Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Beacon Lights of History, Volume VIII by John Lord

Part 1 out of 5

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.5 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.









The early Saxons
Their conquest of England
Division of England into petty kingdoms
Conversion of the Saxons
The Saxon bishoprics
Early distinguished men
Isadore, Caedmon, and Baeda, or Bede
Birth and early life of Alfred
Succession to the throne of Wessex
Danish invasions
Humiliation and defeat of Alfred
His subsequent conquests
Final settlement of the Danes
Alfred fortifies his kingdom
Reorganizes the army and navy
His naval successes
Renewed Danish invasions
The laws of Alfred
Their severity
Alfred's judicial reforms
Establishment of shires and parishes
Administrative reforms
Financial resources of Alfred
His efforts in behalf of education
His literary labors
Final defeat of the Danes
Death and character of Alfred
His services to civilization



The reign of Queen Elizabeth associated with progress
Her birth and education
Her trials of the heart
Her critical situation during the reign of Mary
Her expediences
Her dissembling
State of the kingdom on her accession to the throne
Rudeness and loyalty of the people
Difficulties of the Queen
The policy she pursued
Her able ministers
Lord Burleigh
Archbishop Parker
Favorites of Elizabeth
The establishment of the Church of England
Its adaptation to the wants of the nation
Religious persecution
Development of national resources
Pacific policy of the government
Administration of justice
Hatred of war
Glory of Elizabeth allied with the prosperity of England
Good government
Royal economy
Charge of tyranny considered
Power of Parliament
Mary, Queen of Scots
Palliating circumstances for her execution
Character of Mary Stuart
Her plots and intrigues
The execution of Essex
Other charges against Elizabeth
Her coquetry
Her defects
Her virtues
Her public services
Her great fame
Her influence contrasted with power
Verdict of Lord Bacon
Elizabethan era
Constellation of men of genius



The Cause and the Hero
The sixteenth century contrasted with the nineteenth
A New Spirit in the world
Differences of progress
Religious, civil, and social upheavals
John Calvin
Reformed doctrines in France
Persecution of the Huguenots
They arm in self-defence to secure religious liberty
Henry of Navarre
Jeanne D'Albret
Education of Henry
Slaughter of St. Bartholomew
The Duke of Guise, Catherine de Medicis, and Charles IX.
Effects of the massacre
Responsibility for it
Stand taken by the Protestants
They retire to La Rochelle
Bravery and ability of Henry
Battle of Coutras
Battle of Ivry
Abjuration of Henry IV
His motives
The ceremony
Edict of Nantes
Henry's service to France
Effects of the Abjuration of Henry IV. on the Huguenots
Character of Henry



The Thirty Years' War a political necessity
Agitation which succeeded the death of Luther
Brilliancy of the period
Persecution of the Protestants
Ferdinand II
Its insurrection
Renewed persecution
Its success
Elector Count Palatine
Rallying of German princes against the Emperor
His successful warfare
Consternation of Germany
Gustavus Adolphus comes to its relief
Character of Gustavus Adolphus
His brilliant exploits
Balance of power
Dismissal and recall of Wallenstein
The contending forces
Battle of Lutzen
Death of Gustavus Adolphus
Peace of Westphalia
Its political consequences
Ultimate effects of the Thirty Years' War



State of France in the 17th Century
Elevation of Richelieu
He perceives the great necessities of the State
Makes himself necessary to Louis XIII.
His aims as Prime Minister
His executive ability
His remorseless tyranny
His warfare on the Huguenots
Aims of the Huguenots
La Rochelle
Fall of the Huguenots
Character of the Nobility; their decimation
The Queen-Mother
The Duke of Orleans
The justification of Richelieu
The Parliaments
Their hostilities
Their humiliation
The policy of Richelieu
His services to the Crown
His internal improvements
His defects of character
Necessity of absolutism amid treasons and anarchies
Abuse of absolutism



The Puritans
Their peculiarities
Love of Civil Liberty
Charles I. and his ministers
Tyranny of the King
Persecution of the Puritans
Petition of Right
The Parliament
Contest between the King and Parliament
War and Revolution
Characteristics of the Age
Rise of Cromwell
His military genius
Battle of Naseby
Of Preston
Conquest of Scotland
Execution of Charles I.
A war measure
The Independents gain ascendency
Conquest of Ireland
Cromwell made Protector of the army
Military despotism
Motives of Cromwell
His great abilities as a ruler
His services to England
Greatness of England under Cromwell
Cromwell contrasted with Louis XIV.
His intellectual defects
His death
Cromwell as an instrument of Providence
Occasional necessity of absolutism
Ultimate effect of Cromwell's rule



Illustrious men on the accession of Louis XIV.
State of France
Ambition of Louis XIV.
His love of military glory
His character
His inherited greatness
His alliance with the Church
His unbounded power
His great ministers
Aims of Colbert
His great services
His great executive abilities
The first war of Louis XIV.
Conquest of Flanders
Its iniquity
Invasion of Holland
Easy victories
Rise of William of Nassau
Prevents the conquest of Holland
Peace of Nimeguen
Louis in the zenith of power
His aggrandizement
His palaces
His court
His mistresses
His friendship with Madame de Maintenon
Elevation of Maintenon
Religious persecution
Revocation of the Edict of Nantes
Coalition against Louis XIV.
Unfortunate wars
His death
Effects of his reign in France



Long reign of Louis XV.
Decline of French military power
Loss of colonial possessions
Cardinal Fleury
Duke of Orleans
Derangement of the finances
Injustice of feudal privileges
John Law
Mississippi scheme
Bursting of the bubble
Excessive taxation
Worthlessness of the nobility
Their effeminacy and hypocrisy
Character of the King
Corruption of his court
The Jesuits
Death of the King
The reign of court mistresses
Madame de Pompadour
Extravagance of the aristocracy
Improvements of Paris
Fall of the Jesuits
The Philosophers and their writings,--Voltaire, Rousseau
Accumulating miseries and disgraceful government



State of Russia on the accession of Peter the Great
The necessity for a great ruler to arise
Early days of the Czar Peter
Accession to the throne
Origin of a navy
Seizure of Azof
Military reform
Peter sets out on his travels
Works as a carpenter in Holland
Peter visits England
Visits Vienna
Completion of the apprenticeship of Peter
He abolishes the Streltzi
Various other reforms
Opposition of the clergy
War with Charles XII. of Sweden
Battle of Narva
Siege of Pultowa
Peter invades Turkey
His imprudence and rashness
Saved by the sagacity of his wife Catherine
Foundation of St. Petersburg
Second tour of Europe
Misconduct and fate of Alexis
Coronation of Catherine I.
Character of Peter
His great services to Russia



Characteristics of the man
Education of Frederic II.
His character
Becomes King
Seizure of a part of Liege
Seizure of Silesia
Maria Theresa
Visit of Voltaire
Friendship between Voltaire and Frederic
Coalition against Frederic
Seven Years' War
Carlyle's History of Frederic
Empress Elizabeth of Russia
Decisive battles of Rossbach, Luthen, and Zorndorf
Heroism and fortitude of Frederic
Results of the Seven Years' War
Partition of Poland
Development of the resources of Prussia
Public improvements
General services of Frederic to his country
His character
His ultimate influence



Frederic the Great Reproaching his Generals at Koeben
_After the painting by Arthur Kampf_.

Embarkation of Anglo-Saxons for the Conquest of England
_After the painting by H. Merte_.

Queen Elizabeth
_After the "Ermine" portrait by F. Zucchero_.

Last Moments of Queen Elizabeth
_After the painting by Paul Delaroche_.

The Morning after the Massacre of St. Bartholomew
_After the painting by Ed. Debat-Ponsan_.

Henry of Navarre and La Belle Fosseuse
_After the painting by A.P.E. Morlon_.

The Imperial Counsellors are Thrown Out of the Window
by the Bohemian Delegates
_After the painting by V. Brozik_.

Cardinal Richelieu
_After the painting by Ph. de Champaign, National Gallery, London_.

Richelieu Watches the Siege Operations from the Dam
at Rochelle
_After the painting by Henri Motte_.

Oliver Cromwell
_After the painting by Pieter van der Picas_.

Louis XIV. and Mlle. de la Valliere
_After the painting by A.P.E. Morlon_.

Peter the Great
_After a Contemporaneous Engraving_.

Peter the Great Learns the Trade of Ship-Carpentry at Zaardam
_After the painting by Felix Cogen_.

Frederic the Great
_After the painting by W. Camphausen_.


A.D. 849-901.


Alfred is one of the most interesting characters in all history for
those blended virtues and talents which remind us of a David, a Marcus
Aurelius, or a Saint Louis,--a man whom everybody loved, whose deeds
were a boon, whose graces were a radiance, and whose words were a
benediction; alike a saint, a poet, a warrior, and a statesman. He ruled
a little kingdom, but left a great name, second only to Charlemagne,
among the civilizers of his people and nation in the Middle Ages. As a
man of military genius he yields to many of the kings of England, to say
nothing of the heroes of ancient and modern times.

When he was born, A.D. 849, the Saxons had occupied Britain, or England,
about four hundred years, having conquered it from the old Celtic
inhabitants soon after the Romans had retired to defend their own
imperial capital from the Goths. Like the Goths, Vandals, Franks,
Burgundians, Lombards, and Heruli, the Saxons belonged to the same
Teutonic race, whose remotest origin can be traced to Central
Asia,--kindred, indeed, to the early inhabitants of Italy and Greece,
whom we call Indo-European, or Aryan. These Saxons--one of the fiercest
tribes of the Teutonic barbarians;--lived, before the invasion of
Britain, in that part of Europe which we now call Schleswig, in the
heart of the peninsula which parts the Baltic from the northern seas;
also in those parts of Germany which now belong to Hanover and
Oldenburg. It does not appear from the best authorities that these
tribes--called Engle, Saxon, and Jute--wandered about seeking a
precarious living, but they were settled in villages, in the government
of which we trace the germs of the subsequent social and political
institutions of England. The social centre was the homestead of the
_oetheling_ or _corl_, distinguished from his fellow-villagers by his
greater wealth and nobler blood, and held by them in hereditary
reverence. From him and his brother-oethelings the leaders of a warlike
expedition were chosen. He alone was armed with spear and sword, and his
long hair floated in the wind. He was bound to protect his kinsmen from
wrong and injustice. The land which inclosed the village, whether
reserved for pasture, wood, or tillage, was undivided, and every free
villager had the right of turning his cattle and swine upon it, and also
of sharing in the division of the harvest. The basis of the life was
agricultural. Our Saxon ancestors in Germany did not subsist exclusively
by hunting or fishing, although these pursuits were not neglected. They
were as skilful with the plough and mattock as they were in steering a
boat or hunting a deer or pursuing a whale. They were coarse in their
pleasures, but religious in their turn of mind; Pagans, indeed, but
worshipping the powers of Nature with poetic ardor. They were born
warriors, and their passion for the sea led to adventurous enterprise.
Before the close of the third century their boats, driven by fifty oars,
had been seen in the British waters; and after the Romans had left the
Britons to defend themselves against the Scots and Picts, the harassed
rulers of the land invoked the aid of these Saxon pirates, and, headed
by two ealdormen,--Hengist and Horsa,--they landed on the Isle of Thanet
in the year 449.

These two chieftains are the earliest traditionary heroes of the Saxons
in England. Their mercenary work was soon done, and after it was done
they had no idea of retiring to their own villages in Germany. They cast
their greedy eyes on richer pastures and more fruitful fields.
Brother-pirates flocked from the Elbe and Rhine to their settlement in
Thanet. In forty-five years after Hengist and Horsa landed, Cerdic with
a more formidable band had taken possession of a large part of the
southern coast, and pushed his way to Winchester and founded the
kingdom of Wessex. But the work of conquest was slow. It took seventy
years for the Saxons to become masters of Kent, Sussex, Hampshire,
Essex, and Wessex.

A stout resistance to the invading Saxons had been made by the native
Britons, headed by Arthur,--a legendary hero, who is thought to have
lived near the close of the fifth century. His deeds and those of the
knights of the Round Table form the subject of one of the most
interesting romances of the Middle Ages, probably written in the
brightest age of chivalry, and by a monk very ignorant of history, since
he gives many Norman names to his characters. But all the valor of the
Celtic hero and his chivalrous followers was of no avail before the
fierce and persistent attacks of a hardier race, bent on the possession
of a fairer land than their own.

We know but little of the details of the various conflicts until Britain
was finally won by these predatory tribes of barbarians. The stubborn
resistance of the Britons led to their final retreat or complete
extermination, and with their disappearance also perished what remained
of the Roman civilization. The resistance of the Britons was much more
obstinate than that of any of the other provinces of the Empire; but, as
the forces arrayed against them were comparatively small, the work of
conquest was slow. "It took thirty years to win Kent alone, and sixty
to complete the conquest of south Britain, and nearly two hundred to
subdue the whole island." But when the conquest was made it was
complete, and England was Saxon, in language, in institutions, and in
manners; while France retained much of the language, habits, and
institutions of the Romans, and even of the old Gaulish elements of
society. England became a German nation on the complete wreck of
everything Roman, whose peculiar characteristic was the freedom of those
who tilled the land or gathered around the military standard of their
chieftains. It was the gradual transfer of a whole German nation from
the Elbe and Rhine to the Thames and the Humber, with their original
village institutions, under the rule of their _eorls_, with the simple
addition of kings,--unknown in their original settlements, but brought
about by the necessities which military life and conquest produced.

After the conquest we find seven petty kings, who ruled in different
parts of the island. Jealousies, wars, and marriages soon reduced their
number to three, ruling over Wessex, Mercia, and Northumbria. All the
people of these kingdoms were Pagan, the chief deity of whom was Woden.
It was not till the middle of the seventh century that Christianity was
introduced into Wessex, although Kent and Northumbria received Christian
missionaries half-a-century earlier. The beautiful though well-known
tradition of the incidents which led to the introduction of the
Christian religion deserves a passing mention. About the middle of the
sixth century some Saxons taken in war, in one of the quarrels of rival
kings, and hence made slaves, were exposed for sale in Rome. Gregory the
Great, then simply deacon, passing by the market-place, observed their
fair faces, white bodies, blue eyes, and golden hair, and inquired of
the slave-dealer who they were. "They are English, or Angles." "No, not
Angles," said the pious and poetic deacon; "they are angels, with faces
so angelic. From what country did they come?" "From Deira." "_De Ira!_
ay, plucked from God's wrath. What is the name of their king?" "Ella."
"Ay, let alleluia be sung in their land." It need scarcely be added that
when this pious and witty deacon became pope he remembered these Saxon
slaves, and sent Augustin (or Austin,--not to be confounded with
Augustine of Hippo, who lived nearly two centuries earlier), with forty
monks as missionaries to convert the pagan Saxons. They established
themselves in Kent A.D. 597, which became the seat of the first English
bishopric, through the favor of the king, Aethelbert, whose wife
Clotilda, a French princess, had been previously converted. Soon after,
Essex followed the example of Kent; and then Northumbria. Wessex was the
last of the Saxon kingdoms to be converted, their inhabitants being
especially fierce and warlike.

It is singular that no traces of Christianity seem to have been left in
Britain on the completion of the Saxon conquest, although it had been
planted there as early as the time of Constantine. Helena was a
Christian, and Pelagius and Celestine were British monks. But the Saxon
conquest eradicated all that was left of Roman influence and

When Christianity had once acquired a foothold among the Saxons its
progress was rapid. In no country were monastic institutions more firmly
planted. Monasteries and churches were erected in the principal
settlements and liberally endowed by the Saxon kings. In Kent were the
great sees of Canterbury and Rochester; in Essex was London; in East
Anglia was Norwich; in Wessex was Winchester; in Mercia were Lichfield,
Leicester, Worcester, and Hereford; in Northumbria were York, Durham,
and Ripon. Each cathedral had its schools and convents. Christianity
became the law of the land, and entered largely into all the Saxon
codes. There was a constant immigration of missionaries into Britain,
and the great sees were filled with distinguished ecclesiastics,
frequently from the continent, since a strong union was cemented between
Rome and the English churches. Prince and prelate made frequent
pilgrimages to the old capital of the world, and were received with
distinguished honors. The monasteries were filled with princes and
nobles and ladies of rank. As early as the eighth century monasteries
were enormously multiplied and enriched, for the piety of the Saxons
assumed a monastic type. What civilization existed can be traced chiefly
to the Church.

We read of only three great names among the Saxons who impressed their
genius on the nation, until the various Saxon kingdoms were united under
the sovereignty of Ecgberht, or Egbert, king of Wessex, about the middle
of the ninth century. These were Theodore, Caedmon, and Baeda. The first
was a monk from Tarsus, whom the Pope dispatched in the year 668 to
Britain as Archbishop of Canterbury. To him the work of church
organization was intrusted. He enlarged the number of the sees, and
arranged them on the basis which was maintained for a thousand years.
The subordination of priest to bishop and bishop to primate was more
clearly defined by him. He also assembled councils for general
legislation, which perhaps led the way to national parliaments. He not
only organized the episcopate, but the parish system, and even the
system of tithes has been by some attributed to him. The missionary who
had been merely the chaplain of a nobleman became the priest of the
manor or parish.

The second memorable man was born a cowherd; encouraged to sing his
songs by the abbess Hilda, a "Northumbrian Deborah." When advanced in
life he entered through her patronage a convent, and sang the
marvellous and touching stories of the Hebrew Scriptures, fixing their
truths on the mind of the nation, and becoming the father of
English poetry.

The third of these great men was the greatest, Baeda,--or Bede, as the
name is usually spelled. He was a priest of the great abbey church of
Weremouth, in Northumbria, and was a master of all the learning then
known. He was the life of the famous school of Jarrow, and it is said
that six hundred monks, besides strangers, listened to his teachings.
His greatest work was an "Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation,"
which extends from the landing of Julius Caesar to the year 731. He was
the first English historian, and the founder of mediaeval history, and
all we know of the one hundred and fifty years after the landing of
Augustin the missionary is drawn from him. He was not only historian,
but theologian,--the father of the education of the English nation.

It was one hundred and fourteen years after the death of the "venerable
Bede" before Alfred was born, A.D. 849, the youngest son of Aethelwulf,
king of Wessex, who united under his rule all the Saxon kingdoms. The
mother of Alfred was Osburgha, a German princess of extraordinary force
of character. From her he received, at the age of four, the first
rudiments of education, and learned to sing those Saxon ballads which
he afterwards recited with so much effect in the Danish camp. At the
age of five Alfred was sent to Rome, probably to be educated, where he
remained two years, visiting on his return the court of Charles the
Bald,--the centre of culture in Western Europe. The celebrated Hincmar,
Archbishop of Rheims,--the greatest churchman of the age,--was the most
influential minister of the king; at whose table also sat John Erigena,
then engaged in a controversy with Gotteschalk, the German monk, about
the presence of Christ in the eucharist,--the earliest notable
theological controversy after the Patristic age. Alfred was too young to
take an interest in this profound discussion; but he may perhaps have
received an intellectual impulse from his visit to Rome and Paris, which
affected his whole subsequent life.

About this time his father, over sixty years of age, married a French
princess of the name of Judith, only fourteen years of age,--even in
that rude age a great scandal, which nearly resulted in his
dethronement. He lived but two years longer; and his youthful widow, to
the still greater scandal of the realm and Church, married her late
husband's eldest son, Ethelbald, who inherited the crown. It was through
this woman, and her subsequent husband Baldwin, called _Bras de Fer_,
Count of Flanders, that the English kings, since the Conqueror, trace
their descent from Alfred and Charlemagne; for her son, the second
Count of Flanders, married Elfrida, the daughter of Alfred. From this
union descended the Conqueror's wife Matilda. Thus the present royal
family of England can trace a direct descent through William the
Conqueror, Alfred, and Charlemagne, and is allied by blood, remotely
indeed, with most of the reigning princes of Europe.

The three elder brothers of Alfred reigned successively over Wessex,--to
whom all England owned allegiance. It was during their short reigns that
the great invasion of the Danes took place, which reduced the whole
island to desolation and misery. These Danes were of the same stock as
the Saxons, but more enterprising and bold. It seems that they drove the
Saxons before them, as the Saxons, three hundred years before, had
driven the Britons. In their destructive ravages they sacked and burned
Croyland, Peterborough, Huntington, Ely, and other wealthy abbeys,--the
glory of the kingdom,--together with their valuable libraries.

It was then that Alfred (already the king's most capable general) began
his reign, A.D. 871, at the age of twenty-three, on the death of his
brother Ethelred,--a brave and pious prince, mortally wounded at the
battle of Merton.

It was Alfred's memorable struggle with the Danes which gave to him his
military fame. When he ascended the throne these barbarians had gained
a foothold, and in a few years nearly the whole of England was in their
hands. Wave followed wave in the dreadful invasion; fleet after fleet
and army after army was destroyed, and the Saxons were driven nearly to
despair; for added to the evils of pillage and destruction were
pestilence and famine, the usual attendants of desolating wars. In the
year 878 the heroic leader of the disheartened people was compelled to
hide himself, with a few faithful followers, in the forest of Selwood,
amid the marshes of Somersetshire. Yet Alfred--a fugitive--succeeded at
last in rescuing his kingdom of Wessex from the dominion of Pagan
barbarians, and restoring it to a higher state of prosperity than it had
ever attained before. He preserved both Christianity and civilization.
For these exalted services he is called "the Great;" and no prince ever
more heroically earned the title.

"It is hard," says Hughes, who has written an interesting but not
exhaustive life of Alfred, "to account for the sudden and complete
collapse of the West Saxon power in January, 878, since in the campaign
of the preceding year Alfred had been successful both by sea and land."
Yet such seems to have been the fact, whatever may be its explanation.
No such panic had ever overcome the Britons, who made a more stubborn
resistance. No prince ever suffered a severer humiliation than did the
Saxon monarch during the dreary winter of 878; but, according to Asser,
it was for his ultimate good. Alfred was deeply and sincerely religious,
and like David saw the hand of God in all his misfortunes. In his case
adversity proved the school of greatness. For six months he was hidden
from public view, lost sight of entirely by his afflicted subjects,
enduring great privations, and gaining a scanty subsistence. There are
several popular legends about his life in the marshes, too well known to
be described,--one about the cakes and another about his wanderings to
the Danish camp disguised as a minstrel, both probable enough; yet, if
true, they show an extraordinary depth of misfortunes.

At last his subjects began to rally. It was known by many that Alfred
was alive. Bodies of armed followers gradually gathered at his retreat.
He was strongly intrenched; and occasionally he issued from his retreat
to attack straggling bands, or to make reconnoissance of the enemy's
forces. In May, 878, he left his fortified position and met some brave
and faithful subjects at Egbert's Stone, twenty miles to the east of
Selwood. The gathering had been carefully planned and secretly made, and
was unknown to the Danes. His first marked success was at Edington, or
Ethandune, where the Pagan host lay encamped, near Westbury. We have no
definite knowledge of the number of men engaged in that bloody and
desperate battle, in which the Saxons were greatly outnumbered by the
Danes, who were marshalled under a chieftain called Guthrun. But the
battle was decisive, and made Alfred once more master of England south
of the Thames. Guthrun, now in Alfred's power, was the ablest warrior
that the Northmen had as yet produced. He was shut up in an inland fort,
with no ships on the nearest river, and with no hope of reinforcements.
At the end of two weeks he humbly sued for peace, offering to quit
Wessex for good, and even to embrace the Christian religion. Strange as
it may seem, Alfred granted his request,--either, with profound
statesmanship, not wishing to drive a desperate enemy to extremities, or
seeking his conversion. The remains of the discomfited Pagan host
crossed over into Mercia, and gave no further trouble. Never was a
conquest attended with happier results. Guthrun (with thirty of his
principal nobles) was baptized into the Christian faith, and received
the Saxon name of Athelstan. But East Anglia became a Danish kingdom.
The Danes were not expelled from England. Their settlement was
permanent. The treaty of Wedmore confirmed them in their possessions.
Alfred by this treaty was acknowledged as undisputed master of England
south of the Thames; of Wessex and Essex, including London, Hertford,
and St. Albans; of the whole of Mercia west of Watling Street,--the
great road from London to Chester; but the Danes retained also one half
of England, which shows how formidable they were, even in defeat. The
Danes and the Saxons, it would seem, commingled, and gradually became
one nation.

The great Danish invasion of the ninth century was successful, since it
gave half of England to the Pagans. It is a sad thing to contemplate.
Civilization was doubtless retarded. Whole districts were depopulated,
and monasteries and churches were ruthlessly destroyed, with their
libraries and works of art. This could not have happened without a
fearful demoralization among the Saxons themselves. They had become
prosperous, and their wealth was succeeded by vices, especially luxury
and sloth. Their wealth tempted the more needy of the adventurers from
the North, who succeeded in their aggressions because they were stronger
than the Saxons. So slow was the progress of England in civilization. As
soon as it became centralized under a single monarch, it was subjected
to fresh calamities. It would seem that the history of those ages is
simply the history of violence and spoliations. There was the perpetual
waste of human energies. Barbarism seemed to be stronger than
civilization. Nor in this respect was the condition of England unique.
The same public misfortunes happened in France, Germany, Italy, and
Spain. For five hundred years Europe was the scene of constant strife.
Not until the Normans settled in England were the waves of barbaric
invasion arrested.

The Danish conquest made a profound impression on Alfred, and stimulated
him to renewed efforts to preserve what still remained of Christian
civilization. His whole subsequent life was spent in actual war with the
Northmen, or in preparations for war. It was remarkable that he
succeeded as well as he did, for after all he was the sovereign of
scarcely half the territory that Egbert had won, and over which his
grandfather and father had ruled. He preserved Wessex; and in preserving
Wessex he saved England, which would have been replunged in barbarism
but for his perseverance, energy, and courage. That Danish invasion was
a chastisement not undeserved, for both the clergy and the laity had
become corrupt, had been enervated by prosperity. The clergy especially
were lazy and ignorant; not one in a thousand could write a common
letter of salutation. They had fattened on the contributions of princes
and of the credulous people; they saw the destruction of their richest
and proudest abbeys, and their lands seized by Pagan barbarians, who
settled down in them as lords of the soil, especially in Northumbria.
But Alfred at least arrested their further progress, and threw them on
the defensive. He knew that the recovery of the conquests which the
Saxons had made was a work of exceeding difficulty. It was necessary to
make great preparations for future struggles, as peace with the Danes
was only a truce. They aimed at the complete conquest of the island, and
they sought to rouse the hostility of the Welsh.

Alfred showed a wise precaution against future assaults in constructing
fortresses at the most important points within his control. Before his
day the Saxons had but few fortified positions, and this want of forts
had greatly facilitated the Danish conquest. But the Danes, as soon as
they gained a strong position, fortified it, and were never afterwards
ejected by force. Probably Alfred took the hint from them. He rebuilt
and strengthened the fortresses along the coast, as he had four precious
years of unmolested work; and for this his small kingdom was doubtless
severely taxed. He imported skilled workmen, and adopted the newest
improvements. He made use of stone instead of timber, and extended his
works of construction to palaces, halls, and churches, as well as
castles. So well built were his fortifications, that no strong place was
ever afterwards wrested from him. In those times the defence of kingdoms
was in castles. They marked the feudal ages equally with monasteries and
cathedral churches. Castles protected the realm from invasion and
conquest, as much as they did the family of a feudal noble. The wisdom
as well as the necessity of fortified cities was seen in a marked manner
when the Northmen, in 885, stole up the Thames and Medway and made an
unexpected assault on Rochester. They were completely foiled, and were
obliged to retreat to their ships, leaving behind them even the spoil
they had brought from France. This successful resistance was a great
moral assistance to Alfred, since it opened the eyes of bishops and
nobles to the necessity of fortifying their towns, to which they had
hitherto been opposed, being unwilling to incur the expense. So it was
not long before Alfred had a complete chain of defences on the coast, as
well as around his cities and palaces, able to resist sudden
attacks,--which he had most to fear. His great work of fortification was
that of London, which, though belonging to him by the peace of Wedmore,
was neglected, fallen to decay, filled with lawless bands of marauders
and pirates, and defenceless against attack. In 886 he marched against
this city, which made no serious resistance; rebuilt it, made it
habitable, fortified it, and encouraged people to settle in it, for he
foresaw its vast commercial importance. Under the rule of his son
Ethelred, it regained the pre-eminence it had enjoyed under the Romans
as a commercial centre.

Having done what he could to protect his dominion from sudden attacks,
Alfred then turned his attention to the reorganization of his army and
navy. Strictly speaking he had no regular army, or standing force, which
he could call his own. When the country was threatened the freemen flew
to arms, under their eorls and ealdormen; and on this force the king was
obliged to rely. They sometimes acted without his orders, obeying the
calls of their leaders when danger was most imminent. On the men in the
immediate neighborhood of danger the brunt of the contest fell. Nor
could levies be relied upon for any length of time; they dwindled after
a few weeks, in order to attend to their agricultural interests, for
agriculture was the only great and permanent pursuit in the feudal ages.
Everything was subordinate to labors in the field. The only wealth was
in land, except what was hoarded by the clergy and nobles.

How well Alfred paid his soldiers it is difficult to determine. His own
private means were large, and the Crown lands were very extensive.
One-third of his income was spent upon his army. But it is not probable
that a large force was under pay in time of peace; yet he had always one
third of his forces ready to act promptly against an enemy. The burden
of the service was distributed over the whole kingdom. The main feature
of his military reform seems to have been in the division of his forces
into three bodies, only one of which was liable to be called upon for
service at a time, except in great emergencies. In regard to tactics, or
changes in armor and mode of fighting, we know nothing; for war as an
art or science did not exist in any Teutonic kingdom; it was lost with,
the fall of the Roman Empire. How far Alfred was gifted with military
genius we are unable to say, beyond courage, fertility of resources,
activity of movement, and a marvellous patience. His greatest qualities
were moral, like those of Washington. It is his reproachless character,
and his devotion to duty, and love of his people which impress us from
first to last. As has been said of Marcus Aurelius, Alfred was a Saint
Anselm on a throne. He had none of those turbulent and restless
qualities which we associate with mediaeval kings. What a contrast
between him and William the Conqueror!

Alfred also gave his attention to the construction of a navy, as well as
to the organization of an army, knowing that it was necessary to resist
the Northmen on the ocean and prevent their landing on the coast. In 875
he had fought a naval battle with success, and had taken one of the
ships of the sea-kings, which furnished him with a model to build his
own ships,--doing the same thing that the Romans did in their early
naval warfare with the Carthaginians. In 877 he destroyed a Danish fleet
on its way to relieve Exeter. But he soon made considerable improvement
on the ships of his enemies, making them twice as long as those of the
Danes, with a larger number of oars. These were steadier and swifter
than the older vessels. As the West Saxons were not a seafaring people,
he employed and munificently rewarded men from other nations more
accustomed to the sea,--whether Frisians, Franks, Britons, Scots, or
even Danes. The result was, he was never badly beaten at sea, and before
the end of his reign he had swept the coast clear of pirates. Within two
years from the treaty of Wedmore his fleet was ready for action. He was
prepared to meet the sea-kings on equal terms, and in 882 he had gained
an important naval battle over a fleet that was meditating an invasion.

In the year 885 the Danes again invaded England and laid siege to
Rochester, but fled to their ships on the approach of Alfred. They were
pursued by the Saxon king and defeated with great slaughter, sixteen
Danish vessels being destroyed and their crews put to the sword. Nor had
Guthrun Athelstan, the ex-viking, been true to his engagements. He had
allowed two additional settlements of Danes on the East Anglian coasts,
and had even assisted Alfred's enemies. Their defeat, however, induced
him to live peaceably in East Anglia until he died in 890. These
successes of Alfred secured peace with the Danes for eight more years,
during which he pursued his various schemes for the improvement of his
people, and in preparations for future wars. He had put his kingdom in a
state of defence, and now turned his attention to legislation,--the
supremest labor of an enlightened monarch.

The laws of Alfred wear a close resemblance to those which Moses gave to
the Hebrews, and moreover are pervaded with Christian ideas. His aim
seems to have been to recognize in his jurisprudence the supreme
obedience which is due to the laws of God. In all the laws of the
converted Teutonic nations, from Charlemagne down, we notice the
influence of the Christian clergy in modifying the severity of the old
Pagan codes. Alfred did not aim to be an original legislator, like Moses
or Solon, but selected from the Mosaic code, and also from the laws of
Ethelbert, Ina, Offa, and other Saxon princes, those regulations which
he considered best adapted to the circumstances of the people whom he
governed. He recognized more completely than any of his predecessors the
rights of property, and attached great sanctity to oaths. Whoever
violated his pledge was sentenced to imprisonment. He raised the dignity
of ealdormen and bishops to that of the highest rank. He made treason
against the royal authority the gravest offence known to the laws, and
all were deemed traitors who should presume to draw the sword in the
king's house. He made new provisions for personal security, and severely
punished theft and robbery of every kind, especially of the property of
the Church. He bestowed freedom on slaves after six years of service.
Some think he instituted trial by jury. Like Theodosius and Charlemagne,
he gave peculiar privileges to the clergy as a counterpoise to the
lawlessness of nobles.

One of the peculiarities of his legislation was compensation for
crime,--seen alike in the Mosaic dispensation and in the old customs of
the Germanic nations in their native forests. On conviction, the culprit
was compelled to pay a sum of money to the relatives of the injured, and
another sum to the community at large. This compensation varied
according to the rank of the injured party,--and rank was determined by
wealth. The owner of two hydes of land was ranked above a ceorl, or
simple farmer, while the owner of twelve hydes was a royal thane. In the
compensation for crime the gradation was curious: twelve shillings would
pay for the loss of a foot, ten for a great toe, and twenty for a thumb.
If a man robbed his equal, he was compelled to pay threefold; if he
robbed the king, he paid ninefold; and if he robbed the church, he was
obliged to return twelvefold: hence the robbery of ecclesiastical
property was attended with such severe penalties that it was unusual. In
some cases theft was punished with death.

The code of Alfred was severe, but in an age of crime and disorder
severity was necessary. He also instituted a vigorous police, and
divided the country into counties, and these again into hundreds or
parishes, each of which was made responsible for the maintenance of
order and the detection of crime. He was severe on judges when they
passed sentence irrespective of the rights of jurors. He did not
emancipate slaves, but he ameliorated their condition and limited their
term of compulsory service. Burglary in the king's house was punished by
a fine of one hundred and twenty shillings; in an archbishop's, at
ninety; in a bishop's or ealdorman's, at sixty; in the house of a man of
twelve hydes, at thirty shillings; in a six-hyde man's, at fifteen; in a
churl's, at five shillings,--the fine being graded according to the rank
of him whose house had been entered. There was a rigorous punishment for
working on Sunday: if a theow, by order of his lord, the lord had to pay
a penalty of thirty shillings; if without the lord's order, he was
condemned to be flogged. If a freeman worked without his lord's order,
he had to pay sixty shillings or forfeit his freedom. If a man was found
burning a tree in a forest, he was obliged to pay a fine of sixty
shillings, in order to protect the forest; or if he cut down a tree
under which thirty swine might stand, he was obliged to pay a fine of
sixty shillings. These penalties seem severe, but they were inflicted
for offences difficult to be detected and frequently committed. We infer
from these various fines that burglary, robbery, petty larcenies, and
brawls were the most common offences against the laws.

One of the greatest services which Alfred rendered to the cause of
civilization in England was in separating judicial from executive
functions. The old eorls and ealdormen were warriors; and yet to them
had been committed the administration of justice, which they often
abused,--frequently deciding cases against the verdicts of jurors, and
sometimes unjustly dooming innocent men to capital punishment. Alfred
hanged an ealdorman or alderman, one Freberne, for sentencing Haspin to
death when the jury was in doubt. He even hanged twenty-four inferior
officers, on whom judicial duties devolved, for palpable injustice.

The love of justice and truth was one of the main traits of Alfred's
character, and he painfully perceived that the ealdormen of shires,
though faithful and valiant warriors, were not learned and impartial
enough to administer justice. There was scarcely one of them who could
read the written law, or who had any extensive acquaintance with the
common law or the usages which had been in force from time
immemorial,--as far back as in the original villages of Germany.
Moreover, the poor and defenceless had need of protection. They always
had needed it, for in Pagan and barbarous countries their rights were
too often disregarded. When brute force bore everything before it, it
became both the duty and privilege of the king, who represented central
power, to maintain the rights of the humblest of his people,--to whom
he was a father. To see justice enforced is the most exalted of the
prerogatives of sovereigns; and no one appreciated this delegation of
sovereign power from the Universal Father more than Alfred, the most
conscientious and truth-loving of all the kings of the Middle Ages.

So, to maintain justice, Alfred set aside the ignorant and passionate
ealdormen, and appointed judges whose sole duty it was to interpret and
enforce the laws, and men best fitted to represent the king in the royal
courts. They were sent through the shires to see that justice was done,
and to report the decisions of the county courts. Thus came into
existence the judges of assize,--an office or institution which remains
to this day, amid all the revolutions of English thought and life, and
all the changes which politics and dynasties have wrought.

Nor did Alfred rest with a reform of the law courts. He defined the
boundaries of shires, which divisions are very old, and subdivided them
into parishes, which have remained to this day. He gave to each hundred
its court, from which appeals were made to a court representing several
hundreds,--about three to each county. Each hundred was subdivided into
tythings, or companies of ten neighboring householders, who were held as
mutual sureties or frank (free) pledges for each other's orderly
conduct; so that each man was a member of a tything, and was obliged to
keep household rolls of his servants. Thus every liegeman was known to
the law, and was taught his duties and obligations; and every tything
was responsible for the production of its criminals, and obliged to pay
a fine if they escaped. Every householder was liable to answer for any
stranger who might stop at his house. "This mutual liability or
suretyship was the pivot of all Alfred's administrative reform, and
wrought a remarkable change in the kingdom, so that merchants and
travellers could go about without armed guards. The forests were emptied
of outlaws, and confidence and security succeeded distrust and
lawlessness.... The frank pledge-system, which was worked in country
districts, was supplied in towns by the machinery of the
guilds,--institutions combining the benefit of modern clubs, insurance
societies, and trades-unions. As a rule, they were limited to members of
one trade or calling."

Mr. Pearson, in his history of England, as quoted by Hughes, thus sums
up this great administrative reform for the preservation of life and
property and order during the Middle Ages:--

"What is essential to remember is, that life and property were not
secured to the Anglo-Saxon by the State, but by the loyal union of his
fellow-citizens; the Saxon guilds are unmatched in the history of their
times as evidences of self-reliance, mutual trust, patient
self-restraint, and orderly love of law among a young people,

"To recapitulate the reforms of Alfred in the administration of justice
and the resettlement of the country, the old divisions of shires were
carefully readjusted, and divided into hundreds and tythings. The
alderman of the shire still remained the chief officer, but the office
was no longer hereditary. The king appointed the alderman, or eorl, who
was president of the shire gemot, or council, and chief judge of the
county court as well as governor of the shire, but was assisted and
probably controlled in his judicial capacity by justices appointed by
the king, and not attached to the shire, or in any way dependent on the
alderman. The vice-domini, or nominees of the alderman, were abolished,
and an officer substituted for them called the reeve of the shire, or
sheriff, who carried out the decrees of the courts. The hundreds and
tythings were represented by their own officers, and had their
hundred-courts and courts-leet, which exercised a trifling criminal
jurisdiction, but were chiefly assemblies answering to our grand juries
and parish vestries. All householders were members of them, and every
man thus became responsible for keeping the king's peace."

In regard to the financial resources of Alfred we know but little.
Probably they were great, considering the extent and population of the
little kingdom over which he ruled, but inconsiderable in comparison
with the revenues of England at the present day. To build fortresses,
construct a navy, and keep in pay a considerable military force,--to say
nothing of his own private expenditure and the expense of his court,
his public improvements, the endowment of churches, the support of
schools, the relief of the poor, and keeping the highways and bridges in
repair,--required a large income. This was derived from the public
revenues, crown lands, and private property. The public revenue was
raised chiefly by customs, tolls, and fines. The crown lands were very
extensive, as well as the private property of the sovereign, as he had
large estates in every county of his kingdom.

But whatever his income, he set apart one quarter of it for religious
purposes, one-sixth for architecture, and one-eighth for the poor,
besides a considerable sum for foreigners, whom he liberally patronized.
He richly endowed schools and monasteries. He was devoted to the Church,
and his relations with the Pope were pleasant and intimate, although
more independent than those of many of his successors.

All the biographers of Alfred speak of his zealous efforts in behalf of
education. He established a school for the young nobles of his court,
and taught them himself. His teachers were chiefly learned men drawn
from the continent, especially from the Franks, and were well paid by
the king. He made the scholarly Asser--a Welsh monk, afterwards bishop
of Sherborne, from whose biography of Alfred our best information is
derived--his counsellor and friend, and from his instructions acquired
much knowledge. To Asser he gave the general superintendence of
education, not merely for laymen, but for priests. In his own words, he
declared that his wish was that all free-born youth should persevere in
learning until they could read the English Scriptures. For those who
desired to devote themselves to the Church, he provided the means for
the study of Latin. He gave all his children a good education. His own
thirst for knowledge was remarkable, considering his cares and public
duties. He copied the prayer-book with his own hands, and always carried
it in his bosom, Asser read to him all the books which were then
accessible. From an humble scholar the king soon became an author. He
translated "Consolations of Philosophy" from the Latin of Boethius, a
Roman senator of the sixth century,--the most remarkable literary effort
of the declining days of the Roman Empire, and highly prized in the
Middle Ages. He also translated the "Chronicle of the World," by
Orosius, a Spanish priest, who lived in the early part of the fifth
century,--a work suggested by Saint Augustine's "City of God." The
"Ecclesiastical History" of Bede was also translated by Alfred. He is
said to have translated the Proverbs of Solomon and the Fables of Aesop.
His greatest literary work, however, was the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the
principal authority of the reign of Alfred. No man of his day wrote the
Saxon language so purely as did Alfred himself; and he was
distinguished not only for his knowledge of Latin, but for profound
philosophical reflections interspersed through his writings, which would
do honor to a Father of the Church. He was also a poet, inferior only to
Caedmon. Nor was his knowledge confined to literature alone; it was
extended to the arts, especially architecture, ship-building, and
silver-workmanship. He built more beautiful edifices than any of his
predecessors. He also had a knowledge of geography beyond his
contemporaries, and sent a Norwegian ship-master to explore the White
Sea. He enriched his translation of Orosius by a sketch of the new
geographical discoveries in the North. In fact, there was scarcely any
branch of knowledge then known in which Alfred was not well
instructed,--being a remarkably learned man for his age, and as
enlightened as he was learned.

But in the midst of his reforms and wise efforts to civilize his people,
the war-clouds gathered once more, and he was obliged to put forth all
his energies to defend his realm from the incursions of his old enemies.
The death of Charles the Bald in the year 877 left France in a very
disordered state, and the Northmen under Hasting, one of the greatest of
their vikings, recommenced their ravages. In 893 they crossed the
Channel in two hundred and fifty vessels, and invaded England, followed
soon after by Hasting with another large detachment, and strongly
intrenched themselves near Winchester. Alfred at the same time strongly
fortified his own position, about thirty miles distant, and kept so
close a watch over the movements of his enemies that they rarely
ventured beyond their own intrenchments. A sort of desultory warfare
succeeded, and continued for a year without any decisive results. At
last the Danes, getting weary, broke up their camps, and resolved to
pass into East Anglia. They were met by Alfred at Farnham and forced to
fight, which resulted in their defeat and the loss of all the spoils
they had taken and all the horses they had brought from France. The
discomfited Danes retreated, by means of their ships, to an island in
the Thames, at its junction with the Colne, where they were invested by
Alfred. They would soon have been at the mercy of the Saxon king, had it
not unfortunately happened that the Danes on the east coast, from Essex
to Northumbria, joined the invaders, which unlooked-for event compelled
Alfred to raise the blockade, and send Ethelred his son to the west,
where the Danes were again strongly intrenched at Banfleet, near London.
Their camp was successfully stormed, and much booty was taken, together
with the wife and sons of Hasting. The Danish fleet was also captured,
and some of the vessels were sent to London. But Hasting still held out,
in spite of his disaster, and succeeded in intrenching himself with the
remnants of his army at Shoebury, ten miles from Banfleet, from which
he issued on a marauding expedition along the northern banks of the
Thames, carrying fire and sword wherever he went, thence turned
northward, making no halt until he reached the banks of the Severn,
where he again intrenched himself, but was again beaten. Hasting saved
himself by falling back on a part of East Anglia removed from Alfred's
influence, and appeared near Chester. Alfred himself had undertaken the
task of guarding Exeter and the coasts of Devonshire and South Wales,
where he wintered, leaving Ethelred to pursue Hasting.

Thus a year passed in the successful defence of the kingdom, the Danes
having gained no important advantage. At the end of the second campaign
Hasting still maintained his ground and fortified himself on the Thames,
within twenty miles of London. At the close of the third year, Hasting,
being driven from his position on the Thames, established himself in
Shropshire. "In the spring of 897 Hasting broke up his last camp on the
English soil, being foiled at every point, and crossed the sea with the
remnant of his followers to the banks of the Seine." The war was now
virtually at an end, and the Danes utterly defeated.

The work for which Alfred was raised up was at last accomplished. He had
stayed the inundations of the Northmen, defended his kingdom of Wessex,
and planted the seeds of a higher civilization in England, winning the
love and admiration of his subjects. The greatness of Alfred should not
be measured by the size of his kingdom. It is not the bigness of a
country that gives fame to its illustrious men. The immortal heroes of
Palestine and Greece ruled over territories smaller and of less
importance than the kingdom of Wessex. It is the greatness of their
characters that preserves their name and memory.

Alfred died in the year 901, at the age of fifty-two, worn out with
disease and labors, leaving his kingdom in a prosperous state; and it
had rest under his son Edward for nine years. Then the contest was
renewed with the Danes, and it was under the reign of Edward that Mercia
was once more annexed to Wessex, as well as Northumbria. Edward died in
925, and under the reign of his son Aethelstan the Saxon kingdom reached
still greater prosperity. The completion of the West Saxon realm was
reserved for Edmund, son of Aethelstan, who ascended the throne in 940,
being a mere boy. He was ruled by the greatest statesman of that age,
the celebrated Dunstan, Abbot of Glastonbury and Archbishop of
Canterbury,--a great statesman and a great Churchman, like Hincmar
of Rheims.

Thus the heroism and patience of Alfred were rewarded by the restoration
of the Saxon power, and the absorption of what Mr. Green calls
"Danelagh," after a long and bitter contest, of which Alfred was the
greatest hero. In surveying his conquests we are reminded of the long
contest which Charlemagne had with the Saxons. Next to Charlemagne,
Alfred was the greatest prince who reigned in Europe after the
dissolution of the Roman Empire, until the Norman Conquest. He fought
not for the desire of bequeathing a great empire to his descendants, but
to rescue his country from ruin, in the midst of overwhelming
calamities. It was a struggle for national existence, not military
glory. In the successful defence of his kingdom against the ravages of
Pagan invaders he may be likened to William the Silent in preserving the
nationality of Holland. No European monarch from the time of Alfred can
be compared to him in the service he rendered to his country. The
memorableness of a war is to be gauged not by the number of the
combatants, but by the sacredness of a cause. It was the devotion of
Washington to a great cause which embalms his memory in the heart of the
world. And no English king has left so hallowed a name as Alfred: it was
because he was a benefactor, and infused his energy of purpose into a
discouraged and afflicted people. How far his saint-like virtues were
imitated it is difficult to tell. Religion was the groundwork of his
character,--faith in God and devotion to duty. His piety was also more
enlightened than the piety of his age, since it was practical and not
ascetic. His temper was open, frank, and genial. He loved books and
strangers and travellers. There was nothing cynical about him, in spite
of his perplexities and discouragements. He had a beautifully balanced
character and a many-sided nature. He had the power of inspiring
confidence in defeat and danger. His judgment and good sense seemed to
fit him for any emergency. He had the same control over himself that he
had over others. His patriotism and singleness of purpose inspired
devotion. He felt his burdens, but did not seek to throw them off.
"Hardship and sorrow," said he, "not a king but would wish to be without
these if he could; but I know he cannot." "So long as I have lived I
have striven to live worthily." "I desire to leave to the men that come
after me a remembrance of me in good works." These were some of his
precious utterances, so that the love which he won a thousand years ago
has lingered around his name from that day to this.

It was a strong sense of duty, quickened by a Christian life, which gave
to the character of Alfred its peculiar radiance. He felt his
responsibilities as a Christian ruler. He was affable, courteous,
accessible. His body was frail and delicate, but his energies were never
relaxed. Pride and haughtiness were unknown in his intercourse with
bishops or nobles. He had no striking defects. He was the model of a man
and a king; and he left the impress of his genius on all the subsequent
institutions of his country. "The tree," says Dr. Pauli, one of his
ablest biographers, "which now casts its shadow far and near over the
world, when menaced with destruction in its bud, was carefully guarded
by Alfred; but at the period when it was ready to burst forth into a
plant, he was forced to leave it to the influence of time. Many great
men have occupied themselves with the care of this tree, and each in his
own way has advanced its growth. William the Conqueror, with his iron
hand, bent the tender branches to his will; Henry the Second ruled the
Saxons with true Roman pride, but in _Magna Charta_ the old German
nature became aroused and worked powerfully, even among the barons. It
became free under Edward the Third,--that prince so ambitious of
conquest: the old language and the old law, the one somewhat altered,
the other much softened, opened the path to a new era. The nation stood
like an oak in the full strength of its leafy maturity; and to this
strength the Reformation is indebted for its accomplishment. Elizabeth,
the greatest woman who ever sat upon a throne, occupied a central
position in a golden age of power and literature. Then came the Stuarts,
who with their despotic ideas outraged the deeply-rooted Saxon
individuality of the English, and by their fall contributed to the sure
development of that freedom which was founded so long before. The stern
Cromwell and the astute William the Third aided in preparing for the now
advanced nation that path in which it has ever since moved. The
Anglo-Saxon race has already attained maturity in the New World, and,
founded on these pillars, it will triumph in all places and in every
age. Alfred's name will always be placed among those of the great
spirits of this earth; and so long as men regard their past history with
reverence they will not venture to bring forward any other in comparison
with him who saved the West Saxon nation from complete destruction, and
in whose heart all the virtues dwelt in such harmonious concord."


Asser's Life of Alfred; the Saxon Chronicle; Alfred's own writings;
Bede's Ecclesiastical History; Thorpe's Ancient Laws and Institutes of
England; Kemble's Saxons in England; Sir F. Palgrave's History of the
English Commonwealth; Sharon Turner's History of the Anglo-Saxons;
Green's History of the English People; Dr. Pauli's Life of Alfred;
Alfred the Great, by Thomas Hughes. Freeman, Pearson, Hume, Spelman,
Knight, and other English historians may be consulted.


A.D. 1533-1603.


I do not present Queen Elizabeth either as a very interesting or as a
faultless woman. As a woman she is not a popular favorite. But it is my
object to present her as a queen; to show with what dignity and ability
a woman may fill one of the most difficult and responsible stations of
the world. It is certain that we associate with her a very prosperous
and successful reign; and if she was lacking in those feminine qualities
which make woman interesting to man, we are constrained to admire her
for those talents and virtues which shed lustre around a throne. She is
unquestionably one of the links in the history of England and of modern
civilization; and her reign is so remarkable, considering the
difficulties with which she had to contend, that she may justly be
regarded as one of the benefactors of her age and country. It is a
pleasant task to point out the greatness, rather than the defects, of so
illustrious a woman.

It is my main object to describe her services to her country, for it is
by services that all monarchs are to be judged; and all sovereigns,
especially those armed with great power, are exposed to unusual
temptations, which must ever qualify our judgments. Even bad men--like
Caesar, Richelieu, and Napoleon--have obtained favorable verdicts in
view of their services. And when sovereigns whose characters have been
sullied by weaknesses and defects, yet who have escaped great crimes and
scandals and devoted themselves to the good of their country, have
proved themselves to be wise, enlightened, and patriotic, great praise
has been awarded to them. Thus, Henry IV. of France, and William III. of
England have been admired in spite of their defects.

Queen Elizabeth is the first among the great female sovereigns of the
world with whose reign we associate a decided progress in national
wealth, power, and prosperity; so that she ranks with the great men who
have administered kingdoms. If I can prove this fact, the sex should be
proud of so illustrious a woman, and should be charitable to those
foibles which sullied the beauty of her character, since they were in
part faults of the age, and developed by the circumstances which
surrounded her.

She was born in the year 1533, the rough age of Luther, when Charles V.
was dreaming of establishing a united continental military empire, and
when the princes of the House of Valois were battling with the ideas of
the Reformation,--an earnest, revolutionary, and progressive age. She
was educated as the second daughter of Henry VIII. naturally would be,
having the celebrated Ascham as her tutor in Greek, Latin, French, and
Italian. She was precocious as well as studious, and astonished her
teachers by her attainments. She was probably the best-educated woman in
England next to Lady Jane Grey, and she excelled in those departments of
knowledge for which novels have given such distaste in these more
enlightened times.

Elizabeth was a mere girl when her mother, Anne Boleyn, was executed for
infidelities and levities to which her husband could not be blind, had
he been less suspicious,--a cruel execution, which nothing short of
high-treason could have justified even in that rough age. Though her
birth was declared to be illegitimate by her cruel and unscrupulous
father, yet she was treated as a princess. She was seventeen when her
hateful old father died; and during the six years when the government
was in the hands of Somerset, Edward VI. being a minor, Elizabeth was
exposed to no peculiar perils except those of the heart. It is said that
Sir Thomas Seymour, brother to the Protector, made a strong impression
on her, and that she would have married him had the Council consented.
By nature, Elizabeth was affectionate, though prudent. Her love for
Seymour was uncalculating and unselfish, though he was unworthy of it.
Indeed, it was her misfortune always to misplace her affections,--which
is so often the case in the marriages of superior women, as if they
loved the image merely which their own minds created, as Dante did when
he bowed down to Beatrice. When we see intellectual men choosing weak
and silly women for wives, and women of exalted character selecting
unworthy and wicked husbands, it does seem as if Providence determines
all matrimonial unions independently of our own wills and settled
purposes. How often is wealth wedded to poverty, beauty to ugliness, and
amiability to ill-temper! The hard, cold, unsocial, unsympathetic,
wooden, scheming, selfish man is the only one who seems to attain his
end, since he can bide his time,--wait for somebody to fancy him.

Elizabeth had that mixed character which made her life a perpetual
conflict between her inclinations and her interests. Her generous
impulses and affectionate nature made her peculiarly susceptible, while
her prudence and her pride kept her from a foolish marriage. She may
have loved unwisely, but she had sufficient self-control to prevent a
mesalliance. While she may have resigned herself at times to the
fascinations of accomplished men, she yet fathomed the abyss into which
imprudence would bury her forever.

On the accession of Mary, her elder sister, daughter of Catharine of
Aragon, Elizabeth's position was exceedingly critical, exposed as she
was to the intrigues of the Catholics and the jealousy of the Queen. And
when we remember that the great question and issue of that age was
whether the Catholic or Protestant religion should have the ascendency,
and that this ascendency seemed to hinge upon the private inclinations
of the sovereign who in the furtherance of this great end would scruple
at nothing to accomplish it, and that the greatest crimes committed for
its sake would be justified by all the sophistries that religious
partisanship could furnish, and be upheld by all bigots and statesmen as
well as priests, it is really remarkable that Elizabeth was spared. For
Mary was not only urged on to the severest measures by Gardiner and
Bonner (the bishops of Winchester and London), and by all the influences
of Rome, to which she was devoted body and soul,--yea, by all her
confidential advisers in the State, to save themselves from future
contingencies,--but she was also jealous of her sister, as Elizabeth was
afterwards jealous of Mary Stuart. And it would have been as easy for
Mary to execute Elizabeth as it was for Elizabeth to execute the Queen
of Scots, or Henry VIII. to behead his wives; and such a crime would
have been excused as readily as the execution of Somerset or of the Lady
Jane Grey, both from political necessity and religious expediency.
Elizabeth was indeed subjected to great humiliations, and even compelled
to sue for her life. What more piteous than her letter to Mary, begging
only for an interview: "Wherefore I humbly beseech your Majesty to let
me answer before yourself; and, once again kneeling with humbleness of
heart, I earnestly crave to speak to your Highness, which I would not be
so bold as to desire if I knew not myself most clear, as I know myself
most true." Here is a woman pleading for her life to a sister to whom
she had done no wrong, and whose only crime was in being that sister's
heir. What an illustration of the jealousy of royalty and the bitterness
of religious feuds; and what a contrast in this servile speech to that
arrogance which Elizabeth afterward assumed towards her Parliament and
greatest lords! Ah, to what cringing meanness are most people reduced by
adversity! In what pride are we apt to indulge in the hour of triumph!
How circumstances change the whole appearance of our lives!

Elizabeth, however, in order to save her life, was obliged to dissemble.
If her true Protestant opinions had been avowed, I doubt if she could
have escaped. We do not see in this dissimulation anything very lofty;
yet she acted with singular tact and discretion. It is creditable,
however, to Mary that she did not execute her sister. She showed herself
more noble than Elizabeth did later in her treatment of the Queen of
Scots. History calls her the "Bloody Mary;" and it must be admitted that
she was the victim and slave of religious bigotry, and that she
sanctioned many bloody executions. And yet it would appear that her
nature was, after all, affectionate, which is evinced in the fact that
she did spare the life of Elizabeth. Here her better impulses gained the
victory over craft and policy and religious intolerance, and rescued her
name from the infamy to which such a crime would have doomed her, and
which her Church would have sanctioned, and in which it would have
rejoiced as much as it did in the slaughter of Saint Bartholomew.

The crocodile tears which Elizabeth is said to have shed when the death
of her sister Mary was announced to her at Hatfield were soon wiped away
in the pomps and enthusiasms which hailed her accession to the throne.
This was in 1558, when she was twenty-five, in the fulness of her
attractions and powers. Great expectations were formed of her wisdom and
genius. She had passed through severe experiences; she had led a life of
study and reflection; she was gifted with talents and graces. "Her
accomplishments, her misfortunes, and her brilliant youth exalted into
passionate homage the principle of loyalty, and led to extravagant
panegyrics." She was good-looking, if she was not beautiful, since the
expression of her countenance showed benignity, culture, and vivacity.
She had piercing dark eyes, a clear complexion, and animated features.
She was in perfect health, capable of great fatigue, apt in business,
sagacious, industrious, witty, learned, and fond of being surrounded
with illustrious men. She was high-church in her sympathies, yet a
Protestant in the breadth of her views and in the fulness of her
reforms. Above all, she was patriotic and disinterested in her efforts
to develop the resources of her kingdom and to preserve it from
entangling wars.

The kingdom was far from being prosperous when Elizabeth assumed the
reins of government, and it is the enormous stride in civilization which
England made during her reign, beset with so many perils, which
constitutes her chief claim to the admiration of mankind. Let it be
borne in mind that she began her rule in perplexities, anxieties, and
embarrassments. The crown was encumbered with debts; the nobles were
ambitious and factious; the people were poor, dispirited, unimportant,
and distracted by the claims of two hostile religions. Only one bishop
in the whole realm was found willing to crown her. Scotland was
convulsed with factions, and was a standing menace, growing out of the
marriage of Mary Stuart with a French prince. Barbarous Ireland was in
a state of chronic rebellion; France, Spain, and Rome were decidedly
hostile; and all Catholic Europe aimed at the overthrow of England.
Philip II. had adopted the dying injunction of his father to extinguish
the Protestant religion, and the princes of the House of Valois were
leagued with Rome for the attainment of this end. At home, Elizabeth had
to contend with a jealous Parliament, a factious nobility, an empty
purse, and a divided people. The people generally were rude and
uneducated; the language was undeveloped; education was chiefly confined
to nobles and priests; the poor were oppressed by feudal laws. No great
work in English history, poetry, or philosophy had yet appeared. The
comforts and luxuries of life were scarcely enjoyed even by the rich.
Chimneys were just beginning to be used. The people slept on mats of
straw; they ate without forks on pewter or wooden platters; they drank
neither tea nor coffee, but drank what their ancestors did in the
forests of Germany,--beer; their houses, thatched with straw, were dark,
dingy, and uncomfortable. Commerce was small; manufactures were in their
infancy; the coin was debased, and money was scarce; trade was in the
hands of monopolists; coaches were almost unknown; the roads were
impassable except for horsemen, and were infested with robbers; only the
rich could afford wheaten bread; agricultural implements were of the
most primitive kind; animal food, for the greater part of the year, was
eaten only in a salted state; enterprise of all kinds was restricted
within narrow limits; beggars and vagrants were so numerous that the
most stringent laws were necessary to protect the people against them;
profane swearing was nearly universal; the methods of executing capital
punishments were revolting; the rudest sports amused the people; the
parochial clergy were ignorant and sensual; country squires sought
nothing higher than fox-hunting; it took several days for letters to
reach the distant counties; the population numbered only four millions;
there was nothing grand and imposing in art but the palaces of nobles
and the Gothic monuments of mediaeval Europe.

Such was "Merrie England" on the accession of Elizabeth to the
throne,--a rude nation of feudal nobles, rural squires, and ignorant
people, who toiled for a mere pittance on the lands of cold,
unsympathetic masters; without books, without schools, without
privileges, without rights, except to breathe the common air and indulge
in coarse pleasures and religious holidays and village fetes.

On the other hand, it must be admitted that the people were loyal,
religious, and brave; that they had the fear of God before their eyes,
and felt personal responsibility to Him, so that crimes were uncommon
except among the lowest and most abandoned; that family ties were
strong; that simple hospitalities were everywhere exercised; that
healthy pleasures stimulated no inordinate desires; that the people, if
poor, had enough to eat and drink; that service was not held to be
degrading; that churches were not deserted; that books, what few there
were, did not enervate or demoralize; that science did not attempt to
ignore the moral government of God; that laws were a terror to
evil-doers; that philanthropists did not seek to reform the world by
mechanical inventions, or elevate society by upholding the majesty of
man rather than the majesty of God,--teaching the infallibility of
congregated masses of ignorance, inexperience, and conceit. Even in
those rude times there were the certitudes of religious faith, of
domestic endearments, of patriotic devotion, of respect for parents, of
loyalty to rulers, of kindness to the poor and miserable; there were the
latent fires of freedom, the impulses of generous enthusiasm, and
resignation to the ills which could not be removed. So that in England,
in Elizabeth's time, there was a noble material for Christianity and art
and literature to work upon, and to develop a civilization such as had
not existed previously on this earth,--a civilization destined to spread
throughout the world in new institutions, inventions, laws, language,
and literature, binding hostile races together, and proclaiming the
sovereignty of intelligence,--the [Greek: nous kratei] of the old Ionian
philosophers,--with that higher sovereignty which Moses based upon the
Ten Commandments, and that higher law still which Jesus taught upon
the Mount.

Yet with all this fine but rude material for future greatness, it was
nevertheless a glaring fact that the condition of England on the
accession of Elizabeth was most discouraging,--a poor and scattered
agricultural nation, without a navy of any size, without a regular army,
with factions in every quarter, with struggling and contending religious
parties, with a jealous parliament of unenlightened country squires; yet
a nation seriously threatened by the most powerful monarchies of the
Continent, who detested the doctrines which were then taking root in the
land. Against the cabals of Rome, the navies of Spain, and the armies of
France,--alike hostile and dangerous,--England could make but a feeble
show of physical forces, and was protected only by her insular position.
The public dangers were so imminent that there was needed not only a
strong hand but a stout heart and a wise head at the helm. Excessive
caution was necessary, perpetual vigilance was imperative; a single
imprudent measure might be fatal in such exigencies. And this accounts
for the vacillating policy of Elizabeth, so often condemned by
historians. It did not proceed from weakness of head, but from real
necessity occasioned by constant embarrassments and changing
circumstances. According to all the canons of expediency, it was the
sign of a sagacious ruler to temporize and promise and deceive in that
sad perplexity. Governments, thus far in the history of nations, have
been carried on upon different principles from those that bind the
conduct of individuals, especially when the weak contend against the
strong. This, abstractly, is not to be defended. Governments and
individuals alike are bound by the same laws of immutable morality in
their general relations; but the rules of war are different from the
rules of peace. Governments are expediencies to suit peculiar crises and
exigencies. A man assaulted by robbers would be a fool to fall back on
the passive virtues of non-resistance.

Elizabeth had to deal both with religious bigots and unscrupulous kings.
We may be disgusted with the course she felt it politic to pursue, but
it proved successful. A more generous and open course might have
precipitated an attack when she was unprepared and defenceless. Her
dalliances and expediencies and dissimulations delayed the evil day,
until she was ready for the death-struggle; and when the tempest of
angry human forces finally broke upon her defenceless head, she was
saved only by a storm of wind and rain which Providence kindly and
opportunely sent. Had the "Invincible Armada" been permitted to invade
England at the beginning of her reign, there would probably have been
another Spanish conquest. What chance would the untrained militia of a
scattered population, without fortresses or walled cities or military
leaders of skill, have had against the veteran soldiers who were
marshalled under Philip II., with all the experiences learned in the
wars of Charles V. and in the conquest of Peru and Mexico, aided, too,
by the forces of France and the terrors of the Vatican and the money of
the Flemish manufacturers? It was the dictate of self-preservation which
induced Elizabeth to prevaricate, and to deceive the powerful monarchs
who were in league against her. If ever lying and cheating were
justifiable, they were then; if political jesuitism is ever defensible,
it was in the sixteenth century. So that I cannot be hard on the
embarrassed Queen for a policy which on the strict principles of
morality it would be difficult to defend. It was a dark age of
conspiracies, rebellions, and cabals. In dealing with the complicated
relations of government in that day, there were no recognized principles
but those of expediency. Even in our own times, expediency rather than
right too often seems to guide nations. It is not just and fair,
therefore, to expect from a sovereign, in Queen Elizabeth's time, that
openness and fairness which are the result only of a higher national
civilization. What would be blots on government to-day were not deemed
blots in the sixteenth century. Elizabeth must be judged by the standard
of her age, not of ours, in her official and public acts.

We must remember, also, that this great Queen was indorsed, supported,
and even instructed by the ablest and wisest and most patriotic
statesmen that were known to her generation. Lord Burleigh, her prime
minister, was a marvel of political insight, industry, and fidelity. If
he had not the commanding genius of Thomas Cromwell or the ambitious
foresight of Richelieu, he surpassed the statesmen of his day in
patriotic zeal and in disinterested labors,--not to extend the
boundaries of the empire, but to develop national resources and make the
country strong for defence. He was a plodding, wary, cautious,
far-seeing, long-headed old statesman, whose opinions it was not safe
for Elizabeth to oppose; and although she was arbitrary and opinionated
herself, she generally followed Burleigh's counsels,--unwillingly at
times, but firmly when she perceived the necessity; for she was, with
all her pertinacity, open to conviction of reason. I cannot deny that
she sometimes headed off her prime-minister and deceived him, and
otherwise complicated the difficulties that beset her reign; but this
was only when she felt a strong personal repugnance to the state
measures which he found it imperative to pursue. After all, Elizabeth
was a woman, and the woman was not utterly lost in the Queen. It is
greatly to her credit, however, that she retained the services of this
old statesman for forty years, and that she filled the great offices in
the State and Church with men of experience, genius, and wisdom. She
made Parker the Archbishop of Canterbury,--a man of remarkable
moderation and breadth of mind, whose reforms were carried on without
exciting hostilities, and have survived the fanaticisms and hostile
attacks of generations. Walsingham, her ambassador at Paris, and
afterwards her secretary of state, ferreted out the plots of the Jesuits
and the intrigues of hostile courts, and rendered priceless service by
his acuteness and diligence. Lord Effingham, one of the Howards,
defeated the "Invincible Armada." Sir Thomas Gresham managed her
finances so ably that she was never without money. Coke was her
attorney. Sir Nicholas Bacon--the ablest lawyer in the realm, and a
stanch Protestant--was her lord-keeper; while his illustrious son, the
immortal Francis Bacon, though not adequately rewarded, was always
consulted by the Queen in great legal difficulties. I say nothing of
those elegant and gallant men who were the ornaments of her court, and
in some instances the generals of her armies and admirals of her
navies,--Sackville, Raleigh, Sidney, not to mention Essex and
Leicester, all of whom were distinguished for talents and services; men
who had no equals in their respective provinces; so gifted that it is
difficult to determine whether the greatness of her reign was more owing
to the talents of the ministers or to the wisdom of the Queen herself.
Unless she had been a great woman, I doubt whether she would have
discerned the merits of these men, and employed them in her service and
kept them so long in office.

It was by these great men that Elizabeth was ruled,--so far as she was
ruled at all,--not by favorites, like her successors, James and Charles.
The favorites at the court of Elizabeth were rarely trusted with great
powers unless they were men of signal abilities, and regarded as such by
the nation itself. While she lavished favors upon them,--sometimes to
the disgust of the old nobility,--she was never ruled by them, as James
was by Buckingham, and Louis XV. by Madame de Pompadour. Elizabeth was
not above coquetry, it is true; but after toying with Leicester and
Raleigh,--never, though, to the serious injury of her reputation as a
woman,--she would retire to the cabinet of her ministers and yield to
the sage suggestions of Burleigh and Walsingham. At her council-board
she was an entirely different woman from what she was among her
courtiers: _there_ she would tolerate no flattery, and was controlled
only by reason and good sense,--as practical as Burleigh himself, and
as hard-working and business-like; cold, intellectual, and clear-headed,
utterly without enthusiasm.

Perhaps the greatest service which Elizabeth rendered to the English
nation and the cause of civilization was her success in establishing
Protestantism as the religion of the land, against so many threatening
obstacles. In this she was aided and directed by some of the most
enlightened divines that England ever had. The liturgy of Cranmer was
re-established, preferments were conferred on married priests, the
learned and pious were raised to honor, eminent scholars and theologians
were invited to England, the Bible was revised and freely circulated,
and an alliance was formed between learning and religion by the great
men who adorned the universities. Though inclined to ritualism,
Elizabeth was broad and even moderate in reform, desiring, according to
the testimony of Bacon, that all extremes of idolatry and superstition
should be avoided on the one hand, and levity and contempt on the other;
that all Church matters should be examined without sophistical niceties
or subtle speculations.

The basis of the English Church as thus established by Elizabeth was
half-way between Rome and Geneva,--a compromise, I admit; but all
established institutions and governments accepted by the people are
based on compromise. How can there be even family government without
some compromise, inasmuch as husband and wife cannot always be expected
to think exactly alike?

At any rate, the Church established by Elizabeth was signally adapted to
the wants and genius of the English people,--evangelical, on the whole,
in its creed, though not Calvinistic; unobtrusive in its forms, easy in
its discipline, and aristocratic in its government; subservient to
bishops, but really governed by the enlightened few who really govern
all churches, Independent, Presbyterian, or Methodist; supported by the
State, yet wielding only spiritual authority; giving its influence to
uphold the crown and the established institutions of the country;
conservative, yet earnestly Protestant. In the sixteenth century it was
the Church of reform, of progress, of advancing and liberalizing
thought. Elizabeth herself was a zealous Protestant, protecting the
cause whenever it was persecuted, encouraging Huguenots, and not
disdaining the Presbyterians of Scotland. She was not as generous to the
Protestants of Holland and Trance as we could have wished, for she was
obliged to husband her resources, and hence she often seemed
parsimonious; but she was the acknowledged head of the reform movement
in Europe. Her hostility to Rome and Roman influence was inexorable. She
may not have carried reforms as far as the Puritans desired, and who
can wonder at that? Their spirit was aggressive, revolutionary, bitter,
and, pushed to its logical sequences, was hostility to the throne
itself, as proved by their whole subsequent history until Cromwell was
dead. And this hostility Burleigh perceived as well as the Queen, which,
doubtless led to severities that our age cannot pretend to justify.

The Queen did dislike and persecute the Puritans, not, I think, so much
because they made war on the surplice, liturgy, and divine right of
bishops, as because they were at heart opposed to all absolute authority
both in State and Church, and when goaded by persecution would hurl even
kings from their thrones. It is to be regretted that Elizabeth was so
severe on those who differed from her; she had no right to insist on
uniformity with her conscience in those matters which are above any
human authority. The Reformation in its severest logical consequences,
in its grandest deductions, affirms the right of private judgment as the
mighty pillar of its support. All parties, Presbyterian as well as
Episcopalian, sought uniformity; they only differed as to its standard.
With the Queen and ministers and prelates it was the laws of the land;
with the Puritans, the decrees of provincial and national synods. Hence,
if Elizabeth insisted that her subjects should conform to her notions
and the ordinances of Parliament and convocations, she showed a spirit
which was universal. She was superior even in toleration to all
contemporaneous sovereigns, Catholic or Protestant, man or woman.
Contrast her persecutions of Catholics and Puritans with the persecution
by Catherine de Medicis and Charles IX. and Philip II. and Ferdinand
II.; or even with that under the Regent Murray of Scotland, when
churches and abbeys were ruthlessly destroyed. Contrast her Archbishop
of Canterbury with the religious dictator of Scotland. She kindled no
_auto-da-fe,_ like the Spaniards; she incited no wholesale massacre,
like the demented fury of France; she had a loving care of her subjects
that no religious bigotry could suppress. She did not seek to
exterminate Catholics or Puritans, but simply to build up the Church of
England as the shield and defence and enlargement of Protestantism in
times of unmitigated religious ferocity,--a Protestantism that has
proved the bulwark of European liberties, as it was the foundation of
all progress in England. In giving an impulse to this great emancipating
movement, even if she did not push it to its remote logical end,
Elizabeth was a benefactor of her country and of mankind, and is not
unjustly called a nursing-mother of the Church,--being so regarded by
Protestants, not in England merely, but on the Continent of Europe. When
was ever a religious revolution effected, or a national church
established, with so little bloodshed? When have ever such great changes
proved so popular and so beneficial, and, I may add, so permanent? After
all the revolutions in English thought and life for three hundred years,
the Church as established by Elizabeth is still dear to the great body
of English people, and has survived every agitation. And even many
things which the Puritans sought to sweep away--the music of the choir,
organs, and chants, even the holidays of venerated ages--are now revived
by the descendants of the Puritans with ancient ardor; showing how
permanent are such festivals as Christmas and Easter in the heart of
Christendom, and how hopeless it is to eradicate what the Church and
Christianity, from their earliest ages, have sanctioned and commended.

The next great service which Elizabeth rendered to England was a
development of its resources,--ever a primal effort with wise statesmen,
with such administrators as Sully, Colbert, Richelieu. The policy of her
Government was not the policy of aggrandizement in war, which has ever
provoked jealousies and hatreds in other nations, and led to dangerous
combinations, and sowed the seed of future wars. The policy of Napoleon
was retaliated in the conquests of Prussia in our day; and the policy of
Prussia may yet lead to its future dismemberment, in spite of the
imperial realm shaped by Bismarck. "With what measure ye mete, it shall
be measured to you again,"--an eternal law, binding both individuals and
nations, from which there is no escape. The government of Elizabeth did
not desire or aim at foreign conquests,--the great error of European
statesmen on the Continent; it sought the establishment of the monarchy
at home, and the development of the various industries of the nation,
since in these industries are both power and wealth. Commerce was
encouraged, and she girt her island around with those "wooden walls"
which have proved England's impregnable defence against every subsequent
combination of tyrants and conquerors. The East India Company was
formed, and the fisheries of Newfoundland established. It was under
Elizabeth's auspices that Frobisher penetrated to the Polar Sea, that
Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the globe, that Sir Walter Raleigh
colonized Virginia, and that Sir Humphrey Gilbert attempted to discover
'a northwestern passage to India. Manufactories were set up for serges,
so that wool was no longer exported, but the raw material was consumed
at home. A colony of Flemish weavers was planted in the heart of
England. The prosperity of dyers and cloth-dressers and weavers dates
from this reign, although some attempts at manufactures were made in the
reign of Edward III. A refuge was given to persecuted foreigners, and
work was found for them to do. Pasture-land was converted to
tillage,--not, as is now the case, to parks for the wealthy classes.
Labor was made respectable, and enterprise of all kinds was stimulated.
Wealth was sought in industry and economy, rather than in mines of gold
and silver; so that wealth was doubled during this reign, and the
population increased from four millions to six millions. All the old
debts of the Crown were paid, both principal and interest, and the
debased coin was called in at a great sacrifice to the royal revenue.
The arbitrary management of commerce by foreign merchants was broken up,
and weights and measures were duly regulated. The Queen did not revoke
monopolies, it is true; the principles of political economy were not
then sufficiently understood. But even monopolies, which disgraced the
old Roman world, and are a disgrace to any age, were not so gigantic and
demoralizing in those times as in our own, under our free institutions;
they were not used to corrupt legislation and bribe judges and prevent
justice, but simply to enrich politicians and favorites, and as a reward
for distinguished services.

Justice in the courts was impartially administered; there was security
to property and punishment for crime. No great culprits escaped
conviction; nor, when convicted, were they allowed to purchase, with
their stolen wealth, the immunities of freedom. The laws were not a
mockery, as in republican Borne, where demagogues had the ascendency,
and prepared the way for usurpation and tyranny. All the expenses of the
government were managed economically,--so much so that the Queen herself
received from Parliament, for forty years, only an average grant of
L65,000 a year. She disliked to ask money from the Commons, and they
granted subsidies with extreme reluctance; the result was that between
the two the greatest economy was practised, and the people were not
over-burdened by taxation.

Elizabeth hated and detested war as the source of all calamities, and
never embarked upon it except under compulsion. All her wars were
virtually defensive, to maintain the honor, safety, and dignity of the
nation. She did not even seek to recover Calais, which the French had
held for three hundred years; although she took Havre, to gain a
temporary foothold for her troops. She did not strive for military
_eclat_ or foreign possessions in Europe, feeling that the strength of
England, like the ancient Jewish commonwealth, was in the cultivation of
the peaceful virtues; and yet she made war when it became imperative.
She gave free audience to her subjects, paid attention to all petitions,
and was indefatigable in business. She made her own glory identical with
the prosperity of the realm; and if she did not rule _by_ the people,
she ruled _for_ the people, as enlightened and patriotic monarchs ever
have ruled. It is indisputable that the whole nation loved her and
honored her to the last, even when disappointments had saddened her and
the intoxicating delusions of life had been dispelled. She bestowed
honors and benefits with frankness and cordiality. She ever sought to
base her authority on the affections of the people,--the only support
even of absolute thrones. She was ever ready with a witticism, a smile,
and a pleasant word. Though she gave vent to peevishness and
irritability when crossed, and even would swear before her ministers and
courtiers in private, yet in public she disguised her resentments, and
always appeared dignified and graceful; so that the people, when they
saw her majestic manners, or heard her loving speeches, or beheld her
mounted at the head of armies or shining unrivalled in grand festivals,
or listened to her learning on public occasions,--such as when she
extemporized Latin orations at Oxford,--were filled with pride and
admiration, and were ready to expose their lives in her service.

The characteristic excellence of Elizabeth's reign, as it seems to me,
was good government. She had extraordinary executive ability, directed
to all matters of public interest. Her government was not marked by
great and brilliant achievements, but by perpetual vigilance, humanity,
economy, and liberal policy. There were no destructive and wasting
wars, no passion for military glory, no successions of court follies, no
extravagance in palace-building, no egotistical aims and pleasures such
as marked the reign of Louis XIV., which cut the sinews of national
strength, impoverished the nobility, disheartened the people, and sowed
the seeds of future revolution. That modern Nebuchadnezzar spent on one
palace L40,000,000; while Elizabeth spent on all her palaces,
processions, journeys, carriages, servants, and dresses L65,000 a year.
She was indeed fond of visiting her subjects, and perhaps subjected her
nobles to a burdensome hospitality. But the Earl of Leicester could well
afford three hundred and sixty-five hogsheads of beer when he
entertained the Queen at Kenilworth, since he was rich enough to fortify
his castle with ten thousand men; nor was it difficult for the Earl of
Derby to feast the royal party, when his domestic servants numbered two
hundred and forty. She may have exacted presents on her birthday; but
the courtiers who gave her laces and ruffs and jewelry received
monopolies in return.

The most common charge against Elizabeth as a sovereign is, that she was
arbitrary and tyrannical; nor can she be wholly exculpated from this
charge. Her reign was despotic, so far as the Constitution would allow;
but it was a despotism according to the laws. Under her reign the people
had as much liberty as at any preceding period of English history. She
did not encroach on the Constitution. The Constitution and the
precedents of the past gave her the Star Chamber, and the High
Commission Court, and the disposal of monopolies, and the absolute
command of the military and naval forces; but these great prerogatives
she did not abuse. In her direst necessities she never went beyond the
laws, and seldom beyond the wishes of the people.

It is expecting too much of sovereigns to abdicate their own powers
except upon compulsion; and still more, to increase the political power
of the people. The most illustrious sovereigns have never parted
willingly with their own prerogatives. Did the Antonines, or Theodosius,
or Charlemagne, or 'Frederic II.? The Emperor of Russia may emancipate
serfs from a dictate of humanity, but he did not give them political
power, for fear that it might be turned against the throne. The
sovereign people of America may give political equality to their old
slaves, and invite them to share in the legislation of great interests:
it is in accordance with that theory of abstract rights which Rousseau,
the creator of the French Revolution, propounded,--which gospel of
rights was accepted by Jefferson and Franklin, The monarchs of the world
have their own opinions about the political rights of those whom they
deem ignorant or inexperienced. Instead of proceeding to enlarge the
bounds of popular liberties, they prefer to fall back on established
duties. Elizabeth had this preference; but she did not attempt to take
away what liberties the people already had. In encouraging the
principles of the Reformation, she became their protector against
Catholic priests and feudal nobles.

It is not quite just to stigmatize the government of Elizabeth as a
despotism, A despotism is a regime supported by military force, based on
an army, with power to tax the people without their consent,--like the
old rule of the Caesars, like that of Louis XIV. and Peter the Great,
and even of Napoleon. Now, Elizabeth never had a standing army of any
size. When the country was threatened by Spain, she threw herself into
the arms of the militia,--upon the patriotism and generosity of her
people. Nor could she tax the people without the consent of
Parliament,--which by a fiction was supposed to represent the people,
while in reality it only represented the wealthy classes. Parliament
possessed the power to cripple her, and was far less generous to her
than it was to Queen Victoria. She was headed off both by the nobles and
by the representatives of the wealthy, powerful, and aristocratic
Commons. She had great prerogatives and great private wealth, palaces,
parks, and arbitrary courts; but she could not go against the laws of
the realm without endangering her throne,--which she was wise enough
and strong enough to keep, in spite of all her enemies both at home and
abroad. Had she been a man, she might have turned out a tyrant and a
usurper: she might have increased the royal prerogatives, like
Richelieu; she might have made wars, like Louis XIV.; she might have
ground down the people, like her successor James. But she understood the
limits of her power, and did not seek to go beyond: thereby proving
herself as wise as she was mighty.

By most historical writers Elizabeth is severely censured for the
execution of Mary Queen of Scots, and I think with justice. I am not
making a special plea in favor of Elizabeth,--hiding her defects and
exaggerating her virtues,--but simply seeking to present her character
and deeds according to the verdict of enlightened ages. It was a cruel
and repulsive act to take away the life of a relative and a woman and a
queen, under any pretence whatever, unless the sparing of her life would
endanger the security of the sovereign and the peace of the realm. Mary
was the granddaughter of Margaret Tudor, sister of Henry VIII, and was
the lawful successor of Mary, the eldest daughter of Henry VIII. On the
principle of legitimacy, she had a title to the throne superior to
Elizabeth herself, and the succession of princes has ever been
determined by this. But Mary was a Catholic, to say nothing of her
levities or crimes, and had been excluded by the nation for that very
reason. If there was injustice done to her, it was in not allowing her
claim to succeed Mary. That she felt that Elizabeth was a usurper, and
that the English throne belonged by right to her, I do not doubt. It was
natural that she should seek to regain her rights. If she should survive
Elizabeth, her claims as the rightful successor could not be well set
aside. That in view of these facts Elizabeth was jealous of Mary I do
not doubt; and that this jealousy was one great cause of her hostility
is probable.

The execution of Mary Stuart because she was a Catholic, or because she
excited fear or jealousy, is utterly indefensible. All that the English
nation had a right to do was to set her succession aside because she was
a Catholic, and would undo the work of the Reformation. She had a right
to her religion; and the nation also had a right to prevent its religion
from being overturned or jeopardized. I do not believe, however, that
Mary's life endangered either the throne or the religion of England, so
long as she was merely Queen of Scotland; hence I look upon her
captivity as cruel, and her death as a crime. She was destroyed as the
male children of the Hebrews were destroyed by Pharaoh, as a sultan
murders his nephews,--from fear; from a cold and cruel state policy,
against all the higher laws of morality.

The crime of Elizabeth doubtless has palliations. She was urged by her
ministers and by the Protestant part of the nation to commit this great
wrong, on the plea of necessity, to secure the throne against a Catholic
successor, and the nation from embarrassments, plots, and rebellions. It
is an undoubted fact that Mary, even after her imprisonment in England,
was engaged in perpetual intrigues; that she was leagued with Jesuits
and hostile powers, and kept Elizabeth in continual irritation and the
nation in constant alarm. And it is probable that had she succeeded
Elizabeth, she would have destroyed all that was dear to the English
heart,--that glorious Reformation, effected by so many labors and
sacrifices. Therefore she was immolated to the spirit of the times, for
reasons of expediency and apparent state necessity. That she conspired
against the government of Elizabeth, and possibly against her life, was
generally supposed; that she was a bitter enemy cannot be questioned.
How far Elizabeth can be exculpated on the principle of self-defence
cannot well be ascertained. Scotch historians do not generally accept
the reputed facts of Mary's guilt. But if she sought the life of
Elizabeth, and was likely to attain so bloody an end,--as was generally
feared,--then Elizabeth has great excuses for having sanctioned the
death of her rival.

So the beautiful and interesting Mary dies a martyr to her cause,--a
victim of royal and national jealousy, paying the penalty for alleged
crimes against the state and throne. Had Elizabeth herself, during the
life of her sister Mary, been guilty of half they proved against the
Queen of Scots, she would have been most summarily executed. But
Elizabeth was wise and prudent, and waited for her time. Mary Stuart was
imprudent and rash. Her character, in spite of her fascinations and
accomplishments, was full of follies, infidelities, and duplicities. She
is supposed to have been an adulteress and a murderess. She was
unfortunate in her administration of Scotland. She was ruled by wicked
favorites and foreign influence. She was not patriotic, or lofty, or
earnest. She did what she could to root out Protestantism in Scotland,
and kept her own realm in constant trouble. She had winning manners and
graceful accomplishments; she was doubtless an intellectual woman; she
had courage, presence of mind, tact, intelligence; she could ride and
dance well: but with these accomplishments she had qualities which made
her dangerous and odious. If she had not been executed, she would have
been execrated. But her sufferings and unfortunate death appeal to the
heart of the world, and I would not fight against popular affections and
sympathies. Though she committed great crimes and follies, and was
supposed to be dangerous to the religion and liberties of England, she
died a martyr,--as Charles I. died, and Louis XVI.,--the victim of great
necessities and great animosities.

The execution of Essex is another of the popular rather than serious
charges against Elizabeth. He had been her favorite; he was a generous,
gifted, and accomplished man,--therefore, it is argued, he ought to have
been spared. But he was caught with arms in his hands. He was a traitor
to the throne which enriched him and the nation which flattered him. He
was at the head of foolish rebellion, and therefore he died,--died like
Montmorency in the reign of Henry IV., like Bassompierre, like Norfolk
and Northumberland, because he had committed high-treason and defied the
laws. Why should Elizabeth spare such a culprit? No former friendship,
no chivalrous qualities, no array of past services, ever can offset the
crime of treason and rebellion, especially in unsettled times; and
Elizabeth would have been worse than weak had she spared so great a
criminal, both according to the laws and precedents of England and the
verdict of enlightened civilization. We may compassionate the fate of
Essex; but he was rash, giddy, and irritated, and we feel that he
deserved his punishment.

The other charges brought against Elizabeth pertain to her as a woman
rather than a sovereign. They say that she was artful, dissembling,
parsimonious, jealous, haughty, and masculine. Very likely,--and what
then? Who claimed that she was perfect, any more than other great
sovereigns whom on the whole we praise? These faults, too, may have been
the result of her circumstances, rather than native traits of character.
Surrounded with spies and enemies, she was obliged to hide her thoughts
and her plans. Irritated by treason and rebellions, she may have given
vent to unseemly anger. Flattered beyond all example, she may have been
vain and ostentatious. Possessed of great powers, she may have been
arbitrary. Crippled by Parliament, she may have nursed her resources.
Compelled to give to everything, she may have been parsimonious.
Slandered by her enemies, she may have been resentful. Annoyed by
wrangling sects, she may have too strenuously paraded her high-church

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest