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a murmur, that Overbury was poisoned: and yet this

same submiss and soft voice of God, the speech of the

vulgar people, was not without a counter-tenor, or

counter-blast of the devil, who is the common author

both of murder and slander: for it was given out, that

Overbury was dead of a foul disease, and his body,

which they had made a corpus Judaicum with their

poisons, so as it had no whole part, must be said to

be leprosed with vice, and so his name poisoned as

well as his body. For as to dissoluteness, I never

heard the gentleman noted with it: his faults were in-

solency and turbulency, and the like of that kind: the

other part of the soul not the voluptuous.

Mean time, there was some industry used, of which
I will not now speak, to lull asleep those that were the
revengers of blood; the father and the brother of the
murdered. And in these terms things stood by the
space almost of two years, during which time God so



460 Charge against Frances Countess of Somerset.

blinded the two great procurers, and dazzled them
with their own greatness, and did bind and nail fast
the actors and instruments with security upon their
protection, as neither the one looked about them, nor
the other stirred or fled, nor were conveyed away ; but
remaineth here still, as under a privy arrest of God's
judgments; insomuch as Franklin, that should have
been sent over to the Palsgrave with good store of
money, was, by God's providence and the accident of
a marriage of his, diverted and stayed.

But about the beginning of the progress last sum-
mer, God's judgments began to come out of their
depths: and as the revealing of murders is commonly
such, as a man may say, a domino hocfactum est $ it
is God's work, and it is marvellous in our eyes: so in
this particular it is most admirable ; for it came forth
by a compliment and matter of courtesy.

My lord of Shrewsbury*, that is now with God,
recommended to a counsellor of state, of especial trust
by his place, the late lieutenant Helwissef, only for
acquaintance as an honest worthy gentleman; and de-
sired him to know him, and to be acquainted with
him. That counsellor answered him civilly, that my
lord did him a favour; and that he should embrace it
willingly : but he must let his lordship know, that there
did lie a heavy imputation upon that gentleman, Hel-
wisse; for that Sir Thomas Overbury, his prisoner,

* Gilbert earl of Shrewsbury, knight of the Garter, who died
May 8, 1616.

t Mr Gervase Helwisse, appointed lieutenant of the Tower, up-
on the removal of Sir William Waade on the 6th of May, 1613. [Re-
liquid Wottonzancey p. 412, 3d Edit. 1672.] Mr. Chamberlain, in a
MS. letter to Sir Dudley Carleton, dated at London, May 13* 1613,
speaks of Sir Gervase's promotion in these terms. " One Sir Ger-
vase Helwisse, of Lincolnshire, somewhat an unknown man, is
put into the place [of Sir W. Waade's] by the favour of the
Lord Chamberlain [earl of Somerset] and his lady. The gen-
tleman is of too mild and gentle a disposition for such an office.
* He is my old friend and acquaintance in France, and lately re-
newed in town, where he hath lived past a year, nor followed
the court many a day." Sir Henry Wotton, in a letter of the
I4th of May, 1613, \ttbi supra, p. 13.] says, that bir Gervase had
been before one of the pensioners.



Charge against Frances Countess of Somerset;, 4GI

was thought to have come to a violent and untimely
death. When this speech was reported back by my
lord of Shrewsbury to Helwisse, pcrculit illico ani-
m2i?n, he was stricken with it; and being a politic
man, and of likelihood doubting that the matter would
break forth at one time or other, and that others might
have the start of him, and thinking to make his own
case by his own tale, resolved with himself, upon this
occasion, to discover to my lord of Shrewsbury and
that counsellor, that there was an attempt, whereto he
was privy, to have poisoned Overbury by the hands
of his under-keeper Weston; but that he checked it,
and put it by, and dissuaded it, and related so much
to him indeed: but then he left it thus, that it was but
an attempt, or untimely birth, never executed; and as
if his own fault had been no more, but that he was
honest in forbidding, but fearful of revealing and im-
peaching or accusing great persons; and so with this
fine point thought to save himself.

But that great counsellor of state wisely consider-
ing, that by the lieutenant's own tale it could not be
simply a permission or weakness; for that Weston was
never displaced by the lieutenant, notwithstanding
that attempt; and coupling the sequel by the begin-
ning, thought it matter fit to be brought before his
Majesty, by whose appointment Helwisse set down
the like declaration in writing.

Upon this ground the King playeth Solomon's part,
Gloria Dei celare rem; et Gloria Regis investigate
rein; and sets down certain papers of his own hand,
which I might term to be claves justitite, keys of jus-
tice; and may serve for a precedent both for Princes
to imitate, and for direction for judges to follow: and
his Majesty carried the balance with a constant and
steady hand, evenly and without prejudice, whether
it were a true accusation of the one part, or a practice-
and factious device of the other: which writing, be-
cause I am not able to express according to the worth
thereof, I will desire your lordship anon to hear read. -'

This excellent foundation of justice being laid by
his Majesty's own hand, it was referred unto some



462 Charge against Frances Countess of Somerset.

counsellors to examine farther, who gained some de-
grees of light from Weston, but yet left it imperfect.

After it was referred to Sir Edward Coke, Chief
Justice of the King's Bench, as a person best prac-
tised in legal examinations, who took a great deal of
indefatigable pains in it, without intermission, having,
as I have heard him say, taken at least three hundred
examinations in this business.

But these things were not done in a corner. I need
not speak of them. It is true, that my lord Chief
Justice, in the dawning and opening of the light, find-
ing that the matter touched upon these great persons,
very discreetly became suitor to the King to have
greater persons than his own rank joined with him.
Whereupon, your lordship, my lord High Steward of
England, to whom the King commonly resorteth in
arduis, and my lord Steward of the King's house, and
my lord Zouch, were joined with him.

Neither wanted there this while practice to suppress
testimony, to deface writings, to weaken the King's
resolution, to slander the justice, and the like. Nay,
when it came to the first solemn act of justice, which
was the arraignment of Weston, he had his lesson to
stand mute; which had arrested the wheel of justice.
But this dumb devil, by the means of some discreet
divines, and the potent charm of justice, together, was
cast out. Neither did this poisonous adder stop his
ear to those charms, but relented, and yielded to his
trial.

Then follow the proceedings of justice against the
other offenders, Turner, Helwisse, Franklin.

But all these being but the organs and instruments
of this fact, the actors and not the authors, justice
could not have been crowned without this last act
against these great persons. Else Western's censure or
prediction might have been verified, when he said, he
hoped the small flies should not be caught, and the
great escape. Wherein the King being in great
straits, between the defacing of his honour and of his
creature, hath, according as he useth to do, chosen the
better part, reserving always mercy to himself.



Charge against Frances Countess of Somerset.

The time also of this justice hath had its true mo-
tions. The time until this Lady's deliverance was
due unto honour, Christianity, and humanity, in re-
spect of her great belly. The time since was due to
another kind of deliverance too; which was, that
some causes of estate, that were in the womb, might
likewise be brought forth, not for matter of justice,
but for reason of state. Likewise this last procrasti-
nation of days ha^d the like weighty grounds and causes.
And this is the true and brier representation of this
extreme work of tht King's justice.

Now for the evidence against this Lady, I am sorry
I must rip it up. I shall first shew you the purveyance
or provisions of the poisons: that they were seven in
number brought to this Lady, and by her billetted and
laid up till they might be used : and this done with an
oath or vow of secrecy, which is like the Egyptian
darkness, a gross and palpable darkness that may be
felt.

Secondly, I shall shew you the exhibiting and sort-
ing of this same number or volley of poisons: white
arsenic was fit for salt, because it is of like body and
colour. The poison of great spiders, and of the ve-
nomous fly cantharides, was fit for pigs sauce or par-
tridge sauce, because it resembled pepper. As for
mercury-water, and other poisons, they might be fit
for tarts, which is a kind of hotch-pot, wherein no one
colour is so proper: and some of these were delivered
by the hands of this Lady, and some by her direction.

Thirdly, I shall prove and observe unto you the
cautions of these poisons; that they might not be too
swift, lest the world should startle at it by the sudden-
ness of the dispatch: but they must abide long in the
body, and work by degrees: and for this purpose there
must be essays of them upon poor beasts, etc,

And lastly, I shall shew you the rewards of this im-
poisonment, first demanded by Weston, and denied,
because the deed was not done ; but after the deed
done and perpetrated, that Overbury \vas dead, then
performed and paid to the value of 180/.



Charge against Frances Countess of Somerset.

And so without farther aggravation of that, which
in itself bears its own tragedy, I will conclude with
the confessions of this Lady herself, which is the
strongest support of justice; and yet is the footstool of
mercy. For, as the Scripture says, Mercy and Truth
have kissed each other-, there is no meeting or greeting
of mercy, till there be a confession, or trial of truth.
For these read,

Franklin, November 16,

Franklin, November 17,

Rich. Weston, October I,

Rich. Weston, October 2,

Will. Weston, October 2,

Rich. Weston, October 3,

Helwisse, October 2,

The Countess's letter without date.

The Countess's confession, January 8.



[ 465 ]

THE

CHARGE,

BY WAY OF EVIDENCE,
BY

SIR FRANCIS BACON, KNIGHT,

HIS MAJESTY'S ATTORNEY-GENERAL,

BEFORE THE LORD HIGH STEWARD, AND THTE
PEERS*j

AGAINST

FRANCES COUNTESS OF SOMERSET,

Concerning the poisoning of Sir THOMAS OVERBUR Y



It may please your Grace, my lord High Steward
of England, and you my lords the peers :

1 AM very glad to hear this unfortunate lady doth
take this course, to confess fully and freely, and there-
by to give glory to God and to justice. It is, as I may
term it, the nobleness of an offender to confess ; and
therefore those meaner persons, upon whom justice
passed before, confessed not; she doth. I know your
lordships cannot behold her without compassion :
many things may move you, her youth, her person,
her sex, her noble family ; yea, her provocations, if I
should enter into the cause itself, and furies about her ;
but chiefly her penitency and confession. But justice
is the work of this day ; the mercy-seat was in the in-
ner part of the temple ; the throne is public. But since
this lady hath by her confession prevented my evi-
dence, and your verdict, and that this day's labour is
cased ; there resteth, in the legal proceeding, but for
me to pray that her confession may be recorded, arid
judgment thereupon.

* The Lord Chancellor Egerton, lord Ellesmere, and earl of
Bridgwater.

VOL. IV. H h



466- Charge against Frances Countess of Somerset.

But because your lordships the peers are met, and
that this day and to-morrow are the days that crown
all the former justice ; and that in these great cases it
hath been ever the manner to respect honour and
satisfaction, as well as the ordinary parts and forms of
justice ; the occasion itself admonisheth me to give
your lordships and the hearers this contentment, as to
make declaration of the proceedings of this excellent
work of the King's justice, from the beginning to the
end.

It may please your grace, my lord High Steward of
England : this is now the second time, within the space
of thirteen years reign of our happy sovereign, that
this high tribunal seat, ordained for the trial of peers,
hath been opened and erected, and that with a rare
event, supplied and exercised by one and the same per-
son, which is a great honour to you, my lord Steward.

In all this mean time the King hath reigned in his
white robe, not sprinkled with any one drop of the
blood of any of his nobles of this kingdom. Nay,
such have been the depths of his mercy, as even those
noblemens bloods, against whom the proceeding was
at Winchester, Cobham and Grey, were attainted and
corrupted, but not spilt or taken away ; but that they
remained rather spectacles of justice in their continual
imprisonment, than monuments of justice in the me-
mory of their suffering.

It is true that the objects of his justice then and now
were very differing: for then it was the revenge of an
offence against his own person and crown, and upon
persons that were malcontents, and contraries to the
state and government; but now it is the revenge of
the blood and death of a particular subject, and the
cry of a prisoner : it is upon persons that were high-
ly in his favour; whereby his Majesty, to his great
honour, hath shewed to the world, as if it were writ-
ten in a sun-beam, that he is truly the lieutenant of
him with whom there is no respect of persons ; that
his affections royal are above his affections private ;
that his favours and nearness about him are not like
popish sanctuaries, to privilege malefactors ; and that



Charge against Frances Countess of Somerset. 467

his being the best master in the world doth not let
him from being the best King in the world. His peo-
ple, on the other side, may say to themselves, I will
lie down in peace, for God, the King, and the Law,
protect me against great and small. It may be a dis-
cipline also to great men, especially such as are swoln
in their fortunes from small beginnings, that the King
is as well able to level mountains, as to fill valleys, if
such be their desert.

But to come to the present case: The great frame
of justice, my lords, in this present action, hath a vault,
and hath a stage ; a vault wherein these works of dark-
ness were contrived ; and a stage, with steps, by which
it was brought to light.

For the former of these, I will not lead your lord-
ships into it, because I will engrieve nothing against a
penitent ; neither will I open any thing against him
that is absent. The one I will give to the laws of hu-
manity, and the other to the laws of justice : for I shall
always serve my master with a good and sincere con-
science, and, I know, that he accepteth best. There-
fore I will reserve that till to-morrow, and hold myself
to that which I called the stage or theatre, whereunto
indeed it may be fitly compared : for that things were
first contained within the invisible judgments of God,
as within a curtain, and after came forth, and were acted
most worthily by the King, and right well by his mi-
nisters.

Sir Thomas Overbury was murdered by poison,
September 15, 1613. This foul and cruel murder did
for a time cry secretly in the ears of God ; but God
gave no answer to it, otherwise than that voice, which
sometimes he useth, which is vox pop uh\ the speech of
the people : for there went then a murmur that Over-
bury was poisoned ; and yet the same submiss and low
voice God, the speech of the vulgar people, was not
without a counter-tenor or counter-blast of the devil,
who is the common author both of murder and slander;
for it was given out that Overbury was dead of a foul
disease - 3 and his body, which they had made corpu*
Judaicum with their poisons, so as it had no whole

H h 2



468 Charge against Frances Countess of Somerset.

part, must be said to be leprosed with vice, and so his
name poisoned as well as his body. For as to disso-
lateness, I have not heard the gentleman noted with
it ; his faults were of insolency, turbulency, and the
like of that kind.

Mean time there was some industry used, of which
I will not now speak, to lull asleep those that were the
revengers of the blood, the father and the brother of the
murdered. And in these terms things stood by the space
of two years, during which time God did so blind the
two great procurers, and dazzle them with their great-
ness,, and bind and nail fast the actors and instruments
with security upon their protection, as neither the one
looked about them, nor the other stirred or fled, or
were conveyed away, but remained here still, as un-
der a privy arrest of God's judgments; insomuch as
Franklin, that should have been sent over to the Pals-
grave with good store of money, was, by God's pro-
vidence and the accident of a marriage of his, diverted
and stayed.

But about the beginning of the progress the last sum-
mer, God's judgments began to come out of their
depths. And as the revealing of murder is common-
ly such as a man said, a Domino hocfactum est ; it is
God's work, and it is marvellous in our eyes: so in
this particular it was most admirable ; for it came
forth first by a compliment, a matter of courtesy. My
lord of Shrewsbury, that is now with God, recom-
mended to a counsellor of state, of special trust by
his place, the late lieutenant Helwisse*, only for ac-
quaintance, as an honest and worthy gentleman, and
desired him to know him, and to be acquainted with
him. That counsellor answered him civilly, that my
lord did him a favour, and that he should embrace it
willingly ; but he must let his lordship know, that
there did lie a heavy imputation upon that gentleman,
Helwisse; for that Sir Thomas Overbury, his prisoner,

* Called in Sir H. Wotton's Reliq. p. 413. El-vis. In Sir A.
Welden's Court of K. James, p. 107. Fwaits. In Aulic. Coquw, p.
141. Ellowaies. In Sir W. Dugdale's Baron, of England, Tom. ii. p.
425. Ehvajts. In Baker, p 434. l'cl<vis.



Charge against Frances Countess of Somerset. 469

was thought to have come to a violent and untimely
death. When this speech was reported back by my
lord of Shrewsbury to Helwisse, percussit iilico ani-
mum> he was strucken with it : and being a politic _
man, and of likelihood doubting that the matter
would break forth at one time or other, and that
others might have the start of him, and thinking to
make his own case by his own tale, resolved with him-
self upon this occasion to discover unto my lord of
Shrewsbury, and that counsellor, that there was an at-
tempt, whereupon he was privy, to have poisoned
Overbury by the hands of his under-keeper Weston ;
but that he checked it, and put it by, and dissuaded
it. But then he left it thus, that it was but as an at-
tempt, or an untimely birth, never executed ; and as
if his own fault had been no more, but that he was
honest in forbidding, but fearful of revealing and im-
peaching, or accusing great persons: and so with this
fine point thought to save himself.

But that counsellor of estate, wisely considering that
by the lieutenant's own rale it could not be simply a
permission or weakness ; for that Weston was never
displaced by the lieutenant, notwithstanding that at-
tempt; and coupling the sequel by the beginning,
thought it matter fit to be brought before his Majesty,
by whose appointment Helwisse set down the like de-
claration in writing.

Upon this ground the King playeth Solomon's part,
Gloria Dei celare rem, et gloria Regis ini-estigare rem,
and sets down certain papers of his own hand, which
I might term to be claves justititc, keys of justice; and
may serve both for a precedent for Princes to imitate,
and for a direction for judges to follow. And his Ma-
jesty carried the balance with a constant and steady
hand, evenly and without prejudice, whether it were a
true accusation of the one part, or a practice and fac-
tious scandal of the other : which writing, because I
am not able to express according to the worth thereof,
I will desire your lordships anon to hear read.

This excellent foundation of justice being laid by
his Majesty's own hand, it was referred unto some



470 Charge against Frances Countess of Somerset.

counsellors to examine farther ; who gained some de-
grees of light from Weston, but yet left it imperfect.

After it was referred to Sir Edward Coke, Chief
Justice of the King's bench, as a person best practised
in legal examinations; who took a great deal of inde-
fatigable pains in it without intermission, having, as I
have heard him say, taken at least three hundred exa-
minations in this business.

But these things were not done in a corner, I need
not speak of them. It is true that my lord Chief Jus-
tice, in the dawning and opening of the light, finding
the matter touched upon these great persons, very dis-
creetly became suitor to the King, to have greater per-
sons than his own rank joined with him; whereupon your
lordships, my lord High Steward of England, my lord
Steward of the King's house, and my lord Zouch,
were joined with him.

Neither wanted there, this while, practice to sup-
press testimony, to deface writings, to weaken the
King's resolution, to slander the justice, and the like.
Nay, when it came to the first solemn act of justice,
which was the arraignment of Weston, he had his les-
son to stand mute, which had arrested the whole
wheel of justice, but this dumb devil, by the means
of some discreet divines, and the potent charm of
justice together, was cast out ; neither did this poi-
sonous adder stop his ear to these charms, but re^
lented, and yielded to his trial.

Then followed the other proceedings of justice
against the other offenders, Turner, Helwisse, Frank-
lin.

But all these being but the organs and instruments of
this fact, the actors, and not the authors, justice could not
have been crowned without this last act against these
great persons ; else Weston's censure or prediction
might have been verified, when he said, he hoped the
small flies should not be caught, and the greater es-
cape. Wherein the King, being in great straits be-
tween the defacing of his honour, and of his creature,
hath, according as he used to do, chosen the better
part, reserving always mercy to himself.



Charge against Frances Countess of Somerset. 471

The time also of justice hath had its true motions.
The time until this lady's deliverance was due unto
honour, Christianity, and humanity, in respect of her
great belly. The time since was due to another kind
of deliverance too ; which was, that some causes of es-
tate which were in the womb might likewise be
brought forth, not for matter of justice, but for reason
of state. Likewise this last procrastination of days
had the like weighty grounds and causes.

But, my lords, where I speak of a stage, I doubt I
hold you upon the stage too long. But before I pray
judgment, I pray your lordships to hear the King's pa-
pers read, that you may see how well the King was
inspired, and how nobly he carried it, that innocency
might not have so 'much as aspersion.

Frances Countess of Somerset hath been indicted
and arraigned, as accessary before the fact, for the
murder and impoisonment of Sir Thomas Overbury,
and hath pleaded guilty, and confesseth the indict-
ment : I pray judgment against the prisoner.



[ 472 ]

THE

CHARGE

or

SIR FRANCIS BACON, KNIGHT,

HIS MAJESTY'S ATTORNEY- GENERAL,

BY WAY OF EVIDENCE .
BEFORE THE LORD HIGH STEWARD, AND THE PEERS,

AGAINST

ROBERT, EARL OF SOMERSET,

Concerning the poisoning of OVERBURY.



It may please your Grace, my lord High Steward
of England, and you my lords the peers :

X Oil have here before you Robert earl of Somerset,
to be tried for his life, concerning the procuring and
consenting to the impoisonment of Sir Thomas Over-
bury, then the King's prisoner in the Tower of Lon-
don, as an accesary before the fact.

I know your lordships cannot behold this nobleman,
but you must remember his great favour with the
King, and the great place that he hath had and born,
and must be sensible that he is yet of your number and
body, a peer as you are ; so that you cannot cut him
off from your body but with grief; and therefore that



Online LibraryFrancis BaconThe works of Francis Bacon, baron of Verulam, viscount St. Alban, and lord high chancellor of England (Volume 4) → online text (page 39 of 46)