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

From Prison to Throne

While one sister was in prison, the sister on the throne had not found life altogether happy. The more she gazed upon Philip's picture, the more she longed to meet him but he made no haste in coming. Two months had passed since Mary put on the betrothal ring, and never yet had he even written to her. Philip had begged his father to choose a young wife for him, but to the emperor the fact that Mary was ten years older than his son was a small matter if only he could secure for Philip a possibility of ruling England.

The marriage was to take place at Winchester, and as the time drew near, Mary set out with her retinue. She was borne in the royal litter, and if all the vehicles were as gorgeous as the one provided for her maids of honor, the procession must have been a dazzling sight. This one was a "wagon of timber work with wheels, axletrees, and benches." It was painted red, lined with red buckram, and covered with red cloth. This covering was adorned with heavy fringe of red silk.

Not at all agreeable was Philip's journey to Winchester. When he landed in England, he found a great company of nobles waiting to do him honor, and he was escorted to a palace in which most beautiful rooms had been prepared for him. This was pleasant, but when he set off for Winchester, the wind blew and the rain came down in floods, and the four or five thousand riders in the procession were thoroughly drenched.

Before they had ridden many minutes, a swift messenger drew rein in front of the prince, presented him a ring, and said:—

"Her Majesty the queen doth send your Grace this ring as a token that she would pray you to advance no farther."

Philip did not understand English perfectly. "There is danger," said he to his officers. "Little welcome have I from these English." It was explained to him that the queen's message only meant that she begged him not to expose himself to the storm, and he went on.

That evening the prince, all in black velvet and diamonds, made his first call on the woman whom he was to marry two days later. They talked together in Spanish for half an hour, and the next day they had another meeting, and Philip—now in black velvet and silver—stood with the queen under the canopy of state. She kissed him in greeting, and they talked together before the hundreds of ladies and nobles in the great audience hall.

On the following day came the marriage, and then there was such gleaming of pearls and blazing of rubies and flashing of diamonds as one might see in a splendid dream.

"Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?" asked the archbishop, and four great nobles of the kingdom came forward and answered, "We do give her in the name of the whole realm of England." A plain gold ring was put on the queen's finger, for "I will marry with a plain hoop of gold, like any other maiden," she had said. The people shouted, "God save our Queen! God send them joy!" and Mary of England had become the wife of Philip of Spain.

While the wedding rejoicings were going on, Elizabeth was a prisoner at Woodstock. What was to be done with her was the question. There was some reason to think that she had known of the plot to dethrone the queen, and in any case, if she was free, any leader of an insurrection could have an opportunity to try to win her support. Mary did not wish to keep her in the Tower, and she thought of sending her to some of her own Spanish relatives on the continent, but the royal marriage helped to decide the question, for Prince Philip expressed himself very decidedly to his royal wife that it would be best to set Elizabeth free.

"I would do it most gladly," said Mary, "could I be sure of her innocence."

"Does not your English law claim that one is innocent till he is proved guilty?"

"True," replied Mary, "but there is proof and there is no proof. My councilors declare that to set her free will be to say that she has been unjustly imprisoned."

"Can she not be induced to confess that she has done wrong and throw herself on your mercy?"

"Never," answered the queen quickly. "I have known her since she was a little child. When she storms and rages, she will yield, but when she quietly persists, she stands firm. I will see her. Nothing do I long for more than to believe that she is guiltless."

Elizabeth was sent for, and late one evening she had an audience with the queen. The younger sister knelt with her eyes full of tears and sobbed:—

"I beg your Majesty to believe in my truth and loyalty, no matter who shall say to the contrary."

"Then you will not confess," returned Mary. "You persist in declaring that you are innocent."

"If I am not innocent," said Elizabeth solemnly, "never again will I ask favor or kindness from the hands of your Grace."

"God knows," murmered the queen half turning away. A minute later she said, "Elizabeth, will you swear by all that you do hold sacred that you have no guilt in this matter?"

"I will," answered Elizabeth without a moment's hesitation.

"Then do I forgive you—be you innocent or be you guilty," she said to herself—"and in token of my pardon I restore to you the ring, pledge of my sisterly affection. May the time never come when you will have need to send it to me again."

At Christmas there was a grand round of festivities at court. The Pope had sent a representative to receive from Mary the humble submission of the kingdom, and the rejoicings were looked upon not only as celebrating this reconciliation but as in some measure continuing those of the queen's marriage. Elizabeth was made prominent in everything. She sat at the queen's table and was treated as heir to the throne. Nevertheless, Mary did not fully trust her, and when the princess was about to return to her own home, the queen presented a nobleman and said that henceforth he would abide in Elizabeth's house, charged with the duty of guarding her safety and comfort. This nobleman was a learned and upright man of most perfect courtesy, and his presence can hardly have failed to give her pleasure, even though Elizabeth well knew that he was sent to make sure that she had no connection with any of the plots which were to be feared.

It is no wonder that a close watch needed to be kept for conspiracies, for several were formed against the queen. A story was spread abroad that Edward VI. was not dead, but was living in France and was about to return to regain his throne. There were rumors that certain men in the land had the power of magic, and had stuck pins into waxen images of the queen, thereby causing her intense suffering. The king of France was ready to encourage any rumor, however absurd, and to aid any conspiracy that would better the chances of Mary of Scotland to wear the crown of England. If Elizabeth was dead or shut out of the succession, these chances would be greatly increased, and probably this is why Philip had now become the friend of Elizabeth, for if France and Scotland and England were united, his own power and that of his father would be much less. Several foreign husbands were proposed for the princess, one of them the son of Philip by a former marriage, a boy of ten years. Elizabeth refused them all, and the queen declared that she should not be forced to marry against her will.

Mary's reign was shamed and disgraced by the burning of a large number of persons, two hundred at least, because their religious belief differed from that which she thought right. She is called "Bloody Mary" because this took place in her reign, but just how far she was in fault no one knows. Neither Henry VIII. nor Edward nor Mary ever showed the least regard for the physical sufferings of others, but Mary had never manifested the least vindictiveness of disposition. Indeed, she had often been more inclined than her councilors thought best to pardon and overlook deeds that most rulers of the time would have punished. Moreover, during some of the worst persecutions Mary was so ill that it was said "she lay for weeks without speaking." One of the reasons why the English had feared to have Philip marry their queen, was because he was known to approve of torture, if by its means the sufferers could be induced to give up beliefs that he thought false. He now wrote to his sister, "We have made a law, I and the most illustrious queen, for the punishment of heretics and all enemies of Holy Church; or rather, we have revived the old ordinances of the realm, which will serve this purpose very well." It must not be forgotten, however, that this burning at the stake was done with the consent of Parliament, and that, as Philip said, it was in accordance with the old laws.

A hard life was Mary's. She had no child, and she was not sure of the faithfulness of her sister and heir. It was chiefly by her determination to marry Philip that she had lost the love of her people, and after all that she had sacrificed for his sake and all her affection for him, he cared nothing whatever for her. An old ballad says that he liked

"The baker's daughter in her russet gown

Better than Queen Mary without her crown."

The crown of England was all that he cared for, and about a year after their marriage, he left very willingly for the continent. Mary controlled her sorrow at the public farewell, but as soon as that was over, she went to a window from which she could see Philip's barge, and there she sat with her head resting on her hands and wept bitterly till he was out of sight.

There was good reason why he should go, for his father wished to give him the sovereignty of the Low Countries; and there were some difficult questions that arose and prevented his immediate return. As months passed, Mary became more and more lonely. Her thoughts turned toward Elizabeth. Another plot had been discovered. Some of Elizabeth's own attendants were involved in it, and declarations were made that it was not unknown to the princess herself. Mary wrote her at once:—

"I pray that it may not seem to you amiss that it has been necessary to remove from your household certain dangerous persons, not the least of whose crimes it was that their confessions were but an attempt to involve your Grace in their evil designs. Rest assured that you are neither scorned nor hated, but rather loved and valued by me." With the letter went the gift of a valuable diamond.

After being away for nineteen months, Philip returned to England. Mary was so happy that she was ready to grant whatever he asked, though it was so great a boon as the aid of England in a war with France. Philip left in three or four months to carry on the war, and never again did his wife look upon the man whom she loved so well.

The war went on, and Calais, which had long been held by England, was taken by the French. The English were wrathful. Five hundred years earlier the kings of England had ruled wide-spreading lands in France. One had lost, another won, but never before had England been left without a foot of ground on the farther side of the Channel. Mary was crushed. "When I die," she said, "look upon my heart, and there you will see written the word 'Calais.' "

The summer of 1558 had come. Mary's thoughts turned more and more toward her sister. She left her palace and went to visit Elizabeth. She arranged a visit from Elizabeth to herself which was conducted with the greatest state. The princess made the journey in the queen's own barge with its awning of green silk beautifully embroidered. The queen's ladies followed her in six boats whose gorgeousness was almost dazzling, for the ladies were dressed in scarlet damask, in blue satin, and in cloth of silver, with many feathers and jewels. In the royal garden a pavilion had been built. It was in the shape of a strong castle, only the material was not gray stone, but crimson velvet and cloth of gold. The court feasted, the minstrels played, and the long, bright day came to its close.

Mary had never been well, almost every autumn she had suffered severely from sickness, and now a fever seized upon her. There was little hope of her recovery, but Philip sent her a ring and a message instead of coming to her. Parliament and the will of Henry VIII. had decided that Elizabeth should follow Mary as queen, but Philip begged Mary to name her sister as her heir in order to make the succession especially sure, and this was done. Mary grew weaker every day, the end must be near. The courtiers did not wait for it to come, crowds thronged the house of Elizabeth, every one eager to be among the first to pay his respects to her who would soon become their sovereign, and to assure her that, however others might have felt, he had never been otherwise than faithful to her and her alone.

Among these visitors was Count de Feria, one of Philip's train, who was in his master's confidence.

"My lord sends your Grace assurances of his most distinguished friendship," said the count. "He would have me say that his good will is as strong and his interest in your Grace's welfare so sincere as it was when by his influence, so gladly exerted, her Majesty was graciously pleased to release your Grace from imprisonment. He would also have me say that he has ever to the utmost of his power urged upon her Majesty that she should not fail to bequeath the crown to her only sister and rightful heir, and he rejoices that his words have had weight in her intentions."

"Most gracious thanks do I return to the king of Spain," answered Elizabeth, "and fully do I hold in my remembrance the favors shown to me in the time of my captivity. For all his efforts that I might be the heir of her Majesty, my sister, I return due gratitude, though verily I have ever thought myself entitled to the crown by the will of my father, the decree of Parliament, and the affection of the people."

Three or four days later Mary sent Elizabeth a casket containing jewels belonging to the crown and with it another casket of jewels belonging to Philip which he had given orders to have presented to her. Elizabeth well knew that the end of her sister's life could not be long delayed, and soon the word came that Mary was dead.

"It may be a plot," thought the wary princess, "to induce me to claim the crown while the queen lives, and so give my enemies a hold upon me. Sir Nicholas," she bade a faithful nobleman who she well knew had ever been true to her cause, "go you to the palace to one of the ladies of the bedchamber, the one in whom I do put most trust, and beg her that, if the queen is really dead, she will send me the ring of black enamel that her Majesty wore night and day, the one that King Philip gave her on their marriage."

Sir Nicholas set out on the short journey. The rumor had, indeed, preceded the death of the queen, but she died just as he reached the palace. Before he returned, several of Queen Mary's councilors made a hurried journey to Elizabeth's house at Hatfield.

"Your Highness," said they, "it is with the deepest sadness that we perform our duty to announce the death of her Majesty, Queen Mary. To your Grace, as our rightful sovereign, do we now proffer our homage, and promise to obey your Highness as the true and lawful ruler into whose hands the government of the realm has fallen."

Elizabeth sank upon her knees and repeated in Latin a sentence that was on the gold coins of the country, "It is the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes."

Queen Mary died in the twilight of a November morning, but her death was not known at once in the city. Parliament was in session, and before noon the lord chancellor called the two houses together and said:—

"God this morning hath called to his mercy our late sovereign lady, Queen Mary; which hap, as it is most heavy and grievous to us, so have we no less cause, otherwise, to rejoice with praise to almighty God for leaving to us a true, lawful, and right inheritrix to the crown of this realm, which is the Lady Elizabeth, second daughter to our late sovereign of noble memory, Henry VIII."

For an instant there was silence, then the house rang with the cry, "God save Queen Elizabeth! Long may Queen Elizabeth reign over us!" The proclamation of her accession was now made in front of the palace of Westminster with many soundings of trumpets, and later, in the city of London.

"Did anyone ever see such a time?" said a Londoner to his friend at night. "No one would think that a queen had died since the day began; there has been nothing but bonfires and bell-ringing and feasting and shouting."

"When people are glad, their joy will reveal itself," answered his friend.

"There might well be reason for me to rejoice, but you are a Catholic, why should you welcome the Lady Elizabeth?"

"Is she Catholic or Protestant?" asked the other with a smile. "Who knows? There's one thing sure, she'll have a merry court, trade will be the gainer, and she'll marry no foreign prince."

"Perhaps having a new queen will also prevent another season of the plague and give us greater crops," laughed the first; and then he added more seriously, "Catholic or Protestant, I believe that there be few in the land who will not rejoice to see the death-fires no longer blaze at Smithfield."

A week later the queen rode from Hatfield to London. Hundreds of noble lords and ladies were in her retinue, and the number increased with every mile. The road was lined with people who shouted, "Queen Elizabeth! Queen Elizabeth! Long may she reign! God save the queen!" Children gazed at her eagerly, while their mothers wept tears of joy, and young men knelt and cried out their vows of loyalty and devotion. Many of the bishops of the realm came in a procession to greet her and begged to kiss her hand.

"Did you see that?" whispered a woman to her neighbor. "The queen wouldn't give her hand to the cruel bishop of London. She knows well it's because of him that more than one good man's been burned at the stake. Oh, but she'll be a good queen, God bless her!"

The lord mayor and the aldermen came in their scarlet robes to escort her to the palace, and a few days later she went in state to the Tower of London. The streets were strewn with fine gravel, rich tapestries adorned the walls, banners waved, trumpets sounded, boys from St. Paul's school made Latin speeches in her praise, and great companies of children sang joyful songs of welcome.

Elizabeth looked very handsome as she rode into the city on horseback, wearing a habit of the richest purple velvet. She replied to everyone's greeting, and made little Latin speeches in answer to those of the schoolboys. At last she came to the Tower, and this time she entered, not at the Traitors' Gate, but through the royal entrance, and passed between long lines of soldiers, drawn up, not to keep watch over a prisoner, but to do honor to a queen.