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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

Potesse nascer qualche inconveniente


[328]

Molino: 'Dubitando che quando li capi di questa setta facessero qualche moto al parlamento, dove ne sono tanti di questa professione, potesse nascer qualche inconveniente.'(20 Oct. 1604.)

[329] Molino: 'Queste cose vanno spargendo quelli che han poco volunta di sodisfar alli desideri di S. M. che per se ne sta molto dubiosa.' (3 Nov. 1605.)

CHAPTER III.

THE GUNPOWDER PLOT AND ITS CONSEQUENCES.

James I was welcomed, if one may say so, by a conspiracy on his entrance into England.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1603.]

Two men of rank, Markham and Brook, who had before held communications with him, and had cherished bright expectations, but found themselves passed over in the composition of the new government, now imagined that they might rise to the highest offices if they could succeed in detaching the King from those who surrounded him, and in getting him into their own hands, perhaps within the walls of the Tower or even in Dover Castle. They conspired for this object with some Catholic priests, who could not forgive the King for having deceived their expectations of a declaration of toleration at the commencement of his reign. They intended to call out so great a number of Catholics ready for action, that there could be no doubt of the successful

issue of a coup-de-main. A priest was then to receive the Great Seal and above all things to issue an edict of toleration. We are reminded of the combination under Essex, when even some Puritans offered their assistance in an undertaking directed against the government. One of their leaders, Lord Grey de Wilton, a young man of high spirit and hope, was now induced to join the plot. But on this occasion the Catholics were the predominant element. The priests thought that the pretence of the necessity of supporting the King against the effect of a Puritan rising would best contribute to set the zealous Catholics in motion; and it is undeniable that other persons of high rank were also connected with these intrigues. The principal opponents of Cecil and his friends, whose hostile influence on Elizabeth had at an earlier period been feared by the minister, were Lord Cobham, the brother of Brook, and Sir Walter Ralegh. Cobham, who like most others had looked for the overthrow of Cecil on the accession of the King, fell into an ungovernable fit of disappointed ambition when Cecil was more strongly confirmed in his position; and his anger was directed against the King himself, from whom he now had nothing to expect, and who had brought with him a family which made the hope of any further alteration appear impossible. He had let fall the expression in public that the fox and his cubs must be destroyed at one blow. Negotiations, aiming at the renewal of the Lady Arabella's claims, had been opened with the ambassador of the Archduke, who then perhaps felt anxiety lest King James, under the influence of Cecil, should adhere to the policy of his predecessor. In order to effect a revolution, Cobham launched into extravagant schemes which embraced all Europe.

The affair might have been dangerous, if a man of the activity, weight, and intelligence of Walter Ralegh had taken part in it. Ralegh does not deny that Cobham had spoken to him on the subject, but he affirms that he had not heeded the idle words, and had even forgotten them again:[330] and in fact nothing has been brought to light which proves his complicity, or even his remote participation, in this plot. Still without doubt he was among the opponents of the government. If it is true, as people say, that he made an attempt by means of a letter to the King to procure the fall of Cecil, it is easily conceivable that the latter and his friends availed themselves of every opportunity to involve him in the accusation. Ralegh defended himself with so much courage and vigour, that the listeners who had come wishing to see him condemned went away with a tenfold stronger desire that he might be acquitted. He himself did not deny that he might be condemned by the cruel laws of England: he reminded the King however of a passage in the old statutes, in which for that very reason mercy and pity were recommended to him. The accused were all condemned. Brook and the priests paid the penalty of death: Markham, Cobham, and Grey were reprieved when they were already standing on the scaffold--reprieved moreover by an autograph mandate of James, which was entirely due to an unexpected resolution of the King, who wished to shine by showing mercy as well as by severity. The first of these lived henceforward in exile: the second continued to live in England, but weighed down by his disgrace: Grey and Walter Ralegh were imprisoned in the Tower. We shall meet with Ralegh once more: he never lost sight of the world, nor the world of him.


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