It was a time when men were being lifted into nobleness by the new moral energy which seemed suddenly to pulse through the whole people, when honour and enthusiasm took colours of poetic beauty, and religion became a chivalry. But the finer sentiments of the men around her touched Elizabeth simply as the fair tints of a picture would have touched her. She made her market with equal indifference out of the heroism of William of Orange or the bigotry of Philip. The noblest aims and lives were only counters on her board. She was the one soul in her realm whom the news of St. Bartholomew stirred to no thirst for vengeance; and while England was thrilling with its triumph over the Armada, its Queen was coolly grumbling over the cost, and making her profit out of the spoiled provisions she had ordered for the fleet that saved her. To the voice of gratitude, indeed, she was for the most part deaf. She accepted services such as were never rendered to any other English sovereign without a thought of return. Walsingham spent his fortune in saving her life and her throne, and she left him to die a beggar. But, as if by a strange irony, it was to this very want of sympathy that she owed some of the grander features of her character. If she was without love she was without hate.
She cherished no petty resentments; she never stooped to envy or suspicion of the men who served her. She was indifferent to abuse. Her good-humour was never ruffled by the charges of wantonness am. cruelty with which the Jesuits filled every Court in Europe. She was insensible to fear. Her life became at last the mark for assassin after assassin, but the thought of peril was the one hardest to bring home to her. Even when the Catholic plots broke out in her very household she would listen to no proposals for the removal of Catholics from her court.
It was this moral isolation which told so strangely both for good and for evil on her policy towards the Church. The young Queen was not without a sense of religion. But she was almost wholly destitute of spiritual emotion, or of any consciousness of the vast questions with which theology strove to deal. While the world around her was being swayed more and more by theological beliefs and controversies, Elizabeth was absolutely untouched by them. She was a child of the Italian Renascence rather than of the New Learning of Colet or Erasmus, and her attitude towards the enthusiasm of her time was that of Lorenzo de' Medici towards Savonarola. Her mind was unruffled by the spiritual problems which were vexing the minds around her; to Elizabeth indeed they were not only unintelligible, they were a little ridiculous. She had the same intellectual contempt for the superstition of the Romanist as for the bigotry of the Protestant. While she ordered Catholic images to be flung into the fire, she quizzed the Puritans as "brethren in Christ." But she had no sort of religious aversion from either Puritan or Papist. The Protestants grumbled at the Catholic nobles whom she admitted to the presence.
The Catholics grumbled at the Protestant statesmen whom she called to her council-board. But to Elizabeth the arrangement was the most natural thing in the world. She looked at theological differences in a purely political light. She agreed with Henry the Fourth that a kingdom was well worth a mass. It seemed an obvious thing to her to hold out hopes of conversion as a means of deceiving Philip, or to gain a point in negotiation by restoring the crucifix to her chapel. The first interest in her own mind was the interest of public order, and she never could understand how it could fail to be first in every one's mind. Her ingenuity set itself to construct a system in which ecclesiastical unity should not jar against the rights of conscience; a compromise which merely required outer "conformity" to the established worship while, as she was never weary of repeating, it "left opinion free." She fell back from the very first on the system of Henry the Eighth. " I will do," she told the Spanish ambassador, "as my father did." She opened negotiations with the Papal See, till the Pope's summons to submit her claim of succession to the judgment of Rome made compromise impossible.
The first work of her Parliament was to declare her legitimacy and title to the crown, to restore the royal supremacy, and to abjure all foreign authority and jurisdiction. At her entry into London Elizabeth kissed the English Bible which the citizens presented to her and promised "diligently to read therein." Further she had no personal wish to go. A third of the Council and at least two-thirds of the people were as opposed to any radical changes in religion as the Queen. Among the gentry the older and wealthier were on the conservative side, and only the younger and meaner on the other. But it was soon necessary to go further. If the Protestants were the less numerous, they were the abler and the more vigorous party; and the exiles who returned from Geneva brought with them a fiercer hatred of Catholicism. To every Protestant the Mass was identified with the fires of Smithfield, while Edward's Prayer-book was hallowed by the memories of the Martyrs. But if Elizabeth won the Protestants by an Act of Uniformity which restored the English Prayer-book and enforced its use on the clergy on pain of deprivation, the alterations she made in its language showed her wish to conciliate the Catholics as far as possible.
She had no mind merely to restore the system of the Protectorate. She dropped the words " Head of the Church " from the royal title. The forty-two Articles which Cranmer had drawn up were left in abeyance. If Elizabeth had had her will, she would have retained the celibacy of the clergy and restored the use of crucifixes in the churches. In part indeed of her effort she was foiled by the increased bitterness of the reformers. The London mob tore down the crosses in the streets. Her attempt to retain the crucifix or enforce the celibacy of the priesthood fell dead before the opposition of the Protestant clergy. On the other hand, the Marian bishops, with a single exception, discerned the Protestant drift of the changes she was making, and bore imprisonment and deprivation rather than accept the oath required by the Act of Supremacy. But to the mass of the nation the compromise of Elizabeth seems to have been fairly acceptable. The bulk of the clergy, if they did not take the oath, practically submitted to the Act of Supremacy and adopted the Prayer-book. Of the few who openly refused only two hundred were deprived, and many went unharmed.