1902 Encyclopedia > England > [English History] England and the Tudors: Elizabeth I.

(Part 27)


Part 27: England and the Tudors: Elizabeth I.

On the reign of Henry followed the reigns of his three children in succession, according to the order laid down in the statute of 1544. The marked historical feature of these reigns is that they are the time of strictly religious reformation. It was found that the middle system of Henry could not last, that the English Church and nation must throw in its lot with one side or the other in the great controversy of the age. Under Edward the religious reformation was wrought. Under Mary, first the work of Edward, and then the work of Henry, was undone, and the authority of the Roman see was again admitted. Under Elizabeth the work both of Henry and of Edward was done again. Her reign, four times the length of the two reigns of her brother and sister, is the time when the religious position of England took its final form. The national Church was organized in its essential features as it still remains. And, before the end of her reign, the two parties, those who thought change had gone too far and those who thought that it had not gone far enough, had ceased to be mere parties within the same body. They had become distinct bodies of separatists on either side of the national Church. The reign of Elizabeth saw the beginnings of the Roman catholic body on the one side and of the Protestant dissenters on the other. As yet both dissentient bodies existed only as objects of persecution. A main feature of the later religious history of England has been the steps by which, first the Protestant dissenters, and then the Roman Catholics have been admitted to full equality with the members of the national Church.

The political history of these reigns, domestic and foreign, is of high importance, but it depends in a large measure on the religious history. It was mainly owing to religious causes that the enmity towards France, so strong in earlier times, so strong again in later times, was during this period exchanged for a temporary enmity towards Spain. And during the reign of Elizabeth we see the beginnings of that alliance between certain religious parties and certain political parties which forms the leading feature of the history of the seventeenth century. In truth, it was during this time that organized parties, either religious or political had their beginning. In a certain sense there have been Whigs and Tories from the beginning. We can see the existence of different political opinions, of different theories as to the relation of the crown and people, in days before the Norman Conquest; and in every civil war, in the wars of the thirteenth century above all, distinct political parties stand forth and meet one another in arms. But it can hardly be said that such parties lasted beyond the immediate occasion, or that the party of one age was connected by direct succession with the party of an earlier age. But from the days of Elizabeth the political and religious parties of later times can be distinctly traced. From her time they have an unbroken succession; from her time they have the special characteristic of being parliamentary parties.

The six years reign of the young son of Henry VIII. might almost be called a revolutionary period throughout. Its beginning marks a stage in the history of kingship in England. Edward Vi., succeeding by the express terms of an act of parliament, was the first king at whose accession the last traces of the ancient popular election were dispensed with. He was a minor and his authority was struggled for by a knot of ambitious men, all of whom had risen into importance during the late reign. The king’s uncle, Edward earl of Hertford, named by Henry as one member of a council of regency, contrived to make himself duke of Somerset and sole protector. Finding a rival in his younger brother Thomas, he, Cromwell-fashion, procured his attainder without a hearing. In 1549 he himself fell before the arts of John Dudley, earl of Warwick and duke of Northumberland, the son of the notorious agent of Henry VII., the father of the notorious favourite of Elizabeth. Somerset was partly restored to favour in 1550; but in 1551 came his trial and execution, strange to say on a charge of felony, though a political felony, and not of treason. The remaining two years of the reign of Edward are the reign of Northumberland. His last act was to persuade the young king to do without parliamentary authority what his father had done by parliamentary authority, and to settle the succession to the crown by will. By this illegal instrument he disinherited both his sisters, and named Jane Grey as his successor. As a granddaughter of the French queen Mary, Jane was in the line named by Henry in case of the failure of his own children; but her immediate promotion was due to her being the wife of a son of Northumberland. Jane, proclaimed by the council, was rejected by the nation, and Mary, whose parliamentary title was undoubted, was raised to the throne by a popular movement. Northumberland of course paid his forfeit with his head; but the execution of Jane herself, not at the time, but after a later revolt in which she had no share, was an act of needless harshness.

England under Edward altogether fell form the great European position which she had held under Henry. The chief foreign events of the time are the war with Scotland, the useless and barbarous havoc done by the protector, and the peace both with Scotland and with France by which Boulogne was restored. But the real character of the reign is marked by its ecclesiastical changes, changes which are largely mixed up with a social revolution which was now going on. The strictly religious changes began with the promulgation of a Book of Homilies in the first year of Edward. It marks the state of things at the time that one of these homilies, which are still to this day set forth by authority to be read in churches, was the work of Edmund Bonner. The homilies were followed in 1548 by a form for the administration of the communion in English, an in 1549 by the publication of the complete English Prayer-Book and an act allowing the marriage of the clergy. This first Prayer-Book of Edward marks the first stage of the religious Reformation. It is a purely English stage; the influence of Rome has been cast aside; the influence of continental Protestantism has not yet come in. But some of the foreign Reformers were before long invited to England, and their presence soon made itself felt. In 1552 the Prayer-Book was revised in a more distinctly Protestant direction. Before this, in 1551, a Book of Articles of Religion, forty-two in number, were put forth. The Prayer-Book and the Book of Articles represent two sides of the Reformed English Church. The Prayer-Book, chiefly formed out of ancient service-books, remained, even after the changes of 1552, a link with the older state of things. The Articles, even after some changes in the time of Elizabeth, form a manifesto on behalf of the new state of things and a link with the Reformed Churches in other lands. The Prayer-Book and the Articles have ever since been severally the watchwords of two parties within the Church. It is not too much to say that there has ever since been a party which has loved the Prayer-Book and endured the Articles, and a party which has loved the Articles and endured the Prayer-Book. By the end of Edward’s reign, the English Church stood by itself, retaining the old fabric of ecclesiastical government, with a service-book chiefly drawn from ancient sources, but with a system of doctrine breathing the spirit of the more thorough-going Reformers of the continent. Had Edward lived, further changes would probably have followed. As it was the reaction under Mary opened the way for the final settlement under Elizabeth.

The position of the prelates who clave to the old system during Edward’s reign should be carefully noticed. They neither resigned their sees nor refused obedience to the new law. It does not appear that any bishop declined the use of the first Prayer-Book. Gardiner and Bonner were imprisoned and deprived of their sees on various pretences, as were several bishops later in the reign for refusal to comply with various orders, some of which certainly had no parliamentary authority. A large body of the prelates and others were dissatisfied with the changes that were made; but there was not only no separation, there was no disobedience to the law. More than one bishop who appears as a persecutor in Mary’s reign had gone considerable lengths under Edward. And, as there was little non-conformity, there was little persecution in this reign. The Lady Mary, protected by the emperor, continued the private use of the old service. The heresy statutes were abolished; yet Cranmer found names, under cover of the common law, to send to the flames one Englishwoman and one stranger who ventured to go further in the way of novelty than himself.

But, besides ecclesiastical reform, this reign was beyond all other times the time of ecclesiastical spoliation. It was even more distinctly so than the reign of Henry. The suppression of the monasteries, the destruction of the shrines, were at least acts of policy. But in Edward’s reign the possessions of the Church were simply thrown to be scrambled for by the courtiers. One of the first acts of the reign, the suppression of those colleges, chantries, and the like, which Henry had spared, was at least done in legal form. But, during the rest of Edward’s time, Somerset, Northumberland, and the rest simply seized on whatever they thought good. The nearest approached top legal form in such cases was the show of an exchange by which a valuable estate was exchanged for a paltry rectory. And, as far as the courtier were concerned, everything went to enrich private men. The one act in which the public good was at all thought of came from the king himself. Edward, of his own act, applied a part of the revenues of the suppressed colleges and chantries to the foundation of that great system of grammar schools which still bear his name.

The legislation of this reign presents some good points. Many of the newly created treasons of the late reign were abolished, and two witnesses were made necessary on trials for that crime. The act which gave the king’s proclamation the force of a statute was repealed. On the other hand, there was the severe Statute of Labourers. This reign too was marked, like those of Richard II. and Henry VI by popular revolts. One grievance was the throwing land out of tillage and taking it into pasture. This was laid specially to the charge of the grantees of the monastic lands, who were found to be in most respects harder landlords than the monks had been. Risings of the lower people took place, both in the eastern counties where the Reformed doctrines were popular, and in the West where the religious changes were disliked. The western insurrection broke our on the first use of the new Prayer-Book. The insurgents demanded the continuance of the old service and a partial restoration of the monasteries. This last demand perhaps points to the state of feeling into which the various currents for and against the monastic orders had at last settled down. The popular belief clearly was that, in the former state of things, there had been more monasteries than enough but that the country had not gained by sweeping them away altogether. It was eminently characteristic of the time that this revolt of Englishmen was put down by the help of German and Italian mercenaries.

The reign of Edward was followed by another reign, yet shorter than his, own, but not less memorable. The nine days wonder of Jane’s reign was followed by the five years of Mary. It is singular that, though the crown of England had so often passed to claimants whose descent was wholly in the female line, yet England had never before seen a crowned queen. The empress Matilda was never crowned, and she bore no higher title than lady. The novelty gave rise to some cavil, and it was found needful at a later stage of Mary’s reign for Parliament to declare that a queen of England possessed all the rights and powers of a king. This first female reign was the time which finally settled the religious position of England. There can be little doubt that throughout Edward’s reign the mass of the people were still attached to the system of Henry, that they did not wish for the religious changes of Edward’s reign, but that they had not the slightest wish to bring back the spiritual dominion of Rome. They were of Mary taught them that the middle system would not work, that one side or the other must be taken, that the mass could not be had without the pope. Furthermore, men learned to connect both mass and pope with a political alliance which they hated, and with a persecution different both in kind and in degree from anything which England had before seen. As for Mary herself, it is as impossible to deny her many personal virtues as it is to deny her share in a persecution which, whoever may have been its advisers, she at least did nothing to stop. But her personal position had much to do with the course of events, religious and political. She was the only person in the realm who was bound, not only to the ancient faith and ritual, but also to the supremacy of Rome. The supremacy of Rome was inseparably connected with the validity of her mother’s marriage and the legitimacy of her own birth. As it was, she was simply queen by act of parliament. She naturally wished to be queen as the legitimate daughter of her father. And, if she was bound to Rome, she was no less bound to Spain. The emperor had been her firm and her only friend, whose influence had secured her life and her freedom of worship. Anther sovereign might have restored the ancient worship with the assent of the greater part of the nation; but, with Mary as queen, the restoration of the ancient worship meant spiritual submission to Rome and political subserviency to Spain; and in this the nation was not prepared to follow her.

The ecclesiastical changes of Mary’s reign began at the beginning. She caused the old services to be used on several occasions before their restoration by law, and by virtue of the ecclesiastical supremacy which she inherited from Henry and Edward, she caused the bishops who had been deprived during the late reign to be restored to their sees. Foremost among these was Stephen Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, who became the queen’s chancellor and chief adviser. There seems reason to think that his share in the persecution has been greatly exaggerated. It is certain that his conduct in secular matters was that of a patriotic, and even a constitutional, statesman. A parliament shortly met, which declared the validity of the marriage of Henry and Katherine and the legitimacy of their daughter’s birth. The ancient worship was restored, and some special enactments of the two late reigns were repealed; but the ecclesiastical power of the crown was in no way touched , and nothing was said of the restoration of the papal authority. The middle system of Henry was thus restored, but only for a moment. The next great question was that of the queen’s marriage. Gardiner and her English advisers favoured her marriage with Edward Courtenay, earl of Devonshire, whose parents had been among the victims of Henry, and who was descended from one of the daughters of Edward IV. But Mary’s fixed purpose from the beginning was to marry her Spanish kinsman Philip. Sir Thomas Wyatt and the duke of Suffolk, father of the imprisoned Jane, took arms to hinder the marriage; but their enterprise led only to their deaths and to those of Jane and her husband. More interesting in the history of our institutions is the fact, almost unparallel in these times, that one of the accused persons, Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, was acquitted by the jury that tried him. His life was saved; but he remained for a while in prison, and the jurors, according to a custom which was not left off till more than a century later were fined. In the next year, 1554, the queen’s marriage with Philip, already king of Naples, took place. This first husband of a reigning queen was made king of England and of Mary’s other kingdoms for her life. In the next year, by the abdication of Charles V., Philip succeeded to the Spanish, Italian, and Burgundian possessions of his father. The difference between the position of Philip and that of Charles is to be noticed. Charles V. was emperor; alliance with an emperor was simply the continuation of a policy older than the Norman Conquest. But Philip was not emperor; his policy was not imperial but Spanish. The marriage made England for a moment, in an European point of view, a mere tool of Spain. At home it no doubt strengthened the movement for complete reconciliation with Rome, and for the persecution of those who, after being dominant in the last reign, were deemed heretics in this.

In the year of Mary’s marriage Reginald Pole, now cardinal, came back to England as legate, and the Lords and Commons of England knelt to receive his absolution for the national schism. He confirmed by papal authority various acts done during the time of the separation, and it does not appear that the ordinations of bishops and priests which had been made during Edward’s reign were ever called in question. And, to quiet a doubt which made many minds uneasy, the actual owners of church lands were confirmed in their possession. An act of parliament followed, by which the papal authority was restored as it has stood before the changes of Henry. Gardiner and Bonner, the strenuous opponents of the pope in Henry’s days, and Thirlby, who had gone a long way with the changes under Edward, were now bishops of a Church in full communion with Rome. That is doubtless, they had seen that, at all events with a Spanish king consort, the middle system could not be kept, and that those who clave to the mass must accept the pope with it. From this time we have two distinct religions parties, the party of the pope and the party of the pope and the party of the Reformation. These last were now deemed heretics, and the old heresy laws were revived for their destruction. In 1555 the persecution began, and it lasted till the end of Mary’s reign. It differed from the two-edged persecution of Henry’s reign in two points. Henry’s victims of either faith were comparatively few, and they were mostly persons of some importance. In the three years of the persecution of Mary, more victims were burned than in all the reigns before and after put together. And it was a persecution which, as far as the laity were concerned, fell mainly on victims whom Henry would have scorned to destroy, on the poor, the halt, and the blind. No layman of any distinction suffered; but on the Reformed clergy the hand of the destroyed fell heavily. Five bishops perished. Of these were Ridley and Larimer—true martyrs on one side, as More and Fisher on the other—Hooper, the professor of a straiter sect of Protestantism, and the less famous Farrar of St David’s. The primate followed the next year. He had been lawfully condemned to death for his treason in the usurpation of Jane; and his execution under that sentence, though it would have been a harsh measure, would have been a small matter compared with many an execution of the days of Henry. He was spread, probably in mercy; but he was spared only to bring on Mary and her government the deeper infamy of burning one who had recanted his heresies. The persecution was throughout more the work of the council—by whom Bonner was blamed for slackness—than of the bishops. No one was more zealous for slaughter than William Paulet, marquess of Winchester, one of the new men who conformed to every change, and who died in honour under Elizabeth. After the burning of Cranmer, and not till then, though the see had been for some while vacant by his deprivation, Pole succeeded to the see of Canterbury, the last archbishop in communion with Rome.

The last days of Mary showed the impolicy of the Spanish match. Strange to say, one of the first acts of Philip, so pre-eminently the Catholic king, was a war with the pope, Paul IV., in his temporal character. Henry of France broke his truce with Spain, and encouraged English traitors to attempt the betrayal of Calais, and to make an actual landing in England. Mary declared war in 1557, and English troops shared in the victory of St Quintin. But at the beginning of the next year, the last of Mary’s reign, the French took Calais , and England ceased to be a continental power. She has won back that character in later times by the momentary possession of Dunkirk and the more lasting possession of Gibraltar; but the last relic of the conquests of Edward III. now passed away, as the last relics of the inheritance of Eleanor had passed away 105 years before. For a few months Mary bore up against sickness and neglect, against sorrow and national discontent. On November 17, 1558, she died, and the cardinal followed her, having been for a few hours the subject of Elizabeth.

This last fact brings us to the great reign which ends the period with which we are now dealing. Under Elizabeth that which was wanting to complete the character of England and of Englishmen was added. The religious character had no small share in fixing its political position at home and abroad. The national Church retained s much of the middle system of Henry as to hold in some sort a middle place between Rome and the Protestant Churches of the continent. But this middle position at no time extended to more than strictly religious points of doctrine discipline, and ceremony. As a nation, as a power, England has been essentially Protestant from the time of Elizabeth. But the fact of the middle position of the English Church led to the formation of religious bodies at home which parted off from it in opposite directions. And from Elizabeth’s day onwards the party of further religious reform has also been the party of political freedom. The Puritan party, it must be remembered, had no more notion of toleration than any other party of those days. Its object, like that of every other party, was not the mere toleration, but the exclusive establishment, of its own system/ But, on the one hand, every change, every debate, helped to bring about religious toleration in the end. And, as the Puritan movement was largely a movement against arbitrary authority, it was necessarily a movement in favour of freedom. But in England a movement in favour of freedom did not mean the establishment of anything new, but the restoration of what was old. It meant the carrying out of existing laws which Tudor despotism had trampled under foot. In any new legislation that might be needed, it meant the falling back on the old constitutional principles which had been always acknowledged, if not always carried out in practice, from Edward I. to Henry VI. Politically the struggle of the seventeenth century, which had its root in the controversies of the sixteenth, was the repetition of the struggle of the thirteenth. Even in the religious element in both cases there is a likeness. Earl Simon and his friends did not swerve from the received orthodoxy of their day; for the time for strictly religious controversy had not yet come, But they were more the less the Puritans of their own day. A revived spirit of independence marks the parliaments of Elizabeth, and marks them in proportion as the Puritan element grows stronger. Elizabeth loved arbitrary power as well as any sovereign that ever reigned; but she knew that one condition of holding any power was to know how to yield, and, when she yielded, she yielded gracefully.

Whatever may have been Elizabeth’s personal religious convictions, there can be little doubt that the middle system of Henry was that to which she was herself inclined. But she found that its complete restoration was impossible. If it had ever been possible, it was impossible now, after the reconciliation with Rome and the persecution. Her reform was therefore obliged to be, not a return to the system of her father, but a return, with some modifications, to the system of her brother. The second service-book of his reign was taken as the standard; but some changes were made, the first of several successive changes, all of which have been in the direction of a return to the first book. It was Elizabeth’s policy to make her new system as little offensive as might be to those who still preferred the old state of things. She refused the title of Head of the Church which was offered to her by parliament, and which had been borne by Henry, by Edward, and by Mary up to the reconciliation with Rome. She caused some passages in the prayer-book, which were specially offensive to the papal party, to be left out. The forty-two articles of Edward were not enforced in the earlier years of her reign, and when they were enforced, they were cut down to thirty-nine. One favourite doctrine of the Reformers, the lawfulness of marriage in the clergy, Elizabeth could never be brought to sanction by any legal enactment. The practice was simply winked at during the whole of her reign, and was not legalized till the reign of her successor. On the other hand, the anti-papal legislation of Henry was restored in its substance; but the refusal of the oaths, which under Henry had carried with it the pains of treason, in Elizabeth’s first legislation carried with it only loss of office. But we are met at the very beginning with the fact that the changes under Elizabeth, less violent in every way than the changes of Henry and Edward, met with a much more decided opposition from the bishops than the changes of Edward and Henry had met with. Prelates who had gone all lengths with Henry, who had gone a considerable way with Edward, refused the oath of supremacy under Elizabeth. One only of the existing bishops conformed, Kitchen of Llandaff, who had kept his see through all changes. The reason doubtless was that the rest had seen the hopelessness of the middle system, that they had chosen their side with the papacy, and that they could not either in conscience or in decency change again. The mass of the clergy conformed; s did the great body of the laity, including some of the lords who had voted in parliament against all Elizabeth’s changes. In the early years of Elizabeth, though there were two discontented parties in opposite directions, and though some still practised the old rites in secret, there was no open separation either way science of any one, but that the English service was established by law, and that the law must be obeyed. And there doubtless were still many who were ready to conform without approving, just as they were ready to obey the law on any other subject, even though they might wish the law on any other subject, even though they might wish the law to be altered. It has even been said that, when Pope Pius IV. made overtures to the queen, he offered to admit the use of the English service-book on condition of his supremacy being acknowledged.1 Such a compromise would have put the English Church in the same position as the bodies known in the East as United Greeks the United Armenians, who admit the papal authority, but keep their own national usages. But the pontiffs before and after Pius, Paul IV. and Pius V., death with Elizabeth in another fashion. In their eyes, and in the eyes of all the extreme supporters of papal claims, she was not only schismatic and heretic, but an usurper of the English crown.

On this last point much of the history of his reign turns, both domestic and foreign. According to English law, nothing could be better than Elizabeth’s parliamentary title, a title quite independent of the canonical legitimacy of her birth. But, according to the papal theory , she was illegitimate, and, according to the hereditary theory, her illegitimacy excluded her from the crown. On this showing, the lawful queen was Mary of Scotland, who, at the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign, was the wife of the dauphin, soon afterwards Francis II., king of France. Francis and Mary took the titles of king and queen of England and Ireland; and Mary, whether at the court of France, on the throne of Scotland, or in her prison in England, was the centre of all the hopes and all the conspiracies of the Roman party. This is not the place to go through her story, closely connected as it is throughout with English history. As regards the succession, it is clear that, by the will of Henry VIII., the claim of the house of Suffolk was undoubted. But it was a king of claim which needed a claimant of position and ability, like Richard of York in former times, to assert it. The house of Suffolk, on the other hand, was under a cloud, through a series of low or doubtful marriages. Their claim therefore passed out of notice. The queen obstinately refused to name any successor, or to allow any successor to be named; and all claims might be looked on as set aside by an act which made it treasonable to maintain any one to be the lawful successor except the queen’s own issue. In this state of things, men’s minds naturally turned to the Scottish line, which had at least hereditary descent in its favour. After the death of Mary the religious objection no longer applied, and James, her Protestant son, succeeded on Elizabeth’s death, without the slightest opposition from any party. The house of Stewart however came in without any shadow of parliamentary title, and directly in the teeth of the parliamentary title of the house of Suffolk, if the will of Henry VIII. is to be looked on as valid and unrepealed.
The quiet of the first eleven years of Elizabeth’s reign was broken in 1569 by a rising in the North in favour of the old religion. This was not a mere popular movement, like the western and eastern revolts of Edward’s reign. Its leaders were the greatest nobles of northern England, the earls of Northumberland and Westmoreland. It was, in short, the Pilgrimage of Grace over again. The insurrection was put down with a good deal of bloodshed, but not till mass had been again sung in Durham abbey. In the next year, 1570, the bull of excommunication and deposition pronounced by Pius V. changed all Elizabeth’s relations at home and abroad. From this time the English Roman Catholics, from party dissatisfied with change, become a distinct and a persecuted religious body. In the next year the Puritan movement for further change in the church took a more definite shape in the motions of Strickland in the House of Commons. About the same time the first separate Puritan congregations began to be formed. From this time the queen and her ecclesiastical system had to struggle with enemies on both sides, and to deal out persecution in different measures against both. A terrible engine for this purpose was the special creation of the reign of Elizabeth, the Court of High Commission. The queen as Supreme Governor of the Church appointed commissioners, clerical and lay, to exercise the somewhat undefined powers of her office. Alongside of the Star-Chamber a kindred power arose, to bring men’s souls and bodies into submission. And meanwhile a few men who ventured on specially daring speculations, and whose tenets were condemned alike by Roman, Anglican, and Puritan orthodoxy, were still sent to the flames. The Roman martyrs were many; but in their case religious and political disputes were hopelessly mixed up. Conspirators against the queen’s life or crown could not be allowed to escape on any pretence of religious duty. On the other hand, acts of simple religious worship were made criminal, though liable to the fate of treason and not of heresy. Plots of all kinds went on till the execution of Mary Stewart in 1587. After that time there was less material for plots; but the persecution went on on both sides. But by this time the foreign relations of the kingdom had become even more important than the condition of things at home.

At the death of Mary Tudor, England was at war with France and in close alliance with Spain. This state of things lasted during the early part of Elizabeth’s reign. She helped the French Protestants; but she concluded peace in 1564. During the rest of her reign the old enmity towards France died out. Elizabeth was at one time almost ready to accept a Catholic husband; at another time she again encouraged the French Protestants. But the accession of Henry of Navarre made France and England friends. Henry and Elizabeth had a common enemy. As enmity against France died out, so friendship for Spain died out also. Philip, Elizabeth’s first suitor, gradually changed into her most dangerous enemy, the assertor of the claims of Mary, and, after her death, her would be avenger, and moreover the assertor of the claims of his own daughter as a remote descendant of John of Gaunt. The Armada, the dealings of England with the insurgents in the Netherlands, the expedition to Cadiz, are all events which stand out on the surface of English history. England new stood out as the great Protestant power of Europe, the maintainer of the Protestant cause everywhere. In short, the reign of Elizabeth finally gave to England and Englishmen their special religious character, as earlier times had given them their special political character. That special political character, overshadowed for a while by Tudor despotism, showed itself again towards the end of her reign. The England of the seventeenth century, free and Protestant, was now fully formed. The course of the century of which Elizabeth only saw the opening was to win back the freedom of England, to confirm the national Protestantism, and to take the first steps towards that religious toleration on both sides of which the age of Elizabeth had not deemed.

But another feature in the character of England was added in the reign of Elizabeth. If England now took up a new and definite position as an European power, the first steps were also taken towards making her more than an European power. In the days of Edward and Mary English commerce and maritime enterprise had a new range opened to them by the beginning of intercourse with Russia. That nation, great in earlier days on the Euxine, was now shut out from all southern and western outlets, and access to her one haven of Archangel could be had only by the Frozen Ocean and the White Sea. Under Elizabeth maritime enterprise, commercial and warlike, took a far wider range. American colonization did not as yet begin; Indian dominion was yet more distant; but it was in these times that the first steps were taken towards both. The seamen of England now broke into the preserved maritime empire of Spain, and gave the land which was to give birth to Washington a name in honour of their own virgin queen. The merchants of England, chartered as usual as a company, now first made their way to the great Indian continents, to behold, under the rule of Akbar, that religions toleration which Elizabeth denied to Catholic and Puritan. It is hard for us to conceive the effect which was made on men’s minds by a change which was practically an enlargement of the bounds of the physical world. If it is absurd to set up the great seamen of Elizabeth’s day, Drake and Gilbert and Cavendish and Raleigh, as though they were faultless heroes, it is equally unfair to decry them as mere pirates. They were the natural creation of a new state of things. It was not theoretically justifiable, but it was in no way wonderful, if men of all nations deemed that, in new and barbarous lands and seas, they were set free from the obligations of public law which bound them in their European homes. But one stain, deeper and more lasting, dates from Elizabeth’s days. At home personal slavery had long been forgotten, and the last traces of villainage can now be discerned only by the most prying eyes. The distant enterprises of England now brought back in a new shape the shame of our earliest days. The Kidnapping and selling of negroes now became a chef branch of English commerce. And it must not be forgotten that, till the humane decisions of the last century, the negro, like the British captive or the English criminal of ancient times, was as much a slave on the soil of England as he was on the soil of America.

The completed national character of England dates from the days of the Tudors, and mainly from the reign of Elizabeth. From this time, in dealing with the actors in English history, we seem, more thoroughly than in any earlier time, to be dealing with men who are in all things our own fellows. One main cause of this is that the language of the sixteenth century is the earliest form of English which an ordinary modern reader can understand without an effort. The handwriting of the sixteenth century is harder to read than the handwriting of any age before or since. But the language itself, when taken out of its uncouth clothing, is in the main intelligible, even to those who have not made language a special study. The philologer sees that the language of the nineteenth century is that same, by unbroken personal unity, as the language of the fifth century. He sees that the changes which distinguish the language of the nineteenth century form the language of the fifth century were fully accomplished by the fourteenth. But all this is for the philologer. The ordinary reader, who reads merely for the matter or the style of his book, cannot understand the language of the fifth century at all; he can understand the language of the fourteenth century only with an effort. But the language of the sixteenth century is clear to every one who reads with decent attention. It is near enough removed from the speech of our own times to have an archaic flavour, venerable or quaint, according to the matter in hand and its treatment. The literature of the sixteenth century gives us the earlier English writings in prose and verse which we read simply as literature. Spenser and Shakespeare, Hooker and Raleigh, stand to us in a different relation from Caedmon, or even from Chaucer. And, great than all, the sixteenth century has given us, in our national prayer-book, in our national translation of the Bible,1 models of the English tongue which, as long as they survive, will
survive to rebuke its corrupters. For them we have to thank the reigns of Henry and of Edward. Henry first gave his people the Scriptures in their own tongue, and his restriction. From that day to this, the English Bible has been the only literary, as well as the only religious, food or millions of Englishmen. The Puritan lived in the English Bible. That two great works of sixteenth century English have been familiar to us ever since, while no earlier writing has been commonly known in the like sort, is doubtless one great reason why the English of the sixteenth century is the earliest English which is commonly intelligible. But this is not the only reason. The reign of Elizabeth is in itself the most marked epoch in English literature. The stirring of men’s minds which led to the great political and religious events of the age led also to the sudden burst of a whole literature in verse and prose. In the sixteenth century the English drama began, modern English theology began, the writing of history in the modern sense and in the English tongue began. And with the beginning of a school of new writers came a time of more diligent care towards our ancient writers. The fanatic religionists and greedy spoilers of Henry and Edward’s days had destroyed ancient records and chronicles by wholesale. The hand of Elizabeth’s first primate, the renowned Matthew Parker, was stretched out to save instead of to destroy, to publish instead of to tear in pieces. To his pious care more than to that of any other man, we owe it that the ancient history of England can be read and written.

And, as it was with language, so it was with everything else which goes to make up the national life. Its modern form is now completed. We fell that the men of Elizabeth’s day, her statesmen, her warriors, her poets, and her divines, are men who come near to ourselves in a way which the men of earlier times cannot do. A gap of more than a generation, of more than two generations, seems to part Wolsey from Burghley. The main features of English social life had really been fixed in the fifteenth century; they do not thoroughly come home to us till the sixteenth. We see this in its outward form in the houses of Elizabeth’s reign. They are the earliest houses, great or small, in which a modern Englishman of any class can live with any degree of modern comfort. In point of style, they have fallen away from the models of the early part of the century. The architecture of this age is primarily domestic. For ecclesiastical art there was little room in a time when more churches were pulled down than were built. Repairs were commonly done in a tough and clumsy fashion. Still there are a few ecclesiastical buildings, ranging from Edward VI. to James I., such as the tower of Probus in Cornwall and the choir of Wadham College chapel, in which the older style is still faithfully carried on. The revived Italian style was brought in by Protector Somerset; but, as applied to whole buildings, the fashion did not take; the details became a strange mixture of corrupt English and corrupt Italian; but the outlines are purely English. The Elizabethan houses, with their endless shifting of gables, are often actually more picturesque in outline than the houses of the beginning of the century. They are more distinctly houses; the features handed down by tradition from the castle no longer linger, even as survivals. And they are of all sizes, palaces, manor-houses, burgher dwellings in towns, solitary farm-houses, cottages in the village street. And they are of all materials, stone, brick, or timber, according to the district. They are the houses of an age when law was fully established, and when the different ranks of society, though the distinctions between them were far more sharply drawn, were essentially the same as they are now.

The objects of the bounty of founders were now necessarily changed; but their bounty was by no means worn out. Mary restored several monasteries, which were again suppressed by Elizabeth. Mary also restored a great part of the alienated bishops’ lands. The plunder of the bishops also went on all through Elizabeth’s reign, and Burghley, Hatton, and Raleigh, and other statesmen and courtiers, made themselves great fortunes at the expense of the Church. But all was not spoliation in this age. Mary and Elizabeth restored some of the collegiate churches which had been suppressed under Edward; the foundation of colleges in the universities went on under both sisters; and this was a special time for the erection of schools and hospitals. Even Leicester has left a memorial of this kind behind him. And it may pass for a kind of charitable foundation on the part of the nation itself, when by a statute of Elizabeth a public provision was first made for the relief of the poor.

England and the English people are thus thoroughly formed in the shaped which they have kept to this day. Their political constitution has lived through its time of trial, ready to come forth again in its full strength. The religious character of England is fixed; her European position is fixed also. She has become wholly insular, ready to play in European politics the special part of an insular power. At home Wales is incorporated; Ireland, now a kingdom, is brought more nearly than ever under the rule of its queen. The time has now come for a nearer and a friendly union with the other kingdom which hitherto has divided the isle of Britain with England. The lack of direct descendants of Henry, the ill luck of the descendants of his sister Mary, carried the English crown to the descendants of Margaret, and called the king of Scots to the English throne. The union of the crowns led, as a necessary though not an immediate effect, to the union of kingdoms, to the time when England and Scotland, political names, so long rival and hostile names, were merged in the common geographical name of Great Britain.1 (E. A. F)


FOOTNOTES (page. 341)
1 The evidence on which this statement is made will be found at length in Hook’s Lives of the Archbishops, viii. 321. It is certainly not such evidence as would be needed to assert the fact with any positiveness; but the tale is not every unlikely in 1560, though it would be quite out of place in 1570. The deliberate invention of the story, unless perhaps at a much later time. Would really be more unlikely than the story itself.

FOOTNOTES (page 342)
1 The authorized versions, as it stands, is, an every one knows, a work of the seventeenth century, not of the sixteenth. But was the work of men whose minds had been formed in the sixteenth century, and the translation of the sixteenth century was taken as its groundwork. Whenever it departs from that model, however much it may gain as a more accurate representations of the original, it loses as a piece of England and English rhythm. Compare the Psalms in the translation of Henry’s day and in that of the days of James.

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