Today’s installment concludes The Reign of Elizabeth I of England,
our selection from an article in Great Events by Famous Historians, Volume 10 by Henry R. Cleveland published in 1905. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
If you have journeyed through all of the installments of this series, just one more to go and you will have completed a selection from the great works of four thousand words. Congratulations!
Previously in The Reign of Elizabeth I of England.
From all these difficulties and impending calamities, the nation gathered a harvest of glory that alone would make her name famous forever. It is with a feeling of joy and exultation that we trace the history of England during these years of terror and of triumph. We behold her extricating herself from embarrassments that seemed endless, and turning them into the means of safety; encouraging and supporting her allies without exhausting her own resources, and finally crushing the vast engines which were put into operation for her destruction.
The blood quickens in our veins, as we read of the wisdom and the sublime moral courage, of the daring adventure, the romantic enterprise, the chivalrous bravery, and the brilliant triumphs of that age of great men. We see Cecil and Wotton negotiating with Scotland so wisely as to win the confidence and affection of that nation, and to destroy the influence of France in that country forever; Walsingham, fathoming the secrets of the French court, or watching in silence, but certainty, the progress of conspiracies at home, and crushing them on the eve of maturity; the Queen, with a prudence which seems almost sublime, rejecting a second time the proffer of the sovereignty of Holland; Drake, circumnavigating the earth, and returning laden with the spoils of conquered fleets and provinces; Cavendish, coming up the Thames to London, with sails of damask and cloth of gold, and his men arrayed in costly silks; Lancaster, dashing his boats to pieces on the strand of Pernambuco, that he might leave his men no alternative but death or victory; Raleigh, plunging into the fire of the Spanish galleots, and fighting his way through overwhelming numbers, with a courage that rivalled the incredible tales of chivalry, planting colonies in the pleasantest vales of the New World, or ascending the Orinoco in search of the fabled Dorado; Sidney, gallantly returning from battle on his war-horse, though struggling with the agony of his death-wound, and giving the cup of cold water to the wounded soldier, with those noble words which would alone be enough to preserve his memory forever; Essex, tossing his cap into the sea for very joy when the command is given, in compliance with his earliest entreaties, for the assault on Cadiz, and with that failing of memory so becoming to a brave man, forgetting the cautions of his sovereign, and rushing into the thickest of the fight; the naval supremacy of England completely established by the defeat of the Armada, and the great deep itself made a monument of the nation’s glory.
The boast of the age of Elizabeth was the splendid specimens of humanity which it produced. “There were giants in those days.” Individuals seemed to condense in themselves the attainments of hosts. The accomplishments and prowess of the men of those times inspire us with something like the feeling of wonder with which the soldier of the present day handles the sword of Robert Bruce, or the gigantic armor of Guy of Warwick. When we read the beautiful verses “addressed to the author of the Faerie Queene,” by Raleigh, it is difficult to believe that they were penned by the same person whose system of tactics was adopted so triumphantly at the Spanish invasion; who was equally eminent as a general, a seaman, an explorer, and a historian; and who shone unsurpassed for knightly graces and accomplishments amid the stars of the court. Such instances were not rare and prodigious. Raleigh was not the Crichton of his age; if the compliment belongs to anyone peculiarly, it is Sidney; but as we read over the list of distinguished persons to whom Spenser addressed dedicatory stanzas to be “sent with the Faerie Queene,” we become more and more at a loss to distinguish the greatest among them; and we could believe that many ages had been searched for so noble a catalogue.
The principles which formed society were precisely such as were best calculated for the finest developments of character. The old high, fervid spirit of chivalry was not lost; there were the same sense of honor, the same knightly bearing, the same passion for glory, and the same admiration for courage and prowess that had prevailed in the earlier days of its sway. But these were tempered by milder and more attractive virtues and accomplishments; the clerkly learning, which had held so humble a rank in the days when nobles could scarcely sign their names, had now risen into far higher estimation. Great warriors were now no longer ashamed to know how to read and write; on the contrary, the possession of learning and literature, the delicate arts of poetry and music, the graces of conversation and manners, were now as requisite to the full accomplishment of the knight, as his horsemanship, or his skill in the management of his lance. In a word, the sterner characteristics of the ancient knight were softened down, in the age of Elizabeth, into the more perfect and graceful attributes of the gentleman. The perfect gentleman was more completely exhibited in the days of Elizabeth than at any time before; for the chivalry and the accomplishments which were then united in the same individual, had been formerly divided between the noble and the churchman or the clerk.
Were we called upon to characterize the age in which Spenser lived, by a single word, we could find none that would better express its combined attributes, than the word which the poet uses in describing his principal hero: “In the person of Prince Arthure,” says he in his letter to Raleigh, “I set forth magnificence.” The age of Elizabeth was distinguished by magnificence, in the highest sense of the word, by the most brilliant display of great qualities of all kinds; and the hero of the Faerie Queene seems to be the personification of the splendid attributes of the age. A prevailing sentiment, in the mind of Spenser, was the perfectness of character to which the gentlemen of his time aspired, and on this model he fashioned his hero. He observes that “the general end, therefore, of all the books is to fashion a gentleman or noble person in gentle and virtuous discipline.” And again, “I labor to pourtraict in Arthure, before he was King, the image of a brave knight, perfected in the twelve moral virtues.” And as we read the gorgeous description of the prince, when he first meets the forsaken Una, we could fancy that the magnificent characteristics of the golden age of England had blended together, and blazed forth in one dazzling form before us.
This ends our series of passages on The Reign of Elizabeth I of England by Henry R. Cleveland from his article in Great Events by Famous Historians, Volume 10 published in 1905. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.
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