Francis Bacon.

The works of Francis Bacon, baron of Verulam, viscount St. Alban, and lord high chancellor of England (Volume 4) online

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you will expect from us, that give in the King's evi-
dence, sound and sufficient matter of proof to satisfy
your honours and consciences.

As for the manner of the evidence, the King our mas-
ter, who among his other virtues excelleth in that vir-
tue of the imperial throne, which is justice, hath given
us in commandment that we should not expatiate, nor
make invectives, but materially pursue the evidence,
as it conduceth to the point in question 3 a matter, that

Charge against Robert Earl of Somerset. 473

though we are giad of so good a warrant, yet we
should have done of ourselves: for far be it from us,
by any strains of wit or art, to seek to play prizes, or
to blazon our names in blood, or to carry the day other-
wise than upon just grounds. We shall carry the Ian-
thorn of justice, which is the evidence, before your
eyes upright, and to be able to save it from being put
out with any winds of evasion or vain defences, that is
our part ; and within that we shall contain ourselves,
not doubting at all, but that the evidence itself will
carry such force as it shall need no vantage or aggra-

My lords, the course which I will hold in delivering
that which I shall say, for I love order, shall be this :

First, I will speak somewhat of the nature and
greatness of the offence which is now to be tried ; not
to weigh down my lord with the greatness of it, but
contrariwise to shew that a great offence deserveth a
great proof, and that the King, however he might
esteem this gentleman heretofore, as the signet upon
his finger, to use the Scripture-phrase, yet in such
case as this he was to put him off.

Secondly, I will use some few words touching the
nature of the proofs, which in such a case are com-

Thirdly, I will state the proofs.

Fourthly and lastly, I will produce the proofs, either
out of examinations and matters in w T riting, or wit-
nesses, viva voce.

For the offence itself, it is of crimes, next unto
high treason, the greatest ; it is the foulest of felonies.
And take this offence with the circumstances, it hath
three degrees or stages; that it is murder; that it is mur-
der by impoisonment ; that it is murder committed upon
the King's prisoner in the Tower : I might say, that it
is murder under the colour of friendship ; but this is a
circumstance moral ; I leave that to the evidence itself.

For murder, my lords, the first record of justice
that was in the world was a judgment upon a mur-
derer in the person of Adam's first-born, Cain ; and
though he was not punched by death, but with ba-

474- Charge against Robert Earl of Somerset.

nishment and mark of ignominy, in respect of the pri-
mogeniture, or population of the world, or other points
of God's secret decree, yet it was judged, and was, as
it is said, the first record of justice. So it appearelh
likewise in Scripture, that the murder of Abner by
Joab, though it were by David respited in respect of
great services past, or reason of s,tate, yet it was not
forgotten. But of this I will say no more. It was
ever admitted, and ranked in God's own tables, that
murder is of offences between man and man, next
unto treason and disobedience unto authority, which
some divines have referred to the first table, because
of the lieutenancy of God in princes.

For impoisonment, I am sorry it should be heard of
in this kingdom: it is not nostri generis nee sanguinis:
it is an Italian crime, fit for the court of Rome, where
that person, which intoxicated the Kings of the earth
with his cup of poison, is many times really and mate-
rially intoxicated and impoisoned himself.

But it hath three circumstances, which make it
grievous beyond other murders : whereof the first is,
that it takes away a man in full peace, in God's and.
the King's peace : thinketh no harm, but is comfort-
ing of nature with refection and food ; so that, as the
Scripture saith, his table is made a snare.

The second is, that it is easily committed, and easily
concealed ; and on the other side, hardly prevented,
and hardly discovered ; for murder by violence, princes
have guards, and private men have houses, attendants,
and arms : neither can such murder be committed
but cum sonitiiy and with some overt and apparent
act that may discover and trace the offender. But as
for poison, the cup itself of princes will scarce serve,
in regard of many poisons that neither discolour nor

And the last is, because it concerneth not only the
destruction of the maliced man, but of any other ;
Quismodo tutus erit? for many times the poison is pre-
pared for one, and is taken by another : so that men.
die other rnens deaths; concidit infelix alieno mdnere:
and it is, as the Psalm calleth it, sagitta nocte volansi

Charge against Robert Earl of Somerset. 475

the arrow that Jlieth by nigh I, it hath no aim or

Now for the third degree of this particular offence,
which is, that it was committed upon the King's
prisoner, who was out of his own defence, and merely
in the King's protection, and for whom the King and
state was a kmd of respondent ; is a thing that aggra-
vates the fault much. For certainly, my lord of So-
merset, let me tell you this, that Sir Thomas Overbury
is the first man that was murdered in the Tower of
London, since the murder of the two young princes.
Thus much of the offence, now to the proof.

For the nature of the proofs, your lordships must
consider, that impoisonment, of all offences is the most
secret ; so secret, as that if in all cases of impoison-
ment you should require testimony, you were as good
proclaim impunity.

Who could have impeached Livia, by testimony,
of the poison figs upon the tree, which her husband
was wont to gather with his own hands ?

Who could have impeached Parisatis for the poi-
soning of one side of the knife that she carved with,
and keeping the other side clean ; so that herself did
eat of the same piece of meat that the lady did that
she did impoison ? The cases are infinite, and need
not to be spoken of, of the secrecy of impoisdn-
nients ; but wise triers must take upon them, in these
secret cases, Solomon's spirit, that, where there could
be no witnesses, collected the act by the affection.

But yet we are not to come to one case : for that
which your lordships are to try is not the act of im-
poisonment, for that is done to your hand ; all the
world by law is concluded to say, that Overbury was
im poisoned by Weston.

But the question before you is of the procurement
only, and of the abetting, as the lawtermeth it, as acces-
sary before the fact : which abetting is no more but to
dp or use any act or means, which may aid or conduce
unto the im poisonment.

So that it is not the buying or making of the poison,
or the preparing, or correcting, or commixing of it, or

Charge against Robert Earl of Somerset.

the giving or sending or laying the poison, that are
the only acts that do amount unto abetment. But if
there be any other act or means done or used to give
the opportunity of impoisonment, or to facilitate the
execution of it, or to stop or divert any impediments
that might hinder it, and this be with an intention to
accomplish and atchieve the impoisonment ; all these
are abetments, and accessaries before the fact. I will
put you a familiar example. Allow there be a con-
spiracy to murder a man as he journeys by the way,
and it be one man's part to draw him forth to that
journey by invitation, or by colour of some business;
and another takes upon him to dissuade some friend
of his, whom he had a purpose to take in his company,
that he be not too strong to make his defence ; and
another hath the part to go along with him, and to
hold him in talk till the first blow be given : all these,
my lords, without scruple are abettors to this murder,
though none of them give the blow, nor assist to give
the blow.

My lords, he is not the hunter alone that lets slip
the dog upon the deer, but he that lodges the deer, or
raises him, or puts him out, or he that sets a toil that
he cannot escape, or the like.

But this, my lords, little needeth in this present
case, where there is such a chain of acts of impoison-
nient as hath been seldom seen, and could hardly
have been expected, but that greatness of fortune
maketh commonly grossness in offending.

To descend to the proofs themselves, I shall keep
this course.

First, I will make a narrative or declaration of the
fact itself.

Secondly, I will break and distribute the proofs as
they concern the prisoner.

And thirdly, according to that distribution, I will
produce them, and read them, or use them.

So that there is nothing that I shall say, but your
lordship, my lord of Somerset, shall have three thoughts
or cogitations to answer it : First, when 1 open it, you
may take your aim, Secondly, -when I distribute it,

Charge against Robert Earl of Somerset. 477

you may prepare your answers without confusion.
And lastly, when I produce the witnesses or exami-
nations themselves, you may again ruminate and re-
advise how to make your defence. And this I do
the rather, because your memory or understanding
may not be oppressed or overladen with the length of
evidence, or with confusion of order. Nay more,
when your lordship shall make your answers in your
time, I will put you in mind, when cause shall be, of
your omissions.

First, therefore, for the simple narrative of the fact.
Sir Thomas Overbury for a time was known to have
had great interest and great friendship with my lord of
Somerset, both in his meaner fortunes, and^after; in-
somuch as he was a kind of oracle of direction unto
him; and, if you will believe his own vaunts, being
of an insolent Thrasonical disposition, he took upon
him, that the fortune, reputation, and understanding
of this gentleman, who is well known to have had a
better teacher, proceeded from his company and

And this friendship rested not only in conversation
and business of court, but likewise in communication
of secrets of estate. For my lord of Somerset, at that
time exercising, by his Majesty's special favour and
trust, the office of the secretary provisionally, did not
forbear to acquaint Overbury with the King's packets
of dispatches from all parts, Spain, France, the Low-
Countries, etc. And this not by glimpses, or now and
then rounding in the ear for a favour, but in a settled
manner: packets were sent, sometimes opened by
my lord, sometimes unbroken, unto Gverbury, who
perused them, copied, registered them, made tables
of them as he thought good : so that, I will undertake,
the time was when Overbury knew more of the secrets
of state than the council-table did. Nay, they were
grown to such an inwardness, as they made a play of
all the world besides themselves : so as they had ci-
phers and jargons for the King, the Queen, and all
the great men ; things seldom used, but either by
princes and their ambassadors and ministers, or by

478 Charge against Robert Earl of Somerset.

such as work and practise against, or at least upon

But understand me, my lord, I shall not charge you
this day with any disloyalty ; only I say this for a foun-
dation, that there was a great communication of se-
crets between you and Overbury, and that it had rela-
tion to matters of estate, and the greatest causes of
this kingdom.

But iny lords, as it is a principle in nature, that the
best things are in their corruption the worst, and the
sweetest wine makes the sharpest vinegar; so fell it out
with them, that this excess^ as I may term it, of friend-
ship ended in mortal hatred on my lord of Somerset's

For it fell out, some twelve months before Overbu-
ry's imprisonment in the Tower, that my lord of So-
merset was entered into an unlawful love towards his
unfortunate lady, then countess of Essex: which went
so far, as it was then secretly projected, chiefly be-
tween my lord Privy Seal and my lord of Somerset, to
effect a nullity in the marriage with my lord of Essex,
and so to proceed to a marriage with Somerset.

This marriage and purpose did Overbury mainly
oppugn, under pretence to do the true part of a
friend, for that he counted her an unworthy woman ;
but the truth was, that Overbury, who, to speak
pJainly, had little that was solid for religion or moral
virtue, but was a man possessed with ambition and
vain-glory, was loth to have any partners in the favour
of my lord of Somerset, and especially not the house
of the Howards, against whom he had always pro-
fessed hatred and opposition : so all was but miserable
bargains of ambition.

And, my lords, that this is no sinister construction,
will well appear unto you, when you slii^ll hear that
Overbury makes his brags to my lord of Somerset,
that he had won him the love of the lady by his letters
and industry: so far was he from cases of conscience
in this matter. And certainly, my lords, howsoever
the tragical misery of that poor gentleman Overbury
ought somewhat to obliterate his faults 5 yet because

Charge against Robert Earl of Somerset. 479

\ve are not now upon point of civility, but to discover
the face of truth to the face of justice ; and that it is
material to the true understanding of the state of this
cause ; Overbury was naught and corrupt, the ballads
must be amended for that point.

But to proceed ; when Overbury saw that he was
like to be dispossessed of my lord here, whom he had
possessed so long, and by whose greatness he had
promised himself to do wonders; and being a man of
an unbounded and impetuous spirit, he began not only
to dissuade, but to deter him from that love and mar-
riage ; and finding him fixed, thought to try stronger
remedies, supposing that he had my lord's head under
his girdle, in respect of" communication of secrets of
estate, or, as he calls them himself in his letters, se-
crets of all natures ; and therefore dealt violently with
him, to make him desist, with menaces of discovery
of secrets, and the like.

Hereupon grew two streams of hatred upon Over-
bury ; the one, from the lady, in respect that he
crossed her love, and abused her name, which are
furies to women ; the other, of a deeper and more
mineral nature, from my lord of Somerset himself;
who was afraid of Overbury's nature, and that if he
did break from him and fly out, he would mine into
him and trouble his whole fortunes.

I migh add a third stream from the earl of North-
ampton's ambition, who desires to be first in favour
with my lord of Somerset ; and knowing Overbury *s
malice to himself and his house, thought that man
must be removed and cut off. So it was amongst
them resolved and decreed that Overbury must die.

Hereupon they had variety of devices. To send
him beyond sea, upon occasion of imploymeat, that
was too weak ; and they were so far from giving way
to it, as they crossed it. There rested but two ways,
quarrel or assault, and poison. For that of assauJt,
after some proposition and attempt, they passed from
it; it was a thing too open, and subject to more va-
riety of chances. That of poison likewise was a ha-
zardous thing, and subject to many preventions and

48O Charge against Robert Earl of Somerset.

cautions; especially to such a jealous and working
brain as Overbury had, except he were first fast in
their hands.

Therefore the way was first to get him into a trap,
and lay him up, and then they could not miss the
mark. Therefore in execution of this plot it was de-
vised, that Overbury should be designed to some ho-
nourable imployment in foreign parts, and should un-
der-hand by the lord of Somerset be incouraged to
refuse it; and so upon that contempt he should be
laid prisoner in the Tower, and then they would look
he should be close enough, and death should be his
bail. Yet were they not at their end. For they con-
sidered that if there was not a fit lieutenant of the
Tower for their purpose, and likewise a fit under-
keeper of Overbury ; first, they should meet with many
impediments in the giving and exhibiting the poison.
Secondly, they should be exposed to note an observation
that might discover them. And thirdly, Overbury in
the mean time might write clamorous an furious letters
to other his friends, and so all might be disappointed.
And therefore the next link of the chain was to dis-
place the then lieutenant Waade, and to place Hel-
wisse, a principal abettor in the impoisonment : again,
to displace Gary, that was the under-keeper in Waade's
time, and to place Weston, who was the principal
actor in the impoisonment : and this was done in such
a while, that if may appear to be done, as it were,
'with one breath, as there were but fifteen days be-
tween the commitment of Overbury, the displacing
of Waade, the placing of Helwisse, the displacing
of Gary the under-keeper, the placing of Weston,
and the first poison given two days after.

Then when they had this poor gentleman in the
Tower close prisoner, where he could not escape nor
stir, where he could not feed but by their hands, where
he could not speak nor write but through their trunks;
then was the time to execute the last act of this tra-

Then must Franklin be purveyor of the poisons,: and
procure five, six, seven several potions, to be sure to

Charge against Robert Earl of Somerset. 481

hit his complexion. Then must Mrs. Turner be the
say-mistress of the poisons to try upon poor beasts,
what is present, and what works at distance of time.
Then must Weston be the tormentor, and chase him
with poison after poison ; poison in salts, poison in
meats, poison in sweetmeats, poison in medicines and
vomits, until at last his body was almost come, by use
of poisons, to the state that Mithridates's body was by
the use of treacle and preservatives, that the force of
the poisons were blunted upon him : Weston confess-
ing, when he was chid for not dispatching him, that
he had given him enough to poison twenty men.
Lastly, because all this asked time, courses were taken
by Somerset, both to divert all means of Overbury's
delivery, and to entertain Overbury by continual let-
ters, partly of hopes and projects for his delivery, and
partly of other fables and negotiations ; somewhat like
some kind of persons, which I will not name, which
keep men in talk of fortune-telling, when they have a
felonious meaning.

And this is the true narrative of this act of impoi-
sonment, which I have summarily recited.

Now for the distribution of the proofs, there are
four heads of proofs to prove you guilty, my lord of
Somerset, of this impoisonment ; whereof two are
precedent to the imprisonment, the third is present,
and the fourth is following or subsequent. For it is
in proofs as it is in lights, there is a direct light, and
there is a reflexion of light, or back-light.

The first head or proof thereof is, That there was
a root of bitterness, a mortal malice or hatred, mixed
with deep and bottomless fears, that you had towards
Sir Thomas Overbury.

The second is, That you were the principal actor,
and had your hand in all those acts, w 7 hich did con-
duce to the impoisonmentj and which gave opportu-
nity and means to effect it ; and without which the
impoisonment could never have been, and which could
serve or tend to no other end but to the impoison-

The third is, That your hand was in the very im-
VOL. iv. j i

Charge* against Robert Earl of Somerset.

poisonment itself, which is more than needs to be
proved; that you did direct poison; that you did de-
liver poison; that you did continually hearken to the
success of the impoisonment ; and that you spurred it
on, and called for dispatch when you 'thought it lin-

And lastly, That you did all the things after the
impoisonment, which may detect a guilty conscience,
for the smothering of it, and avoiding punishment for
it: which can be but of three kinds: That you sup-
pressed, as much as in you was, testimony : That you
did deface, and destroy, and clip and misdate all
writings that might give light to the impoisonment ;
and that you did fly to the altar of guiltiness, which is
a pardon, and a pardon of murder, and a pardon for
yourself, and not for your lady.

In this, my lord, I convert my speech to you, be-
cause I would have you attend the points of your
charge, and so of your defence the better. And two
of these heads I have taken to myself, and left the
other two to the King's two Serjeants.

For the first main part, which is, the mortal hatred,
coupled with fear, that was in my lord of Somerset
towards O'verbury, although he did palliate it with a
great deal of hypocrisy and dissimulation even to the
end ; I shall prove it, my lord Steward, and you my
lords and peers, manifestly, by matter both of oath
and writing. The root of this hatred was that that
hath cost many a man's life, that is, fear of discover-
ing secrets : secrets, 1 say, of a high and dangerous
nature: Wherein the course that I will hold, shall be

First, T will shew that such a breach and malice
was between my lord and Overbury, and that it burst
forth into violent menaces and threats on both sides.

Secondly, That these secrets were not light, but of
a high nature; for I will give you the elevation of the
pole. They were such as my lord of Somerset for his
part had made a vow, that Overbi'.ry should neither
live in court nor country. That he had likewise opened
himself and his own fears so far, that if Overbury ever

Charge against Robert Earl of Somerset. 483

came forth of the Tower, either Overbury or himself
must die for it. And of Overbury's part, he had
threatened my lord, that whether he did live or die,
my lord's shame should never die, but he would leave
him the most odious man of the world. And farther,
that my lord was like enough to repent it, in the place
where Overbury wrote, which was the Tower of
London. He was a true prophet in that: so here is
the height of the secrets.

Thirdly, I will shew you, that all the King's busi-
ness was by my lord put into Overbury's hands ; so as
there is work enough for secrets, whatsoever they
were : and like princes confederates, they had their
ciphers and jargons.

And lastly, I will shew you that it is but a toy to
say that the malice was only in respect he spake dis-
honourably of the lady ; or for doubt of breaking the
marriage : for that Overbury was a coadjutor to that
love, and the lord of Somerset was as deep in speak-
ing ill of the lady as Overbury. And again, it was
too late for that matter, for the bargain of the match
was then made and past. And if it had been no
more but to remove Overbury from disturbing ot the
match, it had been an easy matter to have banded
Overbury beyond seas, for which they had a fair way - 9
but that would not serve their turn.

And lastly, periculum periculo vincitur, to go so far
as an impoisonment, must have a deeper malice than
flashes : for the cause must bear a proportion to the

For the next general head of proofs, which consists
in acts preparatory to the middle acts, they are in eight
several points of the compass, as I may term it.

First, That there were devices and projects to dis-
patch Overbury, or to overthrow him, plotted between
the countess of Somerset, the earl of Somerset, and
the earl of Northampton, before they fell upon the
impoisonment: for always before men fix upon a course
of mischief, there be some rejections: but die he must
one way or other.

Secondly, That my lord of Somerset was a principal

i i 2

484 Charge against Robert Earl of Somerset.

practiser, I must speak it, in a most perfidious manner,,
to set a train or trap for Overbury to get him into the
Tower ; without which they never durst have attempt-
ed the impoisonment.

Thirdly, That the placing of the lieutenant Hel-
wisse, one of the impoisoners, and the displacing of
Waade, was by the means of rny lord of Somerset.

Fourthly, That the placing of Weston the under-
keeper, who was the principal i.mpoisoner, and the
displacing of Gary, and the doing of all this within
fifteen days after Overbury's commitment, was by the
means and countenance of my lord of Somerset. And
these two were the active instruments of the impoi-
sonment: and this was a business that the lady's power
could not reach unto.

Fifthly, That because there must be a time for the
tragedy to be acted, and chiefly because they would
not have the poisons work upon the Sudden ; and
for that the strength of Overbury's nature, or the very
custom of receiving poison into his body, did over-
come the poisons, that they wrought not so fast - T

Online LibraryFrancis BaconThe works of Francis Bacon, baron of Verulam, viscount St. Alban, and lord high chancellor of England (Volume 4) → online text (page 40 of 46)