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The Reign of James I page 4

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He demanded that his accuser should be produced and brought face to face with him. He demanded it on the authority of the statute law and the law of God, both of which required that to prove an offence. But the lord chief justice Popham told him that the statutes of Edward VI., to which he appealed, were cancelled by Philip and Mary and that he must take his trial by the common law, as settled by Edward III., under which a trial by jury and written evidences was as valid as a trial by jury and witnesses. That at most one witness was sufficient. But Raleigh replied that his case was peculiar. That in fact, there was no single witness against him; for even the man who had borne testimony against him had retracted his assertions. He, therefore, reiterated his demand for the production of Cobham; declaring that if Cobham dared in his presence to reaffirm a single charge, he would submit to his doom, and would not add another word. When this challenge was passed over without any notice whatever, he I produced a letter which Cobham had written to him about a fortnight before, in which he said: - “To free myself from the cry of blood, I protest, upon my soul, and before God and his angels, I never had conference with you in any treason, nor was ever moved by you to the things I heretofore accused you of; and, for anything I know, you are as innocent and as clear from any treasons against the king as is subject living. And God so deal with me and have mercy on my soul, as this is true."

This appeared a strong avowal, but Cecil was prepared for this, having, no doubt, already seen this letter on its passage; and Coke produced in defeat of it another letter written by Cobham to the council but the day before. In this letter Cobham stated that Raleigh had twice sent letters to him in the Tower, which had been thrown into his window-sash in an apple. That in these letters he entreated him to do him right by denying what he had said as to his wishing him to come from the Continent by Jersey, and in other particulars. Cobham says that he has retracted the assertion about Jersey, but he goes on to assert that Raleigh had been the original cause of his ruin, for that he had no dealings with Aremberg but at his instigation; and he adds that at Aremberg's coming Raleigh was to receive a pension of fifteen hundred pounds a year, for which he was to keep the king of Spain informed of all designs against the Indies, the Netherlands, or Spain. That he counselled him also not to be overtaken by preachers as Essex was, and that the king would better allow of a constant denial than of the accusation of any one.

During the reading of this letter Raleigh could not conceal his astonishment and confusion. When it was finished, he admitted that there had been some talk of a pension, but mere talk and nothing more. But the fact made a deep impression on the minds of the jury, and the prisoner probably being conscious of it, reiterated his demand for the production of Cobham himself. "My lords," he exclaimed, "let Cobham be sent for; I know he is in this very house! beseech you let him be confronted with me! Let him be ere openly charged - upon his soul - upon his allegiance to he king - and if he will then maintain his accusations to my face, I will confess myself guilty!" But no notice was taken of this appeal: Coke still strove to bear him down by the coarsest brow-beating, exclaiming fiercely, "I will have the last word for the king!" "Nay," retorted Raleigh; "I will have the last word for my life!" "Go to," said the insolent lawyer; "I will lay thee upon thy back for the confidentest traitor that ever came to the bar." Cecil here interposed, telling Coke that he was too impatient and severe; but Coke cried, UI am the king's sworn servant, and must speak. You discourage the king's counsel, my lord, and encourage traitors."

The jury, but with evident reluctance, returned a verdict of guilty. On being asked, in the usual form, whether lie had anything to say why judgment should not be pronounced against him, he replied that he was perfectly innocent of the charges of Cobham, but that he submitted himself to the king's mercy, and recommended to the compassion of his majesty his wife and his son of tender years. After the sentence of high treason, with all its disgusting details had been pronounced, the prisoner asked to speak privately with Cecil, lord Henry Howard, and the earls of Suffolk and Devonshire, entreating them that, in consideration of the position which he had held under the crown, his death might not be so ignominious as the strict sentence required. They promised to use their influence, and he was taken back to the castle.

The admirable defence of Sir Walter produced the most wonderful effect on all that heard him, causing a thorough revolution of opinion in his favour. Sir Dudley Carlton, as reported in the Hardwicke State Papers, said "That he answered with that temper, wit, learning, courage, and judgment, that, save it went with the hazard of his life, it was the happiest day that ever he spent. And so well he shifted all advantages that were taken against him, that were not fama mala gravius quam res, and an ill name half-hanged, in the opinion of all men he had been acquitted. The two first that brought the news to the king were Roger Ashton and a Scotchman, whereof one affirmed that never man spoke so well in times past, nor would do in the world to come; and the other said that whereas, when he saw him first, he was so led with the common hatred, that he would have gone a hundred miles to have seen him hanged, he would, ere he parted, have gone a thousand to have saved his life. In one word never was a man so hated and so popular in so short a time.

There can be little doubt that the King and Cecil were both jealous of Raleigh's brilliant and popular talents, and were glad to have him in their power. But Raleigh had been his own worst enemy, in not displaying a nature as generous and noble, as it was highly endowed. He had endeavoured to pull down Essex, and the people never forgave him for it. Even at this moment, when his masterly conduct and his unrivalled oratorical genius had won him such admiration and good-will amongst those who heard him, the people, as we learn from a contemporary, expressed their contempt and aversion for him on account of his desertion and betrayal of Essex. All through London and the other towns through which he passed to his trial, the people followed him with execrations, and threw mud, stones, and tobacco pipes, at the coach in which he was.

The charges widen were made against Arabella Stuart, in the indictment against Raleigh, were of a nature which called for denial on her part. She was present at the trial in a gallery; and Charles Howard, earl of Nottingham, who was sitting by her, arose, and in her name protested, on her salvation, that she had never meddled in any such matters. There appeared, indeed, no disposition at this moment to implicate the lady Arabella, though her relation to the crown made her an object of anxiety to James, as we shall soon have occasion to see. Cecil himself acquitted her of any concern in this treason, admitting that though she had received a letter from Cobham, entreating her to countenance it, she only laughed at it, and at once sent it to the king. Of the actual extent of Raleigh's participation, and what was his real object, we have no means of judging, for though James. was in possession of the letters betwixt the accused parties and Aremberg, they were never produced.

Cobham and Grey were arraigned before a tribunal of their peers, consisting of eleven earls and nineteen barons. Nothing could be more striking than the cowardice and meanness of Cobham, and the noble dignity of Grey. Cobham was all fear and trembling, ready to accuse everybody to excuse himself. He repeatedly interrupted the reading of the indictment to protest against what he declared was not true; and at its conclusion said that he meant to have confessed everything, but as so many untruths were mixed with the truths in the indictment, he was compelled to plead not guilty. He denied any design of setting up Arabella Stuart, though she admitted that he had sent her a letter to that effect; and his cringing, obsequious manner to his judges, was in strange contrast with the bitterness with which he accused not only Raleigh, but his own brother George Brooke, whom he pronounced a most wicked wretch, murderer, and viper. He not only declared that what he had said of Raleigh in his letters was true, but he accused the youth Harvey, the son of the lieutenant of the Tower, of having engaged to carry letters between them. "Thus," says Sir Dudley Carleton, "having accused all his friends, and so little excused himself, the peers were not long in deliberating what to judge; and after sentence of condemnation given, he begged a great while for life and favour, alleging his confession as a meritorious act." The same authority says that to move the king, he reminded him that the king's father was his godfather, and that his own father had suffered imprisonment for the king's mother.

Very different was the conduct of lord Grey of Wilton. Though he was a young man with everything to make life desirable, he manifested no such contemptible fear of death as Cobham did; far less did he seek to exculpate himself by the betrayal of his friends. He defended himself in a long speech of the most elevated and eloquent description. He fought the whole ground with the crown lawyers manfully, from eight in the morning to eight at night. His judges admired and commiserated him as much as they despised Cobham, and would fain have acquitted him, but the proofs were too strong. He was condemned, and on being asked why sentence of death should not be pronounced against him, he replied, "I have nothing to say;" but then, as if recollecting himself, he added, "and yet a word of Tacitus comes into my mind – 'Non eadem omnibus decora.' The house of the Wiltons hath spent many lives in their princes' service, and Grey cannot beg his. God send the king a long and prosperous reign, and to your lordships all honour."

The two priests were first conducted to execution. They suffered all the bloody horrors of the law at Winchester, on the 29th of November. It was surmised that James was glad to be rid of Watson as one of the individuals to whom, before coming to the English throne, he had promised toleration to the catholics. There was an attempt to prove the non-existence of such a promise, by the earl of Northampton visiting him in prison, and on his return asserting that he denied having received any such promise; but this obtained no credit. At the gallows both Watson and Clarke declared their conviction that they owed their death to their priesthood. They were cut down alive, and their bowels torn out.

The next execution was that of Brooke. He was simply beheaded, also at Winchester, on the 5th of December. The people expressed great sympathy for him, under a belief that he had first been employed by Cecil in the troubled waters of these conspiracies, and then victimised by him. Cecil had married his sister, and was thus closely allied to both Cobham and him. Whilst in custody, he wrote to Cecil to ask what he was to expect "after so many promises received, and so much conformity and accepted service performed by him for Cecil." His words on the scaffold also favoured the suspicion that he had been deceived and trapanned by Cecil, to whom, Clarendon says, "it was as necessary that there should be treasons, as it was for the state to punish them."

But when the time of the chief conspirators came, the country was astonished by one of the most extraordinary spectacles that ever occurred under any king or in any country. It was a marvellous example of the kingcraft on which James especially prided himself. The moment that Brooke had fallen beneath the axe, the bishop of Chichester, by express order of the king, went to his brother Cobham in his cell, to prepare him for his end, and to obtain his confession. He found Cobham ready to die, and obtained a promise that he would assert on the scaffold the truth of his charges against Raleigh. At the same time the bishop of Winchester, also by order of the king, waited on Raleigh for the same purpose; but so far from confessing himself guilty, like the pusillanimous Cobham, he stoutly denied the whole of the charges, except, as he had admitted on the trial, a pension had once been mentioned to him, but no steps taken to carry it out. For the rest, he expressed himself at ease in his conscience, and prepared to die like a Christian, Grey and Markham were also ordered to prepare themselves for death, but were not troubled by the interrogations of bishops or other royal messengers. Grey, who was attended by a puritan preacher, was observed to be in as cheerful a mood of mind as if on the verge of liberation instead of death, and spent his time in prayer. On the other hand, Markham declared that he had received assurances of pardon on which he could rely, and refused to believe in the fulfilment of the sentence. Meantime the king proceeded with regular steps for their execution, and so positively refused to listen to any intercession on behalf of the prisoners, that there appeared no hope of pardon or reprieve. At the same time he snubbed Galloway, the preacher of Perth - "who preached so hotly against remissness and moderation of justice, as if it were one of the seven deadly sins" - telling him that he would go no whit the faster for his driving. On Wednesday he signed the death-warrants of Markham, Grey, and Cobham, fixing Friday for the day of execution. Accordingly on that morning Markham was first brought out, about ten o'clock, to the scaffold, and was permitted to take leave of his friends and prepare himself for the block. He was evidently surprised at this proceeding, declaring that he had been promised his life; and when a napkin was offered to him to bind his eyes with, he indignantly refused it, saying he was, notwithstanding, able to look upon death without blushing. At the moment that he was about to lay his head upon the block, there was a disturbance outside, and the sheriff was called away. On his return, he told the tantalised prisoner that as he had thought himself deceived, and therefore was but ill-prepared for death, he should have two hours more for his devotions; whereupon, without further explanation, he locked him up apart.

When Markham was withdrawn, Grey was led forth to the scaffold. He came attended by a number of young noblemen, and supported on each hand by two of his dearest friends. He appeared thoroughly undaunted, and falling on his knees before the block, prayed fervently for half an hour, in a manner which deeply affected all that heard him. At the moment that he expected to suffer, the sheriff told him that he had been brought forward by mistake; that it was for Cobham to die first; and withdrew him also. This proceeding equally astonished the condemned and the spectators: it was perfectly unexampled, and no one could penetrate the meaning of it.

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