Politics Rears its Ugly Head
‘My Lord Treasurer’s malady doth daily increase………..He hath besides an ague, a deflation of rheum on his stomach, and withal difficultum respirandi………..his Lordship must shortly leave this world.’[ii]Robert Cecil died 24th May 1612, worn out by continuous service to his sovereigns. The race was now on to fill the posts left vacant by Cecil’s death. Francis Bacon first thought to become Master of the Wards in Cecil’s place, but was later given the post of Attorney General.
The new or Addled Parliament in 1614 was accounted a troublesome one by Francis Bacon for its high proportion of new members. But the main root of James’ problems was the inexperience of his new servants; Cecil’s ability to manage men was much missed by his erstwhile master. Ralph Winwood[iii] was chosen as Secretary for State and the new Speaker of the House had not sat therein for over twenty years.
James’ friendship with the Spanish ambassador, who knew how to make James laugh and went hunting with the king, made his subjects fear that James was plotting to bring back the Catholic religion. James’ speech to the parliament promising some tolerance of Catholics did nothing to appease those fears.
The Commons became;
‘More fiery and violent in their speeches.’[iv]They attacked the Bishop of Lincoln when he suggested that their arguments were seditious. In turn Christopher Neville denounced the court for corruption. James, who had been hoping for an increase in his finances, eventually gave up in despair and dissolved parliament.
Many of the members had been lawyers and James was incapable of appreciating the English system of Common Law, much of it developed by Edward Coke who was made Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas in 1606.
Murder She DecreedRalph Winwood was a tool of the rapacious Howard family[v] who, joined by Carr, had great influence over James. The Howards had been fortunate in their early espousal of James[vi] and the alliance with Carr was the result of his marriage to Frances Howard of whom John Donne wrote;
‘First, her eyes kindle other ladies’ eyes
Then from those beams their jewels’ lustre rise;
And from their jewels torches do take fire;
And all is warmth and light and good desire.’[vii]
Howard was a ruthless woman who had already besmirched the reputation of her former husband the Earl of Essex on the grounds that he was incapable of consummating their marriage.
At a time when the king was not popular a lurid murder caught the public imagination. Sir Thomas Overbury, a confidant of the favourite, was poisoned. Overbury had opposed the marriage to Frances, fearing that his own influence with Carr would be much diluted by the Howards. More foolishly Overbury wrote and disseminated a poem called A Wife, capitulating the virtues a young man should look for in his wife.
James was pressured into offering Overbury a diplomatic post as ambassador to Russia; an offer that Overbury declined. James was further pressured into having Overbury arrested on 22nd April 1613 and thrown into the Tower. During his time in prison Overbury was gradually poisoned with a series of jellies sent by Howard. He died on 14th September 1613. Francis Bacon and Edward Coke were charged with investigating the murder. After four accomplices were convicted and hung, Frances confessed.
Both Somerset and his new wife were tried for the murder and both were sentenced to death. James commuted the sentence to life imprisonment and the couple were kept in the Tower until January 1622[viii]. The king was tainted by association, although it would appear that Carr was probably innocent of the crime.
A New FavouriteThe Howard family were about to lose the hold they had on the king. There arose a new favourite, another pretty boy, George Villiers. It is highly possible that he was introduced to James in an attempt to overthrow Carr’s hold on the king’s affections.
Villiers’ rise was meteoric; he met the king in 1614 and was appointed Cupbearer, he was knighted in 1615 and made Gentleman of the Bedchamber with a grant of £1,000 per annum[ix], in 1616 he was made Master of the Horse, at the age of 24 he became a Knight of the Garter and created Baron Whaddon and Viscount Villiers. Villiers was made Earl of Buckingham and a Privy Counsellor in 1617. In 1619 Villiers was made Marquess of Buckingham and was finally made Duke of Buckingham in 1623.
Courtiers were in no doubt about the relationship, Edward Peyton wrote;
‘The king sold his affections to Sir George Villiers, whom he would tumble and kiss as a mistress.’[x]
And in similar vein John Oglander said that he;
‘Never yet saw any fond husband make so much or so great dalliance over his beautiful spouse as I have seen King James over his favourites, especially the Duke of Buckingham.’[xi]Villiers was originally considered ‘a modest and courteous youth’ but, like many a favourite before and after, that soon changed. He was not modest, and apparently never had been, and the courtesy was soon lost on his rise to power. Even the queen approved, writing to him;
‘My Kind Dog[xii] you do very well in lugging the Sowe’s [king’s] eare, and I thank you for it, and would have you do so still, upon condition that you continue a watchful dog and be always true to him. So wishing you all happiness.’[xiii]Anne was relieved to be released from being dragged around the kingdom on royal progresses.
There was one person at court who was not part of the George Villiers appreciation club. The 19 year old 5’ 4” Prince Charles was overshadowed by the tall and commanding favourite. Charles resented Villiers and once twisted a water spout so that it spurted on Villier’s gorgeously clothed back; another time the pair came to blows on the tennis court.But even Charles could not long resist the favourite’s spell and ‘sweet Steenie’ and ‘baby Charles’ soon formed an intense friendship that owed nothing to sexuality; a friendship that was to last until Villier’s death.
In 1621 Lionel Cranfield was made Lord High Treasurer; a new policy of rationalising tariffs increased James’ income by £30,000 per annum[xiv]. Cranfield believed that James’ current expenditure should not imperil his future income and therefore assignments on revenue should be loans not gifts.In June 1618 Cranfield persuaded James to agree to his regulations for running the Wardrobe[xv]. Cranfield managed to almost halve the Wardrobe’s expenditure, arousing opposition having, in his words, reduced;
‘Only their stealing and thieveries.’[xvi]Naval expenses were remarkable for the scandalous speculation, bribery and waste; the Howard Lord High Admiral was sacked. In 1618 the Howard Lord High Treasurer, Lord Suffolk, was removed from his post after his accounts were found to be wanting in the extreme. Suffolk was accused of embezzlement and his wife of taking bribes. They were jointly fined £30,000 and ordered to return the embezzled monies. Cranfield was made Master of the Wards and income increased by over 25%, but even his personal wealth tripled in the 9 years up to 1620.
BibliographyCharles The First – John Bowle, Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1975
The Early Stuarts – Godfrey Davies, Oxford University Press 1987King James – Antonia Fraser, BCA 1974
Charles I – Christopher Hibbert, Penguin 1968The Thirty Years War – Herbert Langer, Dorset Press 1990
The Thirty Years War – CV Wedgewood, Folio Society 1999www.wikipedia.en
[i] Adiplomat and politician
[ii] Robert Cecil - Haynes
[iii] Who had never taken his seat in the house, he was nominated by Robert Carr, still in favour with James
[iv] King James - Fraser
[vi] James was much influenced by the fact that the former head of the Howard family, Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, had been a favoured suitor for his mother’s hand in marriage
[vii] King James - Fraser
[xii] The king called Villiers ‘kind dogge Steenie’ and in return was called ‘dear dad and gossip’
[xiii] Charles I - Hibbert
[xvi] King James - Fraser