[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.

[1598 Ireland]

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.

In the meantime, he was writing letters of furious complaint that the Council in London - in especial Raleigh, who was now associated with Cecil - were deliberately seeking to cripple him for their own ends - a charge which they declined to answer, as being merely a piece of excited extravagance; and Elizabeth rated him, not more sharply than he deserved, for wasting the unusually large sums provided for Ireland on a procedure so vain. Further, she peremptorily ordered him to march against O'Neill without delay, warning him on no account to withdraw from the country.

[Fall of Essex]

So at the end of August Essex set out. But when he found himself within striking distance of Tyrone's forces, the latter invited him to a parley. It was granted and held, and was followed by two more meetings; with the amazing result that a truce was concluded and both armies withdrew. That some personal compact was made can hardly be doubted; what it was remains unknown, and it was never carried out; but the presumption is that there was some joint scheme for securing the succession of King James to the throne, with Tyrone supreme in Ireland and Essex in England. Tyrone himself gave the Spaniards an obviously improbable version of the plan (after it had collapsed), according to which he had induced Essex to contemplate adhesion to the ultra-Spanish party, though he was the most pronouncedly hostile to Spain and to Catholicism of all the English leaders.

Whatever the plot, the ignominy of such a termination to the lavish preparations and boastings preceding was palpable. Elizabeth was furious, and her expressions of resentment were scathing. Whereupon Essex took the very worst step possible in his own interests. Relying on the Queen's curious infatuation for his person, which had survived innumerable quarrels and flagrant impertinences, he left his office, sped across the channel, rode post haste across England, flung himself, all mud-bespattered into the presence of his mistress in her chamber, and prayed for pardon. For the moment, she was too utterly taken aback to be herself; he left her thinking he had won. But the outrage was too gross. That evening he found himself under arrest. His enemies' policy of "giving him rope enough" had been more completely successful than they could have hoped. He had set the noose about his neck with his own hand, though it was not yet tightened.

[Catholic factions]

The whole of the Essex story is inextricably interwoven with the crowd of intrigues in progress in connexion with the succession. In England by this time the ultra-Spanish or Jesuit faction, which would have enthroned the Inquisition with a Spanish nominee as sovereign, was all but non-existent. The division was into two main parties. One desired a sovereign under whom either Catholicism should be restored under such tolerant conditions as prevailed under Henry IV. in France, or else Anglicanism might be retained, extending a like toleration to Catholics. There was of course a fundamental divergence between these two positions; but very many of the nobility, whether professed Anglicans or professed Catholics, were prepared to accept either alternative. Of this party the intellectual chief was Cecil. The second party, that of which Essex was the head, relied primarily upon the Puritan element, and advocated persistent hostility to Spain.

Now the effective Spanish position had been materially changed since, shortly before his death, Philip II. had erected the Netherlands into a separate sovereignty under the Infanta Isabella and the Austrian Archduke Albert to whom she was betrothed: he had thus made possible for England a revival of the old-time Burgundian alliance independent of Spain. The Archduke knew that as a Spanish Princess Isabella would never be accepted in England, but the union under one head of England and Burgundy was a very different matter, which might provide a key to the religious problem very much akin to that which France had recently found. It was in this direction that the eyes of the majority of the Cecil party were probably turned. For Essex however - unless indeed he really contemplated the hare-brained scheme of striking for the throne himself - the course was clearly to bring in James as his own puppet. It is no doubt easy to remark that that crafty prince would very soon have outwitted and tripped up the shallow and overweening Earl: but the Earl himself was the last person to anticipate such a denouement.

[Philip III]

But outside England there was the cunning King of Scots, on the one hand intriguing with Essex, on the other appealing to the Pope, as a Catholic at heart who was only waiting for adequate support to drop the mask - bidding in fact for the countenance of both camps. There was Tyrone in Ireland, similarly posing to Spain as the champion of Catholicism, while intriguing with Essex and James indubitably for something like sovereignty for himself as the price of supporting the Scots King. And there was the young Philip III. of Spain, idle and vain, who, with a bankrupt treasury and a rotten administration had his head full of the most inflated ideas of his own power, and still fancied himself quite capable of conquering England at a blow; a delusion from which the fanatical religionists who trusted not in the arm of flesh, were also suffering. To him therefore the idea of James ascending the English throne even as a Catholic was quite repugnant; as was also the succession of his sister, unless she restored the Netherlands to him. Whereas the union with the Netherlands was precisely the one condition which made her candidature possible in England.

While Essex was still in Ireland this imagination of Philip's had borne curious fruit. He ordered the preparation of another Armada: the greatest of all. The Spanish vapourings on the subject actually created some alarm in England; Raleigh and Lord Thomas Howard very promptly had efficient fleets on the narrow seas; the Lord Admiral (now Earl of Nottingham) was appointed Lord General and there was a great mustering of troops and raising of companies by noblemen and gentlemen. But it is more than probable that, as far as the land forces were concerned, these measures were intended quite as much to be a hint to Essex that he would find any attempt at coercion an exceedingly dangerous game, as for protection against any effort which Philip was capable of putting forth. In fact this Armada ended in the feeblest of all these feeble fiascoes: for while it was making ready, a Dutch fleet was raiding the Canaries and the trade routes; when it put to sea its energies were absorbed in a futile attempt to catch these audacious enemies; and before it reached the Azores, a fourth part of it had foundered and the balance had been practically crippled by foul weather.

Such then was the position when in the autumn of 1599 Essex suddenly found himself a prisoner. Cecil however did not think it politic to go to extremities. The Earl was not haled before the Star-Chamber as was proposed in some quarters; it was not till the following June that he was brought before a commission of the Privy Council for enquiry and censure; and some two months later he was released. But from October 1599 to August 1600 he remained in custody.

[1600 Ireland]

In the meantime, Tyrone was appealing to Spain and to the Archduke Albert. The latter, with ulterior objects, was negotiating for peace with Cecil - who was following a path of his own - and had no mind to complicate the intrigue by an Irish embroilment. Philip immediately gave orders that everything was to be provided to conquer Ireland out of hand; but as the means for carrying out those orders were entirely lacking, there were no results. Moreover, Elizabeth had at last realised that the systematic reduction of Ireland was now an absolute necessity which could only be accomplished by adequate forces under a competent commander. Montjoy, a connexion of Essex, was sent over; his dealings with Tyrone met with increasing success. Essex had at first counted on Montjoy acting in effect as his own deputy; but in this he was disappointed. Placed in a position of responsibility, the Deputy immediately rejected the overtures he made. The army in Ireland was not to be the instrument of Essex's ambition.

[Succession intrigues]

Where so many of the actors were simultaneously engaged in alternative intrigues, some of them with entire insincerity, and solely for the purpose of keeping inconvenient persons or groups in play until they were harmless, it is not possible to be sure in most cases of the real policy intended. Cecil's party were in some sort of communication even with Parsons, who persuaded himself that if only Philip would definitely commit himself to a nominee, and would strike in before the Scots King could secure himself, the chiefs of that party would support him. It is not credible that this was really the case, but it is at least probable that the group were deliberately seeking to produce that impression at the Spanish head- quarters. For them the essential thing was to wreck Essex on the one side and out-wit the extreme Catholics on the other. Others might be deceived, but Cecil and Raleigh at least must have been fully alive to the worthlessness of any programme which assumed political intelligence on the part of Philip, or effective activity in Spain. James was playing for the support of every section, by inducing each to believe that his overtures to the other sections were mere blinds: and during this year he was working for the support of Henry IV., as being at heart a tolerant Catholic. Whether Essex, who must have been aware of the intrigue, accepted the policy or regarded it as merely a useful diplomatic deception remains uncertain; at any rate it did not alienate him. But the appearance of a Franco-Scottish rapprochement was an immediate incentive to and excuse for counter negotiations with Philip and the Archduke on the part of the English government.

[The end of Essex 1600-1]

At the end of August, Essex was released, though still excluded from favour. The Cecil party had complete control of the situation, and to all appearance meant to come to terms with the Archduke: which would wreck the Earl's ambitions irretrievably. Now, when his one chance lay in playing the repentant and tearful adorer of a mistress cruel and fair if somewhat mature - a very familiar role for him - his cry was all for the restoration of lost pecuniary privileges; and his mistress would naturally have none of a lover so self-centred. Despairing of the Queen's favour, he was rash enough to pose as a popular champion, declaiming against the intriguers who were selling England to the Infanta, and drawing round him the young hot-heads and scape-graces of the nobility, in the insane belief that their swords and the cheers of the London mob would enable him to effect the overthrow of Cecil by a coup de main. When the time was ripe, early in February, Cecil struck. Essex was summoned to appear before the Council. He evaded the summons, and next day with his friends made a frantic attempt to raise the City for the removal of the Queen's false Counsellors. That evening he was a prisoner in the Tower. A few days later, he was brought to trial for treason before a Court of Peers, and was condemned and executed. Pardon was impossible, though Elizabeth's grief at signing his death warrant was poignant and permanent.

[Robert Cecil]

The triumph of Cecil was complete. The utter overthrow of Essex had been his first objective; now he was free to work his own underground policy. Publicly and ostensibly as before he remained the chief of the "moderate" party, seeking reconciliation with Spain and a modus vivendi between Catholics and Anglicans; privately he took Essex's vacated place as the friend of the Scots King. Thenceforth, from the Moderate camp, directing the Moderate programme, he was in intimate correspondence [Footnote: Now published in its entirety by the Camden Society.] with James; working for the ultimate destruction of his rivals and associates, when the Stewart should become King of England, owing his crown to Cecil's dexterity. James, realising his position, promptly fell in with Cecil's plans, dropped coquetting with Catholics abroad, and was quite content to wait for a dead woman's shoes, and to give up irritating demands for an immediate recognition, of which, with Cecil on his side, he felt ultimately assured.

[Ireland 1600-1]

During 1600, Montjoy had already been doing good service in Ireland. The 14,000 troops at his disposal - though thrice as many as had been allowed to Norreys - were insufficient for dealing a rapid and crushing blow at the heart of the rebellion in Ulster. In Munster, however, the Deputy had a vigorous lieutenant in Carew, and the chiefs were of a divided mind - largely because many of them held their positions precariously, in virtue of the English tenure which had been officially substituted for the Irish method of succession - so that the forces of resistance were to a great extent broken up. But in Ulster, Montjoy accomplished a fine strategic stroke by making a feint of invading the province from the south, while he sent a large force of 4000 men by sea, under command of Docwra, to Loch Foyle, where they established themselves at Londonderry. He was thus in a position to strike at Tyrone or O'Donnell whenever those chiefs should attempt to move southward in force: as was exemplified next year, when Donegal was seized, and the Blackwater fort was recaptured by a move from the South, because Tyrone could not withdraw his attention from Derry.

[1601 The Irish rebellion broken]

About the time of Essex's crash, there were again rumours of a Spanish invasion. Carew could deal with the Irish rebels alone, but hardly with a strong invading force as well. When in September 1601 a real Spanish force did arrive at Kinsale, Montjoy had to concentrate in Munster. But though this expedition showed the limits of Philip's capacities, it was as usual so ill found that many of the ships had been obliged to put back to Corunna, and others, failing to make Kinsale, put in at Baltimore. Montjoy was in strength near Cork, Carew at Limerick ready to intercept the approach of the rebels from the North. In a very short time, Kinsale was beleagured, and when a portion of a Spanish reinforcement managed to reach the coast in December, it found an English flotilla before it, and its troops were isolated in a third station at Castlehaven. O'Donnell however succeeded in evading Carew, who then joined forces with Montjoy and the fleet before Kinsale. When Tyrone arrived, an attempt was made to relieve Kinsale; but Montjoy was unusually well served by his intelligence, his dispositions were skilful, and the rebels were totally routed beyond possibility of present recovery. Aguilar, the Spanish commander, was admitted to terms; Baltimore and Castlehaven were surrendered. Thus abortively collapsed the last effort of Philip III. The Irish rebellion was broken. Many of the chiefs after vain and desperate resistance escaped to Spain; others surrendered to the Queen's mercy. O'Donnell was of the former; he died soon after reaching Spain. But Tyrone the diplomatic succeeded in making terms. It seemed that once more the English Government was supreme.

[1602 The Succession]

Once again, as the death of the great Queen becomes imminent, we must remind ourselves that to the last she refused to recognise any heir, and that there were various claimants, [Footnote: Genealogical Tables; Front. and App. A, iii.] each one with a colourable claim. In point of priority by heredity King James of Scotland unquestionably stood first of the descendants of Henry VII. and Elizabeth of York; yet the fact that he was not only an alien but King of Scotland made him in himself an unwelcome candidate. Next to him, since like him she descended from Margaret Tudor, stood his cousin Arabella - a Stewart too, but of the Lennox Stewarts, not the Royal House: an English subject; but with the drawback that she was a woman and unmarried. Third, but first under the will of Henry VIII. was Lord Beauchamp, son of Katharine Grey and the Earl of Hertford; about the validity of his parents' marriage however there was a doubt. The Stanleys of Derby, who through Margaret Clifford could claim descent from the younger daughter of Henry VII., would have nothing to do with inheriting the crown; no more would the Earl of Huntingdon who descended from Edward IV.'s brother, George of Clarence. But Philip of Spain claimed the crown for himself as a descendant of John of Gaunt; though, the union of the crowns of England and Spain being admittedly impracticable, he was under promise to transfer his claim to a hitherto unnamed nominee, presumably his sister. Virtually therefore Isabella ranked as a possible though not very enthusiastic candidate.

[The last intrigues]

By this time, it was perfectly obvious that the Infanta could not be forced upon England, though it was supposed that the Moderates would have favoured her candidature provided she brought Flanders with her: whereas the negotiations controlled by Cecil were not tending to bring about any such result. As 1602 drew to a close, the ablest man in Spain, Olivares, was emphasising the necessity for giving the English Catholics as a body a free hand to nominate an English candidate instead of an alien. It is probable, though it cannot be called certain, that there was a plot to unite the claims of Arabella and Lord Beauchamp by marrying them, with an implication that both were prepared in due time to declare themselves Catholics. Meantime the Moderates were awaiting direction from Cecil; who ostensibly was himself waiting on a hint from the Queen, but was privily keeping the way clear for James, while seeking to implicate Raleigh and others in language and actions which might at any rate be interpreted as hostile to him. In this secret intriguing, Cecil's great ally was Lord Henry Howard, a brother of the last Duke of Norfolk; and he had with him the Careys of the Hunsdon family. Of the Moderates in general it can only be said that, while there was no candidate in whose favour they could combine with any warmth, James was rather more obnoxious to them than others. Yet they did not combine against him, while if any of them sought to ingratiate themselves with him Cecil was particularly careful to sow distrust of them in the Scots King's mind, unless they happened to be partisans of his own or at any rate probable allies. When Arabella tried to escape from what was practically the custody of her grandmother the Dowager Countess of Shrewsbury, the famous "Bess of Hardwick," the attempt was nipped in the bud: and the Catholics were still without any declared candidate when the lonely old Queen was seized in March with her last mortal illness.

[1603 Death of the Queen]

As Elizabeth lay on her death-bed, her entourage consisted almost exclusively of Cecil and his friends, among whom is to be numbered the old Lord Admiral, though he was innocent of the intrigues going on. The ships in the Thames, the troops in the North, were commanded by members of the same group; almost before the breath was out of her body Robert Carey was galloping North to hail James I. King of England: and the world was told that Elizabeth's last conscious act was to ratify by a sign the succession of her old-time rival's son. In her seventieth year, in the early hours of March 24th, 1603, ended the long and glorious reign of the Virgin Queen.