The trial and death of Parry, a member of the House of Commons who had served in the Queen's household, on a similar charge, fed the general panic. Parliament met in a transport of horror and loyalty. All Jesuits and seminary priests were banished from the realm on pain of death. A bill for the security of the Queen disqualified any claimant of the succession who instigated subjects to rebellion or hurt to the Queen's person from ever succeeding to the Crown. The threat was aimed at Mary Stuart. Weary of her long restraint, of her failure to rouse Philip or Scotland to aid her, of the baffled revolt of the English Catholics and the baffled intrigues of the Jesuits, she had bent for a moment to submission. "Let me go," she wrote to Elizabeth; "let me retire from this island to some solitude where I may prepare my soul to die. Grant this, and I will sign away every right which either I or mine can claim." But the cry was useless, and her despair found a new and more terrible hope in the plots against Elizabeth's life.
She knew and approved the vow of Anthony Babington and a band of young Catholics, for the most part connected with the royal household, to kill the Queen; but plot and approval alike passed through Wal-singham's hands, and the seizure of Mary's correspondence revealed her guilt In spite of her protest a Commission of Peers sate as her judges at Fotheringay Castle; and their verdict of "guilty" annihilated under the provisions of the recent statute her claim to the Crown. The streets of London blazed with bonfires, and peals rang out from steeple to steeple at the news of her condemnation; but, in spite of the prayer of Parliament for her execution, and the pressure of the Council, Elizabeth shrank from her death. The force of public opinion, however, was now carrying all before it, and the unanimous demand of her people wrested at last a sullen consent from the Queen. She flung the warrant signed upon the floor, and the Council took on themselves the responsibility of executing it. Mary died on a scaffold which was erected in the castle-hall at Fotheringay as daunt-lessly as she had lived. "Do not weep," she said to her ladies, "I have given my word for you." "Tell my friends," she charged Melville, "that I die a good Catholic".
The blow was hardly struck before Elizabeth turned with fury on the ministers who had forced her hand. Cecil, who had now become Lord Burleigh, was for a while disgraced; and Davison, who carried the warrant to the Council, was flung into the Tower to atone for an act which shattered the policy of the Queen. The death of Mary Stuart in fact seemed to remove the last obstacle out of Philip's way, by putting an end to the divisions of the English Catholics. To him, as to the nearest heir in blood who was of the Catholic Faith, Mary bequeathed her rights to the Crown, and the hopes of her adherents were from that moment bound up in the success of Spain. Philip no longer needed pressure to induce him to act. Drake's triumph had taught him that the conquest of England was needful for the security of his dominion in the New World. The presence of an English army in Flanders convinced him that the road to the conquest of the States lay through England itself. The operations of Parma therefore in the Low Countries were suspended with a view to the greater enterprise. Vessels and supplies for the fleet which had for three years been gathering in the Tagus were collected from every port of the Spanish coast.
Only the dread of a counter-attack from France, where the fortunes of the League were wavering, held Philip back. But the news of the coming Armada called Drake again to action. He set sail with thirty small barks, burned the storeships and galleys in the harbour of Cadiz, stormed the ports of the Faro, and was only foiled in his aim of attacking the Armada itself by orders from home. A descent upon Corunna however completed what Drake called his "singeing of the Spanish King's beard." Elizabeth used the daring blow to back her negotiations for peace; but the Spanish pride had been touched to the quick. Amidst the exchange of protocols Parma gathered seventeen thousand men for the coming invasion, collected a fleet of flat-bottomed transports at Dunkirk, and waited impatiently for the Armada to protect his crossing. But the attack of Drake, the death of its first admiral, and the winter storms delayed the fleet from sailing. The fear of France held it back yet more effectually; but in the spring Philip's patience was rewarded. The League was triumphant, and the King a prisoner in its hands.
The Armada at once set sail from Lisbon, but it had hardly started when a gale in the Bay of Biscay drove its scattered vessels into Ferrol. It was only on the nineteenth of July that the sails of the Armada were seen from the Lizard, and the English beacons flared out their alarm along the coast. The news found England ready. An army was mustering under Leicester at Tilbury, the militia of the midland counties were gathering to London, while those of the south and east were held in readiness to meet a descent on either shore. Had Parma landed on the earliest day he purposed, he would have found his way to London barred by a force stronger than his own, a force too of men in whose ranks were many who had already crossed pikes on equal terms with his best infantry in Flanders. "When I shall have landed," he warned his master, "I must fight battle after battle, 1 shall lose men by wounds and disease, I must leave detachments behind me to keep open my communications; and in a short time the body of my army will become so weak that not only I may be unable to advance in the face of the enemy, and time may be given to the heretics and your Majesty's other enemies to interfere, but there may fall out some notable inconveniences, with the loss of everything, and I be unable to remedy it." Even had Parma landed, in fact, the only real chance of Spanish success lay in a Catholic rising; and at this crisis patriotism proved stronger than religious fanaticism in the hearts of the English Catholics. Catholic lords brought their vessels up alongside of Drake and Lord Howard, and Catholic gentry led their, tenantry to the muster at Tilbury. But to secure a landing at all, the Spaniards had to be masters of the Channel; and in the Channel lay an English fleet resolved to struggle hard for the mastery.