The Earl unbuckled his sword, and taking it by the point, presented on bended knee the hilt to Elizabeth.
She took it slowly drew it from the scabbard, and while the ladies who stood around turned away their eyes with real or affected shuddering, she noted with a curious eye the high polish and rich, damasked ornaments upon the glittering blade.
“Had I been a man,” she said, “methinks none of my ancestors would have loved a good sword better. As it is with me, I like to look on one, and could, like the Fairy of whom I have read in some Italian rhymes—were my godson Harrington here, he could tell me the passage—even trim my hair, and arrange my head-gear, in such a steel mirror as this is.—Richard Varney, come forth, and kneel down. In the name of God and Saint George, we dub thee knight! Be Faithful, Brave, and Fortunate. Arise, Sir Richard Varney.”
[The incident alluded
to occurs in the poem of Orlando Innamorato
of Boiardo, libro ii. canto 4, stanza 25.
“Non era per ventura,” etc.
It may be rendered thus:—
As then, perchance,
unguarded was the tower,
So enter’d free Anglante’s dauntless knight.
No monster and no giant guard the bower
In whose recess reclined the fairy light,
Robed in a loose cymar of lily white,
And on her lap a sword of breadth and might,
In whose broad blade, as in a mirror bright,
Like maid that trims her for a festal night,
The fairy deck’d her hair, and placed her coronet aright.
Elizabeth’s attachment to the Italian school of poetry was singularly manifested on a well-known occasion. Her godson, Sir John Harrington, having offended her delicacy by translating some of the licentious passages of the Orlando Furioso, she imposed on him, as a penance, the task of rendering the whole poem into English.]
Varney arose and retired, making a deep obeisance to the Sovereign who had done him so much honour.
“The buckling of the spur, and what other rites remain,” said the Queen, “may be finished to-morrow in the chapel; for we intend Sir Richard Varney a companion in his honours. And as we must not be partial in conferring such distinction, we mean on this matter to confer with our cousin of Sussex.”
That noble Earl, who since his arrival at Kenilworth, and indeed since the commencement of this Progress, had found himself in a subordinate situation to Leicester, was now wearing a heavy cloud on his brow; a circumstance which had not escaped the Queen, who hoped to appease his discontent, and to follow out her system of balancing policy by a mark of peculiar favour, the more gratifying as it was tendered at a moment when his rival’s triumph appeared to be complete.
At the summons of Queen Elizabeth, Sussex hastily approached her person; and being asked on which of his followers, being a gentleman and of merit, he would wish the honour of knighthood to be conferred, he answered, with more sincerity than policy, that he would have ventured to speak for Tressilian, to whom he conceived he owed his own life, and who was a distinguished soldier and scholar, besides a man of unstained lineage, “only,” he said, “he feared the events of that night—” And then he stopped.