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suspicions. Lord and Lady Somerset were reprieved and
at last pardoned, while, to illustrate the justice of the

1622 day, the minor actors in the tragedy, not being persons
of quality, went to the gallows.

1615 Somerset departed only to give place to another
favourite, and, for the public weal, a worse. This was
George Villiers, soon created Duke of Buckingham, a
youth commended to the fatuous king by the same come-
liness and sprightliness which had made the fortune of
Somerset. From a place in the king's bed-chamber he
leapt at once to the height of power, with the disposal of
all the patronage of the crown, bringing with him a train
of grasping relatives and dependents. Somerset had been
little more than a minion. He was greedy but not ambi-
tious, nor, except by the scandal of his elevation, danger-
ous to the state. He left the administration pretty much
in the hands of the trained officials, men of the class of
Neville, Winwood, Wotton, Lake, and Cranfield, who, if
they were not statesmen, were administrators, and saved
the government from confusion. * But Buckingham was


of a different stamp from Somerset. He was no mere
minion, but a dangerous man, brilliant, ambitious, vain-
glorious, impulsive, and passionate, with just capacity
enough to go splendidly astray, and destined to guide
the monarchy to ruin. His insolence went the length of
telling an important personage to his face that he was
his enemy, and would do him all the harm he could.
The king he treated with impudent familiarity. His
influence over James was unbounded. It is henceforth
he who reigns. Bacon once more worshipped the rising
sun, and tried to instil political wisdom into the youthful
master of the state.

The king was now preparing for himself a fresh cause
of unpopularity and of embroilment with the Puritan
Commons by drawing near, in his foreign policy, to
Spain. Secretly and perhaps unconsciously sympathizing
with Catholicism, at least in its political aspect, he would
also be attracted by his vanity towards the grand mon-
archy which Spain still seemed to be. The thought of
a matrimonial alliance was already rising in his mind.
Spain sent to England as her ambassador a consummate
diplomatist, the Count of Gondomar, who could wind 1617
James round his finger and lacked, for complete success,
only the power of understanding free institutions and
the character of a free people. A sad proof of Spanish
influence was the judicial murder of the last of the Eliza- 1618
bethan heroes, Sir Walter Raleigh. With Raleigh, as
with the rest of his group, enmity to Spain was a relig-
ion. At the time of the demise of the crown, his restless
and scheming spirit, it seems, had dallied with an embryo
plot for putting forward the claim of Arabella Stuart,
whom, though she lacked primogeniture, some preferred


as a native of England to James, who was an alien. For
this, Cecil, being his enemy, he had been arraigned, and

1603 had been convicted on the worthless testimony of a treach-
erous knave, after a trial which exceeded the usual iniquity
and brutality of state trials ; Coke, the attorney-general,
breaking all the laws, not only of evidence, but of de-
cency, calling the illustrious accused a monster, a viper,
a spider of hell, and saying that he, the life-long foe of
Spain, had a Spanish heart. Raleigh's glory, however,
shielded him for a time, though, as a restless schemer
and a reputed atheist, he was far from being a public
favourite. He was reprieved, and instead of being sent
to the block he was sent to the Tower, where this eagle
was mewed up for twelve years, faintly consoling himself
for the loss of action and the sea by writing history. At

1616 last he prevailed upon James, by the lure of gain, to let
him make an expedition to a gold mine in Guiana, pledg-
ing himself not to fall foul of the Spaniards. Of the
Spaniards, however, he did fall foul. On his return,
foiled and empty-handed, Spain demanded his head, and
the wretched king yielded to her demand. Raleigh was

1618 beheaded under his old sentence, though, besides the
lapse of time, he had since borne the commission of the
king. He met death like a man who had fought the
Armada, and like one of a group which singularly
blended culture and poetry with action. On the night
before his execution he wrote a poetical farewell to
life: —

Even such is time, that takes on trust
Our youth, our joys, our all we have,

And pays us but with age and dust;
Who in the dark and silent grave,


When we have wandered all our ways,
Shuts up the story of our days !

But from this earth, this grave, this dust,

The Lord shall raise me up, I trust !

These lines are the death-song of the Elizabethan era.
They ring down the curtain on a memorable act in the
drama of Humanity.

There had been one near the throne who felt for the
hero, and who, when the eagle was caged, longed to set it
free. The only chance of averting, or at least of delay-
ing, the mortal duel between king and parliament was
the accession of a king like Edward I., so formed by
nature that his heart would beat in unison with that of
his people and his aims and policy would be theirs.
Prince Henry, the eldest son of James I., seemed likely
to be such a king. He was a high-spirited boy, with
popular tastes and sympathies. He took a lively interest
in ships and ship-building ; was the darling and hope of
the nation, and, while he lived, a safeguard to an unpopu-
lar throne. But he died at nineteen, and the anguish of 1Q12
the nation expressed itself in hideous whispers of poison-
ing by the hated favourite, or even by the king. Henry's
death made way for Charles, whose name is the knell of

James was not cruel by nature, rather he was kind ;
but suspicion, perhaps, since the Gunpowder Plot had
made him capable of cruelty. The manuscript of a sermon
against him and his government was found in the study
of Peacham, a minister in Somersetshire. Though the
sermon was probably never intended for publication,
its luckless author was absurdly accused of compassing
the king's death. He was arrested and put to the rack, 1616


Bacon being present at the process. When brought to
trial, he was, as a matter of course, found guilty, and
escaped hanging, drawing, and quartering only by
dying in prison. The reviving spirit of the House of
Commons had not yet reached the juries, and in state
trials the crown still enjoyed almost a Tudor license of

The next incident in the battle of the constitution was
a blow struck by the king at the independence of the
judiciary in the person of chief justice Coke. This man,
who had so basely and brutally served the crown in the
1603 trial of Raleigh, was nevertheless proud, intractable, and
devoted with a martyr constancy to his idol, the common
law, of the somewhat barbarous learning of which he was
a prodigy, almost a monster. He was, besides, a deadly
enemy of Bacon as well as of Bacon's philosophic juris-
prudence, and by no means minded to be a lion under
Solomon's throne. His personal independence was se-
cured by a great fortune gained partly through a wealthy
marriage, a speculation which, after the death of his
first wife, he repeated with calamitous results. Side
by side with the struggle for supremacy between the
king and parliament, and in connection with the high
church movement, had been going on a contest between
the lay and ecclesiastical courts, the ecclesiastical courts
striving to make their jurisdiction independent and to
regain their dominion over the spiritual realm, the lay
courts putting in their injunctions and strenuously dis-
puting the ground. The king favoured the ecclesiastics,
who were on his side and under his control. Coke was
a resolute champion of the lay jurisdiction. This first
brought him into collision with the court. Afterwards,


in the Peacham case, the crown, knowing that the legality
of its course was doubtful, solicited the judges of the
king's bench to give their opinion beforehand on the
point of law. Coke replied that such particular and
auricular taking of opinions was not according to the cus-
tom of the realm. The dispute with Bacon on the
Peacham case was followed by a dispute with lord
chancellor Ellesmere, another enemy of Coke, about the
relative jurisdictions of the common law courts and
the court of chancery. The tendency of chancery, by a
more rational and liberal system, to draw causes to itself
and carve out a rival domain, was watched with jealous
eyes by the liegemen of the common law. Chancery
being the more cognate to prerogative, the king was with
his chancellor and against Coke. At last, in a case
relating to a grant by the crown of a benefice to a bishop
in eommenda^n^ the prerogative was put in issue. The 1616
king ordered the judges to stay proceedings. At first the
judges, led by Coke, showed a bold front, refused to take
legal notice of the royal letters addressed to them, and
declared it their duty to hear the cause. Ultimately, the
king having browbeaten them in person, and the question
being put to them, whether in a case which his majesty
conceived to concern himself in honour or profit they
would not, if he desired to consult them, stay proceed-
ings, all but Coke succumbed. Coke was first sus- 1616
pended, then dismissed, from his office, and with him
independence left the judgment seat. Coke had also,
while chief justice, arrested an attempt of the king to
usurp legislative power by means of royal proclamations.
He laid it down as a principle that no royal proclamation
creating a new offence could have the force of law, though


it might give additional force to an existing law, and
aggravate an offender's guilt. On this occasion the chan-
cellor complained that if the power for the exercise of
which the king contended were taken from him, he
would be no more than a Duke of Venice. The com-
parison has* been revived in our own day, and is true to
the fact.

The attack on the independence of the judiciary was
followed by an attack on the independence of the press
in the interest of the king's clerical allies. What the
political and social philosophy of Montesquieu or Rous-
seau was to the French, the immense erudition of John
Selden, jurist and antiquary, was to the English revolu-
tion. Selden embodied that assertion of the supremacy
of the civil over the ecclesiastical power Avhich was the
1618 special characteristic of the English Reformation. He
wrote a treatise on the history of tithe, plainly, though
obliquely, showing that it was of human, not of divine
institution, and consequently subject to human legisla-
tion. This was alarming to the high church clergy, who
had too good reason to know that possessions of the
church subject to human legislation would be precarious.
Selden was summoned before the court of high com-
mission and compelled to make what was in fact a
degrading retraction. The sale of his book was pro-
hibited, and when his adversaries, taking advantage of
his silence, published answers to him, he was forbidden
to reply. This was the way to drive discontent inwards
to the vitals of the body politic, and in the end to
raise up Miltons with their Areopagitic thunder against
the killing of a good book as the killing of reason
' itself.



Monopolies form the next field of battle. Monopolies 1621
of foreign trade were not unreasonable when peace was
hardly known upon the sea, when piracy was rife, and
when, there being no royal navy, or none effective for the
protection of commerce, a distant trade could be carried
on only by companies armed for their own defence. Of
monopolies of home manufacture some might be justified
as patents for inventions before the introduction of a pat-
ent law or as control of the materials of war. But others
of the odious list had been corruptly created in the in-
terest of the crown and its favourites, or of jobbers, of
whom Sir Giles Mompesson, Massinger's " Sir Giles Over-
reach," was the hated chief, and were mere nuisances and
instruments of extortion. From corrupt monopolies the
attack extended to corruption in other quarters, and nota-
bly in courts of law. When peerages and offices of state
were openly sold ; when nothing was to be done at court
without a fee ; when a minister of state could coolly say
that an office was worth so much if the holder did not
wish to go to heaven, and so much less if he did, the
judiciary was not likely to escape contagion. One result
of the investigation was a memorable and tragic fall.
After a life of laborious climbing, sometimes at the ex-
pense of his moral dignity. Bacon had at length reached
the summit of his ambition as a lawyer, if not as a poli-
tician. His proudest day in his own estimation, tliough
not in the estimation of posterity, was tliat on which he
rode in state to Westminster to be installed as Lord Keeper, 1618
with a hundred persons of quality in his train. Tliat such
majesty of intellect could stoop to corruption is hard to
believe, and apologists have struggled desperately against
the fact. But if Bacon was not guilty of corruption, he


was guilty of the worse crime of bearing false witness
against his own honour, for he confessed himself guilty and
prayed for mercy. Guilty of corruption undoubtedly he
was, since he had taken gifts from suitors, not only after
judgment, a practice at which the morality of that time
might wink, but in one or two cases at least while the suit
was pending. Yet was he not corrupt. His fault was
rather a careless confidence in his own virtue, which led
him not strictly to guard its chastity. Of the heavy

1621 sentence passed upon him by the Lords the greater part
was remitted, and posterity, bribed by the splendid offer-
ings of his intellect, has blotted out the rest. It was
in the months immediately following his condemnation
that he wrote his History of Henry VII. He can have
had little hold on the king and the favourite or they
would have made greater efforts to save him.

The scene presently shifts from domestic politics to
diplomacy and war. James had slipped out of the alliance
with Holland against Spain, leaving the Dutch to fight by
themselves the battle of their emancipation, which, how-
ever, had by that time been practically won. To do this
he was led not only by his love of peace and his financial
difficulties, but by the dislike which he and his high
church bishops felt of rebellious traders making war
against their anointed king. From peace with Spain he
had been* sliding into close diplomatic relations and secret
alliance. Spain being still the grand monarchy, his vanity
was flattered by the association. Yet he was a protestant
king, though with catholic as well as absolutist leanings ;
and his two characters clashed. His daughter Elizabeth,
bright and brave, was the darling of protestant hearts,

1613 and had married the Calvinist Frederick, Elector Palatine.


Shakespeare's " Tempest," with its inserted masque, had
been performed before the court when the German Fer-
dinand came to bear away his Miranda from the learned
Prospero's isle. All protestant sympathies had followed
the Electress to her new home. But now broke over Ger-
many the storm of the Thirty Years' War. Ferdinand of 1618
Austria mounted the Imperial throne. He was a pupil of 1619
the Jesuits, a most devout catholic, had taken before the
shrine of Loretto a vow of lifelong enmity to heresy, de-
clared that he would rather reign over a desert than over
a land of heretics, and had extirpated protestantism in his
hereditary dominions. In his kingdom of Bohemia he and
his Jesuit advisers did not fail to come into collision with
protestantism, with which here, and not here alone, but
in France and Scotland, and perhaps elsewhere, was com-
bined the turbulent ambition of an unbridled aristocracy.
Bohemia, the Bohemian nobility at least, rebelled, flung
the Emperor's representatives, Martinitz and Slawata, out
of the window, deposed Ferdinand, and offered the crown 1618
to Frederick, Elector Palatine, by whom, under an evil
star, it was accepted. The Elector was totally unequal to
the part which he had rashly undertaken. He and his
kingdom sank under the Imperial arms, and he lost not
only Bohemia but his own principality. English protes-
tantism burst into flame. How fierce was the flame and
how befouled with the murky smoke of fanaticism ap-
peared when, for some slighting words about the Elector
Palatine and his wife, an aged Roman catholic named
Floyd was adjudged by the two Houses of Parliament, 1621
acting in disgraceful concert, to be degraded from his
gentility, to be deemed infamous, to ride on a horse with-
out a saddle and with his face to the tail, to be pilloried,


branded, whipped, fined five thousand pounds, and im-
prisoned in Newgate for life ; the Lords outvying the Com-
mons in ferocity to show that, though they had been
crossing the House of Commons on a question of privi-
lege, they were not behind it in protestant zeal. In this
case the Commons, not being a court of justice, were
guilty, besides their atrocious cruelty, of usurpation as
flagrant as any with which they charged the king. A
deplorable impulse was given to persecuting legislation,
and Sir John Eliot, a most liberal and noble-minded
man, did not hesitate to suggest that the fleets should be
fitted out with the fines of recusants. Once more we
see how Bacon might object to transferring governmeilt
from the crown to the House of Commons, whose des-
potism would have been uncontrolled.

Volunteers streamed from Britain to the field of relig-
ious war in Germany, where they found things scarcely
corresponding to their imagination ; Lutherans, now grown
conservative, at variance with Calvinists, in whom still
1618 burned the fire of iconoclastic zeal ; and protestant leaders
*^' like Mansfeld, with their undisciplined and marauding
hosts, behaving more like bandits than crusaders ; while
the Emperor and the Catholic League, of which Maximilian
of Bavaria was the political head, had the advantage of
representing order and national unity as well as that of
more regular armies, and of the generalship of Tilly. The
old puritan Archbishop Abbot, thoroughly sharing the
protestant enthusiasm of the hour, urged on his king to
the holy war in which the whore was to be made deso-
late, as had been foretold in the Revelation. For a con-
tinental war James had no inclination. As little had he
the means. The Commons were ready to pass flaming


resolutions devoting their lives and fortunes to the cause ;
they were ready to shout and to throw up their hats, but
they were not ready to support tlie king with the sums
necessary for great armaments, or even to give him a free
hand. Of foreign affairs they could know little, nor was
their sense of responsibility on a par with their zeal.
What he could do in the way of diplomacy he did. But
his diplomacy, feeble at best, was perplexed and weakened
by his conflicting ties with protestantism on one side and
catholic Spain on the other ; and the result was a web of
inconsistency, vacillation, and futility, the threads of which
it is a barren task for our great historian to unwind.
The king and the Commons were all the time at cross pur-
poses. What the king wanted was simply to recover the
Palatinate for his son-in-law, which he was willing to do
with Spanish aid ; what the Commons wanted was a pro-
testant, patriotic, and plundering war with Spain. They
little calculated the cost, or they expected the capture of
Spanish galleons to defray it. The arrogance, vanity,
and insane schemes of Buckingham, the all-powerful
favourite, worse confounded the confusion.

For a moment the great European cause produced har-
mony between the king and the Commons. But the in-
trigue which the king was still carrying on with Spain,
and the project of a Spanish marriage for his son which
he still cherished, becoming known, soon brought on a
renewal of the discord, and in the sequel a violent con-
flict. The laxity in the enforcement of the penal laws
against catholics, which was the necessary consequence
of the flirtation with Spain, excited the suspicions, and
called forth the fierce remonstrance of the Commons. 1621
On this occasion the House heard the voice of its destined


leader, and the destined chief of the revohition. John
Pym rose to justify the penal laws against the catholics as
directed, not against their religion, but against the prac-
tices to which their religion bound them, and as intended
not to punish them for believing, but to disable them from
doing that which they believed they ought to do.
1621 The Commons protested against the Spanish policy and
the Spanish marriage. The king bade them not med-
dle with affairs of state. They asserted their right to be
heard. In the wrangle the momentous question as to
their tenure of their liberties and privileges, which had
been raised early in the reign, was renewed. The king
asserted that their liberties and privileges were the gifts
of his ancestors and himself; the Commons that they
were their birthright. At a late meeting held by can-
dle-light on a December afternoon to forestall an im-
pending adjournment, the Commons passed a resolution
which ranks among the great muniments of freedom ;
— '' That the liberties, franchises, privileges, and jurisdic-
tions of parliament are the ancient and undoubted birth-
right and inheritance of the subjects of England ; and that
the arduous and urgent affairs concerning the king, state,
and defence of the realm and of the church of England,
and the making and maintaining of laws, and redress of
grievances, which daily happen within this realm, are
proper subjects and matter of counsel and debate in
parliament ; and that in the handling and proceeding
of those businesses every member hath, and of right ought
to have, freedom of speech, to propound, treat, reason,
and bring to conclusion the same." A second clause
asserts for the Commons the right to perfect freedom
of speech. When parliament had been adjourned, James


sent for the journals of the House and tore out the 1621
impious page with his own hand.

In the course of the conflict twelve members of the
Commons went as a deputation to the king at Newmarket.
*' Bring stools," said James, "for the ambassadors." He
showed his insight; for the House which the deputation
represented was making itself a sovereign power.

The varied drama of the reign closed with a farcical
escapade. The negotiation for the marriage of prince
Charles with the Spanish princess hanging fire, the prince
took it into his head himself to set off for Madrid with
Buckingham incognito^ and woo the Infanta in person. 1623
To the old king, who gave his consent to the advent-
ure in an agony of fear, his son and Steenie, as he called
Buckingham, seemed worthy to be heroes of a new
romance. Such an expedition had in fact more of
romance in it then than it would have now, because, in
those days, princes who got the person of a rival into
their hands were inclined to keep the prize. In a comical
scene at Madrid the Spanish Court displayed its prepos-
terous etiquette and its cunning, Buckingham his inso-
lence, and Charles the moral feebleness which was to be
his ruin. Buckingham filled the Spaniard with horror
by sitting in presence of the prince in his dressing gown
without his breeches, turning his back on royalty, and
staring at the sacred Infanta, Charles and his father
were near being betrayed into promises of illegal con-
cessions to Catholicism in England, which would have
degraded and imperilled the throne. Thanks partly to
Buckingham's unmannerly pride the negotiation came to
nothing, and to the great joy of protestant England
Charles returned without his Spanish bride. Then en- 1623

VOL. 1 — 30


1624 sued rupture and war with Spain. Middlesex, the lord
treasurer, still clung to the Spanish connection, which
Buckingham, in his fit of passionate resentment, was
flinging off. To punish him, and at the same time
divert public anger from himself, Buckingham instigated

1624 the Commons to impeach him for corruption, a crime of
which the treasurer seems in fact to have been moder-
ately guilty. The shrewd old king warned Buckingham

Online LibraryGoldwin SmithThe United kingdom; a political history → online text (page 33 of 84)