In the Days of Queen Elizabeth - E. M. Tappan

A Sixteenth Century Coronation

There were several matters concerning which the English people were eagerly watching to see what the queen would do, but whether her subjects expected to be pleased or displeased with her deeds, they could hardly help looking forward with interest to the grand ceremonial of the coronation. Astrology was in vogue, and every nobleman who wished to be in fashion had his horoscope drawn up. When a soldier was setting out for war or a captain was embarking on some dangerous voyage, he would go to a reader of the heavens to be told on which day he must start in order to have his expedition result prosperously. Queen Elizabeth was a firm believer in the foretelling of destiny by the stars, and she had especial confidence in an astrologer called Dr. Dee. To him, therefore, she went that he might name a fortunate day for the coronation. He named Sunday, January 15, 1559.

It was the custom for the sovereigns to ride through the city of London in great state on their way to Westminster, where they were crowned, and Elizabeth's ride was one of the most brilliant ever known. There were trumpeters and heralds in glittering armor; there were ladies on horseback in habits of crimson velvet; there were nobles in silks and satins and laces, gleaming with gold and sparkling with jewels; there were long lines of guards in the green and white of the Tudors; and in the midst of all the splendor was the queen in a gorgeous chariot lined with the richest crimson velvet.

She bowed, she smiled, she waved her hand, she leaned to one side of her carriage and then to the other and listened intently to whatever any one wished to say to her, and whether it was the lord chancellor or the poorest woman in London, each one was sure of a pleasant word and a gracious smile from this new sovereign. Gifts were showered upon her. The city of London gave her a crimson satin purse filled with gold and so large that she had to take both hands to lift it. Elizabeth thanked the citizens and said:—

"To honor my passage through the town you have been at great expense of treasure, so will I spend not only treasure but the dearest drops of my blood, if need be, for the happiness of my people."

"Your Grace," said a poor woman in humble garb, "I could bring you only this bit of rosemary, but there's many a blessing goes with it."

"I thank you heartily," responded the queen. "It shall go with me to Westminster," and it did.

"I can remember fifty years ago when old King Harry was crowned," a white-haired man called to her. The queen smiled upon him. "May you live to remember me as long," she responded. Then she bade her chariot be stopped. "I wish to hear what the child is saying," she said, for a pretty little boy was reciting some verses in her praise. "Turn to one side so I can see his face."

Over several of the streets great arches had been built with various exhibitions called pageants. One represented a cave, and from it Time was leading forth his daughter Truth. The young girl who took the part of Truth held in her hand a most beautifully bound English Bible.

"Who is that with the scythe and hourglass?" the queen asked.

"Time," was the answer.

"It is time that has brought me here," she said as if to herself. The chariot moved slowly on, and when it was almost under the arch, "Truth" let down the volume by a silken cord. Elizabeth took the Bible, kissed it and pressed it to her heart, then held it up before the people.

"Truly, I thank my city of London," said she. "No other gift could have pleased me as this does, and I promise you that every day I will read it most diligently."

So it was that Elizabeth made her journey through London. The whole scene was rather theatrical, but it pleased the people, and that was what she most wished to do. All around her were shouts of joy, silent tears of happiness, wild promises of service, and sober, heartfelt prayers. As she came to the gates of the city, she looked back and called, "Farewell, my people, farewell. Be well assured that I will be a good queen to you." Then the cannon of the Tower thundered, and Elizabeth went on to Westminster.

There she was crowned, and Sir Edward Dymock performed the office of champion, introduced by William the Conqueror. At the coronation banquet he rode into the hall in full armor, threw down his gauntlet and proclaimed:—

"If there be any manner of man that will say and maintain that our sovereign lady, Queen Elizabeth, is not the rightful and undoubted inheritrix to the imperial crown of this realm of England, I say he lieth like a false traitor, and that  I am ready to maintain with him, and therefore I cast him my gage." After a few minutes a herald picked up the glove and presented it to Sir Edward. This ceremony was repeated at two other places in the hall. The queen then drank to the health of the champion in a golden cup which was presented to him as his reward.

During the glories of the coronation, the people seemed to have almost forgotten for a moment the important question whether the queen would rule as a Catholic or a Protestant. There had been much discussion about the matter, and after the days of celebration there was even more.

"She was brought up as a Protestant," one man said, "and she will rule as a Protestant."

"Oh, but has she not declared that she is a Catholic, and has she not been to mass with Queen Mary? Does she not go to mass now?" retorted another.

"Who wouldn't go to mass to gain a kingdom?" laughed a third lightly. "If Queen Mary had named the queen of Scotland as her heir—yes, I know there was a decree of Parliament, but another decree might have been passed as well as that—I don't say the Catholics would have tried to make the Scotch girl queen, but Elizabeth was wise, she was wise."

"It is two full months since Queen Mary died," said the second thoughtfully, "mass is said in the churches every day. Her Majesty will have no preaching without special permission, but——"

"No wonder," broke in the third, "after the sermon that the bishop of Winchester preached at Queen Mary's funeral. He praised Mary to the skies, then said she had left a sister whom they were bound to obey, for 'a live dog is better than a dead lion.' A preacher will have to hide his thoughts in something deeper than Latin to keep them from the queen. I don't wonder that she looks after the sermons."

"I know that she has been to mass many times since Mary died," admitted the first, "but don't you know what she did on Christmas morning? She went to church with her ladies and she heard the Gospel and the Epistle, but before the mass she rose all of a sudden and left the chapel. No true Catholic would stay away from mass on Christmas day."

"She might have been ill," suggested the second.

"As ill as she was when Queen Mary sent for her to come and prove that she had nothing to do with Wyatt's rebellion," said the third drily. "Now mark my words, Elizabeth, queen of England, will never journey by a path because it is straight; she'll keep two roads open, and she'll walk in the one that has the best traveling."

This uncertainty about Elizabeth's religious ideas was one reason why she was welcomed to the throne so warmly. By birth and training she was a Protestant, and therefore no Protestant could consistently oppose her. In her later years she had declared herself a Catholic, and the Catholics had a reasonable hope that she would show favor to them. Another good reason was that there was neither Protestant nor Catholic who could have been set up against her with strong probability of success. Mary of Scotland was the next heir, and she was a Catholic, but no loyal Englishman, no matter what was his creed, wished to see the queen of France raised to the throne of England.

Elizabeth was twenty-five when she became queen, and in her quiet years of study and observation she had formed two very definite ideas about ruling the kingdom. She meant to hold the power in her own hands over church as well as state, and she meant to use her mastery for the gain of the people. Her father had claimed this authority and had exercised it; while Edward reigned, certain noblemen had ruled; while Mary reigned, the church had ruled. Elizabeth wished to be supported by nobles and church if possible, but her chief dependence was upon the masses of people. When she made her first speech to judges of the realm, she said: "Have a care over my people. They are my  people. Every man oppresseth and despoileth them without mercy. They cannot revenge their quarrel nor help themselves. See unto them, see unto them, for they are my charge." When Elizabeth was in earnest and really meant what she said, she generally used short, clear sentences whose meaning could not be mistaken; but when she had something to hide, she used long, intricate expressions, so confused that they would sometimes bear two opposite interpretations, and no one could declare positively what she really meant to say.

This determination of hers to win the support of the people was chiefly why she did not hasten to make sudden changes in the church. She did not at once object to saying mass, but she ordered the Gospel and the Epistle to be read in English as in the Protestant church. Then before she went any further she waited to meet her Parliament and see whether this change had aroused opposition.

She had chose for her chief adviser Sir William Cecil, afterwards called Lord Burleigh. He was a man of great ability and a Protestant, though he had never shown any desire to become a martyr for his faith. He held a high position during Edward's reign, but while Mary was in power, although he went to mass as the law required, he had little to say about church matters. He lived quietly on his estate, interested in his fawns and calves, writing letters about the care of his fruit trees and about buying sheep; but during these quiet years, he was reading and thinking and planning, and gaining wisdom in all that pertained to ruling a land. When Elizabeth made him her secretary, she bade him always tell her frankly what he believed was best, whether he thought it would please her or not. He wished to reestablish Protestantism, and before Elizabeth had been on the throne five months, a decree was passed that she and not the Pope was supreme governor of the church in England. To dispute this decree was declared to be treason, but only clergymen and those who held office under the crown were obliged to take the oath. A man who refused was not beheaded as in Henry's day, but he was put out of his office, and according to the ideas of times, that was not a severe penalty for such an offence. The Catholic form of worship was forbidden, and, while no one not in office was obliged to tell his belief, all subjects were commanded to attend the Protestant service or pay a fine.

Elizabeth did not go as far as this without watching closely for hints of what the majority of her people were willing to permit. One hint came to her the morning after her coronation. She had freed a number of prisoners, as was the custom at the crowning of a sovereign, and after the act one of her courtiers knelt at her feet with a roll of parchment in his hand and said:—

"Your Majesty, will you graciously lend ear to an earnest request from many of your subjects?"

"To do for my beloved people that which is for their good will ever be the ruling desire of my heart," replied the queen.

"Then do I humbly beg in the name of all these good subjects and true"—and he unrolled the parchment to show the long list of signatures—"I beg that your Highness will release unto us yet four more prisoners."

"And who may these prisoners be that have won so zealous an advocate?" asked the queen.

"Verily, your Grace, their names be Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They have been shut up in a language not understanded of the people, as if they were in prison. Even to a prisoner speech with his friends is not often forbidden. Will your Majesty graciously command that the words of the four Evangelists be put into English that these captives may be released from their dungeon?" This was really asking whether she would rule as a Protestant, for the Catholics opposed the circulation of the English Bible.

The queen showed no displeasure, but answered with a smile:—

"It has sometimes come to pass that men have learned to prefer their prison. Perchance it would be better to inquire of these prisoners of ours whether they wish to come out from behind the bars." When Parliament met, the question was brought up, and a translation of the Bible was ordered to be made at once. This was issued as authorized by the queen.

There was another matter that perhaps weighed more seriously upon the masses of the people than did the question which form of religion the queen would favor, and that was her marriage. The English longed to feel sure that the government would go on peacefully even if their queen should be taken from them. Before Henry's father came to the throne, there had been in England a terrible time of civil war because there were different claimants to the crown who were supported by different parties, and most people in the land would rather have a form of worship with which they did not agree than feel that the death of their sovereign would be followed by a return of those bloody days. If Elizabeth married and had a child to inherit the crown, the land would settle down to quiet.

This was the way King Philip reasoned as well as the English. Then he thought: "Elizabeth is a wise, shrewd woman, and she can see that with France and Scotland against her, her only hope is to ally herself with Spain. The only way to be sure of Spain's support is to marry me or some true friend of mine." As for her Protestentism, he did not think that matter of any great importance, for he believed that she would rather be sure of her throne than of her church.

When Elizabeth became queen, she had sent, as was the custom, a letter to the various rulers of Europe, formally announcing her accession. Philip's plans were made before the letter reached him. He had concluded that his only safe course was to marry her himself. He wrote to his ambassador, Count de Feria, and explained why he had come to such a conclusion. It was a great sacrifice, he said, for it would not be easy to rule England in addition to his other domains, and Elizabeth must not be so unreasonable as to expect him to spend much of his time with her. She must give up her Protestant notions, of course, become a Catholic, and agree to uphold the Catholic faith in her country. To marry the sister of his dead wife was against the law of the church, but he was sure that he could induce the Pope to grant special permission.

Philip's reply to Elizabeth's announcement was an ardent letter begging her in most eloquent terms to become his wife. The queen met his request with the gravest courtesy, thanked him for the honor that he had done her, and told him how fully she realized of what advantage such a splendid alliance would be to her. Philip wrote again and again; he told her how highly he thought of her abilities and merits, and what a charming, fascinating woman she was. Elizabeth was shrewd enough to understand why this keen politician was so eager for the marriage, but she answered his letters with the utmost politeness, and when other excuses failed, she told him that she could not make any plans concerning marriage without consulting Parliament, and that body was not yet in session. She mischievously allowed her ladies to see his glowing epistles, but perhaps she may be pardoned for this offence, inasmuch as Count de Feria had foolishly shown the king's letter, and Elizabeth knew precisely what Philip had said about the great sacrifice he was making in wedding her. Philip was so sure she would marry him that he sent envoys to Rome to get the Pope's permission, but before they could return, a final letter came from the queen, refusing to take him for her husband. The Spaniard was easily consoled, for within a month he married the daughter of the French king.

How much attention the queen proposed to pay to the advice of Parliament in this matter was seen a little later when the House of Commons sent a delegation to her, begging that they might have the great honor of an interview with her Majesty. Elizabeth put on her royal robes and went to the House in all state. An address was made her. The speaker told her how they gloried in her eminence and rejoiced in having her for queen. Then he laid before her the affliction it would be to the land if she should die and leave no child to inherit not only her crown but her goodness and her greatness. Finally he begged in all humility that she would in her own good time choose among her many suitors the one most pleasing to herself.

Elizabeth was silent for a moment, and the House feared that she might be offended, then she smiled graciously and thanked them most heartily for their love of her and for their care of the kingdom. "I like your speech," she said, "because it does not attempt to bind my choice; but it would have been a great presumption if you had taken it upon yourselves to direct or limit me whom you are bound to obey." She told them that whatever husband she chose should be of such character that he would care for the kingdom even as she herself did. Finally she said that if she did not marry, they ought not to feel anxious about the realm, but to trust in God, for in due time he would make it evident into whose hands he wished the kingdom to fall. Then she left the House, smiling so pleasantly and bowing so graciously that few among them realized at once that she had neither agreed with them nor disagreed, and that she had promised them nothing at all. She had merely declared that she intended to have her own way and that they had nothing to say about the matter.

King Philip was by no means the only man who was eager for the hand of the English queen. There was Philip's friend, the Archduke Charles, there two French princes, the king of Sweden, the king of Denmark, the king of Poland, the Scotch Earl Arran, the English Earl of Arundel, and still others as the months passed. Several of these ardent wooers sent envoys to England to plead their cause; the king of Sweden sent his brother, and the king of Denmark straightaway despatched his nephew on the same errand. These agents were received with the highest honors, entertainments were arranged for their pleasure, and every courtesy was shown them. Elizabeth was graciousness itself to each, and made each believe that she was especially inclined to favor his master, but that for reasons of state she could not give an answer at once. So she kept them waiting for her royal decision, playing one against another, and all this time England was growing stronger.

Whether she was in earnest when she declared that she did not wish to marry, no one knows, but many think that her final refusal to one suitor after another was because the only man for whom she cared was Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, son of the Duke of Northumberland. He was a man without special talent or ability, a handsome courtier with graceful manners and much ambition. He was married to Amy Robsart, a beautiful girl and a great heiress, but while he was at court, she was left in a lonely mansion in the care of one of Leicester's dependents, a man who had the reputation of being ready to commit any crime for which he was paid. Two years after Elizabeth's accession, Amy Robsart was found dead at the foot of a staircase, and many believed that she had been murdered. They would have believed it still more firmly if they had known that a very short time later Leicester was trying to persuade Philip that he would protect the Catholics if he could be aided to marry the queen, and to convince the French Protestants that he would do the same for their church if he could have their help in winning the hand of Elizabeth. As for the queen herself, she would at one time show the earl every sign of tenderness, and at another she would declare, "I'll marry no subject. Marry a subject and make him king? Never."