Изображения страниц

found guilty by the jury, and Cobham gave his dying testimony against him but the general integrity of his character, and the known enmity of Cecil, are both circumstances in his favour, and were not properly weighed at the time; indeed, the evidence produced on his trial rather tends to discredit the reality of the conspiracy altogether than to incriminate him. To use Raleigh's own words, "it was as unjust a condemnation, without proof and testimony, as ever man had." But the opposition of his enemies, and the king's own dislike to him for proposing new restrictions on the crown, caused him to be detained close prisoner in the Tower, where he wrote his great work, the History of the World.' After fifteen years thus passed in solitary confinement, he received the king's commission to undertake a voyage to the coast of South America, for the purpose of discovering rich mines of silver and gold, which were supposed to exist in Guiana. Having the misfortune to burn one of the Spanish settlements, and being unsuccessful in his discoveries, on his return to England he incurred the royal displeasure, and was executed on his former sentence, to gratify the vengeance of Spain, with which country James desired to be at peace, and was at the moment projecting a matrimonial alliance. To return to our narrative: in the following year (1604) the king's first parliament met, and proposed to grant him an equivalent revenue in exchange for purveyance and the feudal incidents of wardship and livery; but James was displeased at this interference with his prerogative, and finding that the commons were not inclined to vote him a subsidy, he again prorogued the parliament, after they had passed some measures against catholics, which the king took pains to see executed, as they brought money into his exchequer. The puritans and catholics, who had been led to expect from James's fair promises complete toleration for their religions, were disgusted at these measures, and some of the more vehement Jesuits meditated schemes of revenge. One Robert Catesby, of Northampton, a gentleman of good property but of dissolute conduct, conceived the design of undermining the parliament-house, and thus destroying at once the king, the royal family, and the two houses of parliament, and, in the midst of the confusion, proclaiming the restoration of the Roman Catholic religion. To effect his object, he associated with himself, Wright, Winter, Percy, and Fawkes, four catholic gentlemen of family and fortune, who took the most solemn pledges of secrecy. The Gunpowder Treason, as it was called, was discovered by an accidental circumstance: having completed the mine, and placed thirty-six barrels of powder in the vaults beneath the houses of parliament, the conspirators considered their design accomplished, and one of them, whose name is unknown, recollecting that his

friend lord Mounteagle would in all probability be in attendance, wrote to him, desiring him to absent himself on that day. Suspicions naturally arose on this strange communication, and the letter was delivered to the king, who suggested that some evil design was contemplated against the whole house, and search being made, the project was discovered. Fawkes and several

others were arrested and put to the torture, but they refused to implicate any one of importance in their designs, and eight persons only were executed-Fawkes, Digby, the two Winters, Grant, Bates, Rookwood, and Keyes-a degree of royal humanity so unusual at the period, that common report could only construe it into a tacit inclination on the king's part to favour the popish superstitions.

The king's attention was now turned towards effecting a legislative union between his two kingdoms, but it was in vain that he endeavoured to procure the sanction of the parliament to this important measure; the prejudices of the two nations were so strong that neither could be induced to make any concessions; and the utmost he obtained was a mitigation of the law of aliens, and a decision of the English judges declaring the postnati, or Scots born since the king's accession, to be natural subjects of the king of England.

The only other event of importance which characterized the early part of James's reign was the incessant struggle maintained between the king and parliament on the subject of supplies; the former endeavouring to obtain supplies without any concessions to the people in return; the latter determined to make their grants of subsidy conditional on the abolition of wardship and other feudal oppressions under which they still suffered. Salisbury, the lord treasurer, whose business it was in these difficult circumstances to supply the royal expenditure, appears to have sunk beneath the burden of his laborious duties, and died at Marlborough, May 24, 1612. "He was," says Bacon, “a more fit man to keep things from getting worse, but no very fit man to reduce things to be better."

After the death of Salisbury, the king's partiality for favourites, whom he selected purely from personal appearance and elegance of dress, and without regard to their mental endowments, brought on many evils: Robert Carr or Kerr, who had been introduced at court as equerry to lord Hay, won the king's favour, and was successively made viscount Rochester and earl of Somerset ;-falling in love with the youthful bride of the young earl of Essex, he first seduced and then procured her to obtain a divorce from her husband on plea of incapacity. A marriage was then celebrated between her and Somerset in

royal chapel, and the king received them into his especial favour. To gain his end, however, Somerset had resorted to the vilest means: finding that sir Thomas Overbury, his chief friend and adviser, would not be made an accomplice in the disgraceful transaction, he contrived to procure his arrest and committal to the Tower, where he supplied him with poisoned food. This crime had for some years escaped detection; but on the king taking George Villiers, son of sir George Villiers, of Brookesby in Leicestershire, into his favour, Somerset behaved with such insolence that the friends of the new favourite determined, if possible, to procure his overthrow. Inquiries brought to light abundant evidence, and the king commissioned chief-justice Coke to prepare a warrant for the arrest of Somerset and his countess. Their guilt was fully proved, but owing to the king's favour, the sentence of death was suspended, and they were permitted to retire into the country with a pension of £4000 a year. Villiers, who had been created duke of Buckingham, now enjoyed the monopoly of the king's favour; he was loaded with honours, the king even venturing to make him lord high admiral, a step which brought the government into great danger, for Buckingham possessed neither the talent nor application requisite in a minister; he was haughty, imprudent, and capricious, wholly given to pleasure, and headstrong in his passions. His love of adventure he carried to such an excess that his life resembles more a romance than sober history. At his instigation, the king sent the prince of Wales, afterwards Charles I., on a visit to Spain, to see the infanta, daughter of Philip IV., who had been recommended as a desirable match for the heir to the English throne. Charles and Buckingham set out from London on the 17th of February, 1623, and travelled through France in disguise: when they arrived at the court of Spain, they were received with every mark of distinction, and Charles had an opportunity of seeing the infanta, to whom he was introduced. But the mere idea of an alliance of the heir of the English throne with a catholic princess, and, above all, to a descendant of Philip II., roused the spirit of every Englishman. The house of commons expressed their unqualified disapproval, and used such boldness, that the king wrote to the speaker complaining of the audacity of the commons, who owed their privileges to the grace and permission of his ancestors and himself, in presuming to meddle with mysteries of state which were beyond their capacity, and belonged solely to the king himself. This produced a memorable protestation on the part of the commons, who declared that their privileges were inviolable and were derived from their ancestors-that it was the right of parliament to deliberate and take counsel on all matters affecting the

peace and safety of the king and kingdom, and that members ought not to be molested for anything done or said within the walls of parliament, except by authority of the house itself. The king was so exasperated with this open defiance of his power, that he tore the entry from the Journals with his own hand, and published his reasons for so doing, at the same time dissolving parliament, and ordering those members who had been foremost in the debate to be committed to prison; others whom he feared to arrest, he sent on a commission to Ireland, by way of punishment.

This, however, was not the first example which this parliament had manifested of an independent spirit. On the opening of the session in 1621, the commons had loudly exclaimed against monopolies, and sir Giles Mompesson and sir Francis Mitchell were deprived of the honour of knighthood, besides being imprisoned and fined; but a more striking example of parliamentary interference was the impeachment of the lord chancellor Bacon, or, as he was now called, viscount St. Alban's. This remarkable man had risen to the highest eminence of position and power by his own exertions; he was equally eminent as a philosopher and a lawyer, one of the brightest ornaments of learning and genius in those days, although his public character was tarnished by the neglect of those moral obligations which ought to have directed him in the discharge of his public duty. On inquiry being made in parliament, he was convicted of receiving bribes in his high office of chancellor, and though his friends pleaded the excuse of precedent, the commons answered "that no precedents could justify so pernicious a practice;" and in default of his appearing, he was condemned to imprisonment, and fined in the sum of £40,000, being further incapacitated from holding any office of dignity or emolument in the state, and interdicted the court and parliament.

In the next parliament, Cranborne, earl of Middlesex, the lord treasurer, was impeached. Buckingham, growing disgusted with the Spanish court, persuaded the king to consent to a war in behalf of the elector-palatine, the king's son-in-law, who had been expelled from his dominions by the emperor Ferdinand II., with the object of obtaining supplies from parliament. The commons readily voted the sum of 300,000 for the accomplishment of this object, which they had long desired; but the preparations were languidly conducted, and the first expedition failed, half the army having perished through famine and pestilence; and before a second armament could be equipped, the king died, on the 27th of March, 1625, leaving the war to be finished by his son Charles I., who succeeded to the throne, his elder brother Henry, prince of Wales, having died in 1612.

The pacific policy of James I., though it contributed in the main to the happiness and prosperity of his subjects, was unfavourable to the glory and honour of the nation. As a king, James wanted talents and energy of disposition: he was dastardly rather than tyrannical, giving way to passion and being governed by favourites. His conduct in the case of Arabella Stuart was cruel and unforgiving; his execution of Raleigh, to gratify a foreign power, pusillanimous and unjust; and his behaviour towards the Somersets inexcusable. The prevailing errors of his reign, however, were of such a nature as to evince them to have been more the result of ignorance than malevolence of purpose the execution of a pickpocket without trial, on his first entrance into England, and several other acts of similar indiscretion, show how completely he misunderstood the spirit of the government he was called upon to administer. Accustomed to rule a nation in a rude state of society, and acquainted only with the theory of the feudal monarchies, restricted by a turbulent aristocracy, he had no clear perception of the democratical element which entered so largely into the English constitution. "It appears," says Hume, "from the speeches and proclamations of James I., and the whole train of that prince's actions, as well as his son's, that he regarded the English government as a simple monarchy, and never imagined that any considerable part of his subjects entertained a contrary idea. This opinion made those monarchs discover their pretensions, without preparing any force to support them, and even without reserve or disguise, which are always employed by those who enter upon any new project, or endeavour to innovate in any government. The flattery of courtiers further confirmed their prejudices, and, above all, that of the clergy, who, from several passages of Scripture, and those wrested too, had erected a regular and avowed system of arbitrary power.'

[ocr errors]

* Hume's Essay on the Protestant Succession.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »