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_tion he obtained from the King permission to have a pardon drawn, in which, amongstiother provisions, it was granted that no account whatever should be exacted from Somaasa'r 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 Gounonaa’s is the most graphic. The incident took place on the 20th of August. The despateh 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 GONDOMAR, ‘SOMERSET made to him a speech which, as Iwas 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 Somaasa'r’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 that it made SOMERSET (as Lord Chamberlain) absolute master of ‘ jewels, hangings, tapestry, and of all that the palace contained; seeing that no account was to he 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 SOMaasaT, 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 on the same subject. COTTON recommended him to have the Pardon renewed; saying to the Earl, ‘In respect you have received some disgrace in the opinion of the world, in having passed’ [i.e. missed] ‘that pardon which in the summer you desired, and seeing there be many precedents of larger pardons, Iwould have you get one after the largest precedent; that so, by that addition, you may recover your honour.’ Strangely as these closing words new 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,
1616, SOMERSET is represented as using in the course of his defence these words: ‘ To Sir Robert COTTON I referred 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 stood, in former times.’ Sir Robert’s own account of this and 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 Slate 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.
In May of this year Sir Robert wrote a letter to Prince CHARLES, which is notable for the contrasted advice, in respect to warlike pursuits, which it proffers to the new Prince, from that more famous advice which had but recently been offered to his late brother. He had lately found, he tells Prince CHARLES, a very ancient volume containing the principal passages of affairs between the
two kingdoms of England and France under the reigns of King HENRY THE Tan and King HENRY THE FIFTH, and had caused a friend of his to abstract from it the main 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 peaceable justice—they have carried the cause by sentence of the sword. God grant that your Highness may, both in virtues and victories, not only imitate, but far excel them.’
The royal commission for the first examination of COTTON was issued on the 26th of October, 1615. Two months afterwards he was committed to the custody of one of the Aldermen of London. His library and papers were also searched.
COTTON’s accusation was that of having communicated 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 King’s instruction to the best of my belief and recollection.’
The examiners, however, were more intent by far on extracting something from COTTON that would tell against SOMERSET, than on the punishment of the fallen favourite’s ally and agent. COKE, in particular, was indefatigable in the task. It was as congenial to him as was the study of BRACTON or of LITTLETON.
What then must have been his delight when,—-whilst attending a sermon at Paul’s Cross,—word was brought to him which gave hope of a discovery of Sonaasm’s most secret correspondence ? The pending proceedings had stirred men’s minds in city and suburb, as well as at Court. A London merchant had been asked, a little while before, to take into his charge a box of papers. The depositor was a woman of the middle class, with whom his acquaintance was but slight. At that time there was nothing in the incident to excite suspicion. But, at a moment when strange rumours were afloat, the depositor suddenly requested the return of the deposit. The merchant bethonght himself that the circumstances now looked mysterious. If the papers should chance to bear on matters of State, to have had any concern with them, howsoever innocent, might be dangerous. He carried the box to Sir Edward Coxa’s chambers. Not a moment was lost in apprising the absent lawyer of the incident. Such news was of more interest than the sermon. Probably, the preacher had not finished his exordium, before all the faculties of Conn and of a fellow-commissioner were bent on the letters which had passed between SOMERSET and NORTHAMPTON.
If Gonnomaa is to be believed, some secret papers belonging to King JAMES himself were part of the precious spoil.”
* ‘ . . . . . Por diferentes vias le confirmado que contra el Conde
[Somerset] no se averigua. cosa. de sustancia. en lo de la. muerte del Ovarberi ; y de 19. del Principe [Henry, Prince of Wales,] no he permetido