Then, too, the story of Leicester’s marriage with Amy Robsart is something more than a myth, based upon an obscure legend and an ancient ballad. The earl had had such a wife, and there were sinister stories about the manner of her death. But it is Scott who invents the villainous Varney and the bulldog Anthony Foster; just as he brought the whole episode into the foreground and made it occur at a period much later than was historically true. Still, Scott felt—and he was imbued with the spirit and knowledge of that time—a strong conviction that Elizabeth loved Leicester as she really loved no one else.
There is one interesting fact which goes far to convince us. Just as her father was, in a way, polygamous, so Elizabeth was even more truly polyandrous. It was inevitable that she should surround herself with attractive men, whose love-locks she would caress and whose flatteries she would greedily accept. To the outward eye there was very little difference in her treatment of the handsome and daring nobles of her court; yet a historian of her time makes one very shrewd remark when he says: “To every one she gave some power at times—to all save Leicester.”
Cecil and Walsingham in counsel and Essex and Raleigh in the field might have their own way at times, and even share the sovereign’s power, but to Leicester she intrusted no high commands and no important mission. Why so? Simply because she loved him more than any of the rest; and, knowing this, she knew that if besides her love she granted him any measure of control or power, then she would be but half a queen and would be led either to marry him or else to let him sway her as he would.
For the reason given, one may say with confidence that, while Elizabeth’s light loves were fleeting, she gave a deep affection to this handsome, bold, and brilliant Englishman and cherished him in a far different way from any of the others. This was as near as she ever came to marriage, and it was this love at least which makes Shakespeare’s famous line as false as it is beautiful, when he describes “the imperial votaress” as passing by “in maiden meditation, fancy free.”
Mary Stuart and Cleopatra are the two women who have most attracted the fancy of poets, dramatists, novelists, and painters, from their own time down to the present day.
In some respects there is a certain likeness in their careers. Each was queen of a nation whose affairs were entangled with those of a much greater one. Each sought for her own ideal of love until she found it. Each won that love recklessly, almost madly. Each, in its attainment, fell from power and fortune. Each died before her natural life was ended. One caused the man she loved to cast away the sovereignty of a mighty state. The other lost her own crown in order that she might achieve the whole desire of her heart.