Tudors and Stuarts - M. B. Synge

Elizabeth Queen of England, Mary Queen of Scots, and the National Church

"Few rulers," it has been said, "ever ascended a throne better prepared for her task than did Elizabeth." Like the nation, she had suffered deeply. She had certainly been in danger of execution for a time, and had been under restraint more or less stringent throughout Mary's reign; during this period she had outwardly conformed to the Catholic religion, whatever her private opinions might have been. She had learnt to depend on no one but herself. She loved England as she loved nothing else in the world beside herself, and she was resolved to make her country great and flourishing.

But she was called to no easy task this November morning in 1558. Never had England been in greater trouble than when Elizabeth mounted the throne. Here is an account of the country at this time: "The queen poor; the realm exhausted; the nobles poor and decayed; good captains and soldiers wanting; the people out of order; justice not executed; all things dear: division among ourselves; war with France and Scotland; the French king bestriding the realm, having one foot in Scotland and the other on Calais."

England's hope lay in the new queen. The people had watched her growing in their midst from childhood to womanhood. Her twenty-fifth birthday had just passed. They knew her to be "a bold horsewoman, a good shot, a graceful dancer, a skilled musician, and an accomplished scholar."

She at once showed her wisdom by appointing Sir William Cecil her chief minister. He belonged to an old Welsh family that had always been loyal to the Tudor monarchs, no matter what their religion might be. He himself had served under the new queen's father, Henry VIII, her, brother Edward, and her sister Mary. "This judgment I have of you, that you will not be corrupted with any manner of gifts; that you will be faithful to the State; that without respect of any private will, you will give me that counsel that you think best."

In these words the new queen addressed her minister, who indeed served her right well for the next forty years. And it is interesting to remember that a descendant of this very Cecil, Lord Salisbury, served Queen Victoria, some three hundred years later, for an even longer term of years.

Elizabeth realised that she must destroy a great deal of Mary's work and build up much that she had destroyed. Her coronation took place at Westminster on Sunday, January 15th, and thus the first Protestant Queen of England commenced her reign. Very gradually Elizabeth began to introduce those changes that govern the public worship of England to-day. Before the first year of The Church made her reign was over, the Act of Uniformity was passed in order to keep the Church services uniform. It ordered all to use the new Prayer Book of Edward VI, as revised by a small body of Protestants at Elizabeth's request. An Act of Supremacy was also passed, and in this Elizabeth took the title of "Governor" instead of "Supreme Head" of the Church, but she insisted on keeping the management of Church affairs in her own hands. Those who offered objections she answered loftily: "I will do as my father did."

In the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Matthew Parker, she had a tower of strength. Bishops, driven abroad during the reign of Mary, returned home. Eleven Catholic bishops were deprived of their sees and imprisoned, and their sees filled by Protestant bishops.

The sudden death of the King of France had set Mary of Scotland and her husband Francis II on the French throne, and the new Queen of France assumed the royal arms of England. Elizabeth sent to object, but the answer was that "the Queen of Scotland bore those arms as the descendant of Margaret Tudor, her grandmother, the eldest daughter of Henry VII." Elizabeth herself bore, amid other titles, that of "Queen of France," and Mary urged that the French arms should be taken off the English shield, and the title dropped, if the royal arms of England were to be given up by her. Twelve sovereigns of England have borne the arms and style of France," replied Elizabeth proudly, "and I will not resign them" And so began the life-long quarrel between Elizabeth and her cousin Mary.

During the absence in France of Mary Queen of Scots, her mother had been acting regent in Scotland, and had been collecting French troops for the protection of the realm. This reached the ears of Elizabeth, and she at once sent ships to Berwick with troops in case of possible invasion. The French army was besieged in Leith.

The Treaty of Edinburgh was the result. By it, all French troops were withdrawn from Scotland and a council of twelve nobles, partly appointed by Elizabeth, were to carry on the government. It was also decided that "since the kingdoms of England and Ireland rightly belonged to the serene Elizabeth," therefore the King and Queen of France should not use the title or arms of England. But everything was changed when the King of France died, and soon after Mary returned to her own kingdom in Scotland.

Mary's grief at leaving France was pitiful. She was to sail from Calais to Leith to avoid risks of capture from English ships. At the sight of the ships at Calais ready to take her away from France, she burst into tears. Indeed, all those present were weeping as she stepped on board, accompanied by her four Marys, who had attended her to France twelve years before. The sails were set and the galley was getting out to sea, when Mary cried through her tears: "Adieu, France! beloved France, adieu!" The breeze died away, "the weary rowers slumbered on their oars." Mary had cried herself to sleep, begging to be awakened before the shores of the land she loved had faded quite away. As daylight dawned they wakened her, and looking out over the summer sea, she cried once more: "It is past. Farewell! farewell to France, beloved land which I shall behold no more!"

The English fleet was on her track, but a thick fog protected her little ship, and after a dangerous voyage of four days, Mary landed in Scotland early one morning in the summer of 1561. She had left her home as a happy little queen of six years old. She returned to her kingdom, after twelve years, a childless widow, alone, unprotected.



During these twelve years of Mary's absence, the Reformation, which had made itself felt in other countries, had taken strong hold in Scotland. The great leader of the Protestant party in that country was John Knox, a stern and unbending Reformer. Mary, the queen, was a staunch Roman Catholic. Though she put up with the Psalm-singing of Knox's choir under her windows at Holyrood for the first three nights after her arrival, it was impossible that she and Knox should ever really agree. She tried to get rid of him by bringing an accusation of treason against him, but Knox was acquitted.

The realm of Scotland now passed through an unhappy time. Mary married her young Roman Catholic cousin, Lord Darnley; both Elizabeth and Knox strongly objected. Before long, Darnley became jealous of Mary's secretary, Rizzio, and the secretary was murdered in the presence of the queen and her husband.

Three months after this tragedy, a son was born to Mary and Darnley—destined to be King James VI of Scotland and James I of England. But even the arrival of a fair son did not bring the unhappy couple together.

Rizzio and Mary Queen of Scots


Now comes a terrible tragedy which will ever remain a blot on the history of Scotland. Eleven months after the murder of Rizzio, Darnley himself was found murdered in a building outside Edinburgh. The whole world was horrified, and it was not less horrified when, two months later, Mary became the wife of Bothwell, who was regarded as the murderer of her late husband and the "foulest ruffian among her subjects.'' A shudder ran through the whole country and the Scottish nobles turned against her.

The Scottish Reformers were determined that Mary should resign the crown, on which she had brought such disgrace. She had her choice between that or death, and thus she was forced to give up the throne in favour of her infant son. So the baby prince was crowned James VI of Scotland, when little over a year old. He was taken to Stirling Castle to be educated, while Mary's half-brother, Murray, acted as regent.

Mary escaped from Lochleven Castle, where she had been imprisoned; then followed the defeat of her troops by the Regent Murray at Langside and her flight into England. A pitiful letter from her found its way to Elizabeth: "I entreat you to send for me as soon as possible," she wrote, "for I am in a pitiable condition, not only for a queen, but even for a gentlewoman, having nothing in the world but the clothes in which I escaped, riding sixty miles the first day . . . Have compassion on my great misfortunes and permit me to come to you. Your very faithful and affectionate good sister and cousin and escaped prisoner, Marie, Queen."

Elizabeth had a difficult part to play. She was sorry for the hapless plight of her royal kinswoman. But she was most anxious she should be closely guarded in Carlisle Castle, and not allowed to escape a second time. From Carlisle, Elizabeth had her removed to Bolton Castle, in Yorkshire. Though she was allowed a household of her own, she was strongly guarded by Elizabeth's orders. Mary was now but twenty-seven. She never had her freedom again.