Side Lights on English History by Ernest F. Henderson, Ph.D.


All hail to the new spirit that is permeating the methods of teaching and studying of history, in New England especially, but also as far as the influence of the thousand-membered American Historical Society extends. It is the veritable spirit of the Renaissance; the spirit that made those fifteenth century scholars hunt for manuscripts, and that caused Luther to found his theological teachings on the actual text of the Bible. Here was a cloud of witnesses capable of relating their own experiences as meant to men and needing no veil of priestly mystery.

To those who have followed the movement the rapid increase of so-called source-book of history forms a very interesting phenomenon. We have them for American, English and general mediaeval history, we are promised them for the history of Greece and Rome. There is scarcely a publisher of repute who is not announcing something of the kind; several universities are publishing periodical leaflets. Historical associations devote whole sessions to the question of rendering available such material. Teachers have found that this first-hand evidence rouses the interest of their students and dignifies their pursuit. It becomes to them what the flowers are to the botanist or the actual cases and decisions to the young lawyer. The movement is spreading even beyond the guild. The painter Verestchagin lays aside his brush to piece together the narratives of survivors of Napoleon' s Russian campaign and gives a product of realism as fine as anything he has done on canvas.

In the time devoted to the learning of a given number of pages in some condensed history it is now recognized that one can read a different kind of matter more widely and gain better results. Many facts become clear of themsleves. Who, for instance, can doubt Pitt' s attitude towards the American war who had once heard him say in parliament, "You may traffic and barter with every pitiful German prince that sends his subjects to the shambles... your efforts are forever vain and impotent.. If I were an American as I am an Englishman, I never would lay down my arms - never - never - never"? Such illustrative material makes the cardinal facts stand out as though printed in letters of flaming fire. And the student is led on almost unconsciously to an appreciation and criticism of authorities, to the proper use of libraries, to the assimilation and combination of data, to orderly and through thinking. Above all, the personalities become real and definite.

By such writings we are initiated as by no other possible means into the spirit of the time. I ask you to witness the execution of the Queen of Scots through the eyes of the person who was appointed to tell Lord Burleigh all about it; to follow the parliaments of Charles I. and of Cromwell at the hand of men who served in them. Often the chief actors are our chief informants. These are voices that speak to us directly; the rest is merely commentary.

In a work like this present collection it is of course not expected of me to be through, or in any way to explain causes and results. My aim is to give color, and, above all, life. If I can make these people seem as real as others as they do to myself I shall have achieved something worth the effort. It is to this personal element in history that I have achieved something worth the effort. It is to this personal element in history that I have largely confined myself. Every great even is equally well susceptible of this kind of illustration, only it would take very many volumes to accomplish the task. It is enough for the present to have lifted the mask from kings and queens and from such prominent personages as the Pretenders, the Marlboroughs, the Electress of Hanover, the wife of George I. Naturally my work is elementary: I can only give specimens from a large body of literature of its own interest to those who have time to devote to it.

A word to as to why in which this book may be made most useful to the student: I should suggest that he be given a topic corresponding to the heading of one of my thirty-two groups and be asked to make an abstract of its salient points from his text-book. After he has done this, and added some supplementary reading, I should consider him to have reached a frame of mind, I hope, more lively and entertaining than the majority of the narratives. Many dim facts will stand out more clearly after their perusal. All acquisitions to the knowledge already gained form the modern authorities should be carefully noted in writing. Riper scholars can subject them to a fire of criticism, comparing them with statements of other contemporary authorities.

It may not be out of place here to summarize the results likely to be obtained from the persual of one or two of the groups. Space forbids our continuing the analysis through all the topics, but the table of contents will be sufficiently extended to remedy the deficiency.

In Group I, we start out with the personality of Queen Elizabeth, and are fortunate enough to have an account of her at the time of her accession in 1558, when she was already full blow as to her externals, and "for her internals, grown ripe and seasoned with adversity." We next find her addressing the Parliament on the all-important subject of her marriage, and shaking at them a finger which gleams the ring with which she has solemnly espoused herself to the kingdom. when she dies she wishes to have engraved on her tomb, "Here lies Elizabeth, who liv' d and died a maiden Queen." There follows a series of extremely interesting letters sent bu his different ambassadors in London, Feria, Auila and Quadra to Phillip II, at Madrid, and only recently published from the rich archives of Simancas. How much cunning and perseverance was wasted by these intriguing priests! - at first to get a footing in the palace at all, and then to tempt her to make a match as will suit Spain' s interest, perhaps Phillip himself, - but the King is not to commit himself. "If she inclines to your Majesty," wirtes Feria, "it will be neccessary for you to send me orders whether I am to carry it any further or throw cold water on it and set up the Archduke Ferdinand." In the case of one envoy after another hope gives place to despondency and the post is given up; there are laments that this queen is very different from "Her majesty now in Heaven," and a final cry of rage from Feria that this country "has fallen into the hands of a woman who is a daughter of the devil." These correspondents have much to say about Robert Dudley, later Earl of Leicester, and his extreme intimacy with the Queen. "The Queen told me that Robert' s wife was dead, or nearly so," writes Quadra, "and asked me to say nothing about it. Certainly this business is most shameful and scandalous;" and again, "Since writing the above I hear the Queen has published the death of Robert' s wife," and said, in Italian, "She broke her neck. She must have fallen down a staircase." Philip writes to Quadra to take advantage of Elizabeth' s love for Robert, but to trust to nothing that she does not give him in black and white. In a strange interview with the loving pair Quadra promises his master' s support, but at the price of the overthrow of the ministers in power. Nothing comes of the matter, but Leicester remains in the highest favour at court and accompanies the Queen in her different progresses. We see her at Cambridge and Oxford, turning the heads of all the doctors and making Latin speeches to them with such grace and modesty that the "wildest cheers" and blessings were bestowed upon her. "The walls, and even the windows and benches," writes on of them, "seemed to resound deafeningly with the voices of our men." The group ends with the letter of a French envoy, Chateauneuf, to his King, written in 1586, and giving an account both of the Queen' s accomplishments and her shortcoming. The Earl of Leicester is still in high favor, indeed "the first man in England after the said lady: "but, alas for that early lover's romance, he is now fifty-three or four years old and has "grown very rotund."

In Group II, we at once come into a more sombre atmosphere, and find Elizabeth signing the death warren of Mary Queen of Scots and maintaing stoutly in her letters to Mary' s son, James of Scotland, that she cannot "keep the serpent that poisons her," or make herself "a goodly prey for every wretch to devour." Old Melville, she says, "hath years enough to teach him more wisdom than tell a prince of any judgement such a contrarious, frivolous, maimed reason." Then we enter Fotheringay castle at the hand of Mary' s body physician, Bourgoing, and learn of the first intimation to her that she must die shortly. She was in bed when the emissaries appeared, but sent word that if it was an urgent matter she would rise and dress. So seated in a chair at the foot of her bed she waited the knell of doom, and guilty, or innocent, made a most calm and heroic rejoinder to the formal announcement. A letter of hers, in which she tells of hearing them hammer away at her scaffold, was discovered too late to be inserted in this collection. She arranges her affairs, and at dead of night sits down and writes (No.4) to her brother-in-law, Henry III, of France, asking his good offices for her servitors. "As for my son, I recommend him to you according to his merits, for I can not answer for him." By command of Lord Burleigh, Robert Wingfield, or Wynkfield, who is present, writes with the utmost detail of everything that happened in Mary' s last hour; with uncompromising realism he depicts her as fat, round-shouldered, broadfaced, double-chinned and with false auburn hair. But he then goes on to faithfully describe one of the most touching and dignified death scenes that has ever been chronicled in the whole history of man. As she walks to the scaffold her faithful Melville throws himself on his knees and asks what his countrymen will say when he brings them this fatal news. "Carry this message from me," she said, "that I died a true woman to my religion and like a true woman of Scotland and France." The details of the actual execution are gruesome enough - her lips "stirred up and down almost a quarter of an hour after her head was cut off!" This almost on a par with the death of the Earl of Argyle in 1685, whose headless body, "by the great commotion and agitation of the animal and vital spirits," rose up and had to be pulled down by the attendants (see p.164). The letter of Elizabeth to James, disavowing her share in the execution, seems to have been designed for the public eye - it is not in keeping with those that went before. The messenger who bore it is afraid to risk being murdered by the incensed Scotch; but James accept the explanation of you unhappy fact, or will accept it if it be made his while. Neverless a coolness ensues which is ended by Elizabeth (!) declaring that she "is willing to drink most willingly a large draught of the river of Lethe." Wilson maintains (No. 10) that Jame' s own emissary had persuaded Elizabeth to sign the death warrant, declaring that "Mortua non mordet" (when she is dead she cannot bite).

In Group III, we are introduced to Admiral Howard and Sir Francis Drake at the moment of the first reliable intimation of the sailing of the Spanish Armada in 1588. There whereabouts and strength of that fleet give rise to the wildest reports. Drake himself writes to the Queen that between four and five hundred ships are known to be approaching. He wishes to meet them off their own coasts, but is overruled, and doubtless bear his disappointment bravely, for Howards writes to Secretary Walsingham, "Sir, I must not omit to let you know how lovingly and kindly Sir Francis Drake bears himself." So the ships remain in the channel, and are forced to ride out some terrific gales, during which, however, to quote Howard, "we may compare that we have danced as lustily as the gallantest dancer at Court." In order that the Spaniards may not slip by unobserved and land their forces on the English shore the fleet is divided into threee parts, within signalling distance of each other. When they do appear, one hundred and twenty sail in all. Howard manages to get to windward of them and do them considerable damage. They have been forced so far to leeward, writes Drake, "as I hope in God, the Prince of Parma and the Duke of Sidonia shall not shake hands this few days." Three other engagements take place, in the last of which the Admiral, about twelve of the clock at night, sent six small ships with intrepid crews which set fire to and then abandoned them in the midst of the enemy' s great hulks. The Spanish fleet suffers terribly form storms on the coasts of Ireland, and the Governor of Connaught writes to the Queen of the extent of the damage within his province and the ruthless butchery of those unfortunates who swim ashore.

In Group IV, we follow Queen Elizabeth through her declining days. Bishop Goodman tells how in this same year of the Spanish defeat, when he himself was a young boy residing "at the upper end of the strand," Elizabeth came after dark to the Church of St.Clement, and how graciously she addressed the people. By this time, alas, she was growing wrinkled and had a gaggle throat - a great gullet hanging out. Goodman mentions a report that "the ladies had gotten false looking-glasses, that the Queen might not see her own wrinkles." She is still very coy with her courtiers, and Cary, Earl of Monmouth (No. 2), has much ado in making her forgive him for having committed the crime of matrimony. In 1598, Paul Hentzer, a cultivated German on his travels, is admitted ot kiss her hand and describes the genuflections and general oriental ceremonial at her court, going on then in a highly entertaining way to dilute on the general peculiarities of the Englishman of that day. While he is with the Queen, W.Slavata, a Bohemian nobleman, is brought in and presented, the same who twenty years later took his phenomenal flight from the window of the Prague Castle and started the Thirty Years' War. In the next selection, again from Goodman, we find the ages monarch merrily entertaining Duke Prussiano, a "courteous and brave nobleman"; and the bishop goes on to relate how "then did the Queen dance a galliard very comely, and like herself, to show the vigour of her old age." But soon after the clouds begin to descend on all sides. The beloved Essex heads a conspiracy and is imprisoned; Thomas Lea, between nine and ten at night, waits in the Queen' s antechamber meaning to seize her person and make her sign a warrant for the Earl's release. "He only meant to vex her for half an hour, that she might live the merrier all her life after," but both he and Essex lose their heads. All this preys on the poor old lady's mind, and everything seems to portend her ruin. The ring of espousal to the kingdom has grown into the flesh and has to be cut in two; she cannot fail to see that the eyes of all are turning to the rising sun; day after day she sits in deep melancholy, afraid to go to bed lest she should never rise again. At last after a reign of forty-four years she "enjoys a blessed remove from this world to a better," and her 2, 000 gowns, worth at peddler's prices £100,000 are taken to Holland and sold. Her successor, not altogether unnaturally, abhors her memory, but to the people she is always good Queen Bess.
May 4, 1900.

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