Page images
PDF
EPUB

having all his actions misrepresented to his royal mistress by his enemies at home, Essex, as is well known, trusted that, by his sudden appearance at Court, he should be able to justify his conduct to the Queen, regain his lost hold on her affections, and thus effectually defeat the machinations of his foes. Accordingly, without having obtained the permission of Elizabeth, or having given the least intimation of his intentions, he suddenly quitted Ireland, and arrived by rapid journeys at Whitehall. Although besmeared with dust and perspiration, he made his way through the presence and privy chambers, and, to the astonishment of the royal attendants, forced his way unushered into the Queen's sleeping apartment. Elizabeth had only just risen, and was seated with her hair hanging disordered over her face. Essex threw himself on his knees, and kissing her hand, implored her to give him a short conference, which she granted. On quitting her, he was observed to wear a smiling countenance, thanking God that although he had encountered many storms abroad, he had found a sweet calm at home. No sooner, however, had Essex departed from the royal presence, than the arguments of his enemies, and his own faults and indiscretions, recurred forcibly to the mind of Elizabeth; and, accordingly, when he again repaired to the palace in the afternoon, he found her manner not only altered and constrained, but he even received orders to confine himself to his own apartment in Essex House. The strange

behaviour of the superannuated coquette towards her once-beloved Essex, during the subsequent months that he was kept under restraint, is well known. At first she carried her harshness to such an extreme, that he was refused permission to write, even to his Countess, although she was advanced in pregnancy. But when he fell sick, all the feelings of the woman returned in their full force. Every day Elizabeth sent to inquire after his health,—at one time ordering eight physicians to consult on his case, and at another sending him broth; and when his life was reported to be seriously in danger, “Tell him," she said, shedding many tears, "that if I could do so with honour, I would visit him.” On obtaining his freedom, Essex retired into the country, having previously sent a humble message to the Queen, that he kissed the rod with which she chastised him, and that, like Nebuchadnezzar, his “ dwelling should be with the beasts of the field, to eat grass as an ox, and to be wet with the dew of heaven, till it should please her majesty to restore her favour to him.” The Queen knew the character of her fickle favourite better than he knew himself. “ All is not gold that glitters,” she said, “and if the furnace of affliction produce such effects, I shall hereafter have the better opinion of chemistry.”

On the circumstances which induced Essex to return to London, and to embark in the daring projects which cost him his life, it is unnecessary to dwell at length. Believing the Queen to be in

VOL. II.

CC

exorable,-disappointed in his hopes of re-establishing his former influence at the council-table or over the affections of his royal mistress,-intoxicated, moreover, by his popularity among all classes, —he came to the rash determination of endeavouring to recover his lost ascendancy by force of arms. Boasting that he had already no fewer than one hundred and twenty barons, knights, and gentlemen devoted to his service, he opened the doors of Essex House to every description of discontented persons,--persecuted Roman Catholic priests, sour puritanical preachers, disbanded soldiers and sailors who had formerly served under his banner, and needy adventurers who had nothing to lose and everything to gain by a convulsion in the state. Elizabeth, in the meantime, contented herself with doubling the guards at Whitehall, and taking a few other timely precautions, while at the same time she sent Robert Sackville, son of the Lord High Treasurer, the Earl of Dorset, to Essex House, ostensibly on the pretext of paying him a friendly visit, but in reality with the view of ascertaining the extent of the preparations, and the amount of danger to be apprehended from the threatened insurrection. Her next step was to cite Essex to appear before the Privy Council. Instead, however, of obeying, on the following day (the 8th of February 1601) he summoned his friends to assemble immediately at Essex House. These persons consisted of the Earls of Southampton and Rutland, the Lords Sandys and Monteagle, and about three

hundred gentlemen of family and fortune, to whom he expressed his determination of marching instantly into the City, and-as it was sermon-time at Paul's Cross, where a large concourse of persons were usually assembled-of placing himself at once at the head of the citizens and marching to the palace gates. His project was listened to with acclamations, when, just at the moment when the conspirators were about to sally forth from Essex House, the Lord Keeper Egerton, the Lord Chief Justice Popham, the Earl of Worcester, and Sir William Knollys arrived at the gate, and formally demanded to be informed of the cause of the disturbance.

After every precaution had been taken by the insurgents, the Queen's Commissioners were admitted through a small wicket, but their attendants, with the exception of the purse-bearer, were compelled to wait without. On being ushered into the presence of the conspirators, the Lord-ChiefJustice boldly inquired of Essex the motive of such extraordinary preparations. My Lord,” replied the latter, in an impassioned tone, “ there is a plot laid against my life; letters have been forged in my name; men have been hired to murder me in my bed; my enemies cannot be satisfied unless they suck my blood.” The Lord Chief Justice replied that the proper person to appeal to was the Queen, and exhorted the conspirators, on their allegiance, to lay down their arms. His concluding words, however, were drowned in the general uproar,

“ You are abused, my Lord,” cried many voices; " they betray you — you are only losing time. ” Others demanded that the Commissioners should be killed on the spot, and some that they should be detained as hostages. Essex took the latter hint, and locking the door on the servants of his sovereign, he drew his sword, and placing himself at the head of two hundred devoted adherents, sallied forth into the street. To the citizens he cried aloud as he passed them,—“For the Queen! for the Queen! a plot is laid for my life.” To his great disappointment, he found, on reaching Paul's Cross, that the Government had taken the precautionary measure of dispersing the congregation. His attendants, moreover, perceiving how little inclination the citizens showed to join him, gradually deserted him, and, accordingly, the Earl had no choice but to retrace his steps to Essex House. In the meantime, however, barricades had been raised in Cheapside, which were defended by a large body of armed and loyal citizens, who had been collected by the active exertions of the Bishop of London. In the attempt to force their way, Tracy, a young gentleman who was much loved by Essex, was killed; the Earl's step-father, Sir Christopher Blount, was severely wounded and taken prisoner, and Essex himself was twice shot through the hat. Retreating down Friday Street, Essex and his few remaining companions made their way to Queenhithe, where they took boat, and from thence arrived at Essex House. At first he expressed

« PreviousContinue »