[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.

[Nov. The Commission at Westminster]

It seemed safer then that the enquiry should be held in London, with a large increase in the number of the Commissioners. Of the Scots lords, Lethington was undoubtedly anxious that the murder charge should be withdrawn. Nevertheless, at the sitting held at the end of November, Murray definitely put in the charge, producing copies or translations of the Casket Letters. These the commissioners examined; later on, they were shown the originals, which they judged to be genuine documents in the Queen's hand. Whether they were competent to test forgeries executed with tolerable skill is at least open to question. The rest of the evidence produced was not only that of interested persons, but contained inconsistencies; neither Mary herself nor her agents were ever put in possession of copies of the incriminating documents; one side only was heard. If it was Elizabeth's object to create in the minds of the English lords a strong presumption that Mary was guilty, that purpose was successfully effected. Under such conditions Mary declined compromises. The Commission was broken up. The farce was over. Murray returned to Scotland: the Queen remained a prisoner in England, to be - with or without her own complicity - the centre of every papist plot till the final tragedy.

[Comment on the enquiry]

So the mystery of Mary Stewart remains a mystery to this day. That she was cognisant of the plot to murder Darnley is the more probable theory, in view of facts which no one denies; yet those facts remain intelligible if she was innocent. There are no admitted facts which preclude her guilt: none which prove it conclusively. The various confessions of interested witnesses, voluntary or extorted, are untrustworthy. The genuineness of the Casket Letters is doubtful. No opportunity was given for cross-examining the witnesses or examining the letters. The world believed that Mary was guilty, however it may have been disposed to condone the guilt. The world was probably right. But to pretend that there was a fair or complete investigation - that Mary's guilt was proved before the Commission - is absurd. That Mary from first to last protested against being brought to the bar of an English tribunal - whose authority she could not acknowledge without implying a recognition of that suzerainty which Edward I of England had claimed, and Robert I of Scotland had wiped out at Bannockburn - was entirely compatible with the innocence of a high-spirited and courageous princess: and would have been so, even if she could have counted on the absolute impartiality of her judges. Knowing that she could count on nothing of the kind, fully aware that Elizabeth herself would in fact be the judge, and suspecting with very good reason that any verdict pronounced by her would be shaped strictly with a view to her own political convenience, it is almost inconceivable that Mary should have acknowledged the jurisdiction merely because Innocence in the abstract ought to invite enquiry. Had Mary been less beautiful, less unfortunate, less of a heroine of romance, it is likely enough that she would find few champions; but the pretence that she had a fair trial would still be none the less untenable.

[Dec. Seizure of Spanish Treasure]

In the meantime, an incident had occurred which shows what an immense change had been taking place in England during the ten years of Elizabeth's reign; how completely the nation had recovered confidence in itself. Throughout these years, English ships had been multiplying, English sailors had been ignoring the Spanish and Portuguese monopolies of ocean traffic, and English captains had been, with only the most perfunctory official discouragement, and under colour of the flimsiest pretexts or of no pretext at all, indulging in what was virtually piracy. Now, the religious struggle, after a few months' smouldering, had again broken out in France. La Rochelle, the Huguenot head-quarters, was a nest of privateers, with whom the English adventurers consorted, and the water-way for Spanish ships to the Netherlands was infested with dangers. Alva was in want of money. Philip borrowed a great sum from the Genoese bankers. The vessels conveying the bullion were forced to put into English ports, in fear of capture. Elizabeth was not ready to declare war in favour of the revolted provinces; but Cecil was extremely anxious to render them all the help possible short of declaring war. The treasure-ships had sailed into a trap. Don Guerau invited Elizabeth to send them on under escort to the Netherlands; she replied that as the money belonged not to Philip but to the Genoese bankers, who would not object, she intended to borrow it herself. Don Guerau was furious, and sent messages to Alva, who promptly seized all English goods and persons in the Netherlands. With equal promptitude, all Spaniards and Spanish goods were seized in England. The balance of loss was heavily in favour of the English.

It seemed most probable that this astonishingly audacious proceeding must result either in the fall of Cecil, to whom it was due, or in open war with Spain, and the immediate committal of England to the formation of a Protestant League; which might force the English Catholics in their turn directly to espouse the cause of Mary. The reception given in this country shortly before to the Cardinal of Chatillon, Coligny's brother, was a symptom of Cecil's Protestant policy, and he at least was probably willing enough that any tendency of the English Catholics towards revolt should be precipitated rather than delayed.

[1569 The incident passed over]

Even Cecil however was not anxious for open war, while Elizabeth always shrank from that last extremity. On the other side, Philip had three very good reasons for passing over the affront he had received. First, the Netherlands were giving him enough to do for the time. Secondly, Don Guerau was satisfied that the downfall of Cecil and the reversal of his policy were imminent. Thirdly, the French court would assuredly subordinate religious questions to the political gain of uniting with England against him. A definite league between Condé and the English might have averted that danger, by driving the French Catholics to make common cause with Spain; but any immediate prospect of such a solution of the entanglement vanished when the Huguenots were defeated and Condé himself killed at the battle of Jarnac in May. The result of that event was the immediate prohibition of the English adventurers from joining the Huguenot fleet of Rochelle and sailing under the Huguenot flag; as many of them had been in the habit of doing.

In May, then, the risk of a rupture between the French Government and England, and of the formation of a universal Protestant league, was over for the time at least; and within a few months, in England, the Northern Earls, by a premature rising, inflicted a severe blow on their own party, and decided large numbers of the Catholics to take their stand as in the first place patriots and loyalists.

[The Northern Rebellion]

What we have called the Catholic party included many professing Protestants - i.e. men who conformed with entire equanimity, yet would have preferred to see the old worship restored; such as Norfolk. Extreme men saw in the union of the Duke with Mary a prospect of immediately placing the captive Queen on the English throne. The moderate men wanted the marriage, accompanied by her recognition as heir presumptive. There were others outside the Catholic connexion who dreamed rather of Mary under the circumstances conforming to the Anglican faith. Norfolk dallied with all three. There was a moment when Elizabeth herself might have been persuaded to assent; but the Duke missed his opportunity, and she, reverting to a conviction that the marriage would soon be followed by her own assassination, presently forbade it, and summoned Norfolk to answer for his loyalty. After brief hesitation he surrendered himself and was confined in the Tower: but the Northern Earls, Northumberland and Westmorland, believing that they must strike at once if at all, rose and marched to deliver Mary from Tutbury - whither she had been suddenly conveyed to safe keeping, in the expectation of some such event. The rest of the Catholics however were not ready for such a venture; being forced to make up their minds, they resolved to stand loyal. The royal musters were quickly advancing to meet the insurgents, who presently concluded that the cause was hopeless, and fled. Northumberland was subsequently arrested and detained by Murray in Scotland: Westmorland made his way to Spain. Sussex received and carried out orders to punish with a heavy hand those who had taken part in the rebellion; and so without any great difficulty the one serious revolt of the reign was stamped out.

[1570 Murder of Murray]

The year 1570 had hardly opened when Elizabeth lost one of her most valuable allies by the murder of the Regent Murray, assassinated by Hamilton of Bothwellhaugh. Murray's figure in history is a sombre one, and the sombreness is thrown into the greater relief by the picturesque brilliancy of his hapless sister. It was his fate to fight on the gloomy side; to stand at the head of a nobility conspicuously sordid and unprincipled, half of whom, when not occupied in plotting against the life of a hereditary foe or a political rival, were posing as representatives of the "godly" - an attitude held to be entirely compatible with a total disregard for the decalogue. Perhaps there is no prominent statesman of his times who came through the heavy ordeal of public life with cleaner hands. There is no fair ground for associating him directly and actively with any of the great crimes in one or another of which almost every one of the Scots lords had a share. When his sister married Darnley, he took up arms against her: he did so again when she married Bothwell: and on both occasions he was probably obeying an elastic conscience. While he was endeavouring to fix the odium of the Darnley murder on Mary, he must have been quite aware that both Lethington and Morton, his allies, were steeped in the guilt of it. But he could neither stand aside from the turmoil, nor pick and choose his associates. The political support or countenance of Elizabeth seemed absolutely necessary to the cause of the Reformation in Scotland. A man of a more generous spirit would more than once have felt that the price was too high, that he was accepting a too ignominious position; he stooped to a course which if not exactly dishonourable was perilously near it. But the part he was forced to play was the hardest and the most thankless imaginable; and he played it with a constant effort to be tolerant, to be as just as circumstances permitted, to be true to himself. He was the one man in Scotland who had striven resolutely amid the kaleidoscopic chaos of factions to maintain some sort of order, some sort of liberty, some sort of standard of public spirit. With his fall, anarchy became more rampant than ever. Elizabeth lamented, not without reason, that she had lost her best friend; but while he lived she had not made his task the easier.

[March The Bull of Deposition]

In March, the Pope took the step which paralysed Catholicism as an open political force in England, by issuing a Bull against Elizabeth which virtually declared loyalty to the Queen and loyalty to the Faith to be incompatible; yet since the profession of loyalty was to be condoned, every Catholic was ipso facto rendered suspect. The suspicion of disloyalty breeds the disease. Englishmen of the Roman Communion have a right to be proud that so many in those years of storm and stress neither relinquished their faith nor forgot their patriotism; yet when their fellow-subjects had been thus absolved of their allegiance, the Protestants can hardly be blamed for being over-ready to assume that they were in league with the Queen's enemies. The Pope could have done nothing calculated more thoroughly to translate the ordinary sentiment of loyalty into a passion of resentment against its opposite.

[The Anjou Match]

The immediate situation however was fraught with sufficient peril. Mary for the sake of liberty was by this time fairly ready to promise anything, and trust to the chapter of accidents to find some plausible ground for repudiating her promises later. Elizabeth would have been glad enough to get her out of the country if she could by any means be rendered harmless. Once again, to the dismay of Cecil, a restoration, on terms, seemed probable, while the Queen herself showed a tendency to try at any cost to recover the support of the Catholics. In fact however, she would make up her mind to no decided course. But affairs in France suggested to her a new scheme which could be played with indefinitely. In spite of Jarnac, and of another defeat later in the year at Montcontour, Coligny and the Huguenots remained unvanquished in 1570. In the autumn, there was a fresh pacification, and Coligny became once more a power at Court as well as in the country. The younger brother of the young French King, Henry Duke of Anjou, was now old enough to marry. There had been talk of uniting him to Mary. But if he were to marry Elizabeth, who was only some seventeen years his senior, Protestants and Catholics in both countries might make their peace, and all present a united front to Philip and to Papal aggression - for even the Cardinal of Lorraine had dallied with the notion of Nationalism in matters ecclesiastical. Cecil and Walsingham, who had recently come to the front and now represented England in Paris, were keenly in favour of the scheme. As for the Queen she probably intended to use it precisely as she had used all the previous marriage schemes, simply as an instrument for manipulating foreign courts and her own ministers.

[1570-71 The Ridolfi plot initiated]

Under these conditions, a new plot was initiated for the liberation of Mary, her marriage to Norfolk, and the removal of Elizabeth; to be at last actively if secretly aided by Alva and Philip, on whom the vehement remonstrances of the Pope were now taking effect - in view of the threatened alliance between England and France. The agent was one Ridolfi, who combined cleverness sufficient to deceive even Walsingham for a time with a garrulity and carelessness which proved ruinous in the long run. It was fortunate for Elizabeth that of the two necessary figure-heads for any conspiracy, Mary and Norfolk, one was more than half-believed even by her own party to be stained by the grossest crimes, while the other was nerveless and vacillating.

[1571 April, Parliament]

At this juncture, need of funds made it impossible for Elizabeth to continue longer without calling a Parliament, which met early in April (1571). The bulk of the peers were still in sympathy with Catholicism and the ideas associated therewith; the lower House, always Protestant, was now more emphatically so than ever. The Puritan element, naturally enough, had come to regard Catholicism as prima facie evidence of treason, and was bent on enforcing a more uncompromising conformity, with a greater severity, than heretofore. The Commons insisted on discussing religious matters, and ignored the Queen's attempts to silence them. They gave, what the last parliament had refused, their sanction to the Thirty-nine Articles. The effect of the Papal excommunication was seen in an Act making it high Treason to question the Queen's title, or to call her a heretic, and disqualifying from the succession any one who laid claim to the crown; they sought even to make the Act retrospective, which would have forthwith excluded Mary permanently. They submitted however to some modification of the original harshness of their intentions; whereby it is probable that not a few Catholics, who would otherwise have been fatally alienated, did as matters turned out remain loyal. Finally, a substantial grant of money was made. The Commons in short were thoroughly at one with Cecil, now known as Lord Burghley. They were intensely loyal, and showed their loyalty none the less emphatically because they ignored the Queen's predilections in the manner of doing it.

[Collapse of Anjou marriage]

At the end of May, Parliament was dissolved. In the meantime, and for some months longer, the affair of the Anjou marriage was running the usual course. As mere postponement seemed to become impossible, the old pretended difficulties by which the Archduke Charles had been finally evaded were rehabilitated. Anjou must not have even his private Mass. The Queen's Ministers understood the position, and their one object became the avoidance of a breach with France. By the exercise of much dexterity, Anjou was drawn into taking the initiative in breaking off the match in a quite complimentary manner; and there was even discussion of the substitution for him of his still younger brother Alençon. France, in fact, at this time was swaying strongly towards antagonism to Spain, at any price which would secure English support; the idea of partitioning the Netherlands being part of the programme. Cecil and Walsingham, believing with reason that an accident might again turn the balance with the French government, and painfully distrustful of Elizabeth's endless vacillations, were on tenterhooks till the amicable conclusion of the Anjou affair.

[Developments of the Ridolfi plot]

They had also been on the alert over the Ridolfi plot. In the spring, Ridolfi was concocting with Alva designs for an invasion; in the summer he was in Spain. In the meantime, the capture of an agent, and the liberal use of spies and of the rack, placed important clues in Burghley's hands. At this juncture the famous seaman Sir John Hawkins, in collusion with Burghley, placed himself at the service of Mary and Philip, in the character of an ill-used and revengeful servant of Elizabeth. Yet it was only by another accidental capture, and more use of the rack, that complicity was actually brought home to Norfolk, who was arrested in September. Norfolk once arrested, traitors and spies soon did what else was necessary to reveal the whole plot, in which invasion and assassination were combined. It was no longer possible to account Spain and the Spanish King as anything but mortal enemies to England and the English Queen. Don Guerau was ordered to leave the country; his parting move was a plot for Burghley's assassination, duly detected by spies, Norfolk was convicted for treason, and condemned to a death which was deferred for some months. Mary Stewart expected a like fate. Elizabeth however still rejected the extreme measure. But the Detectio of George Buchanan - in other words a complete ex parte statement of the case against Mary, including the contents of the Casket Letters - was published.

[1572 Parliament and Mary (May)]

The effect was seen when a new Parliament met in May. The people of England believed with an absolute conviction in the truth of the whole indictment against the Scots Queen. Nor was there any question that she had appealed both to France and Spain to liberate her; so far at least she was implicated in the Ridolfi plot, even if the assassination proposals had not come within her ken. She was believed to be a criminal, who had forfeited all right to sympathy and consideration; she was palpably a standing menace to the internal peace of the realm, a standing incitement to its enemies abroad. The Commons therefore demanded her attainder; as for the technical right, no sovereign at the time or in the past would have hesitated to ignore or evade the point. The question was outside the range of technicalities. The plea that England had no right to detain her, or to judge her, that she had a right to seek her own release by any available means, was perfectly sound; the counter-plea that the safety of the State forbade her release, and her attempts to procure war against it justified her destruction, was equally unanswerable. But Elizabeth could not resolve to act upon either plea, ignoring the other. So Mary remained a prisoner, and the centre of intrigue. Even an alternative Bill, supposed to have Elizabeth's approval, which merely excluded Mary from the succession, never reached the statute book.

[Lepanto; April Revolt of the Netherlands]

A notable triumph had recently been achieved for Philip's arms, in the crushing defeat of the Turks at Lepanto by the combined Venetian and Spanish fleets commanded by the Spanish King's half-brother, Don John of Austria. To this perhaps may be attributed the less defiant tone of communications with Spain. The narrow seas were swarming not only with English privateering craft, but with Dutchmen commanded by the privateer De la Marck on behalf of William of Orange, who were habitually succoured in English harbours. But though these were now ordered to depart, and the English mariners aboard them were commanded to leave them, there is no doubt that their privy equipment was deliberately connived at, in the flattest possible contradiction to the public declarations. At the close of March, De la Marck's fleet sailed from Dover to fall upon a Spanish convoy; a few days later, it appeared in the Meuse before Brille. The town promptly surrendered. The whole of the Netherlands was seething under Alva's savage rule; trade, already in a fair way to be ruined by the cessation of commerce with England since the seizure of the treasure ships, was being throttled also by the system of taxation which Alva had recently instituted. The capture of Brille fired the train. City after city raised the standard of revolt. The rebellion which Alva fancied he had utterly stamped out was suddenly in full blaze once more; and on the south, Mons, like Brille, was seized by a rapid dash of Lewis of Nassau, operating from French territory.

[The Alençon marriage]

In the meantime also the Alençon marriage project seemed to be advancing, and in April a defensive treaty was struck between England and France, where it appeared that Coligny was paramount at court. Both English and French volunteers were fighting in the Netherlands. Small wonder that Burghley and Walsingham believed that a French marriage would clinch matters, make France a virtually Huguenot Power, and secure a combination which would bring the Pope and the King of Spain to their knees. The approaching marriage of the French King's sister, Margaret, to young Henry of Navarre - now standing next after the King's brothers in the line of succession - pointed emphatically in the same direction.

Walsingham however also knew that, to achieve the desired end, the Huguenots must at once have convincing proofs that they could depend on the English alliance. The marriage, and concerted armed intervention in the Netherlands, were the conditions. But Alençon [Footnote: He was singularly ugly, and Elizabeth who had nicknames for many of her Court, used to call him her "Frog" when he was wooing her, later.] was an incredibly distasteful husband; and however near Elizabeth might suffer herself to be brought to the brink of war, she hung back when the time came. There was very good reason [Footnote:State Papers: Spanish, ii., 338.] for believing that even now she was secretly negotiating with Alva, and in a very short time the English and French volunteer contingents in Flushing [Footnote: S.P., Foreign,x., 491, 530.] were on the verge of hostilities. The power of the Huguenots was on the surface; fanatics themselves when their religion was not merely political, they were the objects of savagely fanatical hatred. The queen-mother, who had always striven to preserve her own domination by holding the balance between Guises and Huguenots, saw Charles falling more and more under Coligny's influence instead of her own. It may be that if she had felt sure of Elizabeth, she would have gone through with the proposed policy; distrusting the English Queen she resolved to end it. She made a desperate and successful attempt to recover her ascendancy over her weak-minded son. She played upon his terrors, and prepared for one of the most appalling tragedies in all history.

[Aug. St. Bartholomew]

A plot for the assassination of Coligny failed, the Admiral being but slightly wounded. Paris was full of Huguenots, who had gathered for the celebration of Navarre's marriage on August 18th; the attempt on Coligny led to threatening language against the Guises. Katharine stirred her son into a sudden panic. The attack on the Admiral had taken place on August 22nd; with the booming of a bell on the early morning of the 24th, St. Bartholomew's day, the most recklessly devastating mob in the world found itself let loose on its prey, headed and urged on by the Guises and other Catholic chiefs. The Huguenots, utterly surprised, were slaughtered from house to house; with the taste of blood the populace went mad; Paris was a shambles. How many thousands were massacred in that awful frenzy none can tell. The tale of the tragedy flew from end to end of France; all over the country, wherever the Catholics were in a majority, like scenes were enacted. The total of the victims has been computed as high as a hundred thousand; a fourth of that number would certainly not be an exaggerated estimate. In England, all the martyrs for religion in the century did not amount to a thousand, on both sides; in France, twenty thousand at least were slain in a few days' orgy of fanaticism. And the new Pope Gregory sang Te Deum in solemn state; and the morose monarch of Spain laughed aloud in unwonted glee; but Charles of France, men said, was haunted to the hour of his death by red visions of that ghastly carnival of blood.