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it must have been for the ladies of her household and court to behold these mangled relics, from day to day—
"While darkly they faded
Through all the dread stages of nature's decay."
Hentzner affirms, "that he counted on London bridge, no less than three hundred heads of persons, who had been executed for high treason"-a melancholy evidence that Elizabeth, in her latter years, had flung the dove from her sceptre, and exchanged curtana for the sword of vengeance.
Sully, the great panegyrist of Elizabeth, and the personal foe of Biron, relates "that Biron had a most extraordinary conversation with that queen, and that he had the want of tact, not only to mention the earl of Essex to her, but to bewail the fate of that nobleman, whose great services had not been able to preserve him from so tragical a fate. Elizabeth condescended to justify her conduct, by explaining to Biron the nature of the perilous schemes in which Essex had madly engaged, which rendered it necessary for her to punish him. She, however, added, "that notwithstanding his engaging in open rebellion, he might still, by submission, have obtained her pardon, but that neither his friends nor relations could prevail on him to ask it." She, it seems, was well aware of the proceedings of Biron himself, and it is supposed that, as a warning to him, she enlarged much on the reverence and obedience that was due from subjects to their sovereigns. It might possibly have been, that in the climax of the excitement caused by this discussion, she shewed Biron the heads of the unfortunate adherents of Essex on the Tower, as a terrific evidence of the evil consequences of his reckless courses, to his friends. Perefixe observes, "that those who stood by, and heard what the queen of England said to Biron on this occasion, recalled the circumstances to mind, when they, soon after, saw him fall into the same misfortune as the earl of Essex, by losing his head, after he had lost the favour of his prince.'
Elizabeth summoned her last parliament, to meet at Westminster, on the 27th of October, 1601. She opened it in person, with unwonted pomp, but her enfeebled frame was unable to support the weight of the royal robes, and she was actually sinking to the ground, when the nearest noble
man caught and supported her in his arms. Yet she rallied her expiring energies, and went through the fatiguing ceremonial, with her wonted dignity and grace.
The sessions commenced with a stormy discussion on monopolies, which had now increased to so oppressive a degree, that the sole right to sell or issue licences for the sale of wine, vinegar, oil, salt, starch, steel, coals, and almost every necessary of life, was vested in the person of some greedy, unprincipled courtier, or wealthy individual, who had purchased that privilege from the minister or ladies of the bed-chamber. The time had arrived when the people of England would bear this grievance no longer. The exigencies of the government required an extraordinary supply to carry on the expenses of the civil war in Ireland, and the commons chose to discuss the monopoly question first, but the queen prevented this exposure of the abuses of her government, by sending a most gracious and conciliatory message to the house, signifying her intention of redressing all grievances by the exercise of her regal authority. The commons' deputation, of 140 members with their speaker, waited upon her to return thanks, and she addressed them at some length, expressing her affection for her people, and her satisfaction "that the harpies and horse-leeches," as she, in her energetic phraseology, termed the monopolists, had been exposed to her.
"I had rather," said she, " that my heart and hand should perish, than either heart or hand should allow such privileges to monopolists as may be prejudicial to my people. The splendour of regal majesty hath not so blinded mine eyes, that licentious power should prevail with me more than justice. The glory of the name of a king may deceive those princes that know not how to rule, as gilded pills may deceive a sick patient. But I am none of those princes. For I know that the commonwealth is to be governed for the good and advantage of those that are committed to me, not of myself, to whom it is intrusted, and that an account is one day to be given before another judgment-seat. I think myself most happy that, by God's assistance, I have hitherto so prosperously governed the commonwealth, in all respects, and that I have such subjects that for their good I would
2 Parliamentary History. D'Ewes. Mackintosh. Rapin.
willingly lose both kingdoms and life." She concluded this beautiful speech, the last she ever addressed to her senate, by entreating them "not to impute the blame to her, if they had suffered from the abuses of which they complained, for princes' servants were too often set more upon their private advantage, than the good of either the sovereign or the people."
The parliament returned the most dutiful acknowledgments, and after granting an extraordinary supply, was dissolved in November, having scarcely sat six weeks. It was the last of Elizabeth's reign. The following spring, the aged queen appeared to have made a considerable rally in point of health. In March, 1602, the French ambassador records, that her majesty took her daily walking exercise on Richmond-green, with greater spirit and activity than could have been expected at her years.
On the 28th of April, she entertained the duke of Nevers, with a costly banquet, at her palace at Richmond, and, after dinner, opened the ball with him, in a galliard, which she danced with wonderful agility for her time of life. The French ambassador, Beaumont, notices, that this was the first time she had honoured any foreign prince in this way, since she footed it so bravely with her last royal suitor, the duke of Alençon. The duke of Nevers repaid the courtesy of his august partner, with many compliments, not only kissing her hand, but her foot also, when she shewed him her leg, a trait of levity too absurd almost for credibility, though recorded by an eye-witness, who says, that she used many pleasant discourses with him.'
On the 1st of May, Elizabeth honoured the sylvan customs of England, in the olden time, by going a Maying, with her court, in the green glades of Lewisham, two or three miles from her palace of Greenwich. To use a familiar phrase, she appeared as if she had taken a new lease of life, and she adopted the whimsical method of damping the eager hopes of the king of Scotland, for his speedy succession to the English throne, by keeping his ambassador, sir Roger Aston, waiting for his audience, in a place where he could see her, behind a part of the tapestry, which was turned back, as if by accident, dancing, in her privy-chamber, to the sound of a small fiddle, and the royal Terpsichore,
actually kept his excellency cooling his heels in the lobby, while she performed corantos, and other gallant feats of dancing, that he might report to his sovereign how vigorous and sprightly she was, and that his inheritance might yet be long in coming.'
This summer, she made a little series of festive visits in the vicinity of her metropolis, and was gratified with the usual sum of adulation and presents, but it is expressly noticed, that, on her visit to the earl of Nottingham, she was disappointed, because she was not presented with the costly suit of tapestry hangings, which represented all the battles of her valiant host with the Spanish Armada."
In July, queen Elizabeth entertained the lady ambassadress of France at her palace of Greenwich; and it is noticed by Harrington, "that her excellency gave away, among the maids of honour and other ladies of the court, fans, purses, and masks very bountifully." Another courtier describes the gay life Elizabeth was leading in the month of September:- "We are frolic here at court: much dancing in the privy chamber, of country dances, before the queen's majesty, who is exceedingly pleased therewith. Irish tunes are at this time most liked; but in winter, Lullaby, an old song of Mr. Bird's, will be more in request as I think." This was the opinion of the earl of Worcester,3 an ancient servant and contemporary of the queen, who thought that a refreshing nap, lulled by the soft sounds of Bird's exquisite melody, would better suit his royal mistress than her usual after-dinner diversions of frisking, beneath the burden of seventy years, to some of the spirit-stirring Irish tunes newly imported to the English court. Under this gay exterior the mighty Elizabeth carried a heart full of profound grief; and she might truly have said—
"From sport to sport they hurry me,
It was observed that, after the death of Essex, the people ceased to greet the queen with the demonstrations of rapturous affection with which they had been accustomed to
2 Nichols' Progresses.
3 Letter of the earl of Worcester to the earl of Shrewsbury. Lodge's Illustrations, vol. ii. p. 578.
William Bird was organist of the royal chapel in this reign, and one of the greatest among English composers, at an era when England possessed national music, and had composers who produced original melodies.
salute her when she appeared in public. They could not forgive the loss of that generous and gallant nobleman, the only popular object of her favour, whom she had cut off in the flower of his days, and now, whenever she was seen, a gloomy silence reigned in the streets through which she passed. These indications of the change in her subjects' feelings towards her are said to have sunk deeply into the mind of the aged queen, and occasioned that depression of spirits which preceded her death.
A trifling incident is also supposed to have made a painful and ominous impression on her imagination. Her coronation ring, which she had worn, night and day, ever since her inauguration, having grown into her finger, it became necessary to have it filed off; and this was regarded by her as an evil portent.
In the beginning of June, she confided to the French ambassador, Count de Beaumont, "that she was a-weary of life,” and, with sighs and tears, alluded to the death of Essex, that subject which appears to have been ever in her thoughts, and, "when unthought of, still the spring of thought." She said, "that being aware of the impetuosity of his temper and his ambitious character, she had warned him two years before to content himself with pleasing her, and not to shew such insolent contempt for her as he did on some occasions, but to take care not to touch her sceptre, lest she should be compelled to punish him according to the laws of England, and not according to her own, which he had always found too mild and indulgent for him to fear any thing from them. His neglect of this caution," she added, "had caused his ruin."
Henry IV., notwithstanding the earnest intercessions he had made, through his ambassador, for the life of Essex, greatly applauded Elizabeth for her resolution in bringing him to the block, and observed, "that if his predecessor, Henry III., had possessed a portion of her high spirit, he would have quelled the insolence of the duke of Guise and his faction in their first attempts to overawe the throne." He said many times, in the presence of his court, that "she only was a king, and knew how to govern-how to support the dignity of her crown; and that the repose and weal of her subjects required the course she had taken."
1 Winwood's Memorials.