Sir Walter Ralegh - A Biography
by William Stebbing
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[Sidenote: Strife with Meere.]

He loved Sherborne, and his wife was perhaps still more attached to it. In October, 1601, he wrote: 'My wife says that every day this place amends, and London to her grows worse and worse.' He had his worries there, as was his self-imposed fate wherever he was. He was premature in reposing confidence. He has written that he had lost more than he was worth by trusting dependents with his purse and delaying to take their account. He was almost excessively resentful of frauds on his trustfulness when he detected them. He was masterful in small things, as in great. While in the Tower in August, 1592, he had appointed his 'man, John Meere,' Bailiff of the manor of Sherborne, with extensive powers of management. He had invested him with copyhold lands. Several years later, in 1596, Adrian Gilbert took up his regular abode at Sherborne, and superintended his brother's improvements, under the title of Constable of Sherborne Castle. Meere quarrelled with him about the rival prerogatives of Constable and Bailiff to license the killing of animals for meat in Lent. Ralegh nominated another Bailiff, but Meere refused to retire. The family had interest with one of the Howards, Viscount Bindon, of whose 'extortions' and 'poisoning of his wife' Ralegh takes merit to himself for not having spoken. Mrs. Meere, too, was a kinswoman of Lady Essex. Long strife had prejudiced Ralegh so bitterly against both Meere and Essex that he believed either capable of any monstrosity. He did the Earl's memory the injustice of fancying that he secretly had meant to use the Bailiff for a malicious forgery; 'for,' said Ralegh, 'he writes my hand so perfectly as I cannot any way discern the difference.' Colour is given to the charge against him of the forgery of an Irish lease, by the fact that Digby afterwards prosecuted him for the forgery of Ralegh's signature to a conveyance of English lands to Captain Caufeilde. Meere in August, 1601, arrested the opposition Bailiff. For this Ralegh put him in the stocks in Sherborne market-place, and had him bound over to good behaviour by the county justices. Thereupon Meere served upon Ralegh and others twenty-six subpoenas. Next year the conflict went on raging. Meere succeeded at the assizes in sustaining his right to the bailiwick. As Ralegh kept him out nevertheless, he petitioned the Star Chamber. Ralegh on his part complained loudly that, through Lord Bindon's influence, Meere, at once 'a notorious cowardly brute, and of a strong villainous spirit,' had been allowed to sue him, though out of the land in Jersey.

[Sidenote: Sir Amias Preston's Challenge.]

Yet these vexations only made him cling the more fondly to his Sherborne home. He hoped to dwell happily and splendidly there himself, to be buried in its minster, and to leave it to a long line of descendants. While he had only a ninety-nine years' lease, he had conveyed his term to trustees for his son Walter. He had done this by two conveyances. These he revoked in 1598. His motives, he explained later, were several: 'I found my fortune at Court towards the end of her Majesty's reign to be at a stand, and that I daily expected dangerous employments against her Majesty's enemies, and had not in the former grants made any provision for my wife.' He re-settled the property on his son, reserving L200 a year to Lady Ralegh for her life. After he had acquired the fee, he conveyed it by deed at Midsummer, 1602, to himself for life, with successive remainders to his son Walter, to any future sons, and to his brother Carew Ralegh. The deed had been drawn by Doddridge, afterwards a judge, many months before it was sealed. The reason of the date chosen for its formal execution was stated by himself at his trial to have been a challenge from Sir Amias Preston in the summer of 1602. Preston was the captain who, being too late to join the Guiana expedition, went off with Sommers on an independent quest. He had signalized himself at Cadiz, where Essex knighted him. The challenge may have arisen out of the Essex feud, for Sir Ferdinando Gorges, Essex's vehement partisan, is known to have been concerned in it. No duel was fought. Fuller, who errs in describing Ralegh as a Privy Councillor, says in his Worthies: 'Sir Walter Ralegh declined the challenge without any abatement to his valour; for having a fair and fixed estate, with wife and children, being a Privy Councillor, and Lord Warden of the Stannaries, he looked upon it as an uneven lay to stake himself against Sir Amias, a private and single person, though of good birth and courage, yet of no considerable estate.' Fuller's account is not to be rejected because the ground assigned may not seem very heroic. Duelling was governed by prosaic laws. Nobody was expected to risk his life on unequal terms. There had to be a parity of ranks; and the same principle might well apply to fortunes. Ralegh himself had no such fondness for the fashionable mode of adjusting quarrels as to waive any orthodox right of refusal. In his History he denounces 'the audacious, common, and brave, yet outrageous vanity of duellists.' Men who die in single combat he styles 'martyrs of the Devil.' He derides the victor's honours, 'where the hangman gives the garland,' and the folly of the duellist's principle, that rudeness 'ought to be civilized with death.' In the essay entitled Instructions to his Son, he declares a challenge justifiable only if the offence proceed from another; it is not, he says, 'if the offence proceed from thyself, for if thou overcome, thou art under the cruelty of the law; if thou art overcome, thou art dead or dishonoured.'

[Sidenote: Its consequences.]

At any rate, whatever the origin or issue of the dispute, he thought he was going to fight. In consequence, as he stated subsequently, he resolved to leave his estate settled. An incident of his preparations, which seemed trivial at the time, assumed preposterous gravity later on. He had spread out his loose papers, and among them a book by one Snagge, which he had borrowed from the dead Lord Burleigh's library. In it the title of the King of Scots to the succession was contested. Cobham, who may well have been Ralegh's intended second, happened to see and carry off the volume. It was found at a critical moment in his possession, and was traced to Ralegh. That was an affair of the future. For the present Ralegh probably associated Sir Amias Preston's challenge chiefly with the definite disposition of his property in a manner consonant with the creation of an affluent and permanent county family.


COBHAM AND CECIL (1601-1603).

[Sidenote: Impatience of Subordination.]

[Sidenote: The Privy Council.]

He did not know it, but he was now at the culmination of his prosperity. His kinsman, the learned Richard Carew, dedicated to him at the beginning of 1602 the Survey of Cornwall, in terms, which, however exalted, were not exaggerated. He had a noble estate, his sovereign's renewed confidence, and many important offices. In politics he was still among those who followed rather than led, who executed, and did not direct. Of constant subordination he was become impatient. He was not content to be nothing more than 'a swordsman,' an instrument, though highly distinguished and favoured. His aim was to force his entrance within the citadel of administrative power. As a counsellor he exerted commanding weight on two main branches of national policy, Ireland and armaments. His Irish policy has been refuted by events. It is open to all the accusations which have been brought against it of cruelty and remorselessness. But its temper was that of a large body of English statesmen; and he understood much better than the rest the true method of putting it in practice. Had he been a Minister, and not only a royal confidant, he might have succeeded for a time in establishing in Ireland a peace of silence. He held as fixed and more generous views on the subject of national defences, and on the proper strategy in dealing with Spain. He fretted at being condemned to urge them from the outside instead of within. His exclusion from partnership in responsible authority was, he felt, perpetual, unless he could break in. Probably at no period did he aspire after supremacy, or expect to dispossess Cecil. His ambition, though restricted to the hope of admittance to association, would not the less bring him into collision with the jealous Secretary. He was reported in 1598 to be ambitious of a peerage. He cared more for power than titles, and his ancient friends, like his ancient rivals, thwarted his plans. We know that Cecil could not bear even so moderate an approximation for him to official trust as his regular introduction into the Privy Council. For that he had so long been craving and looking, that, according to Henry Howard's taunt, he by this time 'found no view for Paradise out of a Council board.' In June, 1601, there had been, as in 1598, a prospect of his nomination. Lords Shrewsbury and Worcester instead were sworn in. Cecil intimated his satisfaction. He told Sir George Carew that Ralegh should never have his consent to be a Councillor, unless he surrendered to Carew the Captaincy of the Guard.

Ralegh's efforts for a line of his own in statesmanship, and Cecil's consequent antagonism, are the special features of the coming chapter in his biography. His relations to the Cecils had always been intimate. Lord Burleigh, notwithstanding differences concerning Ireland, encouraged him as a counterpoise to Leicester. He repaid the kindness, it will be recollected, by interceding for the Lord Treasurer's son-in-law. He was a guest at the entertainment Burleigh gave to Arabella Stuart. With Robert Cecil Ralegh's connexion was much closer. Cecil valued his help at Court, and his society. In February, 1598, during his mission to France, he mentions him to Burleigh as one 'with whose kindness he has been long and truly fastened.' 'If some idle errand,' he writes word, 'can send over Sir Walter, let us have him.' With seeming sincerity he wrote in 1600 of him as one 'whose judgment I hold great, as his person dear.' He was a companion of Ralegh in several of his privateering speculations. Lady Ralegh wrote of Lady Cecil as of a sympathetic friend. Perpetually she was appealing to her 'cousin' Cecil as a support against Sir Walter's tribulations and hers. He is 'a comfort to the grieved.' She 'presumes of his honourable favour ever.' She confided to him her view of her Mistress the Queen as, like herself, 'a great believer.' In January, 1597, Ralegh condoled as a most loving comrade with Cecil on gracious Lady Cecil's death. His letter exhorting to implacability testifies to the closeness of their league against Essex. The Earl's fiery anger had burnt against both alike. Had his mad freak of treason succeeded, both would have been sacrificed in company.

[Sidenote: Intimacy with Robert Cecil.]

After Essex succumbed the alliance appeared as strict as before. The two households, as well as the masters, were affectionately familiar. Cecil's son, William, was a most welcome guest at Sherborne. No stronger proof of trust, it might have been thought, could be given by the father. There is talk how 'the beloved creature's stomach is altogether amended, and he doth now eat well and digest rightly;' how 'he is also better kept to his book.' As one intimately conversant with Cecil's affairs, Ralegh undertook in August, 1601, the supervision of his recently purchased estate at Rushmore. Pleasant postscripts are interposed on Lady Ralegh's behalf: 'Bess returns you her best wishes, notwithstanding all quarrels.' 'Bess says that she must envy any fingers whosoever that shall wear her gloves but your own.' There are threats from her that for the breach of a recent engagement he shall on his next visit have plain fare. Ralegh relied on Cecil to protect his monopoly of Virginian trade under his patent against unlicensed Adventurers. They cheapen, he complained, by their imports sassafras from its proper price of 20s. to 12s. a pound; they 'cloy the market;' 'they go far towards overthrowing the enterprise' of the plantation of Virginia, 'which I shall yet live to see an English nation.' In addition they introduced contraband cedar-trees. These, if the Lord Admiral would order their seizure, Ralegh intended to divide 'into three parts—to ciel cabinets, and make bords, and many other delicate things.' He asked for Cecil's aid; 'but what you think unfit to be done for me shall never be a quarrel either internal or external. If we cannot have what we would, methinks it is a great bond to find a friend that will strain himself in his friend's cause in whatsoever—as this world fareth.'

[Sidenote: Cecil's Sentiments.]

Throughout Elizabeth's reign, and beyond it, Ralegh's language to Cecil keeps the same tone of implicit faith. In words Cecil was not behind his more fluent and continuous correspondent. At heart he would appear, from his communications to others, to have come to regard Ralegh as a dangerous rival before the Queen's death. Shrewd observers detected the growth of the sentiment, in spite of the alliance against the common foe, and even, for reasons which are not obvious, in consequence of it. 'Cecil,' wrote Harington, who had been a trusted comrade of Essex, in his Nugae, 'doth bear no love to Ralegh in the matter of Essex.' An important letter found among the Burleigh papers, without date or signature, but for good cause attributed to Lord Henry Howard, and probably written towards the end of Elizabeth's reign, shows how eagerly Cecil and Ralegh were regarded by their respective partisans as hostile competitors. Probably its genesis resembled that of Ralegh's argument for the thorough overthrow of Essex. It seems to have been an elaborate written embodiment of a policy which the Minister may have heard before from its author's mouth. It differs from Ralegh's letter in being absolutely in harmony with Howard's conduct at the time and after. In it the writer, with the 'Asiatic endless' prolixity which James himself ridiculed, propounded a plan for arranging that 'Cobham, the block all mighty that gives oracles, and Ralegh, the cogging spirit that prompteth it,' should be set in responsible positions in which they would be sure to fail. There is no reason to suppose that Cecil accepted the particular advice. He would be inclined to doubt the certainty of Ralegh's failure, should an opportunity of distinction be afforded him. But the document could not have been written unless its author had been positive of Cecil's sympathy with its object, the reduction of Ralegh, by whatever means, to a condition of confirmed obscurity and dependence.

[Sidenote: Rival Camps.]

As the termination of the Queen's reign more manifestly approached, the interests of Cecil and Ralegh seemed to grow more and more widely separated. Researches into the secret history of the final year or two reveal Ralegh and Cobham on one side, and Cecil and Lord Henry Howard on the other, as chiefs of opposite camps, with a converging outlook upon King James. Cecil, like his father, had been regarded by James as hostile to his proclamation as Elizabeth's heir. The death of 'my martyr Essex' increased his dislike. He was not assured of the baselessness of Essex's cry as he rode through the city: 'The crown of England is sold to the Spaniard!' He may have suspected the existence of schemes for the elevation of Arabella Stuart. Henry Howard brought him and Cecil to a mutual understanding. Howard, now remembered chiefly as the builder of Northumberland House, took a leading part in the machinations of Elizabeth's and James's reigns. As a Catholic, though at times conforming, and as brother of the hapless Duke of Norfolk, he had hated the Cecils. His dislike of Robert Cecil had been inflamed by partizanship for his kinsman Essex; notwithstanding, with his insatiable love of intrigue, he is said to have played off the two against one another. Now, convinced that Cecil was too strong, or too necessary, to be discarded, and possessing James's full confidence, he set himself to the cure of the King's distrust. Finally Cecil became for James 'my dearest Cecil.' James accepted him so entirely as to promise that Cecil's friends and foes should be his. Thenceforward a league was formed, and a correspondence was opened, between the King on one side and Cecil and Howard on the other, which are equally discreditable to all three.

[Sidenote: The Succession.]

The compact was not the work of a moment, and Cecil's rivals do not appear to the end to have understood how absolute it was. Neither was it of very old standing. For long Elizabeth's councillors hesitated to throw in their lot with the Scottish claim to the succession. They could not read clearly the national inclination. The country had been undecided. As Cecil confessed he had once said, there were several competitors for whose right it was possible to argue. The Suffolk family possessed some sort of Parliamentary title. Arabella Stuart was not, like James, an alien, or a foreign sovereign. Discussion, or even advocacy, of either title, whether by Cecil, Ralegh, or Cobham, was, till the actual proclamation of James, not treasonable. But after the death of Mary Stuart, and, more plainly still, after that of Essex, it became manifest that the English people meant to crown the King of Scots. Cecil and Ralegh equally discerned the certainty. Both acted accordingly, and each suspected the other's procedure. Both started evenly with the same stain, in James's eyes, of enmity to Essex. Cecil, however, had the advantage of partnership with Henry Howard, and Ralegh the disadvantage of partnership with Cobham. He had to overcome the more invincible obstacle of his possession of a character, demeanour, and policy, in good features as well as bad, essentially distasteful to the Prince he had to conciliate.

[Sidenote: Prejudices of King James.]

Without Elizabeth's knowledge, Cecil kept up an active correspondence with the Scottish Court. Ralegh had his concealed relations with it too. Neither is to be severely blamed for feeling an attraction to the nearest heir to the throne. Something even of personal enthusiasm at the prospect was not so absurd a sentiment as it seems to posterity. The nature of James was not well understood, and hope was placed in his youth. Contrasts were drawn, as Ralegh expressed it at his trial, between a lady whom time had surprised, and an active king. Ralegh had recognised that no other successor was possible. Lord Northumberland, writing to persuade James to be courteous to him, declared that he 'must allow Ralegh's ever allowance of the King's right.' Ralegh indeed had never favoured any rival candidate, Arabella Stuart as little as the Infanta. About Arabella there is no cause to doubt the veracity of his assertion, reported by Dudley Carleton, that 'of all women he ever saw he never liked her.' Simply he had opposed, as Elizabeth herself opposed, and in his character of her faithful servant, the termination of the abeyance of the dignity of heir presumptive. In the interest of her tranquillity he had addressed to Elizabeth a written argument against the announcement of a successor. Eventually, some time before Elizabeth's death, he had perceived that it was useless to act as if any successor but James were possible. With his sanguine temperament he acquiesced in the inevitable as if it were positively advantageous. He saw his way to render as excellent service to the State under King James as he was rendering now. He was conscious of the obstacles in his path; he was unconscious that they were insuperable. He knew he had been always ranked as of the anti-Scottish party. He knew the specific meaning James would put upon his resistance to the formal declaration of a successor. His antagonism to Essex, he was aware, had created a strong repulsion against him in the King's mind. But he overrated the amount of the resources at his disposal for his protection from the weight of aversion he had excited. He equally underrated the inveteracy of the dislike, and the degree of additional suspicion which his measures of self-defence would awaken. James had long looked forward to a day when he should 'have account of the presumption of the base instruments about the Queen who abused her ear.' That was his way of thinking of the Queen's favourite councillors. Cecil knew how to purchase his pardon. Ralegh, gathering strength about him to render his friendship worth buying, only deepened the king's conviction that he could be mischievous; he did not implant a conviction that he was a desirable auxiliary. The 'consultations of Durham House' became notorious. They alarmed both Howard and James just sufficiently to induce them to temporise. They fixed the resolution sooner or later to ruin the promoter. The Duke of Lennox came to London in November, 1601. He cultivated Ralegh's acquaintance through Sir Arthur Savage. James characterized Savage in a letter of 1602 to Howard as 'trucheman,' or interpreter, 'to Raulie, though of a nature far different, and a very honest plain gentleman.' Terms were offered by the Duke which Ralegh boasted he had rejected. To Cecil he protested that he had been over-deeply engaged and obliged to his own mistress to seek favour anywhere else. According to Howard, Ralegh asked Cecil to divulge this to the Queen; but Cecil, with good sense, represented to him that the Queen 'would rather mark a weakness than praise his resolution.'

[Sidenote: Lord Henry Howard.]

Whatever he had done or left undone, whatever promises had been made, and however they had been entertained, the end would have been the same. Henry Howard inflamed the instinctive aversion which James had long felt for Ralegh. Howard hated Ralegh with a virulence not easily explicable, which appeared to be doubled by its abatement towards Cecil. He had resolved to destroy both Ralegh and Cobham. On the testimony of his own letters it is clear he did not mind how tortuously and perfidiously he worked. He calculated upon Cobham's weakness, and upon the inflammation of Ralegh with 'some so violent desire upon the sudden as to bring him into that snare which he would shun otherwise.' He poisoned James's mind incurably against 'those wicked villains,' 'that crew,' and its 'hypocrisy,' the 'accursed duality,' or 'the triplicity that denies the Trinity.' By the triplicity he signified Ralegh, Cobham, and Northumberland. Ralegh had other enemies besides. Among them was Cobham's new wife, Frances Howard, Countess dowager of Kildare, daughter of the Lord Admiral. Henry Howard, who did not like her, admitted that she had helped in persuading Cecil to side with King James. She and Lady Ralegh had 'an ancient acquaintance,' which had resulted in mutual detestation.

[Sidenote: Spite against Lady Ralegh.]

[Sidenote: Ralegh's 'Humours.']

Lady Ralegh in March, 1602, reminded Cecil how 'unfavourable my Lady Kildare hath dealt with me to the Queen. I wish she would be as ambitious to do good as she is apt to the contrary.' Lady Kildare had infused her own animosity into her father, whose official 'weakness and oversights' it is very likely Ralegh was, as Henry Howard had said, given to 'studying.' 'My Lord Admiral,' wrote Howard to Mar, James's ambassador, 'the other day wished from his soul he had but the same commission to carry the cannon to Durham House, that he had this time twelve months to carry it to Essex House, to prove what sport he could make in that fellowship.' In its larger sense the alleged fellowship comprised the Earl of Northumberland, who played fast and loose with it, Lady Shrewsbury, known as Lady Arabella's custodian, and Lady Ralegh, in addition to her husband and Cobham. Howard honoured Lady Ralegh with his particular hostility. 'She is a most dangerous woman,' he exclaims, 'and full of her father's inventions.' He was much alarmed at the possible success of some project for bringing her to her old place in the Privy Chamber. To its failure he ascribed her determination to 'bend her whole wit and industry to the disturbance of the possibility of others' hopes since her own cannot be settled.' He urged Cecil to arrange that it should be brought to Elizabeth's knowledge 'what canons are concluded in the chapter of Durham, where Ralegh's wife is president.' Ralegh himself and Cobham were, however, the universal objects of his copious invectives: 'You may well believe,' he wrote, 'that hell did never vomit up such a couple.' Cecil's own language to James was almost as vituperative. He was furious at the bare notion that any should vie with him for the heir's confidence. He represented Cobham and Ralegh, who were trying to obtain a share of James's favour, as mere hypocrites who hated the King at heart. If they held themselves out as his friends, or he held himself out as theirs, James was not to believe it. He excused himself for 'casting sometimes a stone into the mouth of these gaping crabs' to prevent them from 'confessing their repugnance to be under his Majesty's sovereignty.' He hoped to be pardoned if from ancient 'private affection' he had the semblance of supporting Ralegh in particular, 'a person whom most religious men do hold anathema,' who had, moreover, shown 'ingratitude to me.' He could not imagine that he owed as much to Ralegh as Ralegh to him. But that was natural. If James should hear that he had not checked demonstrations by Ralegh, in his 'light and sudden humours,' against the King, he prayed James to ascribe it to a desire to retain sufficient influence over him 'to dissuade him, under pretext of extraordinary care of his well doing, from engaging himself too far.' He warned James especially against being beguiled into thinking Ralegh a man of a good and affectionate disposition. If 'upon any new humour of kindness, whereof sometimes he will be replete,' he should write in Cecil's favour, 'be it never so much in my commendation,' James was not to believe it. The correspondence of Howard and Cecil with James breathes throughout a jealous terror that Cobham and Ralegh, and chiefly Ralegh, might either supersede them in James's kindness, or steal into his confidence under the pretext of fellowship with them, and claim a share in the advantages. Ralegh's correspondence with the King, as theirs implies, has no such malignant, envious features. The King, however, was already incurably prejudiced. Howard's and Cecil's imputations only confirmed an impression of long standing.

[Sidenote: Character of Cobham.]

Against two enemies of this force and animosity Ralegh had no actual ally except Lord Cobham. Henry Howard had mentioned Northumberland as a confederate. How far the Earl, who had married Essex's sister, Dorothy, widow of Sir Thomas Perrot, could be reckoned upon may be judged from his description of Ralegh to James as 'a man whose love is disadvantageous to me in some sort, which I cherish rather out of constancy than policy.' Cobham was Cecil's brother-in-law, and their interests had long been inseparable. Ralegh would originally have desired his friendship as a means of cementing the intimacy with his potent connexion. He had been of the league against Essex. In opposition to Essex's solicitations for Sir Robert Sidney he had obtained the Lord Wardenship of the Cinque Ports. Essex had joined him with Cecil and Ralegh in the charges of perfidy. His personal favour with Elizabeth had been useful to the family compact. He was wealthy, and Cecil valued wealth in his domestic circle. Houses and lands brought him in L7000 a year; and he had woods and goods worth a capital sum of L30,000 besides. His furniture was as rich as any man's of his rank. One piece of plate was priced at L3500, and a ring at L500. He spent L150 at a time upon books. He was not devoid of good instincts; for he could repent of a misdeed or unkindness, and, after repeating it, repent again. But he was garrulous, puffed up with a sense of his own importance, full of levity and passion, and morally, if not physically, a coward. Ralegh, whom some social brilliancy in the man, as well as his rank and fortune, may have dazzled, can at no time have been wholly unconscious of the defects which later he resentfully characterized: of the 'dispositions of such violence, which his best friends cannot temper'; 'his known fashion to do any friend he hath wrong, and then repent it'; and 'his fashion to utter things easily.' Cecil regarded a nature like this scornfully. Infirmities might be tolerated in a brother-in-law who was a trusty ally. They could not be endured in a competitor.

[Sidenote: Cecil's Jealousy.]

Neither Ralegh nor Cobham appears to have detected the growth of rancour in Cecil. Ralegh maintained confidential intercourse with him on affairs of state. Together they were, as has been seen, conferring privately with Elizabeth on the policy to be adopted towards Munster rebels a few months before her death. Ralegh's correspondence with him betrays no suspicion of estrangement. It keeps throughout the old amiable style. There is talk of the price of timber at Rushmore. Salutations were sent so late as July 20, 1602, to 'my Lord Cobham and you, both in one letter,' with vows to 'do you both service with all I have, and my life to boot.' Ten weeks before Elizabeth's death Cecil was writing to Ralegh about partnership in a privateer. Ralegh in a memorable letter to his wife in July, 1603, spoke of the business association as still subsisting. It is difficult to believe that Cecil reciprocated, unless from complaisance and policy, the ferocity against Ralegh and Cobham, or either, which inspired Henry Howard's venomous canting mystifications, and was echoed by James. His correspondence with Ralegh's cousin, George Carew, countenances the view that his hostility had something in it of hurt affection. He was capable of tenderness for men who were willing to be his auxiliaries, who at all events would not be, and could not be, his rivals. But he was mistrustful. He readily confused any increased intimacy between friends of his with enmity to himself. He wrote to Carew in Ireland in June, 1601, to excuse himself, in his enigmatical manner, for an appearance of unkindness: 'If I did not know that you do measure me by your own heart towards me, it might be a doubtfulness in me that the mutinies of those I do love and will—howsoever they do me—might incite in you some belief that I was ungrateful towards them. But, sir, for the better man, the second always sways him, and to what passion he is subject who is subject to his lady, I leave to your judgment and experience.' Later, in 1602, he complained to Carew: 'Our two old friends do use me unkindly. But I have covenanted with my heart not to know it. In show we are great. All my revenge shall be to heap coals of fire on their heads.' He carried out his promise, and his coals scorched. Yet it may be questioned if he were conscious of a virulent humour towards his friend and his brother-in-law. Merely they were in his way, and threatened to embarrass the career which was his life. They were presuming to act independently. They pursued schemes which, if successful, would disturb his monopoly of power. If unsuccessful, they might, through his connexion with them, compromise him. He would not be sorry if circumstances combined against them, and brushed them as politicians from his path.


THE FALL (April-June, 1603).

[Sidenote: Death of the Queen.]

[Sidenote: Introduction to the Successor.]

Elizabeth died on March 24, 1603. In the previous September Howard had reported her 'never so gallant many years, nor so set upon jollity.' James set out from Scotland on April 5. Ralegh at the Queen's death was in the West. He returned hastily to London. There is a legend, countenanced by Sir John Hawles, that, with Sir John Fortescue and Cobham, he tried a movement for 'articling' with James before proclaiming him. Unsuspicious Aubrey narrates that at a consultation at Whitehall he went to the length of recommending the establishment of a 'commonwealth.' His object, he is said to have explained, was to save Englishmen from being subject to a needy, beggarly nation like the Scotch. Neither story rests on any foundation, except some possible light taunt of his. His name was not appended to the Proclamation, as he was not a Privy Councillor; but he was present at a meeting in the evening, when a loyal letter of welcome to the King was drawn up, and he signed it. Immediately afterwards he started, like many others, northwards, and met the King at Burleigh House. Cecil had taken credit for having stayed, he said, the journey of the Captain of the Guard, who was conducting many suitors to James. Ralegh did not suffer himself to be stopped either by Cecil's advice or by a Proclamation against the resort to the King of persons holding public offices, to the injury of public business. He assigned as the cause of his arrival the need of a royal letter to authorize the continuance of legal process in the Duchy of Cornwall, and to check the waste of royal woods and parks within it. Unmannerly James is said by Aubrey to have received him with a poor rude pun on his name: 'Rawly! Rawly! true enough, for I think of thee very rawly, mon.' Isaac D'Israeli credits the story. He superfluously thinks it settles, as without better authority than the King's broad Scotch it certainly could not, the proper pronunciation of the name. In itself it may be rather more plausible than Aubrey's tale of Ralegh's reply to the King's boast that he could have won the succession by force: 'Would God,' cried Ralegh, 'that had been put to the trial!' 'Why?' asked James. 'Because,' was the oracular answer—'never,' says Aubrey, 'forgotten or forgiven'—'your Majesty would then have known your friends from your foes.' It is much easier to agree with the apparent meaning of Aubrey's interrupted general reflection on the first meeting of King and subject: 'Sir Walter Ralegh had that awfulness and ascendency in his aspect over other mortals that the K—— '. At all events, the King ordered the speedy delivery of the authorization, that Ralegh might have no excuse for delay. The unwelcome guest took the hint. Acting-Secretary Sir Thomas Lake reported to Cecil that he was gone, having 'to my seeming taken no great root here.'

[Sidenote: Odium.]

At a council held by James at Cecil's seat of Theobald's, monopolies granted by Elizabeth were called in. The measure was based by its authors upon the need of popularity for the new reign. They were not sorry to hit Ralegh with the same stone. A question was raised at the Board whether the office of wine licenser were not a monopoly. Until the Council should have decided, the levy of all dues was suspended. A large part of Ralegh's income was at once cut off. He was summoned a few days later to the Council Chamber at Whitehall, to be informed that the King had appointed Sir Thomas Erskine, afterwards Earl of Kellie, Captain of the Guard. To this he is related to have in very humble manner submitted himself. His enemies knew they could in this as in other ways wound him with a certainty of applause for the gratification of their spite. Within a month of the Queen's decease a prayer of 'poor men' had been addressed to James against monopolies. The manifesto contained an especial allusion to Ralegh, of whom it wildly spoke as about to be created Earl of Pembroke. So, on the occasion of the dismissal from the command of the Guard, Beaumont, the French Ambassador, informed his Court that Cecil had induced the King to make the change on the ground of Ralegh's unpopularity, which would render his removal highly acceptable to the country. Henry Howard, before the demise of the Crown, when the effect of Ralegh's blandishments upon James was feared, had preached to the King on the same text. He reported a refusal by Elizabeth of the command of a regiment to Northumberland, for the reason that 'Ralegh had made the Earl as odious as himself, because he would not be singular, and such were not to be employed by princes of sound policy.'

For the present a semblance of consideration was preserved. The loss of the Captaincy was apparently sweetened by the elimination from his patent for the Governorship of Jersey of the reservation of L300 a year to the Crown or Seymour, and by the condonation of some arrears due from him. His fall elicited from him no symptom of anger against the King. If a letter purporting to be addressed by him to James be genuine, though the evidence for it is not strong, he was not as placid with respect to others. There the loss of his captaincy is angrily imputed to Cecil, who is accused of having brought about the deaths both of Essex and Queen Mary. Chronology must have forbidden James to attach weight to the latter allegation, if he had cared for it. On the former he would be better inclined to credit Howard, who asserted that Cecil had worked for Essex's deliverance. Cecil himself could produce the letter of 1600-1, signed 'W.R.' Soon Ralegh experienced a fresh proof of his helplessness, in a notice of ejectment from Durham House. Bishop Tobias Matthew of Durham met James at Berwick, and gained his ear. He used his influence and Ralegh's odium to procure an order for the restoration of the London episcopal residence. It was retaliation for his loss of the See of Sarum through Ralegh. On May 31 a royal warrant was issued for the removal of the present occupants, Ralegh and Sir Edward Darcy. Ralegh wrote on June 8 or 9, asking permission to stay till Michaelmas. He pleaded the L2000 he had spent on the structure during the twenty years of his tenancy. He recounted his outlay on autumn and winter provisions for a household of forty persons and twenty horses. He complained to no purpose. He was ordered to quit by Midsummer.

[Sidenote: Inopportune Advice.]

[Sidenote: The Fourth Party.]

Notwithstanding rebuffs, he continued to frequent the Court. He was at Beddington Park when the King on his Progress visited Sir Francis Carew, Lady Ralegh's uncle. Ralegh previously had laid before James a Discourse touching a War with Spain, and of the Protecting of the Netherlands. It is a most forcible, and, from its own point of view, sagacious disquisition in favour of persistency in the war with Spain, and the alliance with Holland, as well for offensive purposes against the Spaniards, as for defence, whether against Spain or France. As a controversial pamphlet it evinces none of the want of judgment with which Hallam charges Ralegh, though the defect appears plainly in his obtrusion of such views upon James. At Beddington he had an opportunity of clenching his argument, and the King's suspicions, by an offer, of which he subsequently boasted, to invade the Spanish dominions, at no cost to the King, with 2000 men. In the treatise he opposed the conclusion of any hasty peace with Spain. He referred to another essay, now lost, and never published, in which he had indicated How War may be made against Spain and the Indies. Spain was anxious for peace, and desired to consolidate it by separating England from France and Holland. The negotiations had begun in the lifetime of Elizabeth. They had excited much party spirit at Court, where Cobham already was conspicuous as their advocate, and Ralegh as their opponent. James's accession infused additional keenness into the contest. France was apprehensive of the King's proclivity towards an alliance, not merely peace, with Spain. Henry IV was not disinclined to the restoration of tranquillity in Europe. He was afraid of an Anglo-Spanish pacification of a character so cordial as to affect the league between the French and English Governments as it had existed in the late reign. He sent Sully over to cement the good understanding of the two States by arguments and gifts to the leading courtiers. Sully found the new Court honeycombed with intrigues. His fixed idea was that Spain was meditating much beyond the simple alienation of England from her ancient allies; 'qu'il se tramait quelque chose de bien plus important.' By means of the competing factions he tried to discover this great secret design. His researches were not confined to statesmen in authority, like Cecil, whom he characterizes in his candid Memoirs as 'tout mystere,' caring for no combination except so far as it might serve his individual political interests. He pursued his inquiries also among politicians out of power. They composed, he says, a 'Fourth Party,' with no basis of agreement, unless that its members could agree with no other party. He names as its leaders Northumberland, Southampton, Cumberland, Cobham, Ralegh, and Griffin Markham. They are described by him as 'gens seditieux, de caractere purement Anglais, et prets a tout entreprendre en faveur des nouveautes, fut-ce contre le Roi.' Northumberland he induced by a large pension to collect for him secret intelligence, though he did not believe it. All he obtained from 'Milords Cobham et Raleich' was that, when he broached to them his notion of the dark schemes of Spain, they replied 'conformement a cet avis.'

[Sidenote: Ralegh's Egotism.]

His communications with Ralegh were limited to the extraction of this expression of assent. Nowhere does he assert or imply that Ralegh accepted any present from him, or entered into any compact. Yet Hume founds on the bald statement of sympathy a formal allegation that Ralegh offered his services to France, and that the offer was repulsed. It is a sample of the way in which he has been traduced. Sully's evidence exhibits him in his invariable attitude of an adversary of Spain and Spanish pretensions. It does not indicate the smallest tendency in him to further his own policy by means of illegitimate foreign influences. His mistake was the belief that he could by perseverance impose his doctrines and himself upon the sovereign. In theory he understood, as he lays down in his History, that it is not sufficient to be wise with a wise prince, valiant with a valiant, and just with a just; a courtier, who would have an estate in his prosperity, must, he teaches, live altogether out of himself, study other men's humours, and change with the successor to the throne. In practice none ever disobeyed this law of advancement more signally than Ralegh in relation to James. His egotism often before had blinded him to the idiosyncrasies of others. He seems to have been more than ordinarily incapable of comprehending those of his present ruler. He presumed eagerness in a young King to signalize his accession by feats of arms. The high spirit of James was the source from which he hoped to draw the motive force necessary for the accomplishment of his vast designs against the colonial empire of Spain. An accidental conjunction of circumstances enabled him to see speedily the effect of his attempt to storm the royal confidence by displaying his own martial propensities.


AWAITING TRIAL (July-November, 1603).

[Sidenote: The Plots.]

We now enter the period of the plot and plot within plot in which Anthony Copley, the priests William Watson and Francis Clarke, George Brooke and his brother Cobham, Sir Griffin Markham and his brothers, the Puritan Lord Grey of Wilton, and Sir Edward Parham were variously and confusedly implicated. The intrigue, 'a dark kind of treason,' as Rushworth calls it, 'a sham plot' as it is styled by Sir John Hawles, belongs to our story only so far as the cross machinations involved Ralegh. His slender relation to it is as hard to fix as a cobweb or a nightmare. Even in his own age his part in it was, as obsolete Echard says, 'all riddle and mystery.' Cobham had an old acquaintance with the Count of Arenberg, Minister to the Archduke Albert and the Infanta Isabel, joint sovereigns of the Low Countries. The Infanta was that daughter of Philip II whose claims to the English throne Jesuits had asserted, and Essex had affected to fear. During the late reign Cobham had been in the habit of corresponding with the Count both openly and secretly. De la Fayle and an Antwerp merchant, la Renzi or de Laurencie, carried letters and messages to and fro. In November, 1602, the Count had invited Cobham to come over and confer about peace, of which Cobham was a strong advocate. After James's accession he wrote again. Cobham inquired of Cecil and the King how he was to reply. James answered that Cobham should know his pleasure on the meeting of the Council. To Lennox he remarked angrily that Cobham was more busy in it than he needed to be. Cobham meanwhile thought of going abroad; but Cecil dissuaded him. In May, 1603, Arenberg sent a third letter by de la Fayle.

[Sidenote: Cobham's Projects.]

During this period Cobham frequently met Ralegh. He was negotiating the purchase of a fee farm from the Crown, and trusted much to Ralegh's advice. He had confided to Ralegh L4000 worth of jewels to complete the contract. Their talk, Ralegh admitted later, though commonly about private affairs, would sometimes turn upon questions of State. Before the Queen's death, it must be repeated, Ralegh would have committed no crime, or even impropriety, in listening, if he ever listened, without disapproval to Cobham's most intemperate assertions in favour of the title of Arabella, and against that of James. The evidence adduced of their talk on politics after the King's accession contains no reference to any such topic. Even if its subject then had been improper, nothing worse than passive complicity was proved against Ralegh. Thus, one day at dinner, in Cobham's house at Blackfriars, Cobham declared that the Count, when he came, would yield such strong arguments for peace as would satisfy any man. He specified great sums of money to be given to certain Councillors for their aid. Cecil and Lord Mar were instanced by him. On the same occasion he held out liberal offers to Ralegh. Ralegh, by his own account, which was not contradicted by other testimony, only listened. When he was taxed at his trial with having given ear to matters he had not to deal in, he exclaimed: 'Could I stop my Lord Cobham's mouth!' The teaching of adversity showed him that in prudence he should have removed himself from the possibility of hearing. 'Venture not thy estate,' he wrote in his Instructions to his Son and to Posterity, 'with any of those great ones that shall attempt unlawful things, for thou shalt be sure to be part with them in the danger, but not in the honour. I myself know it, and have tasted it in all the course of my life.' But the application of the warning, and the regret, to the hearing of Cobham's vague after-dinner flights might have seemed, unless for the result, impossibly remote.

[Sidenote: Negotiations with Arenberg.]

Early in June the Count arrived in London, under the escort of Henry Howard. Cobham, with la Renzi, visited him on June 9. At night Cobham supped with Ralegh at Durham House; or Ralegh supped with Cobham at Blackfriars, being accompanied by him back to Durham House afterwards. From Durham House Cobham was alleged to have gone privily with la Renzi to obtain a promise of money from the Count. According to Cecil's narrative in the following August to Sir Thomas Parry, the Ambassador at Paris, Cobham had told Arenberg that if he would provide four or five hundred thousand crowns, 'he could show him a better way to prosper than by peace.' Scaramelli, the Secretary to the Venetian Legation, wrote home on December 1, 1603, that Arenberg promised 300,000 ducats in cash, and an equal sum when he should have returned to Flanders. Ralegh subsequently was accused of having on this occasion been offered money by Cobham to be a promoter of peace. Cobham, in the written statement read at the trial, alleged that Ralegh had bargained for L1500 a year for divulging Court secrets. How Ralegh, out of favour and wholly eclipsed, was to learn them, Cobham did not indicate. Ralegh mentioned subsequently he had noticed from a window of Durham House that Lord Cobham once or twice after visiting him was rowed past his own mansion at Blackfriars. He went to St. Saviour's, on the other side of the river. There la Renzi was known to be residing. This is the sum of the facts out of which the large fabric of Ralegh's guilt was to be constructed.

[Sidenote: The 'Surprising Treason.']

He had attended the Court to Windsor. There he heard of the arrest of Anthony Copley in Sussex on July 6. From Copley, according to Cecil at the trial, the first discovery of the Bye or Surprising Treason came. By letter from Windsor, Ralegh informed Cobham. On July 12 Copley was examined. George Brooke was arrested on the 14th, and the arrests of Lord Grey of Wilton and Sir Griffin Markham were ordered. One day between the 12th and the 16th Ralegh was on the Terrace at Windsor. The King was preparing to hunt, and Ralegh was waiting to join the cavalcade. Cecil came out, and bade him, as from the King, stay. The Lords in the Chamber, Cecil said, had some questions to put to him. How far he was interrogated on the intercourse of Cobham with the Count, and how much he disclosed, is obscure. At his trial he gave his story of the transaction. He said he was examined at Windsor touching the conspiracy to surprise and coerce the King; next, about plotting for Arabella; thirdly, about practices with the Lord Cobham. He added: 'It is true I suspected that Lord Cobham kept intelligence with Arenberg. For long since he held that course with him in the Low Countries, as was well known to my Lord Treasurer and to my Lord Cecil. La Renzi being a man also well known to me, I, so seeing him and the Lord Cobham together, thought that was the time they both had been to Count d'Arenberg. I gave intimation thereof. But I was willed by my Lord Cecil not to speak of this, because the King at the first coming of Arenberg would not give him occasion of suspicion. Wherefore I wrote to the Lord Cecil that if la Renzi were not taken the matter would not be discovered. Yet, if he were then apprehended, it would give matter of suspicion to the Lord Cobham. This letter of mine being presently shown to the Lord Cobham, he spake bitterly of me; yet, ere he came to the stairs' foot, he repented him, and, as I hear, acknowledged that he had done me wrong.'

Ralegh's account of the matter, in a court of honour, might have been that Cobham's understanding with Arenberg did not seem to him of much importance. As it perplexed the Council he, not perceiving the possible prejudice to his friend, volunteered his services in clearing it up. When it was discovered to be deadly, or had been inflated into an appearance of capital criminality, his letter to Cecil was employed to represent to Cobham an act, it must be admitted, at best of not very friendly officiousness as black treachery. His suggestion to Cecil is in any case inconsistent with consciousness of a guilty connexion with treason, if there were treason. Nobody of the least sagacity, much less the 'master of wiles,' such as contemporaries accounted Ralegh, if he had been concerned in a plot, and if his implication in it had been known to a single person, would have been so foolish as to provoke his one accomplice to retaliate by accusing him.

[Sidenote: Ralegh in Confinement.]

[Sidenote: The Message by Keymis.]

From the examination at Windsor he returned a prisoner, confined to his own house. Some intercourse was then held between him and Cobham, through Captain Keymis. He said he sent Keymis to explain to Cobham that, being under restraint, he could not come himself, and to mention what he had done with Mr. Attorney in the matter of a great pearl and diamond given him by Cobham in order to arrange the business of the fee farm Cobham was purchasing from the Crown. He had added that he 'had cleared him,' which was, he asserted, true, as he had remarked to Cecil that he believed Cobham had no concern with the plot of the priests. Cecil's statement disagrees both as to Ralegh's examination, and as to the message to Cobham. According to Cecil, Ralegh was not examined at Windsor on any matter concerning Cobham. Yet, though Cobham was not then suspected, and though Ralegh had been examined about himself alone, he immediately, it is alleged, sent Keymis to tell Cobham that he had been examined concerning him, and that he had cleared him of all to the Lords. Keymis is stated, though not by Cecil, to have added verbally, as if from Ralegh, an exhortation to Cobham to be 'of good comfort, for one witness could not condemn a man for treason.' Ralegh denied positively that any such message came from him. Mr. S.R. Gardiner, in his History of England from the Accession of James I to the Disgrace of Chief Justice Coke, condemns this as 'an unlucky falsehood.' His reason for the violent charge is that he does not suppose so loyal a friend as Keymis would have invented a damaging calumny. Keymis would not have invented it to injure; he may, in the hope that the effect would be beneficial, have repeated to Cobham casual expressions he had heard from Ralegh; or Cobham may have himself imagined the message was from Ralegh without any authority to that purport from Keymis. The former hypothesis is not inconsistent with the character of the messenger. Keymis could endure much for his leader. Without flinching he bore imprisonment in the Tower and Fleet, from which he was not released till December 31, 1603. He was a brave and loyal follower, but not very prudent, as after-events evinced. If the prosecution thought it could prove that he really used the words as from Ralegh, it is strange that it did not venture to produce him in court to testify to it.

Cobham could not have escaped suspicion. Ralegh's allusion to his dealings with Arenberg was not needed to direct it against him. He was notoriously reckless in his language. It had been remarked by Beaumont, the French Ambassador, in the previous May that he could scarcely mention Cecil without abusing him as a traitor. He was not likely to have been reticent on his relations with the Archduke's envoy. He was examined before the Privy Council several times at Richmond after July 15. On July 20 he confessed that he had asked Arenberg to procure five or six hundred thousand crowns for distribution among English malcontents. He had purposed to go on, after an interview with the Archduke in the Netherlands, and seek the money from the King of Spain. From Spain he intended, if the report of his examination can be credited, to return home by way of Jersey, where he expected to meet Ralegh. With him he meant to discuss the application of the money. So far his statement indicated reliance on his power of persuading Ralegh to abet the design. It showed no present complicity on Ralegh's part. At this point, according to the official narrative, 'a note under Ralegh's hand was shown to Examinate. Examinate, when he had perused the same, brake forth, saying, "O, Traitor! O, Villain! I will now tell you all the truth." And then said that he had never entered into these courses but by Ralegh's instigation; and that he would never let him alone.' He referred to suggestions by Ralegh of plots and invasions, and said he feared when he had him in Jersey, he would send him to the King. Convinced believers in Ralegh's duplicity will accept as satisfactory confirmation of that extraordinary apprehension an opinion attributed by Aubrey to Lord Southampton, an old enemy, that Ralegh joined the conspiracy in order to buy his peace by betraying it, and had schemed to inveigle Cobham and others over to Jersey, where he might secure them for the Government.

[Sidenote: Weaving a web for Ralegh.]

[Sidenote: Extorted Evidence.]

By this time various circumstances supposed to criminate Ralegh had been collected from the answers of the other accused persons. Each had been given over to one or more Commissioners to worry into confessions. Sir William Waad, or Wade, had charge of Ralegh, as of others. It was Waad who had broken open Queen Mary's cabinet at Chartley Hall. He was fitted for any dirty work. Keymis also had been arrested, and was examined by Waad and the Solicitor-General on Ralegh's communications with Cobham. They told him he deserved the rack. Waad hereafter denied that they ever 'threatened him with it.' La Renzi was examined, and deposed that Ralegh had been in Cobham's company when Cobham received letters from Arenberg, and sent others to him. The contents of the voluminous inquisitorial dust-heap were perpetually being sorted, and distributed, or, reluctantly, discarded. Any answers reflecting on another, particularly if reflecting on Ralegh, were carefully put aside, to fill gaps in the direct evidence against him. Thus, Brooke, according to Sir William Waad, 'confidently thinketh what his brother knows was known to the other.' On July 17, Brooke said that the conspirators among themselves thought Sir Walter Ralegh a fit man to be of the action. No account was made of the report by Markham of an express warning given him by Brooke himself against communications to Cobham, on the ground that whatever Cobham knew, Ralegh the witch would get out of him. In August, Brooke affirmed that both Ralegh and Cobham had resolved to destroy the King 'with all his cubs.' Watson mentioned that he and Brooke, and apparently Copley, had consulted concerning Sir Walter's surprising of the King's fleet. Copley reported a remark by Brooke that the project of causing stirs in Scotland came out of Ralegh's head. Watson had said of an assembly at Cobham's house reported to him by Brooke, that, beside Brooke and Cobham, my Lord Grey and Sir Walter Ralegh were there, and showed every one of them great discontent, but especially the two Lords. My Lord Cobham discovered his revenge to no less than the depriving of his Majesty and all his Royal issue both of crown, kingdom, life, and all at once; and my Lord Grey, to use Master Brooke's own words, uttered nothing but treason at every word. At a subsequent examination Watson stated to Sir William Waad that from Brooke's words it was evident the great mass of money reported to be at the disposal of the Jesuits was, most of it, from the Count of Arenberg. It was impossible for all the Catholics in England to raise so much of themselves. Brooke, moreover, it was recorded, had stated that his brother, Cobham, told him Lord Grey and others were only on the Bye, but he and Ralegh were on the Main. By the Main was signified the dethronement of James in favour of Arabella.

[Sidenote: Attempt at Suicide.]

Such second or third hand tales were to be used to point and colour the particle of direct testimony. This was Cobham's allegation that Ralegh had instigated the dealings with Arenberg. Otherwise, as Cecil almost officially admitted in a letter of August 4 to Parry, the only ground for proceedings against him was that he had been discontented in conspectu omnium ever since the King came. Without Cobham's charge it would have been impossible to prosecute him with any show of justice. Immediately after Cobham's examination he was committed to the Tower. He was conveyed thither from Fulham Palace, where he had been examined before Bishop Bancroft, one of the Royal Commissioners. He believed his doom decided. He found himself treated as convicted before he was tried. A resignation of the Wardenship of the Stannaries had been extorted from him. 'He underwent,' Sir John Harington wrote, 'a downfall of despair as his greatest enemy could not have wished him so much harm as he would have done himself.' Sir John spoke of a period before 1618. He did not know how Ralegh's enemies could accumulate hate. Ralegh never put any faith in the equity of English criminal procedure. He was resolved, if the story about to be related is to be credited, to disappoint it of some of its cruel fruits. Very soon after his arrival at the Tower, it has been supposed on July 20, he is said to have attempted his life. He was lodged in two small rooms in the Bloody tower. A couple of servants of his own waited on him. He dined with the Lieutenant, Sir John Peyton. Being at table, he was reported to have suddenly torn his vest open, seized a knife, and plunged it into his breast. It struck a rib and glanced aside. Being prevented from repeating the blow, he threw the knife down, crying, 'There! An end!' The wound appeared at first dangerous, though it turned out not very serious. For the details of the occurrence we have to rely upon Cecil's correspondence, together with a few words from Scaramelli, Secretary to the Venetian Legation. Cecil wrote of it to Parry, at Paris, on August 4: 'Although lodged and attended as well as in his own house, yet one afternoon, while divers of us were in the Tower, examining these prisoners, Sir Walter Ralegh attempted to have murdered himself. Whereof when we were advertised, we came to him, and found him in some agony, seeming to be unable to endure his misfortunes, and protesting innocency with carelessness of life. In that humour he had wounded himself under the right pap, but no way mortally; being, in truth, rather a cut than a stab.' Cecil adds: 'He is very well cured both in body and mind.' Several days earlier, on July 30, Peyton had written to Cecil that the hurt was nearly well. James had been informed of the event by Cecil. His comment was that Ralegh should be well probed by a good preacher, and induced to wound his spirit, not his body. Beaumont, the French Ambassador, observed on the matter to Henry IV: 'Sir Walter Ralegh is said to have declared that his design to kill himself arose from no feeling of fear, but was formed in order that his fate might not serve as a triumph to his enemies, whose power to put him to death, despite his innocency, he well knows.' Confiscation was the triumph of which he wished to deprive his persecutors, if he really contemplated suicide. His motive would be the rescue of Sherborne for his wife and child from forfeiture through attainder, the sure result, as he truly foresaw, of a trial for treason.

[Sidenote: A Disputed Letter.]

'After he had hurt himself,' it is stated on the extant copy of the letter, though more probably, if at all, on the eve of the attempt, he is alleged to have written to apprise his wife of his approaching death. In 1839, in an edition of Bishop Goodman's Court of King James the First, the late Professor John Brewer printed an unsigned paper, purporting to be such a letter, which had been found in All Souls College Library. Mr. Brewer describes it as in Sir Henry Yelverton's Collection, for no other apparent reason than that the document is in a commonplace book, which includes three speeches by Yelverton. The contents are miscellaneous, ranging from satirical verses to State papers, and of dates from 1500 to 1617. Mr. Oman, of All Souls, considers that the hand, the same throughout, of the copyist is of ordinary seventeenth century character. The volume came to the college from the collection of Narcissus Luttrell. The name of the original owner, for or by whom the matter was compiled and transcribed, is not known. Consequently, belief in the authenticity of the supposed letter from Ralegh depends on its own intrinsic probability.

[Sidenote: An Apocryphal Daughter.]

In the course of it, Ralegh, 'for his sake who was about to be cruel to himself, to preserve' his wife, begged her to be charitable 'to my poor daughter, to whom I have given nothing,' and to 'teach my son to love her for his father's sake.' Nowhere else is an allusion to this daughter discoverable. Nothing is known of her or her mother. Almost a necessary presumption is, that, if she existed, she was an illegitimate child. One benevolent writer has suggested, without a shadow of evidence, a prior marriage to that with Elizabeth Throckmorton. The manner in which she is commended to Lady Ralegh's compassion excludes the explanation that Lady Ralegh was her mother, whether before or after marriage. Ralegh proceeded to ask his wife's 'kindness for his brother Adrian Gilbert,' and for Keemis, 'a perfect honest man who hath much wrong for my sake.' He advised her to marry, not to please sense, but to avoid poverty, and in order to preserve their son. Very bitterly he cries: 'That I can live never to see thee and my child more! I cannot. I have desired God, and disputed with my reason, but nature and compassion hath the victory. That I can live to think you are both left a spoil to my enemies, and that my name shall be a dishonour to my child—I cannot. I cannot endure the memory thereof. For myself, I am left of all men, that have done good to many. All my good turns forgotten; all my errors revived and expounded to all extremity of ill. All my services, hazards, and expenses for my country—plantings, discoveries, fights, councils, and whatever else—malice hath now covered over. I am now made an enemy and traitor by the word of an unworthy man. He hath proclaimed me to be a partaker of his vain imaginations, notwithstanding the whole course of my life hath approved the contrary, as my death shall approve it. Woe, woe, woe be unto him by whose falsehood we are lost. He hath separated us asunder. He hath slain my honour, my fortune. He hath robbed thee of thy husband, thy child of his father, and me of you both. O God! Thou dost know my wrongs. Know then, thou my wife and child; know then, thou my Lord and King, that I ever thought them too honest to betray, and too good to conspire against. But, my wife, forgive them all, as I do. Live humble, for thou hast but a time also. God forgive my Lord Harry, for he was my heavy enemy. And for my Lord Cecil, I thought he would never forsake me in extremity. I would not have done it him, God knows. But do not thou know it, for he must be master of my child, and may have compassion of him. Be not dismayed that I died in despair of God's mercies. Strive not to dispute it. But assure thyself that God hath not left me, nor Satan tempted me. Hope and despair live not together. I know it is forbidden to destroy ourselves; but I trust it is forbidden in this sort, that we destroy not ourselves despairing of God's mercy. The mercy of God is immeasurable; the cogitations of men comprehend it not. In the Lord I have ever trusted; and I know that my Redeemer liveth. Far is it from me to be tempted with Satan; I am only tempted with Sorrow, whose sharp teeth devour my heart. O God! Thou art goodness itself; Thou canst not but be good to me. O God! that art mercy itself; Thou canst not but be merciful to me!

[Sidenote: Apology for Self-Destruction.]

'Oh, what will my poor servants think at their return, when they hear I am accused to be Spanish, who sent them, at very great charge, to plant and discover upon his territory. Oh, intolerable infamy! O God! I cannot resist these thoughts. I cannot bear to think how I am derided, to think of the expectation of my enemies, the scorns I shall receive, the cruel words of lawyers, the infamous taunts and despites, to be made a wonder and a spectacle! O Death! hasten thou unto me, that thou mayest destroy the memory of these, and lay me up in dark forgetfulness. O Death! destroy my memory, which is my tormentor; my thoughts and my life cannot dwell in one body. But do thou forget me, poor wife, that thou mayest live to bring up my poor child. The Lord knows my sorrow to part from thee and my poor child. But part I must, by enemies and injuries; part with shame, and triumph of my detractors. And therefore be contented with this work of God and forget me in all things, but thine own honour, and the love of mine.

'I bless my poor child, and let him know his father was no traitor. Be bold of my innocence, for God—to whom I offer life and soul—knows it.'

[Sidenote: Doubts.]

The obstacles to the acceptance of this composition as authentic are almost insuperable. It does not ring truly. Hard as it may be to distinguish rhetoric and passion in the death-bed phrases of men who have lived before the world, the contrast here with the natural pathos of the other, and undisputed, farewell of December, is too irreconcilably vivid. Then there is the extraordinary apparition of an otherwise invisible daughter. It is not the more intelligible for the opposite difficulty that few forgers would have been likely to venture upon so surprising an invention. The total disappearance of the original manuscript, and the absence for more than two centuries of all knowledge of its contents, are still stronger elements of doubt. Together, the circumstances fully justify the scepticism of Mr. Hepworth Dixon in the copious compilation styled by him a History of the Tower, though it is not requisite to adopt his amusing surmise that a document allowed to repose in the dark till the present age was fabricated to taint the credit of Ralegh as a virtuous husband. Probably the epistle was innocently concocted as a literary exercise by an admirer, who wished to explain or apologise for his temporary loss of self-control.

[Sidenote: Reasons for Silence.]

Notwithstanding a fire and indignation, occasionally approaching grandeur, which, it must be admitted, raise another perplexing question, who, if not Ralegh, had the wit to pen the epistle, it seems necessary to surrender the letter. But it is too great a leap from repudiation of it to the disbelief, first insinuated by Mr. Tytler, and more boldly and absolutely enunciated by Mr. Dixon, in the attempt itself at suicide. Their theory is that the whole was an invention of Ralegh's enemies. It may be admitted that the stab, like the letter, has its difficulties. If he tried to kill himself, it is strange that a practised swordsman should not have succeeded. Whether he meant death or not, the reserve of the Crown advocates at Winchester is equally mysterious. They were, it might have been thought, sure to dwell upon the act in the one case as contemptible, in the other as presumptive proof of a sense of guilt. The latter is the obvious way in which it would strike the mind. Sir Toby Matthew, son of the Bishop who had lately ejected Ralegh from his London house, described it as 'a guilty blow.' Two centuries later, it suggested to Hallam, 'a presumption of consciousness that something could be proved against him.' Why did Ralegh's contemporary and official adversaries not press the presumption home, if they could? On the other side, there is the yet weightier evidence of Ralegh's own conduct. He and his wife and friends must have heard the rumour, and their tongues were not tied. Whatever reasons counsel and judges had for reticence, the town had none. If Ralegh could have contradicted the discreditable tale, it is, as in the case of an earlier scandal, inconceivable that he should not. The explanation of his absolute silence, and the partial, not entire, silence of his adversaries, is that he was ashamed of his despair, and they were ashamed of having brought him to it. Cecil, after the trial, referred to the matter, after the fashion of Matthew and of Hallam, as 'suspicious.' At the time of the occurrence he mentioned it to Sir Thomas Parry in a tone more of apology. He appeared to be afraid European opinion might imagine that Ralegh had been driven mad by merciless treatment. Had death ensued, a worse suspicion, however in this instance unjust, was to be feared. Cecil would remember that there had been Tower suicides before, and that they had been interpreted as evidence rather against the gaolers than the prisoners.

[Sidenote: Improbability of Ralegh's Complicity.]

For a moment it seemed as if Ralegh had been superfluously mistrustful of English justice. A mass of tremendous charges had been rolled together. To Waad's hopeful fancy they appeared, he told Cecil, to have gravely implicated Ralegh, as well as Cobham. Investigated with a view to a positive arraignment, the pile broke up and evaporated. Watson's and Brooke's stories proved as unsubstantial as the astonishing romance adopted by grave de Thou. According to the French annalist, Ralegh, in disgust at the loss of his Captaincy of the Guard, had joined in a plot to kill the King, started by a band of Englishmen incensed at the Scottish irruption. He had accepted the post of assassin. But his sister's report of his agitation, of which she misapprehended the cause, induced inquiry. Arrested, he confessed the whole to James, and bought his life by the betrayal of Grey, Cobham, and Markham. Silly as is that tale, there was almost a more obvious dearth of motive for the prominent part assigned to him in the most circumstantial of the extorted depositions. Evidence was given that the other conspirators had agreed upon the apportionment among themselves of the high offices of State. No one testified that any had been reserved for the most competent, the most distinguished, and the most ambitious of the company. Ralegh's sole reward for the alleged terrible risk was, by Waad's report of Brooke's and Watson's admissions, to be some such sum of eight or ten thousand crowns as was to be offered to Cecil and Northumberland, who incurred no danger.

Soon it must have become apparent that success in a prosecution of Ralegh depended solely on the plausibility and consistency of Cobham's accusations. They were peculiarly deficient in those qualities. Ralegh has recorded that Cobham's remorse for the evil wrought by his charges of July 20 commenced within the building in which they had been uttered. At any rate, on the 29th he retracted them more or less completely. By a letter of that date, addressed to the Lords of the Council, he admitted he had pressed Arenberg for four or five hundred thousand crowns, though nothing was decided about their application. He had expected, he said, a general discontentment, and the money was to be expended as occasion offered. At his oral examination on the same day he is stated by Cecil, in a letter to Parry, to have 'cleared Sir Walter in most things, and to have taken all the burden to himself.' It may be inferred from an allusion by him in a letter that some of the Lords who had been interrogating him allowed their indignation at his apparent calumnies against Ralegh to be perceptible. The result was a growing impression that the proceedings against Ralegh would have to be abandoned. Lord Grey, an austere Protestant, and Sir Griffin Markham, a Catholic, already, it was rumoured, had denied that he had been a conspirator. They had affirmed they would have given up their project upon any suspicion that he was mixed up with it. Now Cobham also was become a broken reed. M. de Beaumont wrote to King Henry that the Lords found it difficult in consequence to sustain Ralegh's prosecution. 'God forgive Sir Walter Ralegh,' Cobham had exclaimed in August to Sir John Peyton's son; 'he hath accused me; but I cannot accuse him.'

[Sidenote: Cobham's Remorse.]

[Sidenote: Written Retractations.]

Cobham's awakened sense of justice prompted him in the autumn to a step which might have been decisive. Peyton was no longer at the Tower. Ralegh's guilt had so far been presumed, as early as August, that his patent as Governor of Jersey had been declared forfeited through his grievous treason intended against the King. The office was conferred on Peyton, in some measure, perhaps, that he might be removed from the charge of Ralegh. The current belief was that his preferment was disgrace for connivance at communications between him and Cobham. To his successor, Sir George Harvey, Cobham wrote on October 24, desiring the grant of facilities to him to address the Council on Ralegh's behalf: 'Mr. Lieutenant, If that I may write unto the Lords I would, touching Sir Walter Ralegh; besides my letter to my Lord Cecil; God is my witness, it doth touch my conscience. As you shall send me word so I will do, that my letter may be ready against your son's going. I would very fain have the words that the Lords used of my barbarousness in accusing him falsely.' Harvey received this brief and not very coherent, but significant, epistle, and locked the request up in his own bosom. He did worse. From the language of his tardy explanation to Cecil it is plain that he effectually discouraged Cobham's disposition to be Ralegh's apologist to the Council. He underrated, however, Ralegh's energy and dexterity. Cecil imagined that Ralegh had solicited from Cobham the original retractation. Messages, he suspected, had passed between the two in which Ralegh had 'expostulated Cobham's unkind using of him.' The correctness of his conjecture for the past is unknown. It was true of the present. Ralegh managed to have a letter, inclosed in, or fastened to, an apple, thrown, in November, four nights before they came to Winchester, into Cobham's window in Wardrobe tower. At the time the Lieutenant was at supper. In it he entreated Cobham to do him justice by his answer, and to signify to him that he had wronged him in his accusation. He added: 'Do not, as my Lord of Essex did, take heed of a preacher. By his persuasion he confessed, and so made himself guilty.' Cobham, though later he forgot the fact, appears to have duly replied in a letter, which was pushed under Ralegh's door. In it he admitted the wrong he had done to Ralegh. The language was not distinct enough. It was 'not to my contenting,' as afterwards said Ralegh, who wrote again. He did not ask for another written confession. Instead, he besought Cobham to declare his innocence when he should himself be arraigned. Thereupon Cobham sent a letter described by Ralegh as 'very good,' a complete and solemn justification, of which Howell in his State Trials adopts the following transcript: 'Seeing myself so near my end, for the discharge of my own conscience, and freeing myself from your blood, which else will cry vengeance against me, I protest upon my salvation I never practised with Spain by your procurement. God so comfort me in this my affliction, as you are a true subject for anything that I know. I will say, as Daniel, Purus sum a sanguine hujus. So God have mercy upon my soul as I know no treason by you.' According to another version, differing in language, not in tenor, the letter ran: 'To free myself from the cry of blood, I protest upon my soul, and before God and His angels, I never had conference with you in any treason, nor was ever moved by you to the things I heretofore accused you of; and, for anything I know, you are as innocent and as clear from any treasons against the King as is any subject living. And God so deal with me and have mercy upon my soul, as this is true.' Ralegh seems to have kept to himself the knowledge of the existence of this letter for the present, as Sir George Harvey, with less excuse, concealed the fact of Cobham's prayer to himself.

[Sidenote: Sir George Harvey's Disclosure.]

The correspondence was arranged partly through Edward Cottrell, a Tower servant who waited upon Ralegh. Partly it was through the Lieutenant's son, George, whom Ralegh had won over, as he had won over Sir John Peyton's son, John. It was on account of the discovery by the Council, through Ralegh's production at the trial of Cobham's letter to him, of George Harvey's mediation, and of the youth's imprisonment for it, that on December 17, several weeks after the end of the trial, at which it might have benefited Ralegh, the Lieutenant gave Cecil the letter of October 24. In the confidence that the infraction of discipline by his son, as well as by his two prisoners, would be extenuated by his own confession of an excess of official zeal, he acknowledged his suppression of the October letter. Incidentally he testified to the sincerity of Cobham's remorse. Cobham's 'great desire to justify Sir Walter,' he admitted to Cecil, 'having been by me then stopped, he diverted it, as I conceive, and it is very likely, unto Sir Walter himself.' In this penitent mood Cobham had confessed his misdeeds to others besides. He is reported to have told the vicar of Cobham parish that Ralegh 'had done him no hurt, but he had done Ralegh a great deal.' At last Ralegh might think that Cobham had ceased to be his accuser. Prepared as he was for his companion's 'fashion of uttering things easily,' he could scarcely have anticipated the layers of retractation still latent in that voluminous repository.

[Sidenote: Animosity of the Howards.]

His trust in the return of Cobham's veracity would not blind him to the peril he continued to incur from the 'cruelty' of the law of treason; from its willingness, in jealousy for the sovereign's safety, to have an innocent scapegoat rather than no example. He knew that the people took his guilt for granted, and that a jury would reflect popular opinion. He could look for no real help in any quarter. To honest, but unimaginative, politicians, he was an enigma and a trouble with his ideas. They simply wished him out of the way. He was sure of the hatred of the new men, 'very honourable men,' like the Tissaphernes of his History, 'if honour may be valued by greatness and place in Court.' He could calculate on no benevolence from the old courtiers. His claims of equality had always been an offence to the ancient nobility, which held itself entitled to precedence in glory as in its rewards. One from whom better things were to have been expected, the Lord Admiral, though he did not actively join in the prosecution, had his personal reasons for rejoicing in the downfall of a sharp censor of his naval administration. Between him and the Howard interest in general there had been frequent feuds, and they were opposed on many important questions. Lord Henry was not the only Howard who bore him ill-will, though the rest were not equally malignant.

[Sidenote: Cecil's Coldness.]

Henry Howard's confederate in the Scottish intrigues, Robert Cecil, had no family grievances to avenge. If he once feared Ralegh's rivalry, he could fear it no more. It is very difficult now, as before, to believe that he entertained sentiments of positive animosity or vindictiveness against Ralegh. Canon Kingsley's description of him as one of the most 'accomplished villains in history,' as the archplotter, who had managed the whole conspiracy against Ralegh, though Ralegh knew nothing of it till after the trial, is extravagant. Even Hallam's reference to 'the hostility of Cecil, so insidious and implacable,' seems exaggerated and unjust. The Minister was conscious of no malice. He took no pleasure in the present prosecution. But moral cowardice and incapacity to dispense with power now, as formerly, explain an attitude, which, it must be admitted, is hardly to be distinguished from that of an inveterate enemy. He could not afford, having, after a struggle, clambered on board the new ship of State, to identify himself with wrecked comrades known to be distasteful to his present master. It was convenient for him to assume an air of reluctant conviction that his friend was guilty, and that the only question was whether sufficient evidence could be collected to prove it judicially. On October 3 he wrote that Cobham's original accusation was 'so well fortified with other demonstrative circumstances, and the retractation so blemished by the discovery of the intelligence which they had, as few men can conceive Sir Walter Ralegh's denial comes from a clear heart.' He who knew well the habits of judges and juries in trials for treason, affected to think Ralegh could desire no fairer opportunity. 'Always,' he wrote in October to Winwood, 'he shall be left to the law, which is the right all men are born to.' His elaborate statements of the charges and proceedings to Parry, which were intended for circulation through Europe, convey the same impression of willingness to warp facts under cover of a cold concern for nothing but the truth. He did not deceive foreigners. M. de Beaumont, whose diplomatic interest it was to abet a prosecution which implicated Spain, spoke of him, in language already quoted, as undertaking the affair with so much warmth that it was said he acted more from interest and passion than for the good of the kingdom. He did not deceive unbiassed Englishmen. Harington wrote in 1603: 'I doubt the dice not fairly thrown, if Ralegh's life be the losing stake.' He has not deceived posterity.

To the new Court, its head, and his Scotch favourites, Ralegh necessarily was an object of aversion. He was not the less odious that he was incomprehensible. For years he and his designs had been subjects of suspicion and dread at Holyrood. Now, when he was no longer directly dangerous, he was an obstruction and a perplexity. In spite of the current charges against him, he represented hatred of Spain, with which James was eager to be on terms of amity. He represented the spirit of national unrest and adventurousness, which James abhorred. The obstinate calumny of his scepticism served as a pretext to the King's conscience for the unworthier instinct of personal dislike. His wisdom, learning, and wit were no passports to the favour of the one privileged Solomon of these isles.

[Sidenote: Compensations for Ralegh's Sufferings.]

He understood all he had to face. Vehemently as he fretted and complained, he was equal to the ordeal. He may be said to have been happy in undergoing it. Unless for it, neither his contemporaries nor posterity could have fully comprehended the scope and strength of his character. Unversed in law, he was more than a match for the incomparable legal learning of Coke and for his docile bench of judges. His trial, which is the opprobrium of forensic and judicial annals, makes a bright page in national history for the unique personality it reveals, with all its wealth of subtlety, courage, and versatility. Figures of purer metal have often stood in the dock, with as small chance of safety. Ralegh was a compound of gold, silver, iron, and clay. The trial, and all its circumstances, brought into conspicuous relief the diversity which is no less the wonder of the character than it is of the career. The Ralegh who has stamped himself upon English history, who has fascinated English imagination, is not so much the favourite of Elizabeth, the soldier and sailor; it is the baited prey of Coke and Popham, the browbeaten convict of Winchester, the attainted prisoner of the Tower. Against the Court of James and its obsequious lawyers he was struggling for bare life, for no sublime cause, for no impersonal ideal. Yet so high was his spirit, and his bearing so undaunted, that he has ever appeared to subsequent generations a martyr on the altar of English liberties.


THE TRIAL (November 17).

[Sidenote: The Indictment.]

On September 21 Ralegh had been indicted at Staines for having, with Cobham and Brooke, compassed in the Parish of St. Martin in the Fields to deprive the King of his crown, to alter the true religion, and to levy war. The indictment alleged that Cobham had discoursed with him on the means of raising Arabella Stuart to the crown; that Cobham had treated with Arenberg for 600,000 crowns from the King of Spain, and had meant to go to Spain in quest of support for Arabella. It alleged that Ralegh and Cobham had agreed Arabella should by letter promise the Archduke of Austria, the King of Spain, and the Duke of Savoy, to maintain a firm truce with Spain, to tolerate Papistry, and be guided by the three princes in her marriage. It alleged the publication and delivery by Ralegh to Cobham of a book traitorously devised against the King's title to the crown. Finally, it alleged that Cobham had agreed, when he should have received the money from Arenberg, to deliver eight or ten thousand crowns to Ralegh to enable him the better to effect the intended treasons. Jurors were summoned in September for the trial of this indictment. But for some reason the hearing was deferred till November.

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