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Great pains were nów taken by his chaplains, to draw from him copious confessions, which was the
abilities; and then he that is faithful, and cannot lie, hath promised to honour them that honour him. He will give you that inward peace of soul, and true joy of heart, which till you have, you shall never rest; and which, when you have, you shall never be shaken, and which you can never attain to, any other way than this I have showed you. I know your Lordship may say to yourself, and object to me, this is but a vapour of melan choly, and the stile of a prisoner, and that I was far enough from it, when I lived in the world as you do now, and may be so again, when my fetters be taken from me.' I answer, 'though your Lordship should think so, yet cannot I distrust the goodness of my God, that his mercy will fail me, or his grace for sake me. I have so deeply engaged myself, that I should be one of the most miserable apostates that ever was: I have so avowed my profession, and called so many from time to time to witness it, and to be watchmen over me, that I should be the hollowest hypocrite that ever was born.' But though I should perish in my own sin, and draw upon myself my own damnation, should not you take hold of the grace and mercy in God which is offered unto you, and make your profit of my fearful and wretched example? I was longer a slave and servant to the world, and the corruptions of it, than you have been, and therefore could hardly be drawn from it. I had many calls, and answered some of them slowly; thinking a soft pace fast enough to come to Christ, and myself forward enough when I saw the end of my journey, though I arrived not at it: and therefore I have been, by God's providence, violently pulled, hauled, and dragged to the marriage-feast, as the world hath seen. It was just with God to afflict me in this world, that he might give me joy in another. I had too much knowledge, when I performed too little obedience, and was therefore to be beaten with double stripes: God grant your Lordship may feel the comfort I now enjoy in my unfeigned conversion, but that you may never feel the torments I have suffered for my too long delaying it. I had none but divines to call upon me, to whom I said, if my ambition could have entered into their narrow hearts, they would not have been so humble; or, if my delights had been tasted by VOL. II.
more easy, as he was a man of sincere piety; and being once persuaded that his project was of a treasonable nature, he conscientiously disclosed all he knew, though it was highly prejudicial to his friends without doing any good to himself: which, indeed, he did not appear either to design, or to desire that it should.
On the nineteenth of February, he and Southampton were brought to their trial before twentyfive peers, who unanimously found them guilty of high-treason. Southampton received his sentence as a man sensible of the crime, of which he had been guilty. Serene and submissive, he entreated the good offices of his brother-nobles in such pathetic terms, that to them most probably he owed his pardon; as he had previously laboured under the Queen's displeasure, in consequence of having married without her consent. Essex, on the contrary,
them, they could not have been so precise: but your Lordship hath one to call upon you, that knows what it is you now enjoy, and what the greatest fruit and end is of all the contentments that this world can afford. Think therefore, dear Earl, that I have stated and buoyed all the ways of pleasure to you, and left them as sea-marks for you to keep the channel of religious virtue: for shut your eyes never so long, they must be open at last; then you must say with me, there is no peace to the wicked. I will make a covenant with my soul, not to suffer my eyes to sleep in the night, nor my thoughts to attend the first business of the day, till I have prayed to my God, that your Lordship may believe and make profit of this plain but faithful admonition: and then I know your country and friends shall be happy in you, and yourself successful in all you take in hand; which shall be an unspeakable comfort to
Your Lordship's cousin and true friend,
whom no worldly cause can divide from you,
haughtily declared, that he was prepared to die;' and, though he would not wish to have it represented to Elizabeth that he despised her clemency, he desired it might be understood, that he should not by any mean concessions condescend to solicit it. "If (said he) "her Majesty had pleased, this body of mine might have done her better service: but I shall be glad, if it may prove serviceable to her any way.”
Shortly after his condemnation, however, relaxing as to the obstinate denial of his guilt, he made an ample confession of the conspiracy to Ashton his chaplain, and was reconciled to Sir Robert Cecil, whom he justly considered as his greatest enemy.
By this disclosure the condemned Earl incurred a blemish upon his character, independently of his public conduct, which turned the tide of his popularity. His confession proved fatal to several, who had not the least apprehension of being thus betrayed by their seducer. Among others Lord Mountjoy, at that time resident in France, was recalled, and committed to the Tower. Nor is it improbable, that the high spirit of Essex suggested to him this method of saving his life, as less degrading than that of soliciting mercy the discovery of the plot he might deem a service, which entitled him to pardon as a matter of right. However this may be, it was
* This statesman possessed the political abilities of his father, without his integrity; so that his talents were sometimes abused to ill purposes, more particularly in the case of the Earl of Essex, whose ruin he occasioned by his intrigues. (See his Life.) He is even charged with having determined that nobleman, by a most unwarrantable step, to quit Ireland with precipitation, by stopping all the ships bound thither, except one, which by his orders circulated a false report of the Queen's death; an event, which he knew would make Essex instantly hurry home.
natural for Elizabeth to feel some reluctance in signing the warrant for the execution of a nobleman, who had been so dear to her; who, notwithstanding all his foibles, had upon various occasions rendered the nation signal service; and who had so lately shone the pride, and the ornament, of the English court. But after vainly waiting a few days, with the hope that he would sue for a pardon, exasperated at his pride she issued the order for his execution; injoining only, in compliance with his wish, that it should be as private as possible. A scaffold was, accordingly, prepared in the inner court of the Tower; and he was beheaded February 25, 1601, only a few aldermen and noblemen attending. His behaviour, in his last moments, was truly penitent. He expressed neither solicitude for life, nor fear of death but in the infliction of his sentence he must have suffered great agony; as the executioner gave him three blows with the axe, before he severed his head from his body.*
Thus in the thirty-fourth year of his age fell the gallant Earl of Essex, whose military glory, zeal for
The dying speech of Mr. Cuffe, his secretary, who was executed for the same offence which brought his master to the block, is worthy of being here inserted:
"I am here adjudged to die for acting an act never plotted, for plotting a plot never acted. Justice will have her course; accusers must be heard; greatness will have the victory; scholars and martialists (though learning and valour should have the preeminence) in England must die like dogs, and be hanged. To mislike this, were but folly; to dispute it, but time lost; to alter it, impossible: but to endure it, is manly; and to scorn it, magnanimity. The Queen is displeased, the lawyers injurious, and death terrible: but I crave pardon of the Queen; forgive the lawyers, and the world; desire to be forgiven; and welcome death."
the true interests of his country, openness of disposition, and other eminent virtues would have rendered him one of the most splendid of characters; had not ambition, self-conceit, and impetuosity of temper, which are but too frequently the companions of early prosperity, triumphed over his reason, his integrity, and his allegiance.
His royal mistress did not long survive this domestic calamity. The ill state of health indeed, into which she soon afterward fell, has by most historians been attributed to a confession made to her, concerning Essex, by the Countess of Nottingham on her death-bed.*
This inconsiderate and presumptuous, but honest and heroic, man was a liberal patron of learning. He erected a monument to Spenser, gave an estate to Bacon, for which he was basely requited, and took into his service Wotton and other men of learning. He was himself, also, an author; and several small tracts written by him have obtained for his name a place in Walpole's Catalogue of Royal and Noble Authors.' He was much courted, likewise, by the poets of his time, and was the subject of numerous sonnets, and popular ballads. "I could produce evidence," says Mr. Warton, "that he scarcely ever went out of England, or even left London, upon the most frivolous enterprise without a pastoral in his praise, or a panegyric in metre, which were sold and sung in the streets."
For the particulars of this interview, see the Life of the Earl of Nottingham, who (it must be remembered) after the fall of Essex, was Elizabeth's principal confidant, and in fact her first minister of state.