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FORTUNATE MEMORY OF ELIZABETH
QUEEN OF ENGLAND.
ELIZABETH both in her nature and her fortune was a wonderful person among women, a memorable person among princes. But it is not to monks or closet penmen that we are to look for guidance in such a case ; for men of that order, being keen in style, poor in judgment, and partial in feeling, are no faithful witnesses as to the real passages of business. It is for ministers and great officers to judge of these things, and those who have handled the helm of government, and been acquainted with the difficulties and mysteries of state business.
The government of a woman has been a rare thing at all times; felicity in such government a rarer thing still; felicity and long continuance together the rarest thing of all. Yet this Queen reigned forty-four years complete, and did not outlive her felicity. Of this felicity I propose to say something; without wandering into praises; for praise is the tribute of men, felicity the gift of God.
First, then, I set it down as part of her felicity that she was raised to sovereignty from a private fortune; not so much because of that feeling so deeply seated in man's nature, whereby benefits which come unexpected and unhoped for are always counted the greater blessings; but because Princes who are brought up in the reigning house with assured expectation of succeeding to the throne, are commonly spoiled by the indulgence and licence of their education, and so turn out both less capable and less temperate. And therefore you will find that the best kings are they who have been trained in both
schools of fortune; such as Henry the Seventh with us, and Lewis the Twelfth in France; both of whom, of late years and almost at the same time, came to their kingdoms not only from a private but from an adverse and troubled fortune; and both were eminently prosperous; the one excelling in wisdom, the other in justice. Much like was the case of this Queen, whose early times and opening prospects fortune checquered with uncertainty, that afterwards when she was settled in the throne it might prove to the last constant and equable. For Elizabeth at her birth was destined to the succession, then disinherited, afterwards superseded. Her fortune in her brother's reign was more propitious and serene, in her sister's more troubled and doubtful. And yet she did not pass suddenly from the prison to the throne, with a mind embittered and swelling with the sense of misfortune, but was first restored to liberty and comforted with expectation; and so came to her kingdom at last quietly and prosperously, without tumult or competitor. All which I mention to show how Divine Providence, meaning to produce an excellent Queen, passed her by way of preparation through these several stages of discipline. Nor ought the calamity of her mother to be admitted as an objection to the dignity of her birth : the rather because it is clear that Henry the Eighth had fallen in love with another woman before he fell in anger with Anne, and because he has not escaped the censure of posterity as a man by nature extremely prone both to loves and suspicions, and violent in both even to the shedding of blood. And besides, the criminal charge in which she was involved was in itself, if we consider only the person to whom it related, improbable, and rested upon the slenderest conjectures; as was secretly whispered (as the manner is in such cases) even then, and Anne herself just before her death with a high spirit and in memorable words made protestation. For having procured a messenger whose fidelity and good will she thought she could trust, she sent the King, in the very hour when she was preparing for the scaffold, a message to this effect: “ That he kept constant to his course of heaping honours upon her; from a gentlewoman without title he had made her marchioness; he had then raised her to be the partner of his throne and bed; and now at last, because there remained no higher step of earthly honour, he had vouchsafed to crown her innocence with martyrdom.” Which words the messenger
durst not indeed carry to the King, who was then in the heat of a new love; but fame, the vindicator of truth, transmitted them to posterity.
I account also as no small part of Elizabeth's felicity the period and compass of her administration; not only for its length, but as falling within that portion of her life which was fittest for the control of affairs and the handling of the reins of government. She was twenty-five years old (the age at which guardianship ceases) when she began to reign, and she continued reigning till her seventieth year; so that she never experienced either the disadvantages and subjection to other men's wills incident to a ward, nor the inconveniences of a lingering and impotent old age. Now old age brings with it even to private persons miseries enough; but to kings, besides those evils which are common to all, it brings also decline of greatness and inglorious exits from the stage. For there is hardly any sovereign who reigns till he becomes old and feeble, but suffers some diminution of power and reputation : of which we have a very eminent example in Philip the Second, King of Spain, a most powerful prince and perfect in the art of government; who in his last times when worn out with age became deeply sensible of this which I say, and therefore wisely submitted to the condition of things; voluntarily sacrificed the territories he had won in France, established peace there, attempted the like in other places, that he might leave a settled estate and all things clear and entire to his successor. Elizabeth's fortune on the contrary was so constant and flourishing, that not only did her declining, but though declining still fresh and vigorous years, bring with them no decline at all in the state of her affairs; but it was granted to her for an assured token of her felicity not to die before the fate of the revolt in Ireland had been decided by a victory; lest her glory might seem to be in any part sullied and incomplete.
Nor must it be forgotten withal among what kind of people she reigned; for had she been called to rule over Palmyrenes or in an unwarlike and effeminate country like Asia, the wonder would have been less; a womanish people might well enough be governed by a woman; but that in England, a nation particularly fierce and warlike, all things could be swayed and controlled at the beck of a woman, is a matter for the highest admiration.
Observe too that this same humour of her people, ever eager for war and impatient of peace, did not prevent her from cultivating and maintaining peace during the whole time of her reign. And this her desire of peace, together with the success of it, I count among her greatest praises; as a thing happy for her times, becoming to her sex, and salutary for her conscience. Some little disturbance there was in the northern counties about the tenth year of her reign, but it was immediately quieted and extinguished. The rest of her years flourished in internal peace, secure and profound.
And this peace I regard as more especially flourishing from two circumstances that attended it, and which though they have nothing to do with the merit of peace, add much to the glory of it. The one, that the calamities of her neighbours were as fires to make it more conspicuous and illustrious; the other that the benefits of peace were not unaccompanied with honour of war,— the reputation of England for arms and military prowess being by many noble deeds, not only maintained by her, but increased. For the aids sent to the Low Countries, to France, and to Scotland; the naval expeditions to both the Indies, some of which sailed all round the globe; the fleets despatched to Portugal and to harass the coasts of Spain; the many defeats and overthrows of the rebels in Ireland ;— all these had the effect of keeping both the warlike virtues of our nation in full vigour and its fame and honour in full lustre.
Which glory had likewise this merit attached,- that while neighbour kings on the one side owed the preservation of their kingdoms to her timely succours; suppliant peoples on the other, given up by ill-advised princes to the cruelty of their ministers, to the fury of the populace, and to every kind of spoliation and devastation, received relief in their misery; by means of which they stand to this day.
Nor were her counsels less beneficent and salutary than her succours; witness her remonstrances so frequently addressed to the King of Spain that he would moderate his anger against his subjects in the Low Countries, and admit them to return to their allegiance under conditions not intolerable; and her continual warnings and earnest solicitations addressed to the kings of France that they would observe their edicts of pacification. That her counsel was in both cases unsuccessful, I do not deny. The common fate of Europe did not suffer it to succeed in the
first; for so the ambition of Spain, being released as it were from prison, would have been free to spend itself (as things then were) upon the ruin of the kingdoms and commonwealths of Christendom. The blood of so many innocent persons, slaughtered with their wives and children at their hearths and in their beds by the vilest rabble, like so many brute beasts animated, armed, and set on by public authority, forbade it in the other; that innocent blood demanding in just revenge that the kingdom which had been guilty of so atrocious a crime should expiate it by mutual slaughters and massacres. But however that might be, she was not the less true to her own part, in performing the office of an ally both wise and benevolent.
Upon another account also this peace so cultivated and maintained by Elizabeth is matter of admiration; namely, that it proceeded not from any inclination of the times to peace, but from her own prudence and good management. For in a kingdom labouring with intestine faction on account of religion, and standing as a shield and stronghold of defence against the then formidable and overbearing ambition of Spain, matter for war was nowise wanting; it was she who by her forces and her counsels combined kept it under; as was proved by an event the most memorable in respect of felicity of all the actions of our time. For when that Spanish fleet, got up with such travail and ferment, waited upon with the terror and expectation of all Europe, inspired with such confidence of victory, came ploughing into our channels, it never took so much as a cockboat at sea, never fired so much as a cottage on the land, never even touched the shore; but was first beaten in a battle and then dispersed and wasted in a miserable flight with many shipwrecks; while on the ground and territories of England peace remained undisturbed and unshaken.
Nor was she less fortunate in escaping the treacherous attempts of conspirators than in defeating and repelling the forces of the enemy. For not a few conspiracies aimed at her life were in the happiest manner both detected and defeated; and yet was not her life made thereby more alarmed or anxious; there was no increase in the number of her guards ; no keeping within her palace and seldom going abroad; but still secure and confident, and thinking more of the escape than of the