With a feeling of satisfaction, Sir Robert Cecil relaxed comfortably into the coach for his long ride back to England. His audience with King James VI of Scotland had been a success, and had even exceeded his expectations in carving out a place for himself in their newly conceived government. Over the past two years, their intermittent meetings had been long and drawn out, but he was pleased that this one had been quick and to the point. Their final negotiation for the throne of England had been more relaxed than any of their previous encounters, perhaps because Time was now conspiring to speed them towards their goal.
As the carriage raced down the road, Cecil recalled the hectic ride three years earlier on his way to his father’s deathbed. Sadly, Fate had intervened by breaking the carriage’s axle that night, causing a delay in his arrival. By the time he had reached the house, Lord Burghley was dead and the instructions he had hoped for regarding the royal succession had become undeliverable. His father had taken the unfinished business to his grave, leaving the specters of civil war and national chaos looming over his son’s head.
It was so unlike his father to have died with the successor’s name unspoken and undocumented when he had so carefully recorded and scripted every other aspect of Elizabeth Tudor’s reign. Lord Burghley had elevated her from the reviled spawn of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII to Gloriana, the Virgin Queen, polishing every aspect of her reign until it shone like a jewel against her sister Mary’s infamous and bloody rule. He could scarcely believe there wasn’t a piece of paper somewhere in Lord Burghley’s hand that anticipated Elizabeth’s choice for royal heir.
But he could find no such paper, and only in that regard did his pedantic father leave him nothing.
The Queen still refused to name her successor, but these days Cecil found her silence convenient. It enabled him to act in his own self-interest, supporting a monarch who would reward him for placing the crown within his reach. He had already preyed upon the Queen’s guilty conscience to send James £3000 a year, supposedly as reparations for the execution of his mother. Naturally, James was grateful for this generosity – not to the murderous monarch who had signed Mary of Scotland’s death warrant, but to the hunchbacked counselor who had paved his way towards England’s throne.
At sixty-eight and in poor health, Elizabeth Tudor’s once-reasonable mind had become clouded. She suffered intense emotional outbursts and looked mournfully pallid. Her eyes were thick with tears and her hair had become gray and sparse. Not even the skills of her ladies in applying auburn wigs and wax makeup could hide the ravages of infirmity and age.
The Queen had become even more embroiled in the power struggles of her courtiers. She was devastated by the betrayal of her beloved Essex, who had turned against her while commanding the troops in Ireland. Because of his popularity with the commoners, he had convinced himself that he could organize their support in deposing her. For her part, the Queen seemed more concerned about his corruptive influence on the Earl of Southampton than she did with her own safety, making it difficult for her to deal effectively with the traitors.
As a result, Cecil had asked his cousin Sir Francis Bacon to spy on Essex. The promise of advancement made it easy for him to turn on his old friend, set his trap and wait. Bacon quickly informed Cecil that Essex had paid forty shillings to finance a revival of Shakespeare’s Richard II as a way of rallying the popular support of the commoners to join in his revolt, and that Southampton had selected the date and time for the play intended to catapult Essex onto the throne.
Six years earlier, Cecil had seen Richard II at the home of a friend and even then had found it troubling. He had been astonished when the Queen had turned to him and said that she was Richard II, the failing monarch cozened out of his throne and deposed by traitors. This unusual display of weakness made him realize that her days as a monarch were numbered.
After all, his father was dead. Lord Burghley had established Elizabeth Tudor’s rule, and like all things mortal, it was drawing to an end. Now his son’s star was on the ascendant. It was time for Sir Robert Cecil to play the role of king-maker and support James of Scotland, whose ambition for England’s crown was not unlike that of Richard’s nemesis, the usurper Bullingbrook.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish