a few days of useless heroism, in which young Essex showed himself the brave, rash, generous lad he was, the attempt was abandoned; and harassed by enemies in flank and rear, beset by famine, sickness, and panic, Norris, and what was left of his army, beat a retreat to Cascaes, where Drake and the ships awaited them. The Azores were never approached, and the ships in Lisbon and Seville were not burned, and the inglorious expedition slunk back again to England with a loss of two-thirds of its number of men.

Although Burghley had drawn up the conditions of the Queen’s aid to the expedition, he took no active part in its subsequent organisation, for a great sorrow was impending, which fell upon him ten days before the expedition sailed. He had lived in harmony and affection[439] with his wife for forty-three years, and her death on the 4th April cast him for a time into the deepest sorrow.[567] But even in the midst of his grief, his passion for placing everything on record led him to write a most interesting series of meditations on his loss, which is still extant.[568] Commencing by a reflection on the fruitlessness of wishing his “dear wife alive again in her mortal body,” he proceeds at great length to lay down the direction his thoughts should take for consolation, such as gratitude to God for “His favour in permitting her to have lived so many years together with me, and to have given her grace to have the true knowledge of her salvation.” But most of the curious document is occupied by a statement of the liberal anonymous charities of Lady Burghley, which during her life she had kept inviolably secret, even from her husband; and as some indication of the reality of Lord Burghley’s grief, it may be mentioned that he signs the paper “April 9, 1588.[569] Written at Colling’s Lodge by me in sorrow.”

Through the whole course of his life we have seen William Cecil pursuing the traditional policy of suspicion of France and Scotland, and a desire to draw closer to[440] the rulers of the Netherlands. But in his old age a series of circumstances which were impossible to have been foreseen, entirely revolutionised the political balance of Europe, and for a time led even Lord Burghley to reverse his main policy. The heavy yoke of the Guises, doubly heavy now that they had the power of Spain behind them, had at last galled to desperation the vicious Valois who ruled France. The long-foretold and carefully-planned blow which had murdered the Duke of Guise and his brother, and rid Henry of his hard taskmaster, had been followed by a combination of all French Catholicism against the royal murderer. The subjects were declared to be absolved from their allegiance to the King, Paris flew to arms, the Church thundered denunciations, and the erstwhile royal bigot and monk, the figurehead of the Catholic League, the sleepless persecutor of Protestants, found himself driven into the arms of the only subjects he had who were not ready to tear him to pieces, namely, the Huguenots and excommunicated Henry of Navarre, the legitimate heir to the throne. Together they advanced upon Paris to crush the Guisan Catholics, and wreak vengeance upon the citizens who had deposed their sovereign. Henry of Navarre had often sought and obtained Elizabeth’s help against the Catholics, and looked to her again in this supreme struggle which was to decide, as it seemed, the fate of France. For the first time, however, on this occasion English aid took the form of supporting the sovereign against rebels, instead of the reverse.

In Scotland also the Catholic nobles had been busy intriguing for the landing of a Spanish force, which should coerce or depose James, and finally crush Protestantism there.[570] The plan had been discovered, and[441] Elizabeth, who had again made sure of James, had urged him to severity, and offered him support if necessary against his Catholic nobles. So that in Scotland, as in France, it was Catholicism that represented rebellion, and Protestantism in both countries looked to England to uphold legality. That the position struck Lord Burghley as curious is seen in a letter from him to Lord Shrewsbury[571] (16th June). “The world,” he says, “is become very strange! We Englishmen now daily desire the prosperity of a King of France and a King of Scots. We were wont to aid the subjects oppressed against both these Kings; now we are moved to aid both these Kings against their rebellious subjects; and though these are contrary effects, yet on our part they proceed from one cause, for that we do is to weaken our enemies.” In another letter he says, “Seeing both Kings are enemies to our enemies we have cause to join with them.” In fact, once more for a time religious union had become stronger than national divisions. It was the Protestantism of England, France, Scotland, and Holland, led by Elizabeth, against militant Catholicism everywhere, championed by the Spanish King.

Six weeks after the above letter was written the changed position towards France was further accentuated by the murder of Henry III. at the hands of a fanatic monk in the interests of the Catholics. With the Huguenot Henry of Navarre as King of France, and with Spain as the power behind the League, England and France were pledged to the same cause. The main sources of distrust in England against France always had been the fear that the latter power might dominate Flanders or gain a footing in Scotland. James’s adhesion to the Protestant party, his alliance with England, and his growing hopes of the English succession, had[442] made the latter contingency one which might now be disregarded, whilst the possession of strong places in the Netherlands in English hands, the religion of the new King of France, and his need to depend upon England for support, rendered it in the highest degree improbable that he would dream of conquering and holding Spanish Flanders against the wish of Elizabeth.

For the last three years Elizabeth had continued to supply Henry of Navarre with large sums of money to pay mercenaries; but if Henry was to reign over France he must now fight the League and Spain; and to enable him to do this, England would have to subscribe more handsomely than ever. Henry accordingly sent Beauvoir la Nocle to London to push his master’s cause. Great quantities of ammunition were shipped to the coast of Normandy, whither Henry had retired with his army; but men were wanted too, and on the 17th August Beauvoir dined with the Lord Treasurer at Cecil House, and concluded an arrangement by which Elizabeth was to lend 300,000 crowns to pay for German reiters in the spring, and to make a cash advance to Henry of 70,000 crowns.

By a letter from Beauvoir in the following year (16th June 1590) it is clear that Burghley’s old distrust of the French had not been overcome without difficulty. “At last,” he says, “I have conquered the Lord Treasurer! Now it must be borne in mind that if the Queen says ‘Do this,’ and Burghley says ‘Do it not,’ it is he who will be obeyed. Still I find him easier and more tractable than he was; these are humours that come and go, like the wind blows. Nevertheless he does well, though he is not one of those who act up to the proverb ‘Quis cito dat, bis dat.’” In the same despatch Beauvoir fervently urges the King to keep his promise with regard to the payment for the ammunition, &c.,[443] supplied to him. He says that the failure to meet such engagements is called in England “to play the Vidame.”[572] “For God’s sake,” he continues, “make provision for payment, or abandon all hope of getting anything else here except on good security.”[573]

Henry’s first attack on Paris failed, and he was forced to retire (November 1589); but he sent the gallant old hero La Noue to Picardy to withstand the League there. When young Essex heard of his proximity he was anxious to join him.[574] From the first he had been trying to persuade the Queen to send national forces under his command to aid the Huguenots, but cautious Burghley was always at hand to hint at expense and responsibility, and the auxiliary English troops under Willoughby, now in Henry’s service, were complaining bitterly of the hardships and penury they were undergoing. A great fleet also was being fitted out in Spain, the destination of which was kept secret, but rumours ran that it was coming to England, or what was almost as bad, to capture a French port in the Channel as a naval base from which the invasion of England could be effected. Brittany was held by the Duke de Merc?ur for the League by Spanish aid, and already (January) overtures had been made by him to Philip to occupy a port on the coast.


But whether England was to be attacked direct or a Brittany port first taken possession of, it behoved Elizabeth to stand on her guard, and on the 15th March a great plan for the muster and mobilisation of troops all over England was issued by the Lord Treasurer.[575] On the day before the order was made in England the Huguenot King had gained the great battle of Ivry, crushing Mayenne’s army and rapidly beleaguering Paris again. For the moment, therefore, Henry was able to hold his own, and the apprehension of the English Government was mainly directed towards Brittany, where a Spanish force of 4000 men were supporting the Duke de Merc?ur; and the claim of Philip’s daughter to the duchy, if not to the crown of France, was being advanced.

Burghley’s age was now telling upon him greatly. He had become very deaf, and almost constant gout kept him crippled; but still he remained, as ever, the resource of every one with an appeal to make, a question to be decided, or an end to be served.[576] The recent death of Walsingham (April 1590) left him the only one of the Queen’s early Councillors, except Crofts, who died soon afterwards, and Sir Francis Knollys,[445] whose fanatical Puritanism and anti-Prelatism still gave much trouble to the Treasurer. The latter had evidently marked out his brilliant younger son Robert Cecil for Walsingham’s successor; and certainly no better choice could have been made, for he had for some time past relieved his father of some of his most laborious work, and had imbibed much of his policy and method. The mere hint of such an intention, however, was sufficient to arouse the opposition of Essex, who, either out of generosity or in a mere spirit of contradiction of “the Cecils,” took up the cause of Davison, and endeavoured to bring him back to office.[577] The Lord Treasurer was powerful enough to prevent that; but did not push the matter to extremes by obtaining the appointment of his own son until some years afterwards, although Robert Cecil was knighted (May 1591) and was sworn a Member of the Privy Council shortly afterwards (August 1591), and thereafter practically discharged much of the duty of Secretary of State.[578] Burghley has frequently been blamed for a want of generosity towards Davison at this juncture. He was, as we have had occasion to notice more than once, not a generous man;[446] but this was a crucial trial of strength between him and young Essex, and if Davison had been reappointed Secretary of State the influence of Burghley would have suffered irreparably. It was obvious now that Essex was determined, if possible, to force Elizabeth into an aggressive policy, especially against Spain,............
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