In many ways the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 can be seen as the apex of Elizabeth’s reign – the Armada Portrait shows that God was definitely on her side and that in addition to reigning over England Elizabeth also ruled the waves and other parts of the globe – the latter can be seen from her proprietorial grip on a globe whilst the former is manifested in the carving of a mermaid on her chair – admittedly the artist had to do some reworking as the traditional symbolism of a mermaid was the opposite to that which usually depicted the Virgin Queen’s qualities.
It wasn’t long before Fortunes wheel began its downward cycle for the raging monarch. The Earl of Leicester died on his was to take the waters in Buxton. Elizabeth, retired to her chamber to grieve and refused to come out. After the doors to her bed chamber had been broken down on the orders of Lord Burghley, the queen did not display much in the way of magnanimity to the widow -Lettice Knollys. Instead she pressed for Dudley’s debts to the Crown to be repaid. The irony cannot have been lost on Lettice. Dudley had mortgaged Kenilworth, Leicester House in London and Wanstead to finance the campaign in the Netherlands.
At court the power dynamics changed without Dudley in the mix. Sir Christopher Hatton rose in seniority whilst Dudley’s step-son the earl of Essex became engaged in a bitter battle for supremacy with Sir Walter Raleigh.
Elsewhere radical Puritans made their voices heard and when Sir Christopher Hatton tried to silence them with laws of blasphemy the Queen found it politically expedient to be equally harsh to her Catholic subjects. The war against Spain continued to drain the treasury. The Irish revolted. The Jesuits sent more agents. Harvests failed, prices soared and there was an out break of plague. There were butter and fish riots.
Unsurprisingly there were one or two plots – including that of Dr Lopez- the queen’s own physician. Lopez as well as being a physician had also spied for both Walsingham and Dudley – now those particular chickens came home to roost when the Earl of Essex accused Lopez of plotting. Lopez paid the price for playing the role of agent provocateur and also of Essex’s campaign to overthrow the Cecils.
The Earl of Essex was no Dudley -ultimately Robert Dudley had loved Elizabeth. He and William Cecil might have cajoled and flattered on occasion but they knew that trying to bend the queen to their wills was not something to be undertaken lightly. They did not see her as a mere woman – Essex on the other hand rather over rated his own appeal and powers of persuasion. And what was worse he ignored Elizabeth’s commands, returned from Ireland without permission, burst in on her when she was not rigged out in the full Gloriana costume and told her that she had a crooked carcass. It was not behaviour designed to win friends and influence people. Defiance by Essex turned into rebellion.
After the Earl of Essex went to the block Elizabeth did her very best to appear as though she was neither aging nor tired but she stumbled when she got out of her coach at the opening of Parliament, was more bad tempered than in the past, ate little, suffered from arthritis and was prone to melancholy. It didn’t help that all her old friends and servants were dying one by one. Her fear of the darkness grew and she struggled to sleep more than a few hours each night – all of which is a bit of a contrast to the monarch bedecked in ribbons and pearls with her hand on the world.
Guy, John. (2016) Elizabeth: The Forgotten Years. London: Penguin