Elizabethan England is the motherland, the true historic home, of all the different peoples who speak the sea-borne English tongue. In the reign of Elizabeth there was only one English-speaking nation. This nation consisted of a bare five million people, fewer than there are today in London or New York. But hardly had the Great Queen died before Englishmen began that colonizing movement which has carried their language the whole world round and established their civilization in every quarter of the globe. Within three centuries after Elizabeth's day the use of English as a native speech had grown quite thirtyfold. Within the same three centuries the number of those living under laws and institutions derived from England had grown a hundredfold. The England of Elizabeth was an England of great deeds, but of greater dreams. Elizabethan literature, take it for all in all, has never been surpassed; myriad-minded Shakespeare remains unequalled still. Elizabethan England was indeed 'a nest of singing birds.' Prose was often far too pedestrian for the exultant life of such a mighty generation. As new worlds came into their expectant ken, the glowing Elizabethans wished to fly there on the soaring wings of verse. To them the tide of fortune was no ordinary stream but the 'white-maned, proud, neck-arching tide' that bore adventurers to sea 'with pomp of waters unwithstood.'
The goodly heritage that England gave her offspring overseas included Shakespeare and the English Bible. The Authorized Version entered into the very substance of early American life. There was a marked difference between Episcopalian Virginia and Puritan New England. But both took their stand on this version of the English Bible, in which the springs of Holy Writ rejoiced to run through channels of Elizabethan prose. It is true that Elizabeth slept with her fathers before this book of books was printed, and that the first of the Stuarts reigned in her stead. Nevertheless the Authorized Version is pure Elizabethan.
All its translators were Elizabethans, as their dedication to King James, still printed with every copy, gratefully acknowledges in its reference to 'the setting of that bright Occidental Star, Queen Elizabeth of most happy memory.'
These words of the reverend scholars contain no empty compliment. Elizabeth was a great sovereign and, in some essential particulars, a very great national leader. This daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn the debonair, was born a heretic in 1533. Her father was then defying both Spain and the Pope. Within three years after her birth her mother was beheaded; and by Act of Parliament Elizabeth herself was declared illegitimate. She was fourteen when her father died, leaving the kingdom to his three children in succession, Elizabeth being the third. Then followed the Protestant reign of the boy-king Edward VI, during which Elizabeth enjoyed security; then the Catholic reign of her Spanish half-sister, 'Bloody Mary,' during which her life hung by the merest thread.
At first, however, Mary concealed her hostility to Elizabeth because she thought the two daughters of Henry VIII ought to appear together in her triumphal entry into London. From one point of view — and a feminine one at that — this was a fatal mistake on Mary's part: for never did Elizabeth show to more advantage. She was just under twenty, while Mary was nearly twice her age. Mary had, indeed, provided herself with one good foil in the person of Anne of Cleves, the 'Flemish mare' whose flat coarse face and lumbering body had disgusted King Henry thirteen years before, when Cromwell had foisted her upon him as his fourth wife. But with poor, fat, straw-colored Anne on one side, and black-and-sallow, foreign-looking, man-voiced Mary on the other, the thoroughly English Princess Elizabeth took London by storm on the spot. Tall and majestic, she was a magnificent example of the finest Anglo-Norman type. Always 'the glass of fashion' and then the very 'mould of form' her splendid figure looked equally well on horseback or on foot. A little full in the eye, and with a slightly aquiline nose, she appeared, as she really was, keenly observant and commanding. Though these two features just prevented her from being a beauty, the bright blue eyes and the finely chiselled nose were themselves quite beautiful enough. Nor was she less taking to the ear than to the eye; for, in marked contras to gruff foreign Mary and wheezy foreign Anne she had a rich, clear, though rather too loud English voice. When the Court reined up an< dismounted, Elizabeth became even more the centre of attraction. Mary marched stiffly on Anne plodded after. But as for Elizabeth — per feet In dancing, riding, archery, and all the sport of chivalry — 'she trod the ling like a buck in spring, and she looked like a lance in rest.'
When Elizabeth succeeded Mary in the autuim of 1558. she had dire need of all she had learnt in her twenty-five years of adventurous life. For tunately for herself and, on the whole, mos fortunately for both England and America, sh had a remarkable power of inspiring devotion to the service of their queen and country in men o both the cool and ardent types; and this lon; after her personal charms had gone. Govern ment, religion, finance, defence, and foreign affair were in a perilous state of flux, besides which the; have never been more distractingly mixed u with one another. Henry VII had saved mone; for twenty-five years. His three successors had spent it lavishly for fifty. Henry VIII had kep the Church Catholic in ritual while making it purely national in government. The Lord Protector Somerset had made it as Protestant as possible under Edward VI. Mary had done her best to bring it back to the Pope. Home affairs were Ml of doubts and dangers, though the great mass of the people were ready to give their handsome young queen a fair chance and not a little favor. Foreign affairs were worse. France was still the hereditary enemy; and the loss of Calais under Mary had exasperated the whole English nation. Scotland was a constant menace in the north. Spain was gradually changing from friend to foe. The Pope was disinclined to recognize Elizabeth at all.