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Essex, notwithstanding all his misfortunes, reserved this precious gift to the last extremity; but after his trial and condemnation, he resolved to try the experiment, and he committed the ring to the Countess of Nottingham, whom he desired to deliver it to the queen. The countess was prevailed on by her husband, the mortal enemy of Essex, not to execute the commission; and Elizabeth, who still expected that her favourite would make this last appeal to her tenderness, and who ascribed the neglect of it to his invincible obstinacy, was after much delay and many internal combats, pushed by resentment and policy to sign the warrant for his execution.
The Countess of Nottingham, falling into sickness, and affected with the near approach of death, was seized with remorse for her conduct; and having obtained a visit from the queen, she craved her pardon, and revealed to her the fatal secret. The queen, astonished with this incident, burst into a furious passion: she shook the dying countess in her bed; and crying to her that God might pardon her, but she never could, she broke from her, and thenceforth resigned herself over to the deepest and most incurable melancholy. She rejected all consolation; she even refused food and sustenance: and, throwing herself on the floor, she remained sullen and immovable, feeding her thoughts on her afflictions, and declaring life and existence an insufferable burden to her. Few words she uttered; and they were all expressive of some inward grief which she cared not to reveal; but sighs and groans were the chief vent which she gave to her despondency, and which, though they dis
covered her sorrows, were never able to ease or assuage them.
Ten days and nights she lay upon the carpet, leaning on cushions which her maids brought her; and her physicians could not persuade her to allow herself to be put to bed, much less to make trial of any remedies which they prescribed to her. Her anxious mind at last had so long preyed on her frail body that her end was visibly approaching; and the council being assembled, sent the keeper, admiral, and secretary, to know her will in regard to her successor. She answered with a faint voice that as she had held a regal sceptre, she desired no other than a royal successor. Cecil requesting her to explain herself more particularly, she subjoined that she would have a king to succeed her; and who should that be but her nearest kinsman, the King of Scots? Being then advised by the Archbishop of Canterbury to fix her thoughts upon God, she replied that she did so, nor did her mind in the least wander from him. Her voice soon after left her; her senses failed; she fell into a lethargic slumber, which continued some hours, and she expired gently, without further struggle or convulsion (March 24), in the seventieth year of her age, and forty-fifth of her reign.
So dark a cloud overcast the evening of that day, which had shone out with a mighty lustre in the eyes of all Europe. There are few great personages in history, who have been more exposed to the calumny of enemies, and the adulation of friends, than Queen Elizabeth; and yet there is scarcely any whose reputation has been more certainly determined by the unanimous consent of posterity. The unusual length
of her administration, and the strong features of her character, were able to overcome all prejudices; and obliging her detractors to abate much of their invectives, and her admirers somewhat of their panegyrics, have at last, in spite of political factions, and what is more, of religious animosities, produced a uniform judgment with regard to her conduct. Her vigour, her constancy, her magnanimity, her penetration, vigilance, and address, are allowed to merit the highest praises, and appear not to have been surpassed by any person that ever filled a throne: a conduct less rigorous, less imperious, more sincere, more indulgent to her people, would have been requisite to form a perfect character. By the force of her mind she controlled all her more active and stronger qualities, and prevented them from running into excess: her heroism was exempt from temerity, her frugality from avarice, her friendship from partiality, her active temper from turbulency and a vain ambition : she guarded not herself with equal care or equal success from lesser infirmities; the rivalship of beauty, the desire of admiration, the jealousy of love, and the sallies of anger.
Her singular talents for government were founded equally on her temper and on her capacity. Endowed with a great command over herself, she soon obtained an uncontrolled ascendant over her people ; and while she merited all their esteem by her real virtues, she also engaged their affections by her pretended ones Few sovereigns of England succeeded to the throne in more difficult circumstances; and none ever conducted the government with such uniform success and felicity. Though unacquainted with the practice of tole
ration—the true secret for managing religious factions -she preserved her people, by her superior prudence, from those confusions in which theological controversy had involved all the neighbouring nations: and though her enemies were the most powerful princes of Europe, the most active, the most enterprising, the least scrupulous, she was able by her vigour to make deep impressions on their states; her own greatness meanwhile remained untouched and unimpaired.
The wise ministers and brave warriors who flourished under her reign, share the praise of her success; but instead of lessening the applause due to her, they make great addition to it. They owed, all of them, their advancement to her choice; they were supported by her constancy, and with all their abilities, they were never able to acquire any undue ascendant over her. In her family, in her court, in her kingdom, she remained equally mistress : the force of the tender passions was great over her, but the force of her mind was still superior; and the combat which her victory visibly cost her, serves only to display the firmness of her resolution, and the loftiness of her ambitious sentiments.
The fame of this princess, though it has surmounted the prejudices both of faction and bigotry, yet lies still exposed to another prejudice, which is inore durable because more natural, and which, according to the different views in which we survey her, is capable either of exalting beyond measure, or diminishing the lustre of her character. This prejudice is founded on the consideration of her sex. When we contemplate her as a woman, we are apt to be struck with the highest admiration of her great qualities and extensive capacity: but we are also apt to require some more softness of disposition, some greater lenity of temper, some of those amiable weaknesses by which her sex is distinguished. But the true method of estimating her merit is to lay aside all these considerations, and consider her merely as a rational being placed in authority, and intrusted with the government of mankind. We may find it difficult, to reconcile our fancy to her as a wife or a mistress; but her qualities as a sovereign, though with some considerable exceptions, are the object of undisputed applause and approbation.
(1721 – 1793.)
[DR. WILLIAM ROBERTSON published three historical works, every one of them classical performances. These were, the History of Scotland, the History of America, and the His. tory of Charles V.]
Character of Mary Queen of Scots. To all the charms of beauty and the utmost elegance of external form, she added those accomplishments which render their impression irresistible. Polite, affable, insinuating, sprightly, and capable of speaking and of writing with equal ease and dignity ; sudden, however, and violent in all her attachments, because her heart was warm and unsuspicious ; impatient of contradiction, because she had been accustomed from her infancy to be treated as a queen; no stranger, on