Calendar of State Papers Foreign, Elizabeth, Volume 4, 1561-1562. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1866.
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The volume now issued contains, like its predecessor, a chronological analysis of a portion of the great series of the foreign diplomatic correspondence which is now deposited in the Public Record Office. The documents which it represents range between March 1561 and April 1562, a period of fourteen months. In regard to the importance of these materials there can be but one opinion. They exhibit clearly and distinctly the policy which was at this time pursued by the English Government in regard to the affairs of other countries; and from month to month the course of action became more definite and more consistent. This system may be described in a few words as a covert interference in the affairs of foreign states for the purpose of exciting internal disturbances. It had much to recommend it, more especially to the rulers of a nation circumstanced as England was at that period. It was argued that a state, agitated and hampered at home, would have neither the power nor the inclination to be troublesome to its neighbours. Throckmorton, the English ambassador in France, avowed himself to be an advocate for this theory, and he pressed its adoption upon the English Privy Council with unflinching and persevering earnestness. His correspondence, which runs without interruption throughout this volume, may be regarded as one of its most interesting features. He was one of Cecil's most valuable agents. Active, acute, and intelligent, nothing pleased him better than to be employed in tracking out the secrets of the French Court, those more especially which compromised the house of Guise, towards every member of which he felt the deepest aversion; and his tact and skill were frequently successful. A man of high personal courage, he did not shrink from placing himself in situations of considerable peril, when by so doing he could advance the interests of his mistress. Throckmorton's correspondence fortunately is very voluminous as well as interesting and instructive. He wrote frequently, and his letters are always worth reading; they abound in detail, and the picture which he sets before us is full of motion and vitality. His duty required that he should address himself in the first instance to Queen Elizabeth, but generally on the same day he wrote a second despatch to Cecil; and this is the more important document of the two. But to whomsoever he wrote, whether to the Queen, or the Secretary, or the Privy Council, Sir Nicolas wrote freely and fearlessly; nor did he scruple to say what he considered it his duty to say because it might be unpalatable. And as he resided at the Court of King Charles IX. during the whole period embraced in this volume, that, namely, which immediately preceded the outbreak of the first of the great wars of religion, his statements and remarks are of the highest value as illustrative of the events which ushered in that momentous struggle. The historical literature of France, rich as it confessedly is in memoirs and despatches of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, possesses (as far as I am aware) no series of papers which can compete either in continuity, fidelity, or minuteness with the correspondence of Throckmorton. He details with the most scrupulous accuracy his conferences with the Queen Mother, the King of Navarre, and the Duke of Guise on the one side, and on the other with the Prince of Condé and his brother the Admiral. Nor did he depend entirely upon his own observation, he had his agents and his spies everywhere throughout France; and he is as well informed respecting the progress of affairs in Languedoc as in Picardy.
2. It may be objected, however, that this multiplicity of details is calculated to annoy and fatigue the general reader. Possibly it may be so but a work like the present addresses itself more especially to the student of history, to whom these details are of surpassing value. We in the present day are too much inclined to be satisfied with results; and these results are often based upon insufficient premises. The estimate of a character is formed from one or two incidents, true in themselves, and not without significance in their own place, but which ought to be confronted with and tested by other events, which, though less striking, are equally indicative of good or evil. Yet even after making every allowance for their tendency to prolixity, Throckmorton's despatches have an especial value,—they at once impress us with the conviction of their honesty. He does not think himself at liberty to write only what will be pleasing, and to suppress all that does not favour the cause which he advocates; had he done so there would have been more smoothness and rapidity in his narrative, but there would have been less truthfulness. They have the farther merit of being natural. Fortunately for the interests of historical literature it did not occur to the writer that his letters would be studied after an interval of three centuries. Hence he nowhere attempts either to deal with his subject in the abstract, to generalise, or to speculate; but accepting facts as he finds them, he is satisfied to record their existence, and to trace them step by step to their ultimate development.
3. From France the transition is easy into Scotland; the interests of the two countries were still considered identical, and their politics were too closely interwoven to be separated. The value of the correspondence now increases; for Mary having landed in her own dominions is thrown upon her own resources, and exhibits the natural bent of her character, unbiassed by the guidance of her mother-in-law or her uncles. Here, in Scotland, as in France, Elizabeth was ably represented by her diplomatic agent. Few of her correspondents penned a better letter than Randolph. His information indeed is less authentic, less instructive than that furnished by the English envoy at Paris, but it is more graphic, more amusing; it has the merit of being interspersed with numerous sketches of character, with anecdotes, and occasionally with the gossip and scandal of the Court; matters too trifling to have been thought worthy of notice by the more diplomatic Sir Nicolas. We can imagine that Randolph's letters were in favour with the Queen and the ladies of the Court, while those of Throckmorton were preferred by Mr. Secretary Cecil and the Lords of the Privy Council.
4. Of all the European sovereigns of the period there is none with whose personal character and with the secrets of whose policy the student of history is more anxious to become acquainted than with Philip of Spain. Was he the hateful being he is generally represented to have been ? Was he always plotting the overthrow of Elizabeth and the destruction of England? Were there no redeeming traces of honesty or tenderness in a character said to have been stained by so much fraud and cruelty? We naturally turn to the correspondence of the English ambassador at Madrid, in the hope that by his aid we may find an answer more or less direct to these inquiries; but we are disappointed, Sir Thomas Chamberlain, who represented Elizabeth in Spain, was a man of the world, a scholar, and a gentleman; but he had not the art of writing a good letter. The documents to which he affixes his name are perhaps the tamest, the heaviest, and the most colourless in the whole volume. He entertains the Queen with secondhand information about the proceedings of the Turk and the Pope; and the only occasion when he waxes eloquent is when he recounts the miseries to which he is exposed by reason of his abode in that most unpopular country. One strain runs through all his letters. He has little to write about in consequence of the quietness of the Court; but he has just cause to complain of his want of health, and his lack of power to sustain his charge. If he remains where he is, he looks for none other delivery but death. Nor did the correspondence gain either in value or interest when, upon Chamberlain's recall, Challoner succeeded him as the English ambassador at Madrid.
5. Yet the fault is not to be attributed entirely to the incapacity of Chamberlain. The policy of Elizabeth required that the intercourse between Philip and herself should be reduced to the smallest possible dimensions; and she did not care to recall one to his recollection who had rejected his advances as a suitor, and outwitted his diplomacy as a statesman. Chamberlain seldom heard from Cecil, and when he received a letter it was generally upon some matter of trifling import; consequently he seldom presented himself at the Spanish Court, and he knew little of what passed there. The same remarks apply still more strongly to Challoner. Nor is this blank supplied by information derived from Flanders. We are entirely without letters from the semi-regal Court of Philip's half sister, Margaret, Duchess of Parma, the Governor of the Low Countries, which, did we possess them, would probably throw much light upon this obscure section of our history. Equally disappointing is the information from Italy. We have no direct despatches from Rome; the only tidings which reached England as to the doings of the Vatican, as far at least as they are revealed by the contents of the Public Record Office, come through a very indirect channel. Certain news-letters were forwarded at stated intervals from Venice, sometimes to Sir John Mason, sometimes to an English merchant resident in London, named John Shears, or Shers, and these found their way into the hands of the Secretary of State. Guido Giannetti, Marsilio della Croce, and Jacomo Raggazzoni appear upon the list of Cecil's correspondents, but they had nothing to tell worth knowing. This is the more disappointing, as the English nation at large believed that a league against their liberties and their religion was in progress of formation among the anti-Protestant powers, and that it originated at Rome; an impression as to the truth of which it would be interesting to possess some trustworthy means of forming a correct estimate.
6. On the other hand we have no cause to complain of a paucity of materials respecting the history of the Reformed States of Germany. It was naturally a matter of considerable importance to the Queen to maintain a good understanding with these powers; not only because, like herself, they had accepted the doctrines of the Reformation, but farther, because they were willing to fight under her flag against France and Spain, provided they were liberally paid for their services. The Queen appears to have known how to deal with them. She was willing to treat with them; she listened to their professions of devotion to her person and zeal for the safety of England; but she was slow to give them a definite answer, and she absolutely' refused to come to terms with them. It served her purpose to have it known at Paris and at Madrid that Mundt was closeted with the Electors and States who had embraced the Confession of Augsburg, and that a Protes tant League was in process of formation; but she did not care to advance further in the treaty.