The Reign of James I (Continued) page 4
Coke seemed quite willing to act as vigorously and unsparingly as the king could desire. The commissioners, of whom he was the chief, subjected the adulterous pair to no less than three hundred examinations, and then announced that they found ample proofs of their guilt. That Frances Howard, formerly countess of Essex, had resorted to sorcery to incapacitate her then husband, the earl of Essex, and to procure the love of lord Rochester. That, finding Sir Thomas Overbury an obstacle to their criminal designs, they had, by the assistance of the countess's late uncle, the earl of Northampton, procured the commitment of Sir Thomas to the Tower, and the removal of the lieutenant, and the appointment in his place of their creature Elwes, and of one Weston to be the warder of the prisoner. That this Weston had formerly been the servant of Mrs. Turner, a woman famous for the introduction of yellow starch for ruffs, and an early companion of the said lady Frances Howard; and that through Weston and Mrs. Turner the countess had procured three kinds of poison from one Franklin, an apothecary. That Weston had administered these poisons to his prisoner Over-bury, and thus procured his death. Coke added that, from private memorandum books and letters which he had found amongst the papers of the prisoners, he had discovered that Somerset had undoubtedly poisoned prince Henry. The queen is said to have been greatly excited by this intelligence, and had all her former belief of this poisoning revived. She declared her full conviction that Somerset and his clique had planned the removal of herself and her son Charles also, in order to marry the princess Elizabeth to the son of the earl of Suffolk, brother to the countess. But James was too well satisfied by the postmortem examination of the body of prince Henry, and by the insufficiency of Coke's proofs, to be led into this absurd belief, though he admitted a persuasion that Somerset had received money from Spain 011 condition of delivering up the prince Charles to that monarch.
The letter of Overbury to Somerset, on which Coke grounded these atrocious charges, has since been published, and bears no such inferences. He, indeed, alludes to certain secrets of Somerset's in his possession, but from the slight manner in which they are referred to, they do not appear to be of any importance; nor does he in any way menace revealing them to the government, but merely says that he has written a history of their whole acquaintance, from which it would be seen with what ingratitude the earl had treated him. What was more curious, if true, as related by Bacon, Wotton, and Weldon, was the fact that Coke, in rummaging after written evidence of the prisoner's guilt, had got hold of the pocket-book of Forman, a conjurer, who had been consulted by the countess of Essex and other ladies of the court, but on the very first page finding the name of his own wife, very quickly put it away.
Weston, Franklin, the apothecary, and Mrs. Turner, were all secured and examined. The facts which came out on their trials were these: Mrs. Turner, who was a remarkably fine woman, had been an early companion of the countess of Exeter. That, whilst a maid in her father's house, this beautiful but bad woman had initiated the young lady Howard into much of the profligacy so rife amongst the courtiers, male and female, of queen Elizabeth. But after being separated for some years, by the marriage of Mrs, Turner to a physician in London, they then again met there, Mrs. Turner now being a widow, and Frances Howard the reluctant wife of Essex. Mrs. Turner, who appears to have been leading a very criminal life, immediately took steps to rid her of her husband, and to secure for her lover Rochester. She informed her of the means by which she had been successful in her own love affairs. She assured her that Forman, the conjurer of Lambeth, had a wonderful power in compelling love by philter, and was in consequence greatly resorted to by the ladies of the court. That in her own case, she had brought Sir Arthur Mainwaring, spite of himself, to entertain the most violent passion for her, and caused him to ride many miles in night and tempest to her house. She introduced the young countess to this fashionable sorcerer, who thenceforth became in great request with her. By letters of the countess produced in court, it appeared that she called this notorious quack "her dear father," "her very dear father," and "her sweet father;" and had had frequent meetings with Rochester at the conjuror's house.
The court of justice was at once amused and horrified by the production, not of Forman, for with all his supernatural science he was dead, but of his conjuring charms and apparatus; his pictures, diagrams, spells, and images. Such was the effect of this trumpery on the spectators, that a loud crack being heard in the gallery, the whole court was terrified; not by the natural danger of the gallery being too much crowded for its strength, but from an impression that the devil was present along with all that diabolical machinery, and was ready to overwhelm the whole audience in resentment at its exposure. Amongst his papers appeared that pocket-book of the sorcerer - in which was catalogued the court dames who had consulted him, and the lords they sought to win to themselves - which so startled Coke.
It appeared that Mrs. Turner had not only thus led the willing countess into all the arcana of fashionable sin, but had also procured her the instruments for its accomplishment. She had furnished her with the fellow Weston, who had lived with Franklin, the apothecary, who supplied the poison, and who undertook to administer it to Overbury. This wretch confessed to his crimes, and that he had given Sir Thomas poison enough to have killed twenty men, dosing him through a space of several months, to give his illness the appearance of natural disease; and that Somerset, as soon as the victim was dead, ordered him, through the earl of Northampton, to be immediately buried. Franklin also confessed his share in the business.
These inferior criminals were all condemned to be hanged at Tyburn, before the trial of the prime agents. Though they were clearly convicted on sufficient evidence, yet there were no few who attributed their condemnation to the court conspiracy against Somerset; and when Weston was on the scaffold, some of Somerset's friends, Sir John Hollis, Sir John Wentworth, Sir Thomas Vavasour, Sir Henry Vane, and Mr. Sackville rode up, and called on him to state honestly whether he were actually guilty of the fact or not. Weston merely replied, "Fact or no fact, I die worthily," and so was hanged. These gentlemen were charged in the star-chamber with an attempt to slander the king's justice, by this proceeding, and Hollis and Wentworth were thrown into prison for a year, and condemned to a fine of one thousand pounds each. Weston suffered on the 23rd of October, and Mrs. Turner on the 9th of November. This woman had played such a part amongst the court ladies, that her execution drew a vast crowd, and many great ladies and fashionable men, both noble and commoners, went in their coaches to Tyburn to see her die. She came forth dressed in great splendour, rouged and perfumed as if going to a ball, and wearing round her neck one of her celebrated yellow-starched ruffs. She made a very penitent death, and - her yellow starch went out of fashion with her.
But a circumstance now took place which greatly scandalised the public. Sir Thomas Monson, the king's falconer, was arrested by Coke on a charge of being concerned in these affairs. He was known to have recommended Weston when he was proposed as warder over Overbury, and Coke exhorted him to confess, and throw himself on the mercy of the king. Monson rejected the advice scornfully, and before Coke could reduce him to confession by the means so freely used in that age, the public were surprised by seeing a detachment of the king's guard enter, and carry him away from the very face of the judge, and convey him back to the Tower. Perhaps that is the sole example of such a daring act of arbitrary power attempted in England. The reason assigned was that Monson's evidence was necessary on the trial of Somerset, which was deferred till the arrival of Sir John Digby, afterwards earl of Bristol, the ambassador at the court of Spain, and who, it was asserted, could furnish proofs of Somerset's treasonable dealings with the Spanish court. When the public surprise and indignation at this unexampled transaction had had time to subside, Monson was quietly let out of the Tower, and gradually restored to; his offices at court. Roger Coke asserts that Coke and the judges Hyde and Doddridge declared Monson as guilty as any of them.
On the 16th of November, Elwes, the lieutenant of the Tower, was executed. On the trial he strictly denied his guilt, but on the scaffold he confessed it all. The last of this miserable crew, Franklin, the apothecary, was hanged on the 9th of December.
On the plea of the necessity of having Digby present, the trial of Somerset and his wife was deferred till April, 1616. The real cause of delay, however, was probably the fear of bringing a man like Somerset, who had been so long in all James's secrets, to trial, lest he should avow something in his despair to the damage of the royal reputation. Certain it is that, when the time of trial approached, James betrayed the most extreme terror and uneasiness, and omitted no means to induce Somerset to make a full confession in private, offering him both life and restoration to his estates. He sent messenger after messenger to Somerset in prison, the attorney-general Bacon being the principal, James Hay, afterwards earl of Carlisle, another, with whom was employed Somerset's late private secretary. They did all in their power to induce Somerset to accept the king's terms, but he remained obstinate, replying, when offered life and fortune, "Of what use is life when honour is gone?" He demanded earnestly to be permitted to see the king himself, declaring that in half-an-hour's interview he could place all in sc clear a light as should perfectly satisfy his majesty. This interview James declined, as well as a proposal to send a private letter to the king. These requests being refused, he assumed an attitude of menace, declaring that whenever he was brought into court, he would make such avowals as would astonish the country, and cause the king to rue his rejection of his offers.
On this James wrote to Sir George More, the lieutenant of the Tower, exhorting him to use his influence to divert the mind of the prisoner from such a course, and adding: - "God knoweis it is only a trikke of his ydle brain, heaping thairby to shiffce his tryall, but is easie to bee scene, that he wold threattin me, with laying an aspersion upon me of being in some sorte accessorie to his cryme." He says if the prisoner wishes to send a message to him it must not be private, for he cannot receive a private message till after his trial, and he holds out the hope of making all right then.
This did not move Somerset, and on the 9th of May the king sent proposals to the sullen prisoner of such a nature, that James informed the lieutenant of the Tower, if there were the least spark of grace left in Somerset, he must accept them. He did not accept them, however, though it was intimated to him that the countess had confessed all, which was the fact. On the 13th, James ordered More to repeat the offer, if he would confess, with a promise that it should even be improved. Not a soul, he added, was to know of this, but if Somerset agreed to confess, the commissioners were to be sent for instantly, but if he remained obstinate, the king desired to hear nothing of it. Nothing further came of all this running to and fro but a letter from Somerset, sent openly, which the king deigned to receive, but which only again demanded a private interview before his trial.
On the 24th of May the countess was brought before the peers, where, as she had already confessed, she had only to plead guilty. She was extremely agitated, pale, spiritless, She trembled greatly all the time that the clerk was reading the indictment, and put her fan before her face at the mention of Weston. Her words were nearly inaudible, through weeping, as she pleaded guilty, and threw herself on the royal mercy. This done, she was removed from the bar before the sentence was pronounced, during which interval Bacon delivered a speech perfectly unnecessary, as she had pleaded guilty, detailing the damning facts which he was prepared to produce, had he been compelled by her denying her guilt. This manoeuvre was intended to criminate Somerset, without the hazard of his wife's declaring his innocence on hearing him implicated. Bacon's purpose being served, she was recalled, and the lord chancellor Ellesmere, who acted as high steward on the trials, pronounced sentence of death upon her.
That day Somerset was informed that he would go to trial on the morrow: they had not deemed it safe to try him and his wife together. On hearing this he went into a great rage, declaring that the king had assured him that he should never go to trial, and protesting that if they took him there, it should be by force, and in his bed. He repeated his former threats, adding the king dared not bring him into open court. More, the lieutenant of the Tower, was so alarmed at this temper and language, that he hastened away to James at Greenwich, though it was getting late, and was midnight when he reached the palace. He was hastily admitted to the king's chamber, and James, on hearing his statement, burst into an agony of tears, and exclaimed - "On my soul, More, I wot not what to do. Thou art a wise man, help me in this great strait, and thou shalt find thou dost it for a thankful master." More promised to do his best, and was afterwards actually rewarded for his services on this occasion with a suit worth to him fifteen hundred pounds, though the Earl of Annan-dale, his great friend, managed to get half of it.
The lieutenant hastened back to the Tower, and told Somerset that he had communicated his wishes to the king, who was in the most gracious disposition towards him, and sent him assurance that though for form's sake he must appear in court, he should not be detained there by any proceedings; but whilst he had there an opportunity of seeing his enemies and their malice towards him, the royal power should protect him from any harm.
This appeased the rage of Somerset, and he prepared calmly to make his appearance in the morning. But even then the officers of the court were by no means secure of the result when he should find himself compelled to plead, notwithstanding the royal promise. Bacon had planned all necessary cautions for this emergency, as we find from his “Particular Remembrances for his Majesty," preserved in the State Trials. "It were good," says this protean sage, who has been styled "the greatest wit, scholar, and scoundrel of his age," "that after he is come into the hall, so that he may perceive that he must go to trial, and shall be retired to the place appointed till the court call for him, then the lieutenant shall tell him roundly that, if in his speeches he shall tax the king, that the justice of England is that he shall be taken away, and the evidence go on without him; and then all the people will cry away with him, and then it shall not be in the king's power to save his life, the people will be so set on fire."
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