321 Fin de Siecle



The final years of Elizabeth’s reign inevitably have the sense of the end of an era; she retreated to her chambers, court was no longer the attraction it had been, dearth stalked the land. But her reign had seen such changes as would deeply influence England’s future.

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A Book Recommendation 


If you’d like to hear more about the life of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, Sarah Beth Watkins’ biography is excellent, readable and a good balance between detail and narrative.


Right, then, 34 episodes after a young dynamic woman rode through the streets of London joshing with the crowd to become Queen of England, we have arrived at a plot spoiler. If you do not want to hear the plot spoiler, please turn away now. OK? Right, although we start this episode with 1 queen called Elizabeth on the throne of England, by the time we finish, there will be one less queen called Elizabeth by the end. If you read between the lines of this sophisticated riddle, I figure you’ll get the message. OK, you can come back out now.

We’ve been distracted by a few things, so let me go back a step, to make sure this episode both starts and ends with a death – not saying who dies at the end by the way. In August 1598, Elizabeth’s right hand man shuffled off this mortal coil, gone to meet his maker to perform the parrot sketch, 77 years old, and Elizabeth had lost her most devoted and competent servant. William Cecil is a hero in a particularly renaissance mould; fiercely intelligent and a powerful intellect, deeply political and capable at all times of making hard decisions. Totally loyal to the queen and completely committed to the charge as he saw it of preserving her protestant kingdom from a sea of enemies. A man of wide talents and thoroughly combative, and yet a moderating influence on hawks like Leicester; who worked every hour God gave him, and yet thoroughly enriched himself on the way. And left two magnificent houses as testament to his wealth and learning, one of which survives at Burghley and must be one of the most stunning stately homes in England. The contemporary antiquarian William Camden’s judgement is the stuff of eulogies, but not far off

…adorned with learning, a singular man for honesty, gravity, temperance, industry and justice. Hereunto were added a fluent and elegant speech  (and that not affected but plain and easy) wisdom strengthened by experience and seasoned with exceeding moderation and most approved fidelity; but above all, a singular piety towards God. To speak in a word, the Queen was most happy in so great a counsellor, and to his wholesome counsels the state of England shall forever be beholden

After death of Dudley and many of Elizabeth’s longest standing Privy Counsellors, Cecil’s enemies, particularly the Earl of Essex, had chafed against his complete dominance of government business and the ear of the Queen. His death did nothing to release the Cecil grip, because by that stage Robert Cecil had stepped into the breach, a chip off the old block, a man as clever and political as his father, but probably more unscrupulous, more of a political schemer. Physically, Cecil made a stark contrast with the tall, good looking Essex, for he had a crooked spine and was short – the Queen with the utterly bullet proof sensitivity of the very powerful called him her little elf. How he must have laughed. But unlike the subtle Cecil, Essex was hot headed, impulsive; described by his supporter Francis Bacon as ‘a man of nature not to be ruled’. Essex was an aristo, and he expected to rule, expected to be honoured by the queen, and had none of the previous favourite, Robert Dudley’s maturity and basic solidity to be able to negotiate the shoals of his mistresses caprice and teasing. Robert’s Cecil’s domination of power absolutely drove him up the wall of fury’s fire; but Essex, although he used patronage as well as he could to build a faction, was not rich, and found it difficult to reward his followers.

Furthermore, with the exception of a filled hose and a well turned ankle, Essex was not clever at managing his queen. In 1597, he managed to get into an argument with her, by suggesting an appointment for Ireland who he clearly disliked – an attempt to pass a poisoned chalice to an enemy. Elizabeth saw through it straight away, and was furious at his idiocy, they argued and in his fury, Essex turned his back on his queen, which you just don’t do – take a note for your next meeting with a monarch. Well this got Elizabeth proper blazing, she screamed insults and she actually boxed his ears – shades of her father beating Thomas Cromwell round the head there. Essex swore he would never have accepted such insults from her father let alone her; there’s a gender thing at play here, obviously, as well as the general humiliation. As he was saying it he – wait for it – put his hand on his sword. Aaagh what in the lord’s name are you doing, the Earl of Nottingham, Lord Howard of the Armada to you and me, dragged him out before the Queen could recover from her shock. The fact that Essex survived gives you a good idea how enamoured of him the Queen was. But this then is the context to Essex and his appointment to command in Ireland. Essex didn’t have the patience and character to build a position at court and repair fences; for him it had to be the big gesture, the drama. What can I say – he’s an Elizabethan nobleman, that’s the way they were made.

So, that is the background to Essex’s panicked flight from Ireland; his big gesture had ended up in a cow pat, and he had made a deal the Queen had forbidden him to make with Tyrone. So he threw up his command and on 24th September 1599 he took flight for Nonsuch palace, to use his personal charm in a last ditch attempt to win round his queen. A pretty desperate venture, given he’d not mentioned the fact that he was deserting his post to the queen.

Speed was of the essence; as he returned Lord Grey managed to get in the way and tried to stop him, but Essex ploughed on – while Grey legged it to Robert Cecil. Cecil made haste to the Queen’s side – but Essex had beaten him to it, and pushed his way into the Queen’s chambers where the queen was in a state of undress. I mean this is nuclear stuff in Early Modern Europe. Plenty of people have made a connection between Essex’s fall and the Queen’s obsession in her later years with her physical appearance, spending hours every day on make sup and wearing more and more dramatic dresses; there’s a suggestion her response was heightened driven by this exposure in a state not designed for a public audience, a feeling of humiliation at being seen in a vulnerable state.

In fact, Elizabeth managed the situation in a masterly way, staying cool as this nutter barged in to her private apartments, against every possible convention. She talked him down, and he left. Later she allowed him to return, they talked things through – and then she dismissed him. He did not know it, but she had just dismissed him from her presence for ever.

The next day, Essex was grilled by the PC, and although the queen allowed his hearing to be in a private specially commissioned court, Essex’s career was firmly on the rocks – he was banished from court, lost most of his lucrative monopolies and had no way therefore to service his £16,000 debt, and his protégés slowly began drifting away. By 1600, the knives were out and rumours abounded that Essex had cut a dishonourable deal with Tyrone and planned rebellion; a secret correspondence between Essex and the likely successor James VI of Scotland was presented as treasonable. In fact, Essex was just a fool, probably not a knave, and the likes of Walter Ralegh were working against him in a poisonous atmosphere at court. Denied money, access to the source of patronage at court, filled with a towering sense of his own worth – Essex was desperate.

By this stage Francis Bacon had taken one look at the situation and scuttled off down the nearest available hawser onto shore as it felt the ship of Essex beginning to settle and reside gentle on the sea of politics; his brother Anthony Bacon was made of sterner stuff and stayed on the Bridge. Also on the bridge were other Essex fans, the Earl of Southampton for example, his wife Frances and his sister Penelope. Essex was ill by December though, the doctors reporting that

they found his liver stopped and perished … his Intrailes and Guttes were exculcerated

I have no idea what an exculcerated gut is, but it doesn’t sound as though you want one to be honest. The Queen softened a little, allowing him to return to Essex House on the Strand, and postponed his trial from 7th February, but Essex was in a right old lather. The trial eventually went ahead and Essex was grilled by Edward Coke before being sent home. The Queen blew hot and cold, and kept him banned from court, but lifted the house arrest.

Well, that was like a clarion call for malcontents, although should I call it a dog whistle maybe, just to stay up to date. Men like the earls of Rutland, Southampton, Bedford and Sussex and Lords Sandys, Cromwell and Mounteagle, Robert Catesby and Francis Tresham, the last 2 being later Gunpowder Plotters. Generally they were young, in debt, and excluded from the top table by the old guard. Essex was essentially running a rival court from August 1601.

By February, they were at fever pitch and ready to march on the court and demand access to the queen, and clear away from her the evil counsellors. It so happened that on 8th February 4 Privy Councillors came to call at the Strand to get him to come to court for judgement – and by ‘eck did they get a shock -there were 300 men arming themselves and they were quickly locked away before things got ugly. Down to the city marched the 300, rather oddly, rather than heading for Whitehall – probably because Essex hoped the sheriff would bring him his 1000 militia men. As they marched, the streets towards Whitehall were chained off which seemed to rob Essex of his plan – not sure what he expected, rose petals strewn in his path maybe, but he meanwhile received a ‘not on your nelly’ from the Militiamen, so raising oddness and incompetence to truly herculean levels, Essex took a pause in his rebellion to sit down for a spot of lunch with the Sheriff, while his 300 milled about and twiddled their thumbs. During which twiddling many of them realised they’d marched out with a person matching the description attached to me the other day by one of my family, namely, an absolute twit. And began to melt, as you do, melt away.

Absurdity moved gently along the scale to farce; after a nice spot of eats, Essex tried to march again and found the way blocked by the Queen’s men, so he did a Lindisfarne and ran for home – nope, also blocked now. So they headed for the River and boats. Essex fell into the Thames as it happens, which I think was a nice touch, was pulled out, floated back to Essex House, to be arrested with his remaining pals by the Lord Admiral. A more laughable, incompetent rebellion you could not wish to see. Seriously.

There’s more, and if you would like a thoroughly readable account of Essex’s life, I suggest Elizabeth’s Last Favourite by Sarah Beth Watkins. But the long and short was a trial on 17th February where Essex pleaded not guilty, and was grilled by the dream team, Edward Coke and Francis Bacon, a pair generally speaking who found it difficult to be in the same room without scratching each other’s eyes out. There could be only one result.

Locked up, Essex descended into snake territory. His sister Penelope had been tireless in writing to the queen on his behalf; when asked to dish the dirt on other conspirators, all Essex would say was this

I must accuse one who is most nearest to me, my sister, who did continually urge me on with telling how all my friends and followers thought me a coward, and that I had lost all my valour. She must be looked to, for she hath a proud spirit

Well you…rat. Penelope fought her corner with wit and wisdom, so lord knows what percentage of her genes she shared with her brother, and eventually was cleared of any suspicion. She wrote to the Queen

It is known that I have been more like a slave than a sister, which proceeded out of my exceeding love rather than his authority…so strangely have I been wronged, as may well be an argument to make one despise the world, finding the smoke of envy where affection should be cleare. [1]

Essex was executed on 25th February; extraordinarily he was popular with the crowds, who there took agin Ralegh, who was seen watching the execution from a window, laughing, joking and smoking. The Queen apparently showed no emotion as the news was brought to her, and just kept thumping away playing her Virginal.



The war with Spain meanwhile wandered on, though it’s complexion had changed; the war in the low countries was much more static; despite his determination to start his reign with a major victory, Philip III’s campaigns in 1598 and 1599 were marked by the problems of planning and supply that plagued the Spanish war effort. A fresh armada bound for Ireland got no further than the Azores; a new offensive in the UP foundered due to lack of money and consequent mutiny in the Spanish army which saw a number of towns sold back to the Dutch by their garrisons. Now that France was no longer involved in the war, Elizabeth was determined to minimise costs; in 1598 she re-negotiated the relationship with the UP. After much squabbling about the amount of money the English had or had not loaned, the Dutch finally agreed the amount they would recognise; and the English army was transferred into Dutch control, and formed a unit in the Dutch army paid by the UP. They fought in the victories at Turnhout and Nieuwport; and the Dutch were allowed to recruit in England. Many English died in the ultimately unsuccessful defense of Ostend from 1601-4. A few general observations. If you listen very carefully, I suspect you would be able to hear the cracking of Elizabeth’s arm as it was twisted by her PC and court to support the Dutch, with repeated exclamations of ‘Oh go on then’, but despite this sometimes grudging and qualified support from the English, and sometime incompetent and downright treacherous military intervention, English support for the Dutch Revolt played a central role in its success. Secondly, by the time of Elizabeth’s death and the fall of Ostend it had become clear that Flanders and the UP would not be re-united in any kind of independent state. The possibility still remained though, at least in the minds of Phillip and his new thoroughly competent military commander there, Spinola, of the return the UP to obedience to the Spanish crown, and the war would continue.

The war at sea also continued, but there were few more opportunities for large scale descents on the Spanish coast, and Elizabeth’s parsimony grew ever fiercer.  There was however one remaining royal expedition to the Caribbean, in 1598, and militarily it was very successful, led by Sir George Clifford. He captured San Juan and devastated the colony of Puerto Rico; Elizabeth was delighted. Clifford was less so; given the meanness of Elizabeth’s support, the expedition cost him a fortune, so much sp that he lamented that he’d ‘thrown his lands into the sea’, and he would not be lured away again. In 1602 Leveson hanged around off the Spanish coast and cut out a ship from the flota of that year. But by 1601, the annual expenditure on the navy was £54,000, which was really not very much by comparison with previous years. Now on the one hand, the Navy Board and dockyards of Portsmouth, Woolwich and Chatham which had made such a difference in the war continued to be feared – in 1599 in a panic about a Spanish fleet, 18 Warships were fitted out and put to sea in 12 days; an achievement for which one commentator remarked

The queen was never more dreaded abroad for anything she did

But behind the scenes, contractors could make no money without cutting corners, and corruption was rift, pay for seamen was awful and frequently late, medical support and arrangements for pensioned seamen were far from generous. This was despite at least some attempt to make proper provision in the 1593 Act for the Necessary Relief of Soldiers and Mariners in which each parish was charged with a weekly sum towards the relief of sick, hurt and maimed soldiers and mariners. By the end of the reign it was commonplace for potential recruits to swear they’d rather be hanged than perform service in the Queen’s navy.

However, the privately funded war continued; one great impact of the wars was the enormous expansion of England’s merchant fleets. Sharp Eyed professional investors ran the war for profit; many of the ships’ captains were in fact investors, not mariners. Privateering in the Atlantic and around the British Isles ran riot, although some continued to the Caribbean too, and money was made in vast quantities, especially enriching the City of London. The merchant  fleets grew from 20 ships of over 200 tons, to close to 100 by 1600. It’s been estimated that prize goods equalled around 10—15% of legal international trade. Two things worth noting here then; the damage to Spanish trade from privateering was massive; 20 years of privateering combined with constant demands for taxation from the Spanish crown bled white the merchant fleet of Spain and wrecked the Basque and Cantabrian ports; 300 years later, these ports had still not recovered their strength of the 1570s. In the Caribbean but also to an extent even in the Mediterranean, much of the trade fell into Dutch, English and French carriers.

The other contention is that London and London Merchants were so greatly enriched by the war with Spain that the foundations were laid for colonial exploration and the establishment of colonies in the 17th century. The London merchant John Watts owned up to having made £32,000 in 1591; Christopher Newport sacked 4 towns and took 19 prizes in 1592. In 1602 William Parker took the newly re-fortified Porto Bello. For the first time, then, England had a merchant fleet capable of long-distance trade, and London had the skills, capital and ambition to back that trade. The vision of England’s critical international trade and the focus of the merchant fleet had always been on Flanders and the wool and cloth trade; at the start of the period also I had talked about how at last, Elizabethan England had identified the strategic importance of the fleet for defence. But now, without wanting to be pretentious and all that, I might suggest a sort of drum roll in the background, or given the global impacts of colonisation some more ominous music might be in order. Because it seems to me that here is the real significance of the Anglo Spanish war; from defence and cross channel trade and a bit of local privateering, For the English the sea had become much, much more than a defence against a hostile world. Now it had become a genuine national endeavour for nobility, gentry and mercantile classes, and in Walter Ralegh’s words the means

To seek new worlds for gold, for praise for glory[2]

Roll credits…and…cut. Well done everyone, great job, everyone down to the post match party…




While we are on this sort of impact of the Elizabethan age thingy. This seems like a good time to talk about English nationalism, because that’s always been something of a thing for which Elizabethan England has been credited. There are a lot of quotes I could throw at you and here are a couple, first one from Professor Hale in 1904

In no other century of English History was the national feeling more deeply roused and exalted than in the latter part of the 16th century…

The valor of England was then just over brimming; it could not conceive itself defeated or shamed. It could only imagine itself coming and seeing and conquering. It felt its strength in every limb. It could not dream of failure and ruin.[3]

I feel the need to warn against chronological snobbery; I can feel my embarrassment rising at such language, but hey, this is 1904 and who’s to say such views, attitudes and outlooks were in any way inferior to those of 21st. And relatively recently it remains a trope that nationalism and unity was a core part of the Elizabethan world. In 1992, Greenfield wrote

It is a commonplace in contemporary literary history to note the remarkable, indeed striking in its omnipresence and intensity, nationalism in English literature

Whig historians assumed a triangular structure to Elizabethan nationalism of crown, Anglican church and the nation, and assumed in particular that it was embodied in the person of the queen. The historian Norman Davies recognised this myth of Tudor Englishness, which had been elaborated by Protestants of the 17th and 18th centuries, and he wrote of

the deification of the English monarchy as a focus for the foundation of English Protestantism and of modern English Patriotism

So, I would just like to point out that while it surely can’t be argued that there is much patriotic content in literature at this time, the story is rather more nuanced. Obviously, this should come after I have read out John of Gaunt’s speech

This happy breed of men, this little world,

This precious stone set in the silver sea,

And so on, while dancing around my shed listening to Jerusalem and waving my Flag of St George, and let me say that I would be more than happy and unapologetic so to do, maybe quoted Gareth Southgate as I go. And there is no doubt that there is a mass of other strongly patriotic literature – I might point to the expansionist work of John Dee and Richard Hakluyt we have talked about in previous episodes. But there is nuance in this story in the same way as there is in Gaunt’s speech, which was of course all about declinism

That England, that was wont to conquer others,

Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.

So the speech is less about England’s greatest, and more about her fall from former glory.

The first point to make is that the concatenation of Monarch and National feeling is highly questionable, from point of view of both monarch and subject. Elizabeth was more than happy to make appeals to patriotism when required; but she was also very aware that nationalism could cut two ways; that there were many in her kingdom who did not, in fact, believe that country and monarch were the same thing, and that loyalty to the country could be used instead against the monarch. And it was so used; for example when parliament tried to persuade her that she really ought to top Mary Stuart they declaimed

She is only cousin to you in a remote degree; but we be sons of the children of this land, whereof you be not only the natural mother but the wedded spouse

Parliament is suggesting here that Elizabeth’s dynastic concerns should be outweighed by the needs of the country. There was also a strong tradition of allegiance to Protestantism rather than to monarch, as there was in Scotland; so, that allegiance to God outweighed that owed to the monarch; John Ponet argued that Queen Mary’s religion meant she could and should be overthrown; as the reformation gathered strength, the same conviction grew in English Catholic circles – most notably in the case of William Allen, working with the Pope to have Elizabeth removed as a heretic. And for folks like John Foxe, whose Acts and Monuments is seen as a work forging a link between England and Protestantism, was clear that God’s judgement could be deployed in

Overthrowing tyrants, in confounding pride, in altering states and kingdoms, in conserving religion against errors and dissensions, in relieving the Godly, in bridling the wicked, in loosing and tying up again of Satan the disturber of commonweals

Again, allegiance to God outweighed allegiance to monarch.

Elizabeth therefore tried very consciously to reforge the link between monarchy and patriotism; but sought to do it on her own terms. An example might be in the attempt by protestant leaders to make her a champion of Protestantism; an example is the Ditchly portrait after the armada – her hand is firmly placed on England, whereas in a Dutch image of the time, it is the world that is emphasised by the placing of her hand. At various points Elizabeth emphasises the loyalty due to her as queen rather than to country; official pronouncements like those of Walter Mildmay tried to make the connection indivisible

England our native country, one of the most renowned monarchies in the world

England = monarch sort of thing.

While we are on Protestantism and church as a core part of English identity, it’s also worth noting that actually the protestant religion had a wide vein of internationalism rather than a parochial English focus, just as did Catholicism; the English did not see Protestantism as something distinctive to the English, they were part of a European movement. I remember reading one of those annoying throwaway lines from the author William Dalymple, using Reformation as a sort of sneering parallel with Brexit, England cutting themselves of from the continent sort of thing. Nothing could be further from the truth. Protestantism was a European endeavour, they recognised a community of spirit with Christendom; Shakespeare’s Henry V in his love scene with Catherine of Valois talks about going on crusade, another endeavour of Christendom. Crusade is of course also an essential part of any profession of love, had only Mr Darcy realised it.

There are many other ways in which Elizabethan Patriotism varied from the traditional model of nationalism. General one national language is seen as a core element of national feeling; but despite modern claims and complaints, actually there is no sign in the Tudor state that other languages in the archipelago were repressed. It’s often said that the unition of England and Wales did indeed aim to do this; but the aim of requirement for law courts to conduct business in English and for office holders in Wales to speak English were not an attempt to repress the language, but to improve administrative efficiency and reduce the possibility of errors and confusion. Similar moves took place in France and Scotland for example; in France in 1539, the Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts demanded the use of the Langue d’oil in all legal acts and contracts; and in Scotland, clan chiefs were told by their king to educate their eldest child to speak English; actually the Scottish parliament went further than the Tudors, declaring its stated desire to eradicate the Gaelic language.

The Tudors in fact made provision for the majority who spoke only Welsh; translators were provided in court, royal proclamations were required to be made in Welsh. They also encouraged the development of protestant religious material in Welsh, including Bishop William Morgan’s Welsh Bible through a statute of 1563. Nor was Welsh culture marginalised; in particular Welsh culture was embedded in the reputation of the outrageously popular History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth. The Elizabethan poet Michael Drayton wrote

And Wales as well as haughty England boasts

Of Camelot and all her Pentecosts

To have precedence in Pendragon’s Race

At Arthur’s table challenging the place

And he then went on to talk about Welsh victories and to compliment the language.

It’s similar for Cornish; although there’s no development of a Cornish bible, there is a recognition of the problem in a specific concession that where language was a problem with the church service, Latin could be used as was traditional. In addition, there’s little sign of the Xenophbia supposedly inherent in the promotion of English; indeed, the English took pride in the diversity of their languages’ origins; Richard Carew explained

Seeing then we borrow (and that not shamefully) from the Dutch, the Breton, the Dane, the French, the Italyane and the Spaniard, how can our stock be other than plentiful?

The diversity of opinion and basis for loyalty and patriotism was not always only for England either, other loyalties and identities remained powerful. There’s no doubt that by Elizabethan times there was a clear and sharp identification of England as a community to which people belonged and owed allegiance; but regionalism remained strong. For one example of this, in the literature accompanying the defeat of the Armada, it’s clear the authors were expressing their pride with London’s role in delivering the victory.

So look; far be it from me to suggest that Elizabethan England was not a place where a sense of English nationhood burned bright, and where leaders did not use that Patriotism to build unity and support; but it is not the monolithic nationalism born throughout Europe from the 19th century and which has grown so strong since, for good or ill. Elizabethan attitudes were much more universalist, varied and diverse than sometimes has been given credit for.




Indeed the end of Elizabeth’s reign has a real fin de siècle feel to it; and that’s largely I think to do with the increasing expectation that the queen surely couldn’t last much longer, the clogs were must for the popping, especially given the death of so many of her companions and the names who had dominated court life for so long. But it’s also about the increasing parsimony of the state and the struggle to make ends meet. The impacts of Elizabeth’s efforts to save money have been obvious in her foreign arrangements and the way the war at sea was carried out; it also impacted life at court. Elizabeth’s expenditure per year on court were £72,000 whereas for James I they would quickly rise to £100,000; the costs of the war in Ireland and in the Low Countries had sucked up expenditure. To set against this, Elizabeth had a sort of unspoken arrangement with her nobility and the gentry on whom her governance relied; although her nobility had few fiscal privileges, unlike their continental counterparts, Elizabeth refused to update taxation assessments – saving her subjects from ever higher tax burdens. The downside was that she allowed a schlerotic tax raising system to go unreformed, and presented her successors with a serious problem of how to raise appropriate levels of revenue. She also steadfastly refused wheezes that were again common on the continent, such as the sale of offices. But what she did not refuse was the way for her nobles to enrich themselves through commerce, which would also help bred a flexibility of attitude towards commerce in the minds of the Gentry, that were not always present in say France for example– and has been cited as one of the reasons for England and the Dutch Republic’s later growing prosperity.

There were a couple of ways of making commerce pay for her nobles; you might give licences to someone to sell a certain amount of commodities for a knock down price – so a number of dicker of leather for example. I have just this minute learned that a dicker is a unit of measurement for leather amounting to 10 hides, and comes from the Latin Decuria for a pack of 10. Golly. But much more attractive was the grant of a complete monopoly, now that was the way to a surefire fortune; because you could slap whatever price you liked as well as having the trade in your pocket; it was in effect a tax on consumers. There were quite a few of these, and I have to say some of them are really quite specific; a monopoly to sell the livers of fishes was one, to print David’s psalms according to the Hebrew text another. Many were more obvious – to make saltpetre, or glasses, or print almanacks. The recipients of monopolies loved this. Everyone else hated it, and the PC knew it. Robert Cecil described monopolies as

For the most part contentious and grievous to the subject, chiefly such as the poorer sort

The scum of discontent rose to the top of the pot in the parliament of 1601, Elizabeth sort of headed things off basically, expressing horror that the monopolies had got out of hand, promising that the PC would now monitor them and close any down that were inappropriate. Elizabeth also demonstrated that she still knew how to play the crowd with what became known as her Golden Speech, including a love note

I do assure you there is no prince which loveth his subjects better, or whose love can countervail our love, and though God hath raised me high, yet this I count the glory of my crown, that I have reigned with your love

By this time though, Elizabeth was feeling her age. Essex’s rebellion had hit her hard in a way; more and more she kept to her private apartments; John Harrington wrote that she found it difficult to cope any more with matters of state

‘Every new message from the city doth disturb her … the many evil plots and designs have overcome all her Highness’ sweet temper.’

Reading the writing on the wall, her court became less of an attraction, and her courtiers concentrated instead on the new boy in the north.

‘The court was very much neglected, and in effect the people were generally weary of an old woman’s government,’

Wrote one. One day she made the mistake of looking in a mirror, something she’d resisted for 20 years, and the experience was not a happy one, leaving her yelling against all her courtiers who had flattered her for so long. When John Harrington visited her he found

‘a lady shut up in a chamber from her subjects and most of her servants, and seldom seen but on holy days.’

Elizabeth retreated to Richmond, and there sunk into her last illness. She refused to lie in her bed and instead lay on the floor on a pile of cushions

‘holding her finger almost continually in her mouth, with her eyes open and fixed upon the ground, where she sat on cushions without rising or resting herself, and was greatly emaciated by her long watching and fasting.’

By March 1603, Elizabeth had been persuaded to retire to bed, but that seemed to be an end to it; Elizabeth’s glands were swollen she was unable to speak. Of course everyone was desperate to know who was her heir, and there are a few tales about his, including one where Lord Howard asked if James should be her heir, and she wordlessly drew her finger round her head to indicate a crown.  On the evening of 23rd March, the Tudor dynasty at last came to an end.

Well by golly, we have come to the end of Elizabeth’s story. I feel quite emotional as always really; it seems we have walked at Elizabeth’s side for a very long time and what a walk it has been from the self confidence and preciousness of her childhood, to danger of her young adulthood to a reign of 45 years packed with momentous events, themes and changes that would be influential so long after her death such as the growth of nationhood, the start of global exploration, the partnership forged between state and people through the poor laws and justice system. She maybe shares many similarities with the reign of her father in the grandeur and magnificence of her court, and her talent for playing to the galleries; and in the quality of her servants. Henry had Wolsey and Cromwell; Elizabeth had Burghley, Dudley, Walsingham. But such a different way of managing them – not for Elizabeth the toxic infighting for power at the Privy council, however much of a hot house court must have been; public servants who served for year after year without fear of being suddenly and arbitrarily dragged off to the Tower. It’s a bizarre management technique she had – the volatility, the coquetry, sudden furies, the torturous decision making which drove her advisers up the wall but which kept her hand firmly on the tiller of state. And in a man’s world of all English rules this women was one of the most successful.

And then of course there’s the fact of the succession – the extraordinarily significant hand off to the Stuarts, a new dynasty who would bring turbulence to compete with Henry VIII.

[1] Watkin, S-B Elizabeth’s Last Favourite, p132

[2] Rodger, N The Safeguard of the Sea, pp294-296

[3] Brennan, G Power, Patriotism and Print p 23

3 thoughts on “321 Fin de Siecle

  1. Wonderful episode, David, especially in managing the tone and fairly covering a wide range of issues. You cover an astonishing amount of ground, neatly and clearly, in each episode, with a welcome side of wit. You make it sound much easier than I imagine that it is.
    Good to hear Cecil get his funeral honors as Elizabeth’s greatest servant, and not her Svengali (as perhaps Guy sees him). Also very good to hear Elizabeth’s political skills get their due, with hardly any of the tedious sexism of previous centuries. When Essex burst into her chambers, for example, I’ll bet she was far more concerned about finding out just exactly how big a threat to her crown he posed than about any threat to her vanity.
    Whether you want to do the kind of general review following a long reign that you have done before (which is greatly helpful as background), or whether you want to plunge into Jimmy 1 and 6, I look forward eagerly to the next podcast. Thanks so much.

    1. You really are very kind! I was a bit worried about the episode I have to admit – I had so many bits and bobs to tidy up, I feared the narrative would be lost.I’ll do some European context stuff next I think, before on to the Stuarts. But thank you very much!

  2. A bit late but I felt I simply had to thank you David, at the end of the Elizabethan ride, so to speak. It is had indeed been quite the journey 🙂

    Without going into the hagiography that some of her bios have been I do feel its fair to say that she fully deserved her bunch of episodes, and not just in a ”this monarch’s historical importance warrant it” like her dad but in the traditional sense of the word as well!

    I do look forward to the next steps as well, of course 🙂 Overall I do feel that Elizabeth’s reign post-Rising of the Earls and Ridolfi Plot is probably THE moment in English where you get the most Versailles-like feel of political power being centered in one spot as, for all the plots and occasional groanings of Parliament, it has pretty clear that its the queen who fully hold the reins and that what matter for a political career is how much influence and trust she is willing to put on someone…

    That did make for fun court games, so to speak, but it is definitely gonna be fun to see parliament become more assertive and the political arena broaden as a result 🙂

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