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looked upon as an indignity to those my nearest relations.'
This is an example of tlie mode in which the idea of what
in modern times has been styled a dynasty takes forcible
possession of the human mind — an idea involving such
consequences as these, that men should submit to be
slaughtered by hundreds of thousands for no other pur-
pose than that persons styling themselves the heirs or
representatives of a large robber should continue to
possess, as if it were a property earned by honest labour,
the power of oppressing, plundering, and corrupting a
nation. Tlie question of dynasty is of little importance,
since, though the founder of a dynnsty may be a man of
great abilities for goverinnent, that furnishes no security
whatever for his descendants inheritini? his abilities. But
a question here presents itself, which, if not very import-
ant, is at least curious, and may be worth examination —
the question, namely, whether, if Richard Cromwell had
possessed the abilities of his fiither, he could have retained
the Protectorate. This question has been answered in
the affirmative by Lord Macaulay in one of his earlier
essays. In liis review of Ilallam's ' Constitutional His-
tory,' Lord Macaulay says that, but for the weakness of
Eichard Cromwell, ' we might now be writing under the
government of his Iliglmess Oliver the Fifth or Ixichard
the Fourth, Protector by the grace of God, of the
Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland, and
the domhiions thereto belonsrinijr.'


354 ESSAYS oy historical truth.

I am inclined to dissent from this opinion for tlie
following reasons : —

1. Even if Eicliard Cromwell liad possessed the abili-
ties of his fiither, he w^ould not have been in the same
position as his father. Some of his father's best generals,
such as Lambert and Monk, were willing to submit to the
authority of Oliver, but would have been by no means
willing to submit to that of Eichard. It is commonly
said, indeed, that Oliver had given Lambert assurance
that he (Lambert) should succeed him • as Protector.
Moreover, Major-General Harrison and Major-General
Ludlow, who had refused to acknowledge Oliver as
Protector, would undoubtedly have refused to acknow-
ledge Eichard. Harrison, though a very brave and active
officer, was not equal indeed either to Lambert or Monk
in military talent ; still he would have been an opponent
able, fiom his daring and activity, to have given a great
deal of trouble.

2. The case that seems to come nearest to that here
supposed is that of Octavius Caesar, better knowm as
Augustus, who succeeded his great-uncle, C. Julius Caesar.
Now if it could be shown that Eichard Cromwell pos-
sessed the abilities of Augustus, and had not more formid-
able enemies to overcome than Augustus had, we might
conclude that he would have retained the Protectorate,
as Augustus retained the power of Juhus Caesar, whether
as perpetual dictator or as emperor. In the case of
Augustus, the whole question turned upon the event of
the battle of Philippi. If Brutus and Cassius, who
commanded there tlie hostile army, had been abler men
than they were, had been abler generals than Octavius
Ca3sar and Marcus Antonius, they would probably have


won the battle of r]iili[)pi, and put an end to the clahns
of Octavius Ca3sar. Vmi Brutus and Cassius were not
veteran soldiers, were not veteran oilicers of Julius Caisar,
as Lambert and Monk were of Oliver Cromwell. Richard
Cromwell, therefore, even if by the hypothesis he had
possessed the abilities of Octavius Caesar, would have had
greater dilliculties to encounter, more lurujidable enemies
to overcome, than Octavius Caesar had ; and therefore
would have been less likely to retain the power of
his father Oliver than Octavius Cassar was to retain the
power of his great-uncle, C. Julius Ca3sar.

3. 13 ut besides the generals of his father Oliver, Richard
would have had to encounter the opposition of the
royalists and the republicans ; and would thus have had
three distinct sets of enemies, his father's generals, the
royalists, and the republicans ; whereas Octavius Caesar
had but one set of enemies — the old Roman aristocracy —
who had assasssinated Julius Ca3sar. Moreover, his
great-uncle Julius Caesar's princii)al officers were on his
side; and he also contrived to purchase the service of
many of his great-uncle's veteran soldiers.

For all these reasons it seems that the balance of
probabilities is rather against Richard Cromwell's retain-
ing tlie Protectorate, even if he had possessed his father's
abilities. But events often turn so much upon minute
circumstances which cannot be foreseen, that it is impos-
sible to pronounce a decided opinion on such a question.
For instance, suppose, which is not improbable, that
Lambert and Monk had acted not in concert but against
each other, and the republicans against both ; and sup-
pose that Richard Cromwell, though he could not have
possessed his father's experience, possessed his abilities

A A 2


with that rapidity of action wliich a young man is more
likely to possess than an old or a middle-aged man,
and which was exhibited in so remarkable a degree by
Napoleon Bonaparte in his early campaigns, and before
he was thirty years of age ; on such a supposition Eichard
Cromwell might, in spite of all the obstacles he had to
overcome, have retained the Protectorate.

ritlNCE IIENIiY. 357




I NOW proceed to attempt to give some account of tliat
dark passage of Englisli history referred to at the begin-
ning of the preceding essay.

Europe was then in that stage of its passage from bar-
barism into semi-civihsation to which may a})ply the
remark of Sismondi — ' The terrible science of poisons is
the first branch of chemistry which is successfidly culti-
vated by barbarous nations ; ' ^ and the science of poisons
formed a considerable part of the science of government
of the Borgias and the Medici. It is also to be observed
that while the branch of chemistry whicli relates to
poisons was cultivated successfully m that age, the
branch of chemistry which relates to the detection of
poisons was unknown.

The affair of which I am about to write presents a
striking view of the change that had taken place in the
character and condition of the Enghsh nobility in the
course of the hundred and fifty years between the middle
of the fifteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth cen-
tury. Those who prefer a comparatively noiseless way
of going to woik to the ' thunder of the captains and the
shouting,' to the tumult of battle, whicli is 'with confused

' Sisniondi's Fall of the Koman Empire, vol. i. p. loG; and see Beck's
Medical Jurisprudence; p. 759, note, 7th edition : London, 1842.


noise, and garments rolled in blood,' may, like King
James I., 'James the Peaceful and the Just,' prefer such
revolutionary plotters as these courtier Howards of the
seventeenth century to the warlike and uncourtly Nevills
of the fifteenth century. We of the nineteenth century
may be thankful that we do not live in the times of
either of these plotters or makers of revolutions ; the
barbarian feudal barons, fierce, imperious, and illiterate,
or the equally cruel, though more polished and lettered
courtiers of that age just emerging from barbarism, when
the terrible science of poisons has began to be successfully
cultivated ; and when the science of analytical chemistry,
by which poisons are detected, was still almost if not
totally unknown.

It may be stated at the outset that this case so far
differs from that which, though called the Gowrie
Conspiracy, was not a conspiracy at all, that it really did
involve a conspiracy or plot, and a very formidable as
well as a very dark plot. For with all the materials
which modern researches have brought to light, we are
still unable to present it to the reader as a fully connected
whole. There are links wantino; in the chain which
when complete would represent the plot in all its parts
and ramifications. These missing links render the work
of collecting and putting together the scattered fragments
a work beset with difficulties. However, even these
scattered fragments will, when put together, exhibit a
picture of the court of James I., which will not only be
more true but more strange tlian any picture drawn by
the most skilful advocate or the most skilful romance
writer. For never was there a more striking example
of the truth of the saying that ' truth is stranger than


fiction,' than the scene whicli is presented to us when the
black curtain which lias veiled tliat strange stage is, as it
were, rolled up after the lapse of more tlian tw(j cen-

One of the strangest features in this conspiracy or plot
is this, that King James, who had taken to himself so much
credit for the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot and the
punishment of its contrivers, was unquestionahly to some
extent himself a party to this plot, which on the best
authority, ' was second to none but the powder plot ; that
would have blown up all at one blow, a merciful cruelty;
this would have done the same by degrees, a lingering but
a sure way ; ' ^ that is, an extensive system of secret
poisoning, of which the poisoning of Overbury was only
one link, and to wliich the three hundred examinations
taken by Sir Edward Coke afforded a clue. The proof
that King James was himself a party to the plot is
contained in the-fact that he would not permit Coke to
follow up tliis clue; and further that the disgrace of Coke
was a consequence of the strong inclination he had showa
to follow it up.

It must, however, be at the same time observed that,
though James's personal dislike to Prince Henry and to
Sir Thomas Overbury may have made him a party to so
nuich of the plot as involved their destruction, in regard
to the ulterior objects of the plot, such as tlie ascendancy
of the Popish party and the depression if not destruction
of the Protestants as the dominant party in England,
and tlie change of the succession to the crown by the

' Bacon's Expostulation with Sir Edward Coke, Bacon's Works (Mon-
tagu's edition), vol. vii. pp. 300, 301 ; and Coke's speech at the arraignuieut
of Sir Thomas Monson, State Trials, vol. ii. p. 940.

oGO j:ssays on historical truth.

destruction of Prince Cliarles and the Princess Elizabeth
as well as Prince Henry, it is by no means clear to what
extent King James was a party to it.

At that stage of this plot which innnediately followed
the death of Cecil earl of Salisbury, the Lord Treasurer —
whose removal by deaths be it observed, was a necessary
first step without which nothing could be done — King
James was in the hands of three persons : Northampton,
Suffolk, and Somerset, two of whom, Northampton and
Suffolk, were Papists — three persons who exercised so
much power at that time that the kingdom is described
as ' groaning under the triumvirate of Northampton,
Suffolk, and Somerset.' ^ If Somerset was not also a Papist,
he may be regarded as completely under the influence of
Papists, since Northampton, who was the only one of the
three who possessed any amount of brains, governed
Somerset though the influence of Lady Frances Howard,
the daughter of his nephew the Earl of Suffolk. It is
also to be observed that King James was always really
in the power of the minion for the time being. The
minion at that time was Somserset, or rather Eochester,
for Carr had not been created Earl of Somerset at the
beginning of the plot ; and so overpowering was
Northampton's ambition, or so complete his insensibihty to
shame, that he did not scruple to sacrifice the honour of a
daughter of his house, the ducal house of Howard, to
the purpose of obtaining that power over the king which
could only be obtained through the reigning minion. A
contemporary writer says, 'the first meeting that they
had, wherein tlierc was any conference, was at this Earl's

' Archbiahop Abbot's NaiTative, io Iiusbwortb, vol. i. p. 456.


[Nortliami)ton] liouso, who invited tlie Viscount [lio-
chester] to sup ; and tliere linding tlie Countess [of
Essex], they, at tlieir pleasure, ajjpointed meetings for
further discourses.' ^ There is no doubt tliat the Coun-
tess of Essex, afterwards the Countess of Somerset, knew
a great deal both as to the object and extent of this plot.
It is also certain that through her Mrs. Turner, who was
in her most intimate conlidence, knew a great deal.
And it is probable that through Mrs. Turner others of the
subordinates who were executed for the murder of
Overbury knew a good deal. Sucli was evidently the
opinion of Sir Edward Coke, who took their examinations
as we shall see.

It is remarkable that Northampton, in some of his letters^
to the Lieutenant of the Tower on the subject of Overbury,
uses precicely the same language in reference to the
Protestants which Sir Edward Coke uses in reference to
the Papists at the Gunpowder Plot trials. This circumstance
appears to me to show that Northampton at that time
(September 1613) felt great confidence as to the ultimate
success of his plot. And the plot might probably have
completely succeeded but for the circumstance, not taken
into account in Northampton's subtle calculations, of King
James's getting into new hands ; in other words, of Kin^^-
James's taking a fancy to a new minion. All the contem-
porary authorities, from Archbishop Abbot to Sir Anthony
Weldon, concur in this view, which the latter has thus ex-
pressed in his coarse but graphic manner : ' Had Somerset
only complied with Villiers, Overbury's death had still
been raked up in his own ashes.'

* Triitli brought to Light, chap. x. : London, 1G51. See also "Wilson's Life
of James I. folio : London, 1G53, p. 06.

" These letters will be quoted in a subsequent page.

362 i:ssAys ox historical truth.

It is probable that the discovery of this change in Jamesl.
towards Somerset by a keen-sighted man Kke Northamp-
ton, and his appreciation of the consequences of it, led to his
death in 1614, before the storm arose regarding Overbury's
murder. As his was undoubtedly the ablest, if not the
only able, head engaged in the plot, with his death the
execution of the scheme would stop or at any rate prove
abortive. And indeed it will appear from the best evidence
that can now be obtained, that, whether Northampton died
by poison taken by himelf or given by others, his was the
last of no less than six deaths that took place within two
years ' with suspicion of poison.' And the examinations
taken by Coke indicated many other deaths which the
plot comprehended within it. Indeed other deaths are
referred to in the following two sentences of a contempo-
rary writer, which give at least a faint outline of the
compass of a drama which appears to have almost, if not
altogether, escaped the notice of historians.

' There was never known, in so short a time, so many
great men die with suspicion of poison and witchcraft.
There was first my Lord Treasurer [Cecil earl of Salis-
bury], the Prince [Henry], my Lord Harrington, his son,
Overbury, Northampton, which are no less than six;
besides others, in three years and a half.' ^ Among the

1 Truth broufrlit to Light, Sec: London, IGol, pp. 73, 74, reprinted in
Somers's Tracts, vol. ii. p. 263, et seq. The words quoted in tlie text will
be found also in vol. ii. p. 411 of Sir SimondsD'Ewes's Autobiography and
Correspondence, London, 1845, and are contained in a tract printed from a
MS. among the Ilarleian MSS. in the British Museum, The editor does not
seem to have been aware that tliis is the same tract, with some omissions,
as Truth brought to Light, or a Historical Narration of the first Fourteen
Years of King James's Reign, London, 1651, and reprinted in vol. ii. of
Somers's Tracts, Sir Walt-n- Scott's edition. Sir Walter Scott says in his
introductory note to Truth brouglit to Light, in his edition of Somers's
Tracts : ' Wils^on has drawn from this publication a great part of the

I'liixcE irExny. 30 3

'others' was tlie Lady Aralx'lla Stuart, of whose deatli
Wilson says: 'The Lady Arabella Stuart dying about
this time in the Tower, set men's tongues and fears awork
that she went the same way.' ^

Thougli the fiite of Overbury formed only one link of
the chain by whicli the fates of all the individuals just
mentioned were connected, it became the source of the
light thrown not only on itself, but u[)()n the others;
which without it might probably have been buried in
eternal darkness. Yet it is only within tlie last few years,
and more than two centuries after tlie event, that any
glimpse of the truth respecting the fate of Overbury has
been obtained ; all that was before made public having
been carefully prepared and arranged by some of the
subtlest legal intellects of their own or any time to raise a
false issue. For it is one of the priviliges of absolute
power to efface, when it desires, all traces of its footsteps.

The historical inquirer, in attempting to give a clear
statement of this very complicated business, may have the
assistance of one of the greatest geniuses the world has
ever seen ; each matter, on the trial of the Earl of

materials of his Life and History of King James, and often quotes the very
■words of the pamphlet. As it is now become very rare, it was judged a
proper and valuable addition to this collection.' There is a copy of it in
Lincoln's Inn Library. ^Ir. Amos (Great Oyer of Poisoning, p. 4(J), in say-
ing that ' Michael Sparke, under the affected Latinised name of Scintilla,
published his Truth brought to Light by Time in the year IGol,' seems to
conclude that Michael Sparke was the author of the work, but it is not clear
that he was more than tlie publisher. Mr. Amos also {iliid. note) mentions
a copy of this work, with MS. notes hy Sir James jNIackintosh, in the Library
of tlie Athenaeum Club. It should be observed that the words in the
quotation from Truth brouglit to Light, ' in three years and a half,' if ap-
plied to the deaths of 1. Cecil, 2. Prince Henry, .">. Overbury, 4. Lord Har-
rington, 5. his son, 6. Northampton, are incorrect ; for the first of these
deaths took place May 24, 1612, the last before Midsummer, 1014— that is,
in the space of two years.

1 Wilson's Life and Koign of James L p. 90, folio, IGo^^.


Somerset, according to tlie degree of its intricacy or its
importance, being exhibited by Sir Francis Bacon the
attorney-general, in, to borrow his own words, ' a single,
double, or reflex hght.' Sir. F. Bacon takes occasion to
observe that he ' loves order ; ' and accordingly, says Mr.
Amos, in his very valuable work on the trial, ' we have
here before us perhaps the most remarkable specimen, in
ancient or modern trials, of the Genius of Order
presiding over a systematic arrangement of evidence,
deduced, as we learn, from upwards of three hundred
examinations.' ^ But this very perfection of order exhibited
by Bacon may prove on a closer view but a treacherous
guide. For it was attained in a great measure by a
sacrifice of truth ; many portions of the evidence
favourable to the prisoner, and known only to the Crown
lawyers, being suppressed, in order that they might not
interrupt the current of proof demonstrative of guilt.
Hence it forms one of the remarkable characteristics of
that age which presents to us the most startling contrasts
— examples of the most consummate intellectual power
combined with the most complete moral depravity — a
combination which was one of the many consequences of
the greatness of the kingly power. The combination
has been described by Bacon himself, who says that there
are persons ' scientia tanquam angeli alati, cupiditatibus
vero tanquam serpentes qui humi reptant. ^ And Lord
Macaulay has observed that 'to make this discovery
Bacon had only to look within ; ' and that ' the difi'erence
between the soaring angel and the creeping snake was

1 The Great Oyer of Poisnnin?-, p. 2?.o. By Andrew Amos, Esq.. late
ineniber of the Supreme C'oiincil of ludia: LoDdon, 1846.

2 De Augmentis, lib. v. cap. 1.


but a, ty[)u of the (.liircrciice between Bacoii the pliiloso-
pher tind Bacoii tlie attorney-general, Bacon seeking for
truth and Bacon seeking for the Great Seal.' ^

As I have said, it is only of late years tliat the
materials for arriving even at an approximation to the
truth as regards this portion of Eiighsh history have been
within the reach of historical in(|uirers. In a carefully
written article in the ' Eetrospective Keview ' in 1823 on
Sir Anthony Weldon's Court of King Jamcs,^ the writer
gives a tolerably fair statement of the chief arguments on
both sides of the question whether Prince Henry was
poisioned, or died of a ' violent putrid fever.' The writer
of this article first says, ' We now arrive at the period of
the prince's illness and death, of which his physician. Sir
Theodore Mayenie, has left a detailed account in his
' Collection of Cases.' ^ This is a most remarkable
illustration of the inaccuracy of historical writers. This
writer, though careful and welh informed generally, had
evidently not seen what he calls ' Sir Theodore Mayerne's
Collection of Cases.' So far is Mayerne's ' Collection of
Cases ' from containing a detailed account of the prince's
illness and death, that all the leaves, as will be shown,
relating to Prince Henry's illness and death, are torn out
of the book. In stating the arguments of those who
attributed the prince's death to poison, the same writer
shows that ' almost all the contemporary writers, and

* Essay on Lord Bacon. To the many examples of hyperbolical adulation
of kings may be added Bacon's affirmations that King James's reputation
throughout the inquiries respecting Overbury's murder had been like 'the
coat of Christ, without seam ; ' and that his Majesty ' had shown to the
world, as if it were written in a sunbeam, that ho was the Lieutenant of
Jlim with whom there is no respect of persons.' — See Amos, The Great Oyer
of Poisoning, p. 403.

- Ketrospective Review, vol. vii. p. 29. ' Ibid. p. 33.


many otliers, have inclined to that opinion.' ^ And when
he comes to state the arguments on the other side, it
appears that those who held that the prince died of a
natural disease — Eapin, Hume, Dr. Birch, Dr. Aikin and
his daughter — were not contemporaries, but lived a century
or a century and a half or more after the event. We
have seen the same result in the case of the affair called
by James the Gowrie Conspiracy. ' But the most com-
plete proof,' says this writer, ' is to be found in the
lmans^verable fact, that the prince's body was examined
after death, and that no symptoms of his having been
poisioned were discovered. Sir Theodore Mayerne, his
physician, has left a most accurate^ account of the
prince's illness and death ; and from that account, and
from the report of tlie appearances on dissection, there
can be no doubt that Prince Henry died of a violent

^ Ibid. p. 36. Weldon, "Wilson, and Wellwood, all sugpest that Prince
Henry was poisoned. Bishop Burnet says : — ' Colonel Titus assured me
that he had heard from King Charles I.'s own mouth that he was well as-
sured his brother was poisoned by the Earl of Somerset's means.' — Hist, of
his Oion Time, vol. i. p. 19, Oxford, 1833. Charles James Fox, in a letter to
the Earl of Lauderdale (no date, but some time in 1800), saj's : — 'I recollect
that the impression upon my mind was that there was more reason than is
generally allowed for suspecting that Prince Henry was poisoned.' — Me-
tiiorials and Corre.'^pondcnce of Charles James Fo.r, edited by Lord John Rus-
sell, vol. iii. p. 300: London, Bentlej', 1854. The same passage of Fox's
letter is also given in p. ix. of the preface to his History by Lord Holland.
Christina of Sweden, speaking to Whitelock of the death of Prince Henry,
inferred that a judgment impended over the House of Stuart. Whitelock's
Embassy, Aysc. MSS. Brit. Mus .No. 4901, p. 206. Mr. Brodie had the merit
of first calling public attention to the omission, in the printed Journal of
Whitelock's Embassy, of the opinion of Queen Christina that King James
himself also ' certainly was poisoned.' Whitelock's Journal was not intended
for publication, and had better have been left in MS. than printed in a
mutilated form. — See Brodie's History of the British U7npire, vol. ii. p. 16,

Online LibraryAndrew BissetEssays on historical truth → online text (page 28 of 40)