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The Reign of James I page 5

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No sooner was lord Grey removed than Cobham was brought forward. Here again the public was at fault. Instead of the mean, cringing man, pitifully begging for his life, appeared a bold and thoroughly composed person, who looked calmly on the apparatus of death, confessed his own guilt. and again asseverated that of Raleigh. He was in the act of taking his last farewell when the sheriff bade him wait, for there was something yet to do; that he must once more be confronted with the other prisoners. At this moment Grey and Markham were again brought forward and placed before him. The astonished men looked, according to a spectator, in strange amazement on each other, "like men beheaded, and met again in the other world." Not less full of wonder were the spectators, who now crowded eagerly round the scaffold, marvelling at the mysterious proceeding. Whilst they gazed in breathless suspense, the sheriff demanded of the prisoners if they admitted their guilt, and acknowledged the justice of their sentences, and they assenting, he then exclaimed, "See the mercy of your prince, who hath sent hither the countermand, and given you your lives." At this finale the crowd raised a shout so loud that it reached the town, and the cry being understood as one of pardon, it was taken up and repeated from end to end of the city.

Perhaps more puzzled than any one else by these singular movements was the other prisoner, Sir Walter Raleigh, who was himself ordered for execution on the following Monday, and had surveyed the whole inexplicable transaction from the window of his prison. It was clear that he had been kept apart from the other prisoners out of dread of his extraordinary talents and powers of persuasion; for the: real object of James was, according to Cecil, to see how far Cobham at his death would stand to his accusation of Raleigh. The whole was a scheme of the king's, a secret, to the participation in which he admitted not, so far as we can learn, even his most trusty counsellors. Having planned the whole, and signed and sent off the death-warrants on Wednesday, on Thursday morning he summoned John Gib, the Scottish messenger, and despatched him to Winchester with a sealed packet containing the reprieve. In his haste, for the time was little enough to give room for any unforeseen hindrance, he had forgotten to sign it, and the messenger had to be recalled. The delay had nearly proved fatal to Markham, who was at the point of execution before the messenger arrived. The danger was increased by the fact that Gib, being unknown at Winchester, found himself repelled from the scaffold by the crowd, and could only with difficulty catch the attention of Sir James Hayes, by shouting to him on the scaffold, and begging him to bring him to the sheriff on the king's business. Well may Sir James Mackintosh exclaim in his History of England - "What a government, with the penal justice in such hands, and the lives of men at the hazard of such sad buffoonery!"

But James prided himself on this buffoonery as the very essence of kingcraft. There were those who doubted the truth of Cobham's charge against Raleigh, nay, many doubted of the existence of any plot at all; but by this stratagem he brought the public to hear Cobham in his last moments, as he believed, not only confess the plot, but re-assert Raleigh's guilt. In his exultation at his success, James called together the lords of the counsel, and told them, according to Sir Dudley Carlton, "how much he had been troubled to resolve in this business; for to execute Grey, who was a noble, young, spirited fellow, and save Cobham, who was as base and unworthy, were a matter of injustice; to save Grey, who was of a proud, insolent nature, and execute Cobham, who showed great tokens of humility and repentance, were as great a solecism; and so went on with Plutarch's comparisons in the rest, still travelling ill contrarieties, but holding the conclusion in so indifferent balance, that the lords knew not what to look for, till the end came out – 'and, therefore, I have saved them all!'"

The fortune of James, however, with all his cunning and kingcraft, was to be suspected, and to leave the knots which ha undertook to unravel still knots, and enveloped in confusion. Doubts have always been cast on his version of the Gowry conspiracy; and the exact objects of the present plot, so far as Raleigh was concerned, and the precise guilt of most of the prisoners, remain still obscure. James took possession of the fortunes of the conspirators, and retained them for a considerable time, in spite of the eager desire of the greedy courtiers to get hold of them. The fate of the prisoners was various. Though they were pardoned, they were not liberated. Grey lived in the Tower eleven years and died there. Cobham after a few years was discharged, but lie was an object of general contempt, and endured an existence of poverty in a wretched house in the Minories, where, in a loft, to which he climbed by a ladder, he is supposed to have perished by starvation. Markham, Copley, and Brookesby were banished for life. Sir Walter Raleigh, who, though reprieved, was not pardoned, remained a prisoner for twelve years, when he came abroad only to return to the Tower and the axe.

The effect of this conspiracy was to deepen James' suspicion of the catholics and his dislike of the puritans. The catholics, since his coming to the English throne, had conducted themselves with more policy than their robustious rivals, the puritans. They had claimed, indeed, the fulfilment of his promises whilst merely king of Scotland, to favour them, as the stanch friends of his mother, and serious sufferers on her account; but they had preferred their claims with a degree of courtesy and moderation to which the brusque reformers were strangers. The pope, Clement VIII., probably led by the same expectations, had by two breves addressed to the archpriest and provincial of the Jesuits, strictly enjoined the missionaries to confine themselves to their spiritual duties, and on no account to mix themselves up with the agitators for political change. He condemned unequivocally the conduct of Watson and Clarke, and sent a secret envoy to the English court, expressing his abhorrence of all acts of disloyalty, and offering to withdraw any missionary from the kingdom that was in any way obnoxious to the king and council. James appeared so far influenced j by this moderation, that though he stoutly refused all application for a free exercise of the catholic worship, and even committed individuals to the Tower who offended in this respect, yet he invited the catholics to frequent his court, lie conferred knighthood on some of them, and assured them generally that they should not suffer for recusancy so long as they abstained from a breach of the laws as it regarded religion, and from all acts of political insubordination.

But towards the puritans he was by no means so courteous. He could never forget the restraint in which they had kept his infancy and youth: that they had been the defamers and persecutors of his mother; and that to the very hour in which he escaped into the larger field of English power, they had goaded him with their demands and defied his authority. As he drew nearer to the English, throne, the charms of the English church increased in his imagination. A church which set up the king as its head was a church as much after James's own heart as after that of Henry VIII. Like that monarch, he dearly loved to shine in polemics, and long before he arrived in England, it required no great shrewdness to perceive where his affections lay. In 1590 "he had," says Calderwood, "stood up in the general assembly at Edinburgh, with his bonnet off, and his hands lifted up to heaven, and said that he praised God that he was born in the time of the light of the gospel, and in such a place, as to be king of such a church, the sincerest (purest) kirk in the world. The church of Geneva, he said, keeps pasch and yule, what have they for them? They have no institution. As for our neighbour kirk of England, their service is an evil-said mass in English; they want nothing of the mass but the liftings. I charge you, my good ministers, doctors, elders, nobles, gentlemen, and barons, to stand to your purity, and to exhort the people to do the same: and I, forsooth, as long as I brook my life, shall maintain the same."

This was solemn and emphatic, but it was all hollow, and merely a play of that kingcraft which James gloried in. No sooner was he in England than he spoke his mind roundly as to his real feelings towards the puritans. He said to the bishops and courtiers: "I will tell you, I have lived amongst this sect of men ever since I was ten years old; but I may say of myself as Christ said of himself, though I lived amongst them, yet, since I had ability to judge, I was never of them." And this was at least sincere. He had grown more undisguisedly episcopalian as he saw Elizabeth sinking, and felt his hold on the throne through her own ministers. He had given seats in parliament to a certain number of clergymen, thus making them bishops without the name; but it was in his Basilicon Doron, or manual for the instruction of his son, published in 1779, that he had given loose to his deep dislike of the presbyterians. He tells his son to "take heed to such puritans, very pests in the church and commonwealth, whom no deserts can oblige, neither oaths nor promises bind, breathing nothing but sedition and calumnies, aspiring without measure, ruling without reason, making their own imaginations, without any warrant of the Word, the square of their conscience. I protest," he added, "before the great God, and since I am here upon my testament, it is no place for me to lie in, that you shall never find with any Highland or Border thieves greater ingratitude, and more lies and perjuries than with these fanatic spirits; and suffer not the principal of them to brook your land, if ye list to sit at rest; except you would keep them for trying your patience, as Socrates did an evil wife."

But whilst the royal Solomon thus plainly enunciated his hatred of puritanism, he was cautious not to let the English bishops too early into his fixed intention to patronise them. He liked to feel himself the undoubted head of that church, and to see those dignitaries in fear and trembling prostrate at his feet; and it was not till they had sufficiently humbled themselves before him, that he revived their spirits with the declaration of his real sentiments. The puritans precipitated this avowal, by urging on James a further reform of the church, and its purgation from ceremonies. In their millenary petition, so called because it was expected it would have a thousand signatures, but in reality it had only about eight hundred, they demanded a conference, in which to settle the form and doctrines of the church. This, of all things, delighted James. It was the very arena in which to display his theological knowledge; he gladly consented to it, and appointed it to take place early in January, 1604. On the 14th of that month the first assembly took place; and the bishops, who were first admitted to the royal presence alone, were so alarmed at the prospect of a conference which had been demanded by dissenters, that they threw themselves on their knees, and earnestly entreated the king not to alter the constitution of the church, nor to give the puritans the triumph in the coming debate, lest the popish recusants should rejoice over and declare them justly punished for their repulsion and persecution of them. Then James condescended to lift the weight of fear from their hearts, for he meant to give the puritans a sound flagellation: the truth could no longer be disguised. He avowed to them that he was a sincere convert to the church of England, and thanked God who had brought him to the promised land, to a country where religion was purely professed, and where he sate among grave, reverend, and learned men; not as before, elsewhere, a king without state, without honour, and without order, and braved to his face by beardless boys under the garb of ministers."

The delight of the bishops and dignitaries may be imagined at this gracious confession, who were nearly twenty in number, whilst the number of the reformers summoned was only four - namely, Doctors Reynolds and Sparkes, divinity professors of Oxford, and Doctors Knew-tubs and Chatterton, of Cambridge. James something cooled the raptures of the churchmen, by adding that he knew all things were not perfect, and that, as there required, in his opinion, some modifications of the ritual and the ecclesiastical courts, he had called them together in the first instance, in order that they might settle what concessions should be made to the puritans. It was necessary to show some compliance; and after the day's discussion it was agreed that some explanatory words should be added in the book of common prayer to the forms of general absolution and of confirmation; that the chancellor and the chief justice should reform the practice of the commissary court; that excommunication should only be inflicted for particularly serious offences; that the bishops should neither confer ordinations nor pronounce censures, without the assistance and concurrence of other eminent divines; that baptism should not be administered by women or by laymen.

These points being determined, on the 16th the four puritan divines were admitted, and desired to state their demands. These were, first, a general revision of the book of common prayer, and the withdrawal of excommunication, baptism by women, the use of the ring in marriage. bowing at the name of Jesus, confirmation, the wearing of the cap and surplice, the reading of the apocrypha; that pluralities and non-residence should cease, the obligation to subscribe the thirty-nine articles be abrogated, as well as the commendatories held by bishops. The matter being cut and dried to their hands, the bishops defended such parts of the church service and practices as the king had agreed should remain, and the prelates of London and Winchester argued in their behalf long and vehemently. As the puritan doctors were not thus to be satisfied, and had by much the best of the argument, James himself took up the debate, and conducted it in that royal style which admits of no contradiction. He was now in his true element: theological discussion was his pride and glory, and he believed himself capable of silencing all Christendom. Dr. Reynolds, however, who was the chief speaker, undaunted by his crowned opponent, insisted boldly on various points; but when he came to the demand for the disuse of the apocrypha in the church service James could bear it no longer. He called for a Bible, read a chapter out of Ecclesiasticus, and expounded it according to his own views; then turning to the lords of his council, he said, "What trow ye makes these men so angry with Ecclesiasticus? By my soul, I think; Ecclesiasticus was a bishop, or they would never use him so." The bishops and courtiers applauded the royal wit. James continued to hold forth on all sorts of topics - baptism, confirmation, absolution, which he declared to be apostolical, I and a very good ordinance - and assured the anti-episcopal divines that in his opinion, if there were no bishops, there I would soon be no king.

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