Henry Martyn Dexter.

The England and Holland of the Pilgrims online

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sent to the Low Countries to report on the prospect of a perma-
nent peace between Spain and Holland, and on Aug. 2, 1577,
he was appointed resident English agent at Antwerp. He made
himself most acceptable to the States of Holland, and, on their
appeal for a loan he engaged to obtain it ; and in May, 1579,
he seems to have secured them .£50,000. At about that time he
received the reversion of the place of Clerk of the Treasury and
Warrants and Ciistos Brevium of the King's Bench, from
which he gained no benefit, however, until the next reign.^

Early in 1583, when it was learned that La Motte Fenelon,
a French envoy, was on his way to Scotland to arrange an alli-
ance between James and the French, Davison was sent to Edin-
burgh with Robert Bowes to counteract the scheme. Apparent
success attended this embassy, and Davison went back to Lon-
don in May. But the circumstances which promoted the rising

* Two facts sucrgest his humble origin : 1. that, in his later years becoming: an
expert genealogist, he seems to have written no g-enealog'y of his own family ; 2.
that he received a grant of arms, which implies that he inherited none.

^ Memoirs of Sir Jas. Melvill, ol4.

' July 25, 1007. Ilarl. Ms. 830: 115.


of the Eai'l of Gowrie and the evidently growing strengih of
the French interest in Scotland led to Davison's recall. He
was there in May and June, 1584, and in September he returned
to London.

We now have reached the first probable date for the begin-
ning of acquaintance between him and young Brewster. If
Brewster had remained at Peterhouse for three years, he would
have gone home to Scrooby in July, 1-583, so that probably he
would have been at the manor-house when Davison might have
paused there on one of his journeys. Brewster, then some seven-
teen or eighteen years old, must have been an attractive young
man. So that we have but to suppose the envoy to have rested
for a night at Scrooby, and it is easy to see that the two might
have been drawn together in the most natural way. And, had
Davison just then been in want of such a helper as Brewster
seemed likely to become, and had the young man and his
parents felt the not uncommon desire that he might obtain some
post of honorable service under the government, it may have
seemed wise for hini to abandon the remainder of his university
career and go up to the Court in the employ of so true a patriot,
so sagacious a statesman and so religious a man as Davison was
undei'stood to be.

Of course, other ways of entrance upon the life which followed
are within conjecture. His tutor at Cambridge may have moved
in the matter. The Archbishop of York, whom his father was
serving and whose occasional visits to Scrooby must have made
him acquainted mth the youth, may have suggested his advance-
ment. But, in the lack of positive knowledge, and even of sug-
gestion, the foregoing h}"[:)othesis seems possible and natural,
and therefore reasonable. At all events, the autumn of 1583
and the following winter seem to have seen Brewster in London
as a member of Davison's household.

But m what precise capacity ? As to this some writers seem
to have been misled.^ It cannot be assumed fairly that a young

^ Jeremy Belknap, who wrote KK) years ago (Amer. Biog. ii : 2."3), represents
Brewster as receiving' the gold chain. Steele uniformly regards him as holding
" oiBce," and as in a place of "high trust," apparently as a sort of deputy
under Davison (51-99). Hon. W. T. Davis said in the Boston Advertiser, Dec. 1^9,
1SS5 : " The fact is that William Brewster was srcrotarv of William Davison, who


man who still lacked three or four years of his majority, v/ithout
full education, and whose social position could not make special
claim for pi;blic advancement, would have been appointed deputy
clerk of the Pi'ivy Council or assistant Secretary of State. Brad-
ford, still our sole informant, says : ^ —

He went to y^ Courte, and served that religious and godly gentleman,
MT Davison, diverce years, when he was Secretary of State ; who found
him so discreete and faitlifull as he trusted liim above all other that
were aboute him, and only imployed him [employed him only] in all
matters of greatest trust and secrecie. He esteemed him ratlier as a
Sonne then a servante, and for his wisdom & godlines (in private) he
would converse with him more like a frelnd & familier then a maister.
He attended his m^ when he was sent in ambassage by the Queene into
y* Low-Countries, in y'^ Earle of Leicesters time, as for other waighty
affaires of state, so to receive possession of the cautionaiy townes, and in
token & signe thevof the keyes of Flushing being delivered to liim
[Davison] in her ma^'.^ name, he [Davison] kepte them some time, and
comitted them to his servante [Brewster], who kept them under his
pilow, on which heslepte y'' first night. And, at his [Davison's] returne,
y* States honoured him [Davison] with a goulde chaine, and his [Brew-
ster's] maister coiilitted it to him [Brewster], and comanded him to
wear it when they arrived in England, as they ridd thorrow the country^
till they came to y* Courte. He [Brewster] afterwards remained with
him [Davison] till his trouljles, that he was put from his place aboute
y' death of y'' Queene of Scots ; and some good time after, doeing him
manie faitlifull offices of servise in y° time of his troubles.

Now we have to add to the antecedent probabilities, which
have been explained, these facts just detailed : 1. Brewster
" served " Da\dson ; 2. Davison liked him so much that he
treated him more like a son than a servant ; 3. Davison's most
familiar converse with him was " in private," as if their relative
positions made open social faniiliarities hardly natural or wise ;
4. Da\'ison is called Brewster's " maister '* three times, and Brew-
ster twice is called Davison's " servante," besides being credited
with " manie faithf ull offices of serAnse " (to Davison) in the time
of his troubles, that is, when he was a prisoner in the Tower or
in disgrace in his London home and needed from Brewster little

■was a secretary of state under Queen Elizabeth, and not his servant in any sense
of the word as used to-day."
» Hist. 409.


diplomatic or secretarial aid ; 5. Davison committed the keys of
Flushing and the gold chain to Brewster for safe keeping, as he
would to a confidential servant. And we may not forget that,
more than a year and a half after their connection had been
severed and Brewster had gone back to Scrooby, Davison spoke
of himself as ha^'ing been Brewster's " master." ^ All this
accords best ^\^th the conclusion that Brewster became Davi-
son's confidential personal attendant, something more than a
valet and something different from a private secretary, holding
thus a position of constantly gi-owing value and responsibility,
one neither menial nor in any sense diplomatic, yet usefid and,
in its measure, honorable.

Young men then did not get on very fast. Three or four years
earlier, on Dec. 29, 1580, Sir Henry Killigrew wrote to Davi-
son : —

Thanks for your friendly mention of my nephew. Pray use him in
all things as a common servant ; ^ he should be kept with a hard hand.

"When it is remembered that by " my nephew," evidently desig-
nating some one then abroad with Davison as an attendant,
Sir Henry might have referred to Anthony or Francis Bacon, or
to Thomas or Robert Cecil, afterwards Earls of Salisbury and
Exeter, it is apparent that even young men of noble blood had
little chance of entering the Ship of State through the cabin
window. But, in whatever capacity Brewster served Davison, he
certainly won entire confidence and rendered himself of great

The autunm of 1583 best fits all the probabilities as the date
of the beginning of this service. In that case Brewster doubt-
less accompanied Davison back to Scotland soon after, in conse-
quence of the confusion caused by the rising of the Earl of Gowrie
in Queen jNIary's belialf and the gi-owing strength of the French
party. Da\ason's passports for return were signed in May,
1584,3 \yyy^ \^Q [JQgg jiQ^ appear to have reached London until Sep-
tember. He seems to have served a short time then as clerk of

» S. P. Dom. Eliz. ccxxxiii : 4S.

' S. P. Dom. Eliz. Add. 2(>. Killip^rew's use of the term " servant" implies that
it did not necessarily mean a menial. So does Davison's use of it iu reference to
Geo. Cranmer. See p. 29S, n. 2.

3 Ilarl. Ms. 291.


tlie Privy Council.^ But late in November or early in December
he was sent abroad once more.^

Philip II., of Spain, had been striving for years to reduce the
Low Countries to obedience and to suppress Protestantism there.
England coidd not help feeling an interest in the struggle, for
the Pope had declared Elizabeth excommunicated and deposed,
and had absolved her subjects from all allegiance to her. Thus
far nothing but lack of power had prevented the Papists fi-om
overthrowing the government and putting Mary, Queen of
Scots, upon the throne under Phdip's protection. His intention
to send a great fleet to conquer England had been proclaimed
openly, while seminary priests and Jesuits were known to be
plotting perpetually to kill Elizabeth ; and the recent assassina-
tion of William the Silent had emphasized the dangers of the
situation to the English people. Elizabeth was much perplexed.
She distrusted the wisdom of the leading Netherlanders. She
was reluctant to support any people in a conflict with their nom-
inal sovereign, lest she furnish a bad precedent for use at home.
She doubted the safety of sending troops out of the realm when
any day might bring tidings of a formidable approaching inva-
sion. Her frugal mind also shrunk from every extra expendi-
ture. And she especially dreaded the inevitable calling of a
session of Parliament.

But perhaps she could not altogether resist sympathy with the
Dutch in their life or death struggle with Rome. Nor could she
overlook the fact that the success of the rapacious, treach-
erous and inhmnan Philip in the Low Countries would mean
the certainty of the immediate advance upon England of the
strongest power in the world, made stronger by that success.
In a quiet way she already had done a little to aid the Dutch.
She was strategist enough to know that, if war with Spain must
come, it was both easier and safer to defend her own country
in the Netherlands than on English soil after the Netherlands
should have been conquered. Her ministers were essentially of
one mind, although Burghley favored a more cautious policy
than AValsingham.

Late in October, 1584, a serious deliberation took place in

* Strype, Ann. iii, 1 . 420. ' Motley, Un. Xeths. i : 85.


the Privy Council as to " whether her majesty should presently
relieve the States of the Low Countries." An account of it sur-
vives in the handwriting of Burghley.^ The difficulties of such
relief were recognized fully. Yet it was appreciated that the
queen would be obliged to succumb to the power of Spain and
the liberties of England be hopelessly lost if the Provinces
should be left without help at Philip's mercy. Moreover, nego-
tiations had been going on between the Low Countries and
France, as well as England, and there was a possibility of their
being absorbed into the dominions of Henry IIL They pre-
ferred this to conquest by Spain. Elizabeth did not desire it,
yet perhaps she might have assented to it as the lesser of two
evils. All things considered, it was decided that a " wise per-
son " should be despatched to Holland to report whether an
agreement had been made yet with France, and, if so, whether
it included that the king of France declare war against Philip.
Shoidd this be the fact, the envoy was to express her Majesty's
content that the Provinces were to be relieved thus from the
tyranny of Spain. Otherwise he was to assure them that she
would " strain herself as far as, with preservation of her own
estate, she might to succour them at this time."

Pie also was to make minute inquiries as to the condition of
the Low Countries, how much money they could raise and how
large an army and navy they would maintain. If possible,
moreover, he was to arrange that, if Elizabeth went to their as-
sistance, they should offer her the towns of Flushing and Mid-
dleberg and the Brill, " as gages for her expenses." Davison
was selected as the " wise person " to perform this delicate and
difficult work. He surely had superior qualifications. Pie had
served the queen in Plolland five years before. He had a wide
acquaintance with its statesmen, and was a great favorite with
them. Whether he spoke Dutch or not, he spoke French,- which
answered nearly the same purpose.

Early in December he was at The Hague, and there is no

reason to doubt that Brewster attended him. On Dec. 8. he

asked the appointment of a committee of the States-General,

the Dutch parliament, with which he might confer. Negotia-

1 S. P. For. IIoll. and Fland. Oct. 10, 15S4. 2 Leycester Corresp. 59.


tions began. But because of the perpetual and mysterious
reluctances of Elizabeth and of the fact that the Dutch were
just sending an embassy to offer the sovereignty of their Prov-
inces to Henry III., long delays ensued. It was March before a
definite refusal ended the French coquetry, and July before a
dozen cautious Dutchmen, commissioned to make formal offers
to the queen, arrived in London. It was a part of the policy of
the English ministry during this long suspense to seem indiffer-
ent, if not reluctant, towards any alliance, and in April Davison
was ordered home.

The succeeding negotiations also were hindered greatly. The
Netherlanders desired the queen to extend her sovereignty over
HoUand and to take her pay in the possession of the land, but
she preferred coin to command. She woidd have nothing to do
with the sovereignty^ but demanded eventual payment in hard
cash for every shilling to be expended, and, until payment, must
have as solid security a cautionary town in each Province. Day
after day passed while the two parties haggled, and Antwerp,
besieged by the Spaniards, was left to its fate. At last, on Aug.
12, a pro\asional treaty was made and a part of the embassy at
once left for Holland, bearing it home for ratification. Five
days later, Aug. 17, Antwerp fell. The queen at once hurried
Davison back to Holland to complete arrangements so that
all might not be lost. He was to report her extreme regi'et that
Antwerp had surrendered, but that its fall had not altered her
determination. He was to promise 5000 foot soldiers and 1000
horsemen from England, but was to demand that the necessary
garrisons for the cautionary towns be included in this general
contingent. Some " person of quality " should be sent over in
the queen's name to help govern the country, and the important
fortified to\\Tis of Flushing, which guarded the entrance to the
West Schelde and the approaches to Antwerp, and Brill, which
watched the mouth of the Maas and the sea-way to Kotterdam,
were to be garrisoned by her until she should have been reim-

On this last point new complications arose. Incredible al-
though it seems, it was November before the queen reluctantly
consented that the two jrarrisons should be in addition to the


forces before agreed to be sent. Another hitch in the negotia-
tions gave Davison serious trouble. Flushing was the i:>roperty
of Coimt Maurice of Nassau, and he naturally objected to the
proposed arrangement. When this finally was adjusted and the
temporary transfer of Flushing to English occupancy made,
Davison received the keys in the queen's name. According to
Bradfox'd, who of course had the fact from Brewster, Davison
turned them over for safe keeping to Brewster, who the iii-st
night slept with them under his pillow. Then there was a fur-
ther delay in the sending over of the " person of quality " and
of the governors of Flushing and Brill which led to something:
almost approaching anarchy, throwing upon poor Davison a griev-
ous adcUtional load. As no English money had yet been sent,
he coidd keep the troops already there from starving only by
using his own personal credit.^

Sir Philip Sidney was sent over in November to be Governor
of Flushing, and Burghley's eldest son. Sir Thomas Cecil, was
named as Governor of Brill, A small remittance of money and
supplies also was made, but with the strictest orders that the
garrisons were to do garrison work alone, and not until Dec. 9
did the Eai-1 of Leicester sail from Harwich. He was welcomed
at Flushing by Sidney and Count Maurice with a military and
ci\'ic procession, and his striking presence at first disposed the
plain Hollanders to exult over him as a national deliverer.

He soon started on a triumphal progress, presumably with
Davison and Bre\vster in his train, reaching Middleberg on
Christmas Eve, by the New Style — in use in Holland since
Jan. 1, 1583 — where he received an enthusiastic welcome, and
a great banquet. He returned the compliment the next day by a
sumptuous repast. He and his suite, however, soon needed the
benefit of all which they had eaten and drunk, for, sailing on
the day after for Dordrecht, with a fleet of 200 vessels, with fa-
voring conditions a voyage of less than a day, they were so delayed
by a dense and chilly fog that the passage took five days, and
they became so hungry, besides being almost frozen, that some
offered vainly a pound of silver for a pound of bread.- From

1 Cot. Ms. Galha. c. vlii : 217.

2 Letter of Sir' John Conway. S. P. Boll. Dec. 27, 1585.


Dordrecht, however, they had a continuous ovation through
Rotterdam and Delft to The Hague.

It must have seemed a strange sight to Brewster, but Dutch
fancy and ingenuity ran ahnost mad in the effort to do honor
to the queen's envoy. Cannon thundered, bells rang, tar-barrels
burned and Latin orations were delivered. Whales and other
marine monsters were represented as horses for the champions in
a tilt. There were dramatic portraj'als of siege, famine and pesti-
lence. Seven beautifvd maidens personified the United States
of Holland, offering golden keys, and seven others impersonated
the Sciences, presenting garlands. Even a barber adorned his
shop with seven score of copper basins, with a wax-light in each
and a rose and a posy for the queen ; and, among other mani-
festations as accej)table then as they seem extraordinary now,
several Apostles stood on the bank while the Saviour was repre-
sented as walking on the water and ordering his disciples to
cast their nets, the fish taken being presented to his Excellency !
Leicester Avi'ote home to AValsingham : ^ —

Never was ther people I think in that joUyty that these be. I
could be content to loose a Ij'mme that hir majesty dyd se these con-
treys and towens as I have ; she wold than think a hole subsedye
well spent, but only to have the good assurance and commandment
of a few of these townes. . . . And yf her majesty had not taken
them at this nede, but forsaken them, she had lost them for ever
and ever, and now hath she them, yf she wyll kepe them, as the citty-
sens of London, in all love and affection.

These preliminaries concluded, however, the Dutch statesmen
proceeded to business. On Jan. 9, 1585-86.^ two of the Com-
missioners waited upon Davison to request a copy of Leicester's
commission. The document was read, and it gave him abso-
lute connuand of all the English forces in the Netherlands, with
authority to summon from England whomsoever he might think
likely to help him. On Jan. 11 the deputies of all the States
waited upon him, Davison and several others of his suite being
present, and offered him the office of absolute governor and

1 Leyc. Cor. .00.

^ Perhaps Mi)tley gives the best consecutive account of these occurrences {Tin-
Neths.i: 40.'l-457).


general of all their forces, together \vith the disposal of their
revenues. Leicester directed Davison to thank tliem warmly in
French, and to add tliat he had no doubt that their action
would lead the queen to increase her assistance. They nii<^ht
put fullest confidence in his intent to help them. He also
asked them to reduce their proposition to ^vriting.

On Jan. 14 Davison received the formal offer, and, Leices-
ter, having gone to Leyden, it was there, apparently through
the agency of Davison as interpreter and intermediary, that, on
Jan. 22, the arrangement was consummated. Leicester was to
be Governor-general of the United Provinces, to have supreme
command by land and sea, and to exercise final authority in
matters civil and political. It is interesting to remember that
Brewster probably accompanied his master and was paying his
first visit to the place which, a few years later, was to be asso-
ciated so intimately with his own life.

Leicester then directed Davison to return to England at once
to explain what had been done. Accordingly. L/ieester having
been inaugurated with splendid ceremonies on Feb. 4, on Feb.
14 Davison, of course accompanied by Brewster, left for Lon-
don. Probably it was on this occasion tliat tlie States-General
manifested their profound respect for the departing envoy bv
the gift of the gold chain.

Unfortunately, just then, when unusual reasons for haste ex-
isted, contrary winds detahied him some live or six days. While
he is delayed let us go back to consider a fact, as yet unmen-
tioned, which was to affect seriously his welcome at the Court ;
and whicii furnishes the only explanation of that otherwise in-
comprehensible dilly-dallying of the queen, who procrastinated
and prevaricated, haggling over every detail, leaving the English
contingent to almost die of hunger, cold and nakedness ; forbid-
ding the few available troops to be sent into action ; appointing
Leicester to command and then prohibiting his exercise of au-
thority ; and whose utmost achievement exhausted itself in per-
petually new endeavors to seem to do something for the
Netherlanders without doing anything.

This missing link is made clear by contemporary correspon-
dence, mainly preserved in the Spanish archives at Simancas.


inaccessible until within the last half-century, and first studied
by Motley. It is the fact that, during this whole period of
alleged anxiety to aid the Dutch against Spain, the Machiavel-
ian queen, unknown to her Privy Council, was engaged in a
secret intrigue witli the Duke of Parma, and with Philip him-
self, for a peace in which the Netherlanders should be sacri-
ficed.^ Hence her strange willingness to delay the blow and to
strike softly. Hence her insistence on the cautionary towns, that
she might turn them over to Philip. And hence her towering
rage when she- discovered tliat Leicester had committed her
openly to a more decided policy than she intended, and — a fact
which he had concealed from Davison — had gone beyond the
letter of his instructions.

Davison's letter to Leicester, written back from London, on
Feb. 17-27, states that he was detained at Brill until Feb. 11—
21, and only anchored at "■ the Recidvers within ^Margate " by ten
or eleven o'clock the next day. Margate is two or three miles
from the north-easternmost projecting point of England south
of the Thames, and the Reculvers is a cliff some eight or nine
miles alongshore from it on the south shore of the estuary of the
Thames. The stiff north-wester which had speeded them across
the German Ocean would have been nearly dead ahead for the re-
mainder of the voyage to London. Davison and Brewster there-
fore probably landed - and took post-horses to Gravesend, at least
forty-three miles. This was on Saturday, and they apparently
arrived about midnight at Gravesend, where they doubtless
took the tilt-boat for London, arriving early Sunday morning.

Bradford says that Davison not only committed his gold chain
to Brewster's care, but commanded him to wear it as they rode
through the country. It must have glistened around Brewster's
neck, therefore, diu-ing that hurried winter afternoon and even-
ing ride, through Recidver and the hamlet of Hoathe, into
Canterbury, and so on, over the clialk hills of Kent, through
Harbledown, with its ancient hospital for lepers, and Boughton,

1 Motley, Un. Neths. i : 4«S-532. Fronde, xii : 38-78.

Online LibraryHenry Martyn DexterThe England and Holland of the Pilgrims → online text (page 29 of 65)