Francis Bacon.

The works of Francis Bacon, baron of Verulam, viscount St. Alban, and lord high chancellor of England (Volume 1) online

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Somerset with kindness and distinction ; even after
the discovery of his being an accomplice in poisoning
Sir Thomas Overbury had rendered this dissimulation
not only mean but criminal. Yet he continued it to wiiM.n.
the last, embracing with fondness the man whom he ''"
had secretly ordered to be arrested : and entreating
him to hasten his return, when he believed he should
ne^■er see him more. In such trifles he was fond to
exert his talent of political iiunagement. The carl's
unhappy passion for tlic young countess of Essex
was the source of all his misfortunes, and drew after
it the most terrible consequences : endirig, as I have
already observed, in the nuu'der of his friend ; in tlic
ruin of himself, and of licr to wliom lie liad trcache-.
rously sacrificed that friend Tlic wliole aflf'air is
displayed at full length in our author's cliarges
against these two prime agents in tliat infernal con-
spiracy. They were both found guilty, sentenced .Mayi>4,
to die, and afterwards pardoned by the king, iiot- j';J^^\'r',
withstanding his solemn imprecations to the contrary, 1. p. ssi.
on himself and his posterity. ^^^'


Certain historians lia"\'e remarked, tliat there was
something, in the behavionr of Somerset before his
trial, singular and mysterious ; and that his master
likewise seemed to labour under a secret anxiety of
mind, equally surprising. The earl, they pretend,
said aloud in the Tower, that the king durst not
bring him to a trial. Others reject this account as
a downright calumny, invented merely to fix a black
and cruel imputation on that prince's memory : or
affirm at least that it was founded only in popular
rumour and malicious conjecture. But that there was
more in it than conjecture, may be proved by un-
doubted authority ; by some original letters of Sir
Francis Bacon, then Actorney General, and particu-
larly emj^loyed in this very affair. Those letters
have, I think, escaped the observation of all our
writers : I shall therefore quote from them such pas-
sages as may serve to throw some light on this dark
transaction ; though not enough perhaps to discover
the darker motives that influenced the king's and the
earl's behaviour in it.
Bacon, Jamcs himsclf selected certain persons to examine

Letter Somersct with all secrecy, and marked out to them
cxxxvi. ^i^^ particular articles on which they were to interro-
gate him. They had withal orders to work upon his
obstinate temper by every method of persuasion and
terror : to give him now hopes of the king's compas-
sion and mercy ; and now to assure him that the
evidence was full to convict him, so as there needed
neither confession nor supply of examination. Ba-
con, who was one of them, adds that they found his
deportment sober and modest, different apparently
from other times. In anotlier letter he has these
Vol. V. remarkable words; " That same little charm
*' which may be secretly infused into Somerset's ear
" some hours before his trial, was excellently well
" thought of by his majesty : only I could wish it a
'* little enlarged ; for if it be no more but to spare his
" blood, lie hatli a kind of proud luunour tliat may
" over-work the medicine." All this was to be done
with much caution and privacy ; for the very ser-




jeaiits, appointed to niaiiao:e ])art of the trial, were
not yet in the secret how the king would have it car-
ried on : and tliercfore Bacon, to cover from them
wliat lie knew of tlie matter, desired tliat some ge-
neral heads of direction might be sent to them all.
From hence it a])pear:s that James shewed an ex-
treme solicitude about the earl's behaviour, and the
event of this affair. To what can it be attributed ?
His affection for Somerset was extinguished : and he
lay under the strongest obligations of public honour
and justice not to screen, from the censure of the
law, a man whose guilt was of the most crying enor-
mity. The earl's standing mute, or denying that
guilt, especially as the proofs of it were strong and
pregnant, could bring no possible imputation on his
name. ^Vhy then all this dark practice ? all these
artifices of the persons who examined him, only to
make him submit to be tried, and to keep him in due
temper during his trial ? There is still more. James Bacon,
ordered his Attorney General to forecast and put in l"j"J'
writing every possible case with regard to the trial, cxxxviu.
and accompany them with his own opinion on each ;
that no surprise might happen, but that things duly
foreseen might have their directions and remedies in
readiness. According-ly Sir Francis Bacon sent a
writing of that purport, on which there are several
observations in the king's own hand. I will only
quote one passage from it : " All these points of
" mercy and favour to Somerset are to be understood
" with this limitation ; if he do not, by his con-
" temptuous and insolent carriage at the bar, make
*' himself incapable and unworthy of them." The
king's lemark in the margin is in these words : " That
" danger is well to be foreseen, lest he upon the one
" part commit unpardonable errors ; and I on the
" other part seem to punish him in the spirit of
" revenge." Somerset was not to be tried for any
offence against the king ; but for the barbarous mur-
der of a private man and his friend. "^Vhat then
means the contemptuous carriage that is so much ap-
prehended ? What are the unpardonable errors it may


lead him to commit? If lie reflected on a master, to
whom he had been so much obliged, oidy for giving
him up to a fair and equal trial, to a trial by many
circumstances rendered inevitable ; that would, in
the opinion of all mankind, only aggravate his crime,
and furnish a new motive to that master for letting
the sentence of justice pass upon him in all its rigour.
Court vf After these particulars, I may venture to mention a
p. iod."" fact related by JSir Antony Weldon, who says, that
when the lieutenant of the Tower, Sir George JMore,
came and told the earl he must prepare for his trial
on the morrow, he absolutely refused to appear un-
less they dragged him to it by violence ; adding, that
the king durst not bring him to trial. Astonished at
such rash and dangerous expressions, the lieutenant,
though it was then midnight, went and demanded
an audience of the king, to inform him of what had
passed. James, upon hearing his story, burst into a
passion of tears, and entreated ]\Iore to use his
utmost skill upon his prisoner and soothe him, by
whatever means, into proper temper and submission.
This More undertook to do, and by a stratagem
effected it. Weldon affirms he had this story from
the lieutenant's own mouth: and though he is a partial
writer, and indulges himself in a humour of licentious
scandal, the authentic vouchers I have jnoduced
render his anecdote not improbable. Other circum-
stances, mentioned by those who have professedly
written of this reign, I therefore omit, and shall only
Cabala, ^f\^[^ ^jj-it thcrc is iu the Cabala a letter to king
edit. 1691. James from Somerset after his condemnation, of a
very peculiar turn. He desires that his estate may
be continued to him entire, in a style rather of expos-
tulation and demand than of humility and supplica-
tion : and through the affected obscurity of some ex-
pressions, one may discover, that there was an im-
portant secret in his keeping of which the king
dreaded a discovery. The issue was, that James
continued to him a pension of four thousand pounds
a year, as long as he lived.

Prince Henry died in the year 1612, universally


lamented. His excellent qualities had endeared him
to tlic love and expectations of all England. Ger-
manicus was not more the darling of the Roman
jieople : and the untimely death of both those princes
was universally believed to have been procured by
poison, lie had expressed, on all occasions, an ab-
horrence of minions, and an utter contempt of
Somerset : he had even declared a firm resolution, to
humble both him and the family into which he was
allied, if ever he came to reign. Whether the unac-
countable transaction I liave been relating has any
reference to the death of this amiable prince, or whe-
ther it does not point rather to an affair of a very
different nature, the reader is left to determine.

Villiers, now without a rival in the king's affec-
tions, was every day receiving new proofs of his
bounty ; at the same time that he more than shared
with him the exercise of his authority. In the course
of a few years he was made Gentleman of the bed-
chamber, JNlaster of the horse, Knight of the garter,
earl, marquis and duke of Buckingham, Chief justice
in eyre of all the forests, and lord High Admiral of
England. One of those prodigies of fortune, who
rise now and then upon the world, as the vulgar
imagine of comets, at once to astonish and scourge
it : a signal instance of the wantoiniess of sovereign
power, and how far it may insult human kind in
exalting and adorning what it should neglect or con-
temn. He drew up after him an obscure kindred,
numerous and indigent, bestowed on them places of
trust and profit, married them into the noblest families,
and graced them all with dignities, which were to be
supported at the common cxpence of a whole people ;
to whom if any one of them was merely harmless, it
was his utmost praise. After having read, not only
what the enemies of this favourite have said against
lum, but all that his partizans ha^ c alledgcd on his
behalf, I do not find, during the whole time of his
influence under two reigns, an influence supreme and
unbounded, that he ever projected one scheme for the
benefit of his country, or ever executed one under-

VOL. I. ' d


taking to its honour ; the only great criterion by
Avhich we ought to judge those men that administer
the public. The breaking off the Spanish match at
last was solely a sacrifice to his own vanity and re-
sentment. On the caprice of this youth, liowever,
the first and ablest men in the kingdom were to de-
pend entirely, for their access ;it court, for their
advancement, for any opportunity of being able to
serve their country and their sovereign. Sir Francis
Bacon was sensible of this, and courted his friendship
with a particular application. But he must have felt
all the servitude and disagrceableness of his situation,
Bacon. when, to be well with the king, he found it necessary
Zvuf]' to tiu'U steward to the estate newly bestowed on this
cLxvr. young man ; to study the ways and means of im-
proving his lands, and of rendering his places most
profitable to him. It is true he found his account in
this service ; as it proved the surest means of his
own preferment : but, to a great and worthy mind,
preferment so meanly obtained is disgrace, only a
little disguised and gilded over.

The Lord Chancellor Jl)gerton, broken with age
and infirmities, liad often petitioned the king to be
dismissed from his laborious employment. He was
now seventy-seven years old, and had presided in the
court of cliancery from the year 1596, with an un-
blemished reputation as a judge in privr.te cases ; but
his public conduct had been always framed to the
directions of the court with an obsequiousness of
dangerous example in one, who lielu so great and
important a trust. To this high dignity Sir Francis
Bacon privately aspired : and as it was the utmost
scope of his ambition, he liad aimed all his endeavours
in the king's service to merit it at liis hands. He
took care, at the same time, to strengthen his pre-
tensions by the credit of Buckingliam. His ambition
even made him descend to artifices, tliat are as com-
mon in courts, as they are mean and unwarrantable ;
for lie endeavoured to ruin in tlie king's good opi-
nion such men as the voice of the public might
probably design to the same office, and whom he
therefore considered as his rivals. He was parti-

p. 219


cularly jealous of Sir Eilward Coke, and represented Racon,
liim as one who abounded in liis own sense; one l^^'^/
who affected popnhuity, and hkely to court the good cxxvu.
will of the nation at the hazard of the prerogative.
For himself, he })laccd his great merit in obedience
and submission ; in the interest he had among the
(^ommons, and in being able to influence the lower
liousc of parliament : a service which he magnifies
as more important in a Chancellor, than to judge in
equity between party and ])arty. This opinion of
his own popularity in the nation was not groundless.
The parliament that met in 1614, though extremely Petyfs
out of humour with the ministers in general, distin- p!j°7/am.
guished him by an uncommon mark of favour and p. i74.
confidence. An objection having been started in
the house of commons, that a seat there was in-
compatible with the office of Attorney General,
which required his frequent attendance in the upper
house : the commons, from their particular regard
for Sir Francis Bacon, and for that time only, over-
ruled the objection ; and he was accordingly allowed
to take his place among them. If I observe farther,
that the king raised him to the dignity of a privy-
counsellor while he was still in this very office, it
will be instead, of many instances to shew, with what
an addressful prudence he steered his course betwixt
the court and the nation. He was thus favoured by
a ])rince, who exacted from all his servants an im-
plicit submission to his maxims of government : he
gave no umbrage to a parliament whom these maxims
had rendered jealous of tlie prince, and of almost
every man in his favour. But to return.

These insinuations had their desired effect. Upon An. leir.
the Chancellor's voluntary resignation of the seals,
they were given to Sir Francis Bacon, with the title
of lord Keeper, on the seventh of JMarch 1617- To Bacon
what interest he more particularly owed this pro- ]^'^l^^'
motion we may learn from his letter of acknowledge- cLxm.
ment, written that very day, to tlic earl of Buck-

A few days after he had the seals delivered to him,
d 2


the king went a progress into Scotland, carrying with
him the favourite, who was hkewise his prime mini-
ster : for to him all business, public or private, was
addressed ; and, according to his fancy, for the most
part determined. The great affair that employed the
deliberations of his council about this time, and had
a fatal influence on his conduct ever after, was the
marriage of prince Charles with the Infanta of Spain.
In this resolution, though contrary to all the rules of
good policy, he persisted for seven years together ;
against his own interest, against the universal voice
of his people : only to procure the imaginary honour
of an alliance with a crowned head ; for all other
BacQi), alliances he thought below his dignity. Sir Francis
Letter ' Bacon, who saw through the vanity and danger of
cLxxv. ^iijs intention, but who wanted resolution to be
greatly honest, contented himself with insinuating
softly, that it would be necessary to have the council
unanimous in tlieir suffrage on the occasion, what-
ever might be their private sentiments. This hint
was not sufficient to open the king's eyes. On the
contrary, he run blindfold into the snare that Gun-
damor was spreading for him. That famous states-
man, as much by his buffooneries as by his talent for
intrigue, had gained an absolute ascendant over
James, leading him on from error to error : till in the
end he made him sacrifice his conscience to the pope,
and his honour to tlie resentments of Philij), in the
murder of his bravest subject, Sir Walter Raleigh ;
the last terror of Spain, and the only surviving favou-
rite of Queen Elizabeth. The Dutch too made ad-
vantage of the king's weakness and necessities. As
R^P'"- the cautionary towns were still in the hands of the
English, the States were under some apprehensions
that the Spanish ministry might prevail upon James,
who could not possibly conceal his fondness for
the matcli in treaty, to put tliosc important places
into tlu'ir power. They knew at the same time
that his treasury was exhausted, and that his courtiers
were insatiable. 'i'o bring their purpose about,
they ceased all at once to pay the English who


garrisoned tliose places, as by tlieir treaties they
were obliged to do. Complaint being made of
this to the Dutch envoy at London, he insinuated,
as from himself, to some of the ministers, that if
king James would desire it of the States, they would,
out of consideration for him, take up money at
exorbitant interest, and in one payment discharge
the whole debt due to the crown of England. This
stratagem took effect. James wrote to the States ;
and the matter was immediately put into negotia-
tion. The pensionary J5arnevelt, whom they sent
over, conducted the affair with so much address,
that the king agreed to deliver up the cautionary
towns for less than three millions of florins, in lieu
of eight millions they had engaged to pay Elizabeth,
besides the interest that had been running on for
eighteen years. Such are the events of this reign ;
fit only to depress the writer, and distaste the reader.
During the king's absence in Scotland there hap-
pened an affair, otherwise of small importance, but
as it lets us into the true genius of those times, and
serves to shew in what miserable subjection the fa-
vourite held all those who v>ere in public employ-
ments. He was upon the point of ruining Sir
Francis Bacon, the person he had just contributed
to raise, not for any error or negligence in their
master's service, but merely for an opinion given in
a thing that only regarded his own family. In-
deed such was the levity, such the insolence of his
power, that the capricious removal of men from their
places became the prime distinction of his thirteen
years favour ; wliich, as bisliop Hacket observes, was lko of
like a sweeping Hood, that at every spring-tide takes j^.^''i^- ^^''
from one land to cast what it has taken upon ano- Vnn \\.
ther. The affair was this. The year before, my lord ''" ^'^'
Coke had been removed from his place of Chief
Justice, and disgraced : the court having found him,
in several instances, no friend to arbitrary will and
pleasure, or to the prerogative, as it was called ; but
resolutely bent to maintain tlie integrity and honour
of his post. One Peacham had been accused of in-



sertiiig in a sermon several passages accounted trea-
sonable, for it seems they reflected on the ministry ;
but in a sermon never preached, nor ever intended to
be made pnblic. The king, who was beyond measure
jealous on this head, fearing the man might either be
acquitted on his trial, or not condemned to a capital
y*?°y punishment, had ordered his attorney general Bacon
Letter to souud the judgcs beforc-liand, and gather their
txii. opinions secretly and apart. My lord Coke obsti-
nately refused to declare his ; looking on this auri-
cular taking of opinions, for so he named it, as
not according to the custom of the realm, but new,
and of pernicious tendency. About the same time
he had determined a cause at common law. The
Bacon, plaintiff, who thought himself injured, would not
Letter ' ^bidc by his decision, but applied to chancery for
cxxviii, relief: where the defendant refused to appear, dis-
claiming the authority of that court : in which he
was supported by the Chief Justice, who threat-
ened the Chancellor with a premunire, grounded
on a statute made 27th Edw. III. for thus in-
vading the limits of his jurisdiction. The king, who
thought his prerogative struck at anew in this attack
on the court of his absolute power, as Bacon styles
it, had the matter examined before the council ;
who condemned the Chief Justice for what he liad
done, and obliged him to make a submission on his
knees. But what completed the distaste taken at
him, was his behaviour in a cause of the bishop
of Litchfield and Coventry, to whom the king had
granted a vacant church in commaidam. Serjeant
Letter Chiborne, who was counsel against the bisliop, in
arguing the case had maintained several positions,
reckoned prejudicial and derogatory to the king's su-
preme and imperial power, which was affirmed to be
distinct from, and of a higher nature than his ordinary
autliority. Informed of tliis, James, by bis attorney
general 15acon, ordered the judges to stay further
proceedings in tliat business, till they had consulted
with hinL Tlic judges assembled, and unanimously
agTccd, that they could not obey this order ; that




the letter they had l•ecei^■ed \vas contrary to law ; that
by their oath and the duty of their places they were
not to delay justice ; that they had therefore proceeded
in the canse at the time fixed : and of this they certified
the king in a writing under all their hands. Upon
this remonstrance, he writ them an angry letter, and
peremptorily commanded them to stay all proceed-
ings, till his return to London. They were then
snmmoncd before the council, and sharply repri-
manded for suffering the popular lawyers to question
his prerogative, which was represented as sacred and
transcendent, not to be handled or mentioned in vid-
gar argument. At last raising his voice, to frighten
them into submission, he put this question to them
severally : " If, at any time, in a case depending be-
" fore the judges, he conceived it to concern him
'• either in profit or power, and thereupon required to
" consult with them, and that they should stay pro-
" ceedings in the mean time ; whether they ought
" nor to stay them accordingly? " They all, the Chief
Justice only excepted, acknowledged it their duty
to do so. His answer deserves to be for ever re-
membered : " That when such a case happened, he Bacon,
" would do that which should be fit for a iudffe to)"'-^'*

O o Letter

" do." CXLVIII.

Yet this great lawyer, who had the honest courage
to resist tlie king to his face, wanted that inde-
jiendence of mind whicli alone enables a man to
bear solitude, and an acquaintance with himself.
His disgrace, which reflected more honour on him
than all his preferments, he was unable to support ;
and therefore he soon after sued to be reinstated in
the king's favour. To recover it, he meanly enough
courted the favourite with an offer, which he would
not hear of when it was formerly made to him.
While in power, he had refused to give his daughter \'oi. v.
in marriaoe to Sir John A^illiers, not without marks ^^'*^'"
of disrespect: he now submissively intreated thecxxl
same person to honoiu- him with his alliance : and
employed Secretary Winwood to inform the earl of
Buckingham of his extreme concern for what had





L. Coke.



passed with regard to the earl's brother ; that he now
passionately wished the treaty might be renewed and
accomplished ; adding, that they should make their
own terms of settlement, if his proposal was ac-
cepted. As the young lady was not only a celebrated
beauty, but a great fortune, the person most interested
made no difficulty to close with this proposal ; and
his mother recommended it to her second son with
warmth. This alarmed the lord keeper Bacon. Ever
jealous of Coke's reputation, and at odds with him,
he dreaded his alliance with so powerful a family.
His imagination suggested to him all the danger that
threatened his present and future fortunes from this
union : and he could not forget that he had lately
treated his antagonist with a freedom that rather in-
sulted than admonished him. These apprehensions
made him cast about how to defeat the intended
match, by raising such objections to it as might touch
the king and his favourite in point of public honour
and advantage. His letters to both, on that occa-
sion, are written with the perplexity of a man who
fears something he is unwilling to own ; which yet
his prudence passes over with a seeming unconcern,
to enlarge only upon considerations that regard those
whom he would be thought to serve. But this ma-
nagement proved ineffectual. It was resented by the
earl of Buckingham, and checked by a rough answer
from the king. The lady Compton too, informed
of the part he was acting, gave a loose to her tongue,
and railed at him with a bitterness natural to women
when they arc thwarted in any favourite pursuit of

Online LibraryFrancis BaconThe works of Francis Bacon, baron of Verulam, viscount St. Alban, and lord high chancellor of England (Volume 1) → online text (page 4 of 52)