CHAPTER XXI. ELIZABETH (vi), 1578-83 - THE PAPAL ATTACK

[Union of Utrecht 1579]

The presence of Alexander of Parma in the Netherlands soon resulted in a definite division between the seven northern and the ten southern States. The latter, Catholic themselves, were not inclined to hold out for religious liberty. The rest, being Protestant, and realising that, while William of Orange lived, two at least, Holland and Zealand, would hold out to the very death, resolved to stand together; combining, under the title of the United Provinces, in the Union of Utrecht at the beginning of 1579. Their strength lay in their command of the estuaries of the Scheldt and the Meuse.

[1578 The Matrimonial juggle]

Elizabeth's great object now was to keep Alençon (otherwise known as Anjou, the title held by Henry III. before he ascended the throne; also very commonly as "Monsieur") dancing in obedience to her manipulation of the wires. In this, as in all the previous matrimonial negotiations, not one of her ministers seems ever to have grasped her policy; the policy, that is, which modern historians attribute to her: a policy of which the successful issue really depended on its never being suspected; which was possible only to one who was entire mistress of all arts of dissimulation; which did in fact succeed completely every time she applied it; a policy however of which no statesman could have dared to recommend the risk. This was, in brief, to make the whole world including her ministers believe that she really intended to marry, to keep that conviction alive over a protracted period of time, and yet to secure a loop-hole for escape at the last moment. She had played the farce for years with the Archduke Charles; she had played it with Henry of Anjou; she had already played it with Alençon once; yet every time she started it afresh, potentates and ambassadors, her own ministers, and the wooer she selected, took the thing seriously, played into her hands, and were cajoled by her boundless histrionic ingenuity. Either she treated the world to a series of successful impositions, carried through, unaided and unsuspected, with the supreme audacity and skill of a consummate comedienne; or she was a contemptibly capricious woman whose inordinate vacillations invariably took the turn which after-events proved to have been the luckiest possible in the circumstances. Of these two interpretations, the theory of a deliberate policy is the more acceptable, if only because it is inconceivable that the habitual indulgence of sheer wanton caprice should never once have involved her in some irrevocable blunder, some position from which she could not be extricated. Yet history affords no parallel to such repeatedly and universally successful dissimulation.

[Alençon's wooing]

The comedy had fairly begun three months before Don John's death. In response, as it would seem, to a private invitation, Alençon's envoys came over at the end of July to propose the marriage. Monsieur wanted the affair settled at once, as he must decide whether he was going to help Orange or Don John. After a little formal procrastination, Elizabeth had her answer ready. She was quite prepared to receive him as a suitor though somewhat hurt by his conduct before; still she could not promise to marry any man till they had met, and could really feel sure that they would be happily mated. He had better come over and see her.

Alençon did not want to come over and see her; but his alternative plan, of taking part with Don John, was opportunely spoilt by the Governor's death, coupled with the new Spanish prospects opened up by the death of the Portuguese King. An alliance with Parma under these conditions was not at all the same thing for the French prince as an alliance with the ambitious and somewhat Quixotic schemer who was now dead. Elizabeth, thus strengthened, added a new condition, that he must withdraw for the present from the Netherlands. He could hardly, under the circumstances, support Orange against her will, and he obeyed her behest. Then she consented to receive another representative on his behalf, but held to her declaration that she would settle nothing till she had met Monsieur himself in person.

[1579 Popular hostility]

At the beginning of the year (1579) Alençon's emissary Simier arrived. In England however practically every one - except apparently the Queen herself - was opposed to the marriage. The traditional animosity to France was strong, and had been intensified by the Paris massacre. The French Huguenots, for whom there was some sympathy, had no confidence in Alençon. The more unpopular the marriage showed itself, the more the Queen seemed to incline to it - since the more reasonably she could also insist to him on the necessity of delay, that her people might first be reconciled to it. Yet however much the Council might dislike it, they now felt bound to advise that Monsieur should be allowed to pay his visit. In August he arrived, and she could no longer urge the plea that she had not seen him. Mendoza, the Spanish ambassador, thought she would marry him, that a civil war would follow, and the end would be the return of England to Catholicism. On the whole Mendoza was not ill pleased.

[Loyalty to the Queen]