Imagini ale paginilor
[blocks in formation]

England Character of Elizabeth

1045 she was by some of the ablest of statesmen, she was wiser in some respects than all, and could outwit them at their own games. She read unerringly the trend of public sentiment, and saw the right hour when to yield so gracefully that it appeared to many she was leading instead of following such sentiment. No one comprehended more clearly than she the truth regarding her country, and the almost innumerable complications in which she and it were involved from the first. She was a consummate statesman, if the word be allowable, and the forty-five years that she sat on the throne were in many respects the grandest that England has ever known.

Yet Queen Elizabeth had ridiculous weaknesses and failings. When her peppery temper was roused, she would swear like a pirate, beat her maids of honor, box the ears of some nobleman who had offended her, or spit on a courtier's new velvet suit. She was always hungry for flattery, and, when past sixty years of age, forbade any pictures being sold of her, since they did not do her justice, when in truth she was one of the homeliest women in all England. She had a genius for lying, and, if detected in some outlandish falsehood, would smile and wonder why the one whom she had deceived, did not suspect it from the first. But it was an age of intrigue, when falsehood was universal, and the man least believed of all would have been he who told the truth.

Mary Stuart of Scotland had become Queen of France, and claimed the English crown through her descent from Henry VII., on the ground that Elizabeth had no such right, because the Pope of Rome had never recognized the marriage of her mother Anne Boleyn with Henry VIII. France and Rome maintained this claim, while Philip II., as I have said, supported Elizabeth, whom he hoped to marry and thus add England to his dominions. Scotland was in a turmoil, while Ireland was eager to join any power that attacked England. These were formidable perils, but a still greater one was the division of England itself into two determined religious parties-Protestants and Catholics. There were also two minor divisions, which made up in earnestness what they lacked in numbers. The Jesuits, or Society of Jesus, was founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola about this time, and was pledged to do everything in its power to extirpate heresy, no matter how violent the means necessary. With

in the Protestant Church itself sprang up a band that were bent on purifying the reformed faith of every vestige of Catholicism. Those who remained within the English or Episcopalian Church were called Puritans or Non-Conformists, while those who left it were Independents. The Independents controlled the government in Scotland and were gaining strength in England.

As I have said, no one comprehended more clearly than Elizabeth the difficulties which faced her, for the two religious divisions were numerous and

powerful. She chose wise advisers, who were often forced to flatter her personal vanity in order to carry through their measures; but even with that marked weakness in her character they were never able to obtain dominion over her or to obscure her greatness as a sovereign. A good deal of her success as a ruler belonged to William Cecil, later Lord Burleigh and Lord High Treasurer, while Sir Francis Walsingham and Robert Cecil, son of Lord Burleigh, were prominent among her counsellors.

But while tearing down the work done by her Catholic sister Mary, Elizabeth prayed to the Virgin in her own private chapel, and the Reformation she aided was a mild one, lacking the aggressive nature of that which was pressed so fiercely in Germany and France. Although a Protestant, it cannot be believed that she possessed much personal religion, for she never showed the enthusiasm of the sincere believer. Her attitude was more political than religious, the great point she made being in insisting upon uniformity and obedience to the Established Church in England. Queen Mary had restored the Roman Catholic Latin Prayer-book. When Elizabeth was crowned (and the Bishop of Carlisle would not administer the coronation oath until she bound herself to support the Church of Rome), a petition was presented to her, reciting that it was the practice on such occasions for the new sovereign to set free a certain number of prisoners, and the signers respectfully prayed Her Majesty to release the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, including also the Apostle Paul, all of whom for some time had been imprisoned in a foreign language. She complied by "releasing" them, and the English Service Book, with a few changes was restored.

Some time later a law was passed ordering all clergymen under penalty of life imprisonment to use only the Service Book. Moreover, a heavy fine was placed upon all who refused to attend the Church of England on Sundays or holidays. You will note that Church and State were looked upon as one, and such was the view everywhere. It was the sovereign who prescribed the religion for the subjects, and whoever refused to support the State Church was a rebel against the government. To make sure of the enforcement of this harsh law, the High Commission Court was organized for the trial of all rebels. It cruelly punished many Catholics, because of persistence in their allegiance to the Pope. Sad to say, some two hundred priests and Jesuits were put to death, and the Puritans also felt the heavy hand of the oppressors. You do not need to be told that hundreds of them preferred to exile themselves that they might secure freedom to worship God as they believed right, and, crossing the stormy Atlantic, they became in the next reign pioneers in the settlement of New England.

As soon as Elizabeth was crowned, the Pope declared her illegitimate, and

[graphic][merged small]
[blocks in formation]
« ÎnapoiContinuă »