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The Reign of James I (Continued) page 3


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With such advisers as Neale, we need not so much wonder at James's perpetration of acts like the following: - Edmund Pea-chain, a Puritan minister in Somersetshire, attracted the attention of the king's officers by the boldness of his preaching, in which he did not spare the follies and tyrannies of the court. Nothing, however, seems to have been sufficiently prominent in his sermons delivered from the pulpit to bring him within the clutches of the pursuivants; but probably the old man - he was upwards of sixty - had read to some of his friends more stinging matters, for his house was suddenly entered, his desk broken open, and a manuscript sermon was found and carried off, criticising severely the king's extravagance in keeping separate courts for himself, his queen, and his son, in gifts for dances and banquets, in the costliness of his dress, the frauds of his officers, &c. Peacham was dragged up to London and committed to the Tower. There he was examined by the archbishop of Canterbury, the lord chancellor Ellesmere, the earls of Suffolk and Worcester, Sir Ralph Winwood, the lord chief justice Coke, and others, who endeavoured to draw out of him what advisers and instigators he had had in the matter. Now the sermon was a private paper, had never been preached or published, and, as the old man declared, never was intended to be. It had, therefore, in point of law, no more public existence than the thoughts in his bosom, and the law had no more right to take cognisance of it. Peacham declared that he had consulted with no one, it was a matter entirely of his own private fancy. But this would not do for these government leeches; the torture was applied to extract some confession from him, and we have Mr. Secretary Winwood's report, which he says was drawn up as the racking went on, u before torture, in torture, between torture, and after torture." For two months this diabolical process was going on, when the poor old man, weakened and nearly torn to pieces, got up a rambling story that he had denied any other person's knowledge of the sermon "wholly out of fear, and to avoid torture" but that the sermon was really not his, but the production of a person of his name, "a divine, a scholar and traveller, that came to him some years past - the certainty of the time he could not remember - and lay at his house a quarter of a year, and took so much upon him, as he had scarce the command of his own house or study, and that he would be writing sometimes in the church, sometimes in the steeple, and sometimes in his study." This was a too palpable and useless invention, for no trace of such a second Peacham could be found, and James drew up with his own hand what he styled "The true state of the case," which was, in fact, directing the judges what to find against the prisoner, his guilt being, as he declared, nothing less than high treason. Bacon did all in his power to get the sentence passed. He went to each of the judges seriatim, and found them all ready to condemn the poor old man except Coke, who declared this taking the private and particular opinion of each judge to be contrary to the custom of the realm.

This independent act and sentiment of Coke incensed James beyond measure, and prepared a severe punishment for Coke, for judges were not yet independent of the crown. It was not, however, difficult to accomplish the king's will. The chief baron and judge Hobart, who were ready to condemn Peacham, were appointed to the western circuit, and Edmund Peacham was sent down thither to be tried 5 where, as a matter of course, he was convicted of high treason, but not being immediately executed, died in Taunton gaol soon afterwards. In fact, he was not killed on the scaffold, but by the rack, a mode of dungeon execution, of which thousands have perished by the hands of lawless tyrants and their slaves.

Amongst other cases of wholly illegal punishments, we may select those of Owen and Williams. Owen was charged with saying that "princes being excommunicated by the pope, might be lawfully deposed and killed by any one." For this he was arrested and tried for high treason. He contended that he was guilty of no treason, for the king never having been excommunicated, the words did not apply to him. Coke declared that this was good law, but James took him to task so severely for his opposition, that he gave way, saying that he found the king had been excommunicated, and therefore Owen's words were treason. Consequently he was condemned to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. Williams had gone further, and written a book predicting the king's death in 1621, for which he was also convicted of high treason. These cases, though marking a fatal stretching of the law to flatter the arbitrary will of the king, bore no proportion to the atrocity of the treatment of Peacham.

A new era now arrived in the history of the king'? favourites. Though the countess of Somerset was hardened enough to stalk through adultery and poison to the gratification of her desires, and show no remorse, it appears that her new husband was not altogether of so callous a nature. From the moment of the death of Overbury, he was a totally changed man. All pleasure in life had deserted him, he had lost all his gaiety, and went about moody and morose. His person became neglected, his dress disorderly, and even in the king's company he was absent of mind, and took no pains to please him. This was not lost on those courtiers who envied the favour of the Howards, who now enjoyed complete ascendancy through their wicked kinswoman. The earls of Bedford, Pembroke, and Hertford maintained a sharp watch for a new favourite to bring before James, confident that a suitable man once found, the day of Somerset was over. This man soon appeared in a youth of the name of George Villiers, the younger son of Sir Edward Villiers, of Brookesby, in Leicestershire. Sir Edward was dead, and young Villiers had been brought up under the care of his mother, who was at once one of the most beautiful and infamous women of her time. She saw in the beauty and grace of this boy the means of advancing the fortunes of the whole family. She therefore carefully educated him to win the favour of the favourite-loving king, confident that if he once attracted his attention, the result was sure. This far-seeing and ambitious woman therefore sent the lad to France, to acquire the gay and easy manner of that court.

His courtly education being considered perfect, at the age of one-and-twenty, the post of cup-bearer to his majesty was purchased amongst the lavish sale of offices of the time, as one that must unavoidably place him under the eye of the king. Accordingly, he appeared in that employment with a fine suit of French clothes on his back, and as many French graces as any silly modern Solomon could desire. He was a fine tall young fellow, and pre-eminently handsome, at the same time that he was one of the emptiest, haughtiest, and most profligate men that ever lived. Time, however, was yet to display these qualities; they were at present concealed under a garb of finished courtesy and agreeable manners. The Herberts, the Russells, and the Seymours were delighted, and it was planned that young Villiers should discharge his office of cup-bearer at a supper entertainment at Baynard's Castle, in such a manner as must strike the imagination of he king. James was, according to expectation, smitten with the looks of the youth, and pointed out his imagined likeness to a beautiful head of St. Stephen at Whitehall, whence he gave him the pet name of "Steenie," which he always after used.

But there was a difficulty to be surmounted by the court cabal who were pushing Villiers forward for their own purposes. James had been so mercilessly twitted by the queen on account of his favourites, that he was afraid of acknowledging a fresh one without her sanction; for, says archbishop Abbot, who played a great part in this affair, "the king would never admit any to nearness about him, but such as the queen should commend to him, that, if she should complain afterwards of the dear one, he might make answer, 'it is long of yourself, for you commended him unto me.'" When, however, Abbot was prevailed on to solicit the queen to recommend Villiers to the king, she replied, with an insight into the young adventurer's nature which was one of her characteristics, "My lord, neither you nor your friends know what you desire. If Villiers once obtain the royal favour, those who have the most contributed to his preferment will be the first sufferers by him. I shall be no more spared than others. The king will teach him to despise us all, and to treat us with pride and scorn. The young favourite will soon fancy that he owes his preferment only to his own merit."

Yet Anne, who hated Somerset and his polluted and mercenary wife, was soon won over to comply, and this she did by stepping out of that prudent non-interference in such matters, making this the first instance of her having endeavoured to influence court movements since her arrival in England. On St. George's day she went with her son Charles into the privy chamber, and telling the king that she had a new candidate for the honour of knighthood, worthy of St. George himself, she asked the prince to reach her his father's sword, which he did, drawing it from the sheath by his side. She advanced with the sword towards James, who professed to be alarmed at her approaching thus armed; but dropping upon her knees, she presented Villiers, and guided the king's hand in giving him the accolade of knighthood. James was, probably, in his wonted condition of ebriety towards evening, for he evidently could not guide his weapon himself, but had nearly thrust it into the new favourite's eye.

The great object of the court aspirants was accomplished; the king had got the queen's sanction, and gave free loose to his foolish affection, lie at once conferred a salary of one thousand pounds a year on Villiers, and admitted him to the most unrestrained familiarity. The queen, who appears to have found the young upstart more respectful to her than she anticipated, entered frankly into the new relations, and endeavoured to make use of Villiers to check the follies of James in his cups. Sir Walter Scott says, that in that condition he was "exceedingly like an old gander, running about and cackling all manner of nonsense." Queen Anne gave him the equally characteristic name of an "old sow," and told Villiers that he was her watch-dog, and whenever the king was about to make a fool of himself, he must "lug the sow by the ear." James, so far from resenting this uncomplimentary language, readily adopted the phrase of his "dog Steenie," and we find Villiers writing to the queen that, "in obedience to her desire, he had pulled the king's ear till it was as long as any sow's."

Villiers once installed in James's good graces, the fall of Somerset was easy, and no time was lost in effecting it. Somerset was not so lost to observance of what passed around him as to be unaware of some danger; probably his vigilant spouse brought the fact to his attention. He therefore solicited a pardon of the king in full and formal style, of all and everything which he might have done, or should hereafter do, which might subject him to a charge of treason, misprision of treason, felony, or other accusation. James, who had not yet been incited to his destruction, with his usual facility in such matters, especially when under certain genial influences, freely granted it; but the lord chancellor Ellesmere refused to put the great seal to such a document, declaring that it would subject him to a praemunire. After all, it might be a ruse of James to grant this pardon, thus still preserving an appearance of favour to Somerset, as he did to the last moment, knowing that a hint to Ellesmere, who was a very compliant creature of his, would prevent the deed taking effect. James went further; he sent Villiers to Somerset, to assure him that he desired not in any way to interfere betwixt him and the king's favour, but would seek preferment only through his means, and be "his servant and creature;" to which Somerset, with the moroseness which had become his manner, replied, "I will have none of your service, and you shall have none of my favour. I will, if I can, break your neck."

Matters now being ripe, Mr, Secretary Winwood was induced by archbishop Abbot, under promise of protection from the queen, to communicate to James the popular rumour that Overbury had been poisoned in the Tower, and that this had been confirmed by some admissions of Elwes, the lieutenant of that fortress, in conversation with the earl of Shrewsbury. That the old favourite had lost his place in James's heart was immediately evident. He took up the matter with his usual avidity where a mystery was to be probed. He put a number of questions to Elwes in writing, and demanded, on pain of his life, a faithful answer. The answer satisfied James that Somerset and his wife were guilty of this foul murder. He immediately sent for the lord chief justice Coke, and ordered him to arrest them. Coke demurred till the king had named several others in commission with him. This being settled, this extraordinary royal dissembler set out to Royston to hunt, and took Somerset with him, showing him all his old marks of fondness. In the days of his real favour he had refused him not the most iniquitous request. Even when the wife of Sir Walter Raleigh, on his first condemnation for treason, had gone down on her knees to him, to implore him to spare his castle and estate at Sherborne, in Dorsetshire, to his children, he had ruthlessly replied, "Na, na, I maun ha' the land; I maun ha' it for Carr." And at this moment, when he was dooming the same Carr to destruction, he was pretending the same infatuated regard. When the chief justice's messenger arrived at Royston with the warrant, he found the king hanging about Somerset's neck, kissing him in the true Judas style, and saying, "When shall I see thee again? When shall I see thee again?"

When the warrant was delivered to Somerset, in the midst of these disgusting affectations of endearment, he exclaimed that never had such an affront been offered to a peer of England in presence of his sovereign. "Nay, man," replied the royal hypocrite, coaxingly, "if Coke sends for me, I maun go;" and as soon as Somerset's back was turned, he added, "Now the deil go with thee, for I will never see thy face mair." Soon after Coke himself arrived; to whom James indignantly complained that Somerset and his wife had made him a go-between in their adultery and murder. Even his enormous self-conceit was so far overcome, as to compel him to admit that he had been grossly duped. He commanded Coke to search the affair to the bottom, and to spare no man or woman that he found guilty, however great or powerful. "And," added he, "may God's curse be upon you and your house if you spare any of them; and God's curse be upon me and mine, if I pardon any of them."

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Pictures for The Reign of James I (Continued) page 3

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