The issue of the Scotch war revealed suddenly to Europe the vigour of Elizabeth, and the real strength of her throne. She had freed herself from the control of Philip, she had defied France, she had averted the danger from the North by the creation of an English party among the nobles of Scotland. The same use of religious divisions gave her a similar check on the hostility of France. The Huguenots, as the French Protestants were called, had become a formidable party under the guidance of the Admiral Coligni, and the defeat of their rising against the family of the Guises, who stood at the head of the French Catholics and were supreme at the Court of Francis and Mary, threw them on the support and alliance of Elizabeth. But if the decisive outbreak of the great religious struggle, so long looked for between the Old Faith and the New, gave Elizabeth strength abroad, it weakened her at home. Her Catholic subjects lost all hope of her conversion as they saw the Queen allying herself with Scotch Calvinists and French Huguenots; her hopes of a religious compromise in matters of worship were broken by the issue of a Papal brief which forbade attendance at the English service; and Philip of Spain, freed like herself from the fear of France by its religious divisions, had less reason to hold the English Catholics in check.
He was preparing, in fact, to take a new political stand as the patron of Catholicism throughout the world; and his troops were directed to support the Guises in the civil war which broke out after the death of Francis the Second, and to attack the heretics wherever they might find them. "Religion," he told Elizabeth, "was being made a cloak for anarchy and revolution." It was at the moment when the last hopes of the English Catholics were dispelled by the Queen's refusal to take part in the Council of Trent that Mary Stuart, whom the death of her husband had left a stranger in France, landed at Leith. Girl as she was, and she was only nineteen, she was hardly inferior in intellectual power to Elizabeth herself, while in fire and grace and brilliancy of temper she stood high above her. She brought with her the voluptuous refinement of the French Renascence: she would lounge for days in bed, and rise only at night for dances and music. But her frame was of iron, and incapable of fatigue; she galloped ninety miles after her last defeat without a pause save to change horses.
[Authorities. - As before. Ranke's "English History," " History of the Reformation," by Knox. For Mary Stuart, the works of Buchanan and Leslie, Melville's Memoirs, collections of Keith and Anderson. For the Dutch revolt Motley's "Rise of the Dutch Republic," and "History of the United Netherlands."]
She loved risk and adventure and the ring of arms; as she rode in a foray to the north, the grim swordsmen beside her heard her wish she was a man, "to know what life it was to lie all night in the fields, or to walk on the cawsey with a Glasgow buckler and a broadsword." But in the closet she was as cool and astute a politician as Elizabeth herself; with plans as subtle, but of a far wider and grander range than the Queen's. "Whatever policy is in all the chief and best practised heads of France," wrote an English envoy, " whatever craft, falsehood, and deceit is in all the subtle brains of Scotland, is either fresh in this woman's memory, or she can fetch it out with a wet finger." Her beauty, her exquisite grace of manner, her generosity of temper and warmth of affection, her frankness of speech, her sensibility, her gaiety, her womanly tears, her manlike courage, the play and freedom of her nature, the flashes of poetry that broke from her at every intense moment of her life, flung a spell over friend or foe which has only deepened with the lapse of years. Even to Knollys, the sternest Puritan of his day, she seemed in her captivity to be "a notable woman." " She seemeth to regard no ceremonious honour besides the acknowledgement of her estate royal.
She showeth a disposition to speak much, to be bold, to be pleasant, to be very familiar. She showeth a great desire to be avenged on her enemies. She showeth a readiness to expose herself to all perils in hope of victory. She desireth much to hear of hardiness and valiancy, commending by name all approved hardy men of her country though they be her enemies, and she concealeth no cowardice even in her friends." As yet men knew nothing of the stern bigotry, the intensity of passion, which lay beneath the winning surface of Mary's womanhood. But they at once recognized her political ability. She had seized eagerly on the new strength which was given her by her husband's death. Her cause was no longer hampered, either in Scotland or in England, by a national jealousy of French interference. It was with a resolve to break the league between Elizabeth and the Scotch Protestants, to unite her own realm around her, and thus to give a firm base for her intrigues among the English Catholics, that Mary landed at Leith. The effect of her presence was marvellous. Her personal fascination revived the national loyalty, and swept all Scotland to her feet. Knox, the greatest and sternest of the Calvinistic preachers, alone withstood her spell.
The rough Scotch nobles owned that there was in Mary " some enchantment whereby men are bewitched." A promise of religious toleration united her subjects in support of the claim which she advanced to be named Elizabeth's successor. But the question of the succession, like the question of her marriage, was with Elizabeth a question of life and death. Her wedding with a Catholic or a Protestant suitor would have been equally the end of her system of balance and national union, a signal for the revolt of the party which she disappointed and for the triumphant dictation of the party which she satisfied. "If a Catholic prince come here," a Spanish ambassador wrote while pressing an Austrian marriage, "the first Mass he attends will be the signal for a revolt." It was so with the question of the succession. To name a Protestant successor from the House of Suffolk would have driven every Catholic to insurrection. To name Mary was to stir Protestantism to a rising of despair, and to leave Elizabeth at the mercy of every fanatical assassin who wished to clear the way for a Catholic ruler. "I am not so foolish," was the Queen's reply to Mary, "as to hang a winding-sheet before my eyes".