Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB
[graphic]

would recommend Pole to read, written by a practical man whose rules and maxims were confirmed by everyday experience, 'a book,' adds the horrified Cardinal, which, though it displayed the style of a man, I had nevertheless hardly begun to read, when I saw that it had been penned by the finger of Satan.' This Satanic work was, of course, Machiavelli's Prince.

Others have, indeed, abundantly pointed out the Machiavellian nature of Cromwell's methods 3—his government by terror, his elaborate system of spies, his ruthless sweeping aside of all who stood in his path. As an illustration of this system of tyranny it may suffice to take one notable instance, closely connected with the Reformation both in its political and religious aspects. The execution of Sir Thomas More and Bishop Fisher has always been regarded as the master crime of the Cromwellian reign of terror. Even Professor Froude lamented its necessity, though it was, in his opinion, a necessity. It was, it is true, unfortunate that the affair of the Anne Boleyn marriage told fatally to destroy the appearance of probity of motive, so indispensable to the defence of the Government;'and Europe, no doubt labouring under a misconception of the facts, was filled with indignation. So great, indeed, was this indignation that Henry 'condescended to an explanation.' He directed the magistrates to enlarge to the people on the malicious treasons of the Bishop of Rochester and Sir Thomas More. To the King of France, who had ventured to send a remonstrance, he replied haughtily that 'the English Government had acted on clear proof of treason; treason so manifest, and tending so clearly to the total destruction of the commonwealth of this realm, that the condemned persons were all well worthy, if they had a thousand lives, to have suffered a ten times more terrible death and execution than any of them did suffer.'

And what were these terrible treasons about which Henry was so righteously indignant, as tending to the total subversion of the realm ? More had been willing to recognise the right of Parliament to alter the succession; he had been prepared to keep silence on the royal supremacy. What he had not been willing to do was to perjure himself by denying openly his belief in the spiritual supremacy of the Pope. If this was treason, of every hundred honest men in the kingdom ninety-nine were traitors.

The treasons for which More was condemned had not been on the statute book a year. A few months before his arrest it would have been heresy to affirm what it was now treason to deny. He was not allowed to escape by retiring into private life, as he wished, but was hunted out and, contrary to all precedent and all natural justice, entrapped into incriminating himself. The true reason for their execution Professor Froude himself gives, though it is difficult for an unbiassed mind to see in it any real justification. They had, he says, 'chosen to make themselves conspicuous as confessors of Catholic truth; though prisoners in the Tower, they were in effect the most effectual champions of the Papal claims, and if their disobedience had been passed over the Act could have been enforced against no one's They were, in fact, those uncompromising and conscientious opponents of the new order whom Machiavelli classes under the name of the sons of Brutus,' and who must, in his view, be slain, if the new order is to be maintained.

3 See Brewer, Introduction to State Papers.

· History, vol. ii. p. 385, &c. Cf. Machiavelli, Discorsi : ' . . . nessuna Republica bene ordinata non mai cancelld i demeriti con gli meriti di suoi cittadini.'

If, then, the influence of Machiavelli is so clearly traceable on Cromwell's political methods, it is possible that, in its broader aspects also, his policy was derived from the same source. Especially may he have learned from Machiavelli that astuteness by which he recognised that men are often willing to surrender the substance of their rights if they are allowed to retain the shadow, which led him to exercise a despotic government without the open violation of any constitutional form, and, finally, to make the Church the seemingly willing instrument of her own enslavement. And the justification of this Machiavellian policy is found in the comparatively peaceful course of the Reformation in England. The great bulk of the people, Catholic by education, by instinct, and by the strong conservatism of our race, accepted the new order without realising to what it committed them. Later on, when the hopes of a reaction became weaker, the discontent of a small minority might express itself in abortive plots; but England was spared the horrors of a Thirty Years' War, or of a struggle such as that between the Huguenots and the League ; and when, in the next century, the Puritan Revolution occurred, its motives were political rather than religious. Even in our day this Machiavellian method of reform still bears fruit, in that it can be seriously argued that the Church of England under Henry the Eighth was the willing instrument of her own reformation.

With the fall of Cromwell the influence of Machiavelli on the course of ecclesiastical affairs in England came, for the time, to an end. For his strong and far-sighted, if ruthless, policy there was little sympathy found among the crowd of miserable sycophants who rose upon his ruin, who surrounded the throne during the last years of Henry the Eighth, and held the reins of power under Edward. With Cromwell, as with Machiavelli, the Dudleys, the Seymours, and the Riches had nothing in common, save their unscrupulousness. All grandeur of aim is gone; and for the great policy of Cromwell they substituted the most sordid of private motives, striving by the same unscrupulous means which he had used for public ends to gratify their personal ambition or avarice. It would be a libel on Machiavelli to apply his name to this government of incompetent and selfish factions. It would have been well had they studied The Prince, and taken its lessons to heart; if Somerset had dearned from it to avoid the vacillation and want of decision which characterised him, to abstain from hasty and ill-considered innovations in religion, and to recognise that the true strength of a government lies in the goodwill of the people. But the strong policy of Cromwell, in fact, ceased with his death, and it was not until England had been for eleven years, under Edward and Mary, a prey to the misgovernment of unscrupulous adventurers, and doctrinaires, Catholic and Protestant, that the system which he had initiated was revived again by the accession of Elizabeth.

5 History, vol. ii. p. 369.

Discorsi, book iii. cap 4.

[graphic]

During the reign of Elizabeth, even more than during that of Henry the Eighth, the statecraft of Machiavelli seems to have been consistently applied. The conditions obtaining in England at the time of the Queen's accession were, indeed, not altogether unlike those which had prompted Machiavelli to write his Discourses. There was the same danger to be feared both from within and from withoutwithin, the never-ceasing war of religious factions, wasting in futile and bloody controversy the best strength of the nation ; without the French king bestriding the realm, having one foot in Calais and the other in Scotland; steadfast enemies, but no steadfast friends." In both the Discourses on Livy and The Prince, whatever differences of principle and method there might be between them, Machiavelli had the same object in view the healing of the open wounds of Italy and her liberation from the hated bondage of the 'barbarian.' This, with the necessary differences of circumstance, was also the task that lay before Elizabeth. How well she performed it is matter of history and need not be enlarged upon here. We are more concerned with the policy she pursued, and by means of which she raised England, menaced at her accession by the hostility of France and the scarcely less dangerous friendship of Spain, to an unprecedented height of glory and influence among the nations of Europe. This policy, deliberately selected among several alternatives, was as novel as it was successful. How far was it inspired by the writings of Machiavelli?

There is evidence, which I will adduce later on, to prove that Machiavelli's works were studied by at least one of Elizabeth's advisers. But the Queen was apt to follow her own courses, and it is certain that no policy could have been forced upon her against her own judgment. The brilliant results of her long and glorious reign were, in fact, due to her own genius. For, though she knew how to select and keep her ministers, her relations with them were always regulated on the principles that Machiavelli 'had laid down; and, whilst she was ever ready to listen to any advice they had to offer, she never allowed her share of the government to be overshadowed by their influence. Even Lord Burleigh, who for thirty-four years continued to enjoy her confidence, was in the habit of deferring to her opinion, and, as Bacon says, 'there never was a councillor of his Lordship's long continuance that was so applicable to Her Majesty's princely resolutions, endeavouring always, after faithful propositions and remonstrances, and these in the best words and the most grateful manner, to rest upon such conclusions as Her Majesty, in her own wisdom determineth, and them to execute to the best.' 10 The guiding spirit of Elizabeth's policy, then, is to be sought in the character of the Queen herself, whose personality exercised so extraordinary an influence in directing the tendency of affairs during her reign.

. Address to the Council. Cf. Froude, Hist. vol. vii. p. 8.

8 See Bacon's account of the state of England at the time of the Queen's death in Observations on a Libel,' &c. (Works, vol. iii. p. 40, ed. 1824, London).

In some respects Elizabeth approached nearer than her father to Machiavelli's ideal prince. The salient characteristics of Henry the Eighth were, indeed, renewed in her; but whereas he had never quite succeeded in burying the theologian in the statesman, his daughter followed Machiavelli in regarding religion mainly as subsidiary to statecraft, not hesitating, as it seemed, to do violence to her own convictions or predilections if by so doing she could further her policy. That her action was consciously based on a study of The Prince there seems, indeed, to be no evidence to prove; but there is much to make us suspect that she was not unacquainted with Machiavelli's writings. There is a certain theatrical aspect about both her private and public life, which seems to show that she was acting a carefully studied part;! and all the intricacies of her policy appear to have been based upon some consistent theory of statecraft. From Machiavelli it may have been that she borrowed that art of political lying which she carried to the verge of comedy, and which she seemed to regard as part of the essential equipment of every diplomatist. And, if she was proud of her skill in outwitting others, she was even more so of the penetration which enabled her to see through their deceits. You deal not,' she writes to James the Sixth, upbraiding him with breaking his word, 'you deal not with one whose experience can take dross for good payments, nor one that easily may be beguiled. No, no! I mind to set to school your craftiest councillor.' Nor was this high opinion of her own powers without foundation. Bacon comments on 'her penetrating sight in

[ocr errors]

9. Observations on a Libel,' &c. (Bacon, vol. iii. p. 40). 10 Cf. The Prince, cap. xxiii.

11 Theodor Mundt (Machiavelli w. der Gang der europäischen Politik) points out the dramatic aspect of The Prince : • It is more the question of the study of a part than of a consistent doctrine.'

12 Cf. Prince, cap. xviii.
13 Cf. Ellis, Original Letters, vol. i. letter ccxv.
Vol. XL-No. 238

3P

[graphic]

discovering every man's ends and drifts; her inventing wit in contriving plots and overturns; her foreseeing events; her usage of occasions.' 14 And if, in these matters, she appeared in a large measure to realise Machiavelli's conception of a prudent prince, she did so no less in the broad outlines of her policy.

The great problem which, at the beginning of her reign, Elizabeth was called on to solve was the question of religion; and it is in her religious policy that the influence of Machiavelli may be most clearly traced. The crisis of the religious revolution had, indeed, already passed when she came to the throne. A few zealots, on one side or the other, might be still anxious to fight out the battle to a decisive conclusion, but the nation as a whole was heartily weary of a theological warfare which had reduced the country to the verge of ruin. The accession of the new queen had brought back streams of Protestant refugees, breathing vengeance and destruction against their persecutors, whilst Elizabeth's cautious proceedings during the first few months of her reign had, for the time, revived the hopes of the Catholics. But she had, in fact, determined to favour neither of the extreme parties. She knew that in following this course she would have the support of the bulk of the nation, and, with the mass of the nation on her side, she could afford to brave the attacks of the small number, however zealous they might be, who would be hostile to her system. Religion, then, was to be no longer the chief motive of government. Henceforward the attention of the people was to be drawn away from the fatal animosities of theology by the substitution of a new motive for their aspiration, a motive to which religion was to be subservient; and the nation, hitherto shattered by the conflict of rival sects, was to be welded together in a common opposition to the power and arrogance of Spain.

At the beginning of the reign, indeed, Philip had still hoped to retain his hold on England, and had offered Elizabeth his alliance. For a moment she hesitated, as well she might, for, situated as she was, the offer was a dazzling one. But she had had the strength and foresight to refuse it. And the policy which she pursued instead was that which Machiavelli had recommended for distracted Italynamely, the policy of military reorganisation,' 15 or the consolidation of the people by uniting them in a national conflict with a rival Power. And just as in Machiavelli the religious motive is made entirely subservient to the political, so the national religion became during Elizabeth's reign gradually associated in the minds of the people with the national opposition to Spain. Recusancy, which under Edward the Sixth would have been punished as heresy rather than

14 A Discourse in Praise of Queen Elizabeth,' Bacon's Works, vol. iii. p. 35 (London, 1824).

• Politik der kriegerischen Reorganisation' (cf. Theodor Mundt, Machiavelli und der Gang der europäischen Politik).

15

« AnteriorContinua »