[Sidenote: On the Thames.]
[Sidenote: Stukely Unmasked.]
Two wherries were hired at the Tower dock. Ralegh, attended by one of his pages, Stukely, Stukely's son, King, and Hart, set off. Sir William St. John and Herbert followed secretly in another boat. Ralegh wore a false beard and a hat with a green band. Stukely asked King whether thus far he had not acted as an honest man. King replied by a hope that he would continue to act thus. Herbert's boat was seen first making as if it would go through the bridge; but finally it returned down the river. Ralegh became alarmed. He asked the watermen if they would row on, though one came to arrest him in the King's name. They answered they could at all events not go beyond Gravesend. Ralegh explained that a brabbling matter with the Spanish Ambassador was taking him to Tilbury to embark for the Low Countries. He offered them ten gold pieces. Thereupon Stukely began cursing himself that he should be so unfortunate as to venture his life and fortune with a man full of doubt. He swore he would kill the watermen if they did not row on. The delays spent the tide, and the men said they could not reach Gravesend before morning. When they were a mile beyond Woolwich, at a reach called the Gallions, near Plumstead, Ralegh felt sure he was betrayed, and ordered the men to row back. Herbert's and St. John's wherry met them. Then Ralegh, wishing to remain in Stukely's custody, declared himself his prisoner. He still supposed the man was faithful. He pulled things out of his pocket and gave them to Stukely, who hugged him with tenderness. They landed at Greenwich, Ralegh intending to go to Stukely's house. But the other crew landed also. Now at last Stukely revealed his true character. He arrested Ralegh and King in his Majesty's name, and committed them to the charge of two of St. John's men. Ralegh understood, and said: 'Sir Lewis, these actions will not turn out to your credit.' With a generous thoughtfulness for a very different man, he tried to induce King to give himself out for an accomplice in Stukely's plot. King could not be persuaded. Ralegh and he were kept separate till the morning, when Ralegh was conducted to the Tower. As once more he passed within, he must have felt that his tomb had opened for him. King was allowed to attend him to the gate. There he was compelled to part. He left Ralegh, he wrote after the execution, 'to His tuition with whom I do not doubt but his soul resteth.' Ralegh's farewell words to him were: 'Stukely and Cottrell have betrayed me.'
A MORAL RACK (August 10-October 15).
[Sidenote: Ralegh's Trinkets.]
On the morning of Monday, August 10, Ralegh finally entered the Tower. This time he was made to feel that he was a prisoner indeed. He had meant to transport to France charts of Guiana, the Orinoko, Nuova Regina, and Panama, with five assays of the ore of the Mine. They were on him, and they were taken from him. He was stripped also of his trinkets, except a spleen stone. This and an ounce of ambergris were left with him for his personal use. A gold picture-case set with diamonds was, by his wish, consigned to the Lieutenant of the Tower. There were other ornaments. Among them was a diamond ring, supposed by Naunton to have been a present from Queen Elizabeth, though Ralegh told Sir Thomas Wilson he had never any such of the Queen's giving. There were a Guiana idol of gold and copper, and sixty-three gold buttons with sparks of diamonds. All these were entrusted to Stukely by the Lieutenant of the Tower. It would be strange if some did not stay with their custodian. It may have been with reference to them that Ralegh admitted the traitor to a last interview in the Lieutenant's lodgings on the Wednesday after his committal. We may be sure it was not to affirm, as Stukely declared, that he 'loved him as well as any friend he had in the world.'
[Sidenote: Examinations by Privy Councillors.]
More exalted persecutors than Stukely were now let loose upon him. The old game of 1603 was resumed. Lords of the Council and the Law Officers of the Crown worked their hardest to discover that he was a criminal. First on August 17, and twice afterwards, he was examined upon interrogatories by a committee of the Privy Council, consisting of Lord Chancellor Bacon, Archbishop Abbot, Lord Worcester, Coke, since November, 1616, no longer Chief Justice, Caesar, and Naunton. The examinations were not directed in a way either to do justice to the prisoner, or to elicit the truth, so far as can be discovered from the records of them. Those among the Lords Commissioners who desired something more than merely to extricate their master from a diplomatic difficulty, were incapacitated by an invincible prejudice. All started by taking for granted that the prisoner never intended to search for the Mine, that none existed, and that his single purpose since he prepared for his expedition was to attack piratically the Spanish colonies and commerce. Mr. Gardiner, who is one of his severest critics, acknowledges that they blundered and failed, because they were not content to convict him of having cared simply to find the Mine, and been reckless of the means.
James and his Ministers could convince themselves of the expediency and moral propriety of slaying a man capable, as they believed, of schemes, however qualified, for the capture of the Spanish treasure ships. They saw the difficulty of proving to the country the capital criminality of the avowal of a project never acted upon. They had hoped they might fabricate supplementary treasonable matter out of the communications between Ralegh and the French Agency. After a long competition between a French and a Spanish family compact, the Spanish faction at Court, which was James's own, was absolutely predominant. The Government did not shrink from offending French susceptibilities. In September it arrested and repeatedly examined de Novion, whose diplomatic character was not very definitive. Le Clerc, the resident Agent, was himself summoned before the Council at Hampton Court, and confronted with de Novion. He stood upon his privilege, and refused to answer. The Council solemnly rebuked him for his secret conferences with, and offers of means of escape to, an English subject attainted of high treason, and since 'detected in other heinous crimes.' He was informed he had forfeited, by the law of nations, his immunities, and was required to confine himself to his house. The French Government was wrathful; but it had a weak case. Its conduct, though its original advances to Ralegh had the sanction of the English Ministers, was clearly a breach of diplomatic propriety. The proof against the Frenchmen was of no use towards the end for which the Council laid stress on it. Ralegh, it was seen, could not be accounted liable for overtures he had rejected. The Crown still was thrown back on the chance of confessions by himself for a provision of assignable pretexts for his destruction.
[Sidenote: Pledges to Spain.]
In some way or other reasons had to be discovered. James saw the Infanta's dower of two million crowns and jewels within his grasp. The Spanish Court showed the friendliest disposition. It had expressed its delight at the welcome news of its enemy's capture in the act of flight, and his committal again to the Tower. Nothing was wanting, James imagined, to crown the negotiations, but an English head which he was very willing to sacrifice. He had given the Spanish Government the option of a public execution either at Madrid or in London. It was impossible that he should disappoint the agreeable expectation. At Court the will to put Ralegh to death was matter of notoriety. The Queen's was the only voice raised loudly against it. They who were ignorant how faded was her influence imagined her protest might still be of avail. On September 23, Sir Edward Harwood wrote to Carleton, that Ralegh was struggling hard for life, and that, as the King was now with the Queen, it was believed he might live. Courtiers in general knew better. On August 29, Tyringham, another of Carleton's purveyors of news, wrote to him: 'It is said that death will conclude Sir Walter Ralegh's troubles. The Queen's intercession will rather defer than prevent his punishment.' Yet ways and means had to be provided, and the difficulty grew rather than diminished, until it was decided to cut the knot. Harwood reported to Carleton on October 3, that 'the King is much inclined to hang Ralegh; but it cannot handsomely be done; and he is likely to live out his days.' As time went on, and the climax was not reached, the gossip of the town, perhaps of the Court itself, spread a rumour that the delay was intentional. Ralegh was said to have been promised his life if he would help towards revelations of the misappropriation of crown jewels or lands at the King's accession, with the connivance of the late Treasurers, Salisbury and Suffolk. The tale may have had some sort of basis in Ralegh's habit of charging Cecil with an abuse of his position to his personal enrichment at the expense of the Crown, from which he was alleged to have taken Hatfield by a profitable exchange, and Cobham's escheated estates. No evidence exists that the question was ever seriously raised, or had any connexion with the delay. Of that the one real cause was the inability of the Court to elicit damning testimony against himself.
[Sidenote: Sir Thomas Wilson.]
To patch up the gaps in the inquiry before the Lords Commissioners, the same system was tried as in the preliminary investigations of 1603. Ralegh was placed, from September 11 till October 15, under a special keeper. The keeper's business, like that of a Juge d'Instruction, was to ransack him, and worry him into supplying a case against himself. For the office Sir Thomas Wilson, Keeper of the State Paper Office, was chosen. As Wilson himself confessed, his arrival produced an impression on the officers of the Tower as well as Ralegh, that 'a messenger of death had been sent.' He had entered the public service as a spy of Cecil's. He was now enjoying a pension for the intelligence he had collected in Spain concerning the Main and Bye Plots. His defect in his new office was an excess of zeal in suspiciousness. He began by regarding Ralegh as an arch hypocrite, and a lying impudent impostor, from whom the truth could be extracted only by 'a rack, or a halter.' Though otherwise a man of some learning, and a diligent guardian of the public records, he seems to have been very ignorant of physics. He thought Ralegh was an empty boaster for his statement that he could distil salt-water into fresh by means of copper furnaces. He treated his ailments, which Ralegh's somewhat hypochondriacal temperament may have a little exaggerated, as wholly feigned, 'that he might not be thought in his health to enterprise any such matter as perhaps he designeth.' Their symptoms, the swollen left side and liver, the painful sores over his body, the ague-fits, his lameness from the Cadiz wound, he conjectured were caused by the patient's own applications. With his wife to share his watch, he was given absolute control. No person was to have speech with Ralegh, unless in his hearing. The Council was to be told all he observed. He was cunning, though he was fond of enlarging on his simple honesty. He had a high sense of his own importance, and magnified his very extensive powers. He was furious with the door-keeper of the Council for delaying one day to carry in a message from him while the Council was deliberating. He quarrelled with Sir Allen Apsley, now Lieutenant of the Tower, for withholding the keys of Ralegh's apartment at night.
[Sidenote: The Apsleys.]
[Sidenote: 'Chemical Stuffs.']
Apsley, a near connexion by his third wife of Villiers, through whom he had been enabled to buy his office, must have been an acquaintance of Ralegh's. He had served in the commissariat department in the Cadiz expedition, and in Ireland. His second wife was niece, and almost adopted daughter, of George Carew. On Ralegh's return to the Tower, his old lodgings in the Bloody tower being tenanted by Lord and Lady Somerset, he was quartered in the Lieutenant's own house. There he was sure of hospitable treatment, both on account of the past, and as one of the persons eminent in learning and in arms, for whom, we are told, Sir Allen had a singular kindness. He had the especial happiness of association there with the third Lady Apsley, the mother of Lucy, afterwards the noble wife of Colonel Hutchinson. Lady Apsley was interested in physical science. Mrs. Hutchinson has recorded how her mother, as well from curiosity as from her abounding benignity, which made her desire that the illustrious prisoner should be comforted and diverted, persuaded the less scientifically enlightened Sir Allen to tolerate his chemical investigations. Sir Allen allowed her an income for herself of L300 a year. Among other good works on which this 'mother' of the Tower spent her pin-money, was the payment of the cost of Ralegh's experiments. According to Mrs. Hutchinson, herself a capable surgeon, Ralegh taught Lady Apsley in return many valuable chemical prescriptions. After a time he was removed to good quarters in the Wardrobe tower, looking over the Queen's garden. With that arrangement Wilson professed himself much dissatisfied. He affected to apprehend communications between Ralegh and confederates outside. Finally he had his way. Against the wishes of Apsley, as much as his own, Ralegh was transported to a little upper room in the Brick tower. 'Though it seemeth nearer Heaven, yet,' wrote Wilson to Naunton, 'there is there no means to escape but into Hell.' It had been occupied by his servants when he was confined in that building for his offence of 1592. He was not allowed now to have the attendance of his own valet. He was threatened with separation from the 'chemical stuffs,' with which he loved constantly to drench himself from phials containing all spirits, sneered ignorant Wilson, but the spirit of God. The Tower physician could not tell what they were. He, and apparently Sir Allen Apsley too, at first apprehended another attempt at suicide. They need not. Ralegh, landless, ruined, had no longer aught to gain by self-destruction for his family. Apart from a sense of religious duty, he had every motive for reserving his head for the block, for wishing to 'die in the light.' Wilson's employers might not have been sorry had his view been different. Though sometimes the conversation turned on the topic of noble Roman suicides, Ralegh showed no inclination to take his own life. Wilson said with a taunt he did not abstain out of principle, but simply because he, who knew not what fear was, 'had no such Roman courage.'
[Sidenote: Promises in the King's Name.]
It would be unfair to Wilson and to his confederate Naunton, who had hoped that the other would 'not long be troubled with that cripple,' to infer that they were disappointed at Ralegh's reluctance to disembarrass the Court by self-murder of the trouble of him. There can be no doubt of the dishonesty of the devices Wilson adopted to secure him for the block. He tempted him with mendaciously ambiguous declarations that, if he disclosed all he knew, the King would forgive him, and do him all kindness. Wilson, James, and Naunton were engaged in a common conspiracy, that the first, without directly pledging the royal word to a grant of grace, should coax from Ralegh a confession by allowing him to fancy such a pledge had been given. Naunton's rebukes, as well as Wilson's own avowals to him, indicate that Wilson all but positively bound the King. He need scarcely have resorted to falsehoods, which did not impose upon his prisoner. Ralegh's experience of the King's justice and clemency had been too long and intimate for him to be deluded by a Sir Thomas Wilson. Though he had a right to tax the King with promises given in the King's name, he did not hope, he told Wilson, thus to save his life. 'He knew that the more he confessed, the sooner he should be hanged.' But he was not unwilling to talk and write. He wished, absurd as seemed to Wilson his pretension to such a possession, 'to discharge his conscience in all things to his Majesty.' He rejoiced besides in an opportunity for clearing up obscurities in his career. Ultimately he grew reserved with Wilson, as may easily be understood. At first, before he had thoroughly gauged his companion, he conversed freely. He discoursed almost too freely and fully for Wilson's ability to condense the whole into a narrative which would be plausible enough to give the King a sense that they were on the verge of real discoveries. Wilson complained to Naunton that he often tried to gain information by talking on matters which might lead to it.
[Sidenote: Apology for Flight.]
From the Tower, though one biographer believes it was from Devonshire, he wrote to the King, asking why it should be lawful for Spaniards to murder thirty-six Englishmen, tying them back to back, and then cutting their throats, yet be unlawful for Englishmen—'O miserable English! O miserable Ralegh!—to repel force by force.' The Spanish atrocities are not disputed. The strange thing is that historians who condemn Ralegh's alleged violence to Spaniards never seem to suppose he was really resentful of them. They treat his indignation as factitious. Another letter he appears, at Wilson's instigation, to have written to the King on September 17 or 18, which has been lost or suppressed. In it, from an indorsement, dated September 19, on Wilson's covering letter, it seems that he asked for an examination of one Christofero, the Governor of Guiana's mulatto valet, whom Keymis had brought from San Thome. He would be able to speak, it was mentioned, of 'seven or eight several mines of gold that are there.' It was not convenient to order any such examination. Ralegh wrote other letters from the Tower. He wrote to Villiers, to explain, not so much to him or his master, as to his own wounded self-respect, the one act of which he was really ashamed. It was his ineffectual flight, that 'late and too late lamented resolution.' He recounted to deaf ears the dreams on which he had brooded of permission to lead yet another expedition in search of his El Dorado; his despair, when the peremptory summons by the Council to London demonstrated to him that his vision of treasures and glory was to be extinguished for ever by actual or virtual death. In a much bolder letter to George Carew, intended for the King's perusal, which sounds more like a manifesto to the English nation, he frankly avowed the things he had left undone as well as the things he had done, and his reasons. He admitted he had not, in his description of his project, reminded the King that the Spaniards had already a footing in Guiana. Though the King's advisers were as well aware as himself of the foundation of the original San Thome, he was willing to facilitate the King's efforts to purge himself individually of complicity with the attack on a Spanish settlement. He admitted further that his patent did not formally authorize him to remove the Spaniards when they blocked the path to the Mine. His defence was that he required no distinct authority. The natural lords of Guiana had acknowledged Elizabeth their sovereign, and the Spaniards had no title to forbid the entry of Englishmen. He did not deny his responsibility for the capture of San Thome as part of the operations for the discovery of the Mine, and he justified it. His right to march about Guiana without let or hindrance was, he contended, implied in the Royal commission. Unless the King's title to Guiana were clear, his entrance for any purpose could not have been sanctioned. If Guiana were Spanish soil, he would have been as manifestly a thief for taking gold anywhere out of it, and the Crown as manifestly an accessary to theft, as the Spaniards now asserted him to be a peace breaker.
[Sidenote: Detention of Lady Ralegh.]
As may easily be imagined, these were not confessions of the sort James desired. 'Farrago istius veteratoris' was the description applied to them by Wilson in his classical moments. 'Mountebank's stuff' he called them when writing for less classical eyes than the King's. Naunton affected to despise them as 'roaring tedious epistles.' They were as little satisfied with the undressed disclosures which they ungenerously endeavoured to obtain through Lady Carew and Lady Ralegh. Lady Carew was made to question him on his communications with the French Agent, and also to question the Agent. She reported the Agent's answer to her interrogation what Ralegh was to have done or to do in France if he had succeeded, or should succeed, in escaping thither. It was: 'Il mangera, il boyera, il fera bien.' Nothing more material was extracted from Lady Ralegh. She had been committed on August 20 to the custody, in her own house in Broad-street, of a London merchant, Wollaston. He was relieved of the disagreeable duty on September 10, 'for his many great occasions and affairs.' Another merchant, Richard Champion, succeeded him. He was forbidden to allow any to have access to her, save only such as he should think fit. Eventually she was subjected to the supervision of Wilson. No crime was imputed to her. The object of the lawless outrage was the interception of admissions in the letters husband and wife were encouraged to write. All were submitted to the King's prying though lazy eyes. Naunton remarked on one occasion to Wilson: 'I forbear to send your long letter to the King, who would not read over the Lady's, being glutted and cloyed with business.' The correspondence told little any of the conspirators cared to learn. The letters breathed a trust and affection James never inspired. None of the State secrets he expected to detect were revealed in such a note as from Ralegh in September: 'I am sick and weak. My swollen side keeps me in perpetual pain and unrest;' or in her reply: 'I am sorry to hear amongst many discomforts that your health is so ill. 'Tis merely sorrow and grief. I hope your health and comforts will mend, and mend us for God.'
[Sidenote: Mr. Gardiner's Case against Ralegh.]
[Sidenote: The King's good Faith.]
By this time the Government recognised that it had done all in its power for the completion of its case against Ralegh. Students of the proceedings will think the same. They have cause to be grateful to Mr. Gardiner for marshalling the medley in his essay under that title in the Fortnightly Review. With the fullest desire to be impartial, he sums up strongly against the defendant; and his skill and patience in the collection of evidence are such as to ensure that he has neglected nothing available for a decisive condemnation. According to him, Ralegh was guilty of a flagrant breach of the conditions on which his expedition was authorized. He had pledged his own faith and that of his friends and companions that he could reach and work his Mine in Guiana without attacking resident Spaniards, or trespassing on lands in Spanish occupation. James, it is said, was not inconsistent with his own principles in sanctioning an enterprise thus qualified. The King's doctrine, frankly stated by Mr. Gardiner, was that nothing less than occupancy carried the right to territorial dominion; and it had been declared to him that the locality of the Mine was not occupied by Spaniards. He was sceptical of the existence of the Mine, and he was mistrustful of Ralegh's disposition to comply with the compact. The national eagerness, however, for the adventure, and the confidence of Ralegh's well-wishers, overpowered his reluctance. He was moved also by the venial hope of a vast influx of innocent profit into his empty Treasury. From the first it was understood plainly that the admiral accepted the entire responsibility for the maintenance of a peaceable attitude towards Spanish possessions. The postponement of a pardon was a sign. Ralegh's conduct in despatching his men to a spot where a collision was inevitable, indicated a deliberate disregard of his covenants. James could not have known that the situation of the new San Thome necessitated a conflict, if the Mine were to be approached, since Ralegh himself had in England not been aware of the resettlement. As soon as he heard, his duty was either to retire, or to choose a fresh route. He did neither, and thus fairly laid himself open to the punishment he had invoked before he started. Mr. Gardiner does not allow that James is chargeable with double dealing which should have tied his hands as against Ralegh, on account of the disclosure of Ralegh's memorial and plans to Gondomar. The memorial, which, Mr. Gardiner is sure, included no specification of the place of the Mine, would tell the Ambassador little of novelty or practical importance. Besides, Mr. Gardiner believes Ralegh was aware that it was to be shown. Finally, Ralegh's designs against the plate fleet, and his intrigues with Savoy and France, in Mr. Gardiner's opinion, sufficiently demonstrate his want of scrupulousness. The evidence of them would naturally disincline the King for passing indulgently over proved violations of agreement. On the whole, he concludes, 'no one who now constructs a narrative of Ralegh's voyage on the basis of a belief in his veracity will be likely to obtain a hearing.'
[Sidenote: Weakness of the Case.]
It is a large indictment resting upon a very slender basis. The question of the alleged schemes of freebooting, none of which issued in action, has been considered already. For the present its relevancy depends on the answer to the main charge of an unlicensed and deliberate rupture by Ralegh of the peace between his own Sovereign and the King of Spain. For a determination of the point it must be remembered how much Mr. Gardiner concedes in Ralegh's favour, as well as how much he decides adversely. If San Thome had remained in 1618 where it was in 1596, and Spanish troops, having taken up a temporary post a score or so of miles lower down, had from that barred the quiet passage of young Walter and Keymis, Mr. Gardiner apparently must have exonerated Ralegh. He would have been safe within his commission, which appointed him leader of an armed force for the obvious purpose of resisting impediments to his progress about Guiana, unless where Spaniards were in immediate possession. Warfare with Spaniards in Guiana is not in itself represented as criminal. His sole offence was in combating them voluntarily on ground they positively occupied. The same defence which he might have conclusively urged if soldiers, descending from the original San Thome, had blocked his transit, is justly pleadable for his men's voyage on the Orinoko past the new town. Guiana in general being free to Englishmen, it is manifest that a settlement on the bank could not appropriate the channel. The whole question of the guilt or innocence of Ralegh on James's reading of international law, is narrowed to the minute issue whether the Spaniards or the Englishmen on the particular scene of the fight were the aggressors. Whatever the decision upon that, it is difficult to see how it could properly affect Ralegh. His right and his duty were to find and take possession of the Mine, if it were not in Spanish hands, as nobody alleges it was. He was entitled to break through obstacles in his way, so long as he did not violate actual Spanish soil. Lawfully he sent his comrades along the Orinoko. If on their road the Spaniards compelled a contest, neither Ralegh nor his subordinates were in fault. If his captains compelled it, he cannot have been liable, unless he be proved, as he has not been, to have so instructed them. In any event, when all Spanish officers in America notoriously deemed an Englishman a pirate who entered the Orinoko without their leave, and King James claimed authority to send his subjects wherever in Guiana Spaniards were not permanently planted, it is unreasonable to throw the liability for an armed brawl between Spaniards and Englishmen in Guiana upon the English chief. His Sovereign, who with eyes open despatched him with an armament to work a mine of prodigious value, cannot be permitted to shift on him the odium of a bloody struggle because the goal turned out to be some eight miles off, instead of the twenty more or less at which both master and subject had judged it to be.
[Sidenote: Difficulties of the Government.]
The design of the Government had been to discover proof of fresh crimes since Ralegh's liberation in 1616, and to try him for them. It had failed. Much of the testimony it had painfully collected was dubious, vague, biassed, interested, or plainly corrupt. Such as it was the Council either would not, or could not, rely upon it for a conviction. Ralegh's transactions with the Frenchmen were unwarrantable, if its view of them were correct. But they had resulted in nothing, and they were a continuation of relations which it had itself promoted. At San Thome, if he were liable for his men, as partially he did not deny, though he might have denied it, he had broken the King's peace by an invasion of Spanish territory, if Guiana were Spanish. He maintained that it was as much English as it was Spanish, if not more; and they neither dared, in the existing state of national opinion, nor perhaps cared, to gainsay the doctrine. His alleged schemes for the maritime spoliation of Spaniards may well have been to his mind lawful. All English seamen, and the nation at large, believed that the articles of peace between the two kingdoms did not extend beyond the Equator. In the latest treaty with Spain, that of 1604, the Indies and their trade were intentionally not mentioned, on account of the insoluble difficulties arising out of the Spanish determination to shut the region to free European trade. For Ralegh and a multitude of Englishmen, and Spaniards also, England and Spain were in America always at war. Neither national nor international law countenanced the doctrine. Any Englishman who had devastated Spanish commerce in the West Indies, would, during a large part of Elizabeth's reign, have been amenable to criminal justice, if the State had prosecuted. But the State then was not inclined to prosecute for such acts. During the next reign some statesmen continued to hold, like the people, that there was no peace beyond the Line. If there were peace, the State could not have proceeded against Ralegh for the thought of breaking it. The single criminal act proved was his attempt at escape. For it he might have been tried and punished. But the most triumphant prosecution on such a charge would not have given the Government the pound of flesh it owed to Spain. Nothing less was of use.
[Sidenote: Ralegh's real Motive.]
[Sidenote: The Rest Talk.]
The administration floundered about in futile efforts. Perpetually it was deluded by a sensation of solid ground which immediately slipped from under its feet. It was the more enraged with Ralegh that he seemed to be ever offering clues, which only led astray. It imputed its embarrassment to his cunning. He had no intention to deceive, or even to abstain from promoting a revelation of the truth, which he did not fear. Simply he and it were radically at cross purposes. They were mutually unintelligible. The sincerity of his ardour for the attainment of a footing in Guiana is unquestionable. He was honestly eager for it in the Tower, in Trinidad after the return from San Thome, at Plymouth, when he was grovelling in counterfeit madness at Salisbury, and when he was a fugitive on the Thames. But Guiana was not his real end. Guiana was the means he had finally and deliberately chosen to inflame the English people and Crown with an inextinguishable ambition for the creation of an American empire. He did not much mind how the national imagination was kindled, provided that it caught fire. His motive was patriotic and vast, and his judges and accusers, conscientious men like Caesar and Abbot, as well as others, had not the faintest understanding of it. All except the motive was talk, much of it reprehensible talk, but much not truly reported; and his censors let their prejudices seduce them into treating the entire mass as evidence of facts and acts. If he ever instructed his officers to commence the expedition to the Mine by taking the initiative in an attack on San Thome, the direction was confined to talk. If, whether before or after the San Thome incident, he spoke of the capture of the plate fleet, that was nothing but talk. Captain Parker's report of the project of Ralegh and St. Leger for lying in wait for homeward bound ships referred, if not wholly untrue, to talk, like his own and Whitney's similar plans. When Ralegh told his wife he hoped for something ere his return, that was talk. If he ever said he should not come back, that was talk. If he boasted of a French commission, and affirmed his preference for France, that was talk. The entire pile of charges against him, proved, unproved, or disproved, was talk. All began and ended in talk, unless that Bayley captured French boats, and Ralegh redeemed them; that the Lancerota islanders murdered English sailors, and he did not retaliate; that the San Giuseppe Spaniards were aggressors, and he bore it; and that the garrison of San Thome laid an ambush for his men, to hinder their access to a district which his Sovereign had commissioned him to enter, and were soundly beaten for their hostility.
The Government was in a dilemma. It meant to put Ralegh to death, and the process was as behindhand as at Ralegh's return to Plymouth, or more so. Spain had the promise of his blood, as soon as it should decide whether itself or England were to provide the scaffold. On October 15 the Spanish Legation in London received the answer of the Escurial. Philip III had no mind to accept the odium before Europe of murdering a redoubtable foe. He expressed his preference for an execution in England, and at once. Only in one way could the object be effected. Ralegh must be put to death, not ostensibly for San Thome, but for the Main Plot. Both for Ralegh and his heroic wife the immediate results were solacing. There was no need for tormenting either further for the concoction of a fresh indictment, if the original indictment retained strength to do the work. A warrant was addressed to Wilson for Lady Ralegh's release from his supervision. By another he was discharged from attendance upon her husband. Ten days earlier he had pretended to pray the King's leave to give up his trust at the Tower. He said he was anxious to resume the arrangement of the State papers of the previous six or seven years. For Ralegh at all events it was a happy respite to be restored, for the last dozen days of his Tower life, to the honest keeping of Sir Allen, and the charitable offices of Lady Apsley.
A SUBSTITUTE FOR A TRIAL (October 22, 1618).
[Sidenote: Two Courses.]
Bacon, his fellow Commissioners, and the Law Officers were consulted by the Crown on the fitting procedure for the setting up of the old conviction. Coke seems to have been deputed by the other Commissioners to embody in legal form their unanimous opinion, which Bacon, as Lord Chancellor, delivered to James on October 18. The only copy in existence is in Coke's handwriting. It was to the purport that Ralegh, being attainted already of high treason, could not be drawn in question judicially for any crime since committed. The Commissioners recommended one of two courses. The first was for the King to issue his warrant for execution upon the conviction of 1603. At the same time, as Ralegh's 'late crimes and offences were not yet publicly known,' a printed narrative of them might be published. The Commissioners agreed that such a course could legally be pursued. Some among them would see as clearly, though they might not feel as indignantly, as the modern Whig historian, that 'no technical reasoning could overcome the moral sense which revolted at carrying the original sentence into execution.' Consequently, an alternative method, to which the Commissioners 'rather inclined,' was suggested in Coke's paper; one 'nearest to a legal procedure.' There was a precedent in certain proceedings against Lady Shrewsbury. According to it, Ralegh might be called before the whole body of the Council of State, with the addition of the principal Judges, some noblemen and gentlemen of quality being invited to act as audience. He should be told he was brought before the Council rather than a Court of Justice, because he was already civilly dead. Then he should be charged in regular form by counsel with his acts of hostility, depredation and abuse. He should be heard in his defence; and adverse witnesses should be confronted with him, as Cobham had not been. With that which concerned the Frenchmen the Commissioners thought he should not be charged. Therein he had been passive rather than active; and without it the case appeared to the Commissioners to be complete. Moreover, they doubtless suspected Ralegh could show that in the French negotiations he had not acted alone. Finally, said the memorial, the Council and the Judges assisting would advise whether his Majesty might not with justice and honour give warrant for Ralegh's execution upon his attainder, in respect of his subsequent offences.
[Sidenote: Objections to an open Inquiry.]
[Sidenote: Sir Julius Caesar.]
James dictated a reply to the Commissioners, which is extant in the writing of the secretary of Villiers. He objected to the second proposal in its original form for two main reasons. The procedure, though proper against a Countess, would be too great honour against one of Ralegh's state. It would not be 'fit, because it would make him too popular, as was found by experiment at the arraignment at Winchester, where by his wit he turned the hatred of men into compassion.' Consequently, the King modified the arrangement by an omission of the Judges, and of the element of partial publicity through the presence of a selected audience. The members of the Council who had conducted the previous examinations were directed to sit as a quasi-criminal Court. But they sat with closed doors, and their sitting was kept strictly private. From a letter at Simancas, written on November 6 by a Spanish Agent in London, Julian Sanchez de Ulloa, to his Government from hearsay, it may be gathered that the inquiry was held on October 22, and lasted for four hours. No complete account has been discovered of the course it took, in consequence, Mr. Spedding, in his Life of Bacon, supposes, of the destruction of a mass of Council Chamber papers in the fire of January 12, 1619, at the Banqueting House. That is possible. As the Commission sat as a Court, not as a Council, the explanation is not incompatible with the circumstance that the Council Register for 1618, which, as it happens, did not suffer from the conflagration, contains no allusion to a meeting of the Council on October 22. Nevertheless it is more likely that the want of official record is due to the extreme anxiety of the King's advisers for secrecy. They were afraid of popular feeling. The fact of the imitation trial might have been itself doubtful, but for a fragmentary sketch in a volume of Sir Julius Caesar's notes, preserved among the Lansdowne Manuscripts in the British Museum. The report, which breaks off in the middle of a sentence, is on Council paper, and may have been drawn up for official use, if not with a view to ultimate insertion in the Privy Council Register. In Mr. Spedding's opinion only the first sheet has been kept, and the condition of the paper seems to me clearly to favour the hypothesis. He believes that the full note contained additional evidence against Ralegh, for instance, on the question of the expedition's provision of mining tools, with his replies to it, and the decision of the Commissioners upon the whole. The report, in its existing form, needs to be eked out with the suggestions, necessarily not very sympathetic, in the subsequent Royal Declaration of Ralegh's line of defence against the charges. Such as it is, it must be read with caution and uncertainty. Caesar, who was Master of the Rolls, was generous, and, for a Jacobean placeman, just. The only grave imputation on his memory is his connivance, as a Commissioner, at the collusive divorce of Lady Essex. It is not impugning the good faith of any reporters of proceedings, like the present, against Ralegh, to look sceptically at their narrative. Law reporters in general had lax notions in those days of the distinction between actual statements and inferences by themselves as to the construction they bore. Coke's Reports show it abundantly. Caesar in particular would feel in no way bound to mechanical accuracy. His endeavour would be to give the prevailing force and significance of the charges, of the defence, and of the evidence; the impression they made upon him with a view to his judicial conclusion. We know the judgment formed in advance by him and his colleagues on the mendacity of Ralegh's account of the motive of his enterprise. That could not but warp a compendium by him of an investigation instituted in order to find a legal justification for a capital sentence on a presumed impostor and pirate.
[Sidenote: Charges and Defence.]
Sir Henry Yelverton, the Attorney-General, leading for the Crown, took for his theme the conduct of the expedition. He was obliged to try to excuse the King for his authorization of an adventure alleged by himself to be an imposture. His Majesty had been induced, by the hope of 'his country's good,' to grant a commission, which, it should be noted, Caesar describes as 'under the Great Seal.' The King, Yelverton was not ashamed to suggest, had been the dupe of Ralegh, who invented the Mine to regain his liberty. He could not, it was argued, have meant to mine, since he carried no miners or instruments. He had a French commission to assail Spaniards. In reliance on that he had ventured to direct an attack on San Thome. On its failure he was in a mood to depart, and leave his poor company behind him helpless. He had anticipated lucrative booty from the town. Disappointment at its meagreness helped to incite him to schemes for the capture of the Mexico fleet. Much indignation was spent by Sir Thomas Coventry, the Solicitor-General, in his turn, on 'vile and dishonourable speeches, full of contumely to the King,' which, on the word of Stukely and Manourie, he supposed Ralegh to have uttered. Coventry stigmatized them as marking especial and flagitious ingratitude. 'Never was subject so obliged to his Sovereign as he.'
Ralegh, in his reply, repudiated with his wonted courtesy the assertion that he had received extraordinary marks of royal lenity. His release from the Tower he claimed as a tardy reparation for a protracted wrong. 'I do verily believe,' he exclaimed, 'that his Majesty doth in his own conscience clear me of all guiltiness in regard to my conviction in the year 1603. Indeed, I know that his Majesty hath been heard to say, in speaking of these proceedings, that he would not wish to be tried by a Middlesex jury.' He added Dr. Turner's report to him of Mr. Justice Gawdy's death-bed censure of his condemnation. But he denied that he had in fact uttered the abuse imputed to him by Stukely and Manourie. His only ill speech of his Majesty had been: 'My confidence in the King is deceived.' It was deceived. The charge that he had never meant to work a mine he met by references to refiners, and tools and assaying apparatus, costing him L2000, that he had conveyed with him. To the accusation that he had broken the King's peace with Spain, he retorted that the aggression proceeded from the Spaniards. He had not directed any attack upon them. His only object in despatching an armed force had been that the soldiers might take up a position between the town and the Mine while the rest were at work. The mere attempt to reach the Mine was no offence, unless Spaniards had an absolute territorial title to the soil of the region in which it lay.
[Sidenote: Designs against the Plate Fleet.]
[Sidenote: The Explanation.]
The Commission could not affirm an absolute claim on behalf of Spain. It was reduced to rely upon accusations that he had from the beginning harboured piratical intentions, and counted upon the assistance of France for their accomplishment. Sir John Ferne, who had left him, reported to the Commission talk by him as if he had meant to turn buccaneer, and also to enter the French service. Apparently that was the belief of some of his officers, though several may have alleged it simply to excuse their desertion, and to guard against counter charges by him. In any case the theory seems to have been founded upon the most superficial proofs. Of any piratical acts of his, or practical service rendered to France, he could confidently challenge the Law Officers to produce the smallest proof. But on the solitary charge of a design to seize the plate fleet the Commission was in possession of a morsel of corroborative evidence. It confronted him with another of his runaway captains, Pennington, and also with Wareham St. Leger. They testified to admissions of his intention to lie in wait for the plate fleet. According to Caesar's note, after their testimony he could no longer adhere to his denial, and 'confessed that he proposed the taking of the Mexico fleet if the mine failed.' How far he positively admitted it, and how far Caesar inferred to his own satisfaction from Ralegh's mode of receiving the evidence that he could not really contradict it, cannot be ascertained. As has been remarked, all depends on how the thing was said. If Caesar's summary of the proceedings had been handed down in a more complete form, it might itself have impressed posterity otherwise than the evidence impressed him. By the allusions in the Royal Declaration it may be seen that Ralegh was far from being overwhelmed by St. Leger's and Pennington's testimony. In the first place he appears to have asserted that the words concerning the plate fleet were spoken after, and not before, the search for the Mine had been defeated, and that the plan was propounded by him merely to keep the fleet together through the tempting vision. If he had ever before said anything to the same effect, 'it was but discourse at large.' Without regard to the strength or weakness, the sufficiency or insufficiency, of his defence, as to which Mr. Spedding concedes that the remains of Caesar's note afford scanty materials for a conclusion, there can be no question that the Commissioners paid little respect to his arguments. If they ever embodied their opinion, as Mr. Spedding thinks probable, in words, he certainly is correct in his conjecture that it was wholly condemnatory.
According to Ulloa's account, Bacon wound up the proceedings by addressing a solemn rebuke to Ralegh for the injury he had done to Spanish territories, and by telling him that he must die. Perhaps, however, the Spaniard's informant antedated the Lord Chancellor's announcement, which may be identical with that, hereafter to be mentioned, of October 24. At all events, a privy seal seems to have been sent to the Judges, 'forthwith to order execution.' Jacobean Judges could commit monstrous injustices. They liked to be unjust according to precedent. They demurred, and a conference of them was called. At this, on October 23, it was decided that a privy seal was not enough. It was determined that Ralegh should be brought to bar on a writ of Habeas Corpus addressed to the Lieutenant of the Tower. He was to be asked if he could urge any objection to an award of execution; 'for he might have a pardon; or he might say that he was not the same person.' As a preliminary he was called next day before the Council at Whitehall. He was informed that he was to be executed on his old sentence. His reply is not recorded. If he argued on behalf of his life, it was to no purpose. He was more fortunate with his petition that he might be beheaded, and not hanged. For that amount of benevolence the Council intimated its willingness to hold itself responsible.
[Sidenote: Before the King's Bench.]
A second privy seal came to the Justices of the King's Bench. Their Chief, Coke's successor, much more polished and discreet than he, was Sir Henry Montagu, afterwards Lord Treasurer, Lord President, and Earl of Manchester. His Court was simply commanded to proceed according to law, as it was called. Ralegh had been suffering from an attack of ague. On October 28, at eight, he was awakened with the fit still upon him. He was served with a summons to appear forthwith at Westminster. As he passed along the corridor an old servant, Peter, met him. While he was under Wilson's custody his own domestics had been withdrawn. They had since been allowed to attend him. One of Peter's duties had been to comb the hair, no longer flowing and thick, of his head, and his beard, for an hour a day. Ralegh had left off the practice for a time. As he told Wilson, 'he would know first who should have his head; he would not bestow so much cost of it for the hangman.' Peter had doubtless at his return brought his master back to the old usage. He now reminded Ralegh that he was going forth with his head undressed. Ralegh replied with a good-humoured question, 'Dost thou know, Peter, of any plaster that will set a man's head on again, when it is off?'
[Sidenote: Execution granted.]
He was at Westminster soon after nine. After the Winchester conviction had been read, Yelverton, as Attorney-General, briefly demanded execution. He was more courteous than Coke had been in his place, and more dignified. 'Sir Walter Ralegh,' he said, 'hath been a statesman, and a man who, in regard to his parts and quality, is to be pitied. He hath been as a star at which the world hath gazed; but stars may fall, nay, they must fall when they trouble the sphere wherein they abide. It is therefore his Majesty's pleasure now to call for execution of the former judgment, and I require order for the same.' Ralegh held up his hand. He told the Court that 'his voice was grown weak by his late sickness, and an ague he had at that instant upon him; therefore, he desired the relief of a pen and ink.' Montagu told him he spoke audibly enough. So he proceeded with his defence. He argued, as Bacon is rumoured to have argued at Gray's Inn, that the King's commission for the late voyage, with the power of life and death, amounted to a pardon. Montagu interrupted him. Nothing about his voyage was, he said, to the purport. Treason was never pardoned by implication. On this Ralegh put himself on the King's mercy. He urged that in that judgment which was so long past, both his Majesty was of opinion, and there were some present who could witness, that he had hard usage. If his Majesty had not been anew exasperated against him, he was sure he might, if he could by nature, have lived a thousand and a thousand years before advantage would have been taken of the judgment. Montagu answered that for all the past fifteen years he had been as a man dead in the law; but the King in mercy spared him. He might think it heavy if it were done in cold blood. But new offences had stirred up his Majesty's justice to revive what the law had formerly cast upon him. The Chief Justice continued in a solemn strain, not without eloquence: 'I know that you have been valiant and wise; and I doubt not but you retain both these virtues, for now you shall have occasion to use them. Your faith hath heretofore been questioned; but I am resolved you are a good Christian; for your book, which is an admirable work, doth testify as much. I would give you counsel; but I know you can apply it unto yourself far better than I am able to give it you. Fear not death too much, nor fear death too little; not too much lest you fail in your hope, nor too little lest you die presumptuously.' He ended: 'Execution is granted.'
Ralegh said he had no desire 'to gain one minute of life; for now being old, sickly, in disgrace, and certain to go to it, life was wearisome to him.' But he prayed for a reasonable delay; he had something to do in discharge of his conscience, something for the satisfaction of his Majesty, and something for that of the world. Above all, he besought their Lordships that, when he came to die, he might have leave to speak freely at his farewell. He called God, before whom he was shortly to appear, to witness that he was never disloyal, as he should justify where he need not fear the face of any King on earth. So, with an entreaty to them to pray for him, he was led away to the Gate-house.
[Sidenote: The Queen's Intercession through Villiers.]
[Sidenote: Other Petitioners.]
James and his confidants were not allowed to carry out their iniquity without remonstrances. Already the Queen had exerted once more her waning influence for Ralegh. He had appealed to her in solemn verse from his prison in the name of his innocence and friendlessness. She was now on her death-bed, dropsical, gloomy, and neglected. It was whispered that she was disturbed in her reason. She preserved at least sufficient intelligence to be horrified at the wrong which was being prepared, and the stain threatened to the memory of her husband's reign. She responded to Ralegh's petition by an earnest letter to George Villiers. She had, at Archbishop Abbot's solicitation, recommended Villiers to the favour of James. He exhibited the most obsequious deference to her as well as to the King. Her letter, of which the precise date is unknown, is addressed to 'My kind Dogge.' That was the name by which Villiers affected to like both of them to call him. She wrote: 'If I have any power or credit with you, I pray you let me have a trial of it, at this time, in dealing sincerely and earnestly with the King, that Sir Walter Ralegh's life may not be called in question.' Her intercession with her truant Consort through his favourite was not more successful than her pleadings with himself had been. As vainly young Carew Ralegh prayed, without date or superscription, for the life of 'my poor father, sometime honoured with many great places of command by the most worthy Queen Elizabeth, the possessor whereof she left him at her death, as a token of her goodwill to his loyalty.' The lad, now about thirteen, or rather they who dictated his memorial, must have been very simple to suppose that Elizabeth's favour was a passport to James's compassion. On his death-bed James Montague, who died in July, 1618, Bishop of Winchester, and is transformed by Wilson in his journal into the Earl of Winchester, had previously begged of James one thing, the life of Ralegh; 'a great offender,' Montague called him, 'who yet was dearly respected of the late noble Queen.' In his choice of reasons the prelate seems to have been as injudicious as the boy. As fruitlessly were solicitations addressed to the King by Lady Ralegh, and by persons described generally as in great favour and esteem with him. All were repulsed. James, says Francis Osborn in his Traditional Memoirs, 'did so far participate of the humour of a pusillanimous prince as to pardon any sooner than those injured by himself.' He was unconscious of any such malignity. It is pathetic to observe his utter freedom from suspicion that posterity could help characterizing him as resolute, wise, and just for his persecution of Ralegh, and not as a wretched trickster.
Ralegh's own main anxiety was to settle his affairs in the first place, and to secure that none suffered pecuniary detriment, much or little, through his fault or negligence. When that was assured, he next longed to clear his fame, in death, of every slur and taint. In November, for discharge of his conscience, he gave to Wilson a testamentary note, that he had never let to Captain Caulfeild land near Sherborne Castle, which John Meere claimed by a counterfeit grant of his to Caulfeild. He mentioned further that, before his departure from Cork to Guiana, he had written in prejudice of H. Pyne's lease of Mogile Castle, and in favour of Lord Boyle's claim. Since that time, better bethinking himself, he desired the opinion he gave at Cork might be no evidence in law, and that it should be left to other proofs on both sides. He requested Lady Ralegh, 'if she should enjoy her goods,' to be kind to Hamon's wife, and in any case to the wife of John Talbot, his servant in the Tower, who had died in Guiana: 'I fear me, her son being dead, she will otherwise perish.' He added that an account ought to be exacted from Stukely of the tobacco he had sold at Plymouth, and also of the parcel he had sent down the river, 'the Sunday that we took boat.'
[Sidenote: Warrant for Execution.]
When he prayed a 'respite,' it was not that he was scared at the approach of death. His mind was never brighter and happier. To this moment may well be attributed, as it has been by popular tradition, his composition of the couplet:
Cowards may fear to die, but courage stout, Rather than live in snuff, will be put out.
Assuredly he was not one of the cowards. But his career had been confused and tumultuous. He would have been glad of a little leisure and quiet for unravelling some of the knots. He understood his enemies and events too well to be surprised that his shrift was to be short. Before his appearance at the King's Bench, Bacon had drawn the warrant for execution, and James had signed it. Naunton wrote to Carleton, the general depositary of confidential gossip, on October 28, that the warrant for execution had been drawn up, and sent to the King for signature; only, 'it had better not be talked about, as it is de futuro contingente.' James, meanwhile, was restlessly hunting to and fro between Oatlands, Theobalds, and Hampton Court. He was composing meditations on the Lord's Prayer, and dedicating them to Villiers. The warrant, though he was then in Hertfordshire, was dated the day of the scene in the King's Bench. It was directed to the Chancellor. It dispensed with 'the manner of execution according to his former judgment, and released Sir Walter Ralegh of the same to be drawn, hanged, and quartered.' The royal pleasure instead thereof was to have the head only of the said Sir Walter Ralegh cut off at or within the Palace of Westminster.
RALEGH'S TRIUMPH (October 28-29, 1618).
[Sidenote: The Gate-house.]
Ralegh was confined in the Gate-house of the old monastery of St. Peter. It was a small two-storied building of the age of Edward III, standing at the western entrance to Tothill-street. The structure embraced two adjoining gates, with rooms which had been turned into prison cells. By the side of the gate leading northwards from the College-court, was the Bishop of London's prison for convicted clerks and Romish recusants. With the other gate westwards was connected the gaol of the Liberty of Westminster, to which Ralegh had been committed. The Abbey was visible through its barred windows. Ben Jonson had been confined in it. Eliot, Hampden, and Selden were to be. Lovelace sang there to stone walls. Esmond's name may be added to the list of its glories. Ralegh had been afraid the King might prevent him from speaking, or from being heard. He feared that the space for his friends would be narrow. As he crossed Palace Yard to the Gate-house he had asked Sir Hugh Beeston, of Cheshire, to be there. 'But,' he said, 'I do not know what you may do for a place. For my part, I am sure of one.' Many came to the prison to bid farewell. Among them, according to Sir William Sanderson, was his father, the ex-deputy Licenser. Ralegh was lively and cheerful. To those who grieved he said: 'The world itself is but a larger prison, out of which some are daily selected for execution.' There is no reason for doubting the sincerity of his content. He had striven manfully for a life which for him meant the exercise of fruitful energy. He rejoiced in death, when, from no remissness of his, it closed his labours. His kinsman, Francis Thynne, advised him: 'Do not carry it with too much bravery. Your enemies will take exception, if you do.' His friends were afraid of the 'pride' which had provoked Henry Howard. 'It is my last mirth in this world,' replied he; 'do not grudge it to me. When I come to the sad parting, you will see me grave enough.'
[Sidenote: Fearless of Death.]
By desire of the Lords of the Council, Dr. Robert Tounson, Dean of Westminster, and afterwards Bishop of Salisbury, attended him. Tounson wrote on November 9 to Sir John Isham: 'He was the most fearless of death that ever was known; and the most resolute and confident, yet with reverence and conscience. When I began to encourage him against the fear of death, he seemed to make so light of it that I wondered at him. He gave God thanks, he never feared death; and the manner of death, though to others it might seem grievous, yet he had rather die so than of a burning fever. I wished him not to flatter himself, for this extraordinary boldness, I was afraid, came from some false ground. If it were out of a humour of vain glory, or carelessness of death, or senselessness of his own state, he were much to be lamented. He answered that he was persuaded that no man that knew God and feared Him could die with cheerfulness and courage, except he were assured of the love and favour of God unto him; that other men might make shows outwardly, but they felt no joy within; with much more to that effect, very Christianly; so that he satisfied me then, as I think he did all his spectators at his death.' A reputation for free thinking once established is tenacious. Though Ralegh satisfied a Chief Justice, a Dean of Westminster, and men like Pym, Eliot, Hampden, of his orthodoxy, he did not satisfy all. Archbishop Abbot three or four months later wrote to Sir Thomas Roe that his execution was a judgment on him for his scepticism.
He did not allude, wrote Tounson, to 'his former treason.' As to more recent imputations, he could not conceive how it was possible to break peace with Spain, which 'within these four years took divers of his men, and bound them back to back and drowned them.'
[Sidenote: A last Farewell to his Wife.]
Later arrived his wife. She had spent the earlier hours in trying to induce the Council to mediate with the King. Before she came she had learnt from a friend that it refused to beg the life, but authorized her to dispose of the corpse. At the Gate-house first she heard he was to be beheaded on Friday morning, October 29. That was Lord Mayor's Day, the morrow of St. Simon and St. Jude. It appears to have been selected, that the City pageant might draw away the crowd from hearing him, and seeing him die. As he and she were consulting how she was to vindicate his fame, if he should be hindered from speech on the scaffold, the Abbey clock struck twelve. She rose to go, that he might rest. Then, with a burst of anguish, she told him she had leave to bury his body. 'It is well, dear Bess,' said he with a smile, 'that thou mayst dispose of that dead, which thou hadst not always the disposing of when alive.' On her return home, between night and morning, she wrote to 'my best brother,' Sir Nicholas Carew, of Beddington: 'I desire, good brother, that you will be pleased to let me bury the worthy body of my noble husband, Sir Walter Ralegh, in your church at Beddington, where I desire to be buried. The Lords have given me his dead body, though they denied me his life. This night he shall be brought you with two or three of my men. Let me hear presently. God hold me and my wits.'
Ralegh, when his wife left him, wrote his last testamentary note. It was a rehearsal of the topics on which he meant to speak on the scaffold. If his mouth were closed it was intended to be a substitute. He repeated in it his constant affirmation of his loyalty: 'If,' he said, 'I had not loved and honoured the King truly, and trusted in his goodness somewhat too much, I had not suffered death.' Then the poet awoke in him. He wrote in the Bible which he gave to Dean Tounson the famous lines:
Even such is time, that takes in trust Our youth, our joys, our all we have, And pays us but with earth and dust; Who, in the dark and silent grave, When we have wandered all our ways, Shuts up the story of our days; But from this earth, this grave, this dust, My God shall raise me up, I trust.
[Sidenote: 'Innocent in the Fact.']
Early in the morning came Tounson again, and administered the Sacrament. Tounson wrote in the letter to Sir John Isham, from which I have already quoted, that Ralegh hoped to persuade the world he died an innocent man. The Dean objected that his assertions of innocence obliquely denied the justice of the Realm upon him. In reply he confessed justice had been done; that was to say, that by course of law he must die; but he claimed leave, he said, to stand upon his innocency in the fact; and he thought both the King, and all who heard his answers, believed verily he was innocent for that matter. Tounson then pressed him to call to mind what he had done formerly. Though perhaps in that particular for which he was condemned he was clear, yet for some other matter, it might be, he was guilty, and therefore he should acknowledge the justice of God in it, though at the hands of men he had but hard measure. Here Tounson says he put him in mind of the death of my Lord of Essex; how it was generally reported that he was a great instrument of Essex's death. If his heart charged him with that, he should heartily repent, and ask God forgiveness. To this he made answer; and he said moreover that my Lord of Essex was fetched off by a trick, of which he privately told Tounson. He was, testifies Tounson, very cheerful, ate his breakfast heartily, and took tobacco, and made no more of his death than if it had been to take a journey.
[Sidenote: His Good-humour.]
Before he quitted the Gate-house a cup of sack was brought. After he had drunk it the bearer asked if it were to his liking. 'I will answer you,' said Ralegh, 'as did the fellow who drank of St. Giles's bowl as he went to Tyburn: "It is good drink if a man might but tarry by it".' Now arrived the Sheriffs. They conducted him to Old Palace Yard, where a large scaffold had been erected in front of the Parliament-house. Though the space had been narrowed by barriers, a great multitude had collected. It included, according to John Eliot, who was present, enemies as well as friends. Ralegh was dressed in a black-wrought velvet nightgown over a hair-coloured satin doublet, a ruff band, and a black-wrought waistcoat, black cut taffeta breeches, and ash-coloured silk stockings. On account of his ague he wore under his hat a wrought nightcap. Seeing in the crowd an old man with a very bald head, he inquired why he had ventured forth on such a morning; whether he would have aught of him. 'Nothing,' was the answer, 'but to see him, and pray God for him.' Ralegh thanked him, and grieved that he had no better return to make for his good will than 'this,' said he, as he threw him his lace cap, 'which you need, my friend, now more than I.' Being pressed on by the crowd, he was breathless and faint when he mounted the scaffold; but he saluted with a cheerful countenance those of his acquaintance whom he saw. Lords Arundel, Doncaster, Northampton, formerly Compton, and Oxford—son of Sir Walter's enemy—stood in Sir Randolph Carew's, or Crues's, balcony. Other Lords, Sheffield and Percy, sat on horseback near. Sir Edward Sackville, Colonel Cecil, Sir Henry Rich, were among the spectators. The assemblage is said to have included ladies of rank. The morning was raw, and a fire had been lighted beside the scaffold for the Sheriffs, while they waited before going to the Gate-house. They invited him to descend and warm himself. He declined; his ague would soon be upon him; it might be deemed, he said, if he delayed, and the fit began before he had played his part, that he quaked with fear.
[Sidenote: Rejoices to 'die in the Light.']
Proclamation having been made by the Sheriffs, he addressed his audience. Tounson's, and another account prepared, it would appear from a statement of the Dean's, for the Government by one Crawford, do not materially differ. They seem both to be honest, if not fluent. He commenced by explaining, not complaining, that he had the day before been taken from his bed in a strong fit of fever, which might recur that morning. Therefore, he hoped they would ascribe any disability of voice or dejection of look to that, and not to dismay of mind. Hereupon he paused and sat down. Beginning again to speak he fancied they in the balcony did not hear. So he said he would raise his voice. Arundel replied that the company would rather come down to the scaffold. Northampton, Doncaster, and himself descended, mounted the scaffold, and shook hands with Ralegh. Then he resumed: 'I thank God that He has sent me to die in the light, and not in darkness, before such an assembly of honourable witnesses, and not obscurely in the Tower, where, for the space of thirteen years together, I have been oppressed with many miseries. I thank Him, too, that my fever hath not taken me at this time.' He proceeded to excuse his counterfeit sickness at Salisbury: 'It was only to prolong the time till his Majesty came, in hopes of some commiseration from him.' He dwelt more seriously on two or three main points of suspicion conceived by the King against him. They, he believed, had specially hastened his doom. One was connected with his supposed intrigues with France. He gave an indignant denial to this charge of practices with foreigners, at any rate without the qualification expressed in the testamentary note he had composed during the night, 'unknowing to the King.' The mistrust had, he was aware, been strengthened by his projects of flight from Plymouth and London. Those luckless schemes had, he asserted, no affinity to thoughts of permanent expatriation and foreign service. Simply he had reckoned that he could more easily make his peace at home while he was safe at a distance. Another cause of odium had been Manourie's tale of his habit of reviling the King. That he declared mere lying: 'It is,' he said, 'no time for me to flatter, or to fear, princes, I who am subject only unto death; yet, if ever I spake disloyally or dishonestly of the King, the Lord blot me out of the book of life.'
[Sidenote: Denial of Stukely's Calumnies.]
Even at this supreme moment he respected the Throne, as much from real reverence for Royalty, as from fear of harm after him to wife and child. He did not repeat his protest against the mock conviction of 1603. He uttered no scorn of the King's betrayal to the Court of Spain of the plan of his expedition. In general he was content to defend himself; he was sparing of attacks. Only his 'keeper and kinsman,' Stukely, he could not pass over in silence. Having received the Sacrament he forgave the man; but he held himself bound to caution the world against him, out of charity to others. He repudiated warmly a calumny against Carew and Doncaster, that they had advised him to fly. He ridiculed the transparent mendacity of Stukely's story of a promise of L10,000; for 'if I had L1000, I could have made my peace better with it than by giving it to Stukely.' He disclaimed indignantly the statement Stukely had attributed to him, that he had been poisoned at Parham's house. Sir Edward Parham, he said, had been a follower of his; Parham's wife was his cousin-german; and Parham's cook once was his. As untrue was the story that he had been conveyed into England against his will. On the contrary, 150 soldiers held him a close prisoner in his cabin. They extorted an oath that he would not go to England without their consent; 'otherwise, they would have cast me into the sea.' Unless he had won over the master-gunner, and ten or twelve others, to return home, and had drawn the ship to the south of Ireland, he had never got from them. It had even been alleged that he never meant to go to Guiana, and that he knew of no gold mine; that his intention only was to recover his liberty, which he had not the wit to keep. But his friends had believed in his honesty when he started. He reminded Arundel of the Earl's request in the gallery of the Destiny that, whether the voyage were good or bad, he would return to England. Thereupon he had given his word that he would. 'So you did,' cried Arundel; 'it is true, and they were the last words I said to you.' Next, he alluded to the slander, circulated 'through the jealousy of the people,' that at the execution of Essex he had stood in a window over against him and puffed out tobacco in defiance of him. He contradicted it utterly. Essex could not have seen him, since he had retired to the Armoury. He had bewailed him with tears. 'True I was of a contrary faction, but I bare him no ill-affection, and always believed it had been better for me that his life had been preserved; for after his fall I got the hatred of those who wished me well before; and those who set me against him set themselves afterwards against me, and were my greatest enemies.'
'And now,' he concluded an address of which the eloquence is not to be judged from the halting reports, 'I entreat that you will all join with me in prayer to that great God of Heaven whom I have grievously offended, being a man full of all vanity, who has lived a sinful life in such callings as have been most inducing to it; for I have been a soldier, a sailor, and a courtier, which are courses of wickedness and vice. So, I take my leave of you all, making my peace with God.' 'I have,' he said, 'a long journey to take, and must bid the company farewell.'
[Sidenote: Preparing for the Block.]
With that the Sheriffs ordered that all should depart from the scaffold, where he was left with them, the Dean, and the executioner. Having given his hat and money to some attendants, he prepared himself for the block, permitting no help. Throughout, wrote on November 3 Mr. Thomas Lorkin to Sir Thomas Puckering, 'he seemed as free from all manner of apprehension as if he had been come thither rather to be a spectator than a sufferer; nay, the beholders seemed much more sensible than he.' Having put off gown and doublet, he called for the axe. There being a delay, he chid the headsman, 'I prithee, let me see it!' Fingering the edge, he remarked to the Sheriffs with a smile: 'This is a sharp medicine; but it is a sure cure for all diseases.' Then, going to and fro upon the scaffold upon every side, he entreated the spectators to pray to God to bestow on him strength. Arundel he asked, as if he expected the wish to be granted by James, to 'desire the King that no scandalous writings to defame him might be published after his death.' To a question from Tounson he replied that he died in the faith professed by the Church of England, and hoped to have his sins washed away by the precious blood of our Saviour Christ.
Finally, the executioner spread his own cloak for him to kneel on, and, falling down, besought his forgiveness. Ralegh laid his hand on the man's shoulder, and granted it. To the inquiry whether he would not lay himself eastwards on the block, he replied: 'So the heart be right, it is no matter which way the head lies.' But he placed himself towards the east, as his friends wished it. He refused the executioner's offer to blindfold him: 'Think you I fear the shadow of the axe, when I fear not itself?' He told the man to strike when he should stretch forth his hands. With a parting salutation to the whole goodly company, he ejaculated: 'give me heartily your prayers.' After a brief pause he signed that he was ready. The executioner stirred not. 'What dost thou fear? Strike man, strike!' commanded Ralegh. The executioner plucked up courage, struck, and at two blows, the first mortal, the head was severed. As it tumbled the lips moved, still in prayer; the trunk never shrank. An effusion of blood followed, so copious as to indicate that the kingdom had been robbed of many vigorous years of a great life.
SPOILS AND PENALTIES.
[Sidenote: The Remains.]
A shudder is said to have run through the crowd of spectators as the axe fell. The trunk was carried from the scaffold to St. Margaret's Church, and buried in front of the Communion table. A single line in the burial register, 'Sir Walter Rawleigh Kt.,' records the interment. James Harrington, author of Oceana, occupies the next grave. Why Ralegh's body was not taken to Beddington is unknown. Long afterwards a wooden tablet was fixed by a churchwarden on the wall of the south aisle of the chancel. A metal plate framed, and painted blue with gilt letters, was substituted. In 1845 that was replaced by one of brass, at the expense of several admirers of Ralegh's genius. It bears the uninspired words: 'Within the chancel of this church was interred the body of the great Sir Walter Ralegh, on the day he was beheaded in Old Palace Yard, Westminster, October 29, 1618. Reader, should you reflect on his errors, remember his many virtues, and that he was a Mortal.' Four verses from the pen of Mr. Lowell, inscribed on a painted window, erected a few years since in the church, more worthily commemorate the piety of American citizens to the planter of Virginia.
The head was shown by the executioner on each side of the scaffold, as the head of a traitor. Afterwards it was inclosed in a red velvet bag. With the velvet gown enveloping the whole, it was conveyed to Lady Ralegh's house in a mourning coach which she had sent. It was embalmed; and she kept it ever by her for the twenty-nine years of her widowhood. Bishop Goodman of Gloucester, who, though King James's poor-spirited apologist, admired Ralegh, relates that he had seen and kissed it. On Lady Ralegh's death the charge of it descended to Carew Ralegh. It has been stated, and has been denied, that it was buried with him at West Horsley, and was seen when the grave happened to be opened. For another story, that finally it was deposited with the body at Westminster, there is no authority.
[Sidenote: Carew Ralegh.]
Lady Ralegh lived to educate her son. For his sake she strove for Ralegh's books. They were, she said, 'all the land and living which he left his poor child, hoping that he would inherit him in those only, and that he would apply himself by learning to be fit for them, which request I hope I shall fulfil as far as in me lieth.' Carew was thirteen at his father's death. In the spring of 1621, at the age of sixteen, he entered Wadham College as a gentleman commoner. When he quitted Oxford his relative, Lord Pembroke, who more than twenty years before had interceded at Wilton for his father's life, introduced him at Court. James frowned; he said he was like his father's ghost. He travelled, and, returning next year on the accession of Charles, petitioned for restoration in blood. His prayer was granted only on the obligatory terms of his surrender of any title to Sherborne. In compensation he received a reversion of the L400 a year, Lady Ralegh's Treasury allowance in place of jointure or dower from Sherborne. By the same statute which relieved him from the legal disabilities of the attainder Sherborne was confirmed to the Digby family. He married the wealthy young widow of Sir Anthony Ashley, his father's comrade at Cadiz, and had by her two sons, Walter and Philip, and three daughters. He wrote poems, one of which was set to music by Henry Lawes, and was a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber. In that capacity he attended Charles I when a prisoner at Hampton Court. He may have thought of Charles rather as the brother of Prince Henry than as the son of King James.
He seems to have dreamt of recovering both his father's Irish and English estates. Strafford, on behalf of the Church, had questioned the soundness of Boyle's title to Lismore. The doubt of the validity of Boyle's tenure, though it equally affected Sir Walter's right, may have suggested to Carew somewhat later an attack on him in his own interest, probably on the score of the inadequacy of the price paid to Ralegh. Lady Ralegh had already, in 1619, set up a claim to dower, on the ground that her consent to the sale in 1602 had not been obtained. Boyle intimated that he should meet Lady Ralegh's demand by the legal objection that the wife of an attainted man is not dowerable. But, on the merits, he insisted in answer, as well to her as, afterwards, to Carew Ralegh, that he had in fact, between 1602 and 1617, given ample pecuniary consideration. Neither she nor her son went beyond a protest.
[Sidenote: Claim to Sherborne.]
Carew was more pertinacious in his efforts to recover Sherborne. That was supposed to have been forfeited by the flight of Digby, now Lord Bristol, to France on the establishment of the Commonwealth. Carew petitioned the House of Commons for its restitution to himself. His petition, which in details was not everywhere as accurate, expressed righteous indignation at an attainder obtained on charges 'without any proofs, and in themselves as ridiculous as impossible.' He declared in the document his intention to 'range himself under the banner of the Commons of England.' The memorial was referred to the committee for the sale of the estates of delinquents. That reported him 'a fit object of the mercy of the House.' But he advanced no further, in consequence, as is believed, of the influence Lord Bristol was still able to exert. Monk conferred on him the Government of Jersey, and Charles II offered him knighthood, which he waived. Sir Henry Wotton, as quoted by Anthony Wood, commended him as of 'dexterous abilities.' Wood, while he does not dissent, adds that he was 'far, God wot, from his father's parts, either as to the sword or pen.' At least he understood his father's greatness, and clung proudly to his memory.
[Sidenote: Blood Money.]
From Walter Ralegh, at all events, if not from his family, his enemies and persecutors, with their parasites, might think they at last were freed. Their perseverance had been unwearied. For fifteen years they were pursuing him, and they had hunted him down. They had shown versatility as well as virulence. As his son Carew has said, they had obtained his condemnation as a friend to Spain, and his execution, under the same sentence, for being its enemy. Now all, old bloodhounds and young, proceeded to enjoy their hard-won victory. To commence at the bottom, Manourie, 'a French physician, lately sent for from Plymouth,' as early as November received his wages, L20. Sir Lewis Stukely's expectations and deserts were larger. While he lingered at Plymouth he had disposed of part of the stores from Ralegh's ship. Sir Ferdinando Gorges and others completed the work for the Crown as soon as Ralegh had been executed. Some of the tobacco had been brought to London, and sold by Stukely. Ralegh accused him of appropriation of the proceeds. He had accepted gifts of jewels from his prisoner on the journey. To his custody were entrusted the trinkets carried by Ralegh about him on the flight to Gravesend. On December 29 the Exchequer was ordered to pay to him 'for performance of his service and expenses in bringing up hither out of Devonshire the person of Sir Walter Ralegh, L965 6s. 3d.'
One more of the hirelings expected to be paid, the Keeper of State Papers. Wilson had failed to spy out treason in Ralegh's talk in the seclusion of the Tower, or in the correspondence with Lady Ralegh. He did not the less crave a fee for his good intentions of treachery. James recognized his claims, to the inexpensive extent of an order to the Fellows of Caius College, Cambridge, in January, 1619, to elect him to their vacant Mastership. The King's letter described him as a man of learning and sufficiency, who had performed faithful service. The letter, as an indorsement by Wilson notes, was never sent. Perhaps the Fellows were found to be prepared to put to the test the King's assertion that he would 'take no denial.' Balked of academical alms, Sir Thomas was driven to importunities three quarters of a year later for payment of his wages for the six weeks' attendance upon Ralegh.
[Sidenote: Ralegh's Library, and Instruments.]
He was more promptly successful in rapacity for the public, it must be admitted, than for himself. Ralegh had stripped himself, or been stripped, before his death, of any possessions ordinarily recognized as available for spoil. His cargo and stores had been seized and converted into money by Stukely, or by other Devonshire officials. His ship had been brought into the Thames as Crown property. The Government accounted itself generous for granting to the widow, in lieu of it and its contents, L2250, the bare equivalent of the purchase money of her Mitcham estate which she had expended upon its equipment. Nothing remained of his but his papers, his instruments, and his books. Covetous eyes were fixed upon them. Wilson wanted them, though, it is fair to say, not for himself. As Keeper of the Records he had a sincere taste for curious books. He urged the King to appropriate Ralegh's library of three hundred volumes on history, divinity, and mathematics, together with Cobham's collection of a thousand. By royal warrant in November he was authorised to seize the whole. The globes and mathematical instruments were to be delivered to the King or the Lord Admiral. The books were to be 'left where they were'; that is, it is to be presumed, they were to remain in the Tower. As if in shame the warrant assigned a reason for the confiscation of Ralegh's library. It could, it alleged, be of 'small use to Sir Walter's surviving wife.' Lady Ralegh judged differently. She implored Lady Carew, who was acquainted with Wilson, to mediate with him that she might be 'no more troubled, having had so many unspeakable losses, as none of worth will seek to molest me.' Before the end of 1618 Wilson had fetched away all the mathematical instruments, one of which had cost L100. Lady Ralegh had, she affirmed, been promised their return, but had not recovered one. He was now requiring the books. She would not grudge them, she asseverated, for his Majesty, if they were rare, and not to be had elsewhere; but Boyle, the bookbinder or stationer, had, she was informed, the very same. The ultimate result of the aggression and her resistance is not known. It might be of public interest if it could be ascertained. In addition to printed volumes Wilson had asked for the sequestration of Ralegh's manuscript treatise on the Art of War, and of a full account by him of all the world's seaports, and for their deposit in the State Paper Office. He could value thoughtful work, though he persecuted its author. Diligently as the State Papers have of recent years been explored, it is not impossible that the two compositions may yet be discovered, carefully buried in a mass of worthless muniments by their spy-keeper.
[Sidenote: Spanish Debt of Gratitude to James.]
James had his share too of the immediate profits from the tragedy of Palace Yard, over and above a few more or less scarce books. Apart from his incurable private aversion for one of the three greatest Englishmen of his reign, he had, in butchering Ralegh, been the direct agent of the Spanish Court. From Spain he sought his real reward. He enhanced his demand by the immensity of the loss he had inflicted upon England. Cottington, the instant the news of the execution reached the Legation, told the Spanish King. Philip III showed, he reported, much contentment with the hearing. Rushworth, in his Historical Collections, has preserved a letter described as from a great Minister of State to Cottington. In it the English Agent in Spain was urgently instructed to enforce upon the Spaniards their debt of gratitude to James, who had 'caused Sir Walter Ralegh to be put to death, chiefly for the giving them satisfaction.' He was to let them see 'how in many actions of late his Majesty had strained upon the affections of his people, and especially in this last concerning Sir Walter Ralegh, who died with a great deal of courage and constancy. To give them content, he had not spared a man able to have done his Majesty much service, when, by preserving him, he might have given great satisfaction to his subjects, and have had at command upon all occasions as useful a man as served any prince in Christendom.' A fitting response was made. Cottington was able to report 'so much satisfaction and contentment as I am not able to express it.' The Spanish Council of State admitted the obligation to James for the sacrifice of the brightest jewel of his Crown. It advised Philip to thank the King of England by an autograph letter. That was James's payment.