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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

§ 8. Struggle for the English Throne

But, to go back for a moment to the days when Elizabeth’s personal fate hung in the balance, together with the political independence of the nation which she ruled and the form of faith for which she stood. Both the queen and her counsellors long shrank from hastening the decision, and, for herself, it was part of her statecraft that she could never be induced to choose her side till she was quite certain of the support of the nation. When, in 1568—the year in which Alva set foot in the Low Countries in order to reduce their population to submission—Mary queen of Scots had taken refuge on English soil, the struggle for the English throne really became inevitable; but it was not till nineteen years later, when the head of the prisoner was laid on the block, and Philip of Spain had become the inheritor of her claims, that Elizabeth finally took up the challenge. That interval of time had witnessed the launching of the papal bull excommunicating Elizabeth; the massacre which, whether or not she would acknowledge it, had cut through her alliance with France; the invasion of Ireland; the participation by English volunteers in the rising of the Netherlands, of which, at a later date, the queen formally assumed the protection; the Jesuit missions for the conversion of England, and the executions of priests and seminarists; the legalisation of the Association for the protection of the queen’s person; Parry’s plot; the expedition of Drake, this time with the queen’s permission, into the Spanish main; and the maturing of the Babyngton conspiracy, nursed by Walsingham with remorseless craft into the proportions which it bore in the final proceedings against Mary. Her execution was the signal for the formal declaration of a rupture which had long yawned wide. In 1588, the Armada sailed, and was dissipated.