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

A Princess in Prison

Mary did not forget to show gratitude to those who had aided her in gaining possession of her crown. To some she gave high positions, and for the one whose house had been burned she built a much finer residence.

"And now, my well-beloved cousin and councilor," she said to the Earl of Sussex, "we would gladly show to you our hearty appreciation of your loyalty in a troublous time. Ask what you will of us, and it shall be granted."

The only way of heating houses in those days was by means of fireplaces, and therefore, even the royal palaces were full of chills and drafts. Whenever the earl came to court, he took cold. A thought struck him and he said:—

"If your Grace is really of intent to bestow upon me the gift that will give me most of comfort and peace of mind and body, I would beg humbly for the royal permission that I need no longer uncover my head before man or woman."

Mary was greatly amused. "Either cap or coif or nightcap [skullcap] may you wear," said she, "and woe to the one that dares to dispute your privilege." The next morning a parchment bearing the royal arms was presented to the earl with all formality. It read:—

"Know ye that we do give to our well-beloved and trusty councilor, Henry, Earl of Sussex, license and pardon to wear his cap, coif, or night-cap, or any two of them, at his pleasure, as well in our presence as in the presence of any other person within this our realm."

Not all the questions of the day were settled as easily. One of the most important ones was who should succeed Mary on the throne. If she married and had children, they would be her heirs, but if not, the Princess Elizabeth would probably follow her as ruler of England. Now Mary was a strong and sincere Catholic, and her dearest wish was to lead England back to the old faith and have the Pope acknowledged as the head of the English church. She hoped to be able to bring this to pass, but she was not well, she had little reason to look for a long life, and when Elizabeth became queen, all Mary's work would be undone, the land would be again Protestant. Elizabeth was to Mary still the little sister whom she had so often led by the hand. Would it not be possible to persuade her to become a Catholic? Elizabeth had loved Edward, would she not go with Mary to hear a mass for the repose of his soul? Elizabeth refused. Again Mary asked, and again Elizabeth said no.

"She would not dare be so bold if stronger than herself were not behind her," declared Mary's councilors. "There is danger to life and throne in this audacity." Others too were to be feared, those Protestants who did not believe in the right of Elizabeth to the crown. They were not sorry to see disagreement between the two sisters, for if the younger should be shut out from the successsion, Lady Jane, prisoner in the Tower as she was, would be accepted as Mary's heir. Evidently Elizabeth must be induced to become a Catholic if it was possible. Mary begged and then she threatened. She had sermons preached before Elizabeth, and she sent the royal councilors to talk with her, but in vain. At last the princess was made to understand that she must yield or withdraw from court. More than this, it was said to her, "There are suspicions that you are bold in resisting the queen because you have support from without."

Elizabeth was alarmed, and she sent a message to the queen:—

"I pray you, let us meet, there is much that I would say." Soon the meeting came to pass. Mary entered the room attended by only one lady, who followed her at a greater distance than was customary. Elizabeth threw herself at Mary's feet and said with many tears:—

"Most gracious queen and sister, I have ever looked up to you with love and respect, and since I have had the use of my reason, I have been interested in everything that concerns your greatness and glory. It grieves me to the heart to feel that for some reason unknown to myself I am no longer as dear to your Majesty as I have believed myself to be."

"My well-beloved sister," answered the queen, "gladly would I show to you all affection if I were but sure that your heart was turned toward me and toward that which is not only my dearest wish but is for the salvation of your own soul."

"I have but followed the belief in which I was brought up," said Elizabeth. "Such books as my father approved have been my reading. I will study others if you will, and it may be that my mind will be opened to perceive truth in doctrines wherein I had not thought it to lie."

"It will be a pleasure to my chaplain to choose for you those that are of such quality as to lead a truly inquiring heart into the way of right."

"Yet another kindness do I beg of you, my queen and sister," said Elizabeth. "I have listened to those whom I was told to hear. Will your Grace send to me some well-taught preacher to instruct me in the way wherein you would have me to walk? Never have I heard any learned doctor discourse in such wise as to show me where lay my error." Mary agreed, and a few days later the two sisters attended mass together. Elizabeth even wrote to the German emperor that she intended to have a Catholic chapel opened in her own house, and asked his permission to purchase in Flanders a cross, chalice, and such ornaments as would be needed.

No one had much confidence in her sudden change of creed. Those Protestants who were discontented went on with their plots to make her queen, convinced none the less that once on the throne, she would restore the Protestant form of worship. The German emperor, who was Mary's chief adviser, urged that to insure the queen's safety Elizabeth ought to be imprisoned, or at any rate, so strictly guarded that she could do no harm. There was reason for his fears. Mary, Queen of Scots, would soon become the daughter-in-law of the French king, and while he was pretending to be a true friend to Elizabeth, he was in reality doing all in his power to make trouble between her and Mary. If Elizabeth could be led into some plot that would anger Mary and so could be shut out from the succession, his daughter-in-law might easily become queen of England as well as of Scotland. Vague rumors of discontent and plots came to the ears of Mary, and for some time she refused Elizabeth's request to be allowed to go to her own house.

The German emperor was Mary's cousin, Charles V., to whom she had been betrothed when she was a child. He was seventeen years older than she, and was the most powerful sovereign in Europe. To him she went for counsel concerning the difficult questions that pressed upon her. The most urgent one was that of her proposed marriage. She was to marry, that was settled, but the bridegroom had not yet been selected. No fewer than four foreign princes were suggested, but the English hoped most earnestly that she would marry an Englishman. Charles V. seemed to favor first one and then another, but he could always give good reasons why no one of them should be the chosen one. At last he named his own son Philip. Mary made many objections.

"The emperor is also king of Spain," said she to Charles's ambassador, "and when Philip succeeds him on the Spanish throne, how can he come and rule in England?"

"That matter would not be difficult to arrange," answered the ambassador. "The prince could rule in Spain and dwell in England, even as his father is able to rule both Spain and Germany."

"He is very young," said she.

"He is a staid man," declared the ambassador. "He has often had to stand in responsible positions, and indeed in appearance he is already many years older than your Majesty."

"When I marry, I shall marry as a woman, not as a queen," said Mary, "and I shall promise to obey my husband, but it will be my right to rule my kingdom. No foreigner may have part or lot in that. The English people would not bear it, nor would they endure to have places of honor or of power given to foreigners." Still, she did not reject Philip.

It was soon whispered about that there was a possibility of a Spanish marriage. The chancellor came to the queen and begged her to make no such alliance. "No other nation is so disliked as the Spaniards," said he, "and Philip's haughtiness and arrogance have disgusted his own subjects. Philip will rule the Low Countries, and the king of France will never endure it to have the Netherlands fall into the hands of England."

In spite of her objections Mary really favored the marriage with Philip, He was her cousin, of her own faith, and of her mother's nation. With Philip to support her, she could bring England back to the old faith. She allowed Charles's ambassador to discuss the matter again.

"Your Highness," said he, "never was a sovereign in a more difficult position. You stand alone without an honest adviser in the land. See how easily your councilors who were Protestants one year ago have now become Catholics. Will they not as readily become Protestants again, if they have good hope of farther advancement under the Princess Elizabeth? You are surrounded by enemies. There are those who do not love the true church, and there are the rebels who followed Northumberland; Lady Jane and the Princess Elizabeth stand ready for their hand. Then there are France and Scotland; the Scotch queen would willingly add England to her domain. In Spain lies your only hope."

"Even if what you say is true," she responded, "I am not a young girl whose hand is to be disposed of at the will of her father, I must see the prince before I decide."

"Pardon, your Majesty," said the ambassador, "but the emperor will never permit that his son and heir should be exhibited before the court as a candidate for your Majesty's hand, and perchance be rejected before the eyes of Europe. A man's face is a token of the man, shall a portrait of the prince be sent you?"

The queen agreed, and the picture was sent. It portrayed a young man with blue eyes, yellow hair and beard, and a rather gloomy expression; but the face must have pleased the queen, for when Parliament again begged her to marry none but an Englishman, it was too late. Two days earlier she had in the presence of the Spanish ambassador taken a solemn oath that she would wed no other man than Prince Philip of Spain.

Nothing was talked of in the kingdom but the Spanish marriage.

"It is a poor business," said one. "King Henry is but seven years dead, and his kingdom will soon be only a province of Spain."

"Not so fast," rejoined the other. "Spain is the richest country in Europe. I wish I had but the twentieth part of the gold that comes from the New World in one of those high-decked galleons of hers."

"For the queen to marry Philip will bring it no nearer to us," retorted the first.

"Why not, my friend? Will not freedom to trade help to fill our empty treasury? Spain is a strong ally. Let France and Scotland attack us, and it will be well to have a helper with ships and treasure."

"Ships and treasure will not give us freedom," declared the first. "Better be poor than be ruled by Spain. I'm as true a Catholic as you, but no wish have I to see the torture chamber of Spain brought into England. Philip's own subjects detest him."

Mary's councilors soon ceased to oppose what she so plainly wanted, though it was whispered about that they were convinced by bribes rather than by arguments. An ambassador came from Spain to bring the engagement ring and to draw up the marriage treaty. The English people were angry and indignant and the children played a game called "English and Spaniards." Philip was one of the characters in this play, and there was always a pretence of hanging him. Nevertheless, the treaty was drawn up. It was agreed that no Spaniards should hold office in England. If the queen should have children, they must not be carried out of the land without the consent of the nobles, and they should inherit not only England but the lands of Holland and Flanders to which Philip was heir.

In spite of all these careful arrangements, the English became more and more enraged, and there were insurrections in various parts of the country. One was headed by the Duke of Suffolk, Lady Jane's father. Mary had supposed that if Suffolk was forgiven and his daughter allowed to live, he would be loyal from gratitude, but this was not the case. He went from one place to another, raising troops and proclaiming Lady Jane queen of the realm.

Another insurrection was headed by a young poet named Wyatt. His forces came so near London that the queen was in great danger. Lawyers wore armor under their robes when they pleaded in court, and clergymen wore armor under their vestments when they preached. The insurgents came nearer, and there was hot fighting. "Flee, my queen, flee!" called one after another, but Mary was perfectly calm and answered, "I warrant we shall hear better news anon."

When it became clear that there would be bloodshed, Mary had written to Elizabeth, telling her of the danger and urging her to come where she would be protected. "Assuring you that you will be most heartily welcome," the letter ends. Elizabeth sent word that she was ill and not able to travel. Many days passed, and they were days full of events. The Duke of Suffolk was captured.

"You have pardoned him once," said Mary's councilors, "and his gratitude is but another attempt to thrust you from the throne. This time there can be no pardon." Mary agreed. "There is one thing more," said they. "There will be neither peace nor quiet nor safety in the land so long as Lady Jane lives."

"I can never sign the death-warrant of my cousin," declared Mary, "not even to save my own life."

"Have you a right to shed the blood of your subjects?" they demanded. "The ground about us is wet with their blood. Shall such scenes come to pass a second time?" Mary yielded, and Lady Jane was beheaded.

A question even more difficult than this had arisen. When Wyatt was examined, he declared that the Princess Elizabeth had known of the plot. Now Mary sent, not an affectionate invitation, but a command for her sister's presence. Two physicians accompanied the commissioners. They agreed that the princess was able to travel, and the company set out for the court. One hundred of her attendants escorted her, and one hundred more of Mary's guards followed. Elizabeth was greatly loved by the masses of the people. She was fine-looking, well educated, and witty, and they were proud of their princess.

"Draw aside the curtains," she commanded. "Let the people see me if they will." The people saw her indeed. Crowds lined the road as the procession moved slowly by.

"Alas, poor young lady," sobbed one kind-hearted woman. "I mind me well when her own mother went to the block."

"She's over young to be facing the cruel axe," declared another. "She's but the age of my own girl, only one and twenty, if she is  a princess."

"Mayhap it will all be well," said a third. "See her sitting there in the fair white gown, and her face as white as the stuff itself. She's not the one to plot and plan to take the life of the queen."

Elizabeth came to the palace, but Mary refused to meet her.

"Bear this ring to her Majesty," commanded the princess. It was much the custom in those days for one friend to give another a ring whose sight should renew their friendship if misunderstanding had arisen between them, and Elizabeth wore one that had been given her by Mary long before. The pledge had lost its power, for Mary sent only the message, "Before we can meet, you must show your innocence of that of which you are accused."

Day after day it was debated what should be done with the princess. Although just before Wyatt's death he had taken back his words of accusation, the royal council still suspected her. Charles V. was more than willing that she should put to death, and the Spanish ambassador told Mary that until the punishment of the rebels had made the realm safe for Philip, he could not land on English soil. "It is most important," said he, "that the trial and execution of the Lady Elizabeth should take place before the arrival of the prince."

One morning ten of the royal commissioners demanded audience of Elizabeth.

"Your Grace," said the leader, "a grievous charge is made against you, that you were knowing to an evil and felonious attempt to overthrow the government and take the life of our most gracious queen. It is the pleasure of her Highness that you be at once removed to the Tower."

"I am an innocent woman," Elizabeth answered, "and I trust that her Majesty will be far more gracious than to commit to the Tower one who has never offended her in thought, word, or deed. I beg you to intercede fro me with the queen."

The intercession was of no avail. Elizabeth sent a letter to Mary denying all charges and begging that they might meet, but the only reply was the order, "Your Grace must away to the Tower."

"I am content, inasmuch as it is the queen's pleasure," Elizabeth replied, and the carefully guarded boat set off. It drew up, not at the door which led to the royal apartments of the Tower, but at the one called the Traitors' Gate, where many a prisoner had been landed in the past troublous times.

"I am no traitor," said she, "nor will I go in at the Traitors' Gate."

"Madam, there is no choice," answered sternly one of the commissioners, but he added kindly, "The rain falls in torrents, will your Grace honor me by making use of my cloak?" Elizabeth flung it down angrily, and put her foot on the step, covered with water as it was.

"Her lands as true a subject as ever landed on these steps," she declared solemnly. Up the stairs she was taken, and to the room that was to become her prison. The doors were locked and bolted.

She was not without friends even within the walls of the Tower. Both Mary and Elizabeth were fond of children, and Elizabeth especially could always win their hearts. She had not been long a prisoner before one little girl, the child of an officer, began to watch for her when she walked in the garden.

"Lady," asked the child, "do you like to be in the Tower?"

"No, I do not," answered Elizabeth, "but the doors are locked and I have no key, so I cannot go out." In a few days the little girl came to her with a beaming face. "I want to tell you something," she whispered. "I want to tell it right into your ear." She threw her arms around the princess's neck and whispered: "I've brought you some keys so you needn't always stay here. Now you can open the gates and go out as you will, can't you?" and the child pulled from the bosom of her frock some little keys that she had found.

A boy of four years was one of her pets, and used to bring her flowers every day. The council suspected that he was bringing messages to her from another prisoner in the Tower and ordered his father to forbid his speaking to the princess. Nevertheless, the little fellow watched at the bolted door for a chance to say good-by, and called softly, "Lady, I can't bring you any flowers, and I can't come to see you any more."

In those times executions followed accusations so easily that Elizabeth was alarmed at every little commotion, and one day she asked anxiously whether the scaffold was still standing on which Lady Jane had been executed. The princess, was indeed, very near death at one time, for the queen's chancellor sent to the Tower an order for her execution. Mary was very ill and not expected to recover, and the chancellor may have thought that only the death of Elizabeth could save England for the Catholic church. The order was delivered to the keeper of the Tower.

"Where is the signature of the queen?" he demanded.

"The queen is too ill to sign the paper, but it is sent in her name."

"Then in her name will I wait until by the blessing of God her Majesty shall be well again, and can speak for herself," returned the keeper.

When Mary had recovered, she was exceedingly angry that the life of Elizabeth had been so nearly taken. It was soon decided that the princess should stay no longer in the Tower, but should be taken to the palace at Woodstock.

Elizabeth expected to be put to death. "Pray for me," she said to one of her servants, "for this night I think I must die." All along the way to Woodstock the people flocked to gaze upon her. They filled her litter with cakes and flowers and sweet-smelling herbs. Every one saluted her. "God save your Grace!" cried the crowds, and in one little village the bells rang a hearty welcome as she passed through. Nevertheless, she was a prisoner and as closely guarded as she had been in the Tower.