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CHAPTER XVI 1594-1598
All through the year 1593 Lord Burghley’s agents in Spain had sent news of the powerful naval preparations being made at Pasages, Coru?a, and elsewhere, and the war-party at home and abroad had strained every nerve to induce the Queen to assume the offensive. Raleigh,[611] Drake, and Hawkins supported Essex in his efforts; but the caution of “the Cecils,” the Queen, and the Lord Admiral restrained, as well as might be, the ardour of the forward party.

There were, indeed, many elements of danger near home which amply justified a cautious policy. James Stuart’s extraordinary lenity to the Catholic lords who had rebelled against him, and his known dallying with Spain and Rome, again suggested the possibility of a Spanish invasion of England over the Border, simultaneously with a rising of Catholics in England. The almost complete control of the coast of Brittany by the Spaniards, their recent seizure and fortification of a strong position in Brest harbour, and their continued intrigues in Ireland, all pointed to the aggressive policy against this country which Philip’s newly reorganised fleet enabled him to adopt. What would have caused but modified alarm to England a few years before, became much more terrible now that Henry IV. had[466] become a Catholic and was making peace with the League. Elizabeth and her trusted advisers, therefore, kept Drake and Hawkins at home, and with the exception of sending Frobisher and Norris in the autumn of 1594 to oust the Spaniards from Brest harbour,[612] stood on the defensive.

Essex, often in temporary disgrace with the Queen, headstrong and inexperienced, was no match in diplomacy for Robert Cecil, fortified by the experience and sagacity of his father; but he had enlisted in his service some of the cleverest and most unscrupulous spies and agents to aid him. Wherever the Queen had an ambassador, or the Cecils an agent, Essex also had a man to represent his interest. Every envoy that came from James Stuart or Henry IV. to ask for aid which the Cecils considered it imprudent to give under the circumstances, was received by Essex and his friends with open arms; and counter intrigues were carried on through them against the policy of Lord Burghley. In Scotland, Holland, and France, it was Essex who posed as the friend at the expense of the Cecils.[613]

It had been to a considerable extent owing to the diplomacy of Antonio Perez that Henry IV. had decided to come to terms with the League, in order that the united forces of France might be opposed to the Spaniards. It was now Perez’s secret mission from the French King, with the aid of Essex, to exacerbate English feeling against Spain nationally, and to pledge[467] Elizabeth to help him against the common enemy, independently of the question of religion. This would have been a distinct departure from the traditional policy of England, which had usually been to stand aloof whilst the two great rivals were fighting; and only the attachment of the King of France to the Protestant cause had for a time altered this policy. Elizabeth’s interests in France, now that Henry was a Catholic, were limited to preventing the permanent establishment of the Spanish power on the north coast opposite England, and to that end the Cecils directed their efforts. This, however, did not satisfy Essex and the war-party; and the persistent plots of the English Jesuits in Spain and Flanders[614] added constant fuel to the flame, which Perez so artfully fanned from Essex House.[615]

An opportunity occurred late in 1593 by which some of the instruments of the Cecils might be discredited, and a fresh blow dealt at the policy of cautious moderation. Many of the Portuguese gentlemen who surrounded the pretender, Don Antonio, had for years sold themselves both to Philip and to England—and played false to both. It has been seen that Lord Burghley’s network of secret intelligence, under the management of Phillips, was extremely extensive; and, amongst others, several of these Portuguese were employed.[616] The most popular physician in London at[468] the time was Dr. Ruy Lopez, a Portuguese Jew, the Queen’s physician, who was frequently employed by Burghley as an intermediary with the spies, in order to avert suspicion from them. On several occasions suggestions had been made to Philip by these spies of plans to kill the pretender, and Lopez’s name had been mentioned to the Spanish Government as one who would be willing to undertake the task of poisoning him.

In 1590 one Andrada had been discovered in an act of treachery against Don Antonio, and arrested in England, and a letter of his to Mendoza had been intercepted, in which he said that he had won over Lopez to the cause of Spain. In another letter, not intercepted, he gave particulars of a proposal of Lopez to bring about peace between England and Spain, if a sum of money was paid to him. Through the influence of Lopez, however, Andrada was liberated, and sent abroad as a spy in the interests of England. Thenceforward for three years secret correspondence was known, by Lord Burghley, to be passing between Spanish agents in Flanders and Spain, and Dr. Lopez, through Andrada and others. The intermediaries were all double spies and scoundrels who would have stuck at nothing, and were so regarded by Lord Burghley; but Lopez was thought to be above suspicion, and to be acting solely in English interests. He had, however, made an enemy of Essex; and Perez artfully wheedled some admissions from him that he was in communication with Spanish agents about some great plan. In October 1593, Gama, one of the agents, was, at Essex’s suggestion, arrested in Lopez’s house and searched. The letters found upon him were enigmatical, but suspicious. Then another agent named Tinoco, with similar communications and bills of exchange in his pocket from Spanish ministers, was laid by the heels. Essex, prompted by Perez, was indefatigable[469] in the examination of the men. They lied and prevaricated—for it is certain that they were paid by both sides; but one of them mentioned Dr. Lopez as being interested in some compromising papers found upon him, and suddenly on the 30th January the Queen’s physician was arrested. He was immediately carried to Cecil House in the Strand, and there examined by the Lord Treasurer, Sir Robert Cecil, and Essex.[617]

His answers seemed satisfactory to the Cecils, whose agent Lopez was, but did not please Essex. The Earl, however, was forestalled by Robert Cecil, who posted off to Hampton Court and assured Elizabeth of the physician’s innocence. Whilst he was assuring her that the only ground for the accusation—which had now assumed the form of a plot to murder the[470] Queen—arose from the Earl’s hatred of Lopez, Essex was endeavouring to strengthen the proofs against the accused. When the Earl appeared at court the Queen burst out in a fury against him, called him a rash and temerarious youth to bring this ruinous accusation of high treason against her trusty servant from sheer malice, and told him that she knew Lopez was innocent, and her honour was at stake in seeing justice done. Gradually, however, the nets closed around the doctor. The Cecils did as much as they dared in his favour, but the presumptive evidence against him was too strong. The underlings competed with each other in the fulness of their confessions against Lopez, in hope of favour for themselves; and at length some sort of confession was said to have been wrung from Lopez himself,[618] Robert Cecil, with horror, was forced to admit his belief that he was guilty,[619] and Lopez and his fellow-criminals were executed at Tyburn early in June.[620] This, together with the simultaneous declaration of other Spanish Jesuit plots against the Queen, and the activity of Perez’s venomous pen, aroused a feeling of perfect fury against Philip and his country.

All eyes looked to Drake and the sailors again to punish Spain upon the sea. Talk of great expeditions to America, to the Azores, to Spain itself, ran from mouth to mouth. What had been done with impunity[471] before, might, said the Englishmen, be done again, even though the King of France had become a Papist and was unworthy of English help. But the Queen was in one of her timid moods, and the Cecils held the reins tightly. Essex remained sulking or in disgrace for the greater part of the summer, and, we learn from a letter from Sir Thomas Cecil to his brother, only became ostensibly reconciled with the Lord Treasurer in August.

Little of the routine business passed through Lord Burghley’s hands now, thanks to the activity of his son, but we get a glance occasionally at the aged minister from friends and foes who visited him. In the latter category we may place the spy Standen, a place-hunter and double traitor, who had fastened himself upon Essex, and yet was for ever pestering Burghley for an appointment. Sometimes the Lord Treasurer pretended to forget who he was, sometimes he gravely and politely expressed his regret at his inability to help him; but on one occasion, at least, he let him know that as he had joined Essex he must expect nothing from him. Standen was hanging about Hampton Court in the spring, and when the Queen had left, thinking the Lord Treasurer would be less busy than usual, “he stepped into his Lordship’s bedchamber, and found him alone sitting by the fire.” After some compliments, the place-hunter, for the hundredth time, set forth his claims. Burghley replied as before, that Standen was in England for a long time after his return from abroad without even coming to salute him. Standen said he had been ill with ague; “but,” said the minister, “you have been about the court all the winter and must have had some good days. And,” he asked, “how is it I have not seen the statement the Queen told you to draw up about Spain and to hand to me?” Standen hemmed[472] and ha’d, but at last had to confess that he had given the statement to Essex for the Queen six months before. “Then my Lord began to start in his chair, and to alter his voice and countenance from a kind of crossing and wayward manner which he hath, into a tune of choler,”[621] and told the spy that since he had begun with the Earl of Essex he had better go on with him, and hoped him well of it. Then angrily telling him some home-truths about his conduct, the Lord Treasurer dismissed the spy; though for the rest of the great minister’s life he was not free from his importunities.

It was not often that Lord Burghley thus exhibited anger, even to a man like Standen. We seem to know the aged statesman better in the following pathetic little word-picture contained in a letter from his faithful secretary, Sir Michael Hicks, to Sir Robert Cecil[622] (27th September): “My Lord called me to him this evening, and willed me to write to you in mine own name, to signify to you that the Judge of the Admiralty came hither to him a little before supper time, to let him understand that he was not furnished with sufficient matter to meet the French Ambassador, and required five or six days’ further respite … wherewith he (Burghley) was well contented … for at the time of his coming to him he found himself ill, and not fit to hear and deal in suits, and he doth so continue. And truly, methinks, he is nothing sprighted, but lying on his couch he museth or slumbereth. And being a little before supper at the fire, I offered him some letters and other papers, but he was soon weary of them, and told me he was unfit to hear suits. But I hope a good night’s rest will make him better to-morrow.”[623]

But though the great statesman was nearing his end,[473] his mind was as keen as ever, and his influence was strong enough to prevent Essex from dragging England into an offensive war with Spain for the benefit of Henry IV. The Béarnais had still to cope with rebellion in various parts of his realm, and the Spaniards had secured a firm footing in Picardy and Brittany; his finances were in the utmost disorder, and against the advice of Sully he declared a national war against Philip in January. He had clamoured and cajoled in vain for more aid from Elizabeth, and in his pressing need had appealed with more success to the Hollanders.

This was the last straw. All the old distrust of the Burghley school against the French revived. The Queen was furious that these ingrate Dutchmen, whom she alone had rescued from the Spanish tyranny, should now curry favour with France. They owed her vast sums of money and eternal gratitude, they had offered her the sovereignty of their States, and yet instead of paying their debts and releasing some of her forces occupied in their service, they must needs seek fresh friends. If possible she was more indignant still with Henry; for, as we have seen, one of the two pivots upon which English policy turned was to exclude French influence in the Low Countries. Thomas Bodley was sent back to the States with reproaches for their ingratitude, and a peremptory demand that they should pay her what they owed her. Before he left England, however, he also was gained by Essex, and notwithstanding Burghley’s and the Queen’s strict instructions, was far more careful to provide excuses for the States than to press them.[624] Henry IV., too, never ceased to[474] declare that unless much more English help was sent to him, the north of France would slip from his grasp whilst he was busy in the south; and in the autumn, point was given to his warning by the treacherous surrender of Cambray to the Spaniards. This was a direct danger to England, and Henry made the most of it by sending a special envoy to demand fresh English aid. But still Burghley was against violent measures, for a great Spanish fleet was being fitted out in Galicia, and Tyrone’s rebellion in Ireland was being actively promoted by Philip. Defence, as usual, was the first thought of the Lord Treasurer; and disabled as he was, he drew up in the autumn a complete scheme for the protection of the country against invasion.[625]

But though Elizabeth would not commence offensive warfare against Spain, she was induced to listen at last to Drake’s oft-rejected prayer for permission to raise a powerful privateer squadron to capture prizes and raid Panama. This was what people wanted. Drake’s name had not lost its magic, and volunteers joined in thousands, eager for fighting and loot under the great admiral. The ports of Spain and Portugal were panic-stricken at the mere prospect of a visit, and if the fleet had sailed promptly in the spring, Philip might have been crippled again. But the Queen and Burghley were still apprehensive, and loath to let Drake sail too far away. Suddenly on 23rd July four Spanish pinnaces landed 600 soldiers on the Cornish coast, and without resistance they ravaged and burnt the country round Penzance.[475] It was a mere predatory raid from the Brittany coast; but it seemed to justify all Elizabeth’s fears, and, to Drake’s despair, she forbade him to go direct to Panama. He was, she said, to cruise about the Channel and Ireland for a month, then to intercept any fleet from Spain that might threaten, and finally to lay in wait for the Spanish treasure flotilla before he crossed the Atlantic. The orders doubtless originated from Howard, who was as cautious as Burghley himself; but Drake and his officers flatly refused to obey them. They had, they said, on the Queen’s commission fitted out at vast expense a private fleet for a certain purpose, and it was utterly inappropriate to the service now demanded of it. The Queen was angry, and, as usual, called upon Burghley to refute the strategical arguments of the sailors, which he did in a learned minute. But it was never sent, for Drake was obviously in the right, and the Queen was obliged to give way. She made Drake pledge his honour to be back in England again in the following May to fight the new Armada, and, on the 28th August, Drake and Hawkins sailed out of Plymouth to failure and death.

All through the year, with but short intervals of comparative ease, Lord Burghley remained ill, but manfully determined to perform his duty. His letters to his son, written, of course, with greater freedom than to others, disclose more of his private feelings than we have been able to see at any earlier period of his career. Both in these letters and those of his secretaries the note touched is intense devotion to the public service at any cost to his own repose. Maynard writes to Sir Robert Cecil (23rd December 1594) that the sharp weather had increased the Lord Treasurer’s pain. “But for your coming hither his Lordship says you shall not need, although you shall hear his amendment is grown backward.” A few months later at[476] Theobalds, Clapham sends to Sir Robert very unfavourable news of the invalid, and in the following month of May we find him confined to his bed at Cecil House in London, suffering greatly, and fretting at his inability to go to court. In the autumn he tells his son that he is obliged to sign his letters with a stamp, “for want of a right hand”; but even then he concludes his letter thus—“And if by your speech with her Majesty she will not mislike to have so bold a person to lodge in her house, I will come as I am (in body not half a man, but in mind passable) to the muster of the rest of my good Lords, her Majesty’s Councillors, my good friends.… Upon your answer I will make no unnecessary delay, by God’s permission.”[626] In the midst of his pain his letters are full of directions upon State matters. In a letter to Cecil in October, urging the Queen to send prompt reinforcements to Ireland, which apparently she was inclined to neglect, he says, “My aching pains so increase that I am all night sleepless, though not idle in mind.”[627]


That the Lord Treasurer’s bodily weakness and overpowering political influence were recognised elsewhere than in England as a powerful factor in the international situation, is evident from the correspondence—amongst many others—of the Venetian Ambassador in France. Henry had gone north, and was besieging La Fère, in Picardy, in the late autumn, after the fall of Cambray, and had sent his agent Lomenie to England to support the efforts of Essex in his favour. But the Earl was in semi-disgrace, and the French agent went back with but small promises of aid. Henry was about to send a stronger envoy, Sancy, but Essex told him it would be useless, and the clever Béarnais, knowing best how to arouse Elizabeth’s jealousy, despatched Sancy to Holland. Thereupon the Venetian Ambassador writes to the Doge: “If Sancy went to England just now he would not find the Queen well disposed towards the policy of his Majesty (Henry IV.), not only on the grounds I have so often explained, but also because she does not approve of the conduct of the French ministers. The chief reason, however, is that there reigns a division in the councils of the Queen, and her two principal ministers are secretly in disaccord. One of these ministers, the Lord Treasurer, is very ill-disposed towards the crown of France, and uses all his influence to prevent the Queen from taking an active part in this direction. There is a strong suspicion that he has been bought by Spanish gold. The other nobleman, a prime favourite with the Queen, is of the contrary opinion, urging that every effort should be made to quench the fire in one’s neighbour’s house to prevent one’s own from being burnt. The Queen is in the greatest perplexity. The Lord Treasurer, in addition to his other arguments, urges the plea of economy, to which women are naturally more inclined than men.[478] All the same, no efforts are being spared to dispose her mind, so that should Sancy go to England he may easily obtain all he asks for.”[628]

When it became evident that Henry was again appealing to the States, Elizabeth was forced to make a counter-move, and decided to send Sir Henry Unton to offer further English help, if certain French towns, especially Calais, were placed in her hands as security. It was clear that Henry neither could nor would agree to such terms, and probably the Queen and Burghley were quite aware of the fact; but upon Unton’s embassy Essex founded a regular conspiracy for the purpose of outwitting the Cecils and dragging England into war. Antonio Perez had already been sent back to France in July 1595, self-pitying and lachrymose at leaving the luxury of Essex House to follow a camp; but to be received in France almost with royal consideration, and to be welcomed once more as the bosom friend of the King. He betrayed everybody; but his real mission was to send alarming news to Essex as to Henry’s intentions, in order that Elizabeth might be frightened into an alliance with him to prevent his joining her enemies against her. Perez thought more of his own discomfort than of his English patron’s policy, and had to be brought to book more than once. The Earl sent Sir Roger Williams to upbraid him for not making matters more lively. “I am doing,” says the Earl, “what I can to push on war in England; but you! you! Antonio, what are you doing on that side?”

But when Unton went on his mission early in January 1596, a stronger ally than Perez was gained. He was entirely in Essex’s interests, and received secret instructions from the Earl.[629] Perez and Unton were to work together, of course without the knowledge of Sir Thomas[479] Edmonds, the regular Ambassador, who was a “Cecil man.” Henry IV. was to be prompted to feign anger and indignation with England, and threaten to make friends with Spain. “He must so use the matter as Unton may send us thundering letters, whereby he must drive us to propound and to offer.” Perez, too, was to keep the game alive by assuring Essex that a treaty was on foot between France and Spain, and to reproach Essex for allowing Unton to be sent on such an errand as would mortally offend the King.

But the Cecils were too clever for Essex and Perez combined. One of Perez’s secretaries played him false, for which he was afterwards imprisoned in the Clink by Essex; and it is probable that the threads of the intrigue, all through, were in the hands of Burghley. In any case, there was no great change in Elizabeth’s policy,[630] and Unton himself died in France before his mission was complete (23rd March 1596). Only a few days afterwards news reached London that the Spaniards were marching on Calais. This, at all events, was calculated to[480] arouse Elizabeth to action; and on Easter Sunday 1596 all the church doors in London were suddenly closed during service, and there and then a number of the men-worshippers pressed for service. They were hurriedly armed and on the same night marched to Dover for embarkation under Essex. No sooner were the men on board and ready to sail than a counter order came from London. Essex was frantic, and wrote rash and foolish letters to the Queen and the Lord Admiral. He writes to Sir Robert Cecil on the same day: “O! pray get the order altered. I have written to the Queen in a passion. Pray plead for me, that I may not be disgraced by any one else commanding the succour whilst I have done the work. Pray do not show the Queen my letter to the Admiral; it is too passionate.”[631] Almost in sight of Essex, the day after this was written (14th), the citadel of Calais fell into the hands of the Spaniards, and Elizabeth found she had overreached herself.[632] When Unton had asked[481] for Calais as the price of her help, the Béarnais had said, with his usual oath, that he would see it in the hands of the Spaniards first; and for once he had told the truth.

The blow to Elizabeth’s policy was undoubtedly a severe one, and a counter-stroke had to be delivered. The old project which on several occasions had been submitted by Howard to the Council for an attack upon the shipping in Cadiz harbour, was revived. Essex was all aflame in the business from the first; but the Queen changed her mind from day to day. “The Queen,” wrote Reynolds in May,[633] “is daily changing her humour about my Lord’s voyage, and was yesterday almost resolute to stay it, using very hard words of my Lord’s wilfulness.” Lord Burghley appears to have been very ill at the time of the preparations;[634] but he was sufficiently well to secure the appointment of the aged Lord Admiral to the joint command of the fleet, to the discontent, and almost despair, of Essex; and to pen an order from the Queen strictly limiting the objects of the expedition to the destruction of the Spanish ships manifestly intended for the invasion of England. The great fleet of 96 sail, with a contingent of 24 sail of Hollanders, left Plymouth[482] on the 5th June, and on the 20th appeared before the astounded eyes of the citizens of Cadiz. The divided command, and the small experience of actual fighting at sea of Howard and Essex, was nearly bringing about a disaster to the English; but at a critical moment Ralegh’s advice was taken. The fleet sailed boldly into the harbour, and destroyed the shipping first, and then captured and sacked the city.

It was the greatest blow that had ever been dealt to the power of Spain; and it proved that Philip’s system was rotten, and that the Spanish pretensions were incapable of being sustained by force of arms. When Essex came back he found that Sir Robert Cecil had been appointed Secretary of State (July) in his absence.[635] The Queen was fractious, and offended that her orders had been exceeded, and above all, that she had not received so much booty as she expected; and for a time Essex was kept at arm’s length. But now that Cecil had obtained the coveted post of Secretary, he wisely endeavoured to make friends with Essex, who had so bitterly opposed him;[636] and, greatly to the Queen’s delight, a new appearance of cordiality between them was the result. Sir Robert even brought Ralegh into the circle of grace. He had been for five years under[483] the Queen’s frown, but Cadiz had made him friendly with Essex, and now Cecil and Essex together brought about a reconciliation with the Queen. On the 2nd June 1597 Ralegh once more knelt before his royal mistress, and donned his long-neglected silver armour as captain of the guard.

The sacking of Cadiz had irretrievably ruined Philip’s prestige; but it had not deprived him of all material resources, heavy and ceaseless as had been the drain upon his treasury for the war in France. The Irish chiefs left him no peace from their importunities, and assured him again and again that with the aid of a few men the island might be his, and Elizabeth and the heretics at his mercy. Promises, sums of money, and slight succour were sent from time to time; but the insult of Cadiz and the exhortations of the Church, at length prevailed upon t............
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