chapter  4
23 Pages

The Queen and the Council

The nobility of England formed Elizabeth’s family, and she was, more or less, stuck with them. She could remove her recalcitrant nobles by trial and execution, but this was an extreme course she resorted to most reluctantly. She could alter the composition of the peerage slightly, by admitting new cousins to the charmed family circle, but she seems to have thought her relations sufficiendy numerous. Except by such marginal changes, the Queen could not choose her family - but she could choose her friends, her closest councillors. Elizabeth’s recruitment of privy councillors was not, however, an entirely free choice: they needed to be men who would give good advice, but also men who could exercise effective author­ ity. The Queen could recruit her own friends, but they had to be powerful as well as reliable, tough as well as trustworthy, com­ petent as well as compatible. The composition of the Council had to recognise the distribution of power in society, for a Council of political weaklings was useless. But a Council should not be taken over by the great men of the kingdom, or government could become a weapon of a magnate faction and the interests of the Crown would be ignored. Great aristocrats were needed, but they had to be balanced by elements more dependent on, or more devoted to, the Queen.