Kenilworth, by Sir Walter Scott

Chapter XXXI.

Nay, this is matter for the month of March,

When hares are maddest. Either speak in reason,

Giving cold argument the wall of passion,

Or I break up the court.

Beaumont and Fletcher.

It is by no means our purpose to detail minutely all the princely festivities of Kenilworth, after the fashion of Master Robert Laneham, whom we quoted in the conclusion of the last chapter. It is sufficient to say that under discharge of the splendid fireworks, which we have borrowed Laneham’s eloquence to describe, the Queen entered the base-court of Kenilworth, through Mortimer’s Tower, and moving on through pageants of heathen gods and heroes of antiquity, who offered gifts and compliments on the bended knee, at length found her way to the Great Hall of the Castle, gorgeously hung for her reception with the richest silken tapestry, misty with perfumes, and sounding to strains of soft and delicious music. From the highly-carved oaken roof hung a superb chandelier of gilt bronze, formed like a spread eagle, whose outstretched wings supported three male and three female figures, grasping a pair of branches in each hand. The Hall was thus illuminated by twenty-four torches of wax. At the upper end of the splendid apartment was a state canopy, overshadowing a royal throne, and beside it was a door, which opened to a long suite of apartments, decorated with the utmost magnificence for the Queen and her ladies, whenever it should be her pleasure to be private.

The Earl of Leicester having handed the Queen up to her throne, and seated her there, knelt down before her, and kissing the hand which she held out, with an air in which romantic and respectful gallantry was happily mingled with the air of loyal devotion, he thanked her, in terms of the deepest gratitude, for the highest honour which a sovereign could render to a subject. So handsome did he look when kneeling before her, that Elizabeth was tempted to prolong the scene a little longer than there was, strictly speaking, necessity for; and ere she raised him, she passed her hand over his head, so near as almost to touch his long, curled, and perfumed hair, and with a movement of fondness that seemed to intimate she would, if she dared, have made the motion a slight caress.


She at length raised him, and standing beside the throne, he explained to her the various preparations which had been made for her amusement and accommodation, all of which received her prompt and gracious approbation. The Earl then prayed her Majesty for permission that he himself, and the nobles who had been in attendance upon her during the journey, might retire for a few minutes, and put themselves into a guise more fitting for dutiful attendance, during which space those gentlemen of worship (pointing to Varney, Blount, Tressilian, and others), who had already put themselves into fresh attire, would have the honour of keeping her presence-chamber.

“Be it so, my lord,” answered the Queen; “you could manage a theatre well, who can thus command a double set of actors. For ourselves, we will receive your courtesies this evening but clownishly, since it is not our purpose to change our riding attire, being in effect something fatigued with a journey which the concourse of our good people hath rendered slow, though the love they have shown our person hath, at the same time, made it delightful.”

Leicester, having received this permission, retired accordingly, and was followed by those nobles who had attended the Queen to Kenilworth in person. The gentlemen who had preceded them, and were, of course, dressed for the solemnity, remained in attendance. But being most of them of rather inferior rank, they remained at an awful distance from the throne which Elizabeth occupied. The Queen’s sharp eye soon distinguished Raleigh amongst them, with one or two others who were personally known to her, and she instantly made them a sign to approach, and accosted them very graciously. Raleigh, in particular, the adventure of whose cloak, as well as the incident of the verses, remained on her mind, was very graciously received; and to him she most frequently applied for information concerning the names and rank of those who were in presence. These he communicated concisely, and not without some traits of humorous satire, by which Elizabeth seemed much amused. “And who is yonder clownish fellow?” she said, looking at Tressilian, whose soiled dress on this occasion greatly obscured his good mien.

“A poet, if it please your Grace,” replied Raleigh.

“I might have guessed that from his careless garb,” said Elizabeth. “I have known some poets so thoughtless as to throw their cloaks into gutters.”

“It must have been when the sun dazzled both their eyes and their judgment,” answered Raleigh.

Elizabeth smiled, and proceeded, “I asked that slovenly fellow’s name, and you only told me his profession.”

“Tressilian is his name,” said Raleigh, with internal reluctance, for he foresaw nothing favourable to his friend from the manner in which she took notice of him.

“Tressilian!” answered Elizabeth. “Oh, the Menelaus of our romance. Why, he has dressed himself in a guise that will go far to exculpate his fair and false Helen. And where is Farnham, or whatever his name is — my Lord of Leicester’s man, I mean — the Paris of this Devonshire tale?”

With still greater reluctance Raleigh named and pointed out to her Varney, for whom the tailor had done all that art could perform in making his exterior agreeable; and who, if he had not grace, had a sort of tact and habitual knowledge of breeding, which came in place of it.

The Queen turned her eyes from the one to the other. “I doubt,” she said, “this same poetical Master Tressilian, who is too learned, I warrant me, to remember whose presence he was to appear in, may be one of those of whom Geoffrey Chaucer says wittily, the wisest clerks are not the wisest men. I remember that Varney is a smooth-tongued varlet. I doubt this fair runaway hath had reasons for breaking her faith.”

To this Raleigh durst make no answer, aware how little he should benefit Tressilian by contradicting the Queen’s sentiments, and not at all certain, on the whole, whether the best thing that could befall him would not be that she should put an end at once by her authority to this affair, upon which it seemed to him Tressilian’s thoughts were fixed with unavailing and distressing pertinacity. As these reflections passed through his active brain, the lower door of the hall opened, and Leicester, accompanied by several of his kinsmen, and of the nobles who had embraced his faction, re-entered the Castle Hall.

The favourite Earl was now apparelled all in white, his shoes being of white velvet; his under-stocks (or stockings) of knit silk; his upper stocks of white velvet, lined with cloth of silver, which was shown at the slashed part of the middle thigh; his doublet of cloth of silver, the close jerkin of white velvet, embroidered with silver and seed-pearl, his girdle and the scabbard of his sword of white velvet with golden buckles; his poniard and sword hilted and mounted with gold; and over all a rich, loose robe of white satin, with a border of golden embroidery a foot in breadth. The collar of the Garter, and the azure garter itself around his knee, completed the appointments of the Earl of Leicester; which were so well matched by his fair stature, graceful gesture, fine proportion of body, and handsome countenance, that at that moment he was admitted by all who saw him as the goodliest person whom they had ever looked upon. Sussex and the other nobles were also richly attired, but in point of splendour and gracefulness of mien Leicester far exceeded them all.

Elizabeth received him with great complacency. “We have one piece of royal justice,” she said, “to attend to. It is a piece of justice, too, which interests us as a woman, as well as in the character of mother and guardian of the English people.”

An involuntary shudder came over Leicester as he bowed low, expressive of his readiness to receive her royal commands; and a similar cold fit came over Varney, whose eyes (seldom during that evening removed from his patron) instantly perceived from the change in his looks, slight as that was, of what the Queen was speaking. But Leicester had wrought his resolution up to the point which, in his crooked policy, he judged necessary; and when Elizabeth added, “it is of the matter of Varney and Tressilian we speak — is the lady here, my lord?” his answer was ready — “Gracious madam, she is not.”

Elizabeth bent her brews and compressed her lips. “Our orders were strict and positive, my lord,” was her answer —

“And should have been obeyed, good my liege,” replied Leicester, “had they been expressed in the form of the lightest wish. But — Varney, step forward — this gentleman will inform your Grace of the cause why the lady” (he could not force his rebellious tongue to utter the words — his wife) “cannot attend on your royal presence.”

Varney advanced, and pleaded with readiness, what indeed he firmly believed, the absolute incapacity of the party (for neither did he dare, in Leicester’s presence, term her his wife) to wait on her Grace.

“Here,” said he, “are attestations from a most learned physician, whose skill and honour are well known to my good Lord of Leicester, and from an honest and devout Protestant, a man of credit and substance, one Anthony Foster, the gentleman in whose house she is at present bestowed, that she now labours under an illness which altogether unfits her for such a journey as betwixt this Castle and the neighbourhood of Oxford.”

“This alters the matter,” said the Queen, taking the certificates in her hand, and glancing at their contents. —“Let Tressilian come forward. — Master Tressilian, we have much sympathy for your situation, the rather that you seem to have set your heart deeply on this Amy Robsart, or Varney. Our power, thanks to God, and the willing obedience of a loving people, is worth much, but there are some things which it cannot compass. We cannot, for example, command the affections of a giddy young girl, or make her love sense and learning better than a courtier’s fine doublet; and we cannot control sickness, with which it seems this lady is afflicted, who may not, by reason of such infirmity, attend our court here, as we had required her to do. Here are the testimonials of the physician who hath her under his charge, and the gentleman in whose house she resides, so setting forth.”

“Under your Majesty’s favour,” said Tressilian hastily, and in his alarm for the consequence of the imposition practised on the Queen forgetting in part at least his own promise to Amy, “these certificates speak not the truth.”

“How, sir!” said the Queen —“impeach my Lord of Leicester’s veracity! But you shall have a fair hearing. In our presence the meanest of our subjects shall be heard against the proudest, and the least known against the most favoured; therefore you shall be heard fairly, but beware you speak not without a warrant! Take these certificates in your own hand, look at them carefully, and say manfully if you impugn the truth of them, and upon what evidence.”

As the Queen spoke, his promise and all its consequences rushed on the mind of the unfortunate Tressilian, and while it controlled his natural inclination to pronounce that a falsehood which he knew from the evidence of his senses to be untrue, gave an indecision and irresolution to his appearance and utterance which made strongly against him in the mind of Elizabeth, as well as of all who beheld him. He turned the papers over and over, as if he had been an idiot, incapable of comprehending their contents. The Queen’s impatience began to become visible. “You are a scholar, sir,” she said, “and of some note, as I have heard; yet you seem wondrous slow in reading text hand. How say you, are these certificates true or no?”

“Madam,” said Tressilian, with obvious embarrassment and hesitation, anxious to avoid admitting evidence which he might afterwards have reason to confute, yet equally desirous to keep his word to Amy, and to give her, as he had promised, space to plead her own cause in her own way —“Madam — Madam, your Grace calls on me to admit evidence which ought to be proved valid by those who found their defence upon them.”

“Why, Tressilian, thou art critical as well as poetical,” said the Queen, bending on him a brow of displeasure; “methinks these writings, being produced in the presence of the noble Earl to whom this Castle pertains, and his honour being appealed to as the guarantee of their authenticity, might be evidence enough for thee. But since thou listest to be so formal — Varney, or rather my Lord of Leicester, for the affair becomes yours” (these words, though spoken at random, thrilled through the Earl’s marrow and bones), “what evidence have you as touching these certificates?”

Varney hastened to reply, preventing Leicester —“So please your Majesty, my young Lord of Oxford, who is here in presence, knows Master Anthony Foster’s hand and his character.”

The Earl of Oxford, a young unthrift, whom Foster had more than once accommodated with loans on usurious interest, acknowledged, on this appeal, that he knew him as a wealthy and independent franklin, supposed to be worth much money, and verified the certificate produced to be his handwriting.

“And who speaks to the Doctor’s certificate?” said the Queen. “Alasco, methinks, is his name.”

Masters, her Majesty’s physician (not the less willingly that he remembered his repulse from Sayes Court, and thought that his present testimony might gratify Leicester, and mortify the Earl of Sussex and his faction), acknowledged he had more than once consulted with Doctor Alasco, and spoke of him as a man of extraordinary learning and hidden acquirements, though not altogether in the regular course of practice. The Earl of Huntingdon, Lord Leicester’s brother-inlaw, and the old Countess of Rutland, next sang his praises, and both remembered the thin, beautiful Italian hand in which he was wont to write his receipts, and which corresponded to the certificate produced as his.

“And now, I trust, Master Tressilian, this matter is ended,” said the Queen. “We will do something ere the night is older to reconcile old Sir Hugh Robsart to the match. You have done your duty something more than boldly; but we were no woman had we not compassion for the wounds which true love deals, so we forgive your audacity, and your uncleansed boots withal, which have well-nigh overpowered my Lord of Leicester’s perfumes.”

So spoke Elizabeth, whose nicety of scent was one of the characteristics of her organization, as appeared long afterwards when she expelled Essex from her presence, on a charge against his boots similar to that which she now expressed against those of Tressilian

But Tressilian had by this time collected himself, astonished as he had at first been by the audacity of the falsehood so feasibly supported, and placed in array against the evidence of his own eyes. He rushed forward, kneeled down, and caught the Queen by the skirt of her robe. “As you are Christian woman,” he said, “madam, as you are crowned Queen, to do equal justice among your subjects — as you hope yourself to have fair hearing (which God grant you) at that last bar at which we must all plead, grant me one small request! Decide not this matter so hastily. Give me but twenty-four hours’ interval, and I will, at the end of that brief space, produce evidence which will show to demonstration that these certificates, which state this unhappy lady to be now ill at ease in Oxfordshire, are false as hell!”

“Let go my train, sir!” said Elizabeth, who was startled at his vehemence, though she had too much of the lion in her to fear; “the fellow must be distraught. That witty knave, my godson Harrington, must have him into his rhymes of Orlando Furioso! And yet, by this light, there is something strange in the vehemence of his demand. — Speak, Tressilian, what wilt thou do if, at the end of these four-and-twenty hours, thou canst not confute a fact so solemnly proved as this lady’s illness?”

“I will lay down my head on the block,” answered Tressilian.

“Pshaw!” replied the Queen, “God’s light! thou speakest like a fool. What head falls in England but by just sentence of English law? I ask thee, man — if thou hast sense to understand me — wilt thou, if thou shalt fail in this improbable attempt of thine, render me a good and sufficient reason why thou dost undertake it?”

Tressilian paused, and again hesitated; because he felt convinced that if, within the interval demanded, Amy should become reconciled to her husband, he would in that case do her the worst of offices by again ripping up the whole circumstances before Elizabeth, and showing how that wise and jealous princess had been imposed upon by false testimonials. The consciousness of this dilemma renewed his extreme embarrassment of look, voice, and manner; he hesitated, looked down, and on the Queen repeating her question with a stern voice and flashing eye, he admitted with faltering words, “That it might be — he could not positively — that is, in certain events — explain the reasons and grounds on which he acted.”

“Now, by the soul of King Henry,” said the Queen, “this is either moonstruck madness or very knavery! — Seest thou, Raleigh, thy friend is far too Pindaric for this presence. Have him away, and make us quit of him, or it shall be the worse for him; for his flights are too unbridled for any place but Parnassus, or Saint Luke’s Hospital. But come back instantly thyself, when he is placed under fitting restraint. — We wish we had seen the beauty which could make such havoc in a wise man’s brain.”

Tressilian was again endeavouring to address the Queen, when Raleigh, in obedience to the orders he had received, interfered, and with Blount’s assistance, half led, half forced him out of the presence-chamber, where he himself indeed began to think his appearance did his cause more harm than good.

When they had attained the antechamber, Raleigh entreated Blount to see Tressilian safely conducted into the apartments allotted to the Earl of Sussex’s followers, and, if necessary, recommended that a guard should be mounted on him.

“This extravagant passion,” he said, “and, as it would seem, the news of the lady’s illness, has utterly wrecked his excellent judgment. But it will pass away if he be kept quiet. Only let him break forth again at no rate; for he is already far in her Highness’s displeasure, and should she be again provoked, she will find for him a worse place of confinement, and sterner keepers.”

“I judged as much as that he was mad,” said Nicholas Blount, looking down upon his own crimson stockings and yellow roses, “whenever I saw him wearing yonder damned boots, which stunk so in her nostrils. I will but see him stowed, and be back with you presently. But, Walter, did the Queen ask who I was? — methought she glanced an eye at me.”

“Twenty — twenty eye-glances she sent! and I told her all — how thou wert a brave soldier, and a — But for God’s sake, get off Tressilian!”

“I will — I will,” said Blount; “but methinks this court-haunting is no such bad pastime, after all. We shall rise by it, Walter, my brave lad. Thou saidst I was a good soldier, and a — what besides, dearest Walter?”

“An all unutterable-codshead. For God’s sake, begone!”

Tressilian, without further resistance or expostulation followed, or rather suffered himself to be conducted by Blount to Raleigh’s lodging, where he was formally installed into a small truckle-bed placed in a wardrobe, and designed for a domestic. He saw but too plainly that no remonstrances would avail to procure the help or sympathy of his friends, until the lapse of the time for which he had pledged himself to remain inactive should enable him either to explain the whole circumstances to them, or remove from him every pretext or desire of further interference with the fortunes of Amy, by her having found means to place herself in a state of reconciliation with her husband.

With great difficulty, and only by the most patient and mild remonstrances with Blount, he escaped the disgrace and mortification of having two of Sussex’s stoutest yeomen quartered in his apartment. At last, however, when Nicholas had seen him fairly deposited in his truckle-bed, and had bestowed one or two hearty kicks, and as hearty curses, on the boots, which, in his lately acquired spirit of foppery, he considered as a strong symptom, if not the cause, of his friend’s malady, he contented himself with the modified measure of locking the door on the unfortunate Tressilian, whose gallant and disinterested efforts to save a female who had treated him with ingratitude thus terminated for the present in the displeasure of his Sovereign and the conviction of his friends that he was little better than a madman.

22 To justify what may be considered as a high-coloured picture, the author quotes the original of the courtly and shrewd Sir James Melville, being then Queen Mary’s envoy at the court of London.

“I was required,” says Sir James, “to stay till I had seen him made Earle of Leicester, and Baron of Denbigh, with great solemnity; herself (Elizabeth) helping to put on his ceremonial, he sitting on his knees before her, keeping a great gravity and a discreet behaviour; but she could not refrain from putting her hand to his neck to kittle (i.e., tickle) him, smilingly, the French Ambassador and I standing beside her.”— Melville’s Memoirs, Bannatyne Edition, p. 120.

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