Charles Dickens.

A child's history of England online

. (page 28 of 38)
Online LibraryCharles DickensA child's history of England → online text (page 28 of 38)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

some of the Catholic sovereigns of Europe to depose Eliza
beth, place Mary on the throne, and restore the unreformeci
religion. It is almost impossible to doubt that Mary knew and
approved of this ; and the pope himself was so hot in the mat-
ter, that he issued a bull, in which he openly called Elizabeth
the " pretended Queen " of England, excommunicated her, and
excommunicated all her subjects who should continue to obey
her. A copy of this miserable paper got into London, and was
found one morning publicly posted on the Bishop of London's
gate. A great hue and cry being raised, another copy was


found in the chamber of a student of Lincoln's Inn, who con^
fessed, being put upon the rack, that he had received it from
one John Felton, a rich gentleman who lived across the Thames,
near Southwark. This John Felton, being put upon the rack
too, confessed that he had posted the placard on the bishop'a
gate. For this offence he was, within four days, taken to St.
Paul's Churchyard, and there hanged and quartered. As to
the pope's bull, the people by the Reformation having thrown
off the pope, did not care much, you may suppose, for the
pope's throwing off them. It was a mere dirty piece of paper,
and not half so powerful as a street-ballad.

On the very day when Felton was brought to his trial, the
poor Duke of Norfolk was released. It would have been well
for him if he had kept away from the Tower evermore, and
from the snares that had taken him there. But even while he
was in that dismal place he corresponded with Mary ; and, as
soon as he was out of it, he began to plot again. Being dis-
covered in correspondence with the pope, with a view to a ris-
ing in England which should force Elizabeth to consent to his
marriage with Mary, and to repeal the laws against the Catho-
lics, he was recommitted to the Tower, and brought to trial.
He was found guilty by the unanimous verdict of the lords who
tried him, and was sentenced to the block.

It is very difficult to make out, at this distance of time, and
between opposite accounts, whether Elizabeth really was a
humane woman, or desired to appear so, or was fearful of
shedding the blood of people of great name who were popular
in the country. Twice she commanded and countermanded
the execution of this duke ; and it did not take place until five
months after his trial. The scaffold was erected on Tower
Hill ; and there he died like a brave man. He refused to have
his eyes bandaged, saying that he was not at all afraid of
death, and he admitted the justice of his sentence, and wa-i
much regretted by the people.

Although Mary had shrunk at the most important time frM-n
disproving her guilt, she was very careful never to do anythiiv^
that would admit it. All such proposals as were made to her
by Elizabeth for her release required that admission in some
form or other, and therefore came to nothing. Moreover, both
women being artful and treacherous, and neither ever trusting
the other, it was not likely that they could ever make an agree-
ment. So the Parliament, aggravated by what the pope had
done, made new and strong laws against the spreading of the
Catholic religion in England, and declared it treason in any one


to say that the queen and her successors were not the lawful
sovereigns of England. It would have done more than this but
for Elizabeth's moderation.

Since the Reformation there had come to be three great
sects of religious people — or people who called themselves so
— in England ; that is to say, those who belonged to the re-
formed church, those who belonged to the unreformed church,
and those who were called the Puritans, because they said that
they wanted to have everything very pure and plain in all the
Church service. These last were for the most part an uncom-
fortable people, who thought it highly m.eritorious to dress in
hideous manner, talk through their noses, and oppose all harm-
less enjoyments. But they were powerful too, and very much
in earnest ; and they were one and all the determined enemies
of the Queen of Scots. The Protestant feeling in England was
further strengthened by the tremendous cruelties to which Prot-
estants were exposed in France and in the Netherlands. Scores
of thousands of them were put to death in those countries with
every cruelty that can be imagined ; and at last, in the autumn
of the year 1575, one of the greatest barbarities ever committed
in the world took place at Paris.

It is called in history. The Massacre of St. Bartholomew
because it took place on St. Bartholemew's Eve The day fell
on Saturday, the 23rd of August. On that day all the great
leaders of the Protestants (who were there called Huguenots)
were assembled together, for the purpose, as was represented
to them, of doing honor to the marriage of their chief, the
young King of Navarre, with the sister of Charles the Ninth, a
miserable young king who then occupied the French throne.
This dull creature was made to believe by his mother, and
other fierce Catholics about him, that the Huguenots meant to
take his life ; and he was persuaded to give secret orders, that,
on the tolling of a great bell, they should be fallen upon by an
overpowering force of armed men, and slaughtered, wherever
they could be found. When the appointed hour was close at
hand, the stupid wretch, trembling from head to foot, was taken
into a balcony by his mother to see the atrocious work begun.
The moment the bell tolled, the murderer broke forth. Dur-
ing all that night and the two next days, they broke into the
houses, fired the houses, shot and stabbed the Protestants,
men, women, and children, and flung their bodies into the
streets. They were shot at in the streets as they passed along,
and their blood ran down the gutters. Upwards of ten thou-
sand Protestants were killed in Paris alone ; in all France, four


or five times that number. To return thanks to Heaven for
these diaboHcal murders, the pope and his train actually went
in public procession at Rome ; and as if this were not shame
enough for them, they had a medal struck to commemorate the
event. But, however comfortable the wholesale murders were
to these high authorities, they had not that soothing effect upon
the doll-king. I am happy to state that he never knew a mo-
ment's peace afterwards ; that he was continually crying out
that he saw the Huguenots covered with blood and wounds
falling dead before him \ and that he died within a year, shriek-
ing and yelling and raving to that degree, that, if all the popes
who had ever lived had been rolled into one, they would not
have afforded his guilty majesty the slightest consolation.

When the terrible news of the massacre arrived in England,
it made a powerful impression indeed upon the people. If they
began to run a little wild against the Catholics at about this
time, this fearful reason for it, coming so soon after the days
of Bloody Queen Mary, must be remembered in their excuse.
The court was not quite so honest as the people ; but perhaps
it sometimes is not. It received the French ambassador, with
all the lords and ladies dressed in deep mourning, and keepmg
a profound silence. Nevertheless, a proposal of marriage which
he had made to Elizabeth only two days before the eve of St.
Bartholomew, on behalf of the Duke of Alen9on, the French
king's brother, a boy of seventeen, still went on ; while, on the
other hand, in her usual crafty way, the Queen secretly suppUed
the Huguenots with money and weapons.

I must say, that for a queen who made all those fine speeches,
of which I have confessed myself to be rather tired, about liv-
ing and dying a maiden queen, Elizabeth was " going " to be
married pretty often. Besides always having some English
favorite or other whom she by turn*^ encouraged, and swore at,
and knocked about, — for the m'-.xvien queen was very free with
her fists, — she held this French duke off and on, through sev-
eral years. When he at last came over to England, the marriage
articles were actually drawn up, and it was settled that the
wedding should take place in six weeks. The Queen was then
so bent upon it, that she prosecuted a poor Puritan named
Stubbs, and a poor bookseller named Page, for writing and
publishmg a pamphlet agamst it. Their right hands were
chopped off for this crime : and poor Stubbs, more loyal than I
should have been myself under the circumstances, immediately
pulled off his hat with his left hand, and cried, " God save the
Queen J " Stubbs was cruelly treated ; for the marriage never


took place after all, though the queen pledged herself to the
duke with a ring from her own finger. He went away, no bet-
ter than he came, when the courtship had lasted some ten years
altogether ; and he died a couple of years afterwards, mourned
by Elizabeth, who appears to have been really fond of him. it
is not much to her credit ; for he was a bad enough member of
a bad family.

To return to the Catholics. There arose two orders of
priests who were very busy in England, and who were much
dreaded. These were the Jesuits (who were everywhere in all
sorts of disguises) and the Seminary Priests. The people had
a great horror of the first, because they were known to have
taught that murder was lawful if it were done with an object of
which they approved ; and they had a great horror of the second,
because they came to teach the old religion, and to be the suc-
cessors of " Queen Mary's priests," as those yet lingering in
England were called, when they should die out. The severest
laws were made against them, and were most unmercifully exe-
cuted. Those who sheltered them in their houses often suf-
fered heavily for what was an act of humanity ; and the rack,
that cruel torture which tore men's limbs asunder, was con-
stantly kept going. What these unhappy men confessed, or
what was ever confessed by any one under that agony, must
always be received with great doubt, as it is certain that people
have frequently owmed to the most absurd and impossible crimes
to escape such dreadful suffering. But I cannot doubt it to
have been proved by papers, that there were many plots, both
among the Jesuits, and with France, and Vv'ith Scotland, and
Vv'ith Spain, for the destruction of Queen Elizabeth, for the
placing of Mary on the throne, and for the revival of the old

If the English people were too ready to believe in plots,
there were, as I have sai^ -"-ood reasons for it. When the
massacre of St. Bartholomew was yet fresh in their recollection,
a great Protestant Dutch hero, the Prince of Orange was shot
by an assassin, who confessed that he had been kept and trained
for the purpose in a college of Jesuits. The Dutch, in this
surprise and distress, offered to make Elizabeth their sovereign ;
but she declined the honor, and sent them a small army instead,
under the command of the Earl of Leicester, who, although a
capital court favorite, was not much of a general. He did so
little in Holland, that his campaign there would probably have
been forgotten, but for its occasioning the death of one of the
best writers, the best knights, and the best gentlemen, of tLat


or any age. This was Sir Philip Sidney, who was wounded by
a musket-ball in the thigh as he mounted a fresh horse, after
havinjr had his own killed under him. He had to ride back
wounded, a long distance, and was very faint with fatigue and
loss of blood, when some water for which he had eagerly asked,
was handed to him. But he was so good and gentle even then,
tl^at seeing a poor, badly wounded common soldier lying on the
ground, looking at the water with longing eyes, he said, '' Thy
necessity 1^ greater than mine," and gave it up to him. This
touching action of a noble heart is perhaps as well known as
any incident in history, — is as famous, far and wide, as the
biood-stained Tower of London, with its axe and block, and
murders out of number. So delightful is an act of true human-
ity, and so glad are mankind to remember it !

At home, intelligence of plots began to thicken every day*
I suppose the people never did live under such continual ter-
rors as those by which they were possessed now, of Catholic
risings, and burnings, and poisonings, and I don't know what.
Still, we must always remember that they lived near and clo'e
to awful realities of that kind, and that with their experience it
was not difficult to believe in any enormity. The government
had the same fear, and did not take the best means of discov-
ering the truth ; for becides torturing the suspected, it employed
paid spies, who will always lie for their own profit. It even
made some of the conspiracies it brought to light, by sending
false letters to disaffected people, inviting them to join in pre
tended plots which they too readily did.

But owQ great real plot was at length discovered ; and it
ended the career of Mary, Queen of Scots. A seminary priest
named Ballard, and a Spanish soldier named Savage, set on
and encouraged by certain French priests, imparted a design
to one Antony Babington — a gentleman of fortune in Derby-
shire, who had been lor some time a secret agent of Mary's —
for murdering the queen. Babington then confided the scheme
to some other Catholic gentlemen, who were his friends, and
they joined in it heartily. They were vain, weak-headed young
men ridiculously confident, and preposterously proud of their
plan ; for they got a gimcrack painting made, of the six choice
spirits who were to murder Elizabeth, with Babington, in an at-
titude, for the centre figure. Two of their number, however,
one of whom was a priest, kept Elizabeth's wisest minister. Sir
Francis Walsingham, acquainted with the whole project from
the first. The conspirators were completely deceived to ti.e
final point, when Babington gave Savage, because he was



shabby, a ring from his finger, and some money from his purse,
wherevvilh to buy himself new clothes in which to kill the queen.
Walsingham, having then full evidence against the whole band,
and two letters of Mary's besides, resolved to seize them. Sus-
pecting something wrong, they stole out of the cily, one by one,
and hid themselves in St. John's Wood, and other places, which
really were hiding-places then ; but they were all taken, and all
executed. When they were seized, a gentleman was sent from
court to inform Mary of the fact, and of her being involved in
the discovery. Her friends have complained that she was kept
in very hard and severe custody. It does not appear very
likely, for she was going out a-hunting that very morning.

Queen Elizabeth had been warned long ago, by one in
France who had good information of what was secretly doing,
that, in holding Mary alive, she held " the wolf who would de-
vour her." The Bishop of London had, more lately, given the
queen's favorite minister the advice in writing, "forthwith to
cut off the Scottish queen's head." The question now was,
what to do with her. The Earl of Leicester wrote a little note
home from Holland, recommending that she should be quietly
poisoned ; that noble favorite having accustomed his mind, it
is possible, to remedies of that nature. His black advice, how-
ever, was disregarded ; and she was brought to trial at Fother-
ingay Castle in Northamptonshire, before a tribunal of forty,
composed of both religions. There, and in the Star Chamber
at Westminster, the trial lasted a fortnight. She defended her-
self with great ability, but could only deny the confessions that
had been made by Babington and others ; could only call her
own letters, produced against her by her own secretaries, for-
geries ; and, in short, could only deny everything. She was
found guilty, and declared to have incurred tlie penalty of
death. The Parliament met, approved the sentence, and prayed
the queen to have it executed. The queen replied that she re-
quested them to consider whether no means could be found ot
saving Mary's life without endangering her own. The Parlia-
ment rejoined. No ; and the citizens illuminated their houses
and lighted bonfires, in token of their joy that all these plots
and troubles were to be ended by the death of the Quee*i of

She, feeling sure that her time was now come, wrote a letter
to the Queen of Eir^land, making three entreaties : first, that
she might be buried in France ; secondly, that she might not
be executed in secret, but before her servants and some others ;
thirdly that, after her death, her servants should not be mo-


lasted, but should be suffered to go home with the legacies she
left them. It was an affecting letter ; and Elizabeth shed tears
over it, but sent no answer. Then came a special ambassador
from France, and another from Scotland, to intercede for Mary's
life ; and then the nation began to clamor, more and more, for
her death.

What the real feelings or intentions of Elizabeth were, can
never be known now ; but I strongly suspect her of only wish-
ing one thing more than Mary's death, and that was to keep
free of the blame of it. On the ist of February, 1587, Lord
Burleigh having drawn out the warrant for the execution, the
queen ent to the Secretary Davison to bring it to her that
she might sign it ; which she did. Next day, when Davison
told her it was sealed she angrily asked him why such haste
was necessary. Next day but one she joked about it, and swore
a little. Again next day but one, she seemed to complain that
it was not yet done ; but still she would not be plain with those
about her. So, on the 7th, the Earls of Kent and Shrewsbury,
with the Sheriff of Northamptonshire, came with the warrant
to Fotheringay, to tell the Queen of Scots to prepare for

When those messengers of ill omen were gone, Mary made
a frugal supper, drank to her servants, read over her will, went
to bed, slept for some hours, and then arose and passed the re-
mainder of the night saying prayers. In the morning she
dressed herself in her best clothes ; and at eight o'cock, when
the sheriff came for her to her chapel, took leave of her ser-
vants who were there assembled praying with her, and went
down stairs, carrying a Bible in one hand and a crucifix in the
other. Two of her women and four of her men were allowed
to be present in the hall, where a low scaffold, only two feet
from the ground, was erected and covered with black ; and
where the executioner from the Tower and his assistant stood,
dressed in black velvet. The hall was full of people. While
the sentence was being read, she sat upon a stool ; and when
it was finished, she again denied her guilt, as she had done be-
fore. The Earl of Kent and the Dean of Peterborough, in
their Protestant zeal, made some very unnecessary speeches to
her ; to which she replied she died in the Catholic religion, and
they need not trouble themselves about that matter. When
her head and neck were uncovered by the executioners, she
said that she had not been used to be undressed by such hands,
01 before so much company. Finally, one of her women fastened
z doth over her face ; and she laid her neck upon the block,



and repeated more than once in Latin, " Into thy hands, O
Lord ! I commend my spirit." Some say her head was struck
off in two blows, some say in three. However that be, when
it was held up, streaming with blood, the real hair beneath the
false hair she had long worn was seen to be as gray as that of
a woman of seventy, though she was at that time only in her
forty-sixth year. All her beauty was gone.

But she was beautiful enough to her little dog, who cowered
under her dress, frightened, when she went upon the scaffold,
and who lay down beside her headless body when all her
earthly sorrows were over.

Third Part.

On its being formally made known to Elizabeth that the
sentence had been executed on the Queen of Scots, she showed
the utmost grief and rage, drove her favorites from her with
violent indignation, and sent Davison to the Tower; from
which place he was only released in the end by paying an im-
mense fine, which completely ruined him. Elizabeth not only
over-acted her part in making these pretences, but most basely
reduced to poverty one of her faithful servants for no other
fault than obeying her commands.

James, King of Scotland, Mary's son, made a show likewise
of being very angry on the occasion ; but he was a pensioner
of England to the amount of five thousand pounds a year;
and he had known very little of his mother, and he possibly
regarded her as the murderer of his father, and he soon took
it quietly.

Philip, King of Spain, however, threatened to do greater
things than ever had been done yet, to set up the Catholic re-
ligion, and punish Protestant England. Elizabeth, hearing
that he and the Prince of Parma were making great prepara-
tions for this purpose, in order to be beforehanded with them sent
out Admiral Drake (a famous navigator, who had sailed about
the world, and had already brought great plunder from Spain)
',0 the port of Cadiz, where he burnt a hundred vessels full of
stores. This great loss obliged the Spaniards to put off the
invasion for a year ; but it was none the less formidable for
that, amounting to one hundred and thirty ships, nineteen thou-
sand soldiers, eight thousand sailors, two thousand slaves, and
between two and three thousand great guns. England was not
idle in making ready to resist this great force. All the men be-
tween sixteen years old aud sixty were trained and drilled j the


national fleet of ships (in number only thirty-four at first) was
enlarged by public contributions, and by private ships, fitted
out by noblemen ; the city of London, of its own accord, fur-
nished double the number of ships and men that it was re-
quired to provide ; and, if ever the national spirit was up in
England, it was up all through the country to resist the Span-
iards. Some of the queen's advisers were for seizing the prin-
cipal English Catholics and putting them to death ; but the
queen — who, to her honor, used to say that she would never
believe any ill of her subjects which a parent would not be-
lieve of her own children — rejected the advice, and only con-
fined a few of those who were the most suspected in the fens
in Lincolnshire. The great body of Catholics deserved this
confidence ; for they behaved most loyally, nobly, and bravely.
So, with all England firing up like one strong, angry man,
and with both sides of the Thames fortified, and with the sol-
diers under arms, and with the sailors in their ships, the coun-
try waited for the coming of the proud Spanish fleet, which
was called The Invincible Armada. The queen herself, riding
in armor on a white horse, and the Earl of Essex and the Earl
of Leicester holding her bridle-rein, made a brave speech to
the troops at Tilbury Fort, opposite Gravesend, which was re-
ceived with such enthusiasm as is seldom known. Then came
the Spanish Armada into the English Channel, sailing along in
the form of a half-moon, of such great size that it was seven
miles broad. But the English were quickly upon it ; and woe
then to all the Spanish ships that dropped a litde out of the half-
moon, for the English took them instantly ! And it soon ap-
peared that the great Armada was anything but invincible ;
for, on a summer night, bold Drake sent eight blazing fire-ships
right into the midst of it. In terrible consternation, the Span-
iards tried to get out to sea, and so became dispersed ; the
English pursued them at a great advantage. A storm came
on, and drove the Spaniards among rocks and shoals ; and the
swift end of the invincible fleet was, that it lost thirty great
ships and ten thousand men, and defeated, and disgraced,
sailed home again. Being afraid to go by the English Chan-
nel, it sailed all around Scotland and Ireland ; some of the
ships getting cast away on the latter coast in bad weather, the
Irish, who were a kind of savages, plundered those vessels, and
killed their crews. So ended this great attempt to invade and
conquer England. And I think it will be a long time before
any other invincible fleet, coming to England with the same
object, will fare much better than the Spanish Armada,




Though the Spanish king had had this bitter taste of Eng-
lish bravery, he was so little the wiser for it, as still to enter-

Online LibraryCharles DickensA child's history of England → online text (page 28 of 38)