Amid such a tide of prosperity, this minion of fortune and of the Queen’s favour was probably the most unhappy man in the realm which seemed at his devotion. He had the Fairy King’s superiority over his friends and dependants, and saw much which they could not. The character of his mistress was intimately known to him. It was his minute and studied acquaintance with her humours, as well as her noble faculties, which, joined to his powerful mental qualities, and his eminent external accomplishments, had raised him so high in her favour; and it was that very knowledge of her disposition which led him to apprehend at every turn some sudden and overwhelming disgrace. Leicester was like a pilot possessed of a chart which points out to him all the peculiarities of his navigation, but which exhibits so many shoals, breakers, and reefs of rocks, that his anxious eye reaps little more from observing them than to be convinced that his final escape can be little else than miraculous.
In fact, Queen Elizabeth had a character strangely compounded of the strongest masculine sense, with those foibles which are chiefly supposed proper to the female sex. Her subjects had the full benefit of her virtues, which far predominated over her weaknesses; but her courtiers, and those about her person, had often to sustain sudden and embarrassing turns of caprice, and the sallies of a temper which was both jealous and despotic. She was the nursing-mother of her people, but she was also the true daughter of Henry VIII.; and though early sufferings and an excellent education had repressed and modified, they had not altogether destroyed, the hereditary temper of that “hard-ruled king.” “Her mind,” says her witty godson, Sir John Harrington, who had experienced both the smiles and the frowns which he describes, “was ofttime like the gentle air that cometh from the western point in a summer’s morn—’twas sweet and refreshing to all around her. Her speech did win all affections. And again, she could put forth such alterations, when obedience was lacking, as left no doubting whose daughter she was. When she smiled, it was a pure sunshine, that every one did choose to bask in, if they could; but anon came a storm from a sudden gathering of clouds, and the thunder fell in a wondrous manner on all alike.” [Nugae Antiquae, vol.i., pp.355, 356-362.]
This variability of disposition, as Leicester well knew, was chiefly formidable to those who had a share in the Queen’s affections, and who depended rather on her personal regard than on the indispensable services which they could render to her councils and her crown. The favour of Burleigh or of Walsingham, of a description far less striking than that by which he was himself upheld, was founded, as Leicester was well aware, on Elizabeth’s solid judgment, not on her partiality, and was, therefore, free from all those principles of change and decay necessarily incident to that which chiefly arose from personal accomplishments