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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

That the remembrance of Essex weighed on the Queen's soul


At

that time the affairs of Ireland were once more occupying the Queen. The Spaniards had been compelled by Lord Mountjoy to leave the island; he had beaten them together with the Irish in a decisive action: but, despite his victory, many further conflicts took place, and the rebellion was not suppressed; Tyrone still maintained himself in the hills and woods of Ulster; and, as a return of the Spaniards was feared, Mountjoy too was at last disposed to come to an agreement with him. The Queen was in her inmost soul against this, for only fresh rebellions would be occasioned by it; she required an absolute surrender at discretion: if she once allowed the rebels to have their lives secured to them, she soon after retracted the concession. She even spoke of wishing to go to Ireland, in person; the impression produced by her presence would put an end to all revolt.

But at this moment a sudden alteration was remarked in her: she no longer appeared at the festivities before Lent, which went off in an insignificant style. At first her seclusion was explained by the death of one of her ladies whom she loved, the Countess of Nottingham: but soon it could not be concealed that the Queen herself was seized with a dangerous illness: sleep and appetite began to fail her: she showed a deep melancholy. 'No,' she replied to one of the kinsmen of her mother's house, Robert Cary, who at that moment had come back to court and addressed friendly words to her about her

health, 'No Robin, well I am not, my heart has been for some time oppressed and heavy;' she broke off with painful groans and sighing, hitherto unwonted in her, now no longer suppressed. It was manifest that mental distress accompanied the bodily decay.[291]

Who has not heard of the ring which Elizabeth is said to have once given to the Earl of Essex with the promise that, if it were presented to her, she would show him mercy, whatever might have occurred: he had, so the tale runs, in his last distresses wished to send it her through the Countess of Nottingham: but she was prevented from giving it by her husband who was an enemy of Essex, and so he had to die without mercy: the Queen, to whom the Countess revealed this on her death bed, fell into despair over it. The ring is still shown, and indeed several rings are shown as the true one: as also the tradition itself is extant in two somewhat varying forms; attempts have been made to get rid of the improbabilities of the first by fresh fictions in the second.[292] They are both so late, and rest so completely on hearsay, that they can no longer stand before historical criticism.

Nevertheless we cannot deny, as the reports in fact testify in several places, that the remembrance of Essex weighed on the Queen's soul. It must certainly have reminded her of him, that she was now brought back exactly to the course he had insisted on, namely a friendly agreement with the invincible Irish chief. She had allowed less imperious, more compliant, declarations to reach Ireland. But was the man a traitor, who had recommended a policy to which they had been forced to have recourse after such repeated efforts? Had he deserved his fate at her hands?[293] It was remarked that the anniversary of the day on which Essex two years before had suffered on the scaffold, Ash Wednesday, thrilled through her with heart-rending pain; the world seemed to her desolate, since he was no longer there; she imputed his guilt to the ambition, against which she had warned him, and which had misled him into steps, from the consequences of which she could not protect him. But had she not herself uttered the decisive word? She burst into self-accusing tears. Her distress may have been increased by finding that her statesmen no longer showed her the old devotion, the earlier absolute obedience. When they, as we know, had framed a formal theory for themselves, that they might act against an express command of the Queen, on the assumption of her general intention being directed to the public good, could the sharp-sighted, suspicious, sovereign fail to perceive it? Could she fail to remark the agitation as to her successor, which occupied all men's minds, while the reins were slipping from her hands? The people, on whose devotion she had from the first moment laid so much stress, and partly based her government, seemed after Essex' death to have become cold towards her.


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