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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

Elizabeth had commissioned Secretary Davison


appears here, as he usually does, an enthusiastic admirer of his Queen. But neither should we see hypocrisy in Elizabeth's scruples, which sprang much more from motives which touched her very nearly. She kept away from all company: she was heard to break her solitary meditation by uttering old proverbs that applied to the present case. More than once she spoke with the deputation of Parliament which pressed for a decision. What she mainly represented to them was, how hard it was for her, after she had pardoned so many rebellions, and passed over so much treason in silence, to let a princess be punished, who was her nearest blood-relation: men would accuse her, the Virgin Queen, of cruelty: she prayed them to supply her with another means, another expedient: nothing under the sun would be more welcome to her. The Parliament firmly insisted that there was no other expedient; it argued in detailed representations that the deliverance of the country depended on the execution of the sentence. The Queen's own security, the preservation of religion and of the state, made it absolutely necessary. Mary's life was the hope of all the discontented, whose plots were directed only to the object of enabling her to ascend the throne of England, to destroy the followers of the true religion, and expel the nobility of the land--that is the Protestant nobility. And must not satisfaction be given to the Association which was pledged to pursue a new attempt against the Queen's life even to death?
'Not to punish the enemy would be cruel to your faithful subjects: to spare her means ruin to us.'

Meanwhile they came upon the traces of a new attempt. In presence of the elder French ambassador, Aubespine, a partisan of the Guises, mention was made of the necessity of killing Elizabeth in order to save Mary at the last moment. One of his officers spoke with a person who was known in the palace, and who undertook to pile up a mass of gunpowder under Elizabeth's chamber sufficient to blow it into the air; he was led to hope for rewards from Guise and his brother Mayenne, whose interests would have been greatly promoted by such a deed.[263] But this time too Elizabeth was made acquainted with the design before it came to maturity. She ascribed her new danger to the silence, if not to the instigation, of the ambassador, the friend of the Guises: in its discovery she saw the hand of God. 'I nourish,' she exclaims, 'the viper that poisons me;--to save her they would have taken my life: am I to offer myself as a prey to every villain?'[264] At a moment when she was especially struck with the danger which threatened her from the very existence of her rival, after a conversation with the Lord Admiral, she had the long-prepared order for the execution brought to her, and signed it with quick and resolute strokes of the pen.

The observation of Parliament, that her safety and the peace of the country required her enemy's death, at last gained the upper hand with her as well. But this did not imply that her conflicting feelings were completely silenced. She was haunted in her dreams by the idea of the execution. She had once more recourse to the thought that some serviceable hand might spare her the last authorisation, by secretly executing the sentence of the judges--an act which seemed to be justified even by the words of the Association; the demand was made in due form to the Keeper of the prisoner, Sir Amyas Paulet; he rejected it--and how could anything else have been expected from the conscientious Puritan--with an expression of his astonishment and indignation. Elizabeth had commissioned Secretary Davison, when she signed the order, to have it sealed with the Great Seal. Her idea seems to have been that, when all the forms had been duly complied with, she might the more easily get a secret execution, or that at some critical moment it might be at once performed; but she still meant to keep the matter in her own hand: for the custom was, before the last step, to once more ask her approval. But Davison, who marked her hesitation, did not think it advisable at this moment. Through Hatton he acquainted Lord Burleigh with the matter, and Burleigh put the question to the other members of the Privy Council: they took it on themselves to despatch the order, signed and sealed as it now was, without further delay to Fotheringhay.[265]

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