Изображения страниц

Trial of the Earl of Somerset.


peremptory order, if that Somerset did any way fly out on the King, they should instantly hoodwink him with that cloak, take him violently from the bar, and carry him away; for which he would secure them from any danger, and they should not want also a bountiful reward. But the Earle, finding himselfe overreached, recollected a better temper, and went on calmly in his tryall, where he held the company until seven at night. But who had seen the King's restlesse motion all that day, sending to every boat he saw landing at the bridge, cursing all that came without tidings, would have easily judged all was not right, and there had been some grounds for his feares of Somerset's boldnesse; but at last one bringing him word he was condemned, and the passages, all was quiet. This is the very relation from Moore's owne mouth, and this he told verbatim, in Wanstead Parke, to two gentlemen (of which the author was one), who were both left by him to their own freedome, without engaging them, even in those times of high distemperatures, unto a faithful secresie in concealing it; yet, though he failed in his wisdome, they failed not in that worth inherent in every noble spirit, never speaking of it till after the King's death.'

At ten o'clock on the morning of the 25th of May, the trial of the Earl of Somerset began. The ceremonial was the same as on the previous day, except that the axe was carried before him.* The Earl appeared in the cloak and George and other insignia of the order of the Garter. His dress was of plain black satin, laid (or trimmed) with two satin laces. His yellow hair was curled, his beard long, his face pale, his eyes sunk in his head. His manner was modest, but firm. The indictment having been read, Somerset pleaded not guilty,' and the trial went on.

The Lord High Steward addressed the prisoner, saying he might speak boldly, and urging him to confess the truth, lest his wilfulness should cause the gates of mercy to be shut upon him.

The Attorney-General delivered a long and very elaborate speech, divided and subdivided into many heads, and then parts of the examinations of the different witnesses were read in court. Although we have not space to enter into the evidence, still a few remarks with regard to it will be necessary. On comparing the version of this trial, as published in the State Trials, with the manuscript copy in the writing of Sir Ralph Wynwood, preserved in the British Museum, and also with the documents discovered by Mr. Amos in the State Paper Office, many dis crepancies will be observed; many omissions, some interpolations, and many garbled statements will be perceived. Those circumstances which would tell in favour of the prisoner are stu

* When a peer was tried for felony, the axe was carried before him; when he was convicted, the edge was turned towards him.

diously kept out of sight, while every endeavour is made to procure the conviction of the accused. It may be confidently stated, that no prisoner would now be convicted on the evidence adduced on the trial of Somerset.

Somerset's bearing was manly and collected; eye-witnesses speak of his constancy and undaunted carriage all the time of his arraignment. At five o'clock he began his defence. He expressed his confidence in his own cause, which he was come there to defend. He acknowledged that he had consented to the imprisonment of Overbury, but denied being accessory to the murder. 'Let not you, then,' he said, 'my noble Peers, ' rely upon the memorative relation of such a villain as Franklin; 'neither think it a hard request when I humbly desire you to 'weigh my protestations, my oath upon my honour and con'science, against the lewd information of so bad a miscreant.'

With regard to the pardon he had obtained from the King, and in which the word murder was inserted, he explained that this word was included in the general words added by the lawyers, and that he had nothing to do with its insertion.

Towards evening the effect of the scene was heightened by the introduction of a number of lighted torches, rendered necessary by the declining light. The torches, added to the crowd assembled in the Hall and the warmth of the weather, rendered the heat almost unbearable. Many persons left in consequence, or were carried out fainting. Having concluded his defence, the prisoner, after recommending his case to their Lordships, was withdrawn while the Lords conversed together. On returning to their seats, their names were severally called by the Sergeant-Crier. Then the Lord High Steward, addressing each of the Lords by name, asked him whether Robert Earl of Somerset was guilty as accessory before the fact of the murder of Overbury, for which he had been arraigned, or not guilty. One and all replied guilty. The verdict might have been anticipated, for most of the nobles summoned belonged to the faction that would rise by the fall of Somerset. The prisoner was then brought up for judgment, and sentence of death was passed upon him. The edge of the axe was turned towards him. The Lord High Steward then broke his staff; the Court dissolved; and the prisoner was led back to the Tower. Thus ended the great oyer of poisoning.

One incident of the trial we must not neglect to mention. The Earl of Essex, who, although present at the trial of the Countess, had kept himself out of sight, had, during the Earl's trial, placed himself in full view of his rival.

• Amos, 357.

The Earl and Countess Pardoned.


Shortly after his trial, Somerset wrote to the King a long and obscure letter, part of which probably related to the discovery of the secret between the King and himself. I will say no further,' he writes, neither in that which your Majesty doubted my fitness to 'fall into, for my cause nor my confidence is in that distress, as for 'to use that mean of intercession, or anything besides; but to remember your Majesty that I am the workmanship of your hands, and bear your stamp deeply imprinted in all the characters of favour; that I was the first plant engrafted by your Majesty's hand in this place, therefore not to be unrooted by the same hand, lest it should taint all the same kind with the 'touch of that fatalness.'


Although sentence of death had been recorded against both the Earl and Countess, no steps were taken to carry it into execution. They still remained in the Tower. Within two months after the trial the liberty of the Tower was granted to the Earl, and he was seen to walk about with the Garter and George about his neck. Nor was this all the indulgence he received from the King. His habiliments or arms as a Knight of the Garter were suffered to remain at Windsor, although, as was customary on the admission of new knights, they were moved higher, in this case, to make room for those of Sir George Villiers, the Earl of Rutland, and Lord Lisle. Mr. Chamberlain, writing to Sir Dudley Carleton, says :-'It is much spoken of 'how foreign princes of that order (to let our own pass) can digest to be coupled in society with a man lawfully and publicly convicted of so foul a fact; or how a man civilly dead and corrupt in blood, and so no gentleman, should continue a Knight of the Garter; but this age affords things as strange and incompatible.'


[ocr errors]

The Countess's pardon had already received the royal signature and seal, but her release did not follow immediately.

The people were by no means satisfied with the lenity and indulgence shown to the Earl and Countess. They recollected and acknowledged the truth of what Weston had said, namely, that a net had been made to catch the little fishes, while the great ones were suffered to break through. The four persons who had been executed for the murder of Overbury were considered in the light of scapegoats, who bore the sins and blood-guiltiness of the King's favourites. The people were indignant that the great criminals should be suffered to escape punishment, while others should be hung for the sins they had or had not committed. The discontent was general, and the popular feeling was publicly displayed upon the occasion of the Queen's visit to Town, in company with the Countess of Derby, Lady Ruthen,

and Lord Carew. A report was spread that the Countess of Somerset and her mother were in the coach; the people vented their displeasure by hooting and hissing; the crowd continually increased, assailing the party with railings and revilings, and abusing the footmen. In vain did the Countess of Derby make herself known to the people and address them; they would not be convinced, but followed the carriage, to the great terror of the ladies, until it entered Whitehall. Lord Carew would have alighted to convince the people of their mistake, but was not permitted by the Queen, lest he should not be able to join them again.

After an imprisonment in the Tower of five years, the Earl and Countess had permission to retire to the country, but their liberty was circumscribed to the space of three miles around their residence.

In the year 1624, four months before the death of the King, James, forgetting, or at all events disregarding the curse he had denounced upon those who should spare any who were concerned in the murder of Overbury, granted to the Earl and Countess of Somerset a free pardon, and settled upon the Earl 4000l. a year in land.

But freedom did not bring happiness to Somerset and his Countess; hatred succeeded to love; bitter quarrels disturbed their lives, and peace and quiet were only attained by the cessation of all intercourse. The Earl and Countess lived several years in the same house without communicating with each other. The Countess died, after long and severe suffering from a cancer, in 1632.

In the later years of his life, when wearied with the insolence of Villiers (then Duke of Buckingham), from which he had not energy to emancipate himself, King James, feeling the return of his old affection for Somerset, or perhaps attracted towards him by the secret which they shared in common, entered again into confidential correspondence with his disgraced favourite. He even consulted Somerset on matters relating to his rival, Buckingham. Some years ago the fair copy, by a secretary, of a letter written by Somerset, in answer to some communication from the King, was found in a small box containing family papers at Nesbit Hall, the ancient seat of the Carr family. The part of this letter quoted by Mr. Amos proves the confidential intercourse which existed between the Sovereign and the writer.

Nor was this their only communication. Bishop Burnet mentions a private interview between James and Somerset in the

• Page 480.

[blocks in formation]

gardens at Theobald's by night. The Earl spoke of the meeting to a friend, who related it to the historian.


'The King,' says Burnet, embraced him tenderly and with many tears; the Earl of Somerset believed the secret was not well kept, for soon after the King was taken ill with some fits of ague, and died of it. My father (says Burnet) was then in London, and did very much suspect ill practice in the matter; but perhaps Dr. Craig, my mother's uncle, who was one of the Queen's physicians, possessed him with these apprehensions, for he was disgraced for saying he believed the King was poisoned. It is certain no King could die less lamented or less esteemed than he was.'*

Somerset died in obscurity in 1645, a despised and disappointed man. The only child of the Earl and Countess, who was named Anne after the Queen, was married to the Duke of Bedford, and was the mother of Lord William Russell.

Thus have we brought to a close the narrative of this mysterious crime, availing ourselves of the light shed upon the story by the recent discoveries in the State Paper Office. But, notwithstanding these discoveries, the plot remains shrouded in a double veil of mystery and darkness, which it seems almost in vain to endeavour to penetrate. Foremost among the historic doubts' which throng the subject, two questions, however, seem to stand forth-Who murdered Overbury? and why was he murdered?

We think there is strong reason to believe that the parties executed for the murder-namely, Helwysse, Weston, Franklin, and Mrs. Turner-how guilty soever in intention-and of their evil intentions there can be little doubt-did not really effect it. We entertain no doubt that the wicked Countess had plotted the prisoner's death; but consider that plot failed,-probably through the intervention of Helwysse. Of this intervention she was unaware, and therefore believed herself guilty of the fact, as she certainly was in design. Hence her confession.

Taking this view of the Countess's guilt, we of course believe that Somerset was innocent. It was the opinion of his contemporaries that he was accessory to the imprisonment, but that he was innocent of the murder; that he fell, as he himself expresses it, rather from want of well defending than by force of proofs.' In this opinion we entirely concur.

Now it appears from the documents published by Mr. Amos, that the immediate cause of Overbury's death was the medicament administered by the boy Reeve, under the direction of Paul de Lobell, the apothecary of Sir Theodore de Mayerne, the King's

* Burnet's History of his Own Times, p. 29.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »