« VorigeDoorgaan »
pronounced,―Mary still protesting her innocence, and desiring to be permitted to justify herself before Elizabeth in person.
In about two years after, the negotiations were renewed at York House, the residenc of the Lord Keeper. The English commissioners now demanded, as the price of Mary's liberty, that some of the chief nolility, and several of the principal fortresses of Scotland, should be placed in Elizabeth's hands. The pride of the Scotsmen was much wounded by this proposal, which they denounced as insulting. But thereupon the Lord Keeper broke up the conference, saying, "All Scotland-your prince' nobles, and castles, are too little to secure the flourishing kingdom of England."*
The next occasion of the Lord Keeper appearing before the public in his political capacity, was at the meeting [A. D. 1570] of parliament, on the 2d of April, 1571. On that day the Queen went to Westminster Abbey for the first time in a coach-which was drawn by two palfreys, covered with crimson velvet, embossed, and embroidered very richly: but this was the only carriage in the procession, the Lord Keeper, and the Lords spiritual and temporal, attending her on horseback.
Her Majesty being seated on the throne, and the Commons attending, after a few complimentary words from her own lips, "looking on the right side of her, towards Sir Nicholas Bacon, Knight, Lord Keeper, standing a little beside the cloth of estate, and somewhat back, and lower from the same, she willed him to show the cause of the parliament." His most eloquent flight was in celebrating the Queen's economy. "What need I to remember unto you how the gorgeous, sumptuous, superfluous buildings of time past be for the realm's good, by her Majesty in this time turned into necessary buildings and upholdings?--the chargeable, glittering, glorious triumphs, into delectable pastimes and shows? -ambassades of charge into such as be void of excess, and yet honourable and comely? These imperfections have been commonly Princes' peculiars, especially young. One free form these was anointed rara avis, &c., and yet, (God be thanked!) a phoenix, a blessed bird of this kind God hath blessed us with He concluded, by truly supposing they were all heartily sick of his tediousness. "Here I make an end, doubting that I have tarried you longer than I promised, or meant, or perchance needed."
He delivered another speech a few days after, approving of the choice of Speaker; in which he told the Commons, by the Queen's command, that "they should do well to meddle with no matters of state, but such as should be propounded unto them.”
*This speech may well account for the great enmity afterwards entertained against him in Scotland, and the libels published against him at Edinburgh, which, being imported into England, the Queen by proclamation ordered to be burnt.
† 1 Parl. Hist. 724. In the course of his speech he cites the maxim, "Frustra fit per plura quod fieri potest per panciora," which he never much regarded, for he is a very verbose and vapid orator.
This injunction, however, was by no means universally obeyed; and several members brought forward motions about the abuse of the prerogative in granting monopolies, and the necessity for settling the succession to the Crown. They were called before the Council, when the Lord Keeper reprimanded them for their temerity; and one refractory member was committed to prison.
At the close of the session the Lord Keeper highly extolled the discretion and orderly proceedings of the Upper House, which redounded much to their honour [MAY 29, 1571.] and much to the comfort and consolation of her Majesty; but he inveighed heavily against the popular party in the Commons "for their audacious, arrogant, and presumptuous folly, thus by superfluous speech spending much time in meddling with matters neither pertaining to them nor within the capacity of their understanding."* The importance of the Commons was now rapidly rising, and that of the Lords sinking in the same proportion.
The last notice we have of Sir Nicholas Bacon's appearance in public was at the close of the session of parlia[MAY 14, 1575.] ment in the year 1575, when a scene took place which must have caused a good deal of internal tittering among the bystanders, if all due external gravity was preserved in the royal presence. Her Majesty had reached an age at which according to the common course of nature she could hardly be expected to bear children: yet the Speaker of the House of Commons (perhaps to flatter her now-as she had formerly in her younger days been annoyed by such requests), proceeded humbly to petition her Majesty "to make the kingdom further happy in her marriage, that so they might hope for a continual succession of those benefits in her posterity." The Lord Keeper, after conferring with the Queen, made answer,
In this her Majesty conceiveth the abundance of your inward affection grounded upon her good governance of you to be so great, that it doth not only content you to have her Majesty reign and govern over you, but also you do desire that some proceeding from her Majesty's body might by a perpetual succession reign over your posterity also a matter greatly to move her Majesty (she saith) to incline to this your suit. Besides, her Highness is not unmindful of all the benefits that will grow to the realm by such a marriage, neither doth she forget any perils that are like to grow for want thereof. All which matters considered, her Majesty willed me to say, that albeit of her own natural disposition she is not disposed or inclined to marriage, neither could she ever marry were she a private person, yet for your sakes and benefit of the realm, she is contented to dispose and incline herself to the satisfaction of your humble petition, so that all things convenient may concur that be met for such a marriage, whereof there be very many, some touching the state of her most royal person, some
* 1 Parl. Hist. 766.
touching the person of him whom God shali join, some touching the state of the whole realm; these things concurring and considered, her Majesty hath assented."*
Parliament was not again called during the life of Sir Nicholas Bacon. He continued in a quiet manner to have considerable influence in public affairs. From the time of his restoration to the Council he was its legal adviser, and Cecil, now Lord Burghley, had been much influenced by him respecting the measures proposed to the legislature on the part of government. Not being a Peer, he could not take a share in the Lords' debates, but presiding as Speaker on the Woolsack, he exercised a considerable influence on their deliberations. He is supposed to have framed the acts aimed at the Queen of Scots and her supporters. Although death saved him from the disgrace of being directly accessary to the death of this unfortunate Princess, he is chargeable with having strongly supported the policy which finally led to that catastrophe, by urging the continuation of her captivity and rigorous treatment,-by assisting in the efforts to blacken her reputation,-by resisting the recognition of her right and that of her son to succeed to the crown,-and by contending, that though a captive sovereign, she ought to be treated as a rebellious subject. Beira Commoner, he could neither act as Lord Steward, nor Sit upon the trial of the Duke of Norfolk, who was A. D. 1572.] the first who suffered for favouring Mary's cause; but as he put the Great Seal to the commission under which this mockery of justice was exhibited, and must have superintended and directed the whole proceeding, he is to be considered answerable for such atrocities as depriving the noble prisoner of the use of books, and debarring him from all communication with his friends from the time of his commitment to the Tower,—giving him notice of trial only the night before his arraignment,-keeping him in ignorance of the charges against him till he heard the indictment read in court,-and resting the case for the Crown on the confessions of witnesses whom the Council had ordered "to be put to the rack that they might find the taste thereof.”† The religious zeal of the Lord Keeper and the Protestant ministers was now greatly exasperated, and they were eager by any expedients to crush the believers in those doctrines which they themselves had openly professed in the preceding reign.
Sir Nicholas, from his family connection with Burghley, continued opposed to the party of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. Through the ill offices of this favourite he had been expelled from the Privy Council, and a great coldness ever after subsisted between them.
* 1 Parl. Hist. 806.
† 1 St. Tr. 958. Ellis, ii. 261. Jardine's Criminal Trials, i. 121.
Although the Queen's reputation never suffered from her attentions to this old fat Lord Keeper, as it did when she danced and
flirted with his young and handsome successor, Sir Christopher Hatton, she was latterly very kind to him, and visited him in her progresses at Redgrave and at Gorhambury. It was on one of these occasions that she remarked to him that his house was too small for him, and he answered, "Not so, Madam, your Highness has made me too great for my house." During another visit, Frank with his curly locks was introduced to her, and the lad showing from his earliest years the extraordinary genius which afterwards immortalised him, she, captivated by his manners and his answers to her questions, called him "her young Lord Keeper."
Old Sir Nicholas had grown exceedingly.corpulent, insomuch that when he had walked the short distance from the Court of Chancery to the Star Chamber, it was some time after he had taken his place on Bench there before he had sufficiently recovered his breath to go on with the business,-and the Bar, before moving, waited for a signal which he gave them by thrice striking the ground with his staff.
When unable to attend the meetings of the Council, he was in the habit of writing long letters to the Queen, explaining his views on public affairs. Thus he be- [A. D. 1577.] gins one of these, respecting the troubles in Scotland and in the Low Countries
"MY MOST GRACIOUS SOVEREIGN, I with all humbleness pray pardon of your Majesty that I presume by letter to do that, which bounden duty and service requireth to be done in person. O good Madam, not want of a willing heart and mind, but an unable and an unwieldy body, is the only cause of this. And yet the body, such as it is, every day and hour is, and ever shall be, at your Majesty's commandment; and so should they be, if I had a thousand as good as any man hath, mine allegiance and a number of benefits hath so sundry ways bounden me."
He had enjoyed remarkably good health, and he might still have done the duties of his office satisfactorily for years to come, had it not happened that in the beginning of February, [a. D. 1579.] 1579, while under the operation of having his hair and his beard trimmed, he fell asleep. The awe-struck barber desisted from his task, and remained silent. The contemporary accounts state, that, from "the sultriness of the weather, the windows of the room were open," which, considering the season of the year, I do not exactly understand. However this may be, the Lord Keeper continued long asleep in a current of air, and when he awoke he found himself chilled and very much disordered. To the question, "Why did you suffer me to sleep thus exposed?" the answer was,--" I durst not disturb you.” Sir Nicholas replied," By your civility I lose my life." He was immediately carried to his bed, and in a few days he expired.
[FEB. 20, 1579.]
He was buried in St. Paul's Cathedral, where a monument to
his memory stood till the great fire of London, with the following epitaph from the pen of his friend, George Buchanan :—
The character of Lord Keeper Bacon, by Camden, is very flattering, notwithstanding the sneer at his obesity*,-" Vir præpinguis, ingenio acerrimo, singulari prudentia, summâ eloquentiâ, tenaci memoriâ et sacris conciliis alterum columen."
His son bears the most honourable testimony to his sincerity of mind and straightforward conduct-abstaining from ascribing to him brilliant qualities which he knew did not belong to him: "He was a plain man, direct and constant, without all finesse and doubleness, and one that was of a mind that a man in his private proceedings, and in the proceedings of state, should rest on the soundness and strength of his own courses, and not upon practice to circumvent others, according to the sentence of Solomon, Vir prudens advertit ad gressus suos; stultus autem divertit ad dolos, insomuch that the Bishop of Ross, a subtle and observing man, said of him that he could fasten no words upon him, and that it was impossible to come within him, because he offered no play; and the Queen Mother of France, a very politic Princess, said of him that he should have been of the Council of Spain, because he despised the occurrents and rested on the first plot."+
The most valuable tribute to his memory is from the faithful Hayward, who describes him as "a man of greate diligence and ability in his place, whose goodnesse preserved his greatnesse from suspicion, envye, and hate."
Amidst the drudgery of business and the cares of state, he kept up his classical learning, and was a patron of learned men, who repaid him for his condescension by their flattery. "I have come," said one of them, "to the Lord Keeper, and found him sitting in his gallery alone with the works of Quintilian before him. Indeed he was a most eloquent man, of rare wisdom and learning as ever
*The Lord Keeper's figure seems to have been the subject of much jesting at Court. The Queen herself, alluding to it, "Sir Nicholas's soul lodges well," whereat, no doubt, the lords with white stayes and the ladies in waiting laughed consumedly. Fuller describes him as a man "cui fuit ingenium subtile in corpora crasso."
† Observations on a Libel. Bac. Works, ed. 1819, vol. iii. p. 96.