[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]

Now however capricious and apparently irrational the conduct of the Queen might be, however her ministers might resent it, condemn it, bewail it to each other, and remonstrate with her, they remained always obstinately loyal. We may cynically attribute the fact to their consciousness that if they deserted her their doom under her rival would be sealed. Were that the true interpretation - were they really guided merely by a more or less enlightened self-interest - it is rather natural to suppose that some of them would have played a double game and secured friends in the other camp, like the Whig and Tory statesmen of the early eighteenth century; that they would have managed their own affairs so that they could change sides. None of them ever did anything of the kind. Whatever the Queen did, they held to their own views, advocated them stubbornly, but obeyed their mistress, even when they thought her caprices were on the verge of bringing them all to ruin. And yet they never seem to have fully realised the extent to which their own loyalty was shared by the people at large. Men may surrender themselves to such a sentiment, without venturing to count upon its influence on others. But Elizabeth reckoned on it in ministers and people alike; and her calculation was invariably justified.

[Yea and Nay]

So it was in this instance. What might have happened if she really had married Alençon can only be guessed. Short of that, popular loyalty was equal to the strain. A passionate pamphlet against the marriage was issued by a lawyer named Stubbs. The Council, confident in the real strength of the country, urged her to take the bold attitude, place herself frankly at the head of European protestantism, and take measures at home to make a Catholic rising impossible. They could see no alternative but the marriage. She stormed at them, burst into tears, vowed that she had expected them all to declare that the marriage would be the fulfilment of all their hopes. They replied that since she would have it so they would do their best to make the marriage acceptable. She had Stubbs and his publisher pilloried, and their right hands struck off - on the strength of a most iniquitous misinterpretation of a law of Queen Mary's. The victims waved their caps with the hand that was left and cried "God save the Queen". The marriage treaty was drawn up (November) but a couple of months were to pass before its ratification, to quiet the public mind. When the two months were over it was still unratified, and the whole negotiation was treated as having lapsed. Burghley at the end of January (1580) was falling back on the leadership of Protestantism as the only alternative to adopt, since France must be regarded as hopelessly alienated.

[The Papal plan of Campaign]

In the meantime the Papal plan of campaign against England - a plan which appears to have been matured early in 1579 - was well under way. The Pope himself could not, and Philip of Spain would not, prepare Armadas to bring the recusant island back to the Roman submission. But there were other means to be tried than Armadas. Setting aside schemes for assassination, there was trouble to be made for Elizabeth in Ireland, trouble in Scotland, and trouble in England itself. Ireland was ripe for rebellion; a Catholic faction might be reorganised in Scotland; missionary zeal and martyrs' crowns might still revolutionise sentiment in England. The triple attack was resolved on - war in Ireland, diplomacy in Scotland, in England Seminarists from Rheims (whither Allen's Douay college had migrated some years before) and Jesuits from Rome.

In Ireland we have already seen the scheme taking shape, but scotched for the time by Stukely's diversion to Morocco and his death there, in 1578. In the following summer however, an expedition landed in Kerry, with Sanders as Papal Nuncio, and half the island was soon in a blaze. There, for some little time, such of the wilder spirits of English youth as were not occupied with ventures on the high seas were to find ample employment: and though Philip would not make open war, Philip's subjects were not restrained from seeking to pay back the blows which Drake had been dealing to Spain on the other side of the ocean - the report whereof had already found its way to Europe. In Scotland, the autumn was not far advanced when young Esmé Stewart, Count D'Aubigny, of the House of Lennox, James's cousin, arrived in Scotland to win his way into the boy-king's favour and plot the overthrow of Morton and of the Preachers. In the summer of 1580, Campian and Parsons began to deliver their message to the Catholics of England.

[1580 Philip annexes Portugal]

In this same summer, the Cardinal-King of Portugal, Sebastian's successor, died. Philip's opportunity for annexation had arrived, and he seized it, expelling with little difficulty another claimant, Don Antonio, prior of Crato, the bastard son of the Cardinal's brother Luis; who however for the next ten years hovers through English politics as a pretender to be supported or dropped at convenience; used as a menace to Philip, much as the enemies of Henry VII. had used Perkin Warbeck. Then, in September, the great English seaman was back on English shores, in the ship that had sailed round the world - back with the spoils of Spain on board.

With this impression in our minds of the leading features of the year 1580, we can turn first to the detailed record of events in Ireland.

[Ireland: 1579 The Desmond rising]

The Expedition which landed in July at Dingle on the furthest south-west coast was small enough; but it brought with it Sanders the accredited representative of the Pope, and Fitzmaurice, cousin of Desmond. It appealed therefore at once to the Catholics at large and the Geraldine connexion in particular. There was no strong or united English force in the country; it was the custom of Elizabeth to provide her officers with the very minimum of equipment. Desmond at first hesitated; but his brother seized an early opportunity to commit him by treacherously murdering two English officers and their servants. Half Munster was up in arms at once, and the new arrivals made haste to fortify Smerwick, in the neighbourhood of Dingle where they had landed. It was expected and declared that reinforcements from Spain would soon be forth-coming. Malby, the President of Connaught, acted with promptitude and energy, marching south with his own troops and some of the Burkes who were at feud with the Geraldines. Fortune favoured them; Fitzmaurice was slain almost at the outset, and the Papal standard captured and sent off to Dublin. Desmond with his immediate following, who had not taken part in the engagement, fell back on Ashketyn, near Limerick; the rest of the insurgents retired on Smerwick. Drury however, advancing from Cork, was less fortunate, his troops being attacked by the Irish and very severely handled, so that he was forced to retreat. He died soon after.

The vigorous Malby assumed control of the Presidency, marched through Desmond's country dealing miscellaneous slaughter and destruction, burnt the town at Ashketyn since the castle could not be carried without cannon, and then went his way into Connaught. When Malby was gone, Desmond sallied forth, marched quietly south to Youghal where there was an English colony, sacked it, put the English to the sword, and burnt the place. Thence, with increasing musters, he marched upon Cork, which however he abstained from attacking. In January the insurgents were encouraged by the arrival of some military stores from abroad, with promises of further assistance in response to messages from Desmond to the King of Spain.

[1580 Fire and Sword]

Meantime, neither Malby at Athlone nor Pelham in Dublin had sufficient troops to take the field in force. Ormonde, dispatched from England to take the chief command, had neither money nor material allowed him to take the offensive. It was not till March that the Queen was induced to send the urgently needed reinforcements, and Admiral Wynter with a squadron of ships arrived at the mouth of the Shannon. Ormonde from Kilkenny in the Butler country, and Pelham from Dublin, marched in two columns converging on Tralee, burning and slaughtering mercilessly along the route, sparing none. Then they turned on Carrickfoyle, impregnable without artillery, but easily breached by the heavy guns landed from Wynter's ships. The garrison was put to the sword. Desmond at Ashketyn, having no mind for a like fate, withdrew from it, blowing up the castle behind him. But Elizabeth stopped the supplies; the English were again forced to inaction, and parties of insurgents went marauding over Cork and Kerry, taking their turn of murdering. In June the purse-strings were loosened again; Pelham marched into Kerry, and only just failed to surprise Desmond and his people, with Sanders, in their beds. They escaped however, and Pelham went on to Dingle. Ormonde, making his way to the same point, added considerably to the tale of burnings and slaughterings. This loyal earl in 1580 accounted for "forty-six captains and leaders, with eight notorious traitors and male-factors, and four thousand other folk". [Footnote: Carew Papers.]

[Development of the Rebellion]

The people in despair were beginning to turn against Sanders and the Geraldines, though persistently loyal to Desmond himself. But a diversion was created by a rising of the Catholics of the Pale. Lord Grey de Wilton had just arrived in Dublin as Deputy. He marched against the rebels, but the greater part of his force was ambushed and cut to pieces in the Wicklow mountains. And on the top of this disaster, the long delayed foreign expedition landed at Dingle - Wynter having withdrawn - and Smerwick was re-occupied by a force mainly consisting of eight hundred Italian and Spanish adventurers. The rebellion seemed to be reviving everywhere. Ormonde, again marching into Kerry with four thousand men, accomplished nothing. But the murderous work of the summer had had effect, and the septs would not openly take the field without immediate cash inducements, which were lacking.

[Smerwick: and after]

In October Grey made a fresh start and marched down from Dublin to Kerry: in the first week of November, Wynter's fleet reappeared, having been held back by stress of weather with the exception of one vessel which had been lying off Smerwick for three weeks. The siege now was brief enough. On the 9th, the garrison, after a vain attempt to obtain terms, surrendered at discretion. The officers were put to ransom; the rest were slaughtered; even women were hanged. The dead numbered 600. Grey doubtless regarded the measure as a just return for the doings of the Inquisition, and the punishment of English sailors as pirates, for his retort to the garrison's overtures had been that their presence in Ireland was piracy. But the whole business illustrates the sheer ruthlessness which characterised both sides, at least where there was a technical excuse for denying belligerents' rights to the vanquished.

It was no longer possible for the rebellion to make head; but for the next two years a guerrilla warfare was kept up, in which English and Irish killed each other without compunction whenever anything in the shape of an excuse offered itself. Most of the English honestly believed that the only practicable policy was one of extermination, and the Irish retaliated in kind. There is nothing so ugly as this history in the annals of a people which, outside of Ireland, has shown a unique capacity for tempering conquest with justice. The very men whose blood boiled, honestly enough, over cruelties to the Indians, adopted to the Irish the precise attitude of mind which so horrified them in the Spaniards. Elizabeth herself, Burghley, Walsingham, and Ormonde, were opposed to the extermination policy; but the bloodshed went on, unsystematically instead of systematically. Sanders, wandering a hunted fugitive, died in a bog. It was not till 1583 that Desmond himself was surprised and slain in his bed. In the meantime, there had been no variation in the story. But the exhaustion of ceaseless slaughters and ceaseless famines had practically terminated the struggle. Sir John Perrot, who became Deputy in 1584, could adopt a conciliatory attitude, without fear that his leniency would be immediately abused - though it led to his recall and condemnation for treason [Footnote: This sentence however was not carried out. It is perhaps worth noting that Sir John was reputed to be a natural son of Henry VIII.] three years later.

[Scotland, 1579-81]

The diplomatic campaign in Scotland need not detain us long. Morton as Regent governed that country with a strong hand, and at least held down its normal turbulence: but while his forcefulness was recognised, he went his own way, quite regardless of the enemies he made. Despite his religious professions, he treated the preachers with scant courtesy, and was unpopular with all parties. D'Aubigny on his arrival promptly found his way into the young King's good graces, was made Duke of Lennox very shortly, and set himself to conciliate the Puritans by professing to have been converted from Popery by James's dialectical skill. In England, there was no doubt that he was an agent in the papal programme, and Walsingham would have had him removed in the usual lawless fashion, failing other means. But Elizabeth, as always, was confident of the practical impossibility of making Scotland united for any purpose except resistance of an English invasion. She made it evident that armed intervention from her need not be looked for; and in December (1580) Lennox (D'Aubigny) struck at Morton by accusing him of complicity in the murder of Darnley. The agent in this proceeding was another James Stewart, an adventurer, now Captain of the Guard, who was shortly after advanced to the Earldom of Arran. Morton was imprisoned, brought to trial in the following June (1581) and executed. The strong hand being gone, the usual chaos supervened. For the time the Papal party was uppermost, but Elizabeth's calculations were correct. The risk of French intervention was brought nearer, but it was counterbalanced partly by the bait of the Alençon marriage, which the Queen managed to keep dangling, partly by the fact that many of the men who had overthrown Morton were anti-papal, and preferred playing for their own hand to encouraging a French ascendancy. By the "Raid of Ruthven" in 1582 James was removed from the influence of Lennox, who had to leave the country; and in 1583 James Stewart Earl of Arran was carrying out a policy which was to make the King himself, with Arran at his elbow, the force predominating alike over preachers and nobles.

[England 1580]

We may now revert to England and Elizabeth in 1580. Throughout the earlier half of the year, it was as usual the Queen's first object to commit herself to nothing, but to persuade Orange that she might yet help him, and Alençon that she might yet marry him. But in July, Philip was master of Portugal, and the Jesuit campaign was beginning in England. In September, Orange's patience was worn out, and the crown of the Netherlands was definitely offered to Alençon; within a few days Drake and the Pelican were home, and Mendoza was demanding restitution; and again a few days later Spanish and Italian adventurers were fortifying themselves at Smerwick.

[The Jesuit Mission]

The Papal Bull of Deposition ten years before had stiffened the attitude of Government towards the English Catholics, but had neither broken down the loyalty of the latter nor led to any serious persecution. On this head, the mission of 1580 was the turning point of the reign. The moving spirit was Allen, of Douay and Rheims; a man of high ability and character who conceived that the recovery of his country for the true Church was the highest of all objects for a patriot, and one to which all other considerations should give way.

[Campian and Parsons]

It cannot be disputed that the aim of the Mission was to sow disloyalty as well as to gain converts, though the allegation that incitement to assassinate the Queen was part of the programme is not quite conclusively proved. Of the two chief missioners, Parsons and Campian, it is at least tolerably certain that the latter, an amiable enthusiast, was quite innocent of complicity in any such design. That certainty does not apply to Parsons. But the instructions were clearly treasonable in character. The Catholics were told that in spite of the Bull of Deposition they might profess loyalty to the Queen, but must assist in her overthrow if called upon. That is to say that if treason were brewing against the de facto Government, it was to be a point of conscience and a condition of the Church's approval for all Catholics that they should assist that treason. There is nothing about that instruction which can fairly be called hypocritical; but ipso facto, it converted every Catholic, willy nilly, into a potential traitor, who if treason arose could only remain loyal under censure of the Church. Moreover it was the business of the missioners not only to impress on those who were already Catholics this view of their duty; but also, by an active propaganda, to increase the number of such potential traitors; while it was quite certain that under such conditions, converts would be actuated by a zeal which would render them doubly dangerous.

For some months the emissaries travelled the country in various disguises, shifting their quarters secretly, but in favourable districts occasionally appearing quite openly, more or less winked at by the authorities. Their immunity made them the more sanguine, but it also alarmed the Protestants, and before the end of the year, there was a change.


Walsingham - a sincere Puritan, a man who never soiled his hands for private gain, who by his outspoken opposition to her political double-dealing provoked Elizabeth's anger more frequently than any other of her many outspoken advisers, of whom more than any other statesman of the day it might be said that he loved righteousness and hated iniquity - had yet the fault of the Puritan character, a certain remorselessness in dealing with the servants of the Scarlet Woman. He would have connived at the murder of D'Aubigny; his organisation of "Secret Service" was as unscrupulous as Burghley's; and he more than any one else approved and fostered the revival of the illegal application of torture as a means of extorting information from recalcitrant prisoners. In this iniquity, however, it is fair to recognise that the rack and the boot were not employed wantonly but, as it would seem, honestly: with the single intention of obtaining true information for the unravelment of plots which endangered the public weal, and only on persons who were known to possess that information.

[1581 An anti-papal Parliament]

Walsingham then, at the close of 1580, appears to have undertaken the conduct of the operations against the emissaries, several of whom were promptly captured and put to the torture without result, though one or two made haste to change sides to save themselves. The rest showed that magnificent constancy which had characterised alike the Carthusians under Henry and the Protestants under Mary. In January (1581) parliament was called, and passed a very stringent act making it treason to proselytise, or to join the Church of Rome; imposing a heavy fine as well as imprisonment for celebrating Mass, and a fine of £20 per month for exemption from attendance at the Anglican ritual. Drastic as the measure was, and a complete departure from the comparative toleration hitherto prevalent in practice if not altogether in theory, the basis of it was quite manifestly the conviction that as a result of the mission every Catholic must now be suspect of treason, and every convert to Catholicism something more than suspect.

When the parliament had completed its business by voting supplies, it was prorogued. Through the spring and the summer the pursuit of the Emissaries and the oppression of the Catholics under the new Act went on. Campian himself was taken in July, and after some months' imprisonment, in the course of which he was racked, was executed for treason at the end of the year: his martyrdom, with others, producing the usual effect.

[Alençon again]

In the meantime, the acceptance in January of the lordship of the Netherlands by Alençon forced Elizabeth to redouble her pretence of desiring the furtherance of the Alençon marriage - a pretence through which Walsingham alone seems to have penetrated. The French King sent over a magnificent embassy in April, which was magnificently received. Then Elizabeth suggested that a League would serve every purpose. France replied that the League was what it wished for, but the marriage was a condition. Everything was discussed and agreed upon - but the Queen succeeded in retaining her saving clause; the agreement was subject to Alençon and herself being personally satisfied. She was still able to hold off, while she had brought France into such a position that if war should be declared between England and Spain, France must join England. Walsingham was sent off to Paris, with the task before him of evading the marriage, avoiding war while entangling France in it, and all with a full conviction that his instructions would vary from week to week. He believed, and he told her, that France would make the League without the marriage, if her sincerity were only guaranteed by something more substantial than promises; but that if neither the League nor the marriage were completed, she would have Spain, France, and Scotland - where Morton had just been executed - all turning their arms against her at once. But contrary to all reasonable expectation Elizabeth succeeded in avoiding a breach with France and in keeping Alençon still dangling: and however Mendoza - who had quite failed to obtain any compensation for Drake's expedition - might threaten, Philip still refused to declare war openly.

[His visit to England]

The story of the Alençon farce, if it were not unquestionable fact, would be almost incredible. Monsieur was some twenty years younger than the amorous Queen; in person he was offensive and contemptible; his character corresponded to his person, and his intelligence to his character. Elizabeth was eight and forty. Yet the man's amazing vanity made him a perpetual dupe, while it must have taken all her own vanity to persuade the lady that she could play Omphale to his Hercules. Yet she did it. In November she had him back in England. She kissed him before Walsingham and the French Ambassador, [Footnote: State Papers, Spanish, iii., p. 226.] and gave him the ring off her finger, declaring that she was going to marry him. But as soon as it came to business, she made one fresh demand after another. When concession was added to concession, she capped the list by requiring the restoration of Calais, an obvious absurdity. Burghley thought the whole thing was ended, and was for conciliating Spain by restoring Drake's booty. Walsingham would have handed those spoils over to Orange. The Queen did neither, but told Alençon that his presence in the Netherlands had now become quite necessary to his own honour - which was true - and that with a little patience unreasonable people would be pacified, and she would still marry him.

[Alençon in the Netherlands]

Thus this most unlucky dupe was once more got out of the country, in February (1582), a dupe still; and the United Provinces swore allegiance to him under the new title of Duke of Brabant - giving him to understand, however, that they accepted him simply as a surety for English support. When he was safely out of the country, Elizabeth became more emphatic than ever in her declarations that she would marry him. After all, however, she was reluctantly compelled to salve her lover's wounded feelings by cash subsidies, real and substantial though secret.

[Exit Alençon]

At the end of March an attempt was made to assassinate the strong man of Holland, William the Silent. He was in fact very dangerously wounded, and Elizabeth became alarmed lest a like danger were in store for her. Orange recovered, but Parma continued his course of gradual conquest, and Alençon bethought him of playing the traitor, seizing the principal towns, and handing them over to Spain as a peace-offering. In the following January he made the attempt; but the capture succeeded only here and there, and at Antwerp, where he himself lay, the coup failed ignominiously and disastrously. The city got wind of what was going to happen; the French troops were admitted, and, being in, found themselves in a trap and were cut to pieces. Alençon was deservedly and finally ruined, and no one in France or England could pretend any more that he was a possible husband. The year after he sank to a dishonoured grave, leaving the Huguenot Henry of Navarre heir presumptive to the throne of France.


Before Alençon's disaster, Elizabeth's policy in Scotland had been justified by results: the raid of Ruthven had placed the King in the hands of the Protestant nobles again, and Lennox was out of the country for good. It is probable that from Elizabeth's point of view, it was not worth while to attempt to obtain the friendship of an Anglophil party, either by force or by bribery. Bribes would have told only just for so long as they were accepted as an earnest of more to follow; while force would have had its invariable result of uniting Scotland in determined resistance. The one thing which would have given reality to the overtures perpetually passing between Scotland and the Guises was an English attempt to grasp at domination. Elizabeth, with Mary a prisoner, had a permanent diplomatic asset in her hands, since she could hint a threat of either executing her, or liberating her, or surrendering her on terms as might seem most convenient at a given crisis. Intrigues which like the marriage projects were never intended to be consummated were more effective than either bribery or force - and cheaper.