Adelaide Ristori.

Studies and memoirs ; an autobiography online

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she bade Bacon add that it was her good pleasure
Popham himself should become liable for Shakes-
peare's debts, a full schedule of which would be sent to
him by Sir Francis Bacon. The letter ended thus :
" I hope another time you will put on your spectacles
in order the better to distinguish white from black."

I dictated these letters at the same time. In the
one addressed to the Earl of Leicester, making use
of the most severe expressions of anger, declaring
that "crowns are not made for heads like yours far
less that of Belgium, which has already been refused
by your Sovereign." I further ordered him to resign



2/2 ADELAIDE RISTORI.

immediately the command of the troops to Sir Walter
Raleigh, otherwise I would have him " taken prisoner
by a regiment of cavalry."

The dictation of this letter I alternated with that
to Popham, which was at once familiar, cold, author-
itative, and sarcastic in expression.

In the second Act, there are some truly remarkable
scenes and the author has found the way of deline-
ating them so well collecting various passages in
the life of Elizabeth ; uniting them so skilfully with
each other; making use of all the liberties of time
and space allowed on the stage, without, however,
injuring or changing in the slightest degree the regu-
lar course of the action, as to make the connection
appear both natural and interesting.

I especially liked this second Act, because it gave
me the opportunity for a little comedy of which I was
particularly fond at that time. Even later it was a
boon for me when through any circumstances I could
play La Locomotiera or / Gelosi Fortunati. When I
speak of comedy, I refer to the scene with the Earl
of Essex, in which, like an experienced coquette,
now she seems to understand and accept the love he
cherishes for her, compassionating his ill-concealed
jealousy of the Earl of Leicester, whom he believes
his fortunate rival ; now suddenly assuming the tone
of an offending sovereign and driving Essex from her
presence, when the latter, hearing the Queen boast

" Into this royal heart no weak affection has ever entered,"
sarcastically rejoins, no longer able to restrain him-
self



Q UEEN E LIZ ABE TH. 2?$

" If we except the Duke of Anjou and Admiral Seymour."

But when Essex, warned by the Queen's anger
that he had gone too far, threw himself at her feet
and implored her pardon ; I, while assuming all the
dignity of offended majesty, succeeded in conveying
to the audience, that in my heart, I rejoiced to see
these transports of jealousy. And though I ex-
claimed with apparent disdain

"Dar'st thou then to love thy Queen?"

I allowed him to seize my hand and endeavor to
imprint a kiss upon it. But I snatched my hand
away with an angry gesture before the Earl could
accomplish his purpose ; glancing at the same time
with secret admiration at the handsome knight still
kneeling before me. Love and pride struggled to-
gether for the mastery in my heart, until at last I
felt constrained to exclaim, in as playful a manner as
I could assume

" Well ! Art saying thy prayers ? Rise ! rise ! "

While speaking these words, my hand, which I had
extended to indicate that I wished him to rise,
touched for an instant the EarPs bent head. Encour-
aged by this, he sprang to his feet, seized my hand in
his, and covered it with kisses. Then he presse'd it
to his heart, exclaiming in passionate accents

"Ah! The daughter of Henry VIII. has pressed my hand."

Upon which, disengaging myself, I retreated, and
with affected modesty, remarked demurely

" If so, it was unconsciously."
But, when I heard him murmur
18



2/4 ADELAIDE RISTORL

"What other woman could I love after having once seen
Elizabeth,"

I had much ado to hide the emotion that filled my
heart. I gazed at him with a look, which, all too
plainly betrayed my feelings towards him ; and,
after some slight hesitation I drew a ring from my
finger and offered it to him with the solemn prom-
ise

"If thou should' st one day lose thy Sovereign's favor or be
guilty of any crime, send me this ring, and I pledge thee my
Royal word thou shalt be pardon' d."

In the monologue which ends this scene, the
author still further develops and elaborates the char-
acter of the Queen. But when love appears on the
point of mastering her indomitable pride, her deter-
mination to retain her absolute sovereignty comes to
her aid. She beats down the tenderer sentiments
and womanly weakness with a strong hand. Nay,
she can even mock at the very idea of yielding to
what her Parliament, the Puritans, and Lord Went-
worth have been long urging her to do; namely,
make choice of a husband.

"What!" [she exclaims, her anger rising afresh at the
thought] " Divide my kingdom with another ! Be no longer
the sole ruler of everybody and everything ! "

Her haughty spirit regains its self-control, and she is
ashamed of having been, even for a moment, sur-
prised into feminine weakness. While Elizabeth is
in this unpropitious state of mind, her secretary
Davison enters, bringing a letter from Mary Stuart,
as well as her death-warrant for the Queen's signature.
Elizabeth can hardly refrain from an exclamation of



QUEEN ELIZABETH. 2?$

pleasure at this unexpected interruption ; but she
tries to hide it by hypocritically assuming a mask of
pity. She glances over the unhappy prisoner's letter
with ill-concealed impatience, and gathering from it
that the Queen of Scotland, believing her son James
to have sided with her enemies, has declared the
invincible Philip II., King of Spain, her successor to
the throne, she is seized with an access of fury, and
cries with a mocking smile

" I will undertake to execute thy will for thee, and will send
thee to the angels ! "

Most cruel words, worthy only of a perverted mind.

In the scene of dissimulation between Elizabeth
and James VI., who has come to entreat her to spare
his mother's life, and who threatens her with his
vengeance if she refuse to listen to his prayers, I
endeavored, by the stern expression of my eyes, my
set lips, and my rigid figure, to convey to the audi-
ence some idea of the tempest gathering within me.
But when Davison entered and announced in a loud
voice

" Your Majesty, by this time the executioner has held up to
the crowd the head of Mary Stuart ! "

the storm which was rising in my breast subsided ; in
a moment a complete change came over me, an in-
voluntary cry of joy escaped me, which was unnoticed
in the general consternation caused by the terrible
news.

In an instant I had recovered myself, and I broke
out into furious invective against those who had so



2/6 ADELAIDE RISTORI.

hastily carried out the sentence, and at the same time
I caused my face to assume such an exaggerated ex-
pression of grief and utter consternation, that even
James himself was constrained to exclaim

"To Heaven I leave the task of judging if this be real or
feigned!"

When I was left alone with my courtiers, I con-
tinued still to carry on the hollow mockery of grief.
I declared this terrible event had decided me to re-
nounce the throne and spend the rest of my days in
penitence within the walls of a convent. At the
unexpected arrival of Francis Drake, my thoughts
instantly turned into another channel. He had been
sent by the Queen sometime before to ravage the
Spanish possessions in America, and endeavor to dis-
cover the designs of King Philip, but his prolonged
absence had led to the belief that he must either have
been taken prisoner or killed.

My face, my whole person underwent an instan-
taneous and total change. ' The death of Mary Stuart,
my hypocritical intentions, my political feigning, all
are forgotten in the feverish anxiety to know the
result of the mission entrusted to Drake. Sir Fran-
cis informed me that a "mightier fleet than the
world had yet seen, had already been gathered to-
gether by Spain, for the conquest of England ; that
this fleet when divided into two squadrons occupied
a space of seven miles from one extremity to the
other ; that the most valiant captains in the world
had been engaged to assist the Spaniards in their
great enterprise, and that, in certain assurance of



QUEEN' ELIZABETH. "

victory, the name of the Invincible Armada had been
given to the assembled fleet."

When I heard this, I showed that I could restrain
myself no longer. With flashing eyes and like a fiery
charger pawing the ground at the clang of the trumpet,
Elizabeth, eager for glory, and anticipating a brilliant
victory, feels the blood of her forefathers thrill in
her veins, while in imagination she is already trans-
ported to the field of battle. u At last, then, I have
succeeded ! " she cries in a voice of thunder. There-
fore, when Mendoza, the Spanish Ambassador, ap-
peared in my presence, and with proud mien and
arrogant tone, declared war in the name of his master,
Philip II., I thanked him in a tone of disdain. At
once, like an experienced leader, with feverish ardor,
I gave the necessary orders to prepare for war, and I
distributed the different commands. My spirit rose
to the occasion. Full of martial enthusiasm, I assured
my lords that

" Yet another sword will fight for England ! "

" Which ? " asked the Ambassador, mockingly.

That of Henry VIII.,'

I answered proudly.

" And who will have the courage to wield it ?"
he inquired, inexpressible scorn in his tones.
"Who! I!"

I answered, without a moment's hesitation, and spring-
ing towards the trophy of Henry VIII. 's weapons
which decorated the hall of audience, I seized the



278 ADELAIDE RISTORI.

large sword my father had once used, and which was
once more to assure victory to England, I faced round
on Mendoza and thundered out the words

" Tell Philip that Elizabeth hurls the scabbard far from her !
When these two nations, like gigantic athletes, shall meet on
the ocean, the world itself will tremble. And after the en-
counter, one of the two like the stone flung by a child into
the water will disappear among the blood-stained waves ;
either England or Spain Elizabeth or Philip 1 I swear it by
the King my father ! "

I stood brandishing the sword in one hand, while
I laid the other upon it, as in the act of taking an
oath, and all present drawing theirs also, and touch-
ing mine with the points, repeated after me

" We swear it."
The curtain falls on this " tableau."

With the exception of two historical incidents, the
third Act does not contain many scenes for Elizabeth
of great artistic difficulty. These incidents are the
discovery of a plot for taking her life, of which Mar-
garet Lamburn is proved to be the chief instigator,
and the disgrace and punishment of Essex.

In the first of these, when Margaret is brought into
my presence, I assumed a stern demeanor, and inter-
rogated her in an angry voice, as though I had already
decided to condemn her to death. But when I heard
the resolute tone in which she answered me when
she boldly told me that she had sought to take my
life in revenge for the death of Mary Stuart, her be-
loved mistress, and of her own husband, who had
died of grief on account of the miserable end of his



QUEEN ELIZABETH. 279

Sovereign, I was deeply touched by her words, and
asked her what punishment she herself would con-
sider her strange confession deserved. She looked
me full in the face, and answered proudly, that I
ought to pardon her.
I cried in amazement

" What ! pardon thee ; and what surety have I that thou wilt
not again attempt my life."

To which Margaret answered

" Madam, a boon which cannot be granted without so many
precautions is no longer a favor, take thou then my life."

This arrogant speech, this temerity, and defiant cour-
age, the like of which Elizabeth had never met with be-
fore during her reign from any man^ still less from any
woman, completely staggered her, and, after a mo-
ment's hesitation, she yielded to a sudden impulse of
generosity, and, hastily, as though fearful she might
repent, she cried

" Go ! get thee hence in peace ! but lose no time ! "

Throughout this scene, I considered I should best
express the author's meaning, if I strove, by the into-
nation of my voice and the mobility of my features to
emphasize the sudden transition from severity, to
great and generous impulse, which was always so
characteristic of this great Queen.

The other striking situation is found in the recep-
tion Elizabeth gives to the three conquerors of Cadiz,
Lord Howard, Sir Francis Drake, and the Earl of
Essex. I made it evident that I was animated by a
desire to revenge myself upon Essex, whose secret



280 ADELAIDE RISTORL

passion for Lady Sarah I had discovered ; and who
had exceeded the powers conferred upon him, openly
defying my commands. I therefore began my dis-
course by complimenting all three warriors, and
thanking them in my own name, and that of England,
for the splendid victory they had just gained over the
Spanish fleet. I created Drake, Lord High Admi-
ral; and Howard, Earl of Nottingham; but when I
addressed Essex, who, like the others, knelt expectant
at my feet, it was in a very different strain. I began
by praising his bravery in battle, and then, in a soft
and insinuating voice, as though I would prepare
him to receive an adequate reward, I continued

" We admire your valor, but since you have refused obedience
to him, whom we have invested with supreme power over our
forces by land and sea, and have rebelled against the mandates
of your Queen, we shall defer your reward, until we receive
from you proofs of obedience and submission. Rise ! "

I spoke these words in an austere, harsh voice, as
though I desired each syllable to penetrate, like a
poniard, into the heart of him I addressed, humil-
iating him before all the bystanders. The Earl
remained for an instant, like one petrified; then,
quickly recovering himself, he burst forth in no
measured tones of complaint against the injustice
done him; ending by reproaching me bitterly for
having distinguished Lord Howard, who, as every
one knew, had won the battle solely because a furious
tempest had risen to aid him, and dashed the Spanish
vessels upon the rocks. It was in vain I tried to
silence the Earl. He continued his angry recrimina-
tions, and gradually increased my displeasure, until



QUEEN ELIZABETH. 28 1

on hearing him boast that he also was of royal
descent, and in that respect my equal, my indignation
almost got the better of me. Still I managed to
restrain it sufficiently to interfere between the two
men, when Essex, scarcely knowing what he did,
challenged Lord Howard to meet him in single
combat.

" What ! "
exclaimed Essex in a sarcastic tone,

14 can earls and dukes no longer fight in England without the
special permission of the Queen ? "

The taunting words stung me to fury. I lost all
control over myself, and flung my glove in the speak-
er's face. He in his turn, completely lost his head,
and, exasperated by the insult he had received, deaf
to every consideration of prudence, and totally for-
getting the respect he owed his Sovereign, broke
out into violent invective against her. He accuses
her of having blended her crown with the coronets of
dukes and earls, and placed the Parliament of England
on a level with the Divan of Mahomet, of having
annulled all its privileges ; and, as though this were
not enough, he filled up the measure of his insults to
overflowing by calling her :

" The Vestal of the West, who has more than once let the
fire die out on the tripod of Jove ! "

All the by-play which should accompany the few
words I have to speak during this culminating scene
of the Act, as well as the tone of voice, are clearly
indicated by the author, and it cost me no difficulty



282 ADELAIDE RISTORI.

to understand and enter into the spirit of the situation.
I was always most careful never to forget that I was
a queen, even in the midst of my fury, and that this
queen was Elizabeth of England.

Between the third and fourth Acts several years
are supposed to elapse, during which, Essex, after
being pardoned his egregious folly, regains his sov-
ereign's favor ; " and is sent by her as general to
Ireland, invested with full powers to repress the
tumults and revolts constantly arising there. But
the incapacity of the new commander-in-chief soon
became manifest. He was imprudent enough himself
to raise the standard of revolt against his own queen,
with the result that he was speedily arrested and
condemned to the scaffold."

It is at this point of the story that the fourth Act
begins. Elizabeth is beginning to show the weight
of years. The grief of finding herself obliged to
adopt stringent measures against the man so dear to
her; the only man in fact she ever loved, has greatly
conduced to break her haughty spirit. I therefore
endeavored to show in my person and make-up the
physical effects of age. (The queen is about sixty-
eight at this time.) Yet, in spite of her bowed figure
and wrinkled face, I rendered it evident that she
still possessed the remains of that magnificent consti-
tution and indomitable will which she never entirely
lost until after the death of her favorite.

The fourth Act opens with the signature of Lord
Essex's death warrant. Seeing that Lady Burleigh,
who was in attendance at the time, was alarmed at



Q UEEN ELIZABE TH. 283

the agitation Elizabeth betrayed, and feared it was
caused by illness, I endeavored to reassure her and
conceal its real origin by remarking :

" Thou art already aware, Anna, that when I have to con-
demn any one to death, I surfer cruel and unspeakable agonies."

But in spite of myself, the bitter truth at last
escaped my lips. I betrayed that I was suffering so
intensely because I feared lest, either through pride
or obstinacy, Essex might not send me the ring I had
once, in a moment of tenderness, given to him ; with
a promise of pardon whenever it should be presented
to me. Lady Burleigh tried to comfort me by saying
that doubtless the Earl was too sensible of his fault
and too fearful of further irritating his sovereign to
venture on claiming her promise. Then she offered
to go herself to the Tower, as though entirely on her
own impulse, and advise Essex to confide himself to
the clemency and magnanimity of the Queen. Un-
seen by Lady Burleigh, I showed the audience what
a relief this proposal was to me ; but, fearing that my
dignity as a Sovereign must suffer if I yielded to the
impulse of my heart, I harshly, though with evident
effort, forbade Lady Burleigh to carry out her sugges-
tion, saying :

" Anna stay ! If he be as proud as Lucifer, let him go to
him!"

At this moment, Burleigh entering with the death-
warrant of Lord Essex for the royal signature, Eliza-
beth cannot entirely suppress the painful emotion
which overcomes her in spite of herself. She orders
all her attendants to retire, and at the same time



284 ADELAIDE RISTORL

tells Burleigh to send her Davison, the Keeper of the
Seals.

When alone and able to give full vent to the emo-
tions that possessed me, with long and deep-drawn
sighs, I spread out the fatal parchment on the table,
gazing at it long and sadly, as though incredulous
that only my signature was needed to send the one
man I had ever truly loved to his death. I let the
audience see the conflict that was raging within me.
I tried to reassure myself and overcome my womanly
weakness by dwelling on the fact that this man's ex-
ecution was necessary to satisfy the demands of
justice.

" Yes 1 he must die," [I murmured,]

"as so many other conspirators have died, Suffolk, Parry,
Babington, Lopez, as even a Queen of Scotland has died."

and at each broken sentence, I made a movement as
though to dip my pen in the ink, and sign the fatal
parchment, but I could not consummate the terrible
deed. I tried to fortify myself with specious argu-
ment;

" Were I to pardon him, it would be but to confess my own
weakness ! I, weak ! Never ! "

and again I seized the pen and essayed to write the
signature. But my courage once more abandoned
me, and with a gesture of petulant anger at my own
weakness, I dashed the pen to the ground. Then,
for a moment, a strange hope arose in my agonized
heart.

" But if, in the face of death, [I murmured,] the Earl's pride
have deserted him ! If, even now, he have intrusted the ring
to some one ! If ! "



QUEEN ELIZABETH. 285

Animated by the half-uttered thought, I vehemently
rang the bell, -and inquired whether any message had
come for me from the Tower. Vain hope ! None
had been received, and exhausted, I sank again on
my seat, exclaiming in my despair :

" Ah I pride, pride ! To die thus with his life in his own hands." *

Then I began to complain bitterly to myself of
Lady Burleigh's conduct. She ought to have under-
stood that for the first time in my long reign I had
wished to be disobeyed. In spite of my prohibition,
I should have rejoiced if she had gone to the Tower.
It was in vain I tried to convince myself that Essex
was a rebel, and as such deserving of punishment.
Then the apprehension of committing an injustice
made me hesitate again. Remorse began to torture
me. I tossed hither and thither on the waves of con-
science. My imagination was so excited that I even
fancied I saw the spectre of Mary Stuart standing

* The author of the drama introduces this historical incident
to show what an important part this ring played in the death of
the Earl, and how, in a secondary degree, it also accelerated the
death of Elizabeth. Lally Tollendal has left it on record : " He
(the Earl) lost his head on the scaffold, and the grief the Queen
felt at being obliged to use such severity towards a man who
had been so dear to her, plunged her in a profound melancholy.
Two years afterwards, when Lady Nottingham confessed on her
death-bed that the ring had been intrusted to her care, but that,
overpersuaded by her husband, she had refrained from deliver-
ing it to the Queen, Elizabeth lost all control over herself, ex-
claiming, ' God may forgive you ; I never can ! ' Henceforth
she refused food and remedies for her sickness, saying they
were no use to a dying woman."



286 ADELAIDE RISTORL

before me in full noonday, just as she had stood
every night since her execution to trouble my dreams,
and make me start in terror from my bed. Return-
ing to myself I blushed at my childish folly, and in the
height of indignation and disappointment at not
seeing the much-wished-for ring brought me with
the whole energy of my virile soul and my despised
love I thought of nothing more than the reasons of
state, and the dignity of the crown, and sanctioned
the decision of the judges. So once more I seized
the pen, and hurriedly traced the fatal signature.
My heart was utterly broken. Davison, sent by
Lord Burleigh, entered at this moment to receive the
warrant. His appearance startled me painfully, but
I made a successful attempt to hide from him the
misery I knew was written on my tell-tale face, and
feeling I must bravely endure the sacrifice imposed
on me by duty, I took up the parchment, and slowly,
with a trembling hand, held it out towards the
Keeper of the Seals. But as if grasping it a little
longer in my hand seemed to me to add a few
minutes to the life of Essex. I caused Davison, al-
though humbly, to try and draw it by gentle force
from my convulsive hold. Then he moved towards
the door ; but a sudden impulse of feeling made me
call him back in suppressed tones. He turned, as if
expecting some further orders; but, recalled to a
sense of my own dignity, I merely told him, in as
haughty a tone as I could assume, to be quick and
see the sentence carried out.

When he was gone, and I was once more alone I
gave free vent to my grief, bitterly accusing Essex of



QUEEN ELIZABETH.

being the cause of all my misery. The appearance
of the Countess of Nottingham, who arrived breath-
less to implore pardon for the Earl, only excited me
to greater fury, for in her I believed I saw my rival.
On hearing that her husband had forcibly taken from
her the ring, confided to her by Essex that she might
give it to me, I at first showed disbelief in her asser-
tion, yet on her swearing by the soul of her mother
that her statement was true, I allowed myself to be
convinced. In the deepest agitation, I sent a page
with orders that a messenger, mounted on my fleetest
horse, should ride for his life to the Tower, and
intercept Davison before it was too late. I directed
that the warrant should be torn into a thousand
pieces, and promised a patent of nobility to whoever


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Online LibraryAdelaide RistoriStudies and memoirs ; an autobiography → online text (page 18 of 21)