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tain his old designs, and even to conceive the absurd idea of
placing his daughter on the Enghsh throne. But the Earl of
Essex, Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Thomas Howard, and some
other distinguished leaders, put to sea from Plymouth, entered
the port of Cadiz once more, obtained a complete victory over
the shipping assembled there, and got possession of the town.
In obedience to the queen's express instructions, they behaved
with great humanity ;. and the principal loss of the Spaniards
was a vast sum of money which they had to pay for ransom.
This was one of many gallant achievements on the sea, effected
in this reign. Sir Walter Raleigh himself, after marrying a
maid of honor, and giving offence to the maiden queen thereby,
had already sailed to South America in search of gold.

The Earl of Leicester was now dead ; and so was Sir
Thomas Walsingham, whom Lord Burleigh was soon to follow.
The principal favorite was the Earl of Essex, a spirited and
handsome man, a favorite with the people too, as well as with
the queen, and possessed of many admirable qualities. It was
much debated at court whether there should be peace with
Spain, or no^ and he was very urgent for war. He also tried
hard to have his own way in the appointment of a deputy to
govern in Ireland. One day, while this question was in dis-
pute, he hastily took offence, and turned his back upon the
queen ; as a gentle reminder of which impropriety, the queen
gave him a tremendous box on the ear, and told him to go to
the devil. He went home instead, and did not reappear at
court for half a year or so, when he and the queen were recon-
ciled, though never (as some suppose) thoroughly.

From this time the fate of the Earl of Essex and that of the
queen seemed to be blended together. The Irish were still
perpetually quarrelling and fighting among themselves ; and
he went over to Ireland as lord-lieutenant, to the great joy of
his enemies (Sir Walter Raleigh among the rest), who were
glad to have so dangerous a rival far off. Not being by any
means successful there, and knowing that his enemies would
take advantage of that circumstance to injure him with the
queen, he came home again, though against her orders. The
queen, being taken by surprise when he appeared before her,
gave him her hand to kiss, and he was overjoyed, though it was
not a very lovely hand by this time ; but, in the course of the
same day, she ordered him to confine himself to his room, and
two or three days afterwards had taken him into custody. With



the same sort of caprice, — and as capricious an old woman she
now was as ever wore a crown, or a liead either, — she sent him
broth from her own table on his falling ill from anxiety, and
cried about him.

He was a man who could find comfort and occupation in
his books, and he did so for a time ; not the least happy time,
I daresay, of his life. But it happened, unfortunately for him,
that he held a monopoly in sweet wines, which means that no-
body could sell them without purchasing his permission. This
right, which was only for a term, expiring, he applied to have
it renewed. The queen refused, with the rather strong observa-
tion, — but she did make strong observations, — that an unruly
beast must be stinted in his food. Upon this the angry earl,
who had been already deprived of many offices, thought him-
self in danger of complete ruin, and turned against the queen,
whom he called a vain old woman, who had grown as crooked
in her mind as she had in her figure. These uncomplimentary
expressions the ladies of the court immediately snapped up,
and carried to the queen, whom they did not put in a better
temper, you may believe. The same court ladies, when they
had beautiful dark hair of their own, used to wear false red
hair, to be like the queen. So they were not very high-spirited
ladies, however high in rank.

The worst object of the Earl of Essex, and some friends of
his who used to meet at Lord Southampton's house, was to ob-
tain possession of the queen, and oblige her by force to dismiss
her ministers, and change her favorites. On Saturday, the 7th
of February, 1606, the council suspecting this, summoned the
earl to come before them. He, pretending to be ill, declined.
It was then settled, among his friends, that as the next day
would be Sunday, when many of the citizens usually assembled
at the Cross by St. Paul's Cathedral, he should make one bold
effort to induce them to rise, and follow him to the palace.

So, on the Sunday morning, he and a small body of ad-
herents started out of his house, — Essex House by the Strand,
with steps to the river, — having first shut up in it, as prisoners
some members of the council who came to examine him, and
hurried into the city with the earl at their head, crying out,
*' For the queen ! for the queen ! A plot is laid for my life."
No one heeded them however ; and, when they came to St.
Paul's, there were no citizens there. In the mean time the
prisoners at Essex House had been released by one of the
earl's own friends ; he had been promptly proclaimed a traitor
in the city itself j and the streets were barricaded with carts,


and guarded by soldiers. The earl got back to his house by
water, with difficulty ; and, after an attempt to defend his house
against the troops and cannon by which it was surrounded,
gave himself up that night. He was brought to trial on the
19th, and found guilty; on the 25th he was executed on Tower
Hill, where he died, at thirty-four years old, both courageously
and penitently. His stepfather suffered with him. His enemy,
Sir Walter Raleigh, stood near the scaffold all the time, but
not so near as we shall see him stand, before we finish his his-

In this case, as in the cases of the Duke of Norfolk and
Mary, Queen of Scots, the queen had commanded and counter-
manded, and again commanded the execution. It is probable
that the death of her young and gallant favorite, in the prime
of his good qualities, was never off her mind afterwards ; but
she held out, the same vain, obstinate, and capricious woman,
for another year. Then she danced before her court on a state
occasion, and cut, I should think, a mighty ridiculous figure,
doing so in an immense ruff, stomacher, and wig, at seventy
years old. For another year still, she held out, but without
any more dancing, and as a moody, sorrowful, broken creature.
At last, on the loth of March, 1603, having been ill of a very
bad cold, and made worse by the death of the Countess of
Nottingham, who was her intimate friend, she fell into a stupor,
and was supposed to be dead. She recovered her conscious-
ness, however, and then nothing would induce her to go to
bed ; for she said that she knew that if she did, she should
never get up again. There she lay for ten days, on cushions
on the floor, without any food, until the lord admiral got her
into bed at last, partly by persuasion and partly by main force.
When they asked her who should succeed her, she replied that
her seat had been the seat of kings, and that she would have
for her successor, " No rascal's son, but a king's." Upon this,
the lords present stared at one another, and took the liberty of
asking whom she meant ; to which she replied, " Whom should
I mean, but our cousin of Scotland ? " This was on the 23d
of March. They asked her once again that day after she was
speechless, whether she was still in the same mind ? She
struggled in her bed, and joined her hands over her head in
the form of a crown, as the only reply she could make. At
three o'clock the next morning, she very quietly died, in the
forty-fifth year of her reign.

Her reign had been a glorious one, and is made forever
iP^morable by the distinguished men who flourished in it.


Apart from the great voyagers, statesmen, and scholars, whom
it produced, the names of Bacon, Spenser, and Shakespeare,
will always be remembered with pride and veneration by the
civilized world, and will always impart (though with no great
reason perhaps) some portion of their lustre to the name of
Elizabeth herself. It was a great reign for discovery, for com-
merce, and for English enterprise and spirit in general. It was
a great reign for the Protestant religion, and for the reforma-
tion which made England free. The queen was very popular,
and, in her progresses, or journeys about her dominions, wa>
everywhere received with the liveliest joy. I think the truth
is, that she was not half so good as she had been made out,
and not half so bad as she had been made out. She had her
fine qualities ; but she was coarse, capricious, and treacherous,
and had all the faults of an excessively vain j'oung woman long
after she was an old one. On the whole, she had a great deal
too much of her father in her to please me.

Many improvements and luxuries were introduced, in the
course of these five-and-forty years, in the general manner of
livmg ; but cock-fighting, bull-baiting, and bear-baiting were
still the national amusements ; and a coach was so rarely seen,
and was such an ugly and cumbersome affair when it was seen,
that even the queen herself, on many high occasions, rode on
horseback on a pillion behind the lord chancellor.



Our cousin of Scotland" was ugly, awkward, and shuf-
fling, both in mind and person. His tongue was much loo
large for his mouth, his legs were much too weak for his boch;,
and his dull goggle-eyes stared and rolled like an idiot's. He
was cunning, covetous, wasteful, idle, drunken, greedy, dirty,
cowardly, a great swearer, and the most conceited man on
earth. His figure — what is commonly called rickety from his
birth — presented a most ridiculous appearance, dressed in
thick padded clothes, as a safeguard against being stabbed (of
which he lived in continual fear), of a grass-green color from
head to foot, with a hunting-horn dangling at his side instead


of a sword, and his hat and feather sticking over one eye, or
hanging on the back of his head, as he happened to toss it on.
He used to loll on the necks of his favorite courtiers, and slob-
ber their faces, and kiss and pinch their cheeks ; and the
greatest favorite he ever had used to sign himself, in his letters
to his royal master, his majesty's " dog and slave" and used
to address his majesty as " His Sowship." His majesty was
the worst rider ever seen, and thought himself the best. He
was one of the most impertinent talkers (in the broadest
Scotch) ever heard, and boasted of being unanswerable in all
manner of argument. He wrote some of the most wearisome
treatises ever heard, — among others, a book upon witchcraft, in
which he was a devoted believer, — and thought himself a prod-
igy of authorship. He thought and wrote and said, that a king
had a right to make and unmake what laws he pleased, and
ought to be accountable to nobody on earth. This is the
plain, true character of the personage whom the greatest man
about the court praised and flattered to that degree that I
doubt if there be anything much more shameful in the annals
of human nature.

He came to the English throne with great ease. The
miseries of a disputed succession had been felt so long and so
dreadfully, that he v/as proclaimed within a few hours of
Elizabeth's death, and was accepted by the nation, even with-
out being asked to give any pledge that he would govern well,
or that he would redress crying grievances. He took a month
to come from Edinburgh to London ; and, by way of exercising
his new power, hanged a pickpocket on the journey without
any trial, and knighted everybody he could lay hold of. He
made two hundred knights before he got to his palace in Lon^
don, and seven hundred before he had been in it three months.
He also shovelled sixty-two new peers into the House of Lords ;
and there was a pretty large sprinkling of Scotchmen among
them, you may believe.

His Sowship's prime minister, Cecil (for I cannot do better
than call his majesty what his favorite called him), was the
enemy of Sir Walter Raleigh, and also of Sir Walter's political
friend. Lord Cobham ; and his Sowship's first trouble was a
plot originated by these two, and entered into by some others,
with the old object of seizing the king, and keeping him m
imprisonment until he should change his ministers. There
were Catholic priests in the plot, and there were Puritan noble-
men too; for although the Catholics and Puritans were stron^^ly
opposed to each other, they united at this time against his Sow-


ship, because they knew that he had a design against both,
after pretending to be friends to each, — this design being to
have only one high and convenient form of the Protestant
religion, which everybody should be bound to belong to,
whether they liked it or not. This plot was mixed up with
another, which may or may not have had some reference to
placing on the throne, at some time, the Lady Arabella Stuart,
whose misfortune it was to be the daughter of the younger
brother of his Sowship's father, but who was quite innocent of
any part in the scheme. Sir Walter Raleigh was accused on
the confession of Lord Cobham, — a miserable creature, who
said one thing at one time, and another thing at another time,
and could be relied upon in nothing. The trial of Sir Walter
Raleigh lasted from eight in the morning until nearly midnight.
He defended himself with such eloquence, genius, and spirit
against all accusations, and against the insults of Coke, the
Attorney-General, — who, according to the custom of the time,
foully abused him, — that those who went there detesting the
prisoner came away admiring him, and declaring that anything
so wonderful and so captivating was never heard. He was
found guilty, nevertheless, and sentenced to death. Execution
was deferred, and he was taken to the Tower. The two Cath-
olic priests, less fortunate, were executed with the usual atro-
city ; and Lord Cobham and two others were pardoned on the
scaffold. His Sowship thought it wonderfully knowing in him
to surprise the people by pardoning these three at the very
block ; but blundering and bungling, as usual, he had very
nearly overreached himself ; for the messenger on horseback,
who brought the pardon, came so late, that he was pushed to
the outside of the crowd, and was obliged to shout and roar
out what he came for. The miserable Cobham did not gain
much by being spared that day. He lived, both as a prisoner
and a beggar, utterly despised and miserably poor, for thirteen
years, and then died in an old out-house belonging to one of
his former servants.

This plot got rid of, and Sir Walter Raleigh safely shut up
in the Tower, his Sowship held a great dispute with the
Puritans on their presenting a petition to him, and had it all
his own way, — not so very wonderful, as he would talk continu-
ally, and would not hear anybody else, — and filled the bishops
with admiration. It was comfortably settled that there was to
be only one form of religion, and that all men were to think
exactly alike. But although this was arranged two centuries
and a half ago, and although the arrangement was supported


by much fining and imprisonment, I do not find that it is quite
successful even yet.

His Sowship, having that uncommonly high opinion of him-
self as a king, had a very low opinion of parliament as a power
that audaciously wanted to control him. When he called his
first parliament after he had been king a year, he accordingly
thought that he would take pretty high ground with them, and
told them that he commanded them " as ar absolute king."
The Parliament thought those strong words, and saw the ne-
cessity of upholding their authority. His Sowship had three
children : Prince Henry, Prince Charles, and the Princess
Elizabeth. It would have been well for one of these, and we
shall too soon see which, if he had learnt a little wisdom con-
cerning parliaments from his father's obstinacy.

Now, the people still laboring under their old dread of the
Catholic religion, this Parliament revived and strengthened
the severe laws against it. And this so angered Robert
Catesby, a restless Catholic gentleman of an old family, that
he formed one of the most desperate and terrible designs ever
conceived in the mind of man, — no less a scheme than the
Gunpowder Plot.

His object was, when the king, lords, and commons should
be assembled at the next opening of parliament to blow them
up, one and all, with a great mine of gunpowder. The first
person to whom he confided this horrible idea was Thomas
Winter, a Worcestershire gentleman who had served in the
army abroad, and had been secretly employed in Catholic pro-
jects. While Winter was yet undecided, and when he had gone
over to the Netherlands, to learn from the Spanish ambassador
there whether there was any hope of Catholics being relieved
through the intercession of the king of Spain with his Sowship,
he found at Ostend a tall, dark, daring man, whom he had
known when they were both soldiers abroad, and whose name
was Guido — or Guy — Fawkes. Resolved to join the plot, he
proposed it to this man, knowing him to be the man for any
desperate deed, and they two came back to England together.
Here they admitted two other conspirators, — Thomas Percy,
related to the Earl of Northumberland, and John Wright, his
brother-in-law\ All these met together in a solitary house m
the open fields which were then near Clement's Inn, now a
closely blocked up part of London ; and when they had all
taken the oath of secrecy, Catesby told the rest what his plan
was. They then went up stairs mto a garret, and received the
sacrament from Father Gerard, a Jesuit, who is said not to


have known actually of the Gunpowder Plot, but who, I think,
must have had his suspicions that there was something desperate

Percy was a gentleman pensioner ; and as he had occasional
duties to perform about the court, then kept at Whitehall, there
would be nothing suspicious in his living at Westminster. So,
having looked well about him, and having found a house to
let, the back of which joined the Parliament House, he hired it
of a person named Ferris, for the purpose of undermining the
wall. Having got possession of this house, the conspirators
hired another on the Lambeth side of the Thames, which they
used as a storehouse for wood, gunpowder, and other com-
bustible matters. These were to be removed at night (and
afterwards were removed), bit by bit, to the house at West-
minster ; and that there might be some trusty person to keep
watch over the Lambeth stores, they admitted another con-
spirator, by name Robert Kay, a very poor Catholic gentleman.

All these arrangements had been made some months ; and
it was a dark wintry December night, when the conspirators,
who had been in the mean time dispersed to avoid observation,
met in the house at Westminster, and began to dig. They had
laid in a good stock of eatables, to avoid going in and out, and
they dug and dug with great ardor. But the wall being tremen-
dously thick, and the work very severe, they took into their
plot Christopher Wright, a young brother of John Wright,
that they might have anew pair of hands to help. And Christo-
pher Wright fell to like a fresh man ; and they dug and dug, by
night and by day, and Fawkes stood sentinel all the time. And
if any man's heart seemed to fail him at all, Fawkes said,
" Gentlemen, we have abundance of powder and shot here ;
and there is no fear of our being taken alive, even if discovered."
The same Fawkes, who, in the capacity of sentinel, was always
prowling about, soon picked up the intelligence that the king
had prorogued the Parliament again, from the 7th of February,
the day first fixed upon, until the 3d of October. When the
conspirators knew this, they agreed to separate until after the
Christmas holidays, and to take no notice of each other in the
mean while, and never to write letters to one another on any
account. So the house at Westminster was shut up again ; and
1 suppose the neighbors thought that those strange-looking men
who lived there so gloomily, and went out so seldom, were gone
away to have a merry Christmas somewhere.

It was the beginning of February, 1605, when Catesby met
his fellow-conspirators again at this Westminster house. He


had now admitted three more, — John Grant, a Warwickshire
gentleman of a melancholy temper, who lived in a doleful house
near Stratford-upon-Avon, with a frowning wall all round it, and
a deep moat ; Robert Winter, eldest brother of Thomas ; and
Catesby's own servant, Thomas Bates, who, Catesby thought,
had had some suspicion of what his master was about. These
three had all suffered more or less for their religion in Eliza-
beth's time. And now they all began to dig again ; and they
dug and dug, by night and by day.

They found it dismal work alone there, under ground, with
such a fearful secret on their minds, and so many murders before
them. They were filled with wild fancies. Sometimes they
thought they heard a great bell tolling, deep down in the earth
under the Parliament House ; sometimes they thought they
heard low voices muttering about the Gunpowder Plot ; once,
in the morning, they really did hear a great rumbling noise over
their heads as they dug and sweated in their mine. Every
man stopped, and looked aghast at his neighbor, wondering
what happened, when that bold prowler, Fawkes, v/ho had been
out to look, came in and told them that it was only a dealer in
coals who had occupied a cellar under the Parliament House,
removing his stock in trade to some other place. Upon this
the conspirators, who with all their digging and digging, had
not yet dug through the tremendously thick wall, changed their
plan ; hired that cellar, which was directly under the House of
Lords : put six-and-thirty barrels of gunpowder in it, and cov-
ered it over with fagots and coals. Then they all dispersed
again till September, when the following new conspirators were
admitted ; Sir Edward Baynham of Gloucestershire, Sir Everard
Digby of Rutlandshire, Ambrose Rookwood of Suffolk, Francis
Tresham of Northamptonshire. Most of these were rich, and
were to assist the plot, some with money, and some with horse^^
on which the conspirators were to ride through the country, and
rouse the Catholics, after the Parliament should be blown into

Parliament being again prorogued from the 3d of October
to the 5th of November, and the conspirators being uneasy les*^
their design should have been found out, Thomas Winter said
he would go up into the House of Lords on the day of the pro-
rogation, and see how matters looked. Nothing could be bet-
ter. The unconscious commissioners were walking about and
talking to one another, just over the six-and-thirty barrels of gun-
powder. He came back and told the rest so, and they went op
witU their preparations. They hired a ship, and kept it ready


in the Thames, in which Fawkes was to sail for Flanders after
firing with a slow match the train that was to explode the pow-
der. A number of Catholic gentlemen not in the secret were
invited, on pretence of a hunting-party, to meet Sir Everard
Digby at Dunchurch on the fatal day, that they might be ready
to act together. And now all was ready.

But now the great wickedness and danger, which had been
all along at the bottom of this wicked plot, began to show it-
self. As the 5th of November drew near, most of the conspira-
tors, remembering that they had friends and relations who
would be in the House of Lords that day, felt some natural re-
lenting, and a wish to v.-arn them to keep away. They were
not much comforted by Catesby's declaring, that in such a cause,
he would blow up his own son. Lord Monteagle, Tresham's
brother-in-law, was certain to be in the house ; and when
Tresham found that he could not prevail upon the rest to de-
vise any means of sparing their friends, he wrote a mysterious
letter to this lord, and left it at his lodging in the dusk, urging
him to keep away from the opening of Parliament, " since God
and man had concurred to punish the wickedness of the times."
It contained the words, "That the Parliament should receive a
terrible blow, and yet should not see who hurt them.'* And it

Online LibraryCharles DickensA child's history of England → online text (page 29 of 38)