Simancas: December 1581, 1-15

Pages 229-238

Calendar of State Papers, Spain (Simancas), Volume 3, 1580-1586. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1896.

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December 1581, 1-15

4 Dec. 174. Bernardino De Mendoza to the King.
On the 24th I sent a special courier by way of Paris, relating the circumstance of the Queen's giving a ring as a keepsake to Alençon. It appears that Hatton took this so much to heart that when he saw her he spoke with great boldness and many tears about it ; saying in effect, that even if she herself wished to marry, she ought to consider the grief she would bring upon the country by doing so, not to mention what might happen to her personally if she married against the wish of her people, upon whose affection the security of her throne depended. This was a hint that she might be deposed. She suffered him to speak thus and answered him very tenderly. Subsequently Leicester, who was much disturbed at the confidence expressed by the French that the marriage would take place, asked the Queen, with reference to her having given the ring to Alençon, whether she was "a maid or a woman," to which she replied that she was a maid, as the condition upon which she gave the pledge would never be fulfilled. He told her that she had not acted wisely in carrying the matter so far and so ostentatiously. In consequence of this and what had passed with Hatton, the Queen agreed with Leicester that she would send a message to Alençon about it, saying that she had been thinking of the ring she had given him, and she was sure that if she married him she would not have long to live. He might see this for himself, as he was a witness of the dissatisfaction of the English people at her attachment to him, which attachment she hoped he did not wish to be fatal to her. For this reason she would be very glad if he would allow her to defer the matter, and there was nothing in her country she would refuse him, and she would be very much more attached to him as a friend even than if he were her husband.
She sent Walsingham with this message, to which Alençon replied with much gentleness that all he had said and done was to please the Queen, whose death not only did he not desire, but he would venture his own life to give her pleasure, as he had often done, and indeed was doing now, to save her from annoyance, by pressing his suit with less ardour at her request.
In the meanwhile Secretary Pinart arrived, after having been delayed some days in Calais by bad weather. The French say that he comes with a mission from the King to agree to all that is demanded of him, upon condition of his brother's marriage ; although I find it difficult to think that the King of France can grant their terms, as I am told that not only does the Queen demand that he shall break with your Majesty, but that Calais shall be restored, and an alliance entered into against the Queen of Scotland and her son.
She appointed as Commissioners, the Chancellor, the Treasurer, Sussex and Leicester, to discuss Pinart's mission. She told them that she had always desired to marry Alençon, in the belief that it would redound to the benefit and quietude of her realm, as she would then have the support and kinship of France ; but on no account would she postpone the good of England to her personal inclinations, and they must therefore consider what was best to decide, and what answer should be given to Pinart, letting her know first what they thought. They replied three days ago, that if the marriage were accompanied by the benefits to England which she mentioned nothing could be better than that she should effect it, but they did not enter into details and were merely speaking generally. The only reply she gave was that it was well, and that they should hear what Pinart had to say, Parliament being prolonged until the 8th of January.
Pinart has been with them every day, but I have not heard of any decision, although the French are strongly pressing them for a prompt reply.
I will instantly advise your Majesty of what I hear, but this is the position at the present time. My confidant tells me that the Queen frequently sees Alençon alone, (fn. 1) but the French are getting disillusioned about the marriage. As to the alliance with France, I cannot do anything directly with the Queen as I do not see her, but I have by various means done my best to get an audience without appearing that I desire it whilst Alençon is here. I am working under hand amongst Catholics and others to increase the distrust which is generally entertained of the French. This is so great that Leicester has not seen Alençon since the matter of the ring, and has incited the London people to rise if the marriage is carried forward, the means adopted being to double the guards who are on duty at night to prevent tumult. By this means they are doubling the numbers of those who would raise a disturbance, as all the heretics are on his side, whilst the Catholics have greatly lost heart at seeing that Alençon has made not the slightest effort to induce the Queen to suspend the execution of those who had been condemned, and about whom I write in another letter. People of all sorts therefore are openly saying that no dependence can be placed upon the French. Whilst I was writing this, my confidant sent to say that the Commissioners met with Pinart again last night, the Admiral also being present, at the Queen's desire. After much pro and con the English offered to give a sum of money and a regular yearly pension to Alençon to carry through the enterprises he thought fit ; whereupon the French had replied that if the marriage were not to take place all negotiations must cease. I have heard the same thing from other sources, and that the meeting broke up disunited, Pinart requesting at last that a decision should be promptly given. (fn. 2) —London, 4th December 1581.
175. Bernardino De Mendoza to the King.
Of the Catholics whom, as I wrote, they had arrested, they have condemned this term 13 priests and one layman, three of them having been executed on the 1st instant in London, (fn. 3) amongst them being Campion of the Company of Jesus. They suffered martyrdom with invincible constancy, after the most atrocious torments, and their countenances whilst they were being dragged to the place shone like those of persons to whom God had given a crown for their faithful service. The rest of them are most firm, (fn. 4) and they will be martyred at the places where they were arrested. A printed statement has been issued here that they are not condemned for their religion, but for having plotted with the Pope to kill the Queen, and other like fictions to deceive the people. (fn. 5) Knollys, the Treasurer of the Household and a Councillor, who is a great heretic, was present at the execution, and cried out that this was not a case of religion, but of treason, with respect to which, both at the trial and before their death, all the men said some holy words, asserting their innocence and pardoning their persecutors. Their martyrdom has greatly edified and confirmed all Catholics, whilst the heretics are confounded. There were three thousand horsemen and a great number of footmen present at the execution.
Persons of great intelligence and trustworthiness assure me that one of these priests, called Briant, whom I knew well, and who was a man of 26 or 28 years old, had, during his incarceration, been favoured by God with revelations, to strengthen him in the cruel torments he had to bear. Their last torment was deprivation of sleep and food, during the whole of which he replied, "if you can do no more than this I feel it not." When Campion was executed it was noticed that all his nails had been dragged out in the torture. The behaviour of all these priests has been so exemplary, and their firmness in suffering such fearful deaths has been so conspicuous, that they may be counted amongst the great martyrs of the Church of God. For Him to allow the Catholics to be so much afflicted again, and so much martyrs' blood to be spilt, is a sign that He will be pleased soon to convert the country. It is a proof that the Catholics that still remain here are firm indeed in their faith, for they do not look upon these glorious deaths as miracles to confirm them, but only as ordinary examples of their troubles, which they bear with so much patience. In order to catch the blood of those who are martyred, and to collect things which belonged to them, they expose themselves to great peril ; and women especially are showing many signs of ardent faith and holy life. From one quarter of Campion which they placed on the gates of London, a finger has been taken, and these Councillors are making great efforts to investigate the case. God extricate them from their blindness.—London, 4th December 1581.
176. Bernardino De Mendoza to the King.
The idea of recruiting men for Terceira which I mentioned has quite cooled, in consequence of the English saying that they have not any hope of Don Antonio's paying them a single real, as he is in want of food himself in France, and the sailors in his ships are suffering so terribly from famine that they are running away as fast as they can. If it were not indeed in the hope of getting the ransom offered by the owners of the sugar ship captured by Knollys, I understand that he would have left the ships, as they are not now in a condition even to go out and plunder.
I am told that Vega, who was left here by Don Antonio, says that as Knollys would not go to France in obedience to his master's order, he, Don Antonio, would send Manuel de Silva to his three ships.
Under cover of a merchant I got the Court of Admiralty in the ordinary course to send a stop to Lyme for the sugar, ginger, and other merchandise, the stolen property of your Majesty's subjects which had been brought from Terceira thither. The object of this was to gain time and prevent the delivery of the goods to the factor of Don Antonio, the value of them being over 20,000 crowns. The Admiralty stop was sent to Lyme, but the officers there refused to make the aiwest without special orders from the Council, to whom I addressed a statement of the case. They replied, through Walsingham, that the matter was an important one, as it involved the question as to whether the people of Terceira were justified or not in being at war with your Majesty. He said that with these French affairs on hand they had not time to decide so important a matter, but as soon as a full Council was held a decision should be sent to me. I understand that Walsingham, being interested in the case, has adopted this excuse in order that the property may be distributed.
The ship of 500 tons, which I said was fitting out at Plymouth with another, to go to the East Indies and Moluccas with Captain Frobisher, are now ready to sail.—London, 4th December 1581.
11 Dec. 177. Bernardino De Mendoza to the King.
I wrote to your Majesty the proposal which the Councillors had made to Pinart in the Queen's presence, and I learn that on the following day they proposed amongst themselves that Alençon should be given 1,000 marks (of 26 reals (fn. 6) each) for three years, the king of France 100,000l. sterling, and the rebel States 80,000l., in consideration of which sums they were to bind themselves to make war on your Majesty in the Netherlands ; but if the king of France would not contribute a similar sum or enter into the arrangement, Alençon was to be given 200,000l. at once, and the marriage negotiations dropped, in consideration of the money he had spent on the relief of Cambrai at this Queen's request.
At the council Leicester undertook to answer that Alençon should be satisfied with the 200,000l., which sum could be obtained easily without taking it all from the Queen's treasury by giving "privy seals" as had been done on other occasions. This means that the Queen asks for loans from individuals according to their wealth, for some months, which loans are afterwards repaid by treasury bills, and the "privy seals" withdrawn, the result of it being that it is almost a forced loan, as people cannot refuse, and it is hard to believe that so large a sum can be raised, unless they make use of Drake's plunder, or that the Queen will deprive herself of it.
When the Queen heard of this resolution, she made a show of great anger and annoyance, saying that her Councillors only thought of their own profit, wasting the substance of the country without reflection, and buying, under cover of her authority, that which suited them best. As Alençon thought fit to forget her in exchange for her money, she would neither marry him nor give him any money, and he might do the best he could. She sent at once for him, Alençon, and told him this very angrily, to which he replied in a similar way, and they parted very ill friends, although, so far as I can understand, it is all artifice, because since then she has suggested to the French, who think it very hard to be bound to break with your Majesty and lose Calais, and discontinue the Scotch alliance as well, that a condition of the marriage might be that the French were to break with your Majesty in connection with the Netherlands, the war being carried on by Alençon at his brother's expense, assistance being sent to him from here in the form of men. The Queen says that she gave him the ring on this condition, and has again confirmed it, desiring that Marchaumont should go to France to discuss it with the King and Queenmother.
Some days ago they arrested here a legal gentleman, a terrible puritan, who vehemently persecutes all Catholics, and particularly priests, in whose martyred blood he has even gone to the length of washing their own hands. The cause of his arrest is that, being at supper with three other gentlemen, persons of position and property, he said that he was in negotiations with a lord at Court to raise the people of London in revolt against the marriage, and with the aid of the citizens to seize the advocates of the match, carry them to the Tower, Councillors though they were, and cut off their heads next day, referring the investigation of the case afterwards to Parliament. He said also that as they kept the queen of Scots a prisoner so could they keep Alençon. The three gentlemen informed the Treasurer and Sussex of this, and the man was summoned immediately before them, great pressure being brought to bear upon him to divulge the name of the lord he had spoken of. He refused to do so, and although they told him that his words alone amounted to high treason, they ordered him to be detained in a gentleman's house, as they fear that if they sent him to the Tower those whose instrument he was to raise London might get communication with him. They are understood to be the persons mentioned in my former letters, (fn. 7) with the addition of the earl of Huntingdon, who is now also openly condemning the marriage.— London, 11th December 1581.
178. Bernardino De Mendoza to the King.
In one of my recent letters I advised your Majesty of the steps I had taken with the Council with regard to the merchandise which came from Terceira, to which a reply had been sent through Walsingham, that the Queen declined to take upon herself the responsibility of declaring whether the war was just or not, but that as Terceira was in arms, orders should be given that the property should be deposited until the matter was duly investigated Walsingham said that this would be done in the name of Dr. Lopez, in whose hands the property would be placed. I replied that, although the Queen said that she would not decide as to the justice of the war, it was quite clear that by placing the goods in the hands of Lopez she was actually taking such a decision, as he was the representative of Don Antonio, who was in rebellion against your Majesty. If the property, I said, came directly or indirectly into his hands, or those of any other representative of the rebel Portuguese, I should accept that fact as indicating the Queen's approbation of the war, and immediately advise your Majesty to that effect. Walsingham replied that the Council would again meet and consider my communication, the fact being that for his own interest he had been instrumental in having the goods warehoused in Lopez's name.
As it is most important to diminish Don Antonio's credit, and this would be largely effected by preventing this property from formally passing into his hands, or those of any of his people, I had the Judge of the Admiralty informed (he being the official who has to make the order) that I should not be sorry for the goods to be deposited in the name of some Englishman, my object being to prevent them from bringing anything else from Terceira, or Don Antonio getting hold of this property, without appearing to put the screw on too much. I will advise the result.
I hear that the Englishmen in Don Antonio's ships are extremely dissatisfied, and that Knollys has left them aud gone ashore. It is true that they were not strong enough to do anything very important, but still it would be advantageous to have the ships disarmed by formal order ; and through third parties I have therefore got the Flushing people to complain here, that notwithstanding the kind treatment which they extended to English ships, Don Antonio's vessels had captured one of theirs. As I had also heard that they had stolen another ship in the port of Cowes, Isle of Wight, I sent to the Council to say that, as these ships in the pay of your Majesty's rebels had reached such a pitch that they captured property belonging to your subjects in the ports of England itself, (the ship in question having come from Andalusia) if the Queen did not immediately remedy such a state of things she must not be surprised that those people whom she regarded as rebels against her captured property belonging to her subjects in your Majesty's ports. Before sending this message I arranged for the London merchants to complain to the Council, that if Don Antonio's vessels remained there, the customs would greatly diminish and trade would fall off, as well as their own property being imperilled. I understand that the Council ordered that the ships which were now cruising under Don Antonio's authority should return to port, and if they failed to do so that two of the Queen's ships should be sent out to capture them. The answer they sent to me was to the effect that they had taken fitting steps in the matter as I should see by the result. I have tried to get this order published, and it is said already in France and Flanders that it will greatly diminish Don Antonio's following. Although my formal action in these matters is firm and spirited, in accordance with demands of your Majesty's dignity, I always try to gain my ends with these people underhandedly and to bring them round gently to the end desired. I hope that the order they have sent will not be merely a compliment, as the last ship that was captured they set free at once of their own accord.
The two ships which I mentioned were ready to go to the Moluccas, take four pinnaces and a brigantine made in quarters stowed in the holds, so they can launch them where they may need them.—London, 11th December 1581.
179. Bernardino De Mendoza to the King.
The clergyman who I said in my former letters was again to go to Scotland with another priest, writes to say that they have been extremely well received, and have even had converse with the King himself, to whom they gave some account of their mission. He accepted it extremely well, and said that although for certain reasons it was advisable for him to appear publicly in favour of the French, he assured him that in his heart he would rather be Spanish, which he, the envoy, might write to the Englishmen who sent him. Notwithstanding this, the priest did not entirely lay bare his mission until he quite satisfied himself of the sincerity of the King and his Ministers. He thought that he would be able to do this by Christmas, and would report the result immediately, so that they could then form an opinion as to the conversion of the King and country. In the meanwhile he is pressing the personages with whom he communicates to expedite the sending of more priests thither.
With regard to this, I wrote to your Majesty that we had resolved to send Father Jasper (Heywood), of the Company of Jesus, to Scotland on this business, whilst the other (Persons) remained to assist Catholics here. Since then Jasper has been ill with sciatica and Persons has been declared a rebel by the Queen ; and this has caused us to change the plan, as Persons cannot return to this country without great risk, although he was already waiting to embark ; and if he were here he would now be unable to do anything, since any person who sheltered or conversed with him would be liable to punishment for high treason. We have therefore decided that Jasper shall remain here, as God endows him with grace to win many souls, whilst Persons should go to Scotland direct from France where he now is, with five or six priests who may be selected. Father Allen, whom this Queen has also declared to be a rebel, has been informed of this, and they have been told that although they may consider it advisable to send some Scotch priests, we think that in the present circumstances great inconvenience might arise from this, as being natives of the country they would probably proceed with greater zeal, which would certainly irritate the heretics, who would probably take up arms, and this would be very prejudicial. With this view, it would be better that all the priests sent should be Englishmen, whose arrival there would not cause suspicion to the heretics, that they were coming to forward other ends under cloak of religion, as they have nothing to gain from any change in the country. If, on the other hand, they were native Scotchmen a different opinion might be formed. The Queen of Scotland's ambassador in France must not be informed, nor must people in France be allowed to suspect that any Minister of your Majesty is interested in the matter as such a suspicion might be injurious. The French must think that there is no hope entertained of special aid being given by your Majesty, except in so far as is dictated by general sympathy in matters of the true faith ; whilst for State reasons Scotsmen themselves must be treated with great caution.
So far as can be seen this business is proceeding most hopefully, under God's protection, for whilst these two priests were on the English border one night a great search was made in every house in the neighbourhood by order of the Queen, who had been informed that some such Englishman would endeavour to go thither ; but God ordained that they should escape, almost by a miracle.
Thomas Tresham, whose son is the heir to the marquisate of Northampton, and William Tresham his brother, were the first people to broach this subject, and it is with them that I deal, in addition to the priests who have the matter in hand. Although Thomas Tresham is a prisoner, I am in constant communication with him by means of priests. He and all his family are strong Catholics, and he is extremely prudent and circumspect in his actions. Notwithstanding the torture by which they sought to extract from the martyrs declarations of the persons with whom they were in communication, they were unable to obtain them, and I cannot exaggerate the beneficial effect that this has had, and the confidence that it has inspired in all sorts of people to reconcile and convert them to the Catholic faith, as before they saw this firmness in refusing to divulge the names of their friends, the English were shy of attaching themselves to the cause.
The Scots Parliament has closed without adopting any important resolution, excepting to confirm the new titles given and the filling of certain offices, the earl of Angus having been proclaimed a rebel, much to the sorrow of this Queen and her Ministers, who thus see most of their friends undone. I am told that a person who had been secretly sent to Scotland by the Treasurer has returned, reporting how entirely ruined was Morton's party, and most of those upon whom the English depended, whilst all the Ministers (of Scotland) were changing their religion without making much display of it ; whereupon Cecil said, "Now, indeed, may we say that that country is really lost." Beal arrived yesterday from the queen of Scotland, but I have not been able to hear what news he brings, (fn. 8) only that since his arrival Alençon's departure is being whispered about, and whilst I was writing this I heard that the Admiral had ordered the summoning of the captains of the Queen's ships, two of which ships are to be got ready to convey him across.
Couriers and gentlemen are arriving every day from the viceroy of Ireland, all of whom bring news of the great famine and distress of the Queen's people, whilst the insurgents are strong. I do not know that anything is being done in the way of sending reinforcements. —London, 11th December 1581.
180. Bernardino De Mendoza to the King.
After writing the three accompanying letters, I heard that off Beal's arrival the Queen ordered seven of her ships to be fitted out, and the summoning of her captains was in consequence of this ; although it was said at the time that only two ships would be fitted for the purpose of conveying Alençon across, but it is impossible that all these ships can be for that purpose. (fn. 9) I will report what I can learn about it, but I hear that Beal is discontented with the queen of Scotland's behaviour.
Advices come from Ireland that the Viceroy had ordered fifteen gentlemen to be beheaded, kinsmen of the principal people in the country. (fn. 10) This was done in the English pale, as they call the country under the Queen's rule, in consequence of a plot to seize Dublin, and murder the Viceroy and his English garrison whilst liberating the Irish prisoners there. One of the accomplices divulged the plot, and has been knighted by the Viceroy in recompense for his services. They also write that Desmond and the insurgents were in better case than ever, whilst the Queen's garrisons were suffering great privations. The garrisons themselves are short, as many of the troops have deserted from sheer famine.— London, 11th December 1581.
14 Dec. 181. Bernardino De Mendoza to the King.
Although the constant changing resolutions of these people make it necessary that your Majesty's Minister should be discreet enough to avoid conveying them all to your Majesty, yet things are in such a condition now that I am obliged to write every instant. In one of the four letters I wrote in triplicate on the 11th, I reported that the Queen had ordered seven of her ships to be fitted out, but this has now been partly changed. Last night all the captains and mates who were in London were called out of their beds and ordered to set out at once, under pain of death, to be on board three ships belonging to the Queen, to leave Rochester to-morrow. The sending out of so many captains and mates, who are the best mariners in the kingdom, in default of whom they would hardly have a man fit to conduct a ship ; with victuals enough only for a month, would seem to indicate that their mission must be to convey some personage across. Many people think that it will be Alençon, because so much ceremony would not be made for the passage of the prince Dauphin, who is said to be going. Others think that the Queen-mother may be coming over, but this is not probable, as the marriage is not now pending. Since I wrote last, Alençon again pressed the Queen for an answer, in order that he might advise his brother thereof, and in addition to the demands which I have already mentioned, she then brought forward a new one, to the effect that the English seminary at Rheims should be abolished. Alençon asked her whether she would give him her word to marry him if his brother agreed to this and the other conditions ; whereupon she replied, that even then she should have to think whether it was advisable for her to change her state. Alençon asked her to send some person to discuss these conditions with his brother, but she said that it was for him to do that. This reply has delayed Pinart who was ready to leave here. 20,000 crowns have arrived for Alençon in the last two days, part of which was plunder.—London, 14th December 1581.


  • 1. The "Memoires du Duc de Nevers" says the Queen detained Alençon at this time "par de nouvelles démonstrations, accompagnées de baisers, privautés, caresses et mignardises ordinaires aux amants."
  • 2. Lorenzo Priuli, the Venetian ambassador in France, asked the Queen-mother for information as to the position of affairs at this time, and whether Alençon had returned the Queen's ring as was asserted. Catharine replied that the ring had not been returned, but that she did not attach much importance to it, as the mere giving of a ring did not constitute a serious engagement. She added :—La reine Elisabeth est bien astucieuse et mon fils bien jeune, il s'est laissé embarquer par elle dans cette aventure, malgré nos réprésentations et nos conseils ; on l'accable de fêtes ; et il vient de m'écrire qu'il avait encore de l'espoir ("Ambassadeurs vénitiens, Priuli')." Filza 12. Bibliotheque Nationale Paris.
  • 3. The three were Campion, Sherwin, and Briant.
  • 4. John Harte, one of them, wrote on 1st December to Walsingham, offering to become a spy upon Allen.
  • 5. "A particular Declaration or testimony of the Undutifull and Traiterous Affection borne agaynst her Majestie by Edmund Campion and other condemned Priestes." Published by authority, London. A full account of these martyrdoms will be found in Allen's book "De Persecutione Anglicana," and Butler's "Historical Memoirs." See also "Elizabethan Religious History," by Soames.
  • 6. This was the silver real, worth about 5¼d. each.
  • 7. Leicester, Hatton, and Walsingham.
  • 8. Particulars of Beal's proceedings in this matter will be found in the Marquis of Salisbury's papers (Historical MSS. Com., Part 2), and in Beal's own documents now in the possession of Lord Calthorpe.
  • 9. In the King's hand : "Perhaps they are for Don Antonio or Terceira."
  • 10. In the King's hand : "It is a pity that nothing of this sort succeeds, and that those who try their best always suffer the penalty."