CHAPTER XIX. ELIZABETH (iv), 1572-78 - VARIUM ET MUTABILE
While the characteristically English love of compromise and devotion to conventions kept the bulk of the population loyal to the established Forms of religion, acquiescent but not enthusiastic, their normal conservatism also disposed them more favourably to teachers of the old than of the innovating school; but other forces were at work, which encouraged the growth of what may be called the Old Testament spirit of militant religiosity directed against Rome and all that savoured of Rome. Stories of the doings of the Inquisition, the enormities perpetrated by Alva in the Netherlands, the fate of English sailors who might, not without justice, have been punished for piracy, but were in fact made to suffer on the ground of heresy, the crowning horror of St. Bartholomew, appealed luridly to the popular imagination. The country was threatened with internal discord by the presence of a Catholic aspirant to the throne, which concentrated the forces of disorganisation on the Catholic side. Protestantism, thereby at once extended and intensified, took its colour from the most active and energetic of the religious teachers, and developed a vehement popular sympathy with the French Huguenots and the revolting Netherlanders; and however politicians might evade official entanglement, English sentiment - at any rate after St. Bartholomew - was always ready to take arms openly in the Protestant cause.
[Katharine de Medici]
When Katharine and the Guises let the Paris mob loose on the Huguenots, they had doubtless no intention of perpetrating so vast a slaughter. They found that it was one thing to cry "Havoc" and quite another to cry "Halt". When the thing was done, they could not have disavowed it wholly, even if they would. Katharine however made desperate efforts to minimise her own responsibility, and to justify what she had done by charges of treason against the murdered admiral and his associates. She had in fact meant to cripple the Huguenots by destroying their leaders, yet to provide a defence sufficiently plausible to prevent a breach with England. Her object had been to recover her own ascendancy in France, not to replace Coligny by the Guises. What she succeeded in doing was to turn France into two hostile camps; since the massacres had not sufficed to destroy the Huguenot power of offering an organised defence and defiance. On the other hand Alva was prompt, and Philip as prompt as his nature permitted, to realise that some capital might be made out of the revulsion in England against the French Government.
[The aim of Elizabeth]
Walsingham, the English Ambassador in Paris, was a sincere Puritan; Burghley's sympathies, personal as well as political, were strongly Protestant. For some time past, both had desired on the mere grounds of political expediency to bid defiance to Spain and frankly avow the cause of the Prince of Orange. They believed that England was already strong enough to face the might of Philip. The moral incentive was now infinitely stronger. That this would be the generous and the courageous course was manifest. Now, too, the English people would have adopted it with a stern enthusiasm worth many ships and many battalions. The course Elizabeth adopted was less heroic, more selfish, safer for the interests of England. That sooner or later a duel with Spain was all but inevitable she must have recognised; but she had seen the power and wealth of England growing year by year, the stability of the Government becoming ever more assured; if an immediate collision could be averted, she calculated that the process would continue, whereas the strain of repressing and holding down the Netherlanders would tell adversely on the power of Spain. The longer, therefore, that the struggle could be staved off, the better.
Fortune favoured her: for the resistance of the Netherlands was very much more stubborn than could have been anticipated. The Protestant fervour in her people, aroused by St. Bartholomew, was kept alive and intensified, as time went on, by other events, and was moreover concentrated upon animosity to Spain. When the great conflict took place, sixteen years later, its result was decisive. It cannot be affirmed with confidence that it would have been so now. From the prudential point of view, Elizabeth was justified by the event. But it is at least possible that the victory would have been equally decisive at the earlier date, and its moral value in that case would undoubtedly have been greater.
[1572 England and St. Bartholomew]
At the first moment when intelligence of the massacre at Paris was brought to England, the Queen as well as her ministers believed that it was simply the prelude to a Romanist crusade. It was imagined that the plot had been concocted in collusion with Philip and Alva, the outcome of the suspected Catholic League of 1565. Instant preparations were made for war; the musters were called out, the fleet was manned, troops were raised in readiness to embark for Flushing; and immediate overtures were made to Mar - the second Regent in Scotland since the murder of Murray - for handing Mary over to him to be executed. The popular indignation was expressed in bold and uncompromising terms by Walsingham in Paris, in answer to the attempts of the French Government to excuse itself. In England, it was long before the Queen would admit the French Ambassador to audience; when she did so, her Council was in presence; all were clad in mourning; Elizabeth spoke in terms of the most formal frigidity; on her withdrawal, Burghley, speaking for the Council, expressed their sentiments in very plain language. It is abundantly clear that the whole nation from the Queen down was grimly and confidently prepared for war if war should come.
[Sideline: Spain seeks amity]