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Elizabeth And Her Parliament
by [?]

The year 1566 was a remarkable period in the domestic annals of our great Elizabeth; then, for a moment, broke forth a noble struggle between the freedom of the subject and the dignity of the sovereign.

One of the popular grievances of her glorious reign was the maiden state in which the queen persisted to live, notwithstanding such frequent remonstrances and exhortations. The nation in a moment might be thrown into the danger of a disputed succession; and it became necessary to allay that ferment which existed among all parties, while each was fixing on its own favourite, hereafter to ascend the throne. The birth of James I. this year, re-animated the partisans of Mary of Scotland; and men of the most opposite parties in England unanimously joined in the popular cry for the marriage of Elizabeth, or a settlement of the succession. This was a subject most painful to the thoughts of Elizabeth; she started from it with horror, and she was practising every imaginable artifice to evade it.

The real cause of this repugnance has been passed over by our historians. Camden, however, hints at it, when he places among other popular rumours of the day, that “men cursed Huic, the queen’s physician, for dissuading her from marriage, for I know not what female infirmity.” The queen’s physician thus incurred the odium of the nation for the integrity of his conduct: he well knew how precious was her life![1]

This fact, once known, throws a new light over her conduct; the ambiguous expressions which she constantly employs, when she alludes to her marriage in her speeches, and in private conversations, are no longer mysterious. She was always declaring, that she knew her subjects did not love her so little, as to wish to bury her before her time; even in the letter I shall now give, we find this remarkable expression:–urging her to marriage, she said, was “asking nothing less than wishing her to dig her grave before she was dead.” Conscious of the danger of her life by marriage, she had early declared when she ascended the throne, that “she would live and die a maiden queen:” but she afterwards discovered the political evil resulting from her unfortunate situation. Her conduct was admirable; her great genius turned even her weakness into strength, and proved how well she deserved the character which she had already obtained from an enlightened enemy–the great Sixtus V., who observed of her, Ch’era un gran cervello di Principessa! She had a princely head-piece! Elizabeth allowed her ministers to pledge her royal word to the commons, as often as they found necessary, for her resolution to marry; she kept all Europe at her feet, with the hopes and fears of her choice; she gave ready encouragements, perhaps allowed her agents to promote even invitations, to the offers of marriage she received from crowned heads; and all the coquetries and cajolings, so often and so fully recorded, with which she freely honoured individuals, made her empire an empire of love, where love, however, could never appear. All these were merely political artifices, to conceal her secret resolution, which was, not to marry.

At the birth of James I. as Camden says, “the sharp and hot spirits broke out, accusing the queen that she was neglecting her country and posterity.” All “these humours,” observes Hume, “broke out with great vehemence, in a new session of parliament, held after six prorogations.” The peers united with the commoners. The queen had an empty exchequer, and was at their mercy. It was a moment of high ferment. Some of the boldest, and some of the most British spirits were at work; and they, with the malice or wisdom of opposition, combined the supply with the succession; one was not to be had without the other.

This was a moment of great hope and anxiety with the French court; they were flattering themselves that her reign was touching a crisis; and La Mothe Fenelon, then the French ambassador at the court of Elizabeth, appears to have been busied in collecting hourly information of the warm debates in the commons, and what passed in their interviews with the queen. We may rather be astonished where he procured so much secret intelligence: he sometimes complains that he is not able to acquire it as fast as Catherine de Medicis and her son Charles IX. wished. There must have been Englishmen at our court who were serving as French spies. In a private collection, which consists of two or three hundred original letters of Charles IX., Catherine de Medicis, Henry III., and Mary of Scotland, etc., I find two despatches of this French ambassador, entirely relating to the present occurrence. What renders them more curious is, that the debates on the question of the succession are imperfectly given in Sir Symonds D’Ewes’s journals; the only resource open to us. Sir Symonds complains of the negligence of the clerk of the commons, who indeed seems to have exerted his negligence, whenever it was found most agreeable to the court party.