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The Reign of Elizabeth. (Continued) page 15


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The result of this trial was that Essex was condemned to forfeit every office which he held by patent from the Crown, and to remain a prisoner at the royal pleasure. Elizabeth trusted that now she had broken the proud spirit of the lord deputy, and that the sentence of the court would bring him humbly to sue for forgiveness. But the great failing of Essex was his high spirit, his indignant sense of wrong, and obstinate refusal to surrender his own will when he felt himself right; though there was no other way of appeasing the determined mind of his equally self-willed sovereign. He only begged to be dismissed, and that she "would let her servant depart in peace." He declared that all the pleasures and ambitions of the world had palled upon his mind; that he saw their vanity, and desired only to live in retirement with his wife, his friends, and his books in the country. Had that been real, few men were better qualified, by their refined and elevated taste, and their love of literature, to have adorned such a life; but Essex, if he really longed for private and domestic life, did not know himself, for he was one of those restless and quick spirits of whom the poet said "quiet is a hell." However, on the 26th of August he was released from custody, but-informed that he must not appear at Court.

Elizabeth now appointed Lord Mountjoy, one of the most intimate friends of Essex, Lord Deputy of Ireland in his place; and though Mountjoy endeavoured to excuse himself, she would not hear of it. Though she kept up much appearance of gaiety, and went much a hunting at Oatlands and in the New Forest, she was observed to be very melancholy, at the same time that she showed no disposition to relent towards Essex. She was greatly offended at this time by Hay ward's history of Henry IV. of England, in which some passages concerning the unworthy favourites of Richard II. appeared to her to have reference to herself. She demanded of Bacon whether he could not find that in the book which might be construed into treason. "No treason," said Bacon, "but many felonies." "How felonies?" asked the queen. "Many manifest thefts from Cornelius Tacitus," replied Bacon. She then proposed that Hayward should be put on the rack and forced to confess whether he were the real author or not. "Nay," said Bacon; "never rack his person, but rack his style. Give him pen, ink, and paper, and let him continue the story, and I will undertake to discover, by comparing the styles, whether he be the and author or not."

Essex, once at large, cast off his pretences of retirement and contempt of the world, and petitioned the queen for a continuation of his patent for a monopoly of sweet wines. Elizabeth replied that she would first inquire into the value of this privilege, which she understood was worth 50,000 per annum. She accompanied this message with an ominous remark that when horses became unmanageable it was necessary to stint them in their corn. Accordingly, she refused his request, and appointed commissioners to manage the tax for herself.

Essex now became beside himself. Hitherto he had lived in privacy, but now he came to Essex House, in the Strand, where he gave free entertainment to all sorts of people. His secretary Cuffe, and other dangerous persons, encouraged him in the belief that by his popularity with the people it would be no difficult matter to force Cecil, Raleigh, and his other enemies from office; and that once removed from the queen, all would be right. He therefore kept open house, and was soon surrounded by crowds of military men and adventurers, by Roman Catholics and Puritans. His military friends formed themselves into a sort of guard; and it was remarked that many of the nobility also visited him, as the Earls of Worcester, Southampton, Sussex, Rutland, and Bedford. There were daily preachings in his house, and he proposed to some of the theologians the question whether it were not lawful, in case of mal-administration, to compel a sovereign to govern according to law. He moreover sent to the King of Scotland, assuring him that there was a design at Court to exclude him in favour of the Infanta of Spain, and urged James to send an ambassador to demand a distinct declaration of his right to the succession. James, who was in great anxiety on this head already, appears to have listened to the advice of Essex, and to have taken measures to act upon it.

Essex was now stimulated by his passions into a most perilous position. He was actively engaged in dangerous courses; and though some pains were taken to conceal his real designs, by the chief coadjutors in the conspiracy meeting at the Earl of Southampton's, and communicating privately by letter with Essex, the proceedings could not escape the lynx vision or the ever-open ears of Cecil and his party. The conspirators had concluded that the safest thing to do in the first instance was for Sir Christopher Blount, Sir John Davis, and Sir Charles Davers to head three parties, and take possession of the palace gate, the guard, and the presence chamber, whilst Essex threw himself on his knees before the queen, and refused to rise till she had complied with his petition, and dismissed the obnoxious ministers. But whilst they were planning, Cecil and his friends acted. The secretary, Herbert, arrived with a summons for Essex to appear before the Council. He replied that he was too unwell to attend; and whilst he was thus evading the summons, he received an anonymous note, warning him to escape as he valued his life; and this was immediately followed by the intelligence that the guard had been doubled at the palace. It was high time now to act, as his arrest was certain. In the night he dispatched messages to assemble his friends; and it was resolved that the next morning, which was Sunday, the 8th of February, 1601, the Earls of Southampton and Rutland, the Lords Sandys and Mounteagle, and about 600 gentlemen, should enter the City with Essex during sermon time, and assembling at St. Paul's Cross, where the Lord Mayor, aldermen, and companies were wont to attend, to call upon them to accompany them to the palace to assist in obtaining the removal of the pernicious advisers of the Crown.

When they were on the point of executing this plan, they were interrupted by a visit from the Lord Keeper Egerton, the Earl of Worcester, Knollys, the comptroller of the household, and the Lord Chief Justice, Essex ordered them to be admitted through the wicket, but without any of their attendants, except the purse-bearer. When the officers of the Crown found themselves in the midst of an armed company, Egerton demanded what was the meaning of it; on which Essex replied in a loud and exciting tone, "There is a plot laid for my life, Letters have been counterfeited in my name; men have been hired to murder me in my bed. We are met to defend our lives, since my enemies cannot be satisfied without sucking my blood."

"If such be the case," said the Lord Chief Justice Popham, "let it be proved. We will relate it fairly, and the queen will do impartial justice." "Impartial justice!" said the Earl of Southampton; "then why is it not done on Lord Grey?" Grey had attacked Southampton in the Strand with a number of followers on account of an old grudge, Southampton having only a foot-boy with him, whose hand was struck off, and Southampton himself was in great danger, till a number of people with clubs came to his help. Popham replied that Grey was imprisoned for the offence; and Egerton desired Essex to explain his grievances in private, when there was a cry of "They abuse you, my lord; they are undoing you; you lose your time!" Egerton put on his cap, and commanded every man, in the queen's name, to lay down his arms and depart. The crowd outside continued to shout, "Kill them, kill them! Keep them for hostages! Throw the great seal out of the window!" The queen's officers, being shown into a back room guarded by musketeers, Essex begged them to have patience for half an hour, and, locking the door upon them, left them. Sir John Davis, Sir Gilly Merrick, Francis Tresham, and Owen Salisbury were left in charge of them.

Then Essex, rushing into the street, drew his sword, and followed by Southampton, Rutland, Sandys, Mounteagle, and most of the knights and gentlemen, he made for the City. They were joined on the way by the Earl of Bedford and Lord Cromwell, with 200 others. At Ludgate the guard suffered them to pass, Essex declaring that he was endeavouring to save his life from Raleigh, Cobham, and their accomplices. To their great disappointment, they found nobody at St. Paul's Cross, the queen having sent and warned the corporation to keep away, and see that the people kept within their houses. Essex rode along shouting, "For the queen, my mistress! a plot is laid for my life!" and called upon the citizens to come and follow him. He had relied on his popularity with the masses; but he now found himself miserably deceived. The common people shouted "God bless your honour!" but no man joined him. He had placed much dependence on Smith, one of the sheriffs; but on reaching his house he found him away, and then felt that his whole scheme was abortive. He became greatly agitated, and remained a long time in Smith's house, uncertain what to do.

In the meantime there had been great terror at the palace. The ministers were afraid of the friends of Essex declaring in his favour, and admitting him or the people. They therefore had the guards mustered, every avenue to the palace closed, and the streets barricaded with carriages and chairs. The queen alone had shown any courage. About two in the afternoon, Lord Burleigh, with a herald, and the Earl of Cumberland, with Sir Thomas Gerard, proceeded to the City in different directions, proclaimed Essex a traitor, and offered a reward of 1,000 for his apprehension, with a pardon for all his associates who at once returned to their allegiance.

Essex, at the same time, was endeavouring to return towards the Strand, when he met Lord Burleigh, who fled at the sight of him. The guard at Ludgate now resisted his return, and he returned to Queenhithe, whence he went by water to Essex House. There he found that a man in whom he had placed the utmost trust, Ferdinando Gorges, had liberated the Lords of the Council and escorted them to Court, as the price of his own pardon. Captain Owen Salisbury, with better faith, had stood out, and was so wounded as he looked out of a window, that he died the next day.

Essex set about fortifying the house; but it was presently surrounded by a military force with a battering train, and not a soul rose in his defence. The case was hopeless, and about ten o'clock at night Essex and Southampton held a parley from the top of the house with Sir Robert Sidney, and surrendered on promise of a fair trial. They were conveyed for the night to Lambeth Palace. The next day, Essex and Southampton were committed to the Tower, and the other prisoners to different gaols in London and Westminster. But the first victim of this insane insurrection was a soldier of fortune named Thomas Lee, who, on the evening of Essex's arrest, had offered his services to Sir Robert Cecil; but was reported to have said a day or two after that if Essex's friends meant to save his life, they should petition the queen in a body, and not depart till their prayer was granted. For this trivial expression of opinion he was arrested as he stood in the throng at the door of the presence-chamber whilst the queen was at supper, and, in spite of his protestations of innocence, was accused of a design to murder the queen, and was condemned and executed at Tyburn as a traitor.

On the 19th of February, Essex and Southampton were arraigned before a commission of twenty-five peers, Lord Buckhurst being Lord Steward. With a flagrant contempt of justice, Cobham, Grey, and others, the bitter enemies of Essex, were amongst his judges. He pointed them out to Southampton and smiled. He then demanded of the Lord Chief Justice whether the privilege granted to every commoner of challenging such of his jurors as he had real cause of exception against was to be refused to peers. The Chief Justice replied that peers could not be challenged, for such was their estimation that they were not required to take any oath on arraignment. The Crown lawyers engaged against them were Coke, Yelverton, and Bacon. Coke, as Attorney-General, gave way to all that savage insolence and abuse for which he was famous. He branded the noble prisoners as Papistical, dissolute, desperate, and atheistical rebels. The Earl of Essex, he said, "would have called a Parliament, and a bloody Parliament would that have been, when my Lord of Essex, that now stands all in black, would have worn a bloody robe; but now, in God's judgment, he of his earldom shall be Robert the Last, that of a kingdom thought to be Robert the First."

Essex protested against being judged by Coke's ferocious and unfounded words, declaring that no thought of violence to the queen had ever entered his head, but that they had been compelled to take arms to remove evil counsellors, naming Cobham and Raleigh. Cobham thereupon rose in his place, and denied that he had any hatred to Essex, but only to his ambition. Essex replied that he would gladly lose his right hand to remove from the queen's council such a talebearing, vile calumniator as Cobham. Yelverton compared Essex to Cataline; and on Lord Southampton appealing to Coke whether he really in his conscience believed that they would have done any injury to the queen were it in their power, Coke retorted that in his soul and his conscience he did believe she would not have lived long had she been in their power, remarking that they would have treated her as Henry IV. did Richard II. This base allusion was to the history of Henry IV. by Hayward, which had so much incensed the queen.

From Yelverton and Coke, who, with all their abilities, were time-serving and truculent lawyers, no better could be expected; but every one who reverences the fame of Bacon must read with pain the speech by which he sought to bring the head of his generous patron to the block, and extol the characters of Cecil, Raleigh, and Cobham. Essex asked him who composed the eloquent letters which he had been advised to send to Her Majesty in exposure of their crimes; and Coke, with his audacious effrontery, was obliged to come to the aid of the crestfallen Lord Keeper.

In the course of the trial, Essex being accused of saying that the crown of England was sold to the Spaniards, declared that it was said of Sir Robert Cecil that he had declared the Infanta's title to the succession as good as any other. Cecil, who was in the court, but not within view, then came forward, and, by permission of the Lord Steward, was allowed to make a violent attack on Essex, calling him. a wolf in sheep's clothing, and a Papist, as was seen by the company he had kept. He called on him to name the man who had said this. Lord Southampton said it was Sir William Knollys; whereupon Sir William was summoned, and, as was to be expected in a courtier where the person accused was the prime minister, qualified the expression so that it meant nothing. He had heard Sir Robert Cecil merely say that the title of the Infanta was maintained in a printed book.

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