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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

XIV. Some Political and Social Aspects of the Later Elizabethan and Earlier Stewart Period

§ 6. Question of the Queen’s Marriage

Nowhere, perhaps, is the interdependence of royal will and popular sentiment in the Elizabethan age more conspicuous than in two questions which it may not be altogether incongruous to mention side by side—the queen’s marriage and the religious settlement of the country. The former issue directly included that of the security of the throne; and, notwithstanding the ruptures of dramatic and other Elizabethan poets, “Diana’s rose” might have been won by a French suitor with the goodwill of many Englishmen, before the massacre of 1572 undid the effects of the treaty with France which had seemed on the eve of developing into a league of war against Spain. But, though the rose might have been won, she could hardly have been worn with the assent of the English people after the old hatred of France had, though only for a time, flared up again. As a matter of fact, it may be confidently asserted that, save in passing, no thought either of a French, or of any other foreign marriage—still less of a match with a subject of her own—was ever seriously entertained by Elizabeth. So long as her marriage was still a matter of practical politics, she humoured the popular hope that the question of the succession might find this easy solution; and, in the case of Leicester (who was cordially hated outside his own party) she gratified her own fancy, long after she can have entertained even a passing thought of actually bestowing on him her hand. But she knew what her subjects would approve in the end, and that the fact of her remaining unmarried must become an integral element of her unique popularity. On the one hand, marriage with a foreign prince could not but have implied the definite adoption of a particular “system” of foreign policy—a decision which Burghley and she were desirous of avoiding while it could be avoided; and, in the second place, it would have meant her subjection to the will of another—a consummation which had gradually become inconceivable to her.