Queen Elizabeth - Jacob Abbott

The Conclusion

There can be no doubt that Essex was really guilty of the treason for which he was condemned, but mankind have generally been inclined to consider Elizabeth rather than him as the one really accountable, both for the crime and its consequences. To elate and intoxicate, in the first place, an ardent and ambitious boy, by flattery and favors, and then, in the end, on the occurrence of real or fancied causes of displeasure, to tease and torment so sensitive and impetuous a spirit to absolute madness and phrensy, was to take the responsibility, in a great measure, for all the effects which might follow. At least so it has generally been regarded by almost all the readers of the story— Essex is pitied and mourned—it is Elizabeth that is condemned. It is a melancholy story; but scenes exactly parallel to this case are continually occurring in private life all around us, where sorrows and sufferings which are, so far as the heart is concerned, precisely the same result from the combined action, or rather, perhaps, the alternating and contending action, of fondness, passion, and obstinacy. The results are always, in their own nature, the same, though not often on so great a scale as to make the wrong which follows treason against a realm, and the consequences a beheading in the Tower.

There must have been some vague consciousness of this her share in the guilt of the transaction in Elizabeth's mind, even while the trial of Essex was going on. We know that she was harassed by the most tormenting suspense and perplexity while the question of the execution of his sentence was pending. Of course, when the plot was discovered, Essex's party and all his friends fell immediately from all influence and consideration at court. Many of them were arrested and imprisoned, and four were executed, as he had been. The party which had been opposed to him acquired at once the entire ascendency, and they all, judges, counselors, statesmen, and generals, combined their influence to press upon the queen the necessity of his execution. She signed one warrant and delivered it to the officer; but then, as soon as the deed was done, she was so overwhelmed with distress and anguish that she sent to recall it, and had it canceled. Finally she signed another, and the sentence was executed.

Time will cure, in our earlier years, most of the sufferings, and calm most of the agitations of the soul, however incurable and uncontrollable they may at first appear to the sufferer. But in the later periods of life, when severe shocks strike very heavily upon the soul, there is found far less of buoyancy and recovering power to meet the blow. In such cases the stunned and bewildered spirit moves on, after receiving its wound, staggering, as it were, with faintness and pain, and leaving it for a long time uncertain whether it will ultimately rise and recover, or sink down and die.

Dreadfully wounded as Elizabeth was, in all the inmost feelings and affections of her heart, by the execution of her beloved favorite, she was a woman of far too much spirit and energy to yield without a struggle. She made the greatest efforts possible after his death to banish the subject from her mind, and to recover her wonted spirits. She went on hunting excursions and parties of pleasure. She prosecuted with great energy her war with the Spaniards, and tried to interest herself in the siege and defense of Continental cities. She received an embassage from the court of France with great pomp and parade, and made a grand progress through a part of her dominions, with a long train of attendants, to the house of a nobleman, where she entertained the embassador many days in magnificent state, at her own expense, with plate and furniture brought from her own palaces for the purpose. She even planned an interview between herself and the King of France, and went to Dover to effect it.

But all would not do. Nothing could drive the thoughts of Essex from her mind, or dispel the dejection with which the recollection of her love for him, and of his unhappy fate, oppressed her spirit. A year or two passed away, but time brought no relief. Sometimes she was fretful and peevish, and sometimes hopelessly dejected and sad. She told the French embassador one day that she was weary of her life, and when she attempted to speak of Essex as the cause of her grief, she sighed bitterly and burst into tears.

When she recovered her composure, she told the embassador that she had always been uneasy about Essex while he lived, and, knowing his impetuosity of spirit and his ambition, she had been afraid that he would one day attempt something which would compromise his life, and she had warned and entreated him not to be led into any such designs, for, if he did so, his fate would have to be decided by the stern authority of law, and not by her own indulgent feelings but that all her earnest warnings had been insufficient to save him.

It was the same whenever any thing occurred which recalled thoughts of Essex to her mind; it almost always brought tears to her eyes. When Essex was commanding in Ireland, it will be recollected that he had, on one occasion, come to a parley with Tyrone, the rebel leader, across the current of a stream. An officer in his army, named Harrington, had been with him on this occasion, and present, though at a little distance, during the interview. After Essex had left Ireland, another lord-deputy had been appointed; but the rebellion continued to give the government a great deal of trouble. The Spaniards came over to Tyrone's assistance, and Elizabeth's mind was much occupied with plans for subduing him. One day Harrington was at court in the presence of the queen, and she asked him if he had ever seen Tyrone. Harrington replied that he had. The queen then recollected the former interview which Harrington had had with him, and she said, "Oh, now I recollect that you have seen him before!" This thought recalled Essex so forcibly to her mind, and filled her with such painful emotions, that she looked up to Harrington with a countenance full of grief: tears Game to her eyes, and she beat her breast with every indication of extreme mental suffering.

Things went on in this way until toward the close of 1602, when an incident occurred which seemed to strike down at once and forever what little strength and spirit the queen had remaining. The Countess of Nottingham, a celebrated lady of the court, was dangerously sick, and had sent for the queen to come and see her, saying that she had a communication to make to her majesty herself, personally, which she was very anxious to make to her before she died. The queen went accordingly to see her.

When she arrived at the bedside the countess showed her a ring. Elizabeth immediately recognized it as the ring which she had given to Essex, and which she had promised to consider a special pledge of her protection, and which was to be sent to her by him whenever he found himself in any extremity of danger and distress. The queen eagerly demanded where it came from. The countess replied that Essex had sent the ring to her during his imprisonment in the Tower, and after his condemnation, with an earnest request that she would deliver it to the queen as the token of her promise of protection, and of his own supplication for mercy. The countess added that she had intended to deliver the ring according to Essex's request, but her husband, who was the unhappy prisoner's enemy, forbade her to do it; that ever since the execution of Essex she had been greatly distressed at the consequences of her having withheld the ring; and that now, as she was about to leave the world herself, she felt that she could not die in peace without first seeing the queen, and acknowledging fully what she had done, and imploring her forgiveness.

The queen was thrown into a state of extreme indignation and displeasure by this statement. She reproached the dying countess in the bitterest terms, and shook her as she lay helpless in her bed, saying, "God may forgive you if he pleases, but I never will!" She than went away in a rage.

Her exasperation, however, against the countess was soon succeeded by bursts of inconsolable grief at the recollection of the hopeless and irretrievable loss of the object of her affection, whose image the ring called back so forcibly to net mind. Her imagination wandered in wretchedness and despair to the gloomy dungeon in the Tower where Essex had been confined, and painted him pining there, day after day, in dreadful suspense and anxiety, waiting for her to redeem the solemn pledge by which she had bound herself in giving him the ring. All the sorrow which she had felt at his untimely and cruel fate was awakened afresh, and became more poignant than ever. She made them place cushions for her upon the floor, in the most inner and secluded of her apartments, and there she would lie all the day long, her hair disheveled, her dress neglected, her food refused, and her mind a prey to almost uninterrupted anguish and grief.

In January, 1603, she felt that she was drawing toward her end, and she decided to be removed from Westminster to Richmond, because there was there an arrangement of closets communicating with her chamber, in which she could easily and conveniently attend divine service. She felt that she had now done with the world, and all the relief and comfort which she could find at all from the pressure of her distress was in that sense of protection and safety which she experienced when in the presence of God and listening to the exercises of devotion.

Queen Elizabeth I


It was a cold and stormy day in January when she went to Richmond; but, being restless and ill at ease, she would not be deterred by that circumstance from making the journey. She became worse after this removal. She made them put cushions again for her upon the floor, and she would lie upon them all the day, refusing to go to her bed. There was a communication from her chamber to closets connected with a chapel, where she had been accustomed to sit and hear divine service. These closets were of the form of small galleries, where the queen and her immediate attendants could sit. There was one open and public; another—a smaller one—was private, with curtains which could be drawn before it, so as to screen those within from the notice of the congregation. The queen intended, first, to go into the great closet; but, feeling too weak for this, she changed her mind, and ordered the private one to be prepared. At last she decided not to attempt to make even this effort, but ordered the cushions to be put down upon the floor, near the entrance, in her own room, and she lay there while the prayers were read, listening to the voice of the clergyman as it came in to her through the open door.

One day she asked them to take off the wedding ring with which she had commemorated her espousal to her kingdom and her people on the day of her coronation. The flesh had swollen around it so that it could not be removed. The attendants procured an instrument and cut it in two, and so relieved the finger from the pressure. The work was done in silence and solemnity, the queen herself, as well as the attendants, regarding it as a symbol that the union, of which the ring had been the pledge, was about to be sundered forever.

She sunk rapidly day by day, and, as it became more and more probable that she would soon cease to live, the nobles and statesmen who had been attendants at her court for so many years withdrew one after another from the palace, and left London secretly, but with eager dispatch, to make their way to Scotland, in order to be the first to hail King James, the moment they should learn that Elizabeth had ceased to breathe.

Her being abandoned thus by these heartless friends did not escape the notice of the dying queen. Though her strength of body was almost gone, the soul was as active and busy as ever within its failing tenement. She watched every thing—noticed every thing, growing more and more jealous and irritable just in proportion as her situation became helpless and forlorn. Every thing seemed to conspire to deepen the despondency and gloom which darkened her dying hours.

Her strength rapidly declined. Her voice grew fainter and fainter, until, on the 23d of March, she could no longer speak. In the afternoon of that day she aroused herself a little, and contrived to make signs to have her council called to her bedside. Those who had not gone to Scotland came They asked her whom she wished to have succeed her on the throne. She could not answer, but when they named King James of Scotland, she made a sign of assent. After a time the counselors went away.

At six o'clock in the evening she made signs for the archbishop and her chaplains to come to her. They were sent for and came. When they came in, they approached her bedside and kneeled. The patient was lying upon her back speechless, but her eye, still moving watchfully and observing every thing, showed that the faculties of the soul were unimpaired. One of the clergymen asked her questions respecting her faith. Of course, she could not answer in words. She made signs, however, with her eyes and her hands, which seemed to prove that she had full possession of all her faculties. The bystanders looked on with breathless attention. The aged bishop, who had asked the questions, then began to pray for her. He continued his prayer a long time, and then pronouncing a benediction upon her, he was about to rise, but she made a sign. The bishop did not understand what she meant, but a lady present said that she wished the bishop to continue his devotions. The bishop, though weary with kneeling, continued his prayer half an hour longer. He then closed again, but she repeated the sign. The bishop, finding thus that his ministrations gave her so much comfort, renewed them with greater fervency than before, and continued his supplications for a long time—so long, that those who had been present at the commencement of the service went away softly, one after another, so that when at last the bishop retired, the queen was left with her nurses and her women alone. These attendants remained at their dying sovereign's bedside for a few hours longer, watching the failing pulse, the quickened breathing, and all the other indications of approaching dissolution. As hour after hour thus passed on, they wished that their weary task was done, and that both their patient and themselves were at rest. This lasted till midnight, and then the intelligence was communicated about the palace that Elizabeth was no more.

In the mean time all the roads to Scotland were covered, as it were, with eager aspirants for the favor of the distinguished personage there, who, from the instant Elizabeth ceased to breathe, became King of England. They looked into Scotland by sea and by land, urging their way as rapidly as possible, each eager to be foremost in paying his homage to the rising sun. The council assembled and proclaimed King James. Elizabeth lay neglected and forgotten. The interest she had inspired was awakened only by her power, and that being gone, nobody mourned for her, or lamented her death. The attention of the kingdom was soon universally absorbed in the plans for receiving and proclaiming the new monarch from the North, and in anticipations of the splendid pageantry which was to signalize his taking his seat upon the English Throne.

James I of England


In due time the body of the deceased queen was deposited with those of its progenitors, in the ancient place of sepulture of the English kings. Westminster Abbey. Westminster Abbey, in the sense in which that term is used in history, is not to be conceived of as a building, nor even as a group of buildings, but rather as a long succession of buildings like a dynasty, following each other in a line, the various structures having been renewed and rebuilt constantly, as parts or wholes decayed, from century to century, for twelve or fifteen hundred years. The spot received its consecration at a very early day. It was then an island formed by the waters of a little tributary to the Thames, which has long since entirely disappeared. Written records of its sacredness, and of the sacred structures which have occupied it, go back more than a thousand years, and beyond that time tradition mounts still further, carrying the consecration of the spot almost to the Christian era, by telling us that the Apostle Peter himself, in his missionary wanderings, had a chapel or an oratory there.

The spot has been, in all ages, the great burial-place of the English kings, whose monuments and effigies adorn its walls and aisles in endless variety. A vast number, too, of the statesmen, generals, and naval heroes of the British empire have been admitted to the honor of having their remains deposited under its marble floor. Even literary genius has a little corner assigned it—the mighty aristocracy whose mortal remains it is the main function of the building to protect having so far condescended toward intellectual greatness as to allow to Milton, Addison, and Shakespeare modest monuments behind a door. The place is called the Poets' Corner; and so famed and celebrated is this vast edifice every where, that the phrase by which even this obscure and insignificant portion of it is known is familiar to every ear and every tongue throughout the English world.

The body of Elizabeth was interred in a part of the edifice called Henry the Seventh's Chapel. The word chapel, in the European sense, denotes ordinarily a subordinate edifice connected with the main body of a church, and opening into it. Most frequently, in fact, a chapel is a mere recess or alcove, separated from the area of the church by a small screen or gilded iron railing. In the Catholic churches these chapels are ornamented with sculptures and paintings, with altars and crucifixes, and other such furniture. Sometimes they are built expressly as monumental structures, in which case they are often of considerable size, and are ornamented with great magnificence and splendor. This was the case with Henry the Seventh's Chapel. The whole building is, in fact, his tomb. Vast sums were expended in the construction of it, the work of which extended through two reigns. It is now one of the most attractive portions of the great pile which it adorns. Elizabeth's body was deposited here, and here her monument was erected.

It will be recollected that James, who now succeeded Elizabeth, was the son of Mary Queen of Scots. Soon after his accession to the throne, he removed the remains of his mother from their place of sepulture near the scene of her execution, and interred them in the south aisle of Henry the Seventh's Chapel, while the body of Elizabeth occupied the northern one.

Elizabeth Tomb


He placed, also, over Mary's remains, a tomb very similar in its plan and design to that by which the memory of Elizabeth was honored; and there the rival queens have since reposed in silence and peace under the same paved floor And though the monuments do not materially differ in their architectural forms, it is found that the visitors who go continually to the spot gaze with a brief though lively interest at the one, while they linger long and mournfully over the other.

The character of Elizabeth has not generally awakened among mankind much commendation or sympathy. They who censure or condemn her should, however, reflect how very conspicuous was the stage on which she acted, and how minutely all her faults have been paraded to the world. That she deserved the reproaches which have been so freely cast upon her memory can not be denied. It will moderate, however, any tendency to censoriousness in our mode of uttering them, if we consider to how little advantage we should ourselves appear, if all the words of fretfulness and irritability which we have ever spoken, all our insincerity and double-dealing, our selfishness, our pride, out petty resentments, our caprice, and our countless follies, were exposed as fully to the public gaze as were those of this renowned and glorious but unhappy queen.