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Charles Dickens
A CHild's History of England 31 Part 3
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ON its being formally made known to Elizabeth that the sentence
had been executed on the Queen of Scots, she showed the utmost
grief and rage, drove her favourites from her with violent indignation,
and sent Davison to the Tower; from which place he was only
released in the end by paying an immense fine which completely
ruined him. Elizabeth not only over-acted her part in making these
pretences, but most basely reduced to poverty one of her faithful
servants for no other fault than obeying her commands.

James, King of Scotland, Mary's son, made a show likewise of being
very angry on the occasion; but he was a pensioner of England to
the amount of five thousand pounds a year, and he had known very
little of his mother, and he possibly regarded her as the murderer
of his father, and he soon took it quietly.

Philip, King of Spain, however, threatened to do greater things
than ever had been done yet, to set up the Catholic religion and
punish Protestant England. Elizabeth, hearing that he and the
Prince of Parma were making great preparations for this purpose, in
order to be beforehand with them sent out ADMIRAL DRAKE (a famous
navigator, who had sailed about the world, and had already brought
great plunder from Spain) to the port of Cadiz, where he burnt a
hundred vessels full of stores. This great loss obliged the
Spaniards to put off the invasion for a year; but it was none the
less formidable for that, amounting to one hundred and thirty
ships, nineteen thousand soldiers, eight thousand sailors, two
thousand slaves, and between two and three thousand great guns.
England was not idle in making ready to resist this great force.
All the men between sixteen years old and sixty, were trained and
drilled; the national fleet of ships (in number only thirty-four at
first) was enlarged by public contributions and by private ships,
fitted out by noblemen; the city of London, of its own accord,
furnished double the number of ships and men that it was required
to provide; and, if ever the national spirit was up in England, it
was up all through the country to resist the Spaniards. Some of
the Queen's advisers were for seizing the principal English
Catholics, and putting them to death; but the Queen - who, to her
honour, used to say, that she would never believe any ill of her
subjects, which a parent would not believe of her own children -
rejected the advice, and only confined a few of those who were
the most suspected, in the fens in Lincolnshire. The great body of
Catholics deserved this confidence; for they behaved most loyally,
nobly, and bravely.

So, with all England firing up like one strong, angry man, and with
both sides of the Thames fortified, and with the soldiers under
arms, and with the sailors in their ships, the country waited for
the coming of the proud Spanish fleet, which was called THE
INVINCIBLE ARMADA. The Queen herself, riding in armour on a white
horse, and the Earl of Essex and the Earl of Leicester holding her
bridal rein, made a brave speech to the troops at Tilbury Fort
opposite Gravesend, which was received with such enthusiasm as is
seldom known. Then came the Spanish Armada into the English
Channel, sailing along in the form of a half moon, of such great
size that it was seven miles broad. But the English were quickly
upon it, and woe then to all the Spanish ships that dropped a
little out of the half moon, for the English took them instantly!
And it soon appeared that the great Armada was anything but
invincible, for on a summer night, bold Drake sent eight blazing
fire-ships right into the midst of it. In terrible consternation
the Spaniards tried to get out to sea, and so became dispersed; the
English pursued them at a great advantage; a storm came on, and
drove the Spaniards among rocks and shoals; and the swift end of
the Invincible fleet was, that it lost thirty great ships and ten
thousand men, and, defeated and disgraced, sailed home again.
Being afraid to go by the English Channel, it sailed all round
Scotland and Ireland; some of the ships getting cast away on the
latter coast in bad weather, the Irish, who were a kind of savages,
plundered those vessels and killed their crews. So ended this
great attempt to invade and conquer England. And I think it will
be a long time before any other invincible fleet coming to England
with the same object, will fare much better than the Spanish

Though the Spanish king had had this bitter taste of English
bravery, he was so little the wiser for it, as still to entertain
his old designs, and even to conceive the absurd idea of placing
his daughter on the English throne. But the Earl of Essex, SIR
WALTER RALEIGH, SIR THOMAS HOWARD, and some other distinguished
leaders, put to sea from Plymouth, entered the port of Cadiz once
more, obtained a complete victory over the shipping assembled
there, and got possession of the town. In obedience to the Queen's
express instructions, they behaved with great humanity; and the
principal loss of the Spaniards was a vast sum of money which they
had to pay for ransom. This was one of many gallant achievements
on the sea, effected in this reign. Sir Walter Raleigh himself,
after marrying a maid of honour and giving offence to the Maiden
Queen thereby, had already sailed to South America in search of

The Earl of Leicester was now dead, and so was Sir Thomas
Walsingham, whom Lord Burleigh was soon to follow. The principal
favourite was the EARL OF ESSEX, a spirited and handsome man, a
favourite with the people too as well as with the Queen, and
possessed of many admirable qualities. It was much debated at
Court whether there should be peace with Spain or no, and he was
very urgent for war. He also tried hard to have his own way in the
appointment of a deputy to govern in Ireland. One day, while this
question was in dispute, he hastily took offence, and turned his
back upon the Queen; as a gentle reminder of which impropriety, the
Queen gave him a tremendous box on the ear, and told him to go to
the devil. He went home instead, and did not reappear at Court for
half a year or so, when he and the Queen were reconciled, though
never (as some suppose) thoroughly.

From this time the fate of the Earl of Essex and that of the Queen
seemed to be blended together. The Irish were still perpetually
quarrelling and fighting among themselves, and he went over to
Ireland as Lord Lieutenant, to the great joy of his enemies (Sir
Walter Raleigh among the rest), who were glad to have so dangerous
a rival far off. Not being by any means successful there, and
knowing that his enemies would take advantage of that circumstance
to injure him with the Queen, he came home again, though against
her orders. The Queen being taken by surprise when he appeared
before her, gave him her hand to kiss, and he was overjoyed -
though it was not a very lovely hand by this time - but in the
course of the same day she ordered him to confine himself to his
room, and two or three days afterwards had him taken into custody.
With the same sort of caprice - and as capricious an old woman she
now was, as ever wore a crown or a head either - she sent him
broth from her own table on his falling ill from anxiety, and cried
about him.

He was a man who could find comfort and occupation in his books,
and he did so for a time; not the least happy time, I dare say, of
his life. But it happened unfortunately for him, that he held a
monopoly in sweet wines: which means that nobody could sell them
without purchasing his permission. This right, which was only for
a term, expiring, he applied to have it renewed. The Queen
refused, with the rather strong observation - but she DID make
strong observations - that an unruly beast must be stinted in his
food. Upon this, the angry Earl, who had been already deprived of
many offices, thought himself in danger of complete ruin, and
turned against the Queen, whom he called a vain old woman who
had grown as crooked in her mind as she had in her figure. These
uncomplimentary expressions the ladies of the Court immediately
snapped up and carried to the Queen, whom they did not put in a
better tempter, you may believe. The same Court ladies, when they
had beautiful dark hair of their own, used to wear false red hair,
to be like the Queen. So they were not very high-spirited ladies,
however high in rank.

The worst object of the Earl of Essex, and some friends of his who
used to meet at LORD SOUTHAMPTON'S house, was to obtain
possession of the Queen, and oblige her by force to dismiss her
ministers and change her favourites. On Saturday the seventh
of February, one thousand six hundred and one, the council suspecting
this, summoned the Earl to come before them. He, pretending to be ill,
declined; it was then settled among his friends, that as the next day
would be Sunday, when many of the citizens usually assembled
at the Cross by St. Paul's Cathedral, he should make one bold
effort to induce them to rise and follow him to the Palace.

So, on the Sunday morning, he and a small body of adherents started
out of his house - Essex House by the Strand, with steps to the
river - having first shut up in it, as prisoners, some members of
the council who came to examine him - and hurried into the City
with the Earl at their head crying out 'For the Queen! For the
Queen! A plot is laid for my life!' No one heeded them, however,
and when they came to St. Paul's there were no citizens there. In
the meantime the prisoners at Essex House had been released by
one of the Earl's own friends; he had been promptly proclaimed a
traitor in the City itself; and the streets were barricaded with
carts and guarded by soldiers. The Earl got back to his house by
water, with difficulty, and after an attempt to defend his house
against the troops and cannon by which it was soon surrounded,
gave himself up that night. He was brought to trial on the nineteenth,
and found guilty; on the twenty-fifth, he was executed on Tower
Hill, where he died, at thirty-four years old, both courageously
and penitently. His step-father suffered with him. His enemy, Sir
Walter Raleigh, stood near the scaffold all the time - but not so
near it as we shall see him stand, before we finish his history.

In this case, as in the cases of the Duke of Norfolk and Mary Queen
of Scots, the Queen had commanded, and countermanded, and again
commanded, the execution. It is probable that the death of her
young and gallant favourite in the prime of his good qualities, was
never off her mind afterwards, but she held out, the same vain,
obstinate and capricious woman, for another year. Then she danced
before her Court on a state occasion - and cut, I should think, a
mighty ridiculous figure, doing so in an immense ruff, stomacher
and wig, at seventy years old. For another year still, she held
out, but, without any more dancing, and as a moody, sorrowful,
broken creature. At last, on the tenth of March, one thousand six
hundred and three, having been ill of a very bad cold, and made
worse by the death of the Countess of Nottingham who was her
intimate friend, she fell into a stupor and was supposed to be
dead. She recovered her consciousness, however, and then nothing
would induce her to go to bed; for she said that she knew that if
she did, she should never get up again. There she lay for ten
days, on cushions on the floor, without any food, until the Lord
Admiral got her into bed at last, partly by persuasions and partly
by main force. When they asked her who should succeed her, she
replied that her seat had been the seat of Kings, and that she
would have for her successor, 'No rascal's son, but a King's.'
Upon this, the lords present stared at one another, and took the
liberty of asking whom she meant; to which she replied, 'Whom
should I mean, but our cousin of Scotland!' This was on the
twenty-third of March. They asked her once again that day, after
she was speechless, whether she was still in the same mind? She
struggled up in bed, and joined her hands over her head in the
form of a crown, as the only reply she could make. At three o'clock
next morning, she very quietly died, in the forty-fifth year of her

That reign had been a glorious one, and is made for ever memorable
by the distinguished men who flourished in it. Apart from the
great voyagers, statesmen, and scholars, whom it produced, the
names of BACON, SPENSER, and SHAKESPEARE, will always be
remembered with pride and veneration by the civilised world, and
will always impart (though with no great reason, perhaps) some
portion of their lustre to the name of Elizabeth herself. It was
a great reign for discovery, for commerce, and for English enterprise
and spirit in general. It was a great reign for the Protestant religion
and for the Reformation which made England free. The Queen
was very popular, and in her progresses, or journeys about her
dominions, was everywhere received with the liveliest joy. I think
the truth is, that she was not half so good as she has been made
out, and not half so bad as she has been made out. She had her
fine qualities, but she was coarse, capricious, and treacherous,
and had all the faults of an excessively vain young woman long
after she was an old one. On the whole, she had a great deal too
much of her father in her, to please me.

Many improvements and luxuries were introduced in the course of
these five-and-forty years in the general manner of living; but
cock-fighting, bull-baiting, and bear-baiting, were still the
national amusements; and a coach was so rarely seen, and was
such an ugly and cumbersome affair when it was seen, that
even the Queen herself, on many high occasions, rode on horseback
on a pillion behind the Lord Chancellor.


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