Good Queen Tess

Good Queen Tess

Picture credit: Pulpstar

The country is divided into two fiercely-opposed camps. One group wants to free the country completely from European control, completing a process begun under a previous leader, whereas the other group wants to reverse the break from Europe altogether. In parliament the latter group has the majority, but the real levers of power are held – somewhat precariously – by a woman who, nominally at least, favours the break.

But does she? There is suspicion amongst the ultras that her commitment to the cause of breaking ties with Europe is less than complete. It is said that in private she shows signs of sympathy with those who want to Remain in the mainstream European tradition. She makes moves which seem to be somewhat at odds with her stated aim of completing the break from Europe.

For a while she maintains a constructive ambiguity, but eventually a plan is published. It is a settlement “painstakingly hammered out… a middle path in some ways reminiscent of her father’s idiosyncratic modified-Catholicism-without-the-pope than it was of her brother’s fiercely reformed faith.”, says Helen Castor in her new book Elizabeth I: A Study in Insecurity:

”All in all, the resulting Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity were a careful attempt to construct a … framework of religious practice within which as many of her subjects as possible could offer her their devotional obedience. However, that was not to say that it was easy to achieve. The proposals met obdurate opposition from Mary’s Catholic bishops in the House of Lords…. Elizabeth’s middle ground remained treacherous rather than easy terrain. Leading Protestant theologians.. expected the settlement of 1559 not in fact to be a settlement at all, but an opening salvo in an ongoing campaign…”.

A fudge, in other words, which satisfied no-one.

Meanwhile, what pretty much everyone agreed on was that Elizabeth’s own position was precarious. There were enemies and dangers on all sides. Her advisers wanted her to deal firmly with her main rival, but for a long time she refused. No-one thought she could continue to rule alone; she’d have to take a husband, but that too was intensely problematic. Her answer was to do nothing: “Procrastination was etched into her very being: waiting to see what delay, rather than action, might bring”.

In the end the naysayers were proved wrong on all fronts. By virtue of her procrastination she remained Queen and undisputed ruler of the nation until her death in 1603, presiding over a great period in English history. More remarkably still, her fudged settlement, which satisfied no-one at the time, endures even today, half a millennium later.

Richard Nabavi

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