This was doubtless considered at the time

Whilst the tedious negotiations with Parma were dragging on, no slackness
was visible in the preparations for resisting the attack on England.
Drake was sent to the mouth of the Channel with a fine squadron of ships,
whilst the Lord Admiral’s fleet was being put in readiness in the Thames
with all haste; and Ralegh in Devonshire, Hunsdon in the north, and Lord
Grey and Sir John Norris in the home counties, were busily organising
the land forces. As usual, upon Lord Burghley rested much of the labour
and responsibility, and to him matters great and small were referred for
decision.[550] The English preparations met with many difficulties. The
Queen was fractious and fickle, one day hectoring and threatening, and
the next cursing Walsingham and his gang, who had drawn her into this
strait, and were for ever pestering her for money, which she doled out as
sparingly as possible. There was, moreover, no great alacrity shown at
first by the people at large in providing special funds to meet the great
national emergency, and the trading classes were grumbling at Leicester
and the greedy gentlemen whose piracy was largely responsible for the
coming war.

The sending of Peace Commissioners to Parma was, as usual, the subject
of division in the Council, Burghley naturally advocating the pacific
policy, and Leicester, Walsingham, and Paulet violently opposing the
negotiations except on impossible terms. The Queen wavered constantly,
but was more frequently on the side of peace. Soon after Leicester
returned from Holland (January 1588) he opposed in the Council the
sending of Commissioners. A comedy was played the same night before the
Queen and court, and as the company rose, Elizabeth turned upon Leicester
in a great rage and told him she _must_ make peace with Spain at any
cost. “If my ships are lost,” she said, “nothing can save me.” Leicester
tried to tranquillise her by talking about Drake; but she replied that
all he did was to irritate the enemy to her detriment.[551]

The instructions to the Peace Commissioners, as drafted by Burghley,[552]
seem to be an honest attempt to come to terms. England was to pledge
herself not to send aid of any sort, to the prejudice of Philip, to
any of the dominions he had inherited (thus excluding Portugal), and
Philip was asked, at least, to bind himself to prevent the molestation
by the Inquisition of English mariners on board their ships in Spanish
ports. But side by side with this there is reason to believe that Lord
Burghley, probably through Crofts, endeavoured to gain the Duke of Parma
personally to the side of peace.[553] He had been badly treated by Philip
in the matter of Portugal, and was still in the dark as to the King’s
real intentions. He was liable to dismissal at any moment; he was short
of money, and chafing at the inexplicable delay of the Armada. It was
suggested that a condition of the peace might be to give him fixity of
tenure of his government of Flanders for life. How far these approaches
may have influenced him it is at present difficult to say, but he
certainly appealed to Philip earnestly and solemnly to allow him to make
peace,[554] and when the Armada finally appeared in the Channel he did
nothing to falsify his own prediction of the disaster which awaited it.

The English Commissioners[555] embarked for Ostend (a town in
English-Dutch occupation) in March, but one of them, Crofts, a Spanish
agent, made no hesitation of landing in Philip’s town of Dunkirk and
proceeding overland to Ostend. After infinite bickering as to the place
of meeting, the preliminary conferences were held in a tent between
Ostend and Nieuport; but on questions of procedure and powers the
negotiations were delayed until the Armada had sailed from Lisbon, and
Philip’s pretence could be kept up no longer, when the Commissioners
hurriedly returned. Crofts’ desire to serve his Spanish paymasters,
and to obtain peace at any price, caused him to go beyond his public
instructions in making concessions, and at the instance of Leicester he
was cast into the Tower on his return; but the rest of the Commissioners
acknowledged that they had been tricked, and that Philip had never
intended peace. Many persons had thought so from the first, though the
delay had been advantageous for England. The Lord Admiral, writing to
Walsingham before the Commissioners left England, says: “There never
was since England was England such a stratagem and mask made to deceive
England, withal, as this is of the treaty of peace. I pray God we have
not cause to remember one thing that was made of the Scots by the
Englishmen; that we do not curse for this a long grey beard with a white
head, witless, that will make all the world think us heartless. You know
whom I mean.”[556]

Though Burghley had struggled for thirty years to maintain peace with
Spain, when war was inevitable he took far more than his share of the
labour of organising it. As usual, he worked early and late, sometimes
almost in despair at the Queen’s penuriousness and irritability, and
himself suffering incessantly. Whilst he was still striving for peace
(10th April) he thus writes to Walsingham: “I cannot express my pain,
newly increased in all my left arm. My spirits are even now so extenuated
as I have no mind towards anything but to groan with my pain.… Surely,
sir, as God will be best pleased with peace, so in nothing can her
Majesty content her realm better than in procuring it.… So forced
with pain, even from my arm to my heart, I end.”[557] In the midst of
the preparations, when Howard, Winter, Drake, and Hawkins were daily
writing reports or requests to the over-burdened Lord Treasurer, his
favourite but unfortunate daughter, Lady Oxford, died. In his diary he
simply records the fact in the words, “Anna Comitissa Oxoniæ, filia mia
charissima, obiit in Do. Greenwici et 25, Sepult. Westminster;”[558] but
the bereaved father was in a few days hard at work again, though still
confined to his bed.[559]

At length, on the 30th July (N.S.), the long looked for Armada appeared
in the Channel. The story of how the sceptre of the sea passed to England
during the next week has often been told elsewhere, and need not be
here repeated; but Burghley’s share of the glory at least must not go
unrecorded. We have seen how the details of organisation were largely
left in his hands; but, in addition to this, like other great nobles,
he raised a special force, clothed in his colours, and maintained at
his expense,[560] and visited the army encamped at Tilbury, “where,”
says Leicester, “I made a fair show for my Lord Treasurer, who came
from London to see us.” It is usually asserted also that his two sons,
Sir Thomas and Sir Robert, joined the English fleet, like so many other
gentlemen of rank; and although this may be true, for certainly Sir
Robert was at Dover,[561] and might perhaps have gone on board one of the
ships, it is questionable, and their names do not appear in any of the
records as being present.

It was hardly to be supposed that the Spaniards would so readily submit
to defeat as not to renew the attack, for Englishmen had not yet gauged
the paralysing effect of Philip’s system upon his subjects, and, like the
rest of the world, took Spain largely on trust; but Burghley was right in
his forecast that the Armada itself was so broken and weak that it would
run round Ireland and return no more. When the heroics in England were
over and matters were settling down, there was still no cessation in the
work of the Lord Treasurer. There were intricate victualling accounts to
be laboriously calculated in perplexing Roman numerals;[562] there were
wages to be paid; captains and admirals to be brought to book for every
item of their expenditure, for the Queen would have no slackness in that
respect, even though the country and herself had been rescued from a
great peril; there were prisoners to interrogate, and plans to be made
for future defence, and, as usual, Puritans and prelates to be appeased
and reconciled. The lion’s share of all this fell to the gouty, crippled
old man with the bright eyes, the grave face, and the snowy hair—to Lord
Treasurer Burghley.

Shortly after the disappearance of the Armada, Leicester died (4th
September), on his way to Kenilworth, and Burghley lost the political
rival who had continued to thwart him for nearly thirty years. Nothing
proves more clearly Burghley’s consummate prudence and tact than the
fact that, to the very last, his relations with the Earl were always
outwardly polite, and even friendly.[563] That this was not owing to the
forbearance of Leicester is seen by his violent quarrels with Sussex,
Arundel, Ormonde, Heneage, Ralegh, and others who crossed his path.

The death of Leicester, together with that of Sir Walter Mildmay, which
happened shortly afterwards, changed the balance of Elizabeth’s Council.
The old ministers were dropping off one by one and giving place to
younger men, who could not expect to exercise over the experienced and
mature ruler the same influence as that of her earlier advisers. In
order to strengthen his party Lord Burghley had patronised Ralegh; but
Leicester had retorted by bringing forward his young stepson Essex, whom
his dying father had left as a solemn charge to Burghley. Essex was a
mere lad of twenty-two when Leicester died, and as yet too young to head
a party against the aged minister; but he had absorbed all the traditions
of the dead favourite, and henceforward thwarted the Cecils to the best
of his power with all the persistence of Leicester, but with a haughty
incautiousness which belonged to himself alone, and ultimately led him to
his tragic death.

Notwithstanding the crushing blow that Spanish power had received,
English public feeling continued apprehensive and nervous. Spies abroad
still sent alarmist reports of Philip’s future plans, and few Englishmen
had yet realised how completely their foe was disabled. When Parliament
met, therefore, in February (1589), the largest subsidies ever voted were
granted for the defence of the country, and the Houses petitioned her
Majesty “to denounce open war against the King of Spain.”

There were, however, other ways of crippling the foe more acceptable both
to the Queen and her principal minister. Since 1581 Elizabeth had been
playing fast and loose with Don Antonio, the claimant to the crown of
Portugal. Leicester and Walsingham had more than once encouraged him to
spend large sums of money in England—raised on the sale or security of
his jewels—in fitting out naval expeditions in his favour, but nothing
effectual had been done for his cause. Catharine de Medici, on the other
hand, had countenanced the despatch of two fine expeditions from France
to the Azores, both of which had been disastrously defeated; and in
the Armada year Antonio again came to England to seek for aid against
the common enemy. He was sanguine, and ready to promise anything for
immediate aid. Just before the Armada arrived, the plan of diverting
Philip’s forces by an attack on Portugal had been broached by the Lord
Admiral in a letter to Walsingham, but the Queen would not then hear of
any of her ships being sent away.

In September, however, circumstances had changed. It was useless to
ask the Queen to accept the whole expense and responsibility of an
expedition; but in September 1588, Antonio saw Lord Burghley, who wrote
down the plans and offers he made. If, said the pretender, he could once
land in Portugal with a sufficient force, all the country would rise in
his favour; and his suggestion, supported by Sir John Norris and Sir
Francis Drake, was to form a joint-stock undertaking with the countenance
and help of the Queen and the Dutch, for the purpose of invading and
capturing Portugal in his interest. In exchange he promised to pay the
soldiers, and handsomely; to allow them to loot Spanish property in
Lisbon; and, above all, to burn Philip’s ships in Lisbon and Seville, and
recoup the adventurers their expenditure with a large bonus.[564] If war
were to be made at all, this was a method of making it likely to find
favour in the eyes of the Queen and Burghley; and in February 1589[565] a
warrant was issued authorising the expedition, and appointing rules for
its government. Drake was to command at sea, and Norris by land, and the
objects are carefully set forth in Burghley’s words: “first, to distress
the King of Spain’s ships; second, to obtain possession of the Azores in
order to intercept the treasure ships; and third, to assist Don Antonio
to recover the kingdom of Portugal if it shall be found that the public
voice be favourable to him.”

The Queen contributed £20,000 and seven ships of the navy, and strict
conditions were made that her money should not be wasted. But the
affair was mismanaged from the first. Most of the men who went were
idle vagabonds, the scum of the towns and the sweepings of the jails.
The Dutch contingent fell away, the promises of support in England were
not kept, money ran short, and the victuals went bad. The Queen lost
her temper and began to frown upon the expedition when Drake’s constant
demands for further help became too pressing; but finally, after weeks
of galling delay, through bad weather and other causes, the expedition
put to sea (13th April), nearly 200 sail of all sorts, with 20,000
men. Shortly before it left, the Earl of Essex, with his brother and
other gentlemen, had fled to Plymouth in disguise, shipped on board the
_Swiftsure_ and put to sea.[566] The Queen had specially refused him
permission to accompany the expedition; and when she found that her
favourite had disobeyed her, her fury knew no bounds.

From that hour the expedition and commanders got nothing but ill words
from her. Not content simply to burn the few ships in Coruña, the
commanders lost a precious fortnight, in direct violation to orders, in
besieging the place and burning the lower town. Wine was found in plenty,
and excess incapacitated the greater part of the Englishmen; pestilence
and desertion worked havoc in their ranks, and subsequently, as a
crowning disaster, Norris, persuaded by Antonio against Drake’s advice,
marched overland from Peniche to Lisbon, instead of forcing the Tagus.

But Antonio had been deceived. None but a few country people joined him;
the Portuguese in Lisbon were utterly cowed by the firmness and severity
of the Archduke Albert and his few Spaniards, and Norris had no siege
artillery. After a few days of useless heroism, in which young Essex
showed himself the brave, rash, generous lad he was, the attempt was
abandoned; and harassed by enemies in flank and rear, beset by famine,
sickness, and panic, Norris, and what was left of his army, beat a
retreat to Cascaes, where Drake and the ships awaited them. The Azores
were never approached, and the ships in Lisbon and Seville were not
burned, and the inglorious expedition slunk back again to England with a
loss of two-thirds of its number of men.

Although Burghley had drawn up the conditions of the Queen’s aid to
the expedition, he took no active part in its subsequent organisation,
for a great sorrow was impending, which fell upon him ten days before
the expedition sailed. He had lived in harmony and affection with
his wife for forty-three years, and her death on the 4th April cast
him for a time into the deepest sorrow.[567] But even in the midst of
his grief, his passion for placing everything on record led him to
write a most interesting series of meditations on his loss, which is
still extant.[568] Commencing by a reflection on the fruitlessness of
wishing his “dear wife alive again in her mortal body,” he proceeds at
great length to lay down the direction his thoughts should take for
consolation, such as gratitude to God for “His favour in permitting her
to have lived so many years together with me, and to have given her grace
to have the true knowledge of her salvation.” But most of the curious
document is occupied by a statement of the liberal anonymous charities
of Lady Burghley, which during her life she had kept inviolably secret,
even from her husband; and as some indication of the reality of Lord
Burghley’s grief, it may be mentioned that he signs the paper “April 9,
1588.[569] Written at Colling’s Lodge by me in sorrow.”

Through the whole course of his life we have seen William Cecil pursuing
the traditional policy of suspicion of France and Scotland, and a desire
to draw closer to the rulers of the Netherlands. But in his old age a
series of circumstances which were impossible to have been foreseen,
entirely revolutionised the political balance of Europe, and for a time
led even Lord Burghley to reverse his main policy. The heavy yoke of the
Guises, doubly heavy now that they had the power of Spain behind them,
had at last galled to desperation the vicious Valois who ruled France.
The long-foretold and carefully-planned blow which had murdered the Duke
of Guise and his brother, and rid Henry of his hard taskmaster, had been
followed by a combination of all French Catholicism against the royal
murderer. The subjects were declared to be absolved from their allegiance
to the King, Paris flew to arms, the Church thundered denunciations,
and the erstwhile royal bigot and monk, the figurehead of the Catholic
League, the sleepless persecutor of Protestants, found himself driven
into the arms of the only subjects he had who were not ready to tear him
to pieces, namely, the Huguenots and excommunicated Henry of Navarre,
the legitimate heir to the throne. Together they advanced upon Paris to
crush the Guisan Catholics, and wreak vengeance upon the citizens who had
deposed their sovereign. Henry of Navarre had often sought and obtained
Elizabeth’s help against the Catholics, and looked to her again in this
supreme struggle which was to decide, as it seemed, the fate of France.
For the first time, however, on this occasion English aid took the form
of supporting the sovereign against rebels, instead of the reverse.

In Scotland also the Catholic nobles had been busy intriguing for the
landing of a Spanish force, which should coerce or depose James, and
finally crush Protestantism there.[570] The plan had been discovered,
and Elizabeth, who had again made sure of James, had urged him to
severity, and offered him support if necessary against his Catholic
nobles. So that in Scotland, as in France, it was Catholicism that
represented rebellion, and Protestantism in both countries looked to
England to uphold legality. That the position struck Lord Burghley as
curious is seen in a letter from him to Lord Shrewsbury[571] (16th June).
“The world,” he says, “is become very strange! We Englishmen now daily
desire the prosperity of a King of France and a King of Scots. We were
wont to aid the subjects oppressed against both these Kings; now we are
moved to aid both these Kings against their rebellious subjects; and
though these are contrary effects, yet on our part they proceed from
one cause, for that we do is to weaken our enemies.” In another letter
he says, “Seeing both Kings are enemies to our enemies we have cause to
join with them.” In fact, once more for a time religious union had become
stronger than national divisions. It was the Protestantism of England,
France, Scotland, and Holland, led by Elizabeth, against militant
Catholicism everywhere, championed by the Spanish King.

Six weeks after the above letter was written the changed position towards
France was further accentuated by the murder of Henry III. at the hands
of a fanatic monk in the interests of the Catholics. With the Huguenot
Henry of Navarre as King of France, and with Spain as the power behind
the League, England and France were pledged to the same cause. The main
sources of distrust in England against France always had been the fear
that the latter power might dominate Flanders or gain a footing in
Scotland. James’s adhesion to the Protestant party, his alliance with
England, and his growing hopes of the English succession, had made
the latter contingency one which might now be disregarded, whilst the
possession of strong places in the Netherlands in English hands, the
religion of the new King of France, and his need to depend upon England
for support, rendered it in the highest degree improbable that he would
dream of conquering and holding Spanish Flanders against the wish of

For the last three years Elizabeth had continued to supply Henry of
Navarre with large sums of money to pay mercenaries; but if Henry was to
reign over France he must now fight the League and Spain; and to enable
him to do this, England would have to subscribe more handsomely than
ever. Henry accordingly sent Beauvoir la Nocle to London to push his
master’s cause. Great quantities of ammunition were shipped to the coast
of Normandy, whither Henry had retired with his army; but men were wanted
too, and on the 17th August Beauvoir dined with the Lord Treasurer at
Cecil House, and concluded an arrangement by which Elizabeth was to lend
300,000 crowns to pay for German reiters in the spring, and to make a
cash advance to Henry of 70,000 crowns.

By a letter from Beauvoir in the following year (16th June 1590) it is
clear that Burghley’s old distrust of the French had not been overcome
without difficulty. “At last,” he says, “I have conquered the Lord
Treasurer! Now it must be borne in mind that if the Queen says ‘Do this,’
and Burghley says ‘Do it not,’ it is he who will be obeyed. Still I find
him easier and more tractable than he was; these are humours that come
and go, like the wind blows. Nevertheless he does well, though he is not
one of those who act up to the proverb ‘Quis cito dat, bis dat.’” In the
same despatch Beauvoir fervently urges the King to keep his promise with
regard to the payment for the ammunition, &c., supplied to him. He says
that the failure to meet such engagements is called in England “to play
the Vidame.”[572] “For God’s sake,” he continues, “make provision for
payment, or abandon all hope of getting anything else here except on good

Henry’s first attack on Paris failed, and he was forced to retire
(November 1589); but he sent the gallant old hero La Noue to Picardy
to withstand the League there. When young Essex heard of his proximity
he was anxious to join him.[574] From the first he had been trying to
persuade the Queen to send national forces under his command to aid the
Huguenots, but cautious Burghley was always at hand to hint at expense
and responsibility, and the auxiliary English troops under Willoughby,
now in Henry’s service, were complaining bitterly of the hardships and
penury they were undergoing. A great fleet also was being fitted out in
Spain, the destination of which was kept secret, but rumours ran that it
was coming to England, or what was almost as bad, to capture a French
port in the Channel as a naval base from which the invasion of England
could be effected. Brittany was held by the Duke de Mercœur for the
League by Spanish aid, and already (January) overtures had been made by
him to Philip to occupy a port on the coast.

But whether England was to be attacked direct or a Brittany port first
taken possession of, it behoved Elizabeth to stand on her guard, and on
the 15th March a great plan for the muster and mobilisation of troops all
over England was issued by the Lord Treasurer.[575] On the day before
the order was made in England the Huguenot King had gained the great
battle of Ivry, crushing Mayenne’s army and rapidly beleaguering Paris
again. For the moment, therefore, Henry was able to hold his own, and
the apprehension of the English Government was mainly directed towards
Brittany, where a Spanish force of 4000 men were supporting the Duke de
Mercœur; and the claim of Philip’s daughter to the duchy, if not to the
crown of France, was being advanced.

Burghley’s age was now telling upon him greatly. He had become very deaf,
and almost constant gout kept him crippled; but still he remained, as
ever, the resource of every one with an appeal to make, a question to
be decided, or an end to be served.[576] The recent death of Walsingham
(April 1590) left him the only one of the Queen’s early Councillors,
except Crofts, who died soon afterwards, and Sir Francis Knollys, whose
fanatical Puritanism and anti-Prelatism still gave much trouble to the
Treasurer. The latter had evidently marked out his brilliant younger
son Robert Cecil for Walsingham’s successor; and certainly no better
choice could have been made, for he had for some time past relieved
his father of some of his most laborious work, and had imbibed much of
his policy and method. The mere hint of such an intention, however,
was sufficient to arouse the opposition of Essex, who, either out of
generosity or in a mere spirit of contradiction of “the Cecils,” took up
the cause of Davison, and endeavoured to bring him back to office.[577]
The Lord Treasurer was powerful enough to prevent that; but did not
push the matter to extremes by obtaining the appointment of his own son
until some years afterwards, although Robert Cecil was knighted (May
1591) and was sworn a Member of the Privy Council shortly afterwards
(August 1591), and thereafter practically discharged much of the duty of
Secretary of State.[578] Burghley has frequently been blamed for a want
of generosity towards Davison at this juncture. He was, as we have had
occasion to notice more than once, not a generous man; but this was a
crucial trial of strength between him and young Essex, and if Davison
had been reappointed Secretary of State the influence of Burghley would
have suffered irreparably. It was obvious now that Essex was determined,
if possible, to force Elizabeth into an aggressive policy, especially
against Spain, and it was exactly this policy which Burghley still
devoted his life to opposing. But it is clear that the Treasurer did not
gain his point with regard to Davison without some little trouble. Whilst
the matter was in dispute he pleaded his age and infirmities as a reason
for his complete retirement from office;[579] and such a hint always
brought the Queen to her bearings.

He, however, absented himself from court and stayed in dudgeon at
Theobalds, where the Queen, to pacify him, paid him a stately visit in
May, and the notes at Hatfield in the Lord Treasurer’s writing show that
on this occasion, as usual, the smallest details of the Queen’s reception
were arranged by him. Whilst there the Queen appears to have written the
extraordinary jocose letter to “The disconsolate and retired spryte,
the hermite of Tyboll,” in which, with tedious and affected jocularity,
Hatton, in her name, exhorts him to return to the world and his duty. He
must have done so promptly, for he was with the court at Greenwich again
as busy as ever in a fortnight, writing to Mr. Grimstone, the agent in
France, a letter (June), which shows that already the old distrust of
French methods was reasserting itself. “In truth, her Majesty findeth
some lack that the King doth not advertise her more frequently of his
actions and intentions; and especially she findeth it strange that there
is no more care had for the state of Brittany, in that the King sendeth
no greater forces thither to encounter the Spaniards’ new descents, or to
recover such port towns as be of most moment. And her Majesty is truly
comforted with certain successes that have happened in Brittany since
the arrival (there) of Sir John Norreys.”[580] The letter ends with an
emphatic reminder of Henry’s obligations to Elizabeth, and a somewhat
doubting hope that he will be properly grateful.

Henry naturally was for winning Paris, the headquarters of the League and
the capital of his realm, and he was already giving pause to Elizabeth
and Burghley by his willingness to “receive instruction” from priests,
with a view to his conversion. What from the English point of view was
most to be feared was that he might at last be forced or cajoled into
consenting to a partition of France, in which the Infanta’s claim to the
Duchy of Brittany, which was a very strong one, should be acknowledged.
This would have brought the Spaniards into the Channel opposite England,
and have completely altered the balance of power. Already Don Juan
del Aguila had a firm grip upon the port of Blavet, and Elizabeth’s
Government were pressing Henry to direct his attention to the north of
France, where the League had occupied most of the principal ports,
except Dieppe. Henry himself was reducing Chartres and other places near
Paris, whilst his officers in the north, with inadequate forces, were
doing their best to recover the coast towns.

At the urgent desire of Elizabeth, Henry promised to come to
Normandy,[581] and Essex prevailed upon the Queen to give him command
of a considerable English force to besiege Rouen[582] (July). The young
Earl was in semi-disgrace in consequence of his recent marriage with
Walsingham’s daughter (Sir Philip Sidney’s widow), but the Queen gave
him strict orders not to expose himself to danger. Henry, however, did
not keep his word to meet Essex on the coast, and as soon as Essex
landed, made an attempt to utilise the English force elsewhere. Essex was
indignant, and rushed off to Noyon to remonstrate with Henry.[583] When,
however, Rouen was at last besieged, he violated the Queen’s commands and
took an active part in the siege.[584]

At length Elizabeth declared that she would be played with no longer
by him, and he was forced to return to his infuriated mistress,[585]
whilst the siege of Rouen dragged on for months longer, sometimes in the
presence of Henry himself, until the arrival of Parma and Mayenne caused
it to be abandoned (May 1592). The anger of the Queen with Essex and the
war-party was increased by the ill success in the autumn (1591) of the
attempt to intercept the Spanish treasure fleet off the Azores;[586] and
for a time “the Cecils” had their way, which was to administer just so
much aid, and no more, as should prevent Maurice of Nassau in Holland and
Henry of Navarre in France from succumbing to the power of Spain, whilst
the Queen in the meanwhile railed at Navarre for his shiftiness, and at
Essex for his disobedience. Her Englishmen, she said, had been badly
treated and exposed to undue hardships, her advances were unpaid, nobody
was grateful to her; and in future she declared, that though Henry might
have her prayers he should have no more of her money.

The determined efforts of Essex and his party, and more especially of
the two Bacons, Francis and Antony, to wound and discredit the Cecils,
stopped at no inconsistency. From their earliest childhood the Earl and
the Bacons had been attached to the Puritan party, and still posed as its
champions; and yet they were the first to endeavour to cast upon Burghley
the odium of the severe proclamation and fresh persecution of the
seminary priests that had been considered necessary.[587] From the action
of Allen, Persons, and their friends at the time of the Armada, from the
letters intercepted by Burghley disclosing the Jesuit plot in Scotland,
and from the continued bitter writings of Person’s directed against
Elizabeth and her minister, it was beyond question now, that whatever may
have been the case at the beginning of their propaganda, the aim of the
seminarists was simply to undermine and overturn the political government
of the country.[588] And yet the Bacons, nephews of Burghley and sons of
a fiercely Puritan mother, prompted by the double spy Standen and men of
the same evil class, almost violently took up the cause of the persecuted
Catholics when they thought it would injure the kinsman to whom they owed
so much, and his son, of whom they were jealous.[589]

The renewed severity against the seminarists at this time was certainly
not without justification. The shifty James Stuart was again listening
to the charming of his Catholic nobles and the agents of Spain, though
doubtless with the intention of outwitting them, and from all sides came
the news of a powerful fleet being prepared in the Spanish ports either
for England, Scotland, or Ireland. For a time in the autumn of 1592,
whilst Lord Burghley was accompanying Elizabeth through the southern
counties,[590] a perfect panic of apprehension fell upon the people;
partly, it must be confessed, caused by the fear of reprisals for the
ceaseless ravages of the English upon Spanish shipping. Burghley himself
had always been opposed to these ravages,[591] and had steadily refused
to accept any share in the profits of them; but when the prizes were
brought back he took care that the Queen’s share was not forgotten. A
good instance of this occurred in 1592. Ralegh and the Earl of Cumberland
with some associates fitted out a powerful expedition to intercept
the treasure galleons, and, if possible, to raid some of the Spanish
settlements. When the squadron had sailed, Ralegh was suddenly recalled
by the angry Queen and thrown into the Tower (May) for having married.

The _Roebuck_, Ralegh’s own ship, captured off Flores amongst other
prizes the great carrack _Madre de Dios_, which reached Dartmouth on
the 8th September. The riches she contained were beyond calculation;
pearls, amber, musk, and precious stones, tapestries, silks, spices, and
gold formed her cargo. Plunder began long before she reached England,
and when the news came of the capture the great road to the west was
crowded by Jew dealers, London tradesmen and fine ladies and gentlemen
on their way to buy bargains. Ralegh’s sailors were already sulky at the
imprisonment of their beloved master, and when attempts were made by the
shore authorities to recover some of the plunder and prevent further
peculation, they became unmanageable. Sir John Hawkins wrote to Lord
Burghley that Ralegh was the only man who could bring them to order.[592]
But Ralegh was in the Tower, “the Queen’s poor prisoner”; and it needed
all the Lord Treasurer’s influence, working on Elizabeth’s greed, to
obtain permission for Sir Walter, still under guard, to go down to
Devonshire and set matters straight.[593] Preceding him by a few hours on
the same errand went Sir Robert Cecil, whose letters to his father on his
journey, detailing the measures he had adopted on the way to intercept
the plunder, are extremely graphic and interesting.[594]

Such depredations upon Spanish shipping as this—and they were of constant
occurrence—although they might enrich the adventurers, and to some extent
even the Queen, were a means of keeping the English people generally
in a constant state of apprehension, and rendering legitimate commerce
dangerous and difficult. As we have seen, Lord Burghley had steadily set
his face against piracy of all sorts, and Sir Robert Cecil followed his
lead. Ralegh had from his first appearance at court been a friend of the
Cecils, as against Leicester and Essex, and he still remained on their
side; but he was greedy and unscrupulous, and certainly from the time of
the capture of the great carrack the cordiality between the Cecil party
and himself diminished.[595] The talk of the court generally was that
Burghley was jealous of the rise of all men who might compete with his
beloved son Robert; and Ralegh’s friend Spenser puts the thought in verse
(“The Ruins of Time”) thus:—

“O grief of griefs! O gall of all good hearts!
To see that virtue should despisèd be
Of him that first was raised for virtuous parts,
And now broad spreading like an agèd tree,
Lets none shoot up that nigh him planted be.”

That Lord Burghley in his failing age should desire to continue his
policy through his son was perfectly natural, especially as in his case
the son was in every way worthy to succeed him; and it is not fair to
blame him for mean filial jealousy to the detriment of Ralegh, as Spenser
does, for Ralegh, although nominally his adherent, was in the matter
of the Puritans and aggressive action against Spain, acting rather on
the side of Essex. It is to this fact that Ralegh owed his lifelong
disappointment at being excluded from the Privy Council.

That Essex and his party were sleepless in their attempts to undermine
the influence of the Cecils there is abundant evidence to prove.
Amongst many others, an interesting letter from Ralph Lane to Lord
Burghley (March 1592) may be quoted.[596] Sir Thomas Cecil and his
more brilliant younger brother had quarrelled whilst their father was
staying in retirement at Theobalds, sick and sorry. “The world speaks
of your Lordship’s grief,” writes Lane, “and thinks it proceeds from
the differences between your two sons. The matter is not great, but
the humours short. That which grieves your well-wishers, who are the
true well-wishers of her Majesty and the State, is that it has been
misrepresented to her Majesty so as to injure you for credit and wisdom,
and that these hard constructions made against you to her are the
principal cause of your own grief. Good men moan that her Majesty is
sought to be deprived in this dangerous time of so wise and approved
a Councillor. I hope that no envy will make her Majesty disconceit a
personage the choice of whom in the beginning of her reign prognosticated
her future greatness.”

But Elizabeth, though she might listen to the youngsters who sought to
contemn her aged Councillor, knew his worth better than they, and much
as he desired rest, when it came to the pinch, she always refused to let
him go. Only a few days after the above letter was written, indeed, Lord
Burghley received a life-grant of Rockingham Forest, part of the lands of
the deceased Lord Chancellor Bromley, as if in answer to the detractions
of his enemies. Another instance of the dependence of the Queen upon him
and of his devotion to his duty happened in June. He had gone to Bath to
seek alleviation from the gout which had afflicted him all the spring,
and writes from there to the Queen, who was on her progress, enclosing
her an important letter from her Ambassador in France. “I would,” he
says, “have attended your Majesty myself with it, but I am in the midst
of my cure and may not break off without special harm and frustrating my
recovery, which is promised in a few days. But still I will risk all, and
come if your Majesty desires it.”[597]

The persistent attacks upon Burghley and his policy were not confined to
Essex and the Puritans. The Spanish Jesuit party in Flanders, which in
former years had often looked upon him with sympathy and sometimes with
hope, now cast upon him the responsibility of everything that happened
in England, even when the policy was dictated by Burghley’s opponents.
In all the plots of Holt, Yorke, Archer, Cahill, and the rest of the
desperadoes in Flanders, Burghley was one of the principal objects of
attack. “He was but a blood-sucker,” said Yorke; and the latter swore
he would lay a poisoned glowing coal in his way and kill him.[598]
Burghley, he said, had poisoned the young Earl of Derby in order to marry
his grand-daughter to the Earl’s brother. “England was governed by the
Machivellian policy of those who would be kings, and whom it is time were
cut off;”[599] and much more of the same sort. These grosser calumnies
and accusations of corruption[600] were in most cases obviously false,
and could hardly have caused Lord Burghley very deep concern; but the
most artful of his enemies, Father Persons, well knew the weak point
in his armour, and wounded him to the quick in his books, in which he
pretended to show that the Lord Treasurer was of base origin, his father
a tavern-keeper, and he himself a bell-ringer.[601] We have seen in a
former similar case that attacks upon his ancestry almost alone aroused
Lord Burghley’s anger; and an anti-Spanish Catholic writing at the time
(January 1593) records how deeply he was pained by the books of Persons
and Verstegen just published, “which,” he says, “will do the Catholics no

The division, indeed, between the two parties of Catholics was now
well defined. Those who adhered to Spain and the Jesuits were of
course bitterly inimical to moderate statesmen like the Cecils, whose
efforts would naturally tend to bring about a compromise with James
or Arabella Stuart for the Queen’s successor, peace with Spain, and
toleration for Catholics. The Vatican, the French, the Venetians, and
many of the English and Scottish Catholics abroad were in favour of this
solution;[602] and the English Catholic secular clergy were enlisted
almost entirely on the same side. The extreme parties, however, were
naturally violently opposed to compromise of any sort; so that the
Cecils, as leaders of the peaceful and moderate party, were the target
for envenomed attacks at the same time both of Spanish Jesuits, who
wished for a purely Catholic England under Spanish auspices, and the
militant Protestant party led by Essex, who aimed at a purely Protestant
England and an aggressive war with Spain.

The bitterness of party feeling was promptly demonstrated at the meeting
of Parliament in February. Intelligence of continued armaments in Spain,
and the recent revelations of informers as to the anti-English plots
hatched in Flanders, had rendered necessary the employment of large sums
for the national defence. A statement of the apprehensions entertained
was made in the House of Lords by the Lord Keeper Puckering, and in
the Commons by Sir Robert Cecil, the substance of both speeches having
been previously drafted by Lord Burghley. The patriotism of the members
was appealed to in fervent terms to provide funds for maintaining the
national independence. The Puritan party, aided by Ralegh, fanned the
flame and sought to pledge the Houses to an offensive war; and with but
little dissent a treble subsidy was voted, payable in four years. Francis
Bacon[603] struck a discordant note by asking that the payments should
extend over six years. The people were poor, he said, and hard pressed;
do not arouse their discontent “and set an evil precedent against
ourselves and our posterity.” Sir Robert Cecil somewhat indignantly
answered his cousin’s speech, and the Queen and Lord Treasurer soon made
their displeasure felt, and Francis Bacon could only protest his loyalty
and sorrow for his offence. If only he could wound the Cecils and bring
himself into the good graces of Essex, he seemed to care but little.

The House of Commons, as usual, had a strongly Puritan leaven, and the
indefatigable Peter Wentworth once more incurred the Queen’s anger by
bringing forward the succession question. Whilst the Puritan leaders in
the Commons were being sent to the Tower and the Fleet,[604] the bishops
were preparing a blow which should demolish for good all attempts at
attacks against the Establishment. A new extreme sect called Independents
or Brownists had gained considerable popularity. Other Nonconformists
resisted the orders of the Church, and opposed the authority of
prelates, but the Brownists were for disestablishment altogether. Their
leaders, Barrow and Greenwood, and several others, were in prison; but
their followers were many, and growing in number, and the prelates
were determined to stamp out this new danger to the Church, come what
might. Several Brownists were arraigned for sedition, on the ground
that attacks upon the Establishment were attacks upon the Queen. Barrow
and Greenwood were found guilty, and condemned to death. During the
prosecution the prelates in the Lords had passed a severe bill against
recusancy, designed to press more hardly against Brownists than even
against Catholics. On the 31st March the condemned men were dragged to
Tyburn, with all the hideous formalities usual in executions for felony;
and when the ropes were already around their necks, a reprieve suddenly
arrived. Lord Burghley himself, though seriously ill, had insisted upon
a suspension of the sentence. “No Papist,” he said, “had suffered for
religion, and Protestants’ blood should not be the first shed, at least
before an attempt was made to convince them.” We are told also that he
spoke sharply to the Archbishop (Whitgift). The recusants bill went
to the lower House on the 4th April, and Ralegh amongst others made
a vigorous speech against it. The opposition in the Commons, we are
told,[605] hardened the prelates’ hearts, and both Barrow and Greenwood
suffered the last penalty two days afterwards, to be followed in their
martyrdom for Protestant Nonconformity by many others all over the

This case has been stated here somewhat at length, because it has become
usual to cast upon Lord Burghley the odium for cruel persecution both
of Catholics and Protestants, in disregard of the fact that there were
in England two extreme parties struggling with each other, he being, so
far as religion was concerned, a moderator between the two. He was, of
course, the most prominent man in the Government, but he only maintained
his influence by avoiding the extremes of both parties, and in order
to do this he was obliged to refrain from running strongly counter to
either. It may be said that in this case of the Brownists, as well as
that of the Catholics, he might have firmly put his foot down and have
prevented the sacrifice; but in that event he would not have been William
Cecil, Lord Burghley, and he would not have held the tiller of the State
for forty years.

In the summer, Essex received a strange and powerful coadjutor in his
policy of aggressive war against Spain. He and his friends the Bacons,
much to the Puritan Lady Bacon’s concern, were already deep in confidence
with Standen, and other double spies and professed Catholics, the object
apparently being to organise, for the benefit of Essex, a separate spy
system, independent of the universal network controlled by the Cecils.
The new recruit to Essex was a man of a very different calibre to the
other instruments. Antonio Perez, the former all-powerful minister of
Philip II., was at deadly feud with his master, and had been welcomed at
the court of France as the bitterest enemy of his native country. He was
one of the most brilliant and fascinating scoundrels that ever lived,
and soon won the good graces of the jolly Béarnais, who was already
meditating what he called the “mortal leap” of going to Mass, and turning
the Huguenot Navarre into the Catholic King of France, eldest son of the
Church. He had depended much upon Elizabeth’s help; although of late that
had been slackening as Essex’s influence waned, and he knew that the step
he was about to take would turn her full fury upon him. Who could so
plausibly plead his cause and inflame the hearts in England against Spain
as this mordant foe of Philip, who knew every weakness, every secret,
of his former master? So in June, Perez went to England with Henry’s
blessing, and with the cold permission of Elizabeth, for she had no love
for traitors, and Burghley knew Perez’s errand.

When he arrived he found Elizabeth already fuming at Henry’s apostasy,
and complaining bitterly to Beauvoir de Nocle of his master’s
ingratitude.[606] She refused absolutely to receive the “Spanish
traitor,” and the cautious Cecils gave him a wide berth. Essex in some
notes to Phillips, soon after Perez’s arrival, directs him to set
informers to work to discover the real reason of the Spaniard’s coming.
Lord Burghley, he says, has seen him once, and the Earl of Essex twice.
“Burghley only wished to compare his judgment with his own experience;
but he (Essex) wished to found upon Perez some action, for all his plots
are to make war offensive rather than defensive.”[607] Essex soon got
over his doubts, and plausible Perez stood with Bacon[608] ever at his
right hand, living at his cost, writing his biting gibes, weaving his
plots against Philip, and with his matchless ability and experience
advising the young Earl how best to drag England into war with Spain,
even though Henry was a Catholic, and so to outwit the watchful Cecils.
It was not long, too, before he flattered and wormed himself into the
good graces of the Queen, who gave him a handsome pension; and so
gradually the war-party gained ground in Elizabeth’s councils, for in
this Ralegh too was on the side of Essex, and the ceaseless talk of the
intrigues of the Jesuits kept the English war feeling at fever heat.

Most of the routine work formerly falling upon Lord Burghley was
now undertaken by his son. Letters from all quarters, and upon all
subjects, came to Sir Robert, whose diligence must have been almost
as indefatigable as that of his father; but apparently only those of
special importance and touching foreign affairs were submitted to the
Lord Treasurer. But though Sir Robert might be diligent, he certainly
lacked the high sense of dignity which had always been characteristic of
his father. At a time when courtiers vied with each other in addressing
almost blasphemous flattery to the Queen, when all the firmament was
ransacked to provide comparisons favourable to her Majesty’s beauty and
wisdom, Lord Burghley, although always respectful and deferential to the
Queen, never sacrificed his dignity to please her.

That his son was more of a supple courtier than he, is seen by the
address penned by him to be delivered to the Queen by a man dressed as
a hermit on her entrance to Theobalds, where she passed some days on
a visit to the Lord Treasurer, in October. For turgid affectation and
grovelling humility this production could hardly be excelled by the
egregious Simier, or Hatton himself. The subject evidently has reference
to the Queen’s previous visit to the house when Lord Burghley was in
deep trouble and living in retirement. On that occasion there was much
affected verbosity about the Lord Treasurer as a hermit, and in October
1593, when the pretended hermit addressed her Majesty, he reminded her
that the last time she came, “his founder, upon a strange conceit to
feed his own humour, had placed the hermit, contrary to his profession,
in his house, whilst he (Burghley) had retired to the hermit’s poor
cell.” Whilst his founder (Burghley) lived he was assured that he would
not again dispossess him (as he never turned out tenants) “Only this
perplexeth my soul, and causeth cold blood in every vein, to see the life
of my founder so often in peril, nay, his desire as hasty as his age to
inherit his tomb. But this I hear (which is his greatest comfort), that
when his body, being laden with years, oppressed with sickness, having
spent his strength in the public service, desireth to be rid of worldly
cares, even when he is grievously sick and lowest brought, what holds
him back and ransometh him, is the fear that my young master may wish to
use my cell. And therefore, hearing of all the country folks I meet, that
your Majesty doth use him in your service, as in former time you have
done his father, my founder, and that though his experience and judgment
be not comparable, yet as report goeth he hath something in him like the
child of such a parent,” he (the hermit) begs the Queen, whose will is
law, to bid Robert Cecil to continue in active life, and leave to the
hermit the cell granted to him by his father.[609]

This was doubtless considered at the time a highly ingenious device for
asking the Queen for a reversion of the fathers’ offices for the son,
and is certainly not lacking in the worldly wisdom which looks ahead;
but surely never was any man’s coming death talked about so much in his
lifetime, and with so little constraint, as that of Lord Burghley.[610]

ar 1593 Lord Burghley’s agents in Spain had sent news
of the powerful naval preparations being made at Pasages, Coruña, and
elsewhere, and the war-party at home and abroad had strained every nerve
to induce the Queen to assume the offensive. Raleigh,[611] Drake, and
Hawkins supported Essex in his efforts; but the caution of “the Cecils,”
the Queen, and the Lord Admiral restrained, as well as might be, the
ardour of the forward party.

There were, indeed, many elements of danger near home which amply
justified a cautious policy. James Stuart’s extraordinary lenity to the
Catholic lords who had rebelled against him, and his known dallying with
Spain and Rome, again suggested the possibility of a Spanish invasion
of England over the Border, simultaneously with a rising of Catholics
in England. The almost complete control of the coast of Brittany by the
Spaniards, their recent seizure and fortification of a strong position
in Brest harbour, and their continued intrigues in Ireland, all pointed
to the aggressive policy against this country which Philip’s newly
reorganised fleet enabled him to adopt. What would have caused but
modified alarm to England a few years before, became much more terrible
now that Henry IV. had become a Catholic and was making peace with the
League. Elizabeth and her trusted advisers, therefore, kept Drake and
Hawkins at home, and with the exception of sending Frobisher and Norris
in the autumn of 1594 to oust the Spaniards from Brest harbour,[612]
stood on the defensive.

Essex, often in temporary disgrace with the Queen, headstrong and
inexperienced, was no match in diplomacy for Robert Cecil, fortified by
the experience and sagacity of his father; but he had enlisted in his
service some of the cleverest and most unscrupulous spies and agents to
aid him. Wherever the Queen had an ambassador, or the Cecils an agent,
Essex also had a man to represent his interest. Every envoy that came
from James Stuart or Henry IV. to ask for aid which the Cecils considered
it imprudent to give under the circumstances, was received by Essex
and his friends with open arms; and counter intrigues were carried on
through them against the policy of Lord Burghley. In Scotland, Holland,
and France, it was Essex who posed as the friend at the expense of the

It had been to a considerable extent owing to the diplomacy of Antonio
Perez that Henry IV. had decided to come to terms with the League, in
order that the united forces of France might be opposed to the Spaniards.
It was now Perez’s secret mission from the French King, with the aid of
Essex, to exacerbate English feeling against Spain nationally, and to
pledge Elizabeth to help him against the common enemy, independently of
the question of religion. This would have been a distinct departure from
the traditional policy of England, which had usually been to stand aloof
whilst the two great rivals were fighting; and only the attachment of
the King of France to the Protestant cause had for a time altered this
policy. Elizabeth’s interests in France, now that Henry was a Catholic,
were limited to preventing the permanent establishment of the Spanish
power on the north coast opposite England, and to that end the Cecils
directed their efforts. This, however, did not satisfy Essex and the
war-party; and the persistent plots of the English Jesuits in Spain and
Flanders[614] added constant fuel to the flame, which Perez so artfully
fanned from Essex House.[615]

An opportunity occurred late in 1593 by which some of the instruments of
the Cecils might be discredited, and a fresh blow dealt at the policy
of cautious moderation. Many of the Portuguese gentlemen who surrounded
the pretender, Don Antonio, had for years sold themselves both to
Philip and to England—and played false to both. It has been seen that
Lord Burghley’s network of secret intelligence, under the management of
Phillips, was extremely extensive; and, amongst others, several of these
Portuguese were employed.[616] The most popular physician in London at
the time was Dr. Ruy Lopez, a Portuguese Jew, the Queen’s physician, who
was frequently employed by Burghley as an intermediary with the spies,
in order to avert suspicion from them. On several occasions suggestions
had been made to Philip by these spies of plans to kill the pretender,
and Lopez’s name had been mentioned to the Spanish Government as one who
would be willing to undertake the task of poisoning him.

In 1590 one Andrada had been discovered in an act of treachery against
Don Antonio, and arrested in England, and a letter of his to Mendoza had
been intercepted, in which he said that he had won over Lopez to the
cause of Spain. In another letter, not intercepted, he gave particulars
of a proposal of Lopez to bring about peace between England and Spain, if
a sum of money was paid to him. Through the influence of Lopez, however,
Andrada was liberated, and sent abroad as a spy in the interests of
England. Thenceforward for three years secret correspondence was known,
by Lord Burghley, to be passing between Spanish agents in Flanders and
Spain, and Dr. Lopez, through Andrada and others. The intermediaries
were all double spies and scoundrels who would have stuck at nothing,
and were so regarded by Lord Burghley; but Lopez was thought to be above
suspicion, and to be acting solely in English interests. He had, however,
made an enemy of Essex; and Perez artfully wheedled some admissions
from him that he was in communication with Spanish agents about some
great plan. In October 1593, Gama, one of the agents, was, at Essex’s
suggestion, arrested in Lopez’s house and searched. The letters found
upon him were enigmatical, but suspicious. Then another agent named
Tinoco, with similar communications and bills of exchange in his pocket
from Spanish ministers, was laid by the heels. Essex, prompted by
Perez, was indefatigable in the examination of the men. They lied and
prevaricated—for it is certain that they were paid by both sides; but
one of them mentioned Dr. Lopez as being interested in some compromising
papers found upon him, and suddenly on the 30th January the Queen’s
physician was arrested. He was immediately carried to Cecil House in the
Strand, and there examined by the Lord Treasurer, Sir Robert Cecil, and

His answers seemed satisfactory to the Cecils, whose agent Lopez was,
but did not please Essex. The Earl, however, was forestalled by Robert
Cecil, who posted off to Hampton Court and assured Elizabeth of the
physician’s innocence. Whilst he was assuring her that the only ground
for the accusation—which had now assumed the form of a plot to murder
the Queen—arose from the Earl’s hatred of Lopez, Essex was endeavouring
to strengthen the proofs against the accused. When the Earl appeared
at court the Queen burst out in a fury against him, called him a rash
and temerarious youth to bring this ruinous accusation of high treason
against her trusty servant from sheer malice, and told him that she
knew Lopez was innocent, and her honour was at stake in seeing justice
done. Gradually, however, the nets closed around the doctor. The Cecils
did as much as they dared in his favour, but the presumptive evidence
against him was too strong. The underlings competed with each other
in the fulness of their confessions against Lopez, in hope of favour
for themselves; and at length some sort of confession was said to have
been wrung from Lopez himself,[618] Robert Cecil, with horror, was
forced to admit his belief that he was guilty,[619] and Lopez and his
fellow-criminals were executed at Tyburn early in June.[620] This,
together with the simultaneous declaration of other Spanish Jesuit plots
against the Queen, and the activity of Perez’s venomous pen, aroused a
feeling of perfect fury against Philip and his country.

All eyes looked to Drake and the sailors again to punish Spain upon
the sea. Talk of great expeditions to America, to the Azores, to Spain
itself, ran from mouth to mouth. What had been done with impunity
before, might, said the Englishmen, be done again, even though the King
of France had become a Papist and was unworthy of English help. But
the Queen was in one of her timid moods, and the Cecils held the reins
tightly. Essex remained sulking or in disgrace for the greater part of
the summer, and, we learn from a letter from Sir Thomas Cecil to his
brother, only became ostensibly reconciled with the Lord Treasurer in

Little of the routine business passed through Lord Burghley’s hands now,
thanks to the activity of his son, but we get a glance occasionally at
the aged minister from friends and foes who visited him. In the latter
category we may place the spy Standen, a place-hunter and double traitor,
who had fastened himself upon Essex, and yet was for ever pestering
Burghley for an appointment. Sometimes the Lord Treasurer pretended to
forget who he was, sometimes he gravely and politely expressed his regret
at his inability to help him; but on one occasion, at least, he let him
know that as he had joined Essex he must expect nothing from him. Standen
was hanging about Hampton Court in the spring, and when the Queen had
left, thinking the Lord Treasurer would be less busy than usual, “he
stepped into his Lordship’s bedchamber, and found him alone sitting by
the fire.” After some compliments, the place-hunter, for the hundredth
time, set forth his claims. Burghley replied as before, that Standen was
in England for a long time after his return from abroad without even
coming to salute him. Standen said he had been ill with ague; “but,”
said the minister, “you have been about the court all the winter and
must have had some good days. And,” he asked, “how is it I have not seen
the statement the Queen told you to draw up about Spain and to hand to
me?” Standen hemmed and ha’d, but at last had to confess that he had
given the statement to Essex for the Queen six months before. “Then my
Lord began to start in his chair, and to alter his voice and countenance
from a kind of crossing and wayward manner which he hath, into a tune
of choler,”[621] and told the spy that since he had begun with the
Earl of Essex he had better go on with him, and hoped him well of it.
Then angrily telling him some home-truths about his conduct, the Lord
Treasurer dismissed the spy; though for the rest of the great minister’s
life he was not free from his importunities.

It was not often that Lord Burghley thus exhibited anger, even to a man
like Standen. We seem to know the aged statesman better in the following
pathetic little word-picture contained in a letter from his faithful
secretary, Sir Michael Hicks, to Sir Robert Cecil[622] (27th September):
“My Lord called me to him this evening, and willed me to write to you
in mine own name, to signify to you that the Judge of the Admiralty
came hither to him a little before supper time, to let him understand
that he was not furnished with sufficient matter to meet the French
Ambassador, and required five or six days’ further respite … wherewith
he (Burghley) was well contented … for at the time of his coming to him
he found himself ill, and not fit to hear and deal in suits, and he doth
so continue. And truly, methinks, he is nothing sprighted, but lying on
his couch he museth or slumbereth. And being a little before supper at
the fire, I offered him some letters and other papers, but he was soon
weary of them, and told me he was unfit to hear suits. But I hope a good
night’s rest will make him better to-morrow.”[623]

But though the great statesman was nearing his end, his mind was as
keen as ever, and his influence was strong enough to prevent Essex from
dragging England into an offensive war with Spain for the benefit of
Henry IV. The Béarnais had still to cope with rebellion in various parts
of his realm, and the Spaniards had secured a firm footing in Picardy
and Brittany; his finances were in the utmost disorder, and against the
advice of Sully he declared a national war against Philip in January. He
had clamoured and cajoled in vain for more aid from Elizabeth, and in his
pressing need had appealed with more success to the Hollanders.

This was the last straw. All the old distrust of the Burghley school
against the French revived. The Queen was furious that these ingrate
Dutchmen, whom she alone had rescued from the Spanish tyranny, should now
curry favour with France. They owed her vast sums of money and eternal
gratitude, they had offered her the sovereignty of their States, and yet
instead of paying their debts and releasing some of her forces occupied
in their service, they must needs seek fresh friends. If possible she was
more indignant still with Henry; for, as we have seen, one of the two
pivots upon which English policy turned was to exclude French influence
in the Low Countries. Thomas Bodley was sent back to the States with
reproaches for their ingratitude, and a peremptory demand that they
should pay her what they owed her. Before he left England, however, he
also was gained by Essex, and notwithstanding Burghley’s and the Queen’s
strict instructions, was far more careful to provide excuses for the
States than to press them.[624] Henry IV., too, never ceased to declare
that unless much more English help was sent to him, the north of France
would slip from his grasp whilst he was busy in the south; and in the
autumn, point was given to his warning by the treacherous surrender of
Cambray to the Spaniards. This was a direct danger to England, and Henry
made the most of it by sending a special envoy to demand fresh English
aid. But still Burghley was against violent measures, for a great Spanish
fleet was being fitted out in Galicia, and Tyrone’s rebellion in Ireland
was being actively promoted by Philip. Defence, as usual, was the first
thought of the Lord Treasurer; and disabled as he was, he drew up in
the autumn a complete scheme for the protection of the country against

But though Elizabeth would not commence offensive warfare against Spain,
she was induced to listen at last to Drake’s oft-rejected prayer for
permission to raise a powerful privateer squadron to capture prizes
and raid Panama. This was what people wanted. Drake’s name had not
lost its magic, and volunteers joined in thousands, eager for fighting
and loot under the great admiral. The ports of Spain and Portugal were
panic-stricken at the mere prospect of a visit, and if the fleet had
sailed promptly in the spring, Philip might have been crippled again. But
the Queen and Burghley were still apprehensive, and loath to let Drake
sail too far away. Suddenly on 23rd July four Spanish pinnaces landed
600 soldiers on the Cornish coast, and without resistance they ravaged
and burnt the country round Penzance. It was a mere predatory raid from
the Brittany coast; but it seemed to justify all Elizabeth’s fears, and,
to Drake’s despair, she forbade him to go direct to Panama. He was,
she said, to cruise about the Channel and Ireland for a month, then to
intercept any fleet from Spain that might threaten, and finally to lay in
wait for the Spanish treasure flotilla before he crossed the Atlantic.
The orders doubtless originated from Howard, who was as cautious as
Burghley himself; but Drake and his officers flatly refused to obey them.
They had, they said, on the Queen’s commission fitted out at vast expense
a private fleet for a certain purpose, and it was utterly inappropriate
to the service now demanded of it. The Queen was angry, and, as usual,
called upon Burghley to refute the strategical arguments of the sailors,
which he did in a learned minute. But it was never sent, for Drake was
obviously in the right, and the Queen was obliged to give way. She made
Drake pledge his honour to be back in England again in the following
May to fight the new Armada, and, on the 28th August, Drake and Hawkins
sailed out of Plymouth to failure and death.

All through the year, with but short intervals of comparative ease, Lord
Burghley remained ill, but manfully determined to perform his duty. His
letters to his son, written, of course, with greater freedom than to
others, disclose more of his private feelings than we have been able
to see at any earlier period of his career. Both in these letters and
those of his secretaries the note touched is intense devotion to the
public service at any cost to his own repose. Maynard writes to Sir
Robert Cecil (23rd December 1594) that the sharp weather had increased
the Lord Treasurer’s pain. “But for your coming hither his Lordship
says you shall not need, although you shall hear his amendment is grown
backward.” A few months later at Theobalds, Clapham sends to Sir Robert
very unfavourable news of the invalid, and in the following month of
May we find him confined to his bed at Cecil House in London, suffering
greatly, and fretting at his inability to go to court. In the autumn he
tells his son that he is obliged to sign his letters with a stamp, “for
want of a right hand”; but even then he concludes his letter thus—“And
if by your speech with her Majesty she will not mislike to have so bold
a person to lodge in her house, I will come as I am (in body not half a
man, but in mind passable) to the muster of the rest of my good Lords,
her Majesty’s Councillors, my good friends.… Upon your answer I will make
no unnecessary delay, by God’s permission.”[626] In the midst of his
pain his letters are full of directions upon State matters. In a letter
to Cecil in October, urging the Queen to send prompt reinforcements to
Ireland, which apparently she was inclined to neglect, he says, “My
aching pains so increase that I am all night sleepless, though not idle
in mind.”[627]

That the Lord Treasurer’s bodily weakness and overpowering
political influence were recognised elsewhere than in England as a
powerful factor in the international situation, is evident from the
correspondence—amongst many others—of the Venetian Ambassador in France.
Henry had gone north, and was besieging La Fère, in Picardy, in the
late autumn, after the fall of Cambray, and had sent his agent Lomenie
to England to support the efforts of Essex in his favour. But the Earl
was in semi-disgrace, and the French agent went back with but small
promises of aid. Henry was about to send a stronger envoy, Sancy, but
Essex told him it would be useless, and the clever Béarnais, knowing
best how to arouse Elizabeth’s jealousy, despatched Sancy to Holland.
Thereupon the Venetian Ambassador writes to the Doge: “If Sancy went to
England just now he would not find the Queen well disposed towards the
policy of his Majesty (Henry IV.), not only on the grounds I have so
often explained, but also because she does not approve of the conduct of
the French ministers. The chief reason, however, is that there reigns a
division in the councils of the Queen, and her two principal ministers
are secretly in disaccord. One of these ministers, the Lord Treasurer, is
very ill-disposed towards the crown of France, and uses all his influence
to prevent the Queen from taking an active part in this direction. There
is a strong suspicion that he has been bought by Spanish gold. The other
nobleman, a prime favourite with the Queen, is of the contrary opinion,
urging that every effort should be made to quench the fire in one’s
neighbour’s house to prevent one’s own from being burnt. The Queen is in
the greatest perplexity. The Lord Treasurer, in addition to his other
arguments, urges the plea of economy, to which women are naturally more
inclined than men. All the same, no efforts are being spared to dispose
her mind, so that should Sancy go to England he may easily obtain all he
asks for.”[628]

When it became evident that Henry was again appealing to the States,
Elizabeth was forced to make a counter-move, and decided to send Sir
Henry Unton to offer further English help, if certain French towns,
especially Calais, were placed in her hands as security. It was clear
that Henry neither could nor would agree to such terms, and probably
the Queen and Burghley were quite aware of the fact; but upon Unton’s
embassy Essex founded a regular conspiracy for the purpose of outwitting
the Cecils and dragging England into war. Antonio Perez had already been
sent back to France in July 1595, self-pitying and lachrymose at leaving
the luxury of Essex House to follow a camp; but to be received in France
almost with royal consideration, and to be welcomed once more as the
bosom friend of the King. He betrayed everybody; but his real mission was
to send alarming news to Essex as to Henry’s intentions, in order that
Elizabeth might be frightened into an alliance with him to prevent his
joining her enemies against her. Perez thought more of his own discomfort
than of his English patron’s policy, and had to be brought to book more
than once. The Earl sent Sir Roger Williams to upbraid him for not making
matters more lively. “I am doing,” says the Earl, “what I can to push on
war in England; but you! you! Antonio, what are you doing on that side?”

But when Unton went on his mission early in January 1596, a stronger ally
than Perez was gained. He was entirely in Essex’s interests, and received
secret instructions from the Earl.[629] Perez and Unton were to work
together, of course without the knowledge of Sir Thomas Edmonds, the
regular Ambassador, who was a “Cecil man.” Henry IV. was to be prompted
to feign anger and indignation with England, and threaten to make friends
with Spain. “He must so use the matter as Unton may send us thundering
letters, whereby he must drive us to propound and to offer.” Perez, too,
was to keep the game alive by assuring Essex that a treaty was on foot
between France and Spain, and to reproach Essex for allowing Unton to be
sent on such an errand as would mortally offend the King.

But the Cecils were too clever for Essex and Perez combined. One of
Perez’s secretaries played him false, for which he was afterwards
imprisoned in the Clink by Essex; and it is probable that the threads of
the intrigue, all through, were in the hands of Burghley. In any case,
there was no great change in Elizabeth’s policy,[630] and Unton himself
died in France before his mission was complete (23rd March 1596). Only a
few days afterwards news reached London that the Spaniards were marching
on Calais. This, at all events, was calculated to arouse Elizabeth to
action; and on Easter Sunday 1596 all the church doors in London were
suddenly closed during service, and there and then a number of the
men-worshippers pressed for service. They were hurriedly armed and on the
same night marched to Dover for embarkation under Essex. No sooner were
the men on board and ready to sail than a counter order came from London.
Essex was frantic, and wrote rash and foolish letters to the Queen and
the Lord Admiral. He writes to Sir Robert Cecil on the same day: “O! pray
get the order altered. I have written to the Queen in a passion. Pray
plead for me, that I may not be disgraced by any one else commanding
the succour whilst I have done the work. Pray do not show the Queen my
letter to the Admiral; it is too passionate.”[631] Almost in sight of
Essex, the day after this was written (14th), the citadel of Calais fell
into the hands of the Spaniards, and Elizabeth found she had overreached
herself.[632] When Unton had asked for Calais as the price of her help,
the Béarnais had said, with his usual oath, that he would see it in the
hands of the Spaniards first; and for once he had told the truth.

The blow to Elizabeth’s policy was undoubtedly a severe one, and a
counter-stroke had to be delivered. The old project which on several
occasions had been submitted by Howard to the Council for an attack upon
the shipping in Cadiz harbour, was revived. Essex was all aflame in the
business from the first; but the Queen changed her mind from day to day.
“The Queen,” wrote Reynolds in May,[633] “is daily changing her humour
about my Lord’s voyage, and was yesterday almost resolute to stay it,
using very hard words of my Lord’s wilfulness.” Lord Burghley appears
to have been very ill at the time of the preparations;[634] but he was
sufficiently well to secure the appointment of the aged Lord Admiral to
the joint command of the fleet, to the discontent, and almost despair, of
Essex; and to pen an order from the Queen strictly limiting the objects
of the expedition to the destruction of the Spanish ships manifestly
intended for the invasion of England. The great fleet of 96 sail, with
a contingent of 24 sail of Hollanders, left Plymouth on the 5th June,
and on the 20th appeared before the astounded eyes of the citizens of
Cadiz. The divided command, and the small experience of actual fighting
at sea of Howard and Essex, was nearly bringing about a disaster to the
English; but at a critical moment Ralegh’s advice was taken. The fleet
sailed boldly into the harbour, and destroyed the shipping first, and
then captured and sacked the city.

It was the greatest blow that had ever been dealt to the power of Spain;
and it proved that Philip’s system was rotten, and that the Spanish
pretensions were incapable of being sustained by force of arms. When
Essex came back he found that Sir Robert Cecil had been appointed
Secretary of State (July) in his absence.[635] The Queen was fractious,
and offended that her orders had been exceeded, and above all, that she
had not received so much booty as she expected; and for a time Essex
was kept at arm’s length. But now that Cecil had obtained the coveted
post of Secretary, he wisely endeavoured to make friends with Essex, who
had so bitterly opposed him;[636] and, greatly to the Queen’s delight,
a new appearance of cordiality between them was the result. Sir Robert
even brought Ralegh into the circle of grace. He had been for five years
under the Queen’s frown, but Cadiz had made him friendly with Essex,
and now Cecil and Essex together brought about a reconciliation with
the Queen. On the 2nd June 1597 Ralegh once more knelt before his royal
mistress, and donned his long-neglected silver armour as captain of the

The sacking of Cadiz had irretrievably ruined Philip’s prestige; but
it had not deprived him of all material resources, heavy and ceaseless
as had been the drain upon his treasury for the war in France. The
Irish chiefs left him no peace from their importunities, and assured
him again and again that with the aid of a few men the island might be
his, and Elizabeth and the heretics at his mercy. Promises, sums of
money, and slight succour were sent from time to time; but the insult of
Cadiz and the exhortations of the Church, at length prevailed upon the
King to attempt one great effort in Ireland to crush his enemy before
swift approaching death struck him down. We understand now that such a
system as his foredoomed to failure any attempt to organise promptly an
efficient naval armament; for penury, peculation, delay, and ineptitude
were the natural result of the minutest details being jealously retained
in the hands of an overworked hermit hundreds of miles away from the
centre of activity. But in England the news of his intentions caused far
greater apprehension than we now know that they deserved; and Essex was
again all eagerness to take out another fleet, and repeat elsewhere the
_coup_ of Cadiz.

This time he found no obstacles raised by the Cecils. In a biography of
Lord Burghley, it is not necessary to probe the vexed question of the
sincerity of Sir Robert Cecil’s reconciliation with Essex. Most inquirers
of late years have assumed, with some show of justification, that it
was from the first a deep-laid plot of Cecil, perhaps with Ralegh’s
co-operation, to ruin the Earl, as in its results it certainly did. But
without admitting this, or at least implicating Burghley himself in such
a plan,[637] it may fairly be assumed that when Cecil saw how smoothly
things went for him, and how soon he obtained the Secretaryship when
Essex was absent, he may have welcomed any opportunity of again getting
rid of so turbulent and quarrelsome a colleague.[638] The earl’s pride
and jealousy had also taken from him much of the Queen’s regard, and she
was determined to humble or to break him. The first project had been to
raise a small expedition under Ralegh and Lord Thomas Howard to intercept
the Spanish treasure fleets; but when it became known that the Adelantado
of Castile was making ready a fleet of 100 ships and a powerful army in
the Galician ports, Essex proposed a great enlargement of the plan. He
was authorised to raise a force of 120 ships, the Dutchmen were induced
to send a strong contingent, and with infinite labour Essex and Ralegh
induced the Queen to consent to their plan for burning the Spanish fleet,
in port or wherever they could find it, and then to intercept and capture
the homeward-bound flotillas from the East and West Indies.

Lord Burghley’s attitude is seen by a cordial letter he wrote to Essex
early in May (State Papers, Domestic). “I thank you,” he says, “for not
reproving my objections for the resolutions for conference. I hope to
see you at Court to-morrow, if God by over-great pains do not countermand
me. _I like so well to attempt something against our Spanish enemy that I
hope God will prosper the purpose._”

The fleets gathered in Plymouth Sound early in July, and sailed in three
fine squadrons under Essex, Thomas Howard, and Ralegh respectively.[639]
On the day he sailed unsuspecting Essex in the fulness of his heart wrote
a fervent letter of thanks to Cecil.[640] He would, he said, never forget
his kindness whilst he lived; “and if I live to return, I will make you
think your friendship well professed.” Unfortunately he returned sooner
than he expected, for the fleets were caught in a storm and driven back
with much suffering and danger. Famine and sickness broke out, and for a
whole month the fleets were wind-bound in the Channel, whilst the Queen
began to waver about allowing her ships and men to be exposed again so
late in the season. Once more the aged Lord Treasurer wrote to Essex on
his return (July 23), “It is not right that I should condole with you
for your late torment at sea, for I am sure that would but increase your
sorrow, and be no relief to me. I am but as a monoculus, by reason of
a flux falling into my left eye; and you see the impediment by my evil
writing and short letter.… In the time of this disaster I did by common
usage of my morning prayer on the 23rd of every month, in the 107th
Psalm, read these nine verses proper for you to repeat, and especially
six of them, which I send to you. This letter savours more of divinity.
As for humanity, I refer you to the joint-letter from the Lord Admiral,
myself, and my son.”[641]

Essex and Ralegh posted to London early in August and prayed the Queen
to let them resume their voyage. “Only,” said Essex, “allow me to take
half the ships and to do as I please where I like, and I will perform
a worthy service.” But the Queen would not hear of such a thing, nor
should they with her permission enter any Spanish port at all. At last,
as a compromise, she consented to Ralegh’s sending a few fire-ships
into Ferrol, on condition that Essex was to keep quite away from the
enterprise; and to be sure she should be obeyed, she insisted upon the
soldiers being left at home. At length, on the 17th August, the truncated
expedition again sailed. Disaster, jealousy and division dogged it from
the first. Another great storm drove the squadrons asunder. The winds
prevented them from approaching Ferrol. Ralegh, under a misunderstanding,
attacked Fayal, in the Azores, in the absence of Essex, and the
sycophants around the Earl bred evil blood between them. The main body
of the flotillas from the Indies escaped them; and eventually Essex,
with his ships battered and disabled, crept into Plymouth at the end
of October, bringing with them hardly sufficient plunder to pay their
expenses. Fortunately in their absence the Spanish fleet for the invasion
of Ireland had also been driven back and practically destroyed by a
storm, and all present danger from that quarter had disappeared.

Essex found that in his absence the Lord Admiral had been made Earl of
Nottingham, which, in conjunction with his office, gave him precedence,
and that Secretary Cecil had been made Chancellor of the Duchy of
Lancaster. The Earl was furious, and sulked at Wanstead instead of going
to court; but the old Lord Treasurer was once more amiability itself—as
well he might be, for his son was winning all along the line. On the 9th
November he wrote to the Earl, “My writing manifests my sickness. Some of
your friends say that the cause of your absence is sickness, so I send my
servant to ascertain your health. I wish I could remedy any other cause
of your absence; but writing will do no good. It requires another manner
of remedy, in which you may command my service.”[642] And again, ten days
later, “I hoped you would have come to court for the fortieth anniversary
of her Majesty’s coronation. I hear, to my sorrow, that you have been
really sick, but hope you will soon be back at court, where you shall
find a harvest of business, needful for many heads, wits, and hands.”[643]

Although the young Earl obstinately absented himself from court, he
seems to have sent a letter of thanks and friendship to Lord Burghley;
for the latter on the 30th November writes expressing his joy at the
Earl’s contentment, but chiding him for his continued absence, which he
says is exposing him to “diversity of censures.” “I find,” he says, “her
Majesty sharp to such as advise her to that which it were meet for her
to do, and for you to receive. My good Lord, overcome her with yielding
without disparagement of your honour, and plead your own cause with your
presence; whereto I will be as serviceable as any friend you have, to
my power—which is not to run, for lack of good feet, nor to fight, for
lack of good hands, but ready with my heart to command my tongue to do
you due honour.”[644] At length, probably at the suggestion of Burghley,
the angry Queen made Essex Earl-Marshal, which gave him precedence over
Howard, and he came back to court sulky and quarrelsome, galled that
cooler heads and keener wits than his could work their will in spite of

In the meanwhile the war between France and Spain was wearing itself out.
Since the conversion of Henry IV. matters were gradually working back
into their natural groove of nationalities instead of faiths. Philip
was bankrupt in purse, broken in spirit, and already on the brink of
the grave; but the awful sacrifices his ruined country had made had at
least prevented France from becoming a Protestant country. He was leaving
Flanders to his beloved daughter Isabel, and wished to bequeath to her
peace as well. By Henry’s treaty with England and the United Provinces
two years before he had bound himself to make common cause with them
against the King of Spain; but the main cause of his own quarrel with
Spain had nearly disappeared, for the Leaguers were now mostly on his
side, and for a year past the Pope (Clement VIII.) had been busy trying
to bring about a reconciliation between the two great Catholic powers.
The pontiff assured Henry that he was not bound to keep faith with
heretics, and might break the treaty with Elizabeth and Holland. “I
have,” replied the Béarnais, “pledged my faith to the Queen of England
and the United Provinces. How could I treat to their detriment, or even
fail in a single point, without betraying my duty, my honour, and my own
interests? No pretext would excuse such baseness and perfidy, and if it
could, sooner than avail myself of it I would lose my life.”

But when, in the autumn of 1597, the Spaniards were finally routed
at Amiens, it was evident that Spain could fight no longer, and that
the moment for peace had come. The Archduke, who was to marry the new
sovereign of Flanders, was especially anxious for peace before the
Spanish King died, and at his instance advances to Henry were made.
This was the last great international question in which Burghley was
personally interested, and by a curious coincidence it brought once
more to the front the traditional English policy, of which he was the
representative; a policy which had for many years past been broken and
interrupted by the religious position on the Continent. The growing power
and ambition of the Dutch United Provinces, and their aid sent to Henry
IV. against Spain, together with Henry’s conversion to Catholicism, had
once more aroused the fear of England that by an arrangement between them
the French might dominate Spanish Flanders. The project of making the
Infanta and her husband practically independent sovereigns of the Belgic
provinces was therefore eminently favourable to English interests, and
drew England once more irresistibly to the side of Spain, as against the
Dutchmen and Henry IV.; for the possession of Flanders by the French (or
now even by the strong pushing young Republic under French influence) was
one of the two eventualities against which for centuries the traditional
policy of England had been directed. Coincident, therefore, with Henry’s
negotiations, secret approaches were made by England to the Archduke, and
once more, after a half-century of fighting, England was smiling as of
old on a “Duke of Burgundy,” as against a French King.[645]

In November Henry sent envoys to the States and to England to demand
further aid, but with the alternative of a peace conference. The Dutchmen
thought they had been betrayed, and indignantly said so; refusing
absolutely to make peace with ruined, defeated Spain, except on their
own terms, and in their own time. Elizabeth had far greater reason
than they for indignation with her ally, and had to be approached more
gently and with greater diplomacy. De Maisse, Henry’s envoy, arrived in
London on the 2nd, and was received by the Queen on the 8th December. He
found the Cecils absolute masters of the Council; for all of Burghley’s
predictions of the falsity of Frenchmen had come true, and his objection
to the treaty of alliance (May 1596) had been more than justified. Essex,
only just returned to court from his sulky fit at Wanstead, took in
earnest Henry’s demands for reinforcements against Spain, and was all
for fighting again, whilst Burghley of course understood them to be only
a mask for the peace suggestion. The Queen and Burghley were determined
to assume indignation and grievance in order that, in the coming peace,
they might get the best possible terms for England; indignant, however,
as they might pretend to be, there was nothing they desired more than
a pacification that should open all ports to English trade and leave
Flanders in the hands of a modest, moderate sovereign under the guarantee
of Spain. But withal it behoved them to walk warily, for Spain had
outwitted them in the peace negotiations of 1588, and Protestant Holland
could not be abandoned.

On the 8th December De Maisse was received in State by Elizabeth at
Whitehall,[646] whither Lord Burghley was brought in a litter, but Essex
was still absent. The Queen was enigmatical but polite, and referred
the envoy to Lord Burghley, with whom he conferred on the 10th, when it
became evident that the object of the English was to gain time whilst
other negotiations were proceeding. The Queen exerted all her wiles and
ancient coquetry on De Maisse to delay matters, and not without success;
whilst she inflamed Caron, the envoy of the Dutch States, with hints of
Henry’s desertion and perfidy, in order to embitter French relations with

At length Henry IV. got tired of this buckler play, and De Maisse plainly
told Elizabeth that the King considered that her delay in giving him
a definite answer released him from his pledges under the treaty of
alliance. Again he was referred to Burghley, whom he saw again early in
January. The Queen could not treat with the Archduke, said the Treasurer.
If her envoys were to attend a peace conference, it could only be with
the representatives of the King of Spain; besides, he said, the Queen
must settle with States before she entered into any negotiations at all.
It was well known to Henry and his minister at this time that brisk
secret negotiations were being conducted between Elizabeth and the
Archduke; and in a final interview with Burghley on 10th January, De
Maisse gave him an ultimatum. His master must make peace or be supported
in war. Essex was present at the interview; and although the Lord
Treasurer invited him to speak he remained obstinately silent, except to
say that he did not see how religious dissensions would allow of peace
being made with Spain.

At length Burghley announced that the Queen would send an embassy to
France to settle with Henry the whole question of peace or war, in
conjunction with an embassy from the States. The embassy consisted of Sir
Robert Cecil, Sir Thomas Wilkes, and Dr. Herbert; and the instructions
taken by them are contained in the last of the important State papers
written by the failing hand of the great statesman. The document is a
long and sagacious one, laying down as an absolute condition of any peace
with Spain that the United Provinces should be secured from all fear of
future attempts to subdue them. An earnest desire for peace breathes all
through the document, but it must be a real peace, which acknowledged
accomplished facts, abandoned inflated claims, and recognised the rights
of Protestantism to equal treatment.

Cecil and his companions embarked from Dover on the 17th February,
and on the death of Wilkes in Rouen, the whole burden of the embassy
fell upon the Secretary. It was not until they reached Angers on the
21st that Cecil saw the King. In effect the Béarnais had already made
peace secretly with the Archduke; the States were determined that they
would give up no tittle of their hard-won independence, and haughtily
refused even a truce if their rights were not recognised. England dared
not abandon them, so that Cecil on his interview with Henry could only
reproach him for his desertion of the ally to whom he owed so much. Henry
replied that his position was such that he could not do otherwise. “I
am,” he said, “like a man clothed in velvet that hath no meat to put in
his mouth.”[647]

On the 28th March Cecil received a letter from his father dated the
1st, which caused him deep alarm. “The bearer,” it said, “will report
to you my great weakness. But do not take any conceit thereby to hinder
your service; but I must send you a message delivered to me in writing
by Mr. Windebanke. I make no comment, not knowing out of what shop the
text is come, but in my opinion _non sunt ponendi rumores ante salutem_.
God bless you in earth and me in heaven, the place of my present
pilgrimage.”[648] Cecil unwillingly followed Henry to Nantes on his
hollow errand; but this letter disturbed him, and at the earliest moment
he took leave of France and returned, although on the way somewhat better
news reached him. “Mr. Secretary returned the 1st of the month” (May),
says Chamberlain, “somewhat crazed with his posting journey, the report
of his father’s dangerous state gave him wings; but for aught I can learn
the old man’s case is not so desperate but he may hold out another year
well enough.”[649]

Before Cecil had left on his mission, greatly against his inclination,
he had received a promise from Essex that during his absence he would
not cause any alteration to be made either in policy or court affairs.
The Earl had been as good as his word, and for a few days after Cecil’s
return they were friendly; but when the Peace of Vervins was actually
signed between Henry and Philip the old feud between the policies of
peace and war broke out again. This was one of those junctures when
France and Spain being friendly, it had always been the Burghley policy
to draw closer to the latter power, whilst at the same time fortifying
those who were opposing her; and this was the course adopted by the
Cecils on the present occasion. Francis Vere was sent to Holland with
promises and encouragement for the States to stand firm; whilst the
Archduke in Flanders was secretly informed that the Queen desired peace,
and would enter into negotiations if she were assured that her desires
were reciprocated. This policy soon alienated Essex and the war-party,
and after one stormy interview on the subject with the dying Lord
Treasurer, the latter handed to the Earl a book of Psalms and silently
pointed with his finger to the line, “Bloodthirsty men shall not live
out half their days;” a last prophecy which the Earl’s pride and folly
hastened to fulfil.[650]

All the summer the aged minister lingered sick unto death in his palace
in the Strand, sometimes taking the air in a coach or litter, and on two
occasions going as far as Theobalds. During the time his great yearning
was to bring about a peace before he died between his mistress and
the old enemy, who, in the bitterness of defeat, was dying too in the
frowning mountains of the Guadarrama far away. For forty years these two
men had striven as none ever strove before to maintain peace between
England and Spain; and their efforts had been unavailing, for religious
differences had for a time obliterated national lines of policy. But
Burghley had had the supreme wisdom of bending before superior force
and adapting his varying means to his unvarying objects. England thus
had gained, whilst Philip, buoyed up with the fatuous belief in his
divine power and inspiration, scorning to give way to considerations
of expediency, had been ruined by war and had failed in most of his
aims. And yet through the welter of wrong and slaughter, Providence had
decreed that the objects that both men aimed at should not be utterly
defeated. The alliance between the countries was needed both by Spain
and England in order that Flanders should not fall into the hands of the
French, and this at least had been attained. By England it was required
to counterbalance a possible French domination of Scotland, and this had
ceased to be a danger. On the side of Philip had been gained the point
that France was still a Catholic country; whilst to England it was to be
credited that Protestantism was now a great force which demanded equality
with the older form of belief, and, above all, that England was no longer
in the leading strings of France or Spain, but had, in the forty years of
dexterous balance under Elizabeth and Burghley, attained full maturity
and independence, with the consciousness of coming imperial greatness.

To say that this was all owing to the management of the Queen and her
minister would be untrue. Circumstances and the faults and shortcomings
of their rivals—nay, their own shortcomings and weaknesses as well—aided
them powerfully to attain the brilliant success that attended them; but
it may safely be asserted that without a man of Burghley’s peculiar gifts
at her side Elizabeth would at an early period of her reign have lost the
nice balance upon which her safety alone depended.

It was curious that the last hours of Burghley should have been occupied
in striving still to bring about peace with Spain, which had been his
object through life, though he had attained for England already most of
the political advantages which a peace with Spain might bring; but old
prejudices against France were still as strong as they had been in his
youth, for, as he had truly foretold, the Béarnais had played them false,
and thenceforward no Frenchman should ever be trusted again. Spain, in
any case, would keep the false Frenchmen out of Flanders; so Spain was
England’s friend.

For twelve days the Lord Treasurer lay in his bed at Cecil House
before he died, suffering but slightly, and resigned, almost eager
for his coming release. On the evening of the 3rd August he fell into
convulsions, and when the fit had passed, “Now,” quoth he, “the Lord be
praised, the time is come;” and calling his children, he blessed them
and took his leave, commanding them “to love and fear God, and love one
another.”[651] Then he prayed for the Queen, handed his will to his
steward Bellot, turned his face to the wall, and died in the early hours
of the next morning; decorous, self-controlled, and dignified to the last.

His death, though long expected, was a blow which the aged Queen felt for
the rest of her life. She wept, and withdrew herself from all company,
we are told, when she was informed of her loss;[652] and two years
afterwards Robert Sidney, writing to Sir John Harrington, says, “I do see
the Queen often; she doth wax weak since last troubles, and Burghley’s
death doth often draw tears from her goodly cheeks.”

Even Essex, who had wrought so much against him, felt the loss the
country had sustained. At the splendid funeral in Westminster Abbey[653]
on the 29th August, we are told by an eye-witness that “my Lord of
Essex to my judgment did more than ceremoniously show sorrow”;[654] and
Chamberlain, writing on the next day, says, “The Lord Treasurer’s funeral
was performed yesterday with all the rites that belonged to so great a
personage. The number of mourners were above 500, whereof there were many
noblemen, and among the rest the Earl of Essex, who (whether it were
upon consideration of the present occasion or for his own disfavours),
methought, carried the heaviest countenance of the company.”[655]

Throughout Europe the death of the Lord Treasurer was looked upon as a
loss to the cause of peace. Essex, it was thought, would now hold sway
and launch England upon a policy of warlike adventure. But Essex was
himself hurrying to his doom; and Robert Cecil held firmly in his hand
the strings of his great father’s policy—a policy which was on the death
of the Queen to bring a Scottish king to the English throne, and unite
England and Spain again in a friendly alliance. The baseness and trickery
that accompanied the reunion of the countries belong to the history of
the reign of James, and formed no part of the plan of Lord Burghley or
his mistress. There was no truckling in their relations with foreign
nations, however powerful they might be, and the servile meanness of the
Stuarts in carrying out Lord Burghley’s traditions must be ascribed to
their degeneracy rather than to the policy itself.

Of Lord Burghley’s place amongst great statesmen it may be sufficient
to say that his gifts and qualities were exactly what were needed by
the circumstances of his times. He was called upon to rule in a time of
radical change, when vehement partisans on one side and the other were
fiercely struggling for the mastery of their opinions. It is precisely
in such times as these that the moderate, tactful, cautious man must in
the end be called upon to decide between the extremes, and to prevent
catastrophe by steering a middle course. This throughout his life was the
function of William Cecil. His gifts were not of the highest, for he was
not a constructive statesman or a pioneer of great causes. He often stood
by and saw injustice done by extreme men on one or the other side rather
than lose his influence by appearing to favour the opposite extreme;
and, as we have seen in his own words, he was quite ready to carry out
as a minister a policy of which as a Councillor he had expressed his
disapproval. This may not have been high-minded statesmanship, but at
least it enabled him to keep his hand upon the helm, and sooner or later
to bring the ship of State back to his course again. He was a man whose
objects and ideals were much higher than his methods, because the latter
belonged to his own age, whereas the former were based upon broad truths
and great principles, which are eternal. But it may safely be asserted
that the rectitude of his mind and his great sense of personal dignity
would prevent him from adopting any course for which warrant could not
be found, either in the law of the land or what he would regard as
overpowering national expediency. The first cause he served was that of
the State; the second was William Cecil and his house. Through a long
life of ceaseless toil and rigid self-control these were the mainsprings
of his activity and devotion. If he was austere in a frivolous court, if
bribes failed to buy him in an age of universal corruption, if he was
cool and judicious amidst general vehemence, it was because the qualities
of his mind and his strict self-schooling enabled him to understand that
his country might thus be most effectively served, and that it would be
unworthy of William Cecil to act otherwise. The gifts which made him a
great minister at a period when moderation was the highest statesmanship,
would have made him a great judge at any period, and it is in its
judicial aspect that the finest qualities of his mind are discovered.
It was to the keen casuist who weighed to a scruple every element of a
question and saw it on every side; it was to the calm, imperturbable
judge, that from the first hour of her reign Elizabeth looked to save her
against herself; and whatever may be said of Cecil’s statesmanship in
its personal aspect, it had the supreme merit of having kept the great
Queen upon the straight path up which she led England from weakness,
distraction, and dependence, to unity and strength.

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