CHAPTER XXVI. ELIZABETH (xi), 1598-1603-THE QUEEN'S LAST YEARS
[A new generation]
By Burghley's death, Elizabeth was left alone, reft of all her earlier counsellors. Nicholas Bacon had died as far back as 1579, Leicester in 1588, Walsingham in 1590, her kinsmen Knollys and Hunsdon - less prominent, but of sober weight - more recently. Except Howard of Effingham (created Earl of Nottingham after the Cadiz expedition), Burghley was the last; and their sombre antagonist of forty years had followed him in a few weeks. She herself was sixty-five years old. The leading men at home and abroad - Henry IV., Philip III., Robert Cecil, Raleigh, Essex, who was now only thirty - were of a younger generation. Lonely but stubborn and indomitable as ever she ruled still to the end.
Those last five years were troubled enough.
We have seen that in Ireland Tyrone was resolved to place no more dependence on Spanish aid; but it was equally clear that the Government as constituted was quite unable to quell him. Norreys was now dead, and Ormonde was in command of the Queen's army, such as it was. The English garrison was quite incapable of vigorous aggression. In 1598 a few raw levies were sent over, instead of the strong disciplined force without which nothing could be effected. In the middle of August a force was dispatched against Tyrone, who was beleaguering the Blackwater fort not far from Armagh; and Tyrone inflicted on it a complete and disastrous defeat, [Footnote: S. P. Irish, pp. 236 ff.] which caused nothing less than a panic among the Council at Dublin. The practical effect was that outside the Pale the chiefs were doing as they chose, and the English could hardly move beyond their fortifications; even within the Pale ravaging was almost unchecked; and if it had been possible for Tyrone to march in force on Dublin, the capital would probably have fallen.
In the troubles of Ireland, Essex was to seek a ladder for his ambitions, and to find, as others before and after him have found, the road to ruin.
The personal interest of these years belongs very much to the rivalries of three men; Robert Cecil, sly, cautious, and plausible; Raleigh, brilliant and bitter, intellectually a head and shoulders above the rest; Essex, not lacking in abilities distorted by inordinate vanity. Associated on equal terms, in war, with the experience of Howard and the genius of Raleigh, at the Council-board with the astute and consummately trained Cecil, petted and spoiled by the elderly Queen as she had spoiled no one since the days of Leicester's youth, a public favourite by reason of his undoubted courage and his popular habits, Essex, young as he was, had long imagined himself the greatest man in the kingdom, chafing at every favour bestowed on a rival, and treating men who knew themselves his superiors with intolerable arrogance. Now, when the state of Ireland, and the remedies, were the subject of grave anxiety, he clamoured of the blank incompetence to the task of every one who had undertaken it or could be suggested as fitted for it; with the result that he was invited to undertake it himself. Thereupon he made unprecedented conditions. Some months elapsed before the conditions could be arranged; it would certainly seem that his object was to get under his own captaincy a force large enough to enable him to defy all control, though he was not without friends to warn him that his influence with Elizabeth depended on the fascination of his presence - a fact of which his ill-wishers were equally aware, and by which they intended to profit to the full. Not the least part of the danger to Essex lay in the fact that the political air was thick with intrigues as to the succession when Elizabeth should die, and that his rivals might utilise his absence to secure the throne for a candidate who under the circumstances would be certain to prove unfriendly to him.
[1599 Essex in Ireland]
But the hot-headed Earl had deprived himself of the power of choice though he was almost equally unwilling to resign or to undertake the task to which he was committed. In April 1599 he appeared in Ireland as Lord Lieutenant, virtually with plenary powers alike in civil and military affairs, and a warrant to return in a year's time. Yet he chafed at such restrictions as were imposed upon him, at the incompetence of the officers with whom he was provided, at the refusal to permit appointments objectionable to the Queen, at the inefficiency of his troops and the inadequacy of his supplies. In theory, he was come to Ireland to strike straight at the heart of the rebellion and crush Tyrone in his own fastnesses. He found that the condition of the country absolutely precluded an immediate campaign in the North. He proceeded instead on a military progress through Leinster and Munster, capturing castles which surrendered with no more than a show of resistance, scattering small garrisons, perpetually harassed by guerilla companies who avoided pitched battles. He gave Southampton command of the cavalry in defiance of the Queen's orders, and then received from her so peremptory a message that he dared not maintain the appointment. The rebels cut up the forces of the President of Connaught, and another detached column in Wicklow: and on his way back to Dublin, Essex himself had much ado to beat off an attack on his main army at Arklow.