CHAPTER XVIII. ELIZABETH (iii), 1568-72 - THE CATHOLIC CHALLENGE

[1568 May, Elizabeth and Mary]

Before crossing the Solway, Mary wrote to Elizabeth throwing herself on her hospitality. She followed hard on the heels of her missive, and awaited the reply at Carlisle, where the Catholic gentlemen of the North rallied to receive her. The situation indeed was a singularly embarrassing one for the English Queen. Mary claimed in fact that Elizabeth should either restore her, or allow her to appeal to those who would do so - that is, to France. To take her part unconditionally had its obvious dangers; not less obvious were the dangers of acceding to the alternative demand. To detain her in England, on the other hand, would inevitably make her the centre of Catholic intrigue. The most convenient arrangement would be to restore her under conditions which would minimise her power of becoming dangerous; and, in the meantime, she was perhaps less to be feared under careful supervision in England than anywhere else. So Elizabeth took the line of informing her that if she cleared herself of the charges of crimes such as made it impossible to support her if she were guilty, she should be restored; which being interpreted meant that there was to be an investigation, and Elizabeth would act on the findings. Murray on the other hand was in effect advised that the English Queen would not countenance him in levying war but that he might read between the lines of her instructions; in view of course of the fear that the party opposed to Murray might seek to procure French intervention.

[A Commission of enquiry]

Elizabeth was in fact in a position to dictate her own terms. Whatever right she might think fit to assume, whatever technical grounds she might assert for that right, Mary was effectively in her power. The Scots Queen - transferred for greater safety to Bolton, away from the dangerous proximity of the Border - indignantly repudiated the jurisdiction, demanded to be set at liberty, asseverated her own innocence. Elizabeth could not afford to set her at liberty; and with some plausibility declared that the innocence must be proved, before her rule could be re-imposed on a nation which had rejected it. Elizabeth quite evidently intended that the investigation should neither clear nor condemn her. Mary's objections were perfectly compatible with innocence. Submission might be taken as implying the recognition of English suzerainty; and if the investigation was to be earned just so far as suited her sister sovereign, if evidence was to be admitted, tested, or sup-pressed, with a view not to ascertaining truth but to securing a convenient judgment, innocence was no sort of reason for welcoming enquiry. [Footnote: Mr Froude (viii., Ed. 1866) informs us in one breath that Mary was impelled to protest by the consciousness of guilt (p. 253), but admits in the next that Elizabeth had no intention of allowing either her guilt or her innocence to be definitely proved (pp. 262, 270, 277).]

The plan of operations was that a Commission should be appointed, before whom the Scots lords should answer for their rebellion; obviously they would defend themselves on the ground of Mary's guilt of which they professed to hold ample proof in the casket of letters, which if genuine were assuredly damning. On the other hand, Maitland and others of the lords must have suspected at least that evidence of their own complicity in Darnley's murder would be forthcoming. The English Protestants were convinced beforehand of Mary's guilt; they were too much interested in preventing her succession to the English throne to form an unbiased judgment; whereas her condemnation would have been a serious blow to the Catholic party, which included professing Protestants like Norfolk. Altogether, what Elizabeth desired was a compromise between Mary and the Scots lords, by which both should assent to her restoration as queen with Murray as actual ruler, coupled with the confirmation of the unratified Treaty of Edinburgh, and the establishment of the Anglican form of worship as Elizabeth's price. Her real difficulty perhaps was that she did not want Mary cleared to the world by the definite withdrawal of the charge of murder; she wanted the charge to be made and to be left indefinitely not-proven.

[Oct. Proceedings at York]

The commission - Norfolk, Sussex, and Sadler, who had spent many years in Scotland as ambassador - was to sit at York in October. Thither came the Scots lords. Murray was prepared to rely upon the general charges of misgovernment, while privately submitting the evidence as to the murder to the Commissioners. Norfolk was staggered by the letters, and very nearly threw up a scheme which the Catholic party had been hatching for his own marriage with Mary. But Elizabeth's sudden discovery that this scheme existed filled her with alarm, and for the moment she cancelled the Commission.

[Doubts of Philip's attitude]

For the course of events on the Continent was making the outlook more complicated. The initial success of the Netherlanders had been very soon followed by the crushing disaster of Jemmingen, and the country seemed to be under Alva's heel. Catholicism in its most militant and merciless form was predominant; what if Philip, irritated by the practically open piracy of English ships in the Channel and elsewhere, should espouse the cause of Mary? De Silva, the ambassador whose relations with the English court were highly satisfactory, was replaced by the less diplomatic and more aggressive Don Guerau de Espes. The English envoy in Spain was so unguarded in his own religious professions as to give Philip fair ground for handing him his passports. If the English Catholics, irritated by the growth of Calvinism and the increased vigilance of Protestantism in England, founded new hopes on these signs of a changing attitude in Philip, their present loyalty might very soon alter its colour with Mary Stewart in England.