and in one of his Anti-Spanish moods—said to Sir Robert: Booki, 'The Spaniard is a juggling jack. I believe he forged ullll those lettersalluding, as the context suggests, to the coTMTM. papers—whatever they were—which Gondomar showed to Cotton at the outset of their intercourse, in order to induce him to act as an intermediary between himself and the Earl of Somerset.

At this time, the ground was already trembling beneath Somerset's feet, though he little suspected the source of his real danger. He knew, ere long, that an attempt would be made to charge him with embezzling jewels of the Crown. In connection with this charge there was a State secret, in which Sir Robert Cotton was a participant with Somerset, and with the King himself. And a secret it has remained. Such jewels, it is plain, were in Somerset's hands, and by him were transferred to those of Cotton. Few persons who have had occasion to look closely into the surviving documents and correspondence which bear upon the subsequent and famous trials for the murder of Overbury, will be likely to doubt that the secret was one among those 'alien matters' of which Somerset was so urgently and so repeatedly adjured and warned, by James's emissaries, to avoid all mention, should he still persist (despite the royal, repeated, and almost passionate, entreaties with which he was beset) in putting himself upon his trial; instead of pleading guilty, after his wife's example, and trusting implicitly to the royal mercy.

For the purpose of warding off the lesser, but foreseen, danger, Cotton advised the Earl to take a step of which the Crown lawyers made subsequent and very effective use, in order to preclude all chance of his escape from the un- W1Sforeseen and greater danger. By Sir Robert's recommenda

[ocr errors][merged small]

tion he obtained from the King permission to have a pardon drawn, in which, amongst other provisions, it was granted that no account whatever should be exacted from Somerset at the royal exchequer; and to that pardon the King directed the Chancellor to affix the Great Seal. The Seal, however, was withheld, and a remarkable scene ensued in the Council Chamber. There are extant two or three narratives of the occurrence, which agree pretty well in substance. Of these Gondomar's is the most graphic. The incident took place on the 20th of August. The despatch in which it is minutely described was written on the 20th of October. There is reason to believe that the Ambassador drew his information from an eye-witness of what passed.

'As the King was about to leave the Council Board/ writes Gonuomar, 'Somerset made to him a speech which, as I was told, had been preconcerted between them. He said that the malice of his enemies had forced him to ask for a pardon; adduced arguments of his innocency; and then besought the King to command the Chancellor to declare at once what he had to allege against him, or else to put the seal to the pardon. The King, without permitting anything to be spoken, said a great deal in Somerset's praise; asserted that the Earl had acted rightly in asking for a pardon, which it was a pleasure to himself to grant—although the Earl would certainly stand in no need of it in his days—on the Prince's account, who was then present.' Here, writes Gondomar, the King placed his hand on the Prince's shoulder, and added—' That he may not undo what I have done.' Then, turning to the Chancellor, the King ended with the words: 'And so, my Lord Chancellor, put the seal to it; for such is my will.' The Chancellor, instead of obeying, threw himself on his knees, told the King that the pardon was so widely drawn Bookt, that it made Somerset (as Lord Chamberlain) absolute Lirao* master of 'jewels, hangings, tapestry, and of all that cTMTMTM1" the palace contained; seeing that no account was to be demanded of him for anything.' And then the Chancellor added: 'If your Majesty insists upon it, I entreat you to grant me a pardon also for passing it; otherwise I cannot do it.' On this the King grew angry, and with the words, 'I order you to pass it, and you must pass it," left the Council Chamber. His departure in a rage, before the pardon was sealed, gave Somerset's enemies another opportunity by which they did not fail to profit. They had the Queen on their side. On that very day, too, the King set out on a progress, long before arranged. For the time the matter dropped. Before the Ambassador of Spain took up his pen to tell the story to his Court, Villiers, 'the new favourite,' had begun to supplant his rival; so that the same despatch which narrates the beginnings of the fall of Somerset, tells also of the first stage in the rapid rise of Buckingham.

About a month after this wrangling at the Council Board, Somerset again advised with Sir Robert Cotton Pardob°"d on the same subject. Cotton recommended him to have £^,"T the Pardon renewed ; saying to the Earl, 'In respect you 1616-8cpt have received some disgrace in the opinion of the world, in having passed' [«. e. missed] 'that pardon which in the Jjj^,'*' summer you desired, and seeing there be many precedents ®>r'°/ of larger pardons, I would have you get one after the largest <ms. R Hj precedent; that so, by that addition, you may recover your honour.' Strangely as these closing words now sound, in relation to such a matter, they seem to embody both the feeling and the practice of the times.

In another version of the proceedings at the trial of May,

Booii, 1616, Somerset is represented as using in the course of vmow his defence these words: 'To Sir Robert Cotton I referred c^'m the whole drawing and despatch of the Pardon.' And again: 'I first sought the Pardon by the motion and persuasion of Sir Robert Cotton, who told me in what dangers great persons honoured with so many royal favours had Ms. Report stood, in former times.' Sir Robert's own account of this °&Tn). a°d of many correlative matters of a still graver sort has come down to us only in garbled fragments and extracts from his examinations, such as it suited the purposes of the law-officers of the Crown to make use of, after their fashion. The original documents were as carefully suppressed, as Cotton's appearance in person at the subsequent trial was effectually hindered. At that day it was held to be an unanswerable reason for the non-appearance of a witness,—whatever the weight of his testimony,— to allege that he was regarded by the Crown as 'a delinquent,' and could not, therefore, be publicly questioned upon 'matters of State.' There is little cause to marvel that a scrutinising reader of the State Trials (in their published form) is continually in doubt whether what he reads ought to be regarded as sober history, or as wild and, it may be, venomous romance.

One other incident of 1615 needs to be noticed before we proceed to the catastrophe of the Gondomar story, ms. In May of this year Sir Robert wrote a letter to Prince

May 24. "*

Charles, which is notable for the contrasted advice, in cott.Pck0p. respect to warlike pursuits, which it proffers to the new F.vi,»i. Prince, from that more famous advice which had but

'An Answer

... to entain recently been offered to his late brother. He had

^(ApraT' lately found, he tells Prince Charles, a very ancient volume

lm- containing the principal passages of affairs between the two kingdoms of England and France under the reigns of Book t King Henry The Third and King Henrt The Fifth, and L,b,ToV" had caused a friend of his to abstract from it the main Co^n"" grounds of the claim of the Kings of England to the Crown of France; translating the original Latin into English. This he now dedicates to the Prince, 'as a piece of evidence concerning that title which, at the time when God hath appointed, shall come unto you.' He ends his letter in a strain more than usually rhetorical: —' This title hath heretofore been pleaded in France, as well by ordinary arguments of civil and common law, as also by more sharp syllogisms of cannons in the field. There have your noble ancestors, Kings of this realm, often argued in arms; there have been their large chases; there, their pleasant walks; there have they hewed honour out of the sides of their enemies: there—in default of peace- SirRCotton

'"to Prince

able justice—they have carried the cause by sentence of cimriei. the sword. God grant that your Highness may, both in 22?. w. 7.) virtues and victories, not only imitate, but far excel them.'

The royal commission for the first examination of Cotton ^ ^k'0

* Archbishop

was issued on the 26th of October, 1615. Two months orcanterafterwards he was committed to the custody of one of the Aldermen of London. His library and papers were also c3°^{ searched. roLixxivi,

Cotton's accusation was that of having communicated (a. Ho papers and secrets of State to the Spanish Ambassador. He was subjected to repeated examinations, which (as we have seen) are extant only in part. He maintained his innocence of all intentional offence. 'The King,' he said, 'gave me instruction to speak as I did. If I misunderstood His Majesty my fault was involuntary. I followed the ^"•_April King's instruction to the best of my belief and recollection.'




« ElőzőTovább »