Michael Linton's Bayeux Tapestry: 1066 - A Medieval Mosaic and Puzzles
HER MOST EXCELLENT MAJESTY
OUR SOVEREIGN LADY QUEEN VICTORIA,
The Lives of
The Queens of England
COMPILED FROM OFFICIAL RECORDS AND OTHER AUTHENTIC DOCUMENTS, PRIVATE AS WELL AS PUBLIC, BY AGNES STRICKLAND.
PRECEDED BY A BIOGRAPHICAL INTRODUCTION BY JOHN FOSTER KIRK. IN SIXTEEN VOLUMES. WITH PLATES.
Philadelphia: Printed only for Subscribers by George Barrie & Son.
This electronic edition
was prepared by
Michael A. Linton, 2006
"THE queen of England," says that learned commentator on the laws and constitution of this country, Blackstone, "is either queen-regnant, queen-consort, or queen-dowager." The first of these is a female sovereign reigning in her own right, and exercising all the functions of regal authority in her own person,—as in the case of her present majesty queen Victoria, who ascended the throne, not only by rightful inheritance and the consent of the people, but also in full accordance with the ancient British custom, noticed by Tacitus in these remarkable words: "Solent foeminarum ductu bellare, et sexum in imperiis non discernere." [ Life of Agricola.]
No other princess has, however, been enthroned in this land under such auspicious circumstances as our present sovereign lady. Mary I. was not recognized without bloodshed. Elizabeth's title was disputed. Mary II. was only a sovereign in name, and as much dependent on the will of her royal husband as a queen-consort. The archbishop of Canterbury forfeited the primacy of England for declining either to assist at her coronation, or to take the oaths. The same scruples of conscience withheld the nonjuring bishops and clergy, and many of the nobility and gentry of England, from performing their homage either to her, or to queen Anne. Not one of those four queens, therefore, was crowned with the unanimous consent of her people. But the rapturous acclamations that drowned the pealing of the bells and the thunders of the artillery, at the recognition of our beloved liege lady queen Victoria, in Westminster abbey, can never be forgotten by those who then heard the voices of a united nation uplifted in assent. I was present, and felt the massy walls of the abbey thrill, from base to tower, with the mighty sound, as the burst of loyal enthusiasm, within that august sanctuary, was echoed by the thronging multitude without, hailing her queen by universal suffrage.
A queen-consort has many exemptions and minute prerogatives. For instance, she pays no toll, nor is she liable to any amercement in any court. In all cases, however, where the law has not expressly declared her exempted, she is upon the same footing with other subjects, being to all intents and purposes the king's subject, and not his equal. [Blackstone's Commentaries: Rights of Persons.] The royal charters, in ancient times, were frequently signed by the queen as well as by the king; yet this was not in the quality of a coadjutor in the authority by which the grant was made, but evidently in the capacity of a witness only, and on account of her high rank she was doubtless a most important one. In point of security of her life and person, the queen-consort is put on the same footing with the king. It is equally treason (by the statute of the 25th Edward III.) "to compass or imagine the death of our lady the king's companion, as of the king himself." [Ibid, book i. chap. iv.]
"The queen is entitled to some pecuniary advantages, which form her a distinct revenue," continues Blackstone, "one of which, and formerly the most important, was the aurum reginae, or queen-gold, a royal revenue belonging to every queen-consort during her marriage with the king, and due from every person who hath made a voluntary offering or fine to the king amounting to ten marks or upwards; and it is due in the proportion of one-tenth part more, over and above the entire offering or fine made to the king, [Prynne's Aurum Reginae.] and becomes an actual debt of record to the queen's majesty by the mere recording of the fine. Thus, if an hundred marks of silver be given to the king to take in mortmain, or to have a fair, market, park, chase, or free-warren, then the queen was entitled to ten marks in silver, or rather its equivalent,—one mark in gold, by the name of queen-gold, or aurum reginae"
Another very ancient perquisite of the queen-consort, as mentioned by old writers and quoted by the learned roundhead Prynne [Aurum Reginae.] (who after the Restoration became, when keeper of the Tower records, a most zealous stickler for the privileges of the queens of England), is, that on the taking of a whale on the coasts, which is a royal fish, it shall be divided between the king and queen; the head only being the king's property, and the tail the queen's. The reason of this whimsical division, as assigned by our ancient records, was to furnish the queen's wardrobe with whalebone. [Bracton. Britton.] Now, this shrewd conjecture of the learned civilian quoted by Blackstone may be considered as sufficient authority by barristers and judges to settle the point, but as it relates to matters on which ladies, generally speaking, possess more critical knowledge than lawyers or antiquaries, we beg to observe that the royal garments-feminine would be poorly provided with the article alluded to if her majesty depended on this contingency alone for her supply, as the peculiar kind of whalebone used in a lady's dress grows in the head of the fish, which, as we have seen, falls to the share of the king.
It is well known that the ward of Queenhithe derives its name from the circumstance of vessels unlading at that little harbor paying tolls to the queen of Henry III., Eleanor of Provence. The covetous disposition of this princess induced her to use her influence with the king, in order to compel every vessel freighted with corn, or other valuable lading, to land at her quay, to increase the revenue she drew from this source. It is well for the interests of trade and commerce that our latter queens have been actuated by very different feelings towards the subjects of their royal husbands, than the sordid selfishness practised by this princess.
The queen-regnant, in addition to the cares of government, has to preside over all the arrangements connected with female royalty, which, in the reign of a married king, devolve on the queen-consort; she has, therefore, more to occupy her time and attention than a king, for whom the laws of England expressly provide that he is not to be troubled with his wife's affairs, like an ordinary husband. There have been but three unmarried kings of England,—William Rufus, Edward V., and Edward VI. The two last died at tender ages; but the 'Red King' was a determined bachelor, and his court, unrestrained by the presence and beneficial influence of a queen, was the focus of profaneness and profligacy.
The earliest British queen named in history is Cartismandua, who, though a married woman, appears to have been the sovereign of the Brigantes, reigning in her own right. This was about the year 50.
Boadicea, or Bodva, the warrior queen of the Iceni, succeeded her deceased lord, king Prasutagus, in the regal office. Speed gives us a curious print of one of her coins in his Chronicle. The description of her dress and appearance on the morning of the battle that ended so disastrously for the royal Amazon and her country, quoted from a Roman historian, is remarkably picturesque:—"After she had dismounted from her chariot, in which she had been driving from rank to rank to encourage her troops, attended by her daughters and her numerous army she proceeded to a throne of marshy turfs, apparelled, after the fashion of the Romans, in a loose gown of changeable colors, under which she wore a kirtle very thickly plaited, the tresses of her yellow hair hanging to the skirts of her dress. About her neck she wore a chain of gold, and bore a light spear in her hand, being of person tall, and of a comely, cheerful, and modest countenance; and so awhile she stood, pausing to survey her army, and being regarded with reverential silence, she addressed to them an impassioned and eloquent speech on the wrongs of her country." The overthrow and death of this heroic princess took place in the year 60.
There is every reason to suppose that the noble code of laws called the Common Law of England, usually attributed to Alfred, were by him derived from the laws first established by a British queen. "Martia," says Holinshed, [Holinshed's Description of England, vol. i. p. 298; 4to ed.] "surnamed Proba, or the Just, was the widow of Gutiline king of the Britons, and was left protectress of the realm during the minority of her son. Perceiving much in the conduct of her subjects which needed reformation, she devised sundry wholesome laws, which the Britons, after her death, named the Martian statutes. Alfred caused the laws of this excellently learned princess, whom all commended for her knowledge of the Greek tongue, to be established in the realm." These laws, embracing trial by jury and the just descent of property, were afterwards collated and still farther improved by Edward the Confessor, and were as pertinaciously demanded from the successors of William the Conqueror by the Anglo-Normans, as by their Anglo-Saxon subjects.
Rowena, the wily Saxon princess, who, in an evil hour for the unhappy people of the land, became the consort of Vortigern in the year 450, is the next queen whose name occurs in our early annals. Guiniver, the golden-haired queen of Arthur, and her faithless successor and namesake, have been so mixed up with the tales of the romance poets and troubadours, that it would be difficult to verify a single fact connected with either.
Among the queens of the Saxon Heptarchy we hail the nursing mothers of the Christian faith in this island, who firmly established the good work begun by the British lady Claudia, and the empress Helena. The first and most illustrious of these queens was Bertha, the daughter of Cherebert king of Paris, who had the glory of converting her pagan husband, Ethelbert, the king of Kent, to that faith of which she was so bright an ornament, and of planting the first Christian church at Canterbury. Her daughter, Ethelburga, was in like manner the means of inducing her valiant lord, Edwin king of Northumbria, to embrace the Christian faith. Eanfled, the daughter of this illustrious pair, afterwards the consort of Oswy king of Mercia, was the first individual who received the sacrament of baptism in Northumbria.
In the eighth century, the consorts of the Saxon kings were excluded, by a solemn law, from sharing in the honors of royalty, on account of the crimes of the queen Edburga, who had poisoned her husband, Brihtric king of Wessex; [Although this infamous woman escaped the vengeance of human justice by fleeing to the continent, she was reduced to such abject destitution, that Asser declares she was seen begging her bread at Pavia, where she died.—Note to Malmesbury, by Dr. Giles.] and even when Egbert consolidated the kingdoms of the Heptarchy into an empire, of which he became the Bretwalda, or sovereign, his queen Redburga was not permitted to participate in his coronation. Osburga, the first wife of Ethelwulph, and the mother of the great Alfred, was also debarred from this distinction; but when, on her death, or, as some historians say, her divorce, Ethelwulph espoused the beautiful and accomplished Judith, the sister of the emperor of the Franks, he violated this law by placing her beside him on the King's-bench, and allowing her a chair of state, and all the other distinctions to which her high birth entitled her. This afforded a pretence to his ungallant subjects for a general revolt, headed by his eldest son Ethelbald, by whom he was deprived of half his dominions. Yet Ethelbald, on his father's death, was so captivated by the charms of the fair cause of his parricidal rebellion, that he outraged all Christian decency by marrying her.
The beautiful and unfortunate Elgiva, the consort of Edwy, has afforded a favorite theme for poetry and romance; but the partisans of her great enemy, Dunstan, have so mystified her history, that it would be no easy matter to give an authentic account of her life. Elfrida, the fair and false queen of Edgar, has acquired an infamous celebrity for her remorseless hardness of heart. She did not possess the talents necessary to the accomplishment of her design of seizing the reins of government after she had assassinated her unfortunate stepson at Corfe castle, for in this she was entirely circumvented by the political genius of Dunstan, the master-spirit of the age.
Emma of Normandy, the beautiful queen of Ethelred, and afterwards of Canute, plays a conspicuous part in the Saxon annals. There is a Latin treatise, written in her praise by a contemporary historian, entitled, "Encomium Emmae;" but, notwithstanding the florid commendations there bestowed upon her, the character of this queen must be considered a doubtful one. The manner in which she sacrificed the interests of her children by her first husband, Ethelred, to those by her second unnatural marriage with the Danish conqueror, is little to her credit, and was certainly never forgiven by her son, Edward the Confessor; though that monarch, after he had witnessed the triumphant manner in which she cleared herself of the charges brought against her by her foes, by passing through the ordeal of walking barefoot, unscathed, over the nine red-hot ploughshares in Winchester cathedral, threw himself at her feet in a transport of filial penitence, implored her pardon with tears, and submitted to the discipline at the high altar, as a penance for having exposed her to such a test of her innocence. [Milner's Winchester.]
Editha, the consort of Edward the Confessor, was not only an amiable, but a learned lady. The Saxon historian, Ingulphus, himself a scholar at Westminster monastery, close by Editha's palace, affirms that the queen used frequently to intercept him and his school-fellows in her walks, and ask them questions on their progress in Latin, or, in the words of his translator, "moot points of grammar with them, in which she oftentimes posed them." Sometimes she gave them a piece of silver or two out of her own purse, and sent them to the palace buttery to breakfast. She was skilful in the works of the needle, and with her own hands she embroidered the garments of her royal husband, Edward the Confessor. But well as the acquirements and tastes of Editha qualified her to be the companion of that learned prince, he never treated her with the affection of a husband, or ceased to remember that her father had supported the Danish usurpation, and imbrued his hands in the blood of the royal line. The last Anglo-Saxon queen, Edith, or Alfgith, surnamed the Fair, the faithful consort of the unfortunate Harold, was the sister of the earls Morcar and Edwin, so celebrated in the Saxon annals, and the widow of Griffin, prince of North Wales. The researches of sir Henry Ellis, and other antiquaries of the present day, lead to the conclusion that the touching instance of woman's tender and devoted love,—the verification of Harold's mangled body among the slain at Hastings, generally attributed to his paramour, belongs rather to queen Edith, his disconsolate widow.
Such is the brief summary of our early British and Anglo-Saxon queens. A far more important position on the progressive tableau of history is occupied by the royal ladies who form the series of our mediaeval queens, commencing with Matilda of Flanders, the wife of William the Conqueror, the mother of a mighty line of kings, whose august representative, our liege lady queen Victoria, at present wears the crown of this realm. The spirit of chivalry, born in the poetic South, was not understood by the matter-of-fact Saxons, who regarded women as a very subordinate link of the social chain. The Normans, having attained to a higher grade of civilization, brought with them the refined notion, inculcated by the troubadours and minstrels of France and Italy, that the softer sex was entitled, not only to the protection and tenderness, but to the homage and service of all true knights. The revolution in popular opinion effected by this generous sentiment elevated the character of woman, and rendered the consort of an Anglo-Norman or Plantagenet king a personage of scarcely less importance than her lord.
"There is something," observes an eloquent contemporary, "very peculiar in the view which we obtain of history in tracing the lives of queens-consort. The great world is never entirely shut out: the chariot of state is always to be seen,—the sound of its wheels is ever in our ears. We observe that the thoughts, the feelings, the actions of her whose course we arc tracing are at no time entirely disconnected with him by whose hand the reins are guided, and we not unfrequently detect the impulse of her finger by the direction in which it moves." Whether beloved or not, the influence on society of the wife and companion of the sovereign must always be considerable; and for the honor of womankind be it remembered, that it has, generally speaking, been exerted for worthy purposes. Our queens have been instruments, in the hands of God, for the advancement of civilization, and the exercise of moral and religious influence; many of them have been brought from foreign climes to plant the flowers and refinements of a more polished state of society in our own, and well have they, for the most part, performed their mission.
William the Conqueror brought the sword and the feudal tenure. He burned villages, and turned populous districts into his hunting-grounds. His consort, Matilda, introduced her Flemish artisans, to teach the useful and profitable manufactures of her native land to a starving population: she brought her architects, and set them to build the stately fanes, which gave employment to another class of her subjects, and encouraged the fine arts, —sculpture, painting, and needle-work. Above all, she bestowed especial regard and honors on the poets and chroniclers of her era.
The consort of Henry I., Matilda of Scotland, familiarly designated by her subjects "Maude, the gode quene," not only excelled in personal works of piety and charity, and in refining the morals and manners of the licentious Norman court, but exerted her influence with her royal husband to obtain the precious boon of a charter for the people, which secured to them the privilege of being governed by the righteous laws of Edward the Confessor. Her graceful successor, Adelicia of Louvaine, was, like herself, a patroness of poetry and history, and did much to improve the spirit of the age by affording a bright example of purity of conduct.
Our third Matilda, the consort of Stephen, was the founder of churches and hospitals, and the friend of the poor. It is certain that her virtues, talents, and conjugal heroism did more to preserve the crown to her husband than the swords of the warlike barons who espoused his cause. Eleanora of Aquitaine, though defective in her moral conduct, was a useful queen in her statistic and commercial regulations.
Berengaria, the crusading queen, of whom so much has been said and so little known, before the publication of her biography in the first edition of this work, was only influential through her mild virtues, her learning, and her piety; but she never held her state in England, which, during the greater portion of her warlike husband's reign, was suffering from the evils of absenteeism.
Isabella of Angouleme, the consort of John, was one of the few queens who have left no honorable memorials, either on the page of history or the statistics of this country. Neither can anything be said in praise of Eleanor of Provence, the consort of Henry III., whose selfishness, avarice, and reckless extravagance offended all ranks of the people, especially the citizens of London, and precipitated the realm into the horrors of civil war.
The moral beauty of the character of Eleanor of Castile, the consort of Edward I., her wisdom, prudence, and feminine virtues, did much to correct the evils which the follies of her predecessors had caused, and restored the queenly office to its proper estimation. Her amiable successor, Marguerite of France, has left no other records than those of compassion and kindliness of heart.
For the honor of female royalty be it noticed, that Isabella of France is the only instance of a queen of England acting in open and shameless violation of the duties of her high vocation, allying herself with traitors and foreign agitators against her king and husband, and staining her name with the combined crimes of treason, adultery, murder, and regicide. It would, indeed, be difficult to parallel, in the history of any other country, so many beautiful examples of conjugal devotedness as are to be found in the annals of the queens of England. Much of the statistic prosperity of England during the long, glorious reign of Edward III. may with justice be attributed to the admirable qualities and popular government of queen Philippa, who had the wisdom to establish, and the good taste to encourage, home manufactures, and never failed to exert her influence in a good cause.
Under the auspices and protection of the blameless Anne of Bohemia, the first queen of Richard II., we hail the first dawn of the principles of the Reformation. The seeds that were then sown under her gentle influence, though apparently crushed in the succeeding reigns, took deeper root than shallow observers suspected, and were destined to spring up in the sixteenth century, and to produce fruits that should extend to the ends of the earth, when, in the fulness of time, the gospel should be preached by English missionaries to nations, of whose existence neither Wickliffe nor his royal patroness, queen Anne of England, in the fourteenth century, were aware. Isabella of Valois, the virgin widow of Richard II., whose eventful history has been for the first time recorded in this work, had no scope for queenly influence in this country, being recalled at so tender an age to her own.
Rapin has been betrayed by his vindictive hatred of his own country to assert, that every king of England who married a French princess was unfortunate, and came to an untimely end; but how far this assertion is borne out by facts, let the triumphant career of Henry V., the husband of Katherine of Valois, daughter of Charles VI. of France, answer. The calamitous fate of Henry VI. resulted, not from his marriage with Margaret of Anjou, but was brought about by a concatenation of circumstances, which inevitably prepared the way for the miseries of his reign long before that unfortunate princess was born. The fatal deviation from the regular line of the regal succession in the elevation of Henry IV. to the throne, insured a civil war as soon as the representative of the elder line should see a favorable opportunity for asserting his claims. The French wars, by exhausting the resources of the crown, compelled the ministers of Henry VI. to resort to excessive taxation, and the yet more unpopular expedient of debasing the silver coinage; and thus the affections of the people were alienated. The military talents of the duke of York, his wealth, and family alliance with the most powerful and popular nobleman in England,—the earl of Warwick,—must necessarily have turned the scale against the impoverished sovereign, even if he had been better fitted by nature and education to maintain a contest. The energies of Henry's queen, in truth, supported his cause long after any other person would have regarded it as hopeless. Her courage and firmness delayed a catastrophe which nothing could avert.
It is a curious study to trace the effect of the political changes of those unquiet times on the consorts of Henry VI., Edward IV., and Richard III. Three women more essentially opposite in their characteristics and conduct than the three contemporary, but not hostile, queens of the rival roses,— Margaret of Anjou, Elizabeth Woodville, and Anne Neville,—it would be difficult to find. The first, of royal birth and foreign education, schooled in adversity from her cradle, lion-like and indomitable under every vicissitude; the second, the daughter of one English knight and the widow of another, fair, insinuating, full of self-love and world-craft, inflated by sudden elevation, yet vacillating and submitting to become the tool of her enemies in her reverse of fortune; the third, the type of the timid dove, who is transferred without a struggle from the talons of the stricken eagle who had first seized her, to the grasp of the wily kite. How strangely were the destinies of these three unfortunate queens allied in calamity by the political changes of an era, which is thus briefly defined by the masterly pen of Guizot:—
"The history of England in the fifteenth century consists of two great epochs,—the French wars without, those of the roses within,—the wars abroad and the wars at home. Scarcely was the foreign war terminated when the civil war commenced; long and fatally was it continued while the houses of York and Lancaster contested the throne. When those sanguinary disputes were ended, the high English aristocracy found themselves ruined, decimated, and deprived of the power they had formerly exercised. The associated barons could no longer control the throne when it was ascended by the Tudors; and with Henry VII., in 1485, the era of centralization and the triumph of royalty commenced." The sovereign and the great body of the people from that time made common cause to prevent the re-establishment of an oligarchy, which had been found equally inimical to the rights of the commons and the dignity of the crown.
Having thus briefly traced the history and influence of the queens of England from the establishment of the feudal system to its close, commencing with the first Anglo-Norman queen, Matilda the wife of William the Conqueror, and concluding with Anne of Warwick, the last Plantagenet queen, herself the sad representative of the mightiest of all though aristocratic dictators of the fifteenth century,—the earl of
Warwick, surnamed the 'king-maker,'—we proceed to consider those of the new epoch.
Elizabeth of York, the consort of Henry VII., is the connecting link between the royal houses of Plantagenet and Tudor. According to the legitimate order of succession she was the rightful sovereign of the realm, and though she condescended to accept the crown-matrimonial, she might have contested the regal garland. She chose the nobler distinction of giving peace to her bleeding country by tacitly investing her victorious champion with her rights, and blending the rival roses of York and Lancaster in her bridal-wreath. It was thus that Henry VII., unimpeded by conjugal rivalry, was enabled to work out his enlightened plans, by breaking down the barriers with which the pride and power of the aristocracy had closed the avenues to preferment against the unprivileged classes. The people, tired of the evils of an oligarchy, looked to the sovereign for protection, and the first stone in the altar of civil and religious liberty was planted on the ruins of feudality. The effects of the new system were so rapid, that in the succeeding reign we behold, to use the forcible language of a popular French writer, "two of Henry the Eighth's most powerful ministers of state, Wolsey and Cromwell, emanating, the one from the butcher's shambles, the other from the blacksmith's forge." Extremes, however, are dangerous, and the despotism which these and other of Henry's parvenu statesmen contrived to establish was, while it lasted, more cruel and oppressive than the tyranny and exclusiveness of the feudal magnates; but it had only an ephemeral existence. The art of printing had become general, and the spirit of freedom was progressing on the wings of knowledge through the land. The emancipation of England from the papal domination followed so immediately, that it appears futile to attribute that mighty change to any other cause. The stormy passions of Henry VIII., the charms and genius of Anne Boleyn, the virtues and eloquence of Katharine Parr, all had, to a certain degree, an effect in hastening the crisis; but the Reformation was cradled in the printing-press, and established by no other instrument.
In detailing the successive historic tragedies of the queens of Henry VIII., we enter upon perilous ground. The lapse of three centuries has done so little to calm the excited feelings caused by the theological disputes with which their names are blended, that it is scarcely possible to state facts impartially without displeasing those readers, whose opinions have been biassed by party writers on one side or the other. Henry VIII. was married six times, and divorced thrice: he beheaded two of his wives, and left two surviving widows,—Anne of Cleves and Katharine Parr. As long as the virtuous influence of his first consort, Katharine of Arragon, lasted, he was a good king, and, if not a good man, the evil passions which rendered the history of the latter years of his life one continuous chronology of crime, were kept within bounds. Four of his queens claimed no higher rank than the daughters of knights: of these, Anne Boleyn and Katharine Howard were cousins-german; both were married by Henry during the life of a previously wedded consort of royal birth, and were alike doomed by the remorseless tyrant to perish on a scaffold as soon as the ephemeral passion which led to their fatal elevation to a throne had subsided. We know of no tragedy so full of circumstances of painful interest as the lives of those unhappy ladies. It ought never to be forgotten, that it was to the wisdom and moral courage of his last queen, the learned and amiable Katharine Parr, that England is indebted for the preservation of her universities from the general plunder of ecclesiastical property.
The daughters of Henry VIII., Mary and Elizabeth, occupy more important places than any other ladies in this series of royal biographies. They were not only queens but sovereigns, girded with the sword of state and invested with the spurs of knighthood at their respective inaugurations, in token that they represented their male predecessors in the regal office, not merely as legislators, but, if necessary, as military leaders. Mary virtually abdicated her high office when she became, in evil hour both for herself and her subjects, the consort, and finally the miserable state-tool and victim, of the despotic bigot, Philip the Second of Spain.
Purely English in her descent, both on the father's and mother's side for many generations, Elizabeth, notwithstanding the regal blood of the Plantagenets, which she derived from her royal grandmother, Elizabeth of York, was, literally speaking, a daughter of the people, acquainted intimately with the manners, customs, and even the prejudices of those over whom she reigned. This nationality, which never could be acquired by the foreign consorts of the Stuart kings, endeared her to her subjects as the last of a line of native sovereigns, while her great regal talents rendered her reign prosperous at home and glorious abroad, and caused the sway of female monarchs to be regarded as auspicious for the time to come.
The life of every queen of England whose name has been involved with the conflicting parties and passions excited by revolutions or differences of religious opinions, has always been a task of extreme difficulty. More peculiarly so with regard to the consorts of Charles I., Charles II., and James II., since, for upwards of a century after the revolution of 1688, it was considered a test of loyalty to the reigning family and attachment to the church of England to revile the sovereigns of the house of Stuart, root and branch, and to consign them, their wives and children, their friends and servants, and every one who would not unite in desecrating their tombs, to the reprobation of all posterity. Every one who attempted to write history at that period was, to use the metaphor of the witty author of Eothen, "subjected to the immutable law, which compels a man with a pen in his hand to be uttering now and then some sentiment not his own, as though, like a French peasant under the old regime, he were bound to perform a certain amount of work on the public highways." Happily the necessity, if it ever existed, of warping the web of truth to fit the exigencies of a political crisis, exists no longer. The title of the present illustrious occupant of the throne of Great Britain to the crown she wears is founded on the soundest principles, both of constitutional freedom of choice in the people, and legitimate descent from the ancient monarchs of the realm. The tombs of the last princes of the male line of the royal house of Stuart were erected at the expense of their august kinsman George IV. That generous prince set a noble example of liberal feeling in the sympathy which he was the first to accord to that unfortunate family. He did more; he checked the hackneyed system of basing modern history on the abuse of James II. and his consort, by authorizing the publication of a portion of the Stuart papers, and employing his librarian and historiographer to arrange the life of that prince from his journals and correspondence.
The consort of James II., Mary Beatrice of Modena, played an important rather than a conspicuous part in the historic drama of the stirring times in which her lot was cast. The tender age at which she was reluctantly torn from a convent to become the wife of a prince whose years nearly trebled her own, and the feminine tone of her mind, deterred her from interfering in affairs of state during the sixteen years of her residence in England. The ascetic habits and premature superannuation of her unfortunate consort compelled her, for the sake of her son, to emerge at length from the sanctuary of the domestic altar to enter upon the stormy arena of public life, when she became, and continued for many years after, the rallying point of the Jacobites. All the plots and secret correspondence of that party were carried on under her auspices. There are epochs in her life when she comes before us in her beauty, her misfortunes, her conjugal tenderness, and passionate maternity, like one of the distressed queens of Greek tragedy struggling against the decrees of adverse destiny. The slight mention of her that appears on the surface of English history has been penned by chroniclers of a different spirit from "Griffith,"—men whose hearts were either hardened by strong political and polemic animosities, or who, as a matter of business or expediency, did their utmost to defame her, because she was the wife of James II. and the mother of his unfortunate son. The bitterest of her unprovoked enemies, Burnet, was reduced to the paltry expedients of vituperation and calumny in the attacks he constantly makes on her. The first, like swearing, is only an imbecile abuse of words, and the last vanishes before the slightest examination. History is happily written on different principles in the present age. "We have now," says Guizot, "to control our assertions by the facts;" in plain English, to say nothing either in the way of praise or censure which cannot be substantiated by sound evidence.
It was the personal influence of Mary Beatrice with Louis XIV., the dauphin, and the duke of Burgundy, that led to the infraction of the peace of Eyswick by the courts of France and Spain, through their recognition of her son's claims to an empty title: to please her, Louis XIV. allowed the dependent on his bounty to be proclaimed at the gates of one of his own royal palaces as James III., king not only of Great Britain and Ireland, but even of France, and to quarter the fleur-de-lis unmolested. The situation of the royal widow and her son, when abandoned by their protector Louis XIV. at the peace of Utrecht, closely resembles that of Constance of Bretagne and her son Arthur after the recognition of the title of king John by their allies; but Mary Beatrice exhibits none of the fierce maternity attributed by Shakspeare to the mother of the rejected claimant of the English throne: her feelings were subdued by a long acquaintance with adversity and the fever of disappointed hope.
Our Dutch king, William III., is supposed to have intimated his contempt for the fair sex in general, and his jealousy of his illustrious consort's superior title in particular, when it was proposed to confer the sovereignty of Great Britain on her, by his coarse declaration that "he would not hold the crown by apron-strings." But the fact was, that Mary, though two degrees nearer in blood to the regal succession, had no more right to the crown than himself as the law then stood; and if the order of legitimacy were to be violated by setting aside the male heir, William saw no reason why it should be done in Mary's favor rather than his own. The conventional assembly adjusted this delicate point by deciding that the prince and princess of Orange should reign as joint sovereigns, to which William outwardly consented; yet the household-books furnish abundant proofs that, as far as he durst, he deprived his queen of the dignity which the will of the people had conferred upon her. The warrants were for a considerable time issued in his name singly, and dated in the first or second years of his, instead of their majesties' reign. It is also observable, that he never allowed her to participate with himself in the ceremonial of opening or proroguing parliament, on which occasions he occupied the throne solus, and arrogated exclusively to himself the regal office of sceptering or rejecting bills, which ought to have been submitted to her at the same time.
Mary, though naturally ambitious and fond of pageantry, endured these ungallant curtailments of her royal prerogatives and personal dignity with a submission which her foreign spouse could never have ventured to exact from her if she had succeeded to the Britannic empire on the demise of the crown. In that case, William of Orange would have been indebted to her favor for the empty title of king, and such ceremonial honors and dignity as it might have pleased her to confer on him. Circumstances were, however, widely different. William's Dutch troops had rudely expelled Mary's royal father from his palace, forced him to vacate his regal office by driving him from the seat of government, and causing him to flee for refuge to a foreign land. William remaining thus undisputed master of the metropolis and exchequer, considered that Mary was indebted to him, not he to her, for a crown and although the suffrages of the people invested her with the dignity of queen-regnant, she was, in all things, as subservient to his authority as if she had been merely a queen-consort. The conjugal apron-strings were, nevertheless, William's strongest hold on the crown of England. Nothing but Mary's popular and able government at home could have enabled him to overcome the difficulties of his position during the revolt of Ireland and the insurrection in Scotland.
The mild sway of Anne, her tenderness of the lives of her subjects, her munificent charities to the poor, her royal bounties to that meritorious portion of the church, the indigent working clergy, caused her to be regarded, while living, with loyal affection by the great body of her subjects, and endeared her memory to succeeding generations. Anne is the last queen of Great Britain of whom a personal history can be written, till Time, the great mother of truth, shall raise the curtain of a recent but doubtful past, and by the publication of letters and domestic state-papers now inaccessible, enable those who may undertake the biographies of the queens of the reigning family to perform their task with fidelity.