Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

seem surprising, that a youthful prince, of the ardent disposition which Henry is described as having possessed, should have been struck with the charms of so fascinating a woman as Lady Essex. At all events, there seems reason to believe, whatever were the grounds of it, that a great enmity subsisted between Somerset and the prince, who is even reported to have struck the favourite on the back with his racket, or to have been restrained with difficulty from so doing: * Wilson mentions another anecdote, which, if it can be relied upon, and it bears every appearance of truth, shows how far this mutual animosity had proceeded. “'Some that knew the bickerings between the prince and the viscount,+ muttered out dark sentences, that durst not look into the light; especially Sir James Elphington, who (observing the prince one day to be discontented with the viscount) offered to ķill him: but the prince reproved him with a gallant spirit, saying, If there were cause, he would do it himself:”That insults and jealousies like these should have wrought so far upon Somerset's mind, as to make him resolve to destroy the author of them, is by no means impossible.

We now arrive at the period of the prince's illness and death, of which his physician, Sir Theodore Mayerne, has left a detailed account in his Collection of Cases, and of which many minute particulars are given by the author of the Aulicus Co

From the latter work, it appears, that Henry was taken ill in the autumn of 1612, and that on the 10th of October he was compelled to keep his chamber; and we may here remark, that it appears that one of the symptoms of his case was the same as in Sir Thomas Overbury's. Having recovered from this first attack, he removed to London, and thought himself sufficiently well to attend his future brother-in-law, the Palsgrave, and to amuse himself in playing at tennis. On the 25th, however, he was again seized," and fell into sudden sickness, faintings, and after that a shaking, with great heat and head-ache, that left him not whilst he had life.” His complaint, from this time, seems to have made a regular progress. The celebrated Dr. Butler, of Cambridge, and other physicians,

the court. Birch, likewise, discountenances the idea of such an attachment.

Osborn's James, sec. 38.
+ Somerset was at that time Viscount Rochester.
I Wilson in Kennet, ii. 690.
§ Aul. Coq. Sec. Hist. of James I. ii. 243.

|| See the evidence of Payton on Somerset's trial, ii. Cobbett's State Trials, 978.

Aul. Coq. ut supra. VOL. VII. PART 1.

D

were called in, but in vain; for on the 6th of November the prince expired.

The chief arguments employed by those who maintain Somerset's guilt in this transaction, are to be gathered from the proceedings connected with the trials of Sir Thomas Overbury's murderers. From them it clearly appears, that the Favourite was strongly suspected of having been privy to the prince's death, and that such a supposition was not merely the result of idle rumour is most unquestionable. In a paper drawn up by Bacon, then attorney-general, and entitled, Questions of Convenience, whereupon his Majesty may confer with some of his Council, and which was submitted to the king, we have the following distinct reference to the charge: “Whether if Somerset confess at any time before his trial, his majesty shall stay trial in respect of farther examination, respecting matter of treason, as the death of the late prince, the conveying into Spain of the now prince, or the like?”* And, again, in another paper, drawn up by the same hand, and containing, Heads of the Charge against Robert Earl of Somerset, we find the following singular passages: “I shall also give in evidence, in this place, the slight account of that letter, which was brought to Somerset by Ashton, being found in the fields soon after the late prince's death, and was directed to Antwerp, containing these words,

that the first branch was cut from the tree, and that he should ere long send happier and joyfuller news ;' which is a matter that I would not use, but that my Lord Coke, who hath filled this part with many frivolous things, would think all lost, except he hear somewhat of this kind. But this is to come to the leavings of a business. [Marginal note of the king. This evidence cannot be given in without making me his accuser, and that upon a very slight ground. As for all the subsequent evidences, they are all so little evident, as una litera may serve them all.] And for the rest of that kind, as to speak of that particular, that Mrs. Turner did, at Whitehall, show to Franklin the man who, as she said, had poisoned the prince, which, he says, was a physician with a red beard. [Marginal note. Nothing to Somerset, and declared by Franklin after condemnation.”]+

The conduct of the chief-justice, Sir Edward Coke, is here pointedly alluded to by Bacon, and indeed it is from his language and deportment, during the whole of the proceedings against Overbury's murderers, that the strongest arguments of Somerset's criminality in the prince's death are to be drawn.

6

[ocr errors]

ii. St. Tr. 962.

+ ïi. St. Tr. 964. Mrs. Turner and Franklin were two of the agents employed in the poisoning of Overbury.

It must be remembered, that Coke was the person to whom the examination of the prisoners was originally intrusted ; and that he investigated the dark affair of Overbury's murder, with such laborious zeal and diligence, as even to elicit a compliment from the lips of his inveterate rival, Sir Francis Bacon.* Conjointly with the other lords, who, at his request, were associated with him, he took nearly three hundred examinations; and we may therefore conclude, that he had acquired the most minute and thorough knowledge of every matter connected with these infamous transactions. In addition to the direct testimony of Bacon which we have just adduced, that Coke was desirous of bringing forward on these trials the question of Prince Henry's death, we find, that on the arraignment of Sir Thomas Monson, who was accused of being concerned as an accessary in Overbury's murder, the chief justice alluded in direct terms to the prince's fate. Upon this occasion, he made use of the following remarkable expressions : “ For other things, I dare not discover secrets ; but though there was no house searched, yet there were such letters produced, as make our deliverance as great as any that happened to the Children of Israel.”+

The following is our author's relation of this affair. I

“ It is verily believed, when the king made those terrible imprecations on himself, and deprecations on the judges, it was intended the law should run in its proper channel, but was stopt and put out of its course by the folly of that great clerk, Sir Edward Coke, though no wise man, who, in a vain glorious speech, to show his vigilancy, enters into a rapture as he sate upon the bench, saying, 'God knows what became of that sweet babe, Prince Henry, and I know somewhat'; and surely in searching the cabinets he lighted upon some papers, that spake plain in that which was ever whispered, which had he gone on in a gentle way would have fallen in of themselves not to have been prevented; but this folly of his tongue stopt the breath of that discovery of that so foul a murder, which, I fear, cries still for vengeance."

Wilson, likewise, gives a similar account of this affair,

the Lord Chief Justice of England, whose name thus occurring, I cannot pass by, and yet I cannot stoop to flatter. But this I will say of him, and I would say as much to ages, if I should write a story, that never man's person and his place were better met in a business than my Lord Coke and my Lord Chief Justice, in the cause of Overbury.-ii. St. Tr. 1027.

ii. St. Tr. 949. In all probability, the letters here adverted to are those mentioned by Bacon in his Heads of the Charges.

1 Weldon, p. 115.

Wilson in Kennet, ii. 702.

and blames the chief justice for his want of management; but as the circumstances of the case by which Coke must have been guided are involved in so much obscurity, we may fairly doubt the justice of such censure. It seems certain, however, that a reference was made to the prince's death, and it is equally certain, that the trial of Monson was not suffered to be proceeded in. The inference is, that the proceedings were stayed to prevent any disclosure upon the subject. Contemporary writers attribute the subsequent disgrace of Sir Edward Coke to this affair. It is quite impossible even to conjecture what was the evidence which the chief justice had obtained on this mysterious matter; that he possessed some, and that too of an important nature, cannot be doubted. If Somerset was innocent, what possible objection would there be to substantiating that innocence by a complete investigation of this evidence ?

The correspondence between the king, Villiers, and Bacon, is highly valuable, as showing the existence of certain secrets, which it would have been dangerous or inexpedient to have disclosed on these trials.* These letters in substance prove, for we cannot afford a more detailed account of them, that the trial of Somerset was deferred, in order to give the attorneygeneral time to prepare all the proceedings according to the king's wishes, and to induce Somerset to submit quietly to his fate, under a promise of having his life spared; and that the king was exceedingly anxious that the prisoner should not be provoked to make any disclosures on the trial. In one of these letters, we meet with the following curious passage, from which it should appear, that Somerset was examined upon his trial, touching the prince's death: “We made this further observation, that when we asked him some question that did touch the prince, or some foreign practice, which we did very sparingly, at this time, yet he grew a little stirred, but in the question of the empoisonment (of Overbury) very cold and modest.”

Such are the facts insisted upon by those who attribute the prince's death to poison, as affording strong presumptive evidence that Somerset was implicated in so atrocious a proceeding. Almost all the contemporary writers, and many others, have inclined to that opinion. We have seen how decidedly Weldon expresses himself. Osborn hints the same thing, and alleges the authority of Sir Walter Raleigh.t Wilson merely

[ocr errors]

These letters are, 1. To the king, Bacon's Works, v. 387. 2. To the king, p. 395. 3. To Sir George Villiers, p. 398. 4. To Sir George Villiers, p. 400. 5. To the king, p. 402.

+ Osborn's James, sec. 38.

repeats the common rumours of the times.* Naunton, who was afterwards secretary of state, in a letter to Sir Ralph Winwood, then ambassador to the states-general, says, “ Touching our palladium which we have lost, I hold it neither fit to write what I conceive, and less fit to be written to your lordship.”+ Amongst later writers, Welwood, who was himself a physician, gives some countenance to the notion; and Bishop Burnet tells us, that he was assured by Colonel Titus that he had heard Charles I. declare, that the prince, his brother, was poisoned by Viscount Rochester, afterwards Earl of Somerset. As far as such hearsay evidence and matter of opinion are entitled to weight, these testimonies must certainly be considered of importance.

But it is now time for us to examine the arguments on the other side, which, if they be not equally numerous, are perhaps more conclusive. It has been frequently remarked, that in former times a prince, who was generally beloved, seldom died without some suspicion of foul play attaching. The credulity of the public seizes with avidity upon any fact, however inconsistent or ridiculous, which may gratify the malice of the discontented, or divert the regret of those whose fortunes depended on the individual supposed to have been prematurely cut off. Numerous instances of the truth of this observation might be cited; but it is sufficient to mention the fate of James himself, whose death was causelessly imputed to Buckingham, as that of his son had been to his former favourite. The dark inuendoes and blind conjectures therefore of Osborn, and the other rumour-venders of the day, are entitled to little or no weight, an observation which may be also applied to the authority of Burnet, whose credulity in the story of the warming-pan is so well known. Nor can any sounder arguments be built upon the conduct of the king and the attorney-general, during the trials of Overbury's murderers. If the king's eagerness to keep back the evidence proves any thing with regard to this matter, it proves a connivance in him, a proposition, which none who are acquainted with his character will be found to maintain. His discouraging the attempt to bring forwards on the trial of Somerset any evidence tending to implicate him in this crime, must have proceeded from a conviction that the rumour of that nobleman's guilt was unfounded, and that it was perfectly nugatory, therefore, to examine into it.

Moreover, James's great desire to confine the evidence against Somerset

Wilson in Kennet, ii. 690.
+ Winwood's Memoirs, ii. 410.

Burnet's own Times, i. ii.

« FöregåendeFortsätt »