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Charles Dickens
A Child's History of England 32 Part 2
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His Sowship would pretty willingly, I think, have blown the House
of Commons into the air himself; for, his dread and jealousy of it
knew no bounds all through his reign. When he was hard pressed
for money he was obliged to order it to meet, as he could get no
money without it; and when it asked him first to abolish some of the
monopolies in necessaries of life which were a great grievance to
the people, and to redress other public wrongs, he flew into a rage
and got rid of it again. At one time he wanted it to consent to
the Union of England with Scotland, and quarrelled about that. At
another time it wanted him to put down a most infamous Church
abuse, called the High Commission Court, and he quarrelled with it
about that. At another time it entreated him not to be quite so
fond of his archbishops and bishops who made speeches in his praise
too awful to be related, but to have some little consideration for
the poor Puritan clergy who were persecuted for preaching in their
own way, and not according to the archbishops and bishops; and they
quarrelled about that. In short, what with hating the House of
Commons, and pretending not to hate it; and what with now sending
some of its members who opposed him, to Newgate or to the Tower,
and now telling the rest that they must not presume to make
speeches about the public affairs which could not possibly concern
them; and what with cajoling, and bullying, and fighting, and being
frightened; the House of Commons was the plague of his Sowship's
existence. It was pretty firm, however, in maintaining its rights,
and insisting that the Parliament should make the laws, and not the
King by his own single proclamations (which he tried hard to do);
and his Sowship was so often distressed for money, in consequence,
that he sold every sort of title and public office as if they were
merchandise, and even invented a new dignity called a Baronetcy,
which anybody could buy for a thousand pounds.

These disputes with his Parliaments, and his hunting, and his
drinking, and his lying in bed - for he was a great sluggard -
occupied his Sowship pretty well. The rest of his time he chiefly
passed in hugging and slobbering his favourites. The first of
these was SIR PHILIP HERBERT, who had no knowledge whatever,
except of dogs, and horses, and hunting, but whom he soon made
EARL OF MONTGOMERY. The next, and a much more famous one,
was ROBERT CARR, or KER (for it is not certain which was his right
name), who came from the Border country, and whom he soon
The way in which his Sowship doted on this handsome young man,
is even more odious to think of, than the way in which the really
great men of England condescended to bow down before him.
The favourite's great friend was a certain SIR THOMAS OVERBURY,
who wrote his love-letters for him, and assisted him in the duties
of his many high places, which his own ignorance prevented him
from discharging. But this same Sir Thomas having just manhood
enough to dissuade the favourite from a wicked marriage with the
beautiful Countess of Essex, who was to get a divorce from her
husband for the purpose, the said Countess, in her rage, got Sir
Thomas put into the Tower, and there poisoned him. Then the
favourite and this bad woman were publicly married by the King's
pet bishop, with as much to-do and rejoicing, as if he had been the
best man, and she the best woman, upon the face of the earth.

But, after a longer sunshine than might have been expected - of
seven years or so, that is to say - another handsome young man
started up and eclipsed the EARL OF SOMERSET. This was GEORGE
VILLIERS, the youngest son of a Leicestershire gentleman: who
came to Court with all the Paris fashions on him, and could dance as
well as the best mountebank that ever was seen. He soon danced
himself into the good graces of his Sowship, and danced the other
favourite out of favour. Then, it was all at once discovered that
the Earl and Countess of Somerset had not deserved all those great
promotions and mighty rejoicings, and they were separately tried
for the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury, and for other crimes. But,
the King was so afraid of his late favourite's publicly telling
some disgraceful things he knew of him - which he darkly threatened
to do - that he was even examined with two men standing, one on
either side of him, each with a cloak in his hand, ready to throw
it over his head and stop his mouth if he should break out with
what he had it in his power to tell. So, a very lame affair was
purposely made of the trial, and his punishment was an allowance of
four thousand pounds a year in retirement, while the Countess was
pardoned, and allowed to pass into retirement too. They hated one
another by this time, and lived to revile and torment each other
some years.

While these events were in progress, and while his Sowship was
making such an exhibition of himself, from day to day and from year
to year, as is not often seen in any sty, three remarkable deaths
took place in England. The first was that of the Minister, Robert
Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, who was past sixty, and had never been
strong, being deformed from his birth. He said at last that he had
no wish to live; and no Minister need have had, with his experience
of the meanness and wickedness of those disgraceful times. The
second was that of the Lady Arabella Stuart, who alarmed his
Sowship mightily, by privately marrying WILLIAM SEYMOUR, son of
LORD BEAUCHAMP, who was a descendant of King Henry the Seventh,
and who, his Sowship thought, might consequently increase and
strengthen any claim she might one day set up to the throne. She
was separated from her husband (who was put in the Tower) and
thrust into a boat to be confined at Durham. She escaped in a
man's dress to get away in a French ship from Gravesend to France,
but unhappily missed her husband, who had escaped too, and was
soon taken. She went raving mad in the miserable Tower, and died
there after four years. The last, and the most important of these
three deaths, was that of Prince Henry, the heir to the throne, in the
nineteenth year of his age. He was a promising young prince, and
greatly liked; a quiet, well-conducted youth, of whom two very good
things are known: first, that his father was jealous of him;
secondly, that he was the friend of Sir Walter Raleigh, languishing
through all those years in the Tower, and often said that no man
but his father would keep such a bird in such a cage. On the
occasion of the preparations for the marriage of his sister the
Princess Elizabeth with a foreign prince (and an unhappy marriage
it turned out), he came from Richmond, where he had been very ill,
to greet his new brother-in-law, at the palace at Whitehall. There
he played a great game at tennis, in his shirt, though it was very
cold weather, and was seized with an alarming illness, and died
within a fortnight of a putrid fever. For this young prince Sir
Walter Raleigh wrote, in his prison in the Tower, the beginning
of a History of the World: a wonderful instance how little his
Sowship could do to confine a great man's mind, however long
he might imprison his body.

And this mention of Sir Walter Raleigh, who had many faults, but
who never showed so many merits as in trouble and adversity,
may bring me at once to the end of his sad story. After an
imprisonment in the Tower of twelve long years, he proposed to
resume those old sea voyages of his, and to go to South America in
search of gold. His Sowship, divided between his wish to be on
good terms with the Spaniards through whose territory Sir Walter
must pass (he had long had an idea of marrying Prince Henry to a
Spanish Princess), and his avaricious eagerness to get hold of the
gold, did not know what to do. But, in the end, he set Sir Walter
free, taking securities for his return; and Sir Walter fitted out
an expedition at his own coast and, on the twenty-eighth of March,
one thousand six hundred and seventeen, sailed away in command
of one of its ships, which he ominously called the Destiny. The
expedition failed; the common men, not finding the gold they had
expected, mutinied; a quarrel broke out between Sir Walter and the
Spaniards, who hated him for old successes of his against them; and
he took and burnt a little town called SAINT THOMAS. For this he
was denounced to his Sowship by the Spanish Ambassador as a pirate;
and returning almost broken-hearted, with his hopes and fortunes
shattered, his company of friends dispersed, and his brave son (who
had been one of them) killed, he was taken - through the treachery
of SIR LEWIS STUKELY, his near relation, a scoundrel and a Vice-
Admiral - and was once again immured in his prison-home of so many

His Sowship being mightily disappointed in not getting any gold,
Sir Walter Raleigh was tried as unfairly, and with as many lies and
evasions as the judges and law officers and every other authority
in Church and State habitually practised under such a King. After
a great deal of prevarication on all parts but his own, it was
declared that he must die under his former sentence, now fifteen
years old. So, on the twenty-eighth of October, one thousand six
hundred and eighteen, he was shut up in the Gate House at
Westminster to pass his late night on earth, and there he took
leave of his good and faithful lady who was worthy to have lived in
better days. At eight o'clock next morning, after a cheerful
breakfast, and a pipe, and a cup of good wine, he was taken to Old
Palace Yard in Westminster, where the scaffold was set up, and
where so many people of high degree were assembled to see him
die, that it was a matter of some difficulty to get him through the
crowd. He behaved most nobly, but if anything lay heavy on his
mind, it was that Earl of Essex, whose head he had seen roll off;
and he solemnly said that he had had no hand in bringing him to the
block, and that he had shed tears for him when he died. As the
morning was very cold, the Sheriff said, would he come down to a
fire for a little space, and warm himself? But Sir Walter thanked
him, and said no, he would rather it were done at once, for he was
ill of fever and ague, and in another quarter of an hour his
shaking fit would come upon him if he were still alive, and his
enemies might then suppose that he trembled for fear. With that,
he kneeled and made a very beautiful and Christian prayer. Before
he laid his head upon the block he felt the edge of the axe, and
said, with a smile upon his face, that it was a sharp medicine, but
would cure the worst disease. When he was bent down ready for
death, he said to the executioner, finding that he hesitated, 'What
dost thou fear? Strike, man!' So, the axe came down and struck
his head off, in the sixty-sixth year of his age.

The new favourite got on fast. He was made a viscount, he was made
Duke of Buckingham, he was made a marquis, he was made Master of
the Horse, he was made Lord High Admiral - and the Chief Commander
of the gallant English forces that had dispersed the Spanish
Armada, was displaced to make room for him. He had the whole
kingdom at his disposal, and his mother sold all the profits and
honours of the State, as if she had kept a shop. He blazed all
over with diamonds and other precious stones, from his hatband and
his earrings to his shoes. Yet he was an ignorant presumptuous,
swaggering compound of knave and fool, with nothing but his beauty
and his dancing to recommend him. This is the gentleman who called
himself his Majesty's dog and slave, and called his Majesty Your
Sowship. His Sowship called him STEENIE; it is supposed, because
that was a nickname for Stephen, and because St. Stephen was
generally represented in pictures as a handsome saint.

His Sowship was driven sometimes to his wits'-end by his trimming
between the general dislike of the Catholic religion at home, and
his desire to wheedle and flatter it abroad, as his only means of
getting a rich princess for his son's wife: a part of whose
fortune he might cram into his greasy pockets. Prince Charles - or
as his Sowship called him, Baby Charles - being now PRINCE OF
WALES, the old project of a marriage with the Spanish King's
daughter had been revived for him; and as she could not marry a
Protestant without leave from the Pope, his Sowship himself
secretly and meanly wrote to his Infallibility, asking for it. The
negotiation for this Spanish marriage takes up a larger space in
great books, than you can imagine, but the upshot of it all is,
that when it had been held off by the Spanish Court for a long
time, Baby Charles and Steenie set off in disguise as Mr. Thomas
Smith and Mr. John Smith, to see the Spanish Princess; that Baby
Charles pretended to be desperately in love with her, and jumped
off walls to look at her, and made a considerable fool of himself
in a good many ways; that she was called Princess of Wales and that
the whole Spanish Court believed Baby Charles to be all but dying
for her sake, as he expressly told them he was; that Baby Charles
and Steenie came back to England, and were received with as much
rapture as if they had been a blessing to it; that Baby Charles had
actually fallen in love with HENRIETTA MARIA, the French King's
sister, whom he had seen in Paris; that he thought it a wonderfully
fine and princely thing to have deceived the Spaniards, all
through; and that he openly said, with a chuckle, as soon as he was
safe and sound at home again, that the Spaniards were great fools
to have believed him.

Like most dishonest men, the Prince and the favourite complained
that the people whom they had deluded were dishonest. They made
such misrepresentations of the treachery of the Spaniards in this
business of the Spanish match, that the English nation became eager
for a war with them. Although the gravest Spaniards laughed at the
idea of his Sowship in a warlike attitude, the Parliament granted
money for the beginning of hostilities, and the treaties with Spain
were publicly declared to be at an end. The Spanish ambassador in
London - probably with the help of the fallen favourite, the Earl
of Somerset - being unable to obtain speech with his Sowship,
slipped a paper into his hand, declaring that he was a prisoner in
his own house, and was entirely governed by Buckingham and his
creatures. The first effect of this letter was that his Sowship
began to cry and whine, and took Baby Charles away from Steenie,
and went down to Windsor, gabbling all sorts of nonsense. The end
of it was that his Sowship hugged his dog and slave, and said he
was quite satisfied.

He had given the Prince and the favourite almost unlimited power to
settle anything with the Pope as to the Spanish marriage; and he
now, with a view to the French one, signed a treaty that all Roman
Catholics in England should exercise their religion freely, and
should never be required to take any oath contrary thereto. In
return for this, and for other concessions much less to be
defended, Henrietta Maria was to become the Prince's wife, and was
to bring him a fortune of eight hundred thousand crowns.

His Sowship's eyes were getting red with eagerly looking for the
money, when the end of a gluttonous life came upon him; and, after
a fortnight's illness, on Sunday the twenty-seventh of March, one
thousand six hundred and twenty-five, he died. He had reigned
twenty-two years, and was fifty-nine years old. I know of nothing
more abominable in history than the adulation that was lavished on
this King, and the vice and corruption that such a barefaced habit
of lying produced in his court. It is much to be doubted whether
one man of honour, and not utterly self-disgraced, kept his place
near James the First. Lord Bacon, that able and wise philosopher,
as the First Judge in the Kingdom in this reign, became a public
spectacle of dishonesty and corruption; and in his base flattery of
his Sowship, and in his crawling servility to his dog and slave,
disgraced himself even more. But, a creature like his Sowship set
upon a throne is like the Plague, and everybody receives infection
from him.


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