Two’s Company, Three’s a Crowd: Part IV
The diplomatic accounts sent to Philip II by his Spanish Ambassador to England, Gómez Suárez de Figueroa, Count de Feria, will be quoted at length as they give such clear and vivid pictures of the events from spring of 1558 until the autumn. Philip, convinced that if his wife Mary I died the preferred successor would be Princess Elizabeth, tried to preserve close ties with the princess while maintaining the upper hand. He had quite a job for himself.
Philip Turns His Attention to Elizabeth—1558
As everyone at Court, except for Queen Mary, realized her pregnancy was a delusion, Philip turned his attention to Elizabeth. He did not have an easy task in convincing his wife to accept her sister as heir. Ambassador Michiel wrote to the Doge of Venice on October 29, 1558, that King Philip had sent over his envoy, Count de Feria to visit the Queen and to convince her that it was better to arrange the marriage of Elizabeth now while they could “prevent the evils which might occur were Lady Elizabeth, seeing herself slighted, to choose after Her Majesty’s death, or perhaps even during her lifetime, to take for her husband some individual who might convulse the whole kingdom into confusion. For many days during which the confessor treated this business, he found the Queen utterly averse to give Lady Elizabeth any hope of the succession, obstinately maintaining that she was neither her sister nor the daughter of the Queen’s father, King Henry, nor would she hear of favouring her, as she was born of an infamous woman, who had so greatly outraged the Queen her mother and herself” (Queen Elizabeth I 242-243).
This was to be done in utmost secrecy for Elizabeth could not be slighted if the Queen would not agree to it. There was also the fear if the French found out it could jeopardize any marriage schemes as the “greater part of England is opposed to the Queen, and most hostile to King Philip and his dependants, and much inclined towards Miladi Elizabeth, who has always shown greater liking for the French faction than for this other” (Queen Elizabeth I 243). As seen in a previous blog, “Two’s Company, Three’s a Crowd: Part III” Mary and Elizabeth were both against a marriage for Elizabeth, albeit for different reasons. Philip may have seen the writing on the wall concerning the Savoy and Swedish marriage proposals but he was not without schemes. He knew he needed to keep Elizabeth in his favor.
When Charles V died in September, Philip wrote to Elizabeth himself to tell her about it. She in turn wrote a reply to him. “Sire and dearest cousin, The honour which your Majesty has done me by sending a gentleman to advertise me of the death of the august Emperor, your father of most glorious memory, agreeably reminds me that your Majesty continues to honour me with that generous good-will which you have been pleased ever to bestow on me, and from which I have felt so much advantage that, in calling to mind these Graces and favours, I can find no other fit means of evincing my gratitude than by earnestly remembering that the life I enjoy is equally the fruit of the Queen my sister’s goodness and of your Majesty’s magnanimous protection” (Queen Elizabeth I 239-240).
Elizabeth went on to tell Philip that she was “employed at present in reading the history of his warlike actions, and his great feats of courage and valour, in order to redouble, by the glorious memory of the father, the veneration and esteem which I have for the son.
“I pray God that amidst the afflictions which such a loss causes you, he may load your life with prosperity and happiness; so shall I ever, with great satisfaction, assure you that I am your Majesty’s very humble servant and sister-in-law, Elizabeth” (Queen Elizabeth I 240).
Mary’s View of Elizabeth
Venetian Ambassador Michiel, who described Mary as “a very great and rare example of virtue and magnanimity, a real portrait of patience and humility,” also was aware of “her evil disposition towards her sister my Lady Elizabeth, which although dissembled, it cannot be denied that she displays in many ways the scorn and ill will she bears her.”
Michiel perceived that “what disquiets her most of all is to see the eyes and hearts of the nation already fixed on this lady as successor to the Crown, from despair of descent from the Queen, to see the illegitimate child of a criminal who was punished as a public strumpet, on the point of inheriting the throne with better fortune than herself, whose descent is rightful, legitimate, and regal. Besides this the Queen’s hatred is increased by knowing her to be averse to the present religion, that she has recanted, she is nevertheless supposed to dissemble, and to hold to it more than ever internally” (Brown VI May 1557 884).
Philip was up against a strong force. Mary truly wanted to be a loving and obedient wife, which would have meant following in with Philip’s plans of complete reconciliation with Elizabeth and, more importantly, announcing her as heir. Mary preferred to wait and let events unravel. She still held hope that she would have her own child or, if that would not be the case, then “referring the matter after her death to those whom it concerns either by right or by force” (Brown VI May 1557 884). This was at complete variance with Philip who “it cannot be supposed will choose to delay until then, nor remain at the mercy of the English and their divisions, he would therefore wish to secure himself immediately and proclaim the heir” (Brown VI May 1557 884). Yet, where Elizabeth was concerned there was too much anger, jealousy and distrust on Mary’s side to overcome.
Why were these feelings of Mary’s so difficult to submerge? Let us return to Ambassador Michiel’s report. Elizabeth is described physically as very attractive and as “a young woman, whose mind is considered no less excellent than her person; and her intellect and understanding are wonderful, as she showed very plainly by her conduct when in danger and under suspicion.” It is of Michiel’s opinion that “as a linguist she excels the Queen” speaking Latin, Greek, and Italian. Perhaps Mary would not feel overshadowed by these skills, except as the Ambassador shrewdly related that everybody believed Elizabeth resembled King Henry VIII “more than the Queen” and “he therefore always liked her and had her brought up in the same way as the Queen.” This perhaps could have been easier to swallow for Mary, but she was aware “that she [Elizabeth] was born of such a mother,” and that Elizabeth believed she was no less legitimate than Mary was (Brown VI May 1557 884).
Elizabeth by Steven van der Meulen, 1563
Added to Elizabeth’s faults, was the fact that Mary had to be aware that as the years passed, “there is not a lord or gentleman in the kingdom who has failed, and continues endeavouring, to enter her service himself or to place one of his sons or brothers in it, such being the love and affection borne her” (Brown VI May 1557 884). Michiel explained that Elizabeth was always in need of money “and would be much more so did she not steadily restrain herself to avoid any increase of the Queen’s hatred and anger”; therefore, she did not increase the number of servants or add expenditures of any kind.
When requested to take on household members, Elizabeth would decline pleading her relative state of poverty and “by this astute and judicious apology she adroitly incites a tacit compassion for herself and consequently yet greater affection, as it seems strange and vexatious to everybody that being the daughter of a King she should be treated and acknowledged so sparingly” (Brown VI May 1557 884).
An example of Mary’s anger we have seen in her frustration in having to give way to the daughter of Anne Boleyn and her jealousy showed in her annoyance of Elizabeth’s skills and popularity. An example of her distrust is perfectly illustrated over Elizabeth’s professed religious convictions. Ambassador Michiel, recognized the danger to Catholicism if Elizabeth succeeded as she would “reverse of what the Queen has done, this seeming to her a sort of revenge. Besides this, she would think that nothing could render her more popular, independently of her own interest through the restitution to herself and to the Crown of all those revenues amounting to upwards of 60,000l., of which the Queen has deprived it. And “and above all she would withdraw the obedience to the Pope, were it solely for the sake of not seeing money go out of the kingdom” (Brown VI May 1557 884).
Perhaps Mary’s policy should have been to remove Elizabeth from her realm. The Queen’s reluctance to acknowledge Elizabeth’s legitimacy via a diplomatic marriage kept her sister in the kingdom. Maybe a reversal of her decision would have eased many of her concerns. Below is a lengthy extract from a diplomatic dispatch between Count Feria, the Spanish Ambassador to England and Philip II explaining the events of May 1558.
May 1, 1558, de Feria to King Philip II
“An ambassador of the King of Sweden came here recently. He appears to be a learned man. Several days passed without his having audience of the Queen or even demanding it. His mission appears to consist of two parts: one about commercial affairs between England and Sweden, and the other to negotiate a match between the Lady Elizabeth and the King of Sweden’s son, for which purpose he brought a letter from the young man accrediting him to the Lady. Before he had been received by the Queen, he went to present his letter to the Lady Elizabeth. The Queen is writing to you on the subject; and as I have heard from her all I know about it I need say no more. She fancies herself very much where this matter is concerned. She was angry with me the other day when she knew that I was sending a servant of mine to Antwerp on my own business, thinking that I meant to write to your Majesty before she had done so about this matrimonial affair. She spoke to me very severely.
Eric XIV of Sweden by Steven van der Meulen, 1561
“When this ambassador first arrived, the Queen was greatly distressed, thinking that your Majesty would blame her because the match proposed a year ago [to Philip’s choice, Emmanuel Philibert, Duke of Savoy] had not come off. Now that the Lady Elizabeth has answered that she does not wish to marry, the Queen has calmed down; but she takes a most passionate interest in the affair. She now realises that her pregnancy has come to nothing, and seems afraid your Majesty will urge her to take a decision (about marrying off Elizabeth). Figueroa and I think your Majesty ought to do this, grasping the occasion supplied by this ambassador and the pregnancy matter, but it must not be raised at the same time as the military affair, for that might spoil everything. I do not think the Queen will wish to prevent Elizabeth from succeeding, in case God grants no issue to your Majesties” (Tyler XIII May 1558 425).
Official Response to Swedish Proposals
While in Brussels, Philip wrote a response to de Feria on May 7, 1558.
“I am answering your letter in my own hand, as you will see. You will also see that I am writing to the Privy Council about the four points raised by the Swedish ambassador on behalf of his King concerning trade between England and Sweden. As the terms he proposes are harsh and impracticable, you will try to get them to temporise, keeping me informed of anything they may intend to do so that I may signify my pleasure to them” (Tyler XIII May 1558 429) .
On May 18, 1558, Ambassador Feria, ever the conscientious diplomat, informed his king of the merry-go-round of events in England. “They tell me that with this courier they are sending a report to your Majesty, with the reply they think of making to the Swedish Ambassador. What the Swede is trying to do will come to nothing.
“I have already written to your Majesty that I did not see the Lady Elizabeth when she was here. As my principal support in negotiating the matters I was sent here for was the Queen’s goodwill, I thought I had better avoid upsetting her, especially as your Majesty had not given me any special instructions” (Tyler XIII May 1558 435).
Feria clarified that he had sent word to Elizabeth that he had permission from the king to visit her and asked another courtier, referred to as Paget and it is assumed to be Charles Paget, to offer his excuses for not meeting her earlier. It appears that Paget rather fumbled the job. Feria explained that he had asked one of the women close to Elizabeth if Paget had done so and she told him “that he asked the Lady Elizabeth whether I had been to see her, and that when she said I had not, he expressed great surprise and said nothing further.” Now in a bit of a tricky situation Feria decided, “I do not think that things ought to be left there, but that it would be well that I should go and see her before I leave the country; she lives twenty miles from here. As your Majesty is fully informed, you will send me instructions. If I am to see her, you must write about it to the Queen” (Tyler XIII May 1558 435).
Since Count de Feria appeared to be anxious about Mary’s reception to the news that he had gone to visit Elizabeth. It is obvious his commission dealt with the sensitive topics of either the succession or a possible marriage for Elizabeth. Regardless, Philip did agree to Feria’s perception that Mary had to be informed of his actions with the unwritten idea that Mary would be angry at such an overture. Several days later Feria received word from Philip saying “I approve of your intention not to leave England without visiting the Lady Elizabeth. I am writing to the Queen that I have instructed you to do so, and that she is to speak to you in the same sense. Thus I hope that the Queen will take it well.
“The Council have written to me how they intend to answer the Swedish Ambassador. Their reply seems to me satisfactory, except that I should like to have them add that they were not pleased with his going to make a proposal to the Lady Elizabeth without the Queen’s knowledge, and that in future neither he nor anyone else on his master’s behalf should come to negotiate such matters without informing the Queen in advance, for if they did, the Queen would greatly resent it and could not fail to show her resentment in some appropriate manner” (Tyler XIII May 1558 440).
Elizabeth, in the ‘Gripsholm Portrait’ –a painting done specifically for Erik of Sweden.
Obviously, Philip had written Count Feria on May 27, 1558, and quickly sent off the missive. On the same day, he received the message that Feria had written on the 18th. Therefore, Philip wrote again on the 27th praising Feria that he was “glad to hear that you had gone to see the Lady Elizabeth. When you come, you will report what happened between her and you” (Tyler XIII May 441). Again, the topic of conversation between Count Feria and Elizabeth had been too sensitive to commit to paper; the communiqué would be done in person to the King. If the discussion concerned the Swedish marriage proposal, the diplomatic course laid down by Philip was followed by his faithful envoy. Several months later Feria had the satisfaction to write, “The Swedish Ambassador was satisfied with the answer he received from the Council, and said that he wished to report to his master and wait here for an answer. When the Queen reproved him in presence of the Councillors and Petre for having made a proposal to the Lady Elizabeth without her knowledge, he put up a feeble defence, but then repeated his request. Her Majesty answered that she did not intend to proceed further in this matter. I believe she intends to write to your Majesty about what happened between her and the ambassador” (Tyler XIII July 1558 457).
King Philip II by Titian, 1554
Regardless of what Philip and his envoy publically proclaimed, another meeting between the Spanish Ambassador and Elizabeth took place sometime in June of 1558 at Hatfield. He kept Philip informed of the arrangements, letting him know “I am going to see the Lady Elizabeth on Friday, 16 miles from here, as your Majesty has ordered me to do. (Tyler XIII June 1558 444). After the meeting, Feria continued with King Philip’s instructions for filling him in on the details in person and kept to a bare bones account that he wrote on 23 June: “I went to visit the Lady Elizabeth, as your Majesty instructed me to do. She was very much pleased; and I was also, for reasons I will tell your Majesty when I arrive over there. (Tyler XIII June 1558 451). It appears that when Count Feria returned to Brussels he had information to share that would apparently satisfy Hapsburg interests.
The marriage of Mary, Queen of Scots and the future Francis II had taken place in the spring of 1558. Philip understood the dangers of Mary’s claim to the English throne to his country. Elizabeth herself must have been feeling more confident of her position as these international developments strengthened her case at home among not only the English, but also the Hapsburgs. Philip needed Elizabeth, as she was well aware.
Count de Feria Meets His Match
Count Feria had returned to his master in Brussels and was sent back to England relatively quickly as news of the Queen’s ill-health reached her husband. The meeting between Elizabeth and Feria will be relayed extensively below due to the insightful nature not only of the event but also of Feria’s interpretation of Elizabeth’s character. The basis for the bulk of the communiqué derives from David Loades’ materials with extended passages from various sources to emphasis other points.
14 November 1558
“I arrived here on Wednesday, the ninth of this month, at lunchtime and found the Queen our lady’s health to be just as Dr. Nunez* describes in his letter to your Majesty. There is, therefore, no hope of her life, but on the contrary each hour I think that they will come to inform me of her death, so rapidly does her condition deteriorate from one day to the next. She was happy to see me, since I brought her news of your Majesty, and to receive the letter, although she was unable to read it. In view of this I felt that there was not time to waste on other matters and sent word to the council to assemble as I wished to talk to them on your Majesty’s behalf. This I preceded to do ….I also declared your Majesty’s will on the question of the succession to the kingdom, and told them how pleased your Majesty would be to hear of their good offices with Madame Elizabeth on this matter, reminding them how your Majesty had sought to have this done much earlier, as they all well knew. These councilors are extremely frightened of what Madame Elizabeth will do with them. They have received me well, but somewhat as they would a man who came with bulls from a dead pope.
“The day after I arrived, I went to a house belonging to a gentleman some twenty three miles from there, where Madame Elizabeth is staying.** She received me well but not as joyfully as she did last time. She asked me to dine with her and the wife of Admiral Clinton who was there when I arrived was also invited. After dinner she rose and told me that should I desire to speak with her I might now do so, for she was giving orders that only two or three women who could speak no other language than English should remain in the room… I gave her to understand that it was your Majesty who had procured her recent recognition as the queen’s sister and successor, and not the Queen or the council, and that this was something your Majesty had been trying to secure for some time, as she no doubt realized, for it was common knowledge in the whole kingdom; and I condemned the Queen and the council severely… She was very open with me on many points, much more than I would have expected, and although it is difficult to judge a person one has known for a short a time as I have known this woman, I shall tell your Majesty what I have been able to gather. She is a very vain and clever woman. She must have been thoroughly schooled in the manner in which her father conducted his affairs, and I am very much afraid that she will not be well disposed in matters of religion, for I see her inclined to govern through men who are believed to be heretics, and I am told that all the women around her definitely are. Apart from this it is evident that she is highly indignant about what has been done to her during the Queen’s lifetime. She puts great store by the people, and is very confident that they are all on her side—which is certainly true…
“I have been told for certain that Cecil, who was King Edward’s secretary, will also be secretary to Madame Elizabeth. He is said to be an able and virtuous man, but a heretic…
“Last night they administered extreme unction to the queen or lady and today she is better, although there is little hope of her life. Our Lord etc., From London, 14th November 1558” (Loades Mary Tudor 200-202).
Mary I by Hans Eworth, 1555-1558.
If the Ambassador thought his advice would be listened to meekly, let alone followed, he had another think coming. When the discussion emerged about the Privy Council members, Feria counseled Elizabeth to show restraint and not seek revenge. Elizabeth told him that she wanted to make the “councillors who had wronged her admit they had done so” (Perry 126). She acknowledged Philip’s support when she was detained by her sister and how Philip “had shown her favour and helped her to obtain her release. She felt that it was not dishonourable to admit that she had been a prisoner; on the contrary, it was those who had put her there who were dishonoured because she had never been guilty of having acted or said anything against the queen, nor would she ever confess otherwise” (Porter 405).
What a gal! Faced still with a tremendous amount of uncertainty and with no true internship in the halls of power, Elizabeth’s courage and sangfroid are astounding. A baffled Feria shared with Philip, the person who Feria felt was solely responsible for obtaining the throne for Elizabeth, that she “puts great store by the people who put her in her present position, and she will not acknowledge that your Majesty or the nobility of this realm had any part in it, although, as she herself, says, they have all sent her assurances of their loyalty…. There is not a heretic or traitor in all the kingdom, who has not joyfully raised himself from the grave to come to her side. She is determined to be governed by no one” (Perry 125).
Feria claimed that Elizabeth had not received him as ‘joyfully’ as before— the change could be easily explained. Her position as future queen was much more secure; her sister had recently acknowledged the succession which was linked back to her father’s actions. The Third Act of Succession of 1544 gave the act of law to the last will and testament of Henry VIII. In 1546, Henry spelled out exactly how the succession should proceed if his son Edward died childless and if his daughter Mary did as well. Mary used that Act as her claim to the succession over Lady Jane Grey yet was loath to enact it for her half-sister. In the autumn of 1558 Mary acknowledged the fact that she might die without issue and so on 28 October she added a codicil to her will—written in March of that same year. She left the “government, order and rule” of the kingdom to her “next heir and successor, according to the laws and statues of this realm” (Alford 28). Mary consciously did not mention Elizabeth by name nor did she accept her as her heir willingly. Christophe d’Assonleville, the Imperial envoy from Brussels, wrote to Philip that the Privy Council had persuaded Mary to “make certain declarations in favour of the Lady Elizabeth concerning the succession. Her Majesty consented; and the Comptroller and the Master of the Rolls are being sent to-day on her behalf and that of the Council to visit the Lady Elizabeth and inform her that the Queen is willing that she succeed in the event of her own death” (Tyler XIII November 1558 498). Good news for Philip as he was in full support of Elizabeth as heir— there really was no choice in his eyes—and Feria had the delicate task of dealing with Elizabeth as the soon-to-be-Queen while diplomatically presenting the belief that Mary would recover. This interview could not have been easy for the Count.
While giving praise for Philip’s support, Elizabeth did not hesitate to imply that Mary had hurt her realm by “sending large sums of money and jewels out of the country to her husband” (Porter 405). “She then went on to discomfort him further by observing that her sister had lost her subjects’ affection by marrying a foreigner, to which he had relied, punctiliously but untruthfully, that on the contrary Philip had been much loved. She was grateful for Philip’s support but set no particular store by it, placing all her confidence in the English people, who were she was convinced, ‘all on her side’. This, Feria concluded ruefully, ‘is undoubtedly true’” (Loades Mary Tudor 199).
*Luis Nunez was a Portuguese physician practicing in the Netherlands, sent over with de Feria.
**Most likely Brockett Hall, home of Sir John Brockett, who was one of her Hatfield tenants.
For references, please refer to the blog entry “Two’s Company, Three’s a Crowd: Part I.”