chapter  3
22 Pages

The Queen and the Nobility

Elizabeth I was a bully, and, like most bullies, she harassed the weak while deferring to the strong. She could coerce and humiliate her episcopate, but her peerage had to be treated with greater circumspection. The Queen might slap the face of the Earl of Essex after a particular provocation, but he was her creation, her plaything, and, despite all his efforts, he had no independent power base. With the hereditary magnates of England, however, it was different: they had to be enticed with fair words and bought with favours, for Elizabeth needed them. There were two reasons for this. One was that, by convention, the nobles were the family of the monarch: letters from the Queen to earls began with an affec­ tionate ‘Good Cousin’, and the nobility formed her natural entour­ age. Nobles believed they had the right as well as the duty to counsel the Queen, and thought of themselves as her closest com­ panions. The monarchy shone brightest when it reflected the glow of the attendant peerage, and the dignity of the Queen was en­ hanced by the dignity of her nobles. The second reason was more prosaic and more important: the peers had power, power the Queen feared and power she had to harness.