Magazine article The Spectator

Tricky Regime Change

Magazine article The Spectator

Tricky Regime Change

Article excerpt

Tricky regime change AFTER ELIZABETH by Leanda de Lisle HarperCollins, £20, pp. 348, ISBN 0007126646 £18 (plus £2.25 p&p) 0870 800 4848

At Queen Elizabeth's funeral in April 1603, the predominant emotion among the spectators was relief. For the past 45 years her subjects had lived in continual terror of being engulfed in civil war when the childless queen died, leaving behind her a disputed succession. There were as many as 12 possible claimants to the throne and since Elizabeth had never made clear her own preference, it was far from obvious which one would triumph. Elizabeth had forbidden discussion of the matter on pain of death, but while this silenced speculation, it could not stop her subjects worrying about what would happen after she was gone. Upon her death, however, there had been no resistance when James VI of Scotland had been proclaimed King of England. Understandably delighted to find the anxieties which had so oppressed them 'dissolved in a minute', her subjects considered the queen's demise to be less a grievous loss than a cause for celebration.

There were other reasons why only a few individuals were truly saddened by her passing. Elizabeth's last years had been a time of widespread discontentment. The expense of a long and inconclusive war with Spain had resulted in high taxes and a financial squeeze at court, made worse, in the view of many, by the queen's miserly nature. There was a perception that corruption was on the rise, and the execution in 1601 of Elizabeth's last favourite, the Earl of Essex, had been widely lamented. 'Weary of an old woman's government', her people looked forward to being ruled by a male sovereign in his prime.

In Scotland King James had laboured hard to ensure that the English crown would go to him. He had established surreptitious contacts with influential Englishmen, promising that things could only get better once he was on the throne. Sick of wartime austerity, the English salivated at the prospect, and as James travelled south to take possession of his new kingdom, there was 'great hope of a flourishing time'.

Inevitably James proved something of a disappointment. He eschewed the old queen's frugality, but his very generosity brought problems of its own. …

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