CHAPTER XXIV. ELIZABETH (ix), 1587-88 - THE ARMADA
[1587 Results of Mary's Death]
If Mary Stewart displayed the most royal side of her character in the hour of her doom, Elizabeth displayed the least royal side of hers in the weeks that followed. She disavowed Davison's act, disgraced him, sent him to the Tower; she would have had him tried for treason but that the judges declared emphatically that the charge could not hold water. She was obliged to be content with the infliction of a heavy fine, and dismissal. She could not trample on the whole of her Council, who had deliberately assumed the responsibility: but to France and to Scotland she clamoured that the deed was none of her doing. There was an elvish humour in the Scots King's reply that he would hold her innocent when she had faced and disproved the charge - accentuated by her answer that as a sovereign she was not amenable to trial; for it was a quite precise reversal of the tone adopted eighteen years before, when Mary was the accused party; and Elizabeth now found herself reduced to the very plea which she had ignored when Mary urged it in her own behalf. The position was ignominious; yet Elizabeth had no one but herself to thank. She might have avowed and justified the Act; disavowing it, the only logical course was to punish those on whom the guilt lay. She tried to evade the dilemma, by crushing the most insignificant one among them and scolding the rest, while protesting on her own part an innocence which was a palpable hypocrisy.
The Scots however might rage; James might find gratification in an argumentative victory; but for more pronounced action he wanted more than a sentimental inducement. Politically Elizabeth had won the game by the method peculiar to herself and her father - of counting on their servants to shoulder the responsibility. While Mary lived there was always the chance that the Catholics of England might be rallied to the standard of a Catholic princess whose legitimacy was indisputable. But they would not rally to that of her Protestant son, or consent to have England turned into a province of the Spanish King. Even Catholic Europe could not view such a prospect with enthusiasm or even equanimity, however much the uncompromising devotees of the Holy See might desire it. In France it was only the extremists of the League who could countenance such a scheme. In England, the death-blow of the Scots Queen was the death-blow also to the chances of a Catholic revolt. Despite the fervid dreams of Allen and Parsons, the entire Nation was ready to oppose an undivided front to any foreign assailant.
[Attitude of Philip]
The time, however, had at last arrived when Philip had definitely made up his mind that the overthrow of Elizabeth must no longer be deferred. This was an end which he had desired certainly for eighteen years past. Whenever he had an ambassador in England, that ambassador had been more or less deeply involved in every plot or attempted insurrection against the throne. But Philip had never concentrated his efforts on that design. He had held on to the theory that the Netherlands must be first crushed. When once they were brought into complete subjection, he would make England feel the full extent of his power. And so year after year passed, the revolted Provinces obstinately holding out in a struggle which year after year it had seemed impossible for them to go on maintaining. More than once advisers had suggested that it would be better to reverse the order; to crush England first, and then finish off the Netherlands at his leisure. But this scheme always involved a danger: he had no alternative, if he succeeded, but to set Mary on the throne in place of her cousin; Mary, once established, even by his aid, might attach herself to France instead of to Spain; and the balance of parties in France was so uncertain - depended so much on the action of the Politiques - that in such an event he might still find that he had a very dangerous Anglo-French combination to reckon with in settling his accounts with the Provinces.
[Attitude of Elizabeth]
On the other hand, whether Elizabeth's policy had been dictated by a most consummate, if by no means elevated, state-craft based upon an abnormally astute calculation of risks and chances, or merely by a desperate desire to stave off an immediate contest, whatever shifts might be involved; whether it was in fact peculiarly long-sighted, or opportunist to the last and lowest degree; it had been actually a complete success. She had given the Provinces just that minimum of assistance or apparent countenance which did enable them to keep their resistance alive. In France she had done just enough, for the Huguenots, to hamper the Guises and no more; and she had kept up the eternal marriage juggle, the eternal menace of an alliance with the French court, which would have doubled Philip's difficulties in the Netherlands, and might have trebled the dangers of a direct attack on England - thereby perpetually driving Spanish diplomacy to seek to detach her decisively from France by professions of a desire for amicable alliance with her. She had replied to the Spanish efforts by perpetual declarations of a corresponding order, and by constant negotiations, always at the last moment rendered futile by the introduction of some condition at the time impossible of acceptance.