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was now drawing near a crisis wdiicli was to explode it.

Sir Thomas Overbury died September 15, 1613. From
the time of the death of Overbury, a great change is said
to have taken place in the demeanour of Somerset. He
neglected his dress and person, and became morose and
moody, even when in the king's company.^ So clear-
sighted and experienced a courtier as the Earl of
Northampton must have seen what would be at no distant
time the consequences of this change in the minion from
vivacity and good humour to gloom and moroseness. He

1 Truth brought to Light, chap. 34. "^ Ibid. chap. 29.

' ' A nullity being thus purchased, they [the Eai-1 of Somerset and Cour^-
tessofEesex] about Candlemas [Feb. 2] 161^, marry with much j«y and
solemnity, a masque being performed at Somerset's charge, and many
riunoui's pass without any respect. All these tilings notwithstanding, a
guilty conscience can never go without accusation^ Peneivenese and sullen-
neas do possess the earl : his wonted mirth forsakes him, his countcnanco is
cast down, he takes not that felicity in company as he was wont to do, but
still something troubles him.' — Truth hroxajht to Liyhf, chap. oO.



would see that the game was np ; particularly if he saw
that a strong faction of the nobihty, who envied and hated
Somerset and the Howards were on the watch to take
advantage of any change in the king's inclination towards
Somerset, and to introduce a new minion who might
quite supersede the old one.

It needs some effort in the nineteenth century in
Enoiand to brins; before the mind the condition of
Enti'land at the beoinnin"; of the seventeenth century — in
that interval between the fall of the power of the w^ar-
like barons who could bring into the field, each on his
own account, from five hundred to a thousand ' barbed
horses ' ^ — and the rise of the commons, who were to bring
into the field the cuirassiers and pikemen of Marston
Moor and Xaseby. In that interval the court and the
courtiers were everything ; the nation was nothing. And
it is important to observe that the courtiers possessed
any power not as members of the House of Lords, but
simply as courtiers. In this state of things the secrets of
the court comprehended the fate of the nation as well as
the fiite of princes and courtiers— of Prince Henry and
Sir Thomas Overbury ; and in those early years of the
seventeenth centiu'y, at the English court, revolutions
were attempted by arsenic. They were also prevented
by arsenic. And in the case of this murderous conspiracy
of Northampton, Suffolk, and Somerset, the revolution
projected by them and to be accomplished by arsenic was
prevented by arsenic ; and King James, who had been
particeps criminis as far as the death of Prince Henry,
Overbury, and perhaps Salisbury, refused to proceed any

1 Raleigh's Prerog'ativc of Parliaments, Birch's edition of Ealeigh's
Works, vol. i. p. 206.

silt THOMAS OVEliBUIlY. 435

farther ; and he and Dr. Maycrne proved more than a
match for all the rest.

The only persons wlio could luive' written a complete
narrative of this conspiracy — of which I am here en-
deavouring to put together some disjointed and scattered
fragments — were those engaged in it ; or perhaps the law
officers of the Crown, Coke and Bacon, who knew a great
deal more respecting it than can now be discovered from
sucli of the examinations taken by Coke in Overbury's
case as are still in the public archives. ' It would be a
matter of considerable interest and curiosity,' says Mi-.
Amos, ' if any original examination of Franklin ' [the
apothecary employed by the Countess of Somerset to
poison Overbury], ' or any authenticated copy of one,
could be discovered. Sir F. Bacon, in the speech which
he prepared for delivery in case the Countess of Somer-
set had pleaded not guilty, mentions two examinations of
Franklin, one taken on the 16th and another on the 17th
of November (1G15), and it has been seen that in the
manuscript report of the earl's trial a third examination
of Franklin is mentioned, bearing date November 12.
But no such documents are now to be found in the State
Paper Office, or the British Museum, or other public
repositories which have been searched for the purpose.
It is a remarkable circumstance that various pieces of
documentary evidence, used in diffiirent State trials in
ancient times, that are of the greatest importance, are
lost, whilst original evidence of minor importance, read
at the same trials, is to be found in abundance. The
original confession of Lord Cobham, upon whicli Sir W.
Kaleigh was convicted ; and the Duke of Norfolk's con-

FF 2


fcssion, which was much rehed upon at his trial in the
reign of Elizabeth, baffled tlie researches of Mr. Jardine.' ^

Wiien we cannot obtain the best evidence, we must be
content with evidence of inferior quality. It is clear that
the writer of ' Truth brought to Liizht,' notwithstanding
the title he has given to his narrative, had only very
partial and very imperfect glimpses of the truth as regards
the events he treats of. He appears to have been alto-
gether ignorant of the part acted by Lobell and Mayerne
in the Overbury tragedy, and consequently also ignorant
of the part, the leading part, taken by King James both
in that and in the death of Prince Henry. He also writes
as if the plot devised by Northampton, and entered into
by Somerset and Suffolk, originated only after the death
of Overbury ; whereas its beginning was at least more
than a year before that time, that is, before the death of
the Lord Treasurer, Salisbury. He also writes as if
Northampton and Somerset had engaged in this plot to
secure themselves against the consequences of their share
in the murder of Overbury, in case that murder should
ever be brought to light. He says, too, that Northamp-
ton's scheme was to accomplish this by means of the
Cathohcs ; and that Somerset ' concludes to combine with
Northampton in whatsoever he should undertake, and, in
conclusion, becomes a neuter in religion.' ^

He then proceeds to state the means adopted by
Northampton to throw the kingdom into confusion.
Northampton attempted to re-open the ancient quarrel
between the Welsh and the English ; and he sent letters
by a trusty messenger to such of the Irish as he con-

■^ Amos, The Great Oyer of Poisoning, p. 338.
2 Truth brought to T.ight, chap. 30.


siderecl true to the E-omisli religion, assuring them thut
now ' tlie greatest favourite of England ' would stand lor
them. Tlie same messenger was on his return Sint into
Yorkshire, with a black staff and a knob upon the end of
it, within which knob letters were conveyed from place
to place for appointing meetings for mass and entertain-
ing of priests.^ The writer then says that not long after
there arose a rumour that a Spanish fleet of a hundred sail
was upon the coast ; ^ that priests came into the kingdom
by tens, fifteens, twenties at a time, and have free access,
so that Northampton, being Warden of the Cinque Ports,
begins- to be called into question.* At last 'the king
begins to withdraw his favour from him ; wherefore he
exhibits his bill against such as defamed him into the
Star Chamber.' When the matter came to be debated in
the Star Chamber, the Archbishop of Canterbury made a
speech, in the course of which he said that the Earl of
Northampton's own letters made evident that he had done
sonietliing against his own conscience, merely to attain to
honour and power ; and he pulled out a letter from the
Earl of Northampton to Cardinal Bellarmin to this effect :
' that, howsoever the condition of the times compelled,
and his Majesty urged him to turn Protestant, yet never-
theless his heart stood with the Papists, and that he would
be ready to further them in any attempt.' The Arch-
bishop then proceeded to say that there was never known
to be so many priests to come over into this kingdom in
so short a time as of late had come ; neither could he

' Truth brought to Light, chap. 30.

"^ Ibid. chap. 31. A letter preserved among the Tanner MSS., tlie sig-
nature of which is torn away, mentions tiie alarm felt on this occiision. at
Portsmouth and other places on the southern coiist.

8 Truth brought to Light, chap. 31.


assure himself tliat Lord Noriliampton was true-hearted
unto the State, since also he harboured such about him
as would undertake to write in defence of the Gunpowder

' This, and much more,' continues this writer, ' being
said about the latter end of Easter term, in the year
1614, my lord being hcreat much discouraged, after the
court brake, took liis barge and went to Greenwich ;
there made his will, wherein lie published liimself to die
in the same faith he was baptized, made some of his
servants executors, others he bestowed gifts upon. His
fair house he disposed to my Lord Chamberlain (the Earl
of Suffolk), his lands to my Lord Theophilus Howard [Suf-
folk's eldest son] ; retired back to his house at London,
and before Midsummer Term following was dead. . . ,
Many disliked him, and, as was reported, even the king
himself, now towards his latter end ; but truly he was a
notable politician, and carried things more commodiously
for the Papists than ever any before him. His funeral
was kept privately at Eochester, where he desired to be
buried, because it was the chief port town of his office,
without any state and outward appearance.' ^

In a letter written to the Earl of Somerset by the Earl
of Northampton, very shortly before his death, are these
words : ' If the plain dealing both of my physician and
surgeon did not assure me of a few days I have to live.' ^
Who was the physician ? And who was the surgeon ?
In the volume of Dr. Mayerne's 'Ephemerides ' for 1614,'*
the name of Northampton is not in the index ; but it is

» Truth brought to Light, chap. .31. ^ jii^i

2 Amos, The Great Oyer of Poisoning, p. 231.
^ Sloane MS. 20Go, liritish Museum.


in a memoraiiduiii, witli several other names, at the end
of the book, tlius : ' My Lord Nortliainpton.' Assumiii^,^
that Mayerne was Northamptun'.s physician, 'the plahi
deahng ' he mentions in his letter to Somerset is no proof
that Mayerne did not poison him ; for Mayerne took
pains to prepare the public for the deatli of Overbury,
whom he was for five or six months employed in poison-
ing. Mr. Larkin writes to Sir J. Pickering on August 29,
about a fortnight before Overbury's death : ' Sir T. Over-
bury is likely to run a short course, being sick unto
death. The Lieutenant of the Tower, together with the
j)hysicians who were with him, have subscribed their
hands that tliey hold him a man 2:)ast all recocery.' ^

The writer of 'Trutli brought to Light' uses these
words of Nortliampton : 'Others say that if he- liad lived,
he would have been the author of much stir.'- Xo
doubt : and King James thought he had already made
stir enough ; stir that suited the king's views so far.
But he did not want any more of Northami)ton's stir;
and he had a quieter and much more ellicient way of
getting rid of troublesome persons than that of his suc-
cessor Charles I. in getting rid of Sir John Eliot and
others. He sent Dr. Mayerne to prescribe for tliem.
Mayerne records m his ' EpJiemerides,' under date Sep-
tember 19, 1G28, his having prescribed for ' one Mons"".
Cromwell, valde melancholicws.' If this was Oliver, the
Cromwell of Marston Moor, of Naseby, of Dunbar, and
Worcester — and it probably was, for in tlie year 1G28,
when Cromwell was in London, and during llie two or
three years that followed his return to Huntingdon from
the parliament of 1628, his mind appears to have been ])ar-

' Amos, p. 404, note. - Trutli uiou-lit to Mglit, chap. •■!!.


ticularly depressed by those fits of constitutional melan-
choly to which he was subject^ — and if James had been
king then and had had a shrewd suspicion what a trouble-
some fellow this Mons"". Cromwell was likely to prove,
he would have ' taken order ' that, if he went to Mayerne
for prescriptions against melancholy, he should have been
cured of his melancholy effectually and for ever.

The Earl of Northampton died on June 15, 1615, about
a week after the dissolution of what was called the Addle
Parliament — a parliament which sat two months and two
days and had not passed a single bill Although this
parhament showed their refractory spirit by refusing to
vote any supplies till their grievancies were redressed, the
very rumour, whether true or not, that James sent for the
Commons and tore all the bills before their faces in
Whitehall, shows how little the court cared for any
opposition that the Commons could make. James called
no parliament for the next six years, and thus had more
leisure to attend to the intrigues of his court, which
appeared to him of infinitely greater moment than par-
liamentary questions. For he little foresaw what the Eng-
hsh parliament was to become when some of its members,
including Dr. Mayerne's ' valde melancholicus Mons"".
Cromwell,' showed it the importance of the logic of facts.
With the death of the Earl of Northampton the ph^t
for transferring the government of England from the
House of Stuart to that of Howard must be considered
to have fallen to the ground. Although the Earls of
Suffolk and Somerset divided Northampton's places
between them, or filled them up with their creatures,^ it

* See Sir Philip Warwick's INIemoirs of the Reign of King Charles I.,
p. 249, and Pari. Hist. vol. ii. p. 464, and note.
2 Truth brought to Light, chap. 31.


soon appeared tluit not only had this plot failed in accom-
plishing for them their main ends, but that the time of
their power was drawing to a close. Tlieir reign still
continued, liowever, for rather more than a year after the
death of Northampton.

The strongest evidence of the presence of an agency,
oiiite distinct from and independent of that of the Countess
of Somerset, in the case of Sir Thomas Overbiiry, is con-
nected with the case of Sir Thomas Monson and that of
the Earl of Somerset.

Sir Thomas Monson, chief falconer, had been charged
with negociations respecting the appointment of Weston,
Overbury's gaoler, and with carrying on connnunications
between the Comitess of Somerset and the Lieutenant of
the Tower. This Sir Thomas Monson was one of the
worst of the many bad men whom King James delighted
to honour. According to Sir Anthony Weldon — who is
confirmed by modern discoveries in most of his statements
as to the secrets of the royal palace— not only was Monson
himself stained with vices and crimes which deserved
hanging, but the interior of his family exhibited scenes of
debauchery somewhat resembling what Bruce the traveller
relates of Abyssinian morals and manners. Mrs. Turner,
who was hanged as an accessory to the murder of Overbury,
appears to have been the confidential associate of Sir
Thomas Monson's daughters as well as of the Earl of
Sullblk's ; and the scenes of wild licentiousness sketched
by the coarse but strong and graphic hand of Sir Anthony
Weldon, when Mrs. Turner and the young ladies danced
after supper to the music of Simon Marson's pipe
and tabor ^ completely bears out what Mrs. Hutchinson

1 Weldon, pp. lOG, 107, 108, 2nd edition, IGol. This Simon IMarson,
who was ii musician at that timo in the service of Sir T. Mouson,


saj's of the general corniptioii of the nobihty and gentry
who had come into contact witli the court, and had
' learned the court fashion.' ^

The inference to be drawn from the letters of Sir
Edward Coke to the king, that have been published by
Mr, Amos from the originals in tlie State Paper Office, is
that Sir Thomas Monson was as deeply concerned in the
general poisoning plot for changing the government, or at
least the succession as Northampton, Somerset and Suffolk,
and give considerable support to the rumours, mentioned
by contemporary writers, ' that Northampton and Som-
erset had combined with the Spaniards, for a sum of
money, to deliver tliem up the navy, and that Sir
WiUiam Monson, Vice-Admiral, should have done it the
next spring ; that the king and the heads of the Protes-
tant party should have been poisoned at the christening
of the Countess of Somerset's child,' ^ Such rumours as
these might appear quite incredible, and the mere crea-
tion of a popular panic verging on phrensy, if we were
not assured, by the direc't assertions of Lord Chief Justice
Coke and Sir Francis Bacon the Attorney-General, both
of whom had access to much evidence not now known been employed to carry a poisoned tart to Overbury, and being thus
addressed by Cliief Justice Coke in court, ' Simon, you have a hand in
this poisoning business,' answered, 'No, my good lord, I had but one
finger in it, which almost cost me my life, and at tlie best cost me all
niv hair and nails.' This answer saved him, as it was thought he would not
liave tasted the sirup had he known it to be poisoned. This circumstance
is mentioned by Weldon, p. lOG, but is not given in the report of the trials,

See Simon Marson, musician, examined. State Trials, vol. ii. p. 921, and

Sumers'n Tracts, vol. ii. p. 322, and Sir Walter Scott's note.

1 ' The o-enerality of the gentiy of the land,' says Mrs. Hutchinson, 'soon
learned the court fashion, and every great house in the country became a sty
of uncleanness.' — Memoirs of Col. Hutchinson, p. 78, Bohn's edition, Lon-
don, 1854.

2 Trutb brought to light, chap. 34.


to exist, tluit those rumours were by no means without
foundation. Tliat there was a plot is beyond a doubt ;
l)ut the diffieulty is in understanding tlie king's relation
to it. It is incredible tliut lie should have countenanced
a plot for his own destruction. And even assuming that
he poisoned Northampton, he screened Sir Thomas Monson
and the Earl of Somerset from the legal consequences or
their own acts. Why did he so do? To that question a
])erfectly satisfactory answer cannot be given. But an
examination of its various bearings may be of some use.

There is no historical incident which furnishes a more
striking proof of the dilliculty of arriving at historical
truth than the arraignment of Sir Thomas Monson and
the trial of the Earl of Somerset.

The arraignment of Sir Thomas Monson is one of the
many instances in which Weldon's statements as to the
secrets of King James's palace have been confirmed by
modern discoveries. According to Weldon, the night
before Sir Thomas Monson's trial was to come on, the
king, being ' at the game of maw,' said, ' To-morrow comes
Thomas Monson to his trial.' ' Yes,' replied the king's
card-holder, ' where if he do not play liis master's prize,
vour majesty will never trust me.' These words, though
not clear to us, appear to have raised a train of ideas of a
peculiar kind in the mind of the king, for \Yeldon thus
describes the effect of them :

' This so run in the king's mind, as, the next game, he
said he was sleepy, and would })lay out that set next
night. The gentleman departed to his lodging, but was
no sooner gone but the king sent for him. What com-
munication they had I know not (yet it may be, can more
easily guess than any other) ; but it is most certain, next


iHuler God, that gentleman saved his hfe, for tlie king
sent a post presently to London, to let the Lord Chief
Jnstice know he would see Monson's examination and
confession, to see if it were worthy to touch his life for so
small a matter. Monson was too wise to set anything
but foir in his confession : what he would have stabbed
with should have been vivd voce, at his arraignment. The
king sent word he saw nothing worthy of death or of
bonds in his accusation or examination. Cook [Coke] was
so mad he could not have his will of Monson, that he said,
' Take him away ; we have other matters against him of
an higher nature.' With which words, out issues about
a dozen ^ warders of the Tower, and took him from the
bar ; and Cook's malice was such against him as, though
it rained extremely, and Monson not well, he made him
f>-o a-foot from the Guildhall to the Tower, which almost
cost him his life.' ^

1 Sir E. Coke, in liis letter to the kiug, written on Dec. 4, 1615, tlie day
of the arraignment, says * six of the guard in rich coats,' and Coke was likely
to be more correct on this point than Weldon.— See Coke's letter printed
from the original MS. in the State Paper Office, in A7)ios, pp. .395-397. This
passage of Coke's letter to the king confirms the truth of Weldon's account
in the main point, namely, that Monson was taken to the Tower on foot, on
which point the author of Aulicus Coquinarite, who wrote his book to dis-
credit Weldon's, makes the following statement, the impudent falsehood of
which is quite in accordance with the rest of his writings : ' And Sir George
More then Lieutenant of the Tower, took him from the bar, and both together
were carried m his coach to the Toiver. I sarj the truth, for I saw it.' — Auliciis
Cogtmiarice, reprinted in Secret History of the Court of James the First,
•vol. ii. pp 229, 230. The words in Coke's letter to the king, written on
the very day of Monson's arraignment, and consequently within an hour or
two of the events mentioned, are these : ' Having prepared six of the guard
in rich coats, and being kept in a private place till the time appointed, they
were sent for, and coming through the multitude of people, they took him in
his fair velvet gown from the Barr, and carried him openly in the streets on
foot to the Tower of London, by warrant subscribed by my Lord Chancellor
'and myself ; which gave the vulgar occasion to say that surely he was to be
touched in some higher degree ; and to say the truth, it was not fit for a man
indicted of murder to remain in a dwelling-house.' — A^yios, p. 396.

=* AVeldoD, pp. Ill, 112, London, 1651. Mr. Amos is in error in saying


The reports in Ilargrave's and noweU'iJ State Trials of
the trials for the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury, with
the exception of those of the Earl and Countess of
Somerset, correspond verbatim witli the reports of those
trials published in the tract entitled ' Truth brought
to Light by Time.' This tmct does not give tlie trials
of the Earl and Countess of Somerset ; and it is not
stated from what source Ilargrave and Howell derived
tlieir reports of those trials. In all State trials down
to the time of the Long Parliament, the government
published just as much of the trials as suited their
purposes, and no more. Mr. Jardine has pointed out
various instances in which the printed reports are contra-
dicted by the original MS. documents in the State Paper
Office.^ Mr. Amos gives, from a MS. in the British
Museum, entitled ' A Book touching Sir Thomas Over-
bury, who was murthered by poison in tlie Tower of
Loudon, the 15th day of September, 1615, being the
o2nd year of his age,' some notes taken in 1G37 from the
mouth of Sir Nicholas Overbury, the father of Sir
Thomas, which support the opinion before expressed,
that the purpose of the king was to sup})ress everything
but what made for his object of getting rid of Somerset.^

Sir Nicholas Overbury does not say that there is any-

(p. 85) ' Sir Anthony Weklon publislied liis Court and Character of
King James in tlie year 1651.' Sir A. Wehlon was dead before that date.
Sir Roger Twysden's Journal mentions Sir A. Weldon as dead in 1040.
Under date May 10, 1049, Sir R. Twysden writes: 'The truth i.'^, Sir
Anthony Weldon now dead, and Sir John Sedley's power taken oft',' &c.
The first edition of Sir Anthony Weldon 's book was published in 1()50, the
second edition in 1051. Sir Walter Scott, in his introduction to AVeldon's
book (Secret History of the Court of James the First, vol. i. pp. .')02, -lO-')),
says the time of his death is uncertain, and quotes Sanderson, the historian,
to the efl'ect that the MS. of his work was after his death stolen out of Lady
Sedley's possession, and surreptitiously published. This may be true,
though Sanderson is not a good authority for anything.

* See .lardine's Criminal Triids^ vol. ii. p. 4. - See Amos, p. 121.


thing untrue in the reports which were read to him by
his grandson who made the notes, but he says ' that his
answers are here written rightly, but not fully, for he

Online LibraryAndrew BissetEssays on historical truth → online text (page 34 of 40)