Queen Elizabeth - Jacob Abbott

Accession to the Throne

If it were the story of Mary instead of that of Elizabeth that we were following, we should have now to pause and draw a very melancholy picture of the scenes which darkened the close of the queen's unfortunate and unhappy history. Mary loved her husband, but she could not secure his love in return. He treated her with supercilious coldness and neglect, and evinced, from time to time, a degree of interest in other ladies which awakened her jealousy and anger. Of all the terrible convulsions to which the human soul is subject, there is not one which agitates it more deeply than the tumult of feeling produced by the mingling of resentment and love. Such a mingling, or rather, such a conflict, between passions apparently inconsistent with each other, is generally considered not possible by those who have never experienced it. But it is possible. It is possible to be stung with a sense of the ingratitude and selfishness, and cruelty of an object, which after all, the heart will persist in clinging to with the fondest affection. Vexation and anger, a burning sense of injury, and desire for revenge, on the one hand, and feelings of love, resistless and uncontrollable, and bearing, in their turn, all before them, alternately get possession of the soul, harrowing and devastating it in their awful conflict, and even sometimes reigning over it, for a time, in a temporary but dreadful calm, like that of two wrestlers who pause a moment, exhausted in a mortal combat, but grappling each other with deadly energy all the time, while they are taking breath for a renewal of the conflict. Queen Mary, in one of these paroxysms, seized a portrait of her husband and tore it into shreds. The reader, who has his or her experience in affairs of the heart yet to come, will say, perhaps, her love for him then must have been all gone. No; it was at its height. We do not tear the portraits of those who are indifferent to us.

At the beginning of her reign, and, in fact, during all the previous periods of her life, Mary had been an honest and conscientious Catholic. She undoubtedly truly believed that the Christian Church ought to be banded together in one great communion, with the Pope of Rome as its spiritual head, and that her father had broken away from this communion—which was, in fact, strictly true—merely to obtain a pretext for getting released from her mother. How natural under such circumstances, that she should have desired to return. She commenced, immediately on her accession, a course of measures to bring the nation back to the Roman Catholic communion. She managed very prudently and cautiously at first—especially while the affair of her marriage was pending—seemingly very desirous of doing nothing to exasperate those who were of the Protestant faith, or even to awaken their opposition. After she was married, however, her desire to please her Catholic husband, and his widely-extended and influential circle of Catholic friends on the Continent, made her more eager to press forward the work of putting down the Reformation in England; and as her marriage was now effected, she was less concerned about the consequences of any opposition which she might excite. Then, besides, her temper, never very sweet, was sadly soured by her husband's treatment of her. She vented her ill will upon those who would not yield to her wishes in respect to their religious faith. She caused more and more severe laws to be passed, and enforced them by more and more severe penalties. The more she pressed these violent measures, the more the fortitude and resolution of those who suffered from them were aroused. And, on the other hand, the more they resisted, the more determined she became that she would compel them to submit. She went on from one mode of coercion to another, Until she reached the last possible point, and inflicted the most dreadful physical suffering which it is possible for man to inflict upon his fellow-man.

This worst and most terrible injury is to burn the living victim in a fire. That a woman could ever order this to be done would seem to be incredible. Queen Mary, however, and her government, were so determined to put down, at all hazards, all open disaffection to the Catholic cause, that they did not give up the contest until they had burned nearly three hundred persons by fire, of whom more than fifty were women, and four were children! This horrible persecution was, however, of no avail. Dissentients increased faster than they could be burned; and such dreadful punishments became at last so intolerably odious to the nation that they were obliged to desist, and then the various ministers of state concerned in them attempted to throw off the blame upon each other. The English nation have never forgiven Mary for these atrocities. They gave her the name of Bloody Mary at the time, and she has retained it to the present day. In one of the ancient tones of the realm, at the head of the chapter devoted to Mary, there is placed, as an appropriate emblem of the character of her reign, the picture of a man writhing helplessly at a stake, with the flames curling around him, and a ferocious-looking soldier standing by, stirring up the fire.

The various disappointments, vexations, and trials which Mary endured toward the close of her life, had one good effect; they softened the, animosity which she had felt toward Elizabeth and in the end something like a friendship seemed to spring up between the sisters. Abandoned by her husband, and looked upon with dislike or hatred by her subjects, and disappointed in all her plans, she seemed to turn at last to Elizabeth for companionship and comfort. The sisters visited each other. First Elizabeth went to London to visit the queen, and was received, with great ceremony and parade. Then the queen went to Hatfield to visit the princess, attended by a large company of ladies and gentlemen of the court, and several days were spent there in festivities and rejoicings. There were plays in the palace, and a bear-baiting in the court-yard, and hunting in the park, and many other schemes of pleasure. This renewal of friendly intercourse between the queen and the princess brought the latter gradually out of her retirement. Now that the queen began to evince a friendly spirit toward her, it was safe for others to show her kindness and to pay her attention. The disposition to do this increased rapidly as Mary's health gradually declined, and it began to be understood that she would not live long, and that, consequently, Elizabeth would soon be called to the throne.

The war which Mary had been drawn into with France, by Philip's threat that he would never see her again, proved very disastrous. The town of Calais, which is opposite to Dover, across the straits, and, of course, on the French side of the channel, had been in the possession of the English for two hundred years. It was very gratifying to English pride to hold possession of such a stronghold on the French shore; but now every thing seemed to go against Mary. Calais was defended by a citadel nearly as large as the town itself, and was deemed impregnable. In addition to this, an enormous English force was concentrated there. The French general, however, contrived, partly by stratagem and partly by overpowering numbers of troops and ships, and batteries of cannon, to get possession of the whole. The English nation were indignant at this result. Their queen and her government, so energetic in imprisoning and burning her own subjects at home, were powerless, it seemed, in coping with their enemies abroad. Murmurs of dissatisfaction were heard every where, and Mary sank down upon her sick bed overwhelmed with disappointment, vexation, and chagrin. She said that she should die, and that if, after her death, they examined her body, they would find Calais like a load upon her heart.

In the mean time, it must have been Elizabeth's secret wish that she would die, since her death would release the princess from all the embarrassments and restraints of her position, and raise her at once to the highest pinnacle of honor and power. She remained, however, quietly at Hatfield, acting in all things in a very discreet and cautions manner. At one time she received proposals from the King of Sweden that she would accept of his son as her husband. She asked the embassador if he had communicated the affair to Mary. On his replying that he had not, Elizabeth said that she could not entertain at all any such question, unless her sister were first consulted and should give her approbation. She acted on the same principles in every thing, being very cautions to give Mary and her government no cause of complaint against her, and willing to wait patiently until her own time should come.

Though Mary's disappointments and losses filled her mind with anguish and suffering, they did not soften her heart. She seemed to grow more cruel and vindictive the more her plans and projects failed. Adversity vexed and irritated, instead of calming and subduing her. She revived her persecutions of the Protestants. She fitted out a fleet of a hundred and twenty ships to make a descent upon the French coast, and attempt to retrieve her fallen fortunes there. She called Parliament together and asked for more supplies. All this time she was confined to her sick chamber, but not considered in danger. The Parliament were debating the question of supplies. Her privy council were holding daily meetings to carry out the plans and schemes which she still continued to form and all was excitement and bustle in and around the court, when one day the council was thunderstruck by an announcement that she was dying.

They knew very well that her death would be a terrible blow to them. They were Catholics, and had been Mary's instruments in the terrible persecutions with which she had oppressed the Protestant faith. With Mary's death, of course they would fall. A Protestant princess was ready, at Hatfield, to ascend the throne. Every thing would be changed, and there was even danger that they might, in their turn, be sent to the stake, in retaliation for the cruelties which they had caused others to suffer. They made arrangements to have Mary's death, whenever it should take place, concealed for a few hours, till they could consider what they should do.

There was nothing  that they could do. The was now no other considerable claimant to the throne but Elizabeth, except Mary Queen of Scots, who was far away in France. She was a Catholic, it was true; but to bring her into the country and place her upon the throne seemed to be a hopeless undertaking. Queen Mary's counselors soon found that they must give up their cause in despair. Any attempt to resist Elizabeth's claims would be high treason, and, of course, if unsuccessful, would bring the heads of all concerned in it to the block.

Besides, it was not certain  that Elizabeth would act decidedly as a Protestant. She had been very prudent and cautious during Mary's reign, and had been very careful never to manifest any hostility to the Catholics. She never had acted as Mary had done on the occasion of her brother's funeral, when she refused even to countenance with her presence the national service because it was under Protestant forms. Elizabeth had always accompanied Mary to mass whenever occasion required; she had always spoken respectfully of the Catholic faith; and once she asked Mary to lend her some Catholic books, in order that she might inform herself more fully on the subject of the principles of the Roman faith. It is true, she acted thus not because there was any real leaning in her mind toward the Catholic religion; it was all merely a wise and sagacious policy. Surrounded by difficulties and dangers as she was during Mary's reign, her only hope of safety was in passing as quietly as possible along, and managing warily, so as to keep the hostility which was burning secretly against her from breaking out into an open flame. This was her object in retiring so much from the court and from all participation in public affairs, in avoiding all religions and political contests, and spending her time in the study of Greek, and Latin, and philosophy. The consequence was, that when Mary died, nobody knew certainly what course Elizabeth would pursue. Nobody had any strong motive for opposing her succession. The council, therefore, after a short consultation, concluded to do nothing but simply to send a message to the House of Lords, announcing to them the unexpected death of the queen.

The House of Lords, on receiving this intelligence, sent for the Commons to come into their hall, as is usual when any important communication is to be made to them either by the Lords themselves or by the sovereign. The chancellor, who is the highest civil officer of the kingdom in respect to rank, and who presides in the House of Lords, clothed in a magnificent antique costume, then rose and announced to the Commons, standing before him, the death of the sovereign. There was a moment's solemn pause, such as propriety on the occasion of an announcement like this required, all thoughts being, too, for a moment turned to the chamber where the body of the departed queen was lying. But the sovereignty was no longer there The mysterious principle had fled with the parting breath, and Elizabeth, though wholly unconscious of it, had been for several hours the queen. The thoughts, therefore, of the august and solemn assembly lingered but for a moment in the royal palace, which had now lost all its glory; they soon turned spontaneously, and with eager haste, to the new sovereign at Hatfield, and the lofty arches of the Parliament hall rung with loud acclamations, "God save Queen Elizabeth, and grant her a long and happy reign."

The members of the Parliament went forth immediately to proclaim the new queen. There are two principal places where it was then customary to proclaim the English sovereigns. One of these was before the royal palace at Westminster, and the other in the city of London, at a very public place called the Great Cross at Cheapside. The people assembled in great crowds at these points to witness the ceremony, and received the announcement which the heralds made, with the most ardent expressions of joy. The bells were every where rung; tables were spread in the streets, and booths erected, bonfires and illuminations were prepared for the evening, and every thing indicated a deep and universal joy.

In fact, this joy was so strongly expressed as to be even in some degree disrespectful to the memory of the departed queen. There is a famous ancient Latin hymn which has long been sung in England and on the Continent of Europe on occasions of great public rejoicing. It is called the Te Deum, or sometimes the Te Deum Laudamus. These last are the three Latin words with which the hymn commences and mean, Thee, God, we praise. They sung the Te Deum  in the churches of London on the Sunday after Mary died.

In the mean time, messengers from the council proceeded with all speed to Hatfield, to announce to Elizabeth the death of her sister, and her own accession to the sovereign power. The tidings, of course, filled Elizabeth's mind with the deepest emotions. The oppressive sense of constraint and danger which she had endured as her daily burden for so many years, was lifted suddenly from her soul. She could not but rejoice, though she was too much upon her guard to express her joy. She was overwhelmed with a profound agitation, and, kneeling down, she exclaimed in Latin, "It is the Lord's doing, and it is wonderful in our eyes."

Several of the members of Mary's privy council repaired immediately to Hatfield. The queen summoned them to attend her, and in their presence appointed her chief secretary of state. His name was Sir William Cecil. He was a man of great learning and ability, and he remained in office under Elizabeth for forty years. He became her chief adviser and instrument, an able, faithful, and indefatigable servant and friend during almost the whole of her reign. His name is accordingly indissolubly connected with that of Elizabeth in all the political events which occurred while she continued upon the throne, and it will, in consequence, very frequently occur in the sequel of this history. He was now about forty years of age. Elizabeth was twenty-five.

Elizabeth had known Cecil long before. He had been a faithful and true friend to her in her adversity. He had been, in many cases, a confidential adviser, and had maintained a secret correspondence with her in certain trying periods of her life. She had resolved, doubtless, to make him her chief secretary of state so soon as she should succeed to the throne. And now that the time had arrived, she instated him solemnly in his office. In so doing, she pronounced, in the hearing of the other members of the council, the following charge:

"I give you this charge that you shall be of, my privy council, and content yourself to take pains for me and my realm. This judgment I have of you, that you will not be corrupted with any gift; and that you will be faithful to the state; and that, without respect of my private will, you will give me that counsel that you think best; and that, if you shall know any thing necessary to be declared to me of secrecy you shall show it to myself only; and assure yourself I will not fail to keep taciturnity there in. And therefore herewith I charge you."

Queen Elizabeth


It was about a week after the death of Mary before the arrangements were completed for Elizabeth's journey to London, to take possession of the castles and palaces which pertain there to the English sovereigns. She was followed on this journey by a train of about a thousand attendants, all nobles or personages of high rank, both gentlemen and ladies. She went first to a palace called the Charter House, near London, where she stopped until preparations could be made for her formal and public, entrance into the Tower; not, as before, through the Traitors' Gate, a prisoner, but openly, through the grand entrance, in the midst of acclamations as the proud and applauded sovereign of the mighty realm whose capital the ancient fortress was stationed to defend. The streets through which the gorgeous procession was to pass were spread with fine, smooth gravel; bands of musicians were stationed at intervals, and decorated arches, and banners, and flags, with countless devices of loyalty and welcome, and waving handkerchiefs, greeted her all the way. Heralds and other great officers, magnificently dressed, and mounted on horses richly caparisoned, rode before her, announcing her approach, with trumpets and proclamations; while she followed in the train, mounted upon a beautiful horse, the object of universal homage. Thus Elizabeth entered the Tower; and inasmuch as forgetting her friends is a fault with which she can not justly be charged, we may hope, at least, that one of the first acts which she performed, after getting established in the royal apartments, was to send for and reward the kind-hearted child who had been reprimanded for bringing her the flowers.

The coronation, when the time arrived for it was very splendid. The queen went in state in a sumptuous chariot, preceded by trumpeters and heralds in armor, and accompanied by a long train of noblemen, barons, and gentlemen, and also of ladies, all most richly dressed in crimson velvet, the trappings of the horses being of the same material. The people of London thronged all the streets through which she was to pass, and made the air resound with shouts and acclamations. There were triumphal arches erected here and there on the way, with a great variety of odd and quaint devices, and a child stationed upon each, who explained the devices to Elizabeth as she passed, in English verse, written for the occasion. One of these pageants was entitled "The Seat of worthy Governance." There was a throne supported by figures which represented the cardinal virtues, such as Piety, Wisdom, Temperance, Industry, Truth, and beneath their feet were the opposite vices, Superstition, Ignorance, Intemperance, Idleness, and Falsehood: these the virtues were trampling upon. On the throne was a representation of Elizabeth. At one place were eight personages dressed to represent the eight beatitudes pronounced by our Savior is his sermon on the Mount—the meek, the merciful, etc. Each of these qualities was ingeniously ascribed to Elizabeth. This could be done with much more propriety then than in subsequent years. In another place, an ancient figure, representing Time, came out of a cave which had been artificially constructed with great ingenuity, leading his daughter, whose name was Truth. Truth had an English Bible in her hands, which she presented to Elizabeth as she passed. This had a great deal of meaning; for the Catholic government of Mary had discouraged the circulation of the Scriptures in the vernacular tongue. When the procession arrived in the middle of the city, some officers of the city government approached the queen's chariot, and delivered to her a present of a very large and heavy purse filled with gold. The queen had to employ both hands in lifting it in. It contained an amount equal in value to two or three thousand dollars.

The queen was very affable and gracious to all the people on the way. Poor women would come up to her carriage and offer her flowers, which she would very condescendingly accept. Several times she stopped her carriage when she saw that any one wished to speak with her or had something to offer; and so great was the exaltation of a queen in those days, in the estimation of mankind, that these acts were considered by all the humble citizens of London as acts of very extraordinary affability, and they awakened universal enthusiasm. There was one branch of rosemary given to the queen by a poor woman in Fleet Street; the queen put it up conspicuously in the carriage, where it remained all the way, watched by ten thousand eyes, till it got to Westminster.

The coronation took place at Westminster on the following day. The crown was placed upon the young maiden's head in the midst of a great throng of ladies and gentlemen, who were all superbly dressed, and who made the vast edifice in which the service was performed ring with their acclamations and their shouts of "Long live the Queen!" During the ceremonies, Elizabeth placed a wedding ring upon her finger with great formality, to denote that she considered the occasion as the celebration of her at espousal  to the realm of England; she was that day a bride, and should never have, she said, any other husband. She kept this, the only wedding ring she ever wore, upon her finger, without once removing it, for more than forty years