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The Reign of Elizabeth. (Continued) page 16


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Such' were the leading features of this trial, where Essex was certain to be condemned, for he had been guilty, in his wild passion, of really treasonable acts; but innocence itself would not have saved him before such a tribunal. Both were condemned as traitors. The Lord Steward recommended Essex to submit and implore the queen's mercy on the acknowledgment of all his offences. Essex replied that he could not implore pardon for any intention to injure Her Majesty, for that he had entertained none; but that he did entreat her pardon for many short-comings. For himself, he was tired of life, and would neither seek nor refuse mercy; but he earnestly begged that mercy might be extended to his friend Southampton, who had only offended through his affection to him. The edge of the axe was turned towards them, and they were conducted to the Tower. On the way the citizens, hearing of the sentence, ran out to see them. Essex walked on at a swift pace, with his face towards the ground; and though several persons spoke to him, he paid no attention and gave no reply. It seemed as if his thought was that they had not answered to his appeal, and, therefore, now they were nothing to him.

As soon as he was in the Tower, Dove, Dean of Norwich, was sent to him, who exhorted him to reconcile himself to the Almighty by the free confession of his crime, and also of his accomplices. Essex declared that he had committed no offence against God, any more than David in resisting the murderous attempts of Saul; and he refused to be a traitor to his friends. Then one Ashton, his own chaplain, attended him, who is declared to have been a man of the worst and most perfidious character. He so wrought on Essex by the threatened terrors of an omniscient Judge that he declared himself ready to confess everything; and Bacon, Cecil, the Earl of Nottingham, the treasurer, were sent for, whose forgiveness he asked, and to whom he made a confession which filled five sheets of paper. This confession has been thoroughly discredited as Essex's real one, and when we know its contents, and the character of the men who drew it up and witnessed it, we may well believe that whatever the unfortunate earl said of himself, he would not wholly implicate and endanger the lives and fortunes of his associates. Yet he was made to do all that, and to load his friends and himself with crimes of which neither he nor they were guilty, We shall soon see another reason for believing this confession a forgery.

The public were now all curious to know whether Elizabeth would really sign his death-warrant. Some thought that her resentment would certainly carry her that length, others that she would fear to bring him to the scaffold lest he should betray secrets by 110 means to her credit; but against such an emergency she had provided, and Essex had, by contemning her person, long ago sinned an unpardonable sin. Raleigh declares the real cause of his fall plainly. "The late Earl of Essex told Queen Elizabeth that her conditions were as crooked as her carcass; but it cost him his head, which his insurrection had not cost him, but for that speech."

The story went that her hand trembled so much in signing his death-warrant, that her signature was scarcely discernible; but the autograph remains, and totally contradicts the assertion. It is written with singular steadiness, and so artistically flourished that she might have intended it as a specimen of her best penmanship. The story of the ring, which many historians reject, we believe to be much better founded, and is thoroughly characteristic. It is related by Osborne, and is, says Miss Strickland, "not only quoted by historians of all parties, but is a family tradition of the Careys, who were the persons most likely to be in the secret, as they were the friends and relations of all parties concerned, and enjoyed the confidence of Queen Elizabeth." Lady Elizabeth Spelman, a descendant of that house, gives the narrative in the life of Carey, Earl of Monmouth. It is, that on some occasion Elizabeth gave to Essex a ring, which in any extreme case he was to send to her, and to claim the promise of aid or pardon then made. This ring he contrived to send to the Lady Scrope, his cousin, to convey to Elizabeth ; but the messenger, a boy, by mistake put it into the hand of Lady Scrope's sister, the Countess of Nottingham. The ' countess took it to her husband, one of the most I inveterate enemies of Essex, who insisted that she should keep the possession of the ring and the message accompanying it secret. On the one hand, the queen, expecting the arrival of this token, delayed the execution, the warrant for which, with her usual irresolution, she had once revoked. On the other hand, Essex waited the effect of the ring, and no evidence of it reaching him, deemed the queen inexorable. Some years after, when the Countess of Nottingham was on her death-bed, her conscience compelled her to send for the queen and reveal the fact, imploring her pardon, but instead of pardon Elizabeth shook the dying woman in her bed, and said, God may forgive you, but I never can!"

Many have taken this anecdote to prove that Elizabeth still retained a tenderness for Essex, and would have pardoned him had the ring reached her. We believe neither of these things; but that Elizabeth was glad to have a person to cast the blame upon, as she always strove to have.. In her vacillation regarding Essex's death she sent his kinsman, Edward Carey, to forbid the execution, and then again sent Lord Darcy to order its immediate completion. It took place about eight o'clock in the morning of February the 25th, within the court of the Tower. The most careful measures had been concerted to prevent access to him by any but those hostile to him, and firmly in the interest of Government. Neither his wife, his mother, nor any of his relations or friends were suffered to see him after he went to the Tower, or have any communication with him. It was industriously published by the Court, that the earl especially desired to have a private execution; but the fact was, that the ministers took all means to prevent the earl speaking on the scaffold except just what they wanted. The day before the execution, Cecil, Egerton, and Buckhurst wrote to Lord Thomas Howard, Constable of the Tower, forbidding him to admit a single individual except such as they furnished with an order; some seven or eight noblemen, they informed him, Her Majesty wished to be there whom she would name, and two "discreet" divines, who would bring an order from the Archbishop of Canterbury. The constable and lieutenant were to take all possible care and circumspection that the earl should confine himself exclusively in his speech to his confession of his treason, his offences to God, and his repentance. If he attempted to break off into any other particulars they were at once to stop him. There are amply sufficient proofs that the earl's confession was not his free and honest declaration, and that it was in his power to say things most damning to the queen and Government. "When Elizabeth's ambassador informed Henry IV. that Essex had petitioned to die in private, he exclaimed, "Nay, rather the contrary, as- he desired nothing more than to die in public." Being thus gagged, the earl was allowed to say that his offence was a great, bloody, crying, and infectious sin, and to ask pardon of God and the queen, and his head was severed at three strokes from his body. He was buried in the Tower chapel, near the Duke of Norfolk and the Earl of Arundel. Raleigh says, he witnessed his execution from the armoury, as he did also those of Sir Christopher Blount and Sir Charles Davers on the 17th of March, and Sir Walter made a very profitable merchandise in the pardons of others of Essex's followers. Essex was only thirty-three years old at his death. The character of this extraordinary man - for such he was, both in his virtues and defects - essentially unfitted him for a court. He had all the impulses and aspirations of a hero. He was generous, impulsive, and open in his disposition. Nature inspired him with the noblest sentiments, the most disinterested spirit, and unconquerable thirst of glory. As a commander, or even a statesman, in better times, he would have made the most distinguished figure. In all his military commands he was restricted by colleagues, carefully chosen, to restrain his impetuosity, or he was tied down by the caution of a Court most grovelling in its policy; yet, in almost every 'instance, he at once carried all opposition before him by the rapidity and enthusiasm of his actions, and won the respect and admiration of his enemies by his justice and magnanimity. The very glory which he acquired by his victory and his nobility amongst the Spaniards whom he vanquished, deepened the serpentine jealousy of his mean rivals at home. In Ireland he went to conquer by the sword, but saw at once that the natives needed not crushing but conciliating. "The Irish," he said, "are -alienated from the English as well for religion as government. I would achieve pacification there by composition rather than by the sword." But this, by the Court which he served, which could not understand aims of policy so elevated, was treated as a crime, and was punished as such. He was, in that most intolerant age, a firm friend to religious toleration. Roman Catholic or Puritan were alike in his eyes Christians, and were welcomed to his house and his councils as men sincere in their own views, and, therefore, trustworthy. "The Catholics," says Carte, "venerated him for his extreme aversion to put any one to death on account of his religion." His literary genius and taste were of a high order, and make us regret that he did not rather cultivate them than the more ordinary ones of diplomacy in a period when diplomacy was one of the meanest and most dishonest of crafts. Those who would form a true estimate of his writings should consult Ellis's "Original Letters." The greatest men of his age, Shakespeare and Bacon, were his friends. He was the man who first took the great revolutionist of science, the great and little-minded Bacon, by the hand, to receive from that hand a deadly blow in his last days of mortal peril. Southampton, the friend of Shakespeare, was his most intimate associate, and risked death on his account. In person he was not distinguished by his grace or dignity; he stooped forward, danced awkwardly, and despised the elegancies of dress; yet, by the fire and brilliancy of his mind and conversation, he captivated the queen of many lovers, when age was creeping over her frozen bosom and her deadly and unforgiving disposition. The temper of Essex, like that of many men of genius, was extremely sensitive; he felt keenly and resented deeply. The sense of unadmitted wrong drove him into rash measures, which his cool and calculating rivals are said to have artfully stimulated by their spies; and he fell where such a man could only fall, because, hating disguise, he was open to attack; despising meanness, he was certain to excite its hatred. In a nobler arena Essex would have burned forth one of the fairest lights of history. As it was, the people felt and acknowledged his rare merits - those of a high-hearted, honest, and honourable man, far before his period in the breadth of his moral horizon. They seemed to desert him at the last hour because his attempt was hopeless; but they remembered him with affection, and with him departed the waning popularity of the queen. When she appeared again in public she was no longer followed by acclamations, but by a moody silence; and her ministers, who had laboured so zealously for the destruction of her noblest servant, were pursued by the undisguised scorn and abhorrence of the people.

The Government endeavoured to put down all expression of such feeling; and on the last day of February a young man named Woodhouse was hanged for speaking against the apprehension and treatment of Essex. On the 13th of March, Cuffe, the false secretary, and Merrick, the steward of Essex, were butchered at Tyburn in the usual horrid manner, as traitors. Sir Charles Davers, or Danvers, was beheaded on Tower Hill on the 18th, dying with great courage; and as soon as his body was removed Sir Christopher Blount, Essex's step-father, suffered the same fate. Sir John Davies received a year's imprisonment; Baynham purchased his life of Sir Walter Raleigh for a large sum; Lyttleton paid a fine of 10,000, and surrendered an estate of 7,000 per annum, and then only received the mitigation of being removed from Newgate to the King's Bench prison, where he died in about three months. Southampton was imprisoned during Elizabeth's life, as was also Sir Henry Neville, who took no active part in the conspiracy, but, according to his own account, condemned the only discussion of the conspirators that he had heard, and then set out on his embassy to France.

The King of Scots had appointed a deputation, consisting of the Earl of Mar, and Bruce, the Abbot of Kinross, to visit London and ascertain what were the position and prospects of Essex and his party. He had already expressed his readiness to co-operate with them; but, with his usual caution, he was bent on knowing what were really the chances of the insurrection. His deputies were instructed to act according as they found things. If there was a strong party amongst the people, and a great probability of a successful rising, they were to hold out strong hopes of assistance, but still to keep fair with the queen- and Court. If, on the contrary, the Government was strong, and the people not inclined to disturb it, they were to show all honour and affection to the queen, and to press her for an increase of his salary; and if she refused them, to speak plain, and say that the time might come when there would be no bar betwixt him and the crown, and then the base sycophants who deprived him of her kindness by their misrepresentations would be called to account; but that she was to be well assured that as he never had been, so he never would be concerned in anything detrimental to her peace or interests. They were to hint to the ministers that the time could not be long ere they would find it to their interest to have made a friend of him. They were to go into the shires and to appoint secretly good sowers, who would zealously prepare the people for his succession, which, he said, must be soon, unless "the old lady meant to last as long as the sun or the moon."

Whilst James, with his usual scheming, was thus tampering with the subjects of Elizabeth, it is supposed that she was by no means unaware of his proceedings, and had a hand in a transaction which remains to this hour one of the mysteries of history. James being at Falkland, and spending much time in hunting, was about to mount his horse and start for the chase on the 5th of August, when he was accosted by Alexander Gowrie, the brother of the Earl of Gowrie. This Alexander Gowrie and his brother, the earl, were the sons of the Earl of Gowrie, who was beheaded, in 1584, for seizing and detaining James at his castle of Ruthven in what was called the Raid of Ruthven. They were also the grandsons of that old Ruthven who figured prominently in the murder of Rizzio. The present Gowries had always had the reputation of belonging to what was called the English party, or those who favoured the plans of Elizabeth, and were generally in her pay. It may be supposed that James would look with suspicion on this Alexander, who suddenly appeared before him; but the business on which he announced himself, and the man's manner, if we are to credit James's own account of the affair, were still more suspicious. He drew the king apart, and informed him - but with his eyes fixed on the ground - that the day before he had discovered a large pot of money - gold pieces of a large size - which a man near Perth had concealed under a wide cloak; that he had apprehended the man, and now entreated the king to go with him and see the man, and decide upon the old. A more improbable story could scarcely have been invented; but whoever did invent it knew well James's unfailing cupidity.

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