Conclusion of the Reign of Elizabeth

It is remarkable, that while Elizabeth increased in power and resources, she became more noted for feminine weaknesses. In her early years she had shown a stoicism, and superiority to natural affections, not usually observed in women. But in her old age, she became both volatile and susceptible to an extraordinary degree; so that the hand which she had withheld in her younger days from the noblest princes of Europe, seemed likely to be bestowed in her old age upon some mere court minion. Her favorite in middle life was Robert, Earl of Leicester, a profligate and a trifler. In her latter days she listened to the addresses of the Earl of Essex, a young man of greater courage and better principle, but also headstrong and weak. Essex, who had acquired popularity by several brilliant military enterprises, began at length to assume an insolent superiority over the queen, who was on one occasion so much provoked by his rudeness as to give him a hearty box on the ear. Notwithstanding all his caprices, presumption, and insults, the queen still doatingly forgave him, until he at length attempted to raise an insurrection against her in the streets of London, when he was seized, condemned, and after much hesitation, executed (February 25, 1601).

Elizabeth, in at last ordering the execution of Essex, had acted upon her usual principle of sacrificing her feelings to what was necessary for the public cause; but in this effort, made in the sixty-eighth year of her age, she had miscalculated the real strength of her nature. She was observed from that time to decline gradually in health and spirits.

About the close of 1601, she fell into a deep hypochondria or melancholy. She could scarcely be induced to have herself dressed, and at length became so much absorbed by her sorrow as to refuse sustenance, and sat for days and nights on the floor, supported by a few cushions, brought to her by her attendants. On the 24th of March 1603, she expired, after a reign of nearly forty-five years, during which England advanced - politically and commercially - from the condition of a second-rate to that of a first rate power, and the Protestant religion was established on a basis from which it could never afterwards be shaken.

The reign of Elizabeth saw the commencement of the naval, glory of England. Down to the reign of Henry VII, there was no such thing as a navy belonging to the public, and the military genius of the people was devoted exclusively to enterprises by land. The rise, however, of a commercial spirit in Europe, which in 1492 had caused the discovery of America, and was again acted upon by the scope for adventure which that discovery opened up, had latterly caused great attention to be paid to nautical affairs in England. Englishmen of all ranks supported and entered. into enterprises for discovering unknown territories; and under Drake, Cavendish, Raleigh, and Frobisher, various expeditions of more or less magnitude were sent out. The colonies of North America were now commenced. Amongst the exertions of private merchants, our attention is chiefly attracted by the commencement of the northern whale-fishery, the cod-fishery of Newfoundland, and the less laudable slave-trade in Africa. When hostilities with Spain became more open, the English commanders made many successful attacks upon her colonies in the West Indies, and also upon the fleets of merchant vessels which were employed to carry home the gold, and other almost equally valuable products of the New World, to the Spanish harbors. These attacks were now made in a more systematic manner, and with more effect, as a revenge for the affair of the Armada. It may be said that the dominion of Britain over the seas was perfected almost in a single reign a power which has been of such advantage to the country, both in protecting its commerce, and keeping it secure from foreign invasion, that its origin would have conferred everlasting lustre on this period of British history, even although it had not been characterised by any other glorious event.

The chief articles exported from England to the continent were, wool, cloth, lead, and tin: formerly these had been sent in vessels belonging to the Hanse Towns - certain ports of the north of Europe, possessing great privileges - but now English vessels were substituted for this trade. Birmingham and Sheffield were already thriving seats of the hardware manufacture, and Manchester was becoming distinguished for making cottons, rugs, and friezes. Stocking-weaving and the making of sailcloth, serge, and baize, took their rise in this reign. The progress of other arts was much favored by the bloody persecutions in the Netherlands, which drove into England great numbers of weavers, dyers, cloth-dressers, and silkthrowers. Amongst the wealthier classes, the wearing of handsome apparel and of gold ornaments and jewelery, made a great advance. Coaches were introduced, but for a time thought only fit for the use of ladies. Great improvements were made in the building of houses. Theatrical amusements were begun, and attained great vogue, though only in London. The smoking of tobacco was, introduced by Sir Walter Raleigh, who became acquainted with the plant in Virginia. At the end of Elizabeth's reign, the population of London was about 160,000, or a tenth of what it now is; and the whole kingdom probably contained about 5,000,000 of inhabitants.