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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

Between the young King of France and an Infanta of Spain


The

times had gone by when the Spaniards had taken arms as if for the conquest of the world; but their pretensions remained the same. It was still their intention, in virtue of the privileges assigned them by the Pope, to exclude all others from the colonisation of America and from commerce with the East Indies. They laid claim to Northern Africa because it had been tributary to the crown of Aragon, to Athens and Neopatras because they had belonged to the Catalans, to Jerusalem because it had belonged to the King of Naples, and even to Constantinople because it had passed by will to Ferdinand II of Aragon from the last of the Palaeologi. On the strength of the claims made by the old dukes of Milan they deemed themselves to have a right to the towns of the Venetian mainland, and to Liguria. Philip III was in their eyes the true heir of the Maximilian branch of the German house of Austria: according to their view the succession in Bohemia and Hungary fell to him. The progress of the Catholic revival afforded them an opportunity of exercising a profound influence on the German empire, while the same cause extended their influence over Poland; they obtained through their commercial relations even the friendship of Protestant princes and towns in the North. Their intention was now to associate the two antagonistic powers of the West with their policy by means of alliances with the reigning families. The first considerable step in this direction was made after the death of Henry IV, when
they succeeded in concerting with his widow a double marriage, between the young King of France and an Infanta of Spain, and between the future King of Spain and a French princess. It was thought certain beforehand that they would get the conduct of French policy into their hands during the minority of Louis XIII. But they were already seeking to draw the house of Stuart also into this alliance in spite of the difference of religion. In August 1611 the Spanish ambassador, whose overtures had hitherto been fruitless, came forward to announce that an alliance between the Prince of Wales and a Spanish infanta would meet with no obstacle on the part of Spain, if it should be desired on the part of England. It was thought that the Queen, who found a satisfaction of her ambition in this brilliant alliance, and the old Spanish and Catholic party, who were still very numerous in the highest ranks and among the people, might employ their whole influence in its favour.

But there was still at the head of affairs a man who was resolved to oppose this design, Robert Cecil, to whom it is generally owing that the tendencies of Elizabeth's policy lasted on so long into the time of the Stuarts as they did. I do not know whether the two Cecils can be reckoned among the great men of England: they would almost seem to have lacked that independent attitude and that soaring and brilliant genius which would be requisite for such an eminence; but without doubt few have had so much influence on its history. Robert Cecil inherited the employments, the experiences, and the personal connexions of his father William. He knew how to rid himself of all rivals that rose to the surface[347] by counteracting their proceedings in secret or openly, justifiably or not: enmity and friendship he reciprocated with equal warmth. He made no change in the method of transacting business which was conducted by the whole Privy Council; but his natural superiority and the importance that he gradually acquired always brought the decision into accordance with his views. The King himself gave intimations that he did not look upon his predominance as altogether proper. In one of his letters he jests over the supremacy calmly exercised by his minister at the centre of affairs, while he, the King, so soon as his minister summoned him, must hasten in, and yet at last could do nothing but accept the resolutions which he put into his hands. A small deformed man, to whom James, as was his wont, gave a jesting nickname on this account, he yet impressed men by the intelligence which flashed from his countenance and from every word he spoke; and even his outward bearing had a certain dignity. His independence was increased by his enormous wealth, acquired mainly by investments in the Dutch funds, which at that time returned an extraordinarily high interest. Surrounded by many who accepted presents, he showed himself inaccessible to such seductions and incorruptible. At this time he was the oracle of England.[348]


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