Francis Bacon (1609)

Elizabeth both in her nature and her fortune was a wonderful person among women, a memorable person among princes. But it is not to monks or closet penmen that we are to look for guidance in such a case; for men of that order, being keen in style, poor in judgment, and partial in feeling, are no faithful witnesses as to the real passages of business. It is for ministers and great officers to judge of these things, and those who have handled the helm of government, and been acquainted with the difficulties and mysteries of state business.

The government of a woman has been a rare thing at all times; felicity in such government a rarer thing still; felicity and long continuance together the rarest thing of all. Yet this Queen reigned forty-four years complete, and did not outlive her felicity. Of this felicity I propose to say something; without wandering into praises; for praise is the tribute of men, felicity the gift of God. 444

First, then, I set it down as part of her felicity that she was raised to sovereignty from a private fortune; not so much because of that feeling so deeply seated in man's nature, whereby benefits which come unexpected and unhoped for are always counted the greater blessings; but because Princes who are brought up in the reigning house with assured expectation of wcceeding to the throne, are commonly spoiled oy the indulgence and licence of their education, and so turn out both less capable and less temperate. And therefore you will find that the best kings are they who have been trained in both schools of fortune; such as Henry the Seventh with us, and Lewis the Twelfth in France; both of whom, of late years and almost at the same time, came to their kingdoms not only from a private but from an adverse and troubled fortune; and both were eminently prosperous; the one excelling in wisdom, the other in justice. Much like was the case of this Queen, whose early times and opening prospects fortune chequered with uncertainty, that afterwards when she was settled in the throne it might prove to the last constant and equable. For Elizabeth at her birth was destined to the succession, then disinherited, afterwards superseded. Her fortune in her brother's reign was more propitious and serene, in her sister's more troubled and doubtful. And yet she did not pass suddenly from the prison to the throne, with a mind embittered and swelling with the sense of misfortune, but was first restored to liberty and comforted with expectation; and so came to her kingdom at last quietly and prosperously, without tumult or competitor. All which I mention to show how Divine Providence, meaning to produce an ex cellent Queen, passed her by way of preparation 445 through these several stages of discipline. Nor ought the calamity of her mother to be admitted as an objection to the dignity of her birth: the rather because it is clear that Henry the Eighth had fallen in love with another woman before he fell in anger with Anne, and because he has not escaped the censure of posterity as a man by nature extremely prone both to loves and suspicions, and violent in both even to the shedding of blood. And besides, the criminal charge in which she was involved was in itself, if we consider only the person to whom it related, improbable, and rested upon the slenderest conjectures; as was secretly whispered (as the manner is in such cases) even then, and Anne herself just before her death with a high spirit and in memorable words made protestation. For having procured a messenger whose fidelity and good will she thought she could trust, she sent the King, in the very hour when she was preparing for the scaffold, a message to this effect: That he kept constant to his course of heaping hon- ours upon her; from a gentlewoman without title he had made her marchioness; he had then raised her to be the partner of his throne and bed; and now at last, because there remained no higher step of earthly honour, he had vouchsafed to crown her innocence with martyrdom. Which words the messenger durst not indeed carry to the King, who was then in the heat of a new love; but fame, the vindicator of truth, transmitted them to posterity.

I account also as no small part of Elizabeth's felicity the period and compass of her administration; not only for its length, but as falling within that portion of her life which was fittest for the control of affaire 446 and the handling of the reins of government. She was twenty-five years old (the age at which guardianship ceases) when she began to reign, and she continued reigning till her seventieth year; so that she never experienced either the disadvantages and subjection to other men's wills incident to a ward, nor the inconveniences of a lingering and impotent old age. Now old age brings with it even to private persons miseries enough; but to kings, besides those evils which are common to all, it brings also decline of greatness and inglorious exits from the stage. For there is hardly any sovereign who reigns till he becomes old and feeble, but suffers some diminution of power and reputation: of which we have a very eminent example in Philip the Second, King of Spain, a most powerful prince and perfect in the art of government; who in his last times when worn out with age became deeply sensible of this which I say, and therefore wisely submitted to the condition of things; voluntarily sacrificed the territories he had won in France, established peace there, attempted the like in other places, that he might leave a settled estate and all things clear and entire to his successor. Elizabeth's fortune on the contrary was so constant and flourishing, that not only did her declining, but though declining still fresh and vigorous years, bring with them no decline at all in the state of her affairs; but it was granted to her for an assured token of her felicity not to die before the fate of the revolt in Ireland had been decided by a victory; lest her glory might seem to be in any part sullied and incomplete.

Nor must it be forgotten withal among what kind of people she reigned; for had she been called to rule 447 over Palmyrenes or in an unwarlike and effeminate country like Asia, the wonder would have been less; a womanish people might well enough be governed by a woman; but that in England, a nation particularly fierce and warlike, all things could be swayed and controlled at the beck of a woman, is a matter for the highest admiration.

Observe too that this same humour of her people, ever eager for war and impatient of peace, did not prevent her from cultivating and maintaining peace during the whole time of her reign. And this her desire of peace, together with the success of it, I count among her greatest praises; as a thing happy for her times, becoming to her sex, and salutary for her conscience. Some little disturbance there was in the northern counties about the tenth year of her reign, but it was immediately quieted and extinguished. The rest of her years flourished in internal peace, secure and profound.

And this peace I regard as more especially flourishing from two circumstances that attended it, and which though they have nothing to do with the merit of peace, add much to the glory of it. The one, that the calamities of her neighbours were as fires to make it more conspicuous and illustrious; the other that the benefits of peace were not unaccompanied with honour of war, the reputation of England for arms and military prowess being by many noble deeds, not only maintained by her, but increased. For the aids sent to the Low Countries, to France, and to Scotland; the naval expeditions to both the Indies, some of which sailed all round the globe; the fleets despatched to Portugal and to harass the coasts 448 of Spain; the many defeats and overthrows of the rebels in Ireland; all these had the effect of keeping both the warlike virtues of our nation in full vigour and its fame and honour in full lustre.

Which glory had likewise this merit attached, that while neighbour kings on the one side owed the preservation of their kingdoms to her timely succours; suppliant peoples on the other, given up by ill-advised princes to the cruelty of their ministers, to the fury of the populace, and to every kind of spoliation and devastation, received relief in their misery; by means of which they stand to this day.

Nor were her counsels less beneficent and salutary than her succours; witness her remonstrances so frequently addressed to the King of Spain that he would moderate his anger against his subjects in the Low Countries, and admit them to return to their allegiance under conditions not intolerable; and her continual warnings and earnest solicitations addressed to the kings of France that they would observe their edicts of pacification. That her counsel was in both cases unsuccessful, I do not deny. The common fate of Europe did not suffer it to succeed in the first; for so the ambition of Spain, being released as it were from prison, would have been free to spend itself (as things then were) upon the ruin of the kingdoms and commonwealths of Christendom. The blood of so many innocent persons, slaughtered with their wives and children at their hearths and in their beds by the vilest rabble, like so many brute beasts animated, armed, and set on by public authority, forbade it in the other; that innocent blood demanding in just revenge that the kingdom which had been guilty of so 449 atrocious a crime should expiate it by mutual slaughters and massacres. But however that might be, she was not the less true to her own part, in performing the office of an ally both wise and benevolent.

Upon another account also this peace so cultivated and maintained by Elizabeth is matter of admiration; namely, that it proceeded not from any inclination of the times to peace, but from her own prudence and good management. For in a kingdom laboring with intestine faction on account of religion, and standing as a shield and stronghold of defence against the then formidable and overbearing ambition of Spain, matter for war was nowise wanting; it was she who by her forces and her counsels combined kept it under; as was proved by an event the most memorable in respect of felicity of all the actions of our time. For when that Spanish fleet, got up with such travail and ferment, waited upon with the terror and expectation of all Europe, inspired with such confidence of victory, came ploughing into our channels, it never took so much as a cockboat at sea, never fired so much as a cottage on the land, never even touched the shore; but was first beaten in a battle and then dispersed and wasted in a miserable flight with many shipwrecks; while on the ground and territories of England peace remained undisturbed and unshaken.

Nor was she less fortunate in escaping the treacherous attempts of conspirators than in defeating and repelling the forces of the enemy. For not a few conspiracies aimed at her life were in the happiest manner both detected and defeated; and yet was not her life made thereby more alarmed or anxious; there was no increase in the number of her guards; no keeping within her palace and seldom going abroad; but still secure and confident, and thinking more of the escape than of the 450 danger, she held her wonted course, and made no change in her way of life.

Worthy of remark too is the nature of the times in which she flourished. For there are some times so barbarous and ignorant that it is as easy a matter to govern men as to drive a flock of sheep. But the lot of this Queen fell upon times highly instructed and cultivated, in which it is not possible to be eminent and excellent without the greatest gifts of mind and a singular composition of virtue.

Again, the reigns of women are commonly obscured by marriage; their praises and actions passing to the credit of their husbands; whereas those that continue unmarried have their glory entire and proper to themselves. In her case this was more especially so; inasmuch as she had no helps to lean upon in her government, except such as she had herself provided; no own brother, no uncle, no kinsman of the royal family, to share her cares and support her authority. And even those whom she herself raised to honour she so kept in hand and mingled one with another, that while she infused into each the greatest solicitude to please her she was herself ever her own mistress.

Childless she was indeed, and left no issue of her own; a thing which has happened also to the most fortunate persons, as Alexander the Great, Julius Cæsar, Trajan, and others; and which has always been a moot-point and argued on both sides; some taking it for a diminution of felicity, for that to be happy both in the individual self and in the propagation of 451 the kind would be a blessing above the condition of humanity; others regarding it as the crown and consummation of felicity, because that happiness only can be accounted perfect over which fortune has no further power; which cannot be where there is posterity.

Nor were outward conditions wanting: a tall stature, a graceful shape, a countenance in the highest degree majestic and yet sweet, a most happy and healthy constitution; to which this also must be added, that retaining her health and vigour to the end, and having experienced neither the vicissitudes of fortune nor the ills of old age, she obtained at last by an easy and gentle death that euthanasia which Augustus Cæsar was wont so earnestly to pray for; and which is noted in the case of that excellent Emperor Antoninus Pius, whose death wore the appearance of a sweet and placid sleep. So likewise in the last illness of Elizabeth there was nothing miserable, nothing terrible, nothing revolting to human nature. She was not tormented either with desire of life, or impatience of sickness, or pangs of pain: none of the symptoms were frightful or loathsome; but all of that kind which showed rather the frailty than the corruption and dishonour of nature. For a few days before her death, by reason of the exceeding dryness of her body, wasted as it was with the cares of government and never refreshed with wine or a more generous diet, she was struck with paralysis; and yet she retained her powers of speech (a thing not usual in that disease) and of mind and of motion; only somewhat slower and duller. And this state of her body lasted only a few days, as if it were less like the last act of life than the first step to death. For to continue long alive with the faculties impaired is a miserable thing; but to have the sense a little laid 452 asleep and so pass quickly to death, is a placid and merciful period and close of life.

To crown all, as she was most fortunate in all that belonged to herself, so was she in the virtue of her ministers. For she had such men about her as perhaps till that day this island did not produce. But God when he favours kings raises also and accomplishes the spirits of their servants.

Her death was followed by two posthumous felicities, more lofty and august perhaps than those which attended her in life; her successor, and her memory. For successor she has got one who, though in respect of masculine virtue and of issue and of fresh accession of empire he overtop and overshadow her, nevertheless both shows a tender respect for her name and honour, and bestows upon her acts a kind of perpetuity; having made no change of any consequence either in choice of persons or order of proceedings; insomuch that seldom has a son succeeded to a father with such silence and so little change and perturbation. And as for her memory, it is so strong and fresh both in the mouths and minds of men that, now death has extinguished envy and lighted up fame, the felicity of her memory contends in a manner with the felicity of her life. For if any factious rumour (bred of party feeling and religious dissension) still wanders abroad (and yet even this seems now timid and weak and overborne by general consent), sincere it is not, enduring it cannot be. And on this account chiefly it is that I have put together these observations, such as they are, concerning her felicity ani the marks she enjoyed of the divine favour, that malevolent men may fear to curse what God has so highly blessed. 453

And if any man shall say in answer, as was said to Cæsar, Here is much indeed to admire and wonder at, but what is there to praise? surely I account true wonder and admiration as a kind of excess of praise. Nor can so happy a fortune as I have described fall to the lot of any, but such as besides being singularly sustained and nourished by the divine favour, are also in some measure by their own virtue the makers of such fortune for themselves. And yet I think good to add some few remarks upon her moral character; confining myself however to those points which seem most to give opening and supply fuel to the speeches of traducers.

In religion Elizabeth was pious and moderate, and constant, and adverse to innovation. Of her piety, though the proofs appear most clearly in her actions, yet no slight traces were to be found likewise in her ordinary way of life and conversation. Prayers and divine service, either in her chapel or closet, she seldom failed to attend. Of the Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers, especially those of St. Augustine, she was a great reader. Some prayers upon particular occasions she herself composed. If she chanced even in common talk to speak of God, she almost always both gave him the title of her Maker, and composed her eyes and countenance to an expression of humility and reverence; a thing which I have myself often observed. And as for that which some have given out, that she could not endure the thought of mortality and was impatient of all allusion either to old age or death, that is utterly untrue. For very often, many years before her death, she would pleasantly call herself an old woman, and would talk of the kind of epitaph she 454 would like to have upon her tomb; saying that she had no fancy for glory or splendid titles, but would rather have a line or two of memorial, recording in few words only her name, her virginity, the time of her reign, the reformation of religion, and the preservation of peace. It is true that in the flower of her years, while she was yet able to bear children, being questioned about declaring a successor, she replied that she would not have her winding sheet spread before her eyes while she was alive; and yet not many years before her death, being in a thoughtful mood, meditating probably upon her mortality, and being interrupted by one of her familiars with a complaint that many great offices in the commonwealth were too long vacant, she rose up and said in some displeasure, it was clear that her office would not be vacant for an instant.

With regard to her moderation in religion there may seem to be a difficulty, on account of the severity of the laws made against popish subjects. But on this point I have some things to advance which I myself carefully observed and know to be true.

Her intention undoubtedly was, on the one hand not to force consciences, but on the other not to let the state, under pretence of conscience and religion, be brought in danger. Upon this ground she concluded at the first that, in a people courageous and warlike and prompt to pass from strife of minds to strife of hands, the free allowance and toleration by public authority of two religions would be certain destruction. Some of the more turbulent and factious bishops also she did, in the newness of her reign when all things were subject to suspicion, but not without legal warrant restrain and keep in free custody. The rest, 455 both clergy and laity, far from troubling them with any severe inquisition, she sheltered by a gracious connivency. This was the condition of affairs at first Nor even when provoked by the excommunication pronounced against her by Pius Quintus (an act sufficient not only to have roused indignation but to have furnished ground and matter for a new course of proceeding), did she depart almost at all from this clemency, but persevered in the course which was agreeable to her own nature. For being both wise and of a high spirit, she was little moved with the sound of such terrors; knowing she could depend upon the loyalty and love of her own people, and upon the small power the popish party within the realm had to do harm, as long as they were not seconded by a foreign enemy. About the twenty-third year of her reign however, the case was changed. And this distinction of time is not artificially devised to make things fit, but expressed and engraved in public acts.

For up to that year there was no penalty of a grievous kind imposed by previous laws upon popish subjects. But just then the ambitious and vast design of Spain for the subjugation of the kingdom came gradually to light. Of this a principal part was the raising up within the bowels of the realm of a disaffected and revolutionary party which should join with the invading enemy; and the hope of effecting this lay in our religious dissensions. To this object therefore they addressed themselves with all their might; and, the seminaries beginning then to blossom, priests were sent over into England for the purpose of kindling and spreading a zeal for the Romish religion, of teaching and inculcating the power of Romish excommunication 456 to release subjects from their obedience, and of exciting and preparing men's minds with expectation of a change. About the same time an attempt was made upon Ireland with open arms, the name and government of Elizabeth was assailed with a variety of wicked libels, and there was a strange ferment and swelling in the world, forerunner of some greater disturbance. And though I do not say that all the priests were acquainted with the design, or knew what was doing; for they may have been only the tools of other men's malice; yet it is true, and proved by the confessions of many witnesses, that from the year I have mentioned to the thirtieth of Elizabeth (when the design of Spain and the Pope was put in execution by that memorable armada of land and sea forces) almost all the priests who were sent over to this country were charged among the other offices belonging to their function, to insinuate that matters could not long stay as they were, that a new aspect and turn of things would be seen shortly, and that the state of England was cared for both by the Pope and the Catholic princes, if the English would but be true to themselves. Besides which, some of the priests had plainly engaged themselves in practices tending directly to the shaking and subversion of the state; and above all, letters were intercepted from various quarters by which the plan upon which they were to proceed was discovered; in which letters it was written, that the vigilance of the Queen and her council in the matter of the Catholics would be eluded; for that she was only intent upon preventing the Catholic party from getting a head in the person of any nobleman or great personage, whereas the plan now was to dispose and prepare everything by the 457 agency of private persons and men of small mark; and that too without their having any communication or acquaintance one with another; but all to be done under the seal of confession. Such were the arts then resorted to—arts with which these men (as we have been lately in a case not much unlike) are practised and familiar. This so great tempest of dangers made it a kind of necessity for Elizabeth to put some severer constraint upon that party of her subjects which was estranged from her and by these means poisoned beyond recovery, and was at the same time growing rich by reason of their immunity from public offices and burdens. And as the mischief increased, the origin of it being traced to the seminary priests, who were bred in foreign parts, and supported by the purses and charities of foreign princes, professed enemies of this kingdom, and whose time had been passed in places where the very name of Elizabeth was never heard except as that of a heretic excommunicated and accursed, and who (if not themselves stained with treason) were the acknowledged intimates of those that were directly engaged in such crimes, and had by their own arts and poisons depraved and soured with a new leaven of malignity the whole lump of Catholics, which had before been more sweet and harmless; there was no remedy for it but that men of this class should be prohibited upon pain of death from coming into the kingdom at all; which at last, in the twenty-seventh year of her reign, was done. Nor did the event itself which followed not long after, when so great a tempest assailed and fell with all its fury upon the kingdom, tend in any degree to mitigate the envy and hatred of these men; but rather increased it, as if they had utterly 458 cast off all feeling for their country, which they were ready to betray to a foreign servitude. And though it is true that the fear of danger from Spain, which was the spur that goaded her to this severity, did afterwards subside or abate; yet because the memory of the time past remained deeply printed in men's minds and feelings, and the laws once made could not be abrogated without the appearance of inconstancy, or neglected without the appearance of weakness and disorder, the very force of circumstances made it impossible for Elizabeth to return to the former state of things as it was before the twenty-seventh year of her reign. To which must be added the industry of some of her officers to improve the exchequer, and the solicitude of her ministers of justice who saw no hope of salvation for the country but in the laws; all which demanded and pressed the execution of them. And yet what her own natural disposition was appears plainly in this, that she so blunted the law's edge that but a small proportion of the priests were capitally punished. All which I say not by way of apology; for these proceedings need no apology; since the safety of the kingdom turned upon them, and all this severity both in the manner and the measure of it came far short of the bloody examples set by the priesthood, examples scarcely to be named among Christians, and proceeding moreover some of them rather out of arrogance and malice than out of necessity. But I conceive that I have made good my assertion, and shown that in the cause of religion she was indeed moderate, and that what variation there was was not in her nature but in the times.

Of her constancy in religion and worship the best 459 proof is her dealing with Popery: which though in her sister's reign it had been established by public authority and fostered with great care and labour, and had taken deep root in the land, and was strengthened by the consent and zeal of all who were in authority and power; yet because it was not agreeable either to the word of God or to primitive purity or to her own conscience, she at once with the greatest courage and the fewest helps proceeded to uproot and abolish. And yet she did it not precipitately or upon eager impulse, but prudently and all in due season; as may be gathered from many circumstances, and among the rest from a reply made by her on the following occasion. Not many days after she came to the throne, when prisoners were released (as the custom is to inaugurate and welcome a new reign by the release of prisoners), a certain courtier, who from nature and habit had taken to himself the license of a jester, came to her as she went to chapel, and either of his own motion or set on by wiser men, presented her a petition; adding with a loud voice before all the company, that there were yet four or five prisoners more who deserved liberty, for whom he besought that they might be released likewise; namely, the four Evangelists and the Apostle Paul; who had been long shut up in an unknown tongue, as it were in prison, so that they could not converse with the people. To whom she answered very wisely, that it were good first to inquire further of themselves, whether they would be released or no: thus meeting a sudden question with a doubtful answer, as meaning to keep all clear and whole for her own decision. And yet she did not introduce these changes timidly neither, nor by starts; but proceeding 460 in due order, gravely and maturely, after conference had been first had between the parties, and a Parliament held, she then at last, and yet all within a single year, so ordered and established everything relating to the Church, that to the last day of her life she never allowed a single point to be departed from. Nay, at almost every meeting of Parliament she gave a public warning against innovation in the discipline and rites of the Church. And so much for the point of religion.

As for those lighter points of character, as that she allowed herself to be wooed and courted, and even to have love made to her; and liked it; and continued it beyond the natural age for such vanities; if any of the sadder sort of persons be disposed to make a great matter of this, it may be observed that there is something to admire in these very things, which ever way you take them. For if viewed indulgently, they are much like the accounts we find in romances, of the Queen in the blessed islands, and her court and institutions, who allows of amorous admiration but prohibits desire. But if you take them seriously, they challenge admiration of another kind and of a very high order; for certain it is that these dalliances detracted but little from her fame and nothing at all from her majesty, and neither weakened her power nor sensibly hindered her business: whereas such things are not unfrequently allowed to interfere with the public fortune. But to conclude, she was no doubt a good and moral Queen; and such too she wished to appear. Vices she hated, and it was by honest arts that she desired to shine. And speaking of her morality, I remember a circumstance in point. Having ordered 461 a letter to be written to her ambassador concerning a message which was to be given separately to the Queen Mother of the Valois, and finding that her secretary had inserted a clause directing the ambassador to say to the Queen Mother by way of compliment, that they were two Queens from whom though women no less was expected in administration of affairs and in the virtue and arts of government than from the greatest men, she would not endure the comparison, but ordered it to be struck out; saying that the arts and principles which she employed in governing were of a far other sort than those of the Queen Mother. Nor was she spoiled by power and long reigning: but the praises which pleased her most were when one so managed the conversation as aptly to insinuate that even if she had passed her life in a private and mean fortune she could not have lived without some note of excellency among men; so little was she disposed to borrow anything of her fortune to the credit of her virtue. But if I should enter into her praises, whether moral or political, I should either fall into certain common-place observations and commemorations of virtues, which would be unworthy of so rare a princess; or in order to give them a lustre and beauty peculiar and appropriate, I should have to run into the history of her life, a task requiring both more leisure and a richer vein. Thus much I have said in few words, according to my ability. But the truth is that the only true commender of this lady is time, which, so long a course as it has run, has produced nothing in this sex like her, for the administration of civil affairs.

Source: The Works of Francis Bacon, Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, Boston. Vol. XI, pp 443-461.