THE HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH SPEAKING PEOPLES
by Winston Churchill
Victory over Spain was the most shining achievement of Elizabeth's reign, but by no means the only one. The repulse of the Armada had subdued religious dissension at home. Events which had swung England towards Puritanism while the Catholic danger was impending swung her back to the Anglican settlement when the peril vanished in the smoke of the burning Armada at Gravelines. A few months later, in a sermon at St Paul's Cross, Richard Bancroft, who was later to be Archbishop of Canterbury, attacked the Puritan theme with the confidence of a man who was convinced that the Anglican Church was not a political contrivance, but a divine institution. He took the only line onj|hich the defence of the Church could be sustained with an Enthusiasm equal to that of its assailants: it was not "the religion set forth by Her Majesty," but the Church of the Apostles still subsisting by virtue of the episcopal succession. But Bancroft saw also that to maintain the cause a better type of clergy was needed, men of "solid learning," and such he set himself to provide. "If he had lived," Clarendon wrote a century later, "he would quickly have extinguished all that fire in England which had been kindled at Geneva." But the fire was still dangerously smouldering when Elizabeth died.
Nevertheless the Church she had nursed to strength was a very different body from the half-hearted and distracted community of her early years: more confident, more learned, far less inclined to compromise with dissidents within or separatists without; strong in the attachment of thousands to whom its liturgy had become dear by habit and who thought of it as the Church into which they had been baptised. Their devotion to the Church of England as a sacred institution was as profound and sincere as the attachment of the Calvinist to his presbytery or the Independent to his congregation. And, bitter as the coming divisions were to be, England united in prizing Elizabeth's service to her people - and to religion. "Queen Elizabeth of famous memory," Oliver Cromwell called her, and added, "we need not be ashamed to call her so." And those whose memories went back to the dark years of disaster and persecution, who had seen the Spanish peril growing till it broke in ruins, could hardly fail to re-echo in their hearts the majestic utterance of Richard Hooker, author of the classic justification of the Elizabethan Church, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. "As, by the sword of God and Gideon, was sometime the cry of the people of Israel," he wrote, "so it might deservedly be at this day the joyful song of innumerable multitudes, and the true inscription, style, or title of all churches yet standing within this realm: by the goodness of Almighty God and his servant Elizabeth, we are."
By now the men who had governed England since the 1550's were passing from power and success to their graves. Leicester had died in the last days of 1588, Walsingham in 1590, and Burghleyin 1598. The fifteen years which followed the Armada are dominated by other figures. War with Spain had set a premium on martial virtues. Young and eager men like Walter Raleigh and Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, quarreled for permission to lead enterprises against the Spaniards. The Queen hesitated. She knew that the security she had striven for all her life was very fragile. She knew the danger of provoking the might of Spain, backed as it was by all the wealth of the Indies. She was growing old and out of touch with the younger generation, and her quarrel with Essex marked and revealed her changing mood......
The immense vitality displayed by the Queen throughout the troublous years of her rule in England ebbed slowly and relentlessly away. She lay for days upon a heap of cushions in her room. For hours the soundless agony was prolonged. The corridors without echoed with the hurrying of agitated feet. At last Robert Cecil dared to speak. "Your Majesty, to content the people you must go to bed." "Little man," came the answer, "is 'must' a word to use to princes?" The old Archbishop of Canterbury, Whitgift, her "little black husband," as she had once called him, knelt praying at her side. In the early hours of the morning of March 24, 1603, Queen Elizabeth died.
Thus ended the Tudor dynasty. For over a hundred years, with a handful of bodyguards, they had maintained their sovereignty, kept the peace, baffled the diplomacy and onslaughts of Europe, and guided the country through changes which might well have wrecked it. Parliament was becoming a solid affair based on a working§harmony between Sovereign, Lords and Commons, and the Traditions of English monarchical government had been restored and gloriously enhanced. But these achievements carried no guarantee of their perpetuation. The monarchy could only govern if it was popular. The Crown was now to pass to an alien Scottish line, hostile in political instincts to the class which administered England. The good understanding with Parliament which the Tudors had nourished came to a fretful close. The news kings soon clashed with the forces of a growing nation, and out of this conflict came the Civil War, the Republican interlude, the Restoration and the Revolution settlement.
TO BE CONTINUED