Steven H Propp
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The History of England is philosopher and writer David Hume's great work on England's history from the invasion of Julius Caesar to the Revolution of 1688, written while he was serving as librarian to what became the National Library of Scotland. It was published in six volumes in 1754, 1756, 1759, and 1761. This fourth volume covers the period of Queen Elizabeth from 1558 to 1602. The previous volume was The History of England, Volume III (History of England, The), and the next volume is The History of England: From the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Revolution in 1688: Volume V.
He begins with the statement, "In a nation so divided as the English, it could scarcely be expected, that the death of one sovereign, and the accession of another, who was generally believed to have embraced opposite principles to those which prevailed, could be the object of universal satisfaction: Yet so much were men displeased with the present conduct of affairs... that the people, overlooking their theological disputes, expressed a general and unfeigned joy that the scepter had passed into the hands of Elizabeth... compassion towards her situation, and concern for her safety, had rendered her, to an uncommon degree, the favourite of the nation." (Pg. 3-4)
He asserts, "Of all the European churches, which shook off the yoke of papal authority, no one proceeded with so much reason and moderation as the church of England; an advantage... partly from the gradual and slow steps, by which the reformation was conducted in that kingdom. Rage and animosity against the catholic religion was as little indulged as could be supposed in such a revolution... The splendor of the Romish worship, though removed, had at least given place to order and decency... And the new religion, by mitigating the genius of the ancient superstition... had preserved itself in that happy medium, which wise men have always sought..." (Pg. 119-120)
He observes, "During these years, while Europe was almost every where in great commotion, England enjoyed a profound tranquility; owing chiefly to the prudence and vigour of the queen's administration, and to the wise precautions, which she employed in all her measures." (Pg. 176) He adds, "The queen had now brought affairs with Mary [I] to that situation... and had found a plausible reason for executing vengeance on a competitor... But she was restrained ... She foresaw the invidious colours, in which this example of uncommon jurisdiction would be represented by the numerous partizans of Mary, and... all foreign princes, perhaps with all posterity... Elizabeth, therefore, who was an excellent hypocrite, pretended the utmost reluctance to proceed with the execution of the sentence..." (Pg. 236)
Of Mary [I, "Queen of Scots"] he states, "a woman of great accomplishments both of body and mind, natural as well as acquired; but unfortunate in her life, and during one period, very unhappy in her conduct. The beauties of her person and graces of her air combined to make her the most amiable of women... she seemed to partake only so much of the male virtues as to render her estimable, without relinquishing those soft graces, which compose the proper ornament of her sex." (Pg. 251)
He summarizes about Elizabeth, "The unusual length of her administration, and the strong features of her character, were able to overcome all prejudices... Her vigour, her constancy, her magnanimity, her penetration, vigilance, address, are allowed to merit the highest praises, and appear not to have been surpassed by any person that ever filled a throne.... Her heroism was exempt from temerity, her frugality from avarice, her friendship from partiality, her active temper from turbulency and a vain ambition... but we are also apt to require some more softness of disposition, some greater leniency of temper, some of those amiable weaknesses by which her sex is distinguished... her qualities as a sovereign, though with some considerable exceptions, are the object of undisputed applause and approbation." (Pg. 351-353)
While Hume's scholarship has since been superseded, his lively writing style makes this a series well worth reading.