In studying this phase of the long and interesting life of Elizabeth of England we must notice several important facts. In the first place, she gave herself, above all else, to the maintenance of England—not an England that would be half Spanish or half French, or even partly Dutch and Flemish, but the Merry England of tradition—the England that was one and undivided, with its growing freedom of thought, its bows and bills, its nut-brown ale, its sturdy yeomen, and its loyalty to crown and Parliament. She once said, almost as in an agony:
“I love England more than anything!”
And one may really hold that this was true.
For England she schemed and planned. For England she gave up many of her royal rights. For England she descended into depths of treachery. For England she left herself on record as an arrant liar, false, perjured, yet successful; and because of her success for England’s sake her countrymen will hold her in high remembrance, since her scheming and her falsehood are the offenses that one pardons most readily in a woman.
In the second place, it must be remembered that Elizabeth’s courtships and pretended love-makings were almost always a part of her diplomacy. When not a part of her diplomacy they were a mere appendage to her vanity. To seem to be the flower of the English people, and to be surrounded by the noblest, the bravest, and the most handsome cavaliers, not only of her own kingdom, but of others—this was, indeed, a choice morsel of which she was fond of tasting, even though it meant nothing beyond the moment.
Finally, though at times she could be very cold, and though she made herself still colder in order that she might play fast and loose with foreign suitors who played fast and loose with her—the King of Spain, the Duc d’Alencon, brother of the French king, with an Austrian archduke, with a magnificent barbarian prince of Muscovy, with Eric of Sweden, or any other Scandinavian suitor— she felt a woman’s need for some nearer and more tender association to which she might give freer play and in which she might feel those deeper emotions without the danger that arises when love is mingled with diplomacy.
Let us first consider a picture of the woman as she really was in order that we may understand her triple nature—consummate mistress of every art that statesmen know, and using at every moment her person as a lure; a vain-glorious queen who seemed to be the prey of boundless vanity; and, lastly, a woman who had all a woman’s passion, and who could cast suddenly aside the check and balance which restrained her before the public gaze and could allow herself to give full play to the emotion that she inherited from the king, her father, who was himself a marvel of fire and impetuosity. That the daughter of Henry VIII. and Anne Boleyn should be a gentle, timid maiden would be to make heredity a farce.