Yet the relationship of the Council to the Queen was very different to that of Parliament and it was a difference which gave the Council greater political importance. Elizabethan politics was very much a face-to-face system, access to the monarch was not just important; it was essential to any sort of real power. It was an advantage the court had but Parliament lacked. However, this contact was relative even within the Council itself. Those favourites such as Cecil, Parry and Dudley, were the most important councillors in policy formulation, to the consternation of their fellow Councillors.
Yet this was a two-headed beast: because the Council was in such close contact with the Queen it was more subject to her. That is why questions such as over the succession were more likely to come up in Parliament - the Council was in too precarious a position to risk the wrath of the prince. That is not to say, however, that the Council did not follow policy contrary to the Queen's. For example: they supported Protestant rebellion abroad where the Queen refused to act against a fellow prince. In fact, the Council not only offered opinions but also actively tried to manipulate Elizabeth into pursuing their favoured course of action. The secretary was best placed to do this controlling, as he did, the flow of information to the Queen. Cecil was especially adept at manipulating Elizabeth; a threat of resignation was at time enough to make her change policy, as was the case with the Protestant rebellion in Scotland and her proposed marriage to Dudley.
But Elizabeth was not ready to be a mere proxy. In the late 1560s she grew wary of this manipulation. She practised extreme caution procrastinating over every decision to make sure it was the right one. This drove both Council and Parliament to despair, an irate Walsingham once proclaiming:
"For the love of God, Madam, Let not the cure of your diseased estate hand any longer in deliberation" (1575)
Later in her reign Elizabeth even went so far as to avoid her Council for fear of being pressured into making a wrong decision.
The Queen took care to avoid manipulation, but the close contact her Councillors had with her meant that this was not always possible. The Stafford Plot (1587), which led to the execution of Mary Stuart, was probably set up by the Council. It was a feat (putting gunpowder under Elizabeth's bed) which could only have been effected by those within easy reach of the Queen.
The Council's power, therefore, was based solely on being able to extract favourable policies from Elizabeth. They had no real inherent power. This is where Parliament had a theoretical advantage. English law was Common Law, to be completely valid it had to originate in Parliament, this included taxation laws. The Queen was more than aware of the latter, asking for subsidies in all but one of her thirteen parliaments. Parliament failed to take advantage of their power over the purse strings. In all but one of the sessions it granted Elizabeth's requirement with no hesitation, they never attempted to bribe the Queen into any sort of political concession. In fact the Queen's request for money was quite a comical affair: a minister making thinly veiled lies to get a grant that he was bound to get anyway.
During Elizabeth's reign Parliament became little more than an instrument of the Council. Many members of the Council were also MPs - Cecil and Knollys for example - and it is noticeable that bills forwarded by the Council usually stood a better chance of being passed. If it was not an actual councillor it was a councillor's man. In 1597 Essex and Robert Cecil competed with each other to get control of the Commons by ensuring their people were voted in. The Parliament was just another tool the Councillors used to press their claims on the Queen: religious reform, succession questions, Norfolk and Mary Stuart are all examples of the Councillors trying to pressure Elizabeth into a favourable decision. The speaker of the House was usually a Council nominee. Thomas Norton, William Fleetwood, Thomas Dannett, Thomas Digges and Robert Bell were probably all agents of the Council. Elizabeth' refusal to decide on important bills, though, shows that she was aware of the Council's manoeuvrings and was powerful enough to defy them. The Council failed in both court and Parliament to coerce the Queen, they only succeeded in the Mary Stuart case because the Queen thought her life was in danger.