The Curious Case of Lady Purbeck - A Scandal of the XVIIth Century
by Thomas Longueville
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The curious case of Lady Purbeck is here presented without embellishment, much as it has been found in old books and old manuscripts, chiefly at the Record Office and at the British Museum. Readers must not expect to find any "well-drawn characters," "fine descriptions," "local colour," or "dramatic talent," in these pages, on each of which Mr. Dry-as-dust will be encountered. Possibly some writer of fiction, endowed with able hands directed by an imaginative mind, may some day produce a readable romance from the rough-hewn matter which they contain: but, as their author's object has been to tell the story simply, as it has come down to us, and, as much as was possible, to let the contemporaries of the heroine tell it in their own words, he has endeavoured to suppress his own imagination, his own emotions, and his own opinions, in writing it. He has the pleasure of acknowledging much useful assistance and kind encouragement in this little work from Mr. Walter Herries Pollock.



Sir Edward Coke—Lady Elizabeth Hatton—Bacon—Marriage of Coke and Lady Elizabeth—Birth of the Heroine 1


Rivalry of Coke and Bacon—Quarrelling between Coke and Lady Elizabeth—Coke offends the King and loses his offices—Letter of Bacon to Coke 10


Coke tries to regain the favour of Buckingham and the King by offering his daughter to Sir John Villiers—Anger of Lady Elizabeth—Lady Elizabeth steals away with her daughter 21


Coke besieges his wife and carries off his daughter—Coke and Winwood v. Lady Elizabeth and Bacon—Charges and counter-charges 30


Lady Elizabeth tries to recover her daughter—Her scheme for a match between Frances Coke and the Earl of Oxford—Bacon, finding that he has offended both Buckingham and the King, turns round and favours the match with Villiers—Trial of Lady Exeter—Imprisonment of Lady Elizabeth at an Alderman's house 39


Frances is tortured into consent—The marriage—Lady Elizabeth comes into royal favour and Coke falls out of it—Lady Elizabeth's dinner-party to the King—Carleton and his wife quarrel about her 52


Buckingham ennobles his own family—Villiers becomes Lord Purbeck—Purbeck and the Countess of Buckingham become Catholics—Rumours that Purbeck is insane 64


The insanity question—Quite sane—Thought insane again—Letter from Lady Purbeck to Buckingham—Birth of Robert Wright—Sir Robert Howard 74


Proceedings instituted against Sir Robert Howard and Lady Purbeck—Buckingham's correspondence about them with his lawyers—Lanier, the King's musician—Buckingham accuses Lady Purbeck of witchcraft—Dr. Lambe—Laud and witchcraft 83


Trial of Lady Purbeck before the High Commission—The sentence—Archbishop Laud—The Ambassador of Savoy—Escape—Clun—Some of our other characters—Lady Purbeck goes to Stoke Pogis to take care of her father—Death of Coke 102


Lady Purbeck goes to London—Laud—Arrest of Lady Purbeck and Sir Robert Howard—Question of her virtue at that time—Lord Danby—Guernsey—Paris—Sir Robert Howard turns the tables on Laud—Changes of religion 114


Lady Purbeck in Paris—The English Ambassador—Serving a writ—Lady Purbeck at a convent—Sir Kenelm Digby—His letter about Lady Purbeck—Lady Purbeck returns to England 125


Lord Purbeck takes Lady Purbeck back again as his wife—He acknowledges Robert Wright as his own son—Death of Lady Purbeck—Retrospect of her life and character—Her descendants—Claims to the title of Viscount Purbeck 137


"After this alliance, Let tigers match with hinds, and wolves with sheep, And every creature couple with its foe." DRYDEN.

The political air of England was highly charged with electricity. Queen Elizabeth, after quarrelling with her lover, the Earl of Essex, had boxed his ears severely and told him to "go to the devil;" whereupon he had left the room in a rage, loudly exclaiming that he would not have brooked such an insult from her father, and that much less would he tolerate it from a king in petticoats.

This well-known incident is only mentioned to give an idea of the period of English history at which the following story makes its start. It is not, however, with public, but with private life that we are to be here concerned; nor is it in the Court of the Queen, but in the humbler home of her Attorney-General, that we must begin. In a humbler, it is true, yet not in a very humble home; for Mr. Attorney Coke had inherited a good estate from his father, had married an heiress, in Bridget Paston, who brought him the house and estate of Huntingfield Hall, in Suffolk, together with a large fortune in hard cash; and he had a practice at the Bar which had never previously been equalled. Coke was in great sorrow, for his wife had died on the 27th of June, 1598, and such was the pomp with which he determined to bury her, that her funeral did not take place until the 24th of July. In his memorandum-book he wrote on the day of her death: "Most beloved and most excellent wife, she well and happily lived, and, as a true handmaid of the Lord, fell asleep in the Lord and now reigns in Heaven." Bridget had made good use of her time, for, although she died at the age of thirty-three, she had, according to Burke, seven children; but, according to Lord Campbell, ten.

As Bridget was reigning in Heaven, Coke immediately began to look about for a substitute to fill the throne which she had left vacant upon earth. Youth, great personal beauty and considerable wealth, thought this broken-hearted widower at the age of forty-six, would be good enough for him, and the weeks since the true handmaid of the Lord had left him desolate were only just beginning to blend into months, when he fixed his mind upon a girl likely to fulfil his very moderate requirements. He, a widower, naturally sought a widow, and, happily, he found a newly made one. Youth she had, for she was only twenty; beauty she must have had in a remarkable degree, for she was afterwards one of the lovely girls selected to act with the Queen of James I. in Ben Jonson's Masque of Beauty; and wealth she had in the shape of immense estates.

Elizabeth, grand-daughter of the great Lord Burghley, and daughter of Burghley's eldest son Thomas Cecil, some years later Earl of Exeter, had been married to the nephew and heir of Lord Chancellor Hatton. Not very long after her marriage her husband had died, leaving her childless and possessed of the large property which he had inherited from his uncle. This young widow was a woman not only of high birth, great riches, and exceptional beauty, but also of remarkable wit, and, as if all this were not enough, she had, in addition, a violent temper and an obstinate will. This Coke found out in her conduct respecting a daughter who eventually became Lady Purbeck, the heroine of our little story.

Romance was not wanting in the Attorney-General's second wooing; for he had a rival, whom Lord Campbell in his Lives of the Chief Justices, describes as "then a briefless barrister, but with brilliant prospects," a man of thirty-five, who happened to be Lady Elizabeth's cousin. His name was Francis Bacon, afterwards Lord Chancellor, Baron Verulam, Viscount St. Albans, and the author of the Novum Organum as well of a host of other works, including essays on almost every conceivable subject. In the opinion of certain people, he was also the author of the plays commonly attributed to one William Shakespeare. This rival was good-looking, had a charming manner, and was brilliant in conversation, while his range of subjects was almost unlimited, whereas, the wooer in whom we take such an affectionate interest, was wrinkled, dull, narrow-minded, unimaginative, selfish, over-bearing, arrogant, illiterate, ignorant in almost everything except jurisprudence, of which he was the greatest oracle then living, and uninterested in everything except law, his own personal ambition, and money-making.

Shortly before Coke had marked the young and lovely Lady Elizabeth Hatton for his own, Bacon had not only paid his court to her in person, but had also persuaded his great friend and patron, Lord Essex, to use his influence in inducing her to marry him. Essex did so to the very best of his ability, a kind service for which Bacon afterwards repaid him after he had fallen—we have seen that his star was already in its decadence—by making every effort, and successful effort, to get him convicted of treason, sentenced to death, and executed.

Which of these limbs of the law was the beautiful heiress to select? She showed no inclination to marry Francis Bacon, and she was backed up in this disinclination by her relatives, the Cecils. The head of that family, Lord Burghley, Queen Elizabeth's Lord High Treasurer, was particularly proud of his second son, Robert, whom he had succeeded in advancing by leaps and bounds until he had become Secretary of State; and Burghley and the rest of his family feared a dangerous rival to Robert in the brilliant Bacon, who had already attracted the notice, and was apparently about to receive the patronage, of the Court. If Bacon should marry the famous beauty and become possessed of her large fortune, there was no saying, thought the Cecils, but that he might attain to such an exalted position as to put their own precocious Robert in the shade.

Bridget had not been in her grave four months when the great Lord Burghley died. Coke attended his funeral, and a funeral being obviously a fitting occasion on which to talk about that still more dreary ceremony, a wedding, Coke took advantage of it to broach the question of a marriage between himself and Lady Elizabeth Hatton. He broached it both to her father, the new Lord Burghley, and to her uncle, the much more talented Robert. Whatever their astonishment may have been, each of these Cecils promised to offer no opposition to the match. They probably reflected that the Attorney-General was a man in a powerful position, and that, with his own great wealth combined with that of Lady Elizabeth Hatton, he might possibly prove of service to the Cecil family in the future.

How the match, proposed under such conditions, came about, history does not inform us, but, within six months of Bridget's funeral, her widower embalmed her memory by marrying Elizabeth Hatton, a girl fifteen years her junior.

If any writer possessed of imagination should choose to make a novel on the foundation of this simple story, he may describe to his readers how the cross-grained and unattractive Coke contrived to induce the fair Lady Elizabeth Hatton to accept him for a husband. The present writer cannot say how this miracle was worked, for the simple reason that he does not know. One incident in connection with the marriage, however, is a matter of history. Elizabeth was not sufficiently proud of her prospective bride-groom to desire to stand beside him at a wedding before a large, fashionable, and critical assemblage in a London church. If he would have her at all, she insisted that he must take her in the only way in which he could get her, namely, by a clandestine marriage, in a private house, with only two or three witnesses.

Now, if there was one thing more than another in which Mr. Attorney Coke lived and moved and had his being, it was the law, to all offenders against which he was an object of terror; and such a great lawyer must have been fully aware that, by making a clandestine marriage in a private house, he would render himself liable to the greater excommunication, whereby, in addition to the minor annoyance of being debarred from the sacraments, he might forfeit the whole of his property and be subjected to perpetual imprisonment. To make matters worse, Archbishop Whitgift had just issued a pastoral letter to all the bishops in the province of Canterbury, condemning marriages in private houses at unseasonable hours, and forbidding under the severest penalties any marriage, except in a cathedral or in a parish church, during the canonical hours, and after proclamation of banns on three Sundays or holidays, or else with the license of the ordinary.

Rather than lose his prize, Coke, the great lawyer, determined to defy the law, and to run all risks, risks which the bride seemed anxious to make as great as possible; for, at her earnest request, or rather dictation, the pair were married in a private house, without license or banns, and in the evening, less than five months after Coke had made the entry in his diary canonising Bridget. As the Archbishop had been his tutor, Coke may have expected him to overlook this little transgression. Instead of this, the pious Primate at once ordered a suit to be instituted in his Court against the bridegroom, the bride, the parson who had married them, and the bride's father, Lord Burghley, who had given her away. Lord Campbell says that "a libel was exhibited against them, concluding for the 'greater excommunication' as the appropriate punishment."

Mr. Attorney now saw that there was nothing to be done but to kiss the rod. Accordingly, he made a humble and a grovelling submission, on which the Archbishop gave a dispensation under his great seal, a dispensation which is registered in the archives of Lambeth Palace, absolving all concerned from the penalties they had incurred, and, as if to complete the joke, alleging, as an excuse, ignorance of the law on the part of the most learned lawyer in the kingdom.

The newly married pair had not a single taste in common. The wife loved balls, masques, hawking, and all sorts of gaiety; she delighted in admiration and loved to be surrounded by young gallants who had served in the wars under Sydney and Essex, and who could flatter her with apt quotations from the verses of Spenser and Surrey. The husband, on the contrary, detested everything in the form of fun and frolic, loved nothing but law and money, loathed extravagance and cared for no society, except that of middle-aged barristers and old judges. As might be expected, the union of this singularly ill-assorted couple was a most unhappy one. Indeed it was a case of—

"at home 'tis steadfast hate, And one eternal tempest of debate."[1]

Within a year of their marriage, that is to say in 1599, Lady Elizabeth Hatton, as she still called herself, had a daughter. Here again Burke and Lord Campbell are at variance. Burke says that by this marriage Coke had two daughters, Elizabeth, who died unmarried, and Frances, our heroine; whereas Lord Campbell says that Frances was born within a year of their marriage and makes no mention of any Elizabeth. It is pretty clear, from subsequent events, that, if there was an Elizabeth, she must have died very young, and that Frances must have been born almost as soon as was possible after the birth of her elder sister.[2]

The beginning of our heroine may make the end of our chapter. In the next she will not be seen at all; but, as will duly appear, the events therein recorded had a great—it might almost be said a supreme—influence on her fortunes.


[1] Young's Love of Fame.

[2] Most of the matter in this chapter has been taken from The Lives of the Chief Justices of England, by John, Lord Campbell. In two volumes. London: John Murray, 1849, Vol. I., p. 239 seq., Chap. VII.


"Now hatred is by far the longest pleasure, Men love in haste, but they detest at leisure." Don Juan, xiii., 16.

Rivals in love, rivals in law, rivals for place, Coke and Bacon, while nominally friends, were implacable enemies, but they sought their ends by different methods. When James I. had ascended the throne, Bacon began at once to seek his favour; but Coke took no trouble whatever for that purpose, and he was not even introduced to the royal presence until several weeks after the accession. Bacon, then a K.C., held no office during the first four years of the new reign; but his literary fame and his skilful advocacy at the Bar excited the jealousy of Coke. On one occasion, Coke grossly insulted him in the Court of Exchequer, whereupon Bacon said: "Mr. Attorney, I respect you but I fear you not; and the less you speak of your own greatness, the more I will think of it." Coke angrily replied: "I think scorn to stand upon terms of greatness towards you, who are less than little—less than the least."

Lord Campbell says that Sir Edward Coke's arrogance to the whole Bar, and to all who approached him, now became almost insufferable, and that "his demeanour was particularly offensive to his rival"—Bacon. As to prisoners, "his brutal conduct ... brought permanent disgrace upon himself and upon the English Bar." When Sir Walter Raleigh was being tried for his life, but had not yet been found guilty, Coke said to him: "Thou art the most vile and execrable traitor that ever lived. I want words sufficient to express thy viprous treasons." When Sir Everard Digby confessed that he deserved the vilest death, but humbly begged for mercy and some moderation of justice, Coke told him that he ought "rather to admire the great moderation and mercy of the King, in that, for so exorbitant a crime, no new torture answerable thereto was devised to be inflicted upon him," and that, as to his wife and children, he ought to desire the fulfilment of the words of the Psalm: "Let his wife be a widow and his children vagabonds: let his posterity be destroyed, and in the next generation let his name be quite put out." According to Lord Campbell, Coke's "arrogance of demeanour to all mankind is unparalleled."

Towards the end of the reign of Elizabeth, Coke, as Attorney-General, had had another task well suited to his taste, that of examining the prisoners stretched on the rack, at the Tower. Volumes of examinations of prisoners under torture, in Coke's own handwriting, are still preserved at the State Paper Office, which, says Campbell, "sufficiently attest his zeal, assiduity and hard-heartedness in the service.... He scrupulously attended to see the proper degree of pain inflicted." Yet this severe prosecutor, bitter advocate and cruel examiner, became a Chief Justice of tolerable courtesy, moderate severity, and unimpeachable integrity.

If he had everything his own way in the criminal court and the torture chamber, Coke did not find his wishes altogether unopposed in his family. To begin with, he suffered the perpetual insult of the refusal on the part of his wife to be called by his name. If her first husband had been of higher rank, it might have been another matter: but both were only knights, and it was a parallel case to the widow Jones, after she had married Smith, insisting upon still calling herself Mrs. Jones. Lady Elizabeth defended her conduct on this point as follows:[3] "I returned this answer: that if Sir Edward Cooke would bury my first husband accordinge to his own directions, and also paie such small legacys as he gave to divers of his friends, in all cominge not to above L700 or L900, at the most that was left unperformed, he having all Sir William Hatton's goods & lands to a large proportion, then would I willingly stile myself by his name. But he never yielded, so I consented not to the other." Whether Hatton or Coke, as an Earl's daughter she was Lady Elizabeth, by which name alone let us know her.

Campbell states that, after the birth of Frances, Sir Edward and Lady Elizabeth "lived little together, although they had the prudence to appear to the world to be on decent terms till the heiress was marriageable." Coke had been astute enough to secure a comfortable country-house, at a very convenient distance from London, through Lady Elizabeth. Her ladyship had held a mortgage upon Stoke Pogis, a place that belonged formerly to the Earls of Huntingdon,[4] and Coke, either by foreclosing or by selling, obtained possession of the property. As it stood but three or four miles to the north of Windsor, the situation was excellent.[5] Sir Edward's London house was in the then fashionable quarter of Holborn, a place to which dwellers in the city used to go for change of air.[6] As Coke and his wife generally quarrelled when together, the husband was usually at Holborn[7] when the wife was at Stoke, and vice-versa. It was almost impossible that Miss Frances should not notice the strained relations between her parents. Nothing could have been much worse for the education of their daughter than their constant squabblings; and, unless she differed greatly from most other daughters, she would take advantage of their mutual antipathies to play one against the other, a pleasing pastime, by means of which young ladies, blessed with quarrelsome parents, often obtain permissions and other good things of this world, which otherwise they would have to do without.

Lady Elizabeth found a friend and a sympathiser in her domestic worries. Francis Bacon, the former lover of her fortune, if not of her person, became her consoler and her counsellor. Let not the reader suppose that these pages are so early to be sullied by a scandal. Nothing could have been farther from reproach than the marital fidelity of Lady Elizabeth, but it must have gratified Bacon to annoy the man who had crossed and conquered him in love, or in what masqueraded under that name, by fanning the flames of Lady Elizabeth's fiery hatred against her husband. Hitherto, Coke had had it all his own way. He had snubbed and insulted Bacon in the law courts, and he had snatched a wealthy and beautiful heiress from his grasp. The wheel of fortune was now about to take a turn in the opposite direction.

About the year 1611, King James entertained the idea of reigning as an absolute sovereign. Archbishop Bancroft flattered him in this notion, and suggested that the King ought to have the privilege of "judging whatever cause he pleased in his own person, free from all risk of prohibition or appeal." James summoned the judges to his Council and asked whether they consented to this proposal. Coke replied:—

"God has endowed your Majesty with excellent science as well as great gifts of nature; but your Majesty will allow me to say, with all reverence, that you are not learned in the laws of this your realm of England, and I crave leave to remind your Majesty that causes which concern the life or inheritance, or goods or fortunes of your subjects are not to be decided by natural reason, but by the artificial reason and judgment of law, which law is an art which requires long study and experience before that a man can attain to the cognizance of it."

On hearing this, James flew into a rage and said: "Then am I to be under the law—which it is treason to affirm?"

To which Coke replied: "Thus wrote Braxton: 'Rex non debet esse sub homine, sed sub Deo et Lege.'"[8]

Coke had the misfortune to offend the King in another matter. James issued proclamations whenever he thought that the existing law required amendment. A reply was drawn up by Coke, in which he said: "The King, by his proclamation or otherwise, cannot change any part of the common law, or statute law, or the customs of the realm." This still further aggravated James.

Meanwhile Bacon, now Attorney-General, was high in the King's favour, and he was constantly manoeuvring in order to bring about the downfall of his rival. He persuaded James to remove Coke from the Common Pleas to the King's Bench—a promotion, it is true, but to a far less lucrative post. This greatly annoyed Coke, who, on meeting Bacon, said: "Mr. Attorney, this is all your doing." For a time Coke counteracted his fall in James's favour by giving L2,000 to a "Benevolence," which the King had asked for the pressing necessities of the Crown, a benevolence to which the other judges contributed only very small sums. This fair weather, however, was not to be of long duration.

In 1616 Coke again offended the King. Bacon had declared his opinion that the King could prohibit the hearing of any case in which his prerogative was concerned. In the course of a trial which shortly afterwards took place, Bacon wrote to the judges that it was "his Majesty's express pleasure that the farther argument of the said cause be put off till his Majesty's farther pleasure be known upon consulting him." In a reply, drawn up by Coke and signed by the other judges, the King was told that "we have advisedly considered of the said letter of Mr. Attorney, and with one consent do hold the same to be contrary to law, and such as we could not yield to by our oaths."

James was furious. He summoned the judges to Whitehall and gave them a tremendous scolding. They fell on their knees and all were submissive except Coke, who boldly said that "obedience to his Majesty's command ... would have been a delay of justice, contrary to law, and contrary to the oaths of the judges."

Although Coke was now in terrible disgrace at Court, he might have retained his office of Chief Justice, if he would have sanctioned a job for Villiers, the new royal favourite. George Villiers, a young man of twenty-four, since the fall of the Earl of Somerset had centralised all power and patronage in his own hands. The chief clerkship in the Court of King's Bench, a sinecure worth L4,000 a year, was falling vacant, and Villiers wished to have the disposal of it. The office was in the gift of Coke, and, when Bacon asked that its gift should be placed in the hands of Villiers, Coke flatly refused and thus offended the most powerful man in England. Nothing then became bad enough for Coke and nothing in Coke could be good. His reports of cases were carefully examined by Bacon, who pointed out to the King many "novelties, errors, and offensive conceits" in them. The upshot of the whole matter was that Coke was deprived of office. When the news was communicated to him, says a contemporary letter, "he received it with dejection and tears."[9]

It would be natural to suppose that by this time Bacon had done enough to satisfy his vengeance upon Coke. But no! He must needs worry him yet further by an exasperating letter, from which some extracts shall be given. It opens with a good deal of scriptural quotation as to the wholesomeness of affliction. Then Bacon proceeds to say:[10] "Afflictions level the mole-hills of pride, plough the heart and make it fit for Wisdom to sow her seed, and for grace to bring forth her increase. Happy is that man, therefore, both in regard of Heavenly and earthly wisdom, that is thus wounded to be cured, thus broken to be made straight, thus made acquainted with his own imperfections that he may be perfect. Supposing this to be the time of your affliction, that which I have propounded to myself is, by taking the seasonable advantage, like a true friend (though far unworthy to be counted so) to show your shape in a glass.... Yet of this resolve yourself, it proceedeth from love and a true desire to do you good, that you, knowing what the general opinion is may not altogether neglect or contemn it, but mend what you may find amiss in yourself.... First, therefore, behold your Errors: In discourse you delight to speak too much.... Your affections are entangled with a love of your own arguments, though they be the weaker.... Secondly, you cloy your auditory: when you would be observed, speech must either be sweet, or short. Thirdly, you converse with Books, not Men ... who are the best Books. For a man of action & employment you seldom converse, & then but with underlings; not freely but as a schoolmaster with his scholars, ever to teach, never to learn.... You should know many of these tales you tell to be but ordinary, & many other things, which you repeat, & serve in for novelties to be but stale.... Your too much love of the world is too much seen, when having the living" [income] "of L10,000, you relieve few or none: the hand that hath taken so much, can it give so little? Herein you show no bowels of compassion.... We desire you to amend this & let your poor Tenants in Norfolk find some comfort, where nothing of your Estate is spent towards their relief, but all brought up hither, to the impoverishing of your country.... When we will not mind ourselves, God (if we belong to him) takes us in hand, & because he seeth that we have unbridled stomachs, therefore he sends outward crosses." And Bacon ends by commending poor Coke "to God's Holy Spirit ... beseeching Him to send you a good issue out of all these troubles, & from henceforth to work a reformation in all that is amiss, & a resolute perseverance, proceeding, & growth, in all that is good, & that for His glory, the bettering of yourself, this Church & Commonwealth; whose faithful servant whilest you remain, I am a faithful servant unto you."

If ever there was a case of adding insult to injury, surely this piece of canting impertinence was one of the most outrageous.


[3] Life of Sir Edward Coke. By H.W. Woolrych. London: J. & W.T. Clarke, 1826, pp. 145-48.

[4] Lipscomb's History and Antiquities of the Co. of Bucks, 1847, Vol. IV., p. 548.

[5] Gray made the churchyard of Stoke Pogis the scene of his famous Elegy, and he was buried there in 1771.

[6] Ency. Brit., Vol. XIV. Article on London.

[7] Lady Elizabeth's house in Holborn was called Hatton House. A letter (S.P. Dom., James I., 13th July, 1622) says: "Lady Hatton sells her house in Holborn to the Duke of Lennox, for L12,000." Another letter (ib. 26th February, 1628) says that "Lady Hatton complained so much of her bargain with the Duchess of Richmond for Hatton House, that the Duchess has taken her at her word and left it on her hands, whereby she loses L1,500 a year, and L6,000 fine."

[8] "Under no man's judgment should the King lie; but under God and the law only."

[9] Letter from John Castle. See D'Israeli's Character of James I., p. 125.

[10] Cabala Sive Scrina Sacra: Mysteries of State and Government. In Letters of Illustrious Persons, etc. London: Thomas Sawbridge and others, 1791, p. 86.


"Marriage is a matter of more worth Than to be dealt in by attorneyship." Henry VI., I., v., 5.

If Bacon flattered himself that he had extinguished Coke for good and all, he was much mistaken. It must have alarmed him to find that Lady Elizabeth, after constant quarrels with her husband and ceasing to live with him, had taken his part, now that he had been dismissed from office, that she had solicited his cause at the very Council table,[11] and that she had quarrelled with both the King and the Queen about the treatment of her husband, with the result that she had been forbidden to go to Court, and had begun to live again with Coke, taking with her her daughter, now well on in her 'teens.

There was a period of hostilities, however, early in the year 1617. Sir Edward and Lady Elizabeth went to law about her jointure. In May Chamberlain wrote to Carleton:—

"The Lord Coke & his lady hath great wars at the council table. I was there on Wednesday, but by reason of the Lord Keeper's absence, there was nothing done. What passed yesterday I know not yet: but the first time she came accompanied with the Lord Burghley" (her eldest brother), "& his lady, the Lord Danvers" (her maternal grandfather), "the Lord Denny" (her brother-in-law), "Sir Thomas Howard" (her nephew, afterwards first Earl of Berkshire) "& his lady, with I know not how many more, & declaimed bitterly against him, and so carried herself that divers said Burbage" [the celebrated actor of that time] "could not have acted better. Indeed, it seems he [Sir Edward Coke] hath carried himself very simply, to say no more, in divers matters: and no doubt he shall be sifted thoroughly, for the King is much incensed against him, & by his own weakness he hath lost those few friends he had."

It is clear from this letter that, although her husband was one of the greatest lawyers of the day, Lady Elizabeth was not at all afraid of pitting herself against him in Court, where indeed she seems to have proved the better pleader of the pair.

This dispute was patched up. On 4th June Chamberlain wrote: "Sir Edward Coke & his Lady, after so much animosity and wrangling, are lately made friends; & his curst heart hath been forced to yield more than ever he meant; but upon this agreement he flatters himself that she will prove a very good wife." So Coke and his "very good wife" settled down together again. We shall see presently whether there was to be a perpetual peace between them.

While Bacon was meditating an information against Sir Edward Coke in the Star Chamber for malversation of office, in the hope that a heavy fine might be imposed upon him, Coke also was plotting. He discovered that Bacon, who had been made Lord Keeper early in the year 1617, had had his head turned by his promotion and had become giddy on his pinnacle of greatness; or, to use Bacon's own words, that he was suffering acutely from an "unbridled stomach." Of this Coke determined to take advantage.

Looking back upon his own fall, Coke considered that the final crash had been brought about not, as Bacon had insinuated in his letter, by offending the Almighty, but by offending Villiers, now Earl of Buckingham, and he came to the conclusion that his best hope of recovering his position would be to find some method of doing that Earl a service. Now, Buckingham had an elder brother, Sir John Villiers, who was very poor, and for whom he was anxious to pick up an heiress. The happy thought struck Coke that, as all his wife's property was entailed on her daughter, Frances, he might secure Buckingham's support by selling the girl to Buckingham's brother, for the price of Buckingham's favour and assistance. It was most fortunate that Frances was exceedingly beautiful, and that Sir John Villiers was unattractive and much older than she was; because this would render the amount of patronage, due in payment by Buckingham to Coke, so much the greater.

James I. and Buckingham had gone to Scotland. In the absence of the King and the Court, Bacon, as Lord Keeper, was one of the greatest men left in London, and quite the greatest in his own estimation. Misled by this idea of his own importance, he was imprudent enough to treat his colleague, Winwood, the Secretary of State, with as little ceremony as if he had been a junior clerk, thereby incurring the resentment of that very high official. Common hatred of Bacon made a strong bond of union between Coke and Winwood, and Winwood joined readily in the plot newly laid by Coke.

Sir John Villiers was already acquainted with Coke's pretty daughter; and, when Coke went to him, suggested a match, and enlarged upon the fortune to which she was sole heiress, Sir John professed to be over head and ears in love with her, and observed that "although he would have been well pleased to have taken her in her smoke [smock], he should be glad, by way of curiosity, to know how much could be assured by marriage settlement upon her and her issue."[12] With some reluctance Sir Edward Coke then entered into particulars, and the match was regarded as settled by both sides.

Everything having been now satisfactorily arranged, it occurred to Coke that possibly the time had arrived for informing, first his wife, and afterwards his daughter, of the marriage to which he had agreed.

Sir Edward had often seen his wife in a passion, and he had frequently been a listener to torrents of abuse from her pretty lips and caustic tongue. Although he had been notorious as the rudest member of the Bar, he had generally come off second best in his frequent battles of words with his beautiful helpmate. Stolid and unimpressible as he was, he can hardly have been impervious to the effects of the verbal venom with which she had constantly stung him. But all this had been mere child's play in comparison with her fury on being informed that, without so much as consulting her, her husband had definitely settled a match for her only child with a portionless knight. A new weapon was lying ready to her hand, and she made every possible use of it. It consisted in the fact that, much as she and her husband had quarrelled and lived apart, she had returned to him in the hour of his tribulation, had fought his battles before the King and the Council, and had even braved the royal displeasure and endured exile from the Court, rather than desert him in his need. She bitterly reproached him for repaying her constancy and sacrifices on his behalf by selling her daughter without either inquiring as to the mother's wishes, or even informing that mother of his intention.

If Lady Elizabeth was infuriated at the news of the match, her daughter was frenzied. She detested Sir John Villiers, and she implored her parents never again to mention the question of her marrying him. The mother and daughter were on one side and the father on the other; neither would yield an inch, and Hatton House, Holborn, became the scene of violent invective and bitter weeping.

Buckingham is said to have promised Coke that, if he would bring about the proposed marriage, he should have his offices restored to him. Buckingham's mother, Lady Compton, also warmly supported the project. She was what would now be called "a very managing woman." Since the death of Buckingham's father, she had had two husbands, Sir William Rayner and Sir Thomas Compton,[13] brother to the Earl of Northampton. She was in high favour at Court, and she was created Countess of Buckingham just a year later than the time with which we are now dealing. As Buckingham favoured the match, of course the King favoured it also; and, as has been seen, Winwood, the Secretary of State, favoured it, simply because Bacon did not.

On the other side, among the active opponents of the match, were Bacon the Lord Keeper, Lord and Lady Burghley, Lord Danvers, Lord Denny, Sir Thomas and Lady Howard, and Sir Edmund and Lady Withipole.

Suddenly, to Coke's great satisfaction, Lady Elizabeth became, as he supposed, calm and quiet. It was his habit to go to bed at nine o'clock, and to get up very early. One night he went to bed at his usual hour, under the impression that his wife was settling down nicely and resigning herself to the inevitable. While he was in his beauty-sleep, soon after ten, that excellent lady quietly left the house with her daughter, and walked some little distance to a coach, which she had engaged to be in waiting for them at an appointed place. In this coach they travelled by unfrequented and circuitous roads, until they arrived at a house near Oatlands, a place belonging to the Earl of Argyll, but rented at that time by Lady Elizabeth's cousin, Sir Edmund Withipole. The distance from Holborn to Oatlands, as the crow flies, is about twenty miles; but, by the roundabout roads which the fugitives took in order to prevent attempts to trace them, the distance must have been considerable, and the journey, in the clumsy coach of the period, over the rutted highways and the still worse by-roads of those times, must have been long and wearisome. Oatlands is close to Weybridge, to the south-west of London, in Surrey, just over the boundary of Middlesex and about a mile to the south of the river Thames.

In Sir Edmund Withipole's house Lady Elizabeth and her daughter lived in the strictest seclusion, and all precautions were taken to prevent the place of their retreat from becoming known. And great caution was necessary, for Lady Elizabeth and Frances were almost within a dozen miles of Stoke Pogis, their country home; so that they would have been in danger of being recognised, if they had appeared outside the house.

But Lady Elizabeth was not idle in her voluntary imprisonment. She conceived the idea that the best method of preventing a match which she disliked for her daughter would be to make one of which she could approve. Accordingly she offered Frances to young Henry de Vere, eighteenth Earl of Oxford. Although to a lesser extent, like Sir John Villiers, he was impecunious and on the look out for an heiress, his father—who was distinguished for having been one of the peers appointed to sit in judgment on Mary, Queen of Scots, for having had command of a fleet to oppose the Armada, for his success in tournaments, for his comedies, for his wit, and for introducing the use of scents into England—having dissipated the large inheritance of his family.

Undoubtedly, Lady Elizabeth was a woman of considerable resource; but, with all her virtues, she was not over-scrupulous; for, as Lord Campbell says,[14] to induce her daughter to believe that Oxford was in love with her, she "showed her a forged letter, purporting to come from that nobleman, which asseverated that he was deeply attached to her, and that he aspired to her hand." Lady Elizabeth was apparently of opinion that everything—and everything includes lying and forgery—is fair in love and war.


[11] Chamberlain, in a letter dated 22nd June, 1616.

[12] A quotation given by Lord Campbell (Vol. I., p. 297); but he does not state his authority.

[13] Arthur Wilson, in his life of James I. (Camden, History of England, Vol. II., p. 727), tells the following story about Sir T. Compton whom he calls "a low spirited man." "One Bird, a roaring Captain, was the more insolent against him because he found him slow & backward." After many provocations, Bird "wrought so upon his cold temper, that Compton sent him a challenge." On receiving it, Bird told Compton's second that he would only accept the challenge on condition that the duel should take place in a saw-pit, "Where he might be sure Compton could not run away from him." When both combatants were in the saw-pit, Bird said: "Now, Compton, thou shalt not escape me," and brandished his sword above his head. While he was doing this, Compton "in a moment run him through the Body; so that his Pride fell to the ground, and there did sprawl out its last vanity."


"There is no such thing as perfect secrecy." —South's Sermons.

As might be expected, the whereabouts of the place for concealment of Lady Elizabeth and her daughter leaked out and reached the ears of Sir Edward Coke, who immediately applied to the Privy Council for a warrant to search for his daughter. Bacon opposed it. Indeed, it is said that Bacon had not only been all the time aware of the place of the girl's retreat, but had also joined actively in the plot to convey her to it. Because it was difficult to obtain a search-warrant from the Privy Council, Coke got an order to the same effect from Winwood, the Secretary of State;[15] and, although this order was of doubtful regularity, Coke determined to act upon it.

In July, 1617, Coke mustered a band of armed men, made up of his sons (Bridget's sons), his servants and his dependents. He put on a breastplate, and, with a sword at his side and pistols in the holsters of his saddle, he placed himself at the head of his little army, and gallantly led it to Oatlands to wage war upon his wife.

On arriving at the house which he went to besiege, he found no symptoms of any garrison for its defence. All was quiet, as if the place were uninhabited, the only sign that an attack was expected being that the gate leading to the house was strongly bolted and barred. To force the gate open, if a work requiring hard labour, was one of time, rather than of difficulty: and, when it had been accomplished, the general courageously led his troops from the outer defences to the very walls of the enemy's—that is to say of his wife's—castle.

The door of the house was found to be a very different thing from the gate. The besiegers knocked, and pounded, and thumped, and pushed, and battered: but that door withstood all their efforts. Again and again Coke, with a loud voice, demanded his child, in the King's name. "Remember," roared he to those within, "if we should kill any of your people, it would be justifiable homicide; but, if any of you should kill one of us, it would be MURDER!"[16]

To this opinion of the highest legal authority, given gratis, silence gave consent; for no reply was returned from the fortress, in which the stillness must have made the attackers afraid that the foes had fled. And then the bang, bang, banging on the door began afresh.

One of Coke's lieutenants suddenly bethought him of a flank attack, and, after sneaking round the house, this warrior adopted the burglar's manoeuvre of forcing open a window, on the ground floor. One by one the valiant members of Coke's little army climbed into the house by this means, and the august person of the ex-Lord Chief Justice himself was squeezed through the aperture. Nobody appeared to oppose their search; but preparations to prevent it had evidently been made with great care; for Chamberlain wrote that they had to "brake open divers doors."

Room after room was searched in vain; but, at last, Lady Elizabeth and Frances were discovered hidden in a small closet. Both the father and the mother clasped their daughter in their arms almost at the same moment. The daughter clung to the mother; the father clung to the daughter. Sir Edward pulled; Lady Elizabeth pulled; and, after a violent struggle between the husband and the wife, Coke succeeded in wrenching the weeping girl from her mother's arms.[17] Without a moment's parley with his defeated antagonist, he dragged away his prey, took her out of the house, placed her on horseback behind one of her half-brothers, and started off with his whole cavalcade for his house at Stoke Pogis.

The writer is old enough to have seen farmers' wives riding behind their husbands, on pillions. Most uncomfortable sitting those pillions appeared to afford, and he distinctly remembers the rolling movements to which the sitters seemed to be subjected. This was when the pace was at a walk or a slow jog. But the unfortunate Frances must have been rolled and bumped at speed; for there was a pursuit. In his already quoted letter to Carleton, Chamberlain says that Sir Edward Coke's "lady was at his heels, and, if her coach had not held"—i.e., stuck in the mud of the appalling roads of the period—"in the pursuit after him, there was like to be strange tragedies." Miss Coke must have been long in forgetting that enforced ride of at least a dozen long miles, on a pillion behind a brother, and as a prisoner surrounded by an armed force.

Campbell states that, on reaching Stoke Pogis, Coke locked his daughter "in an upper chamber, of which he himself kept the key." Possibly, Sir John Villiers' mother, Lady Compton, may have been there, in readiness to receive her; for Chamberlain says that Coke "delivered his daughter to the Lady Compton, Sir John's mother; but, the next day, Edmondes, Clerk of the Council, was sent with a warrant to have the custody of the lady at his own house." This was probably Bacon's doing.

Among the manuscripts at Trinity College, Cambridge, is a letter[18] written from the Inner Temple to Mrs. Ann Sadler, a daughter of Sir Edward Coke by his first wife. From this we learn that, on finding herself robbed of her daughter, Lady Elizabeth hastened to London to seek the assistance of her friend Bacon. In driving thither her coach was "overturned." We saw that it had "held" in the heavy roads when she was chasing her husband in it, and very likely its wheels may have become loosened in some ruts on that occasion. An upset in a carriage, however, was a common occurrence in those days, and, nothing daunted, Lady Elizabeth managed to complete her journey to the house of Bacon in London.

When she reached it, she was told that the Lord Keeper was unwell and in his room, asleep. She persuaded "the door-keeper" to take her to the sitting-room next to his bedroom, in order that she might be "the first to speak with him after he was stirring." The "door-keeper fulfilled her desire and in the meantime gave her a chair to rest herself in." Then he most imprudently left her, and she had not been alone long when "she rose up and bounced against my Lord Keeper's door." The noise not only woke up the sleeping Bacon, but "affrighted him" to such an extent that he called for help at the top of his voice. His servants immediately came rushing to his room. Doubtless he was relieved at seeing them; but his feelings may have been somewhat mixed when Lady Elizabeth "thrust in with them." He was on very friendly terms with her; but it was disconcerting to receive a lady from his bed when he was half awake and wholly frightened, especially when, as the correspondent describes it, the condition of that lady was like that of "a cow that had lost her calf."

The upshot of this rather unusual visit was that Lady Elizabeth got Bacon's warrant, as Lord Keeper, and also that of the Lord Treasurer "and others of the Council, to fetch her daughter from the father and bring them both to the Council."

At that particular time Bacon had just made a blunder. He was well aware of Buckingham's high favour with the King; but he scarcely realised its measure. Indeed, since he had seen him last, and during the time that the King had been in Scotland, Buckingham's influence over James had increased enormously. It is true that Bacon had enlisted the services of Buckingham to defeat Coke, and that he had used him as a tool to secure the office of Lord Keeper: but, as the occupier of that exalted position, he considered himself secure enough to take his own line, and even to offer Buckingham some fatherly advice, as will presently appear.

Bacon now made another attack upon his enemy by summoning Coke before the Star Chamber on a charge of breaking into a private house with violence. On receiving this summons, Coke wrote to Buckingham, who was with the King in the North, complaining that his wife, the Withipoles, and their confederates, had conveyed his "dearest daughter" from his house, "in most secret manner, to a house near Oatland, which Sir Edmund Withipole had taken for the summer of my Lord Argyle." Then he said: "I, by God's wonderful providence finding where she was, together with my sons and ordinary attendants did break open two doors, & recovered my daughter." His object, he said was, "First & principally, lest his Majesty should think I was of confederacy with my wife in conveying her away, or charge me with want of government in my household in suffering her to be carried away, after I had engaged myself to his Majesty for the furtherance of this match."

Buckingham, at about the same time that he received Coke's letter, received one in a very different tone from Bacon, in which he said:[19] "Secretary Winwood has busied himself with a match between Sir John Villiers & Sir Edward Coke's daughter, rather to make a faction than out of any good affection to your lordship. The lady's consent is not gained, nor her mother's, from whom she expecteth a great fortune. This match, out of my faith & freedom to your lordship, I hold very inconvenient, both for your mother, brother, & yourself."

"First. He shall marry into a disgraced house, which in reason of state, is never held good."

"Next. He shall marry into a troubled house of man & wife, which in religion and Christian discretion is not liked."

"Thirdly. Your lordship will go near to lose all such of your friends as are adverse to Sir Edward Coke (myself only except, who, out of a pure love & thankfulness, shall ever be firm to you).... Therefore, my advice is, & your lordship shall do yourself a great honour, if, according to religion & the law of God, your lordship will signify unto my lady, your mother, that your desire is that the marriage be not pressed or proceeded in without the consent of both parents, & so either break it altogether, or defer any further delay in it (sic) till your lordship's return."

A few days later, on the 25th of July, Bacon wrote to an even greater man than Buckingham, namely, to the King himself. "If," said he, "there be any merit in drawing on this match, your Majesty should bestow thanks, not upon the zeal of Sir Edward Coke to your Majesty, nor upon the eloquent persuasions or pragmaticals of Mr. Secretary Winwood; but upon them"—meaning himself—who "have so humbled Sir Edward Coke, as he seeketh now that with submission which (as your Majesty knoweth) before he rejected with scorn." And then he says that if the King really wishes for the match, concerning which he should like more definite orders, he will further it; for, says he, "though I will not wager on women's minds, I can prevail more with the mother than any other man."

King James's reply is not in existence, and it is unknown; but, judging from a further letter of Bacon's, it must have been rather cold and unfavourable; and, in Bacon's second letter to the King, he was foolish enough to express a fear lest Buckingham's "height of fortune might make him too secure." In his answer to this second letter of Bacon, James reproves him for plotting with his adversary's wife to overthrow him, saying "this is to be in league with Delilah." He also scolds Bacon for being afraid that Buckingham's height of fortune might make him "misknow himself." The King protests that Buckingham is farther removed from such a vice than any of his other courtiers. Bacon, he says, ought to have written to the King instead of to Buckingham about "the inconvenience of the match:" "that would have been the part of a true servant to us, and of a true friend to him [Buckingham]. But first to make an opposition, then to give advice, by way of friendship, is to make the plough go before the horse."

By the time these letters had been carried backwards and forwards, to and from Scotland and the North of England, a later date had been reached than we have legitimately arrived at in our story, and we must now go back to within a few days of Sir Edward Coke's famous raid at Oatlands.


[14] Chief Justices, Vol. I., pp. 297-298

[15] S.P. Dom., James I., July, 1617. Chamberlain to Sir Dudley Carleton.

[16] Campbell, p. 298.

[17] Lord Campbell's account.

[18] Quoted by Spedding in his Life of Bacon.

[19] Foard's Life and Correspondence of Bacon, p. 421.


"They've always been at daggers drawing, And one another clapper-clawing." Butler's Hudibras, Hud., II, 2.

Bacon had scarcely written his first letters to Buckingham and the King, before he had instructed Yelverton, the Attorney-General, to institute a prosecution against Sir Edward Coke, in the Star Chamber, for the riot at Oatlands, which he made out to have been almost an act of war against the King, in his realm.

Her husband having carried away Frances by force, Lady Elizabeth made an effort to recover her by a similar method. Gerrard wrote to Carleton[20] that Lady Elizabeth, having heard that Frances was to be taken to London, determined to meet her with an armed band and to wrest her from Coke's power.

"The Mother she procureth a Warrant from the Counsell Table whereto were many of the Counsellors to take her agayne from him: goes to meete her as she shold come up. In the coach with her the Lord Haughton, Sir E. Lechbill, Sir Rob. Rich, and others, with 3 score men and Pistolls; they mett her not, yf they had there had bin a notable skirmish, for the Lady Compton was with Mrs. French in the Coach, and there was Clem Coke, my Lord's fighting sonne; and they all swore they would dye in the Place, before they would part with her."

Without doubt, it was fortunate for both parties that they did not meet each other. The attempt was a misfortune, as well as a defeat for Lady Elizabeth; for while she failed to rescue her daughter, she also gave her husband a fresh count to bring against her in the legal proceedings which he forthwith instituted:—[21]

"1. For conveying away her daughter clam et secrete. 2. For endeavouring to bind her to my Lord Oxford without her father's consent. 3. For counterfeiting a letter of my Lord Oxford offering her marriage. 4. For plotting to surprise her daughter and take her away by force, to the breach of the King's peace, and for that purpose assembling a body of desperate fellows, whereof the consequences might have been dangerous."

To these terrible accusations Lady Elizabeth unblushingly replied: "1. I had cause to provide for her quiet, Secretary Winwood threatening she should be married from me in spite of my teeth, and Sir Edward Coke intending to bestow her against her liking: whereupon she asked me for help, I placed her at my cousin-german's house a few days for her health and quiet. 2. My daughter tempted by her father's threats and ill usuage, and pressing me to find a remedy, I did compassionate her condition, and bethought myself of this contract with my Lord of Oxford, if so she liked, and therefore I gave it to her to peruse and consider by herself: she liked it, cheerfully writ it out with her own hand, subscribed it, and returned it to me. 3. The end justifies—at least excuses—the fact: for it was only to hold up my daughter's mind to her own choice that she might with the more constancy endure her imprisonment—having this only antidote to resist the poison—no person or speech being admitted to her but such as spoke Sir John Villiers' language. 4. Be it that I had some tall fellows assembled to such an end, and that something was intended, who intended this?—the mother! And wherefore? Because she was unnaturally and barbarously secluded from her daughter, and her daughter forced against her will, contrary to her vows and liking, to the will of him she disliked."

She then goes on to describe, by way of recrimination, Sir Edward Coke's "most notorious riot, committed at my Lord of Argyle's house, where, without constable or warrant, well weaponed, he took down the doors of the gatehouse and of the house itself, and tore the daughter in that barbarous manner from her mother—justifying it for good law: a word for the encouragement of all notorious and rebellious malefactors from him who had been a Chief Justice, and reputed the oracle of the law."

A State Paper (Dom., James I., 19th July, 1617, John Chamberlain to Sir Dudley Carleton) tells us what followed. As correspondence with Sir Dudley Carleton will be largely quoted in these pages, this opportunity may be taken of observing that he was Ambassador, at various times, in Savoy, in the Low Countries, and in Venice, that he became one of Charles the First's principal Ministers of State, and that he was eventually created Viscount Dorchester.

"The next day being all convened before the Council, she" [Frances the daughter] "was sequestered to Mr. Attorney, & yesterday, upon a palliated agreement twixt Sir Edward Coke & his lady, she was sent to Hatton House, with order that the Lady Compton should have access to win her & wear her." One wonders whether the last "&" was accidentally substituted for the word "or," by a slip of the pen. In any case to "wear her" is highly significant!

"It were a long story to tell all the passages of this business, which hath furnished Paul's, & this town very plentifully the whole week." [One of the ecclesiastical scandals of that period was that the nave of St. Paul's Cathedral was a favourite lounge, and a regular exchange for gossip.] "The Lord Coke was in great danger to be committed for disobeying the Council's order, for abusing his warrant, & for the violence used in breaking open the doors; to all of which he gave reasonable answers, &, for the violence, will justify it by law, though orders be given to prefer a bill against him in the Star Chamber. He and his friends complain of hard measure from some of the greatest at that Board, & that he was too much trampled upon with ill language. And our friend" [Winwood] "passed not scot free from the warrant, which the greatest there" [Bacon] "said was subject to a praemunire, & withal, told the Lady Compton that they wished well to her and her sons, & would be ready to serve the Earl of Buckingham with all true affection, whereas others did it out of faction & ambition."

Bacon might swagger at the Council Board; but in his heart he was becoming exceedingly uneasy. We saw, at the end of the last chapter, that he had received a very sharp letter from the King; and now the royal favourite himself also wrote in terms which showed, unmistakably, how much Bacon had offended him.[22]

"In this business of my brother's that you over-trouble yourself with, I understand from London, by some of my friends, that you have carried yourself with much scorn and neglect both towards myself and my friends, which, if it prove true, I blame not you but myself."

This was sufficiently alarming, and at least as much so was a letter which came from the King himself in which was written:—[23]

"Whereas you talk of the riot and violence committed by Sir Edward Coke, we wonder you make no mention of the riot and violence of them that stole away his daughter, which was the first ground of all that noise."

It is clear, therefore, that if things were going badly for Coke, they were going almost worse for Bacon, who now found himself in a very awkward position both with the King and with Buckingham. Nor was he succeeding as well as he could have wished in his attacks upon Coke. He had made an attack by proceeding against him for a certain action, when a judge; but Coke had parried this thrust by paying what was then a very large sum to settle the affair.

In a letter to Carleton[24] Gerrard says:—

"The Lord Chiefe Justice Sir Ed. Coke hath payd 3500L for composition for taking common Bayle for some accused of Pyracye, which hath been urged agaynst him since hys fall. And perhaps fearing more such claps; intending to stand out the storme no longer, privately hath agreed on a match with Sir John Villiers for hys youngest daughter Franche, the mother's Darling, with which the King was acquainted withall and writt to have it done before hys coming backe."

And presently he says:—

"The caryadge of the business hath made such a ster in the Towne as never was: Nothing can fully represent it but a Commedye."

A letter written on the same day by Sir John Finet mentions the projected marriage of Sir Edward Coke's daughter with Sir John Villiers, who would have L2,000 a year from Buckingham, and be left heir of his lands, as he was already of his Earldom, failing the Earl's male issue. He adds that Sir Edward Coke went cheerily to visit the Queen, and that the common people said he would die Lord Treasurer. Such gossip as that must have been anything but amusing to Bacon.

The Coke-Villiers engagement had now become almost, if not quite, a State affair. Nearly three weeks later Sir Horace Vere wrote to Carleton:—[25]

"I hear nothing so much spoken of here as that of Sir John Villiers and Sir Ed. Coke's daughter. My Lady Hatton doth continue stiff against yt, and yesterday I wayted upon my wife to my Lady of Northumberland's. She tould my wife that she gives yt out that her daughter is formmerlie contracted to an other and to such a one that will not be afeard to plead his interest if he be put to yt."

Six days afterwards a third candidate for Frances Coke was talked about. George Gerrard wrote to the same correspondent:—[26]

"The Lady Hatton's daughter to be maryed to one Cholmely a Baronet. Of late here is by all the frendes of my Lady Hatton a Contract published of Her Daughter Frances to the Erle of Oxford which was sent him to Venice: to which he hath returned and answer that he will come presently over, and see her fayre eyes and conclude the what he shall thinke fit for him to doe: I have sent your Lordship Mis Frances Coke's Love Letter to my Lord of Oxford herein concluded: I believe you never read the like: Thys is like to become a grate business: for the King hath shewed himselfe much in advancing thys matter for Sir John Villiers."

He says that Lady Elizabeth offers to give Lord Oxford "besydes her daughter ... ten and thirty hundred pound a year, which will before twenty years passe bee nigh 6000L a yeare besydes two houses well furnisht. A Greate fortune for my Ld. yett it is doubted wheather hee will endanger the losse of the King's favor for so fayre a woman and so fayre a fortune."

The following is Frances Coke's enclosed "love letter" of which Gerrard believed, as well he might, that Carleton "never read the like." It is evidently the work of Lady Elizabeth:—

"I vow before God and take the Almighty to witness That I Frances Coke Yonger daughter to Sir Ed. Coke late Lord Chiefe Justice of England, doe give myselfe absolutely to Wife to Henry Ven. Viscount Balboke, Erle of Oxenford, to whom I plight my fayth and inviolate vows, to keepe myselfe till Death us do part: And if even I breake the least of these I pray God Damne mee body and soule in Hell fyre in the world to come: And in thys world I humbly Beseech God the Earth may open and Swallowe mee up quicke to the Terror of all fayth breakers that remayne alive. In witness whereof I have written all thys with my owne hand and seald it with my owne seale (a hart crowned) which I will weare till your retourne to make thys Good that I have sent you. And for further witness I here underneath sett to my Name.

"(Signed) FRANCES COKE in the Presence "of my deare Mother "ELIZA HATTON.

["July 10, 1617."]

Lady Elizabeth, however, failed to effect the match. Possibly the letter just quoted may have been too strong meat for Oxford. Even her skill in the gentle art of forgery proved unavailing. Whether Oxford had no fancy for the girl, or the girl had no fancy for Oxford, does not appear, and perhaps other causes may have prevented the marriage; but, although he did not marry Frances, he married her first cousin, Lady Diana, daughter of the second Earl of Exeter, a niece of Lady Elizabeth, and, like Frances, both a great heiress and a beautiful woman. Lord Oxford was killed, a few years afterwards, at the siege of Breda in the Netherlands.

Bacon, now thoroughly frightened, both by the King and by Buckingham, began to trim, and before long he turned completely round and used his influence with Lady Elizabeth to induce her to agree to the Sir John Villiers-match. He wrote a letter on the 21st of August to Buckingham, saying that he was doing all he could to further the marriage of Sir John Villiers with Frances Coke. Among other things he said:—

"I did also send to my Lady Hatton, Coke's wife and some other special friends to acquaint them that I would declare, if anything, for the match so that they may no longer account on [my] assistance. I sent also to Sir John Butler, and after by letter to my Lady [Compton] your mother, to tender my performance of any good office toward the match."

To this letter Buckingham sent a very chilling reply, whereupon Bacon, in his anxiety, sent Yelverton in person to try to conciliate Buckingham and the King, enjoining him to lie so hard and so unblushingly as to declare that Bacon had never hindered, but had in "many ways furthered the marriage;" that all he had done had been to check Coke's "impertinent carriage" in the matter, which he wished had "more nearly resembled the Earl of Buckingham's sweet disposition."

Yet after faithfully fulfilling this nefarious errand, Yelverton failed to conciliate Buckingham, for he wrote the following very unsatisfactory report to Bacon:—

"The Earl [of Buckingham] professeth openly against you;" whereas, "Sir Edward Coke, as if he were already on his wings, triumphs exceedingly; hath much private conference with his Majesty, and in public doth offer himself, and thrust upon the King with as great boldness of speech as heretofore."

Things were beginning to look desperate for Bacon! Indeed it seemed as if affliction were about to "level the mole-hills," not now of Coke's, but of Bacon's pride; "to plough" Bacon's heart and "make it fit for Wisdom to sow her seed, and for Grace to bring forth her increase," blessings which Bacon had so kindly & so liberally promised to Coke in a letter already quoted.

About the middle of August, Chamberlain wrote that Frances Coke was staying with Sir Robert Coke, Sir Edward's son by his first wife, and that Lady Elizabeth was with her all day, to prevent the access of others; but that, finding her friends were deserting her, and that "she struggles in vain" against the King's will, "she begins to come about," and "upon some conditions will double her husband's portion and make up the match and give it her blessing." Presently he says: "But it seems the Lady Hatton would have all the honour and thanks, and so defeat her husband's purpose, towards whom, of late, she has carried herself very strangely, and, indeed, neither like a wife, nor a wise woman."

As Chamberlain says, Lady Elizabeth was determined that, if she had to yield, she would be paid for doing so, and that her husband should obtain none of the profits of the transaction. It was unfortunate that that transaction should be the means of injuring her daughter whom she loved; but it was very fortunate that it might be the means of injuring her husband whom she hated. Her own account of her final agreement to the marriage may be seen in a letter which she wrote to the King in the following year:—[27]

"I call to witness my Lord Haughton, whom I sent twyce to moove the matter to my Lady Compton, so as by me she would take it. This was after he had so fondly broke off with my Lorde of Bukingham, when he ruled your Majestie's favour scarse at the salerie of a 1,000L. After that my brother and sister of Burghly offered, in the Galerie Chamber at Whitehall, theire service unto my Ladie Compton to further this marriage, so as from me she would take it. Thirdly, myselfe cominge from Kingstone in a coach with my Ladie Compton, I then offered her that if shee would leave Sir Edward Cooke I would proceed with her in this marriage."

Although, as Chamberlain had written, Lady Elizabeth was now beginning "to come about," in fact had come about, her faithful friend, Bacon, in his frantic anxiety to regain the favour of Buckingham and the King, ordered her to be arrested and kept in strict though honourable confinement. In fact, to use a modern term, all the actors in this little drama, possibly with the exception of Frances Coke and Sir John Villiers, were prepared, at any moment, "to give each other away." According to Foard,[28] Bacon was, at this time, busily engaged in preparing for the trial of another member of Lady Elizabeth's family, namely her stepmother, Lady Exeter.[29]

By the irony of fate, it happened that the two mortal enemies, Coke and Bacon, acted together in the matter of the incarceration of Lady Elizabeth; for, while the former pleaded for it, the latter ordered it. It was spent partly at the house of Alderman Bennet,[30] and partly at that of Sir William Craven,[31] Lord Mayor of London in the years 1610 and 1618, and father of the first Earl of Craven. In both houses she was doubtless treated with all respect, and she must have occupied a position in them something between that of a paying-guest and a lunatic living in the private house of a doctor—not that there was any lunacy in the mind of Lady Elizabeth. Quite the contrary!


[20] S.P. Dom., James I., Vol. XCII, No. 101, 23rd July, 1617.

[21] Campbell, Vol. I., p. 300.

[22] Campbell, Vol. I., p. 301.

[23] Ibid., p. 302.

[24] S.P. Dom., James I., Vol. XCII, No. 101, 22nd July, 1617.

[25] S.P. Dom., James I., Vol. XCIII., No. 18, 12th August, 1617.

[26] S.P. Dom., James I., Vol. XCIII., No. 28, 18th August, 1617.

[27] Life of Sir Edward Coke. By Humphrey Woolrych. London: J. & W.T. Clarke, 1826, pp. 146-48.

[28] Life and Correspondence of Francis Bacon. London: Saunders, Otley & Co., 1861, p. 459.

[29] She was found innocent, and her accusers, Sir Thomas and Lady Lake, were imprisoned and fined. L10,000 to the King, and L5,000 to Lady Exeter as damages for the libel. A chambermaid who was one of the witnesses, was whipped at the cart's tail for her perjury. Lady Roos, the wife of Lady Exeter's step-grandson, and a daughter of the Lakes, made a full confession that she had participated in spreading the scandal. She was sentenced to be imprisoned during the King's pleasure.

[30] S.P. Dom., James I., Vol. XCIII., 6th October, 1617. Letter from Sir Gerald Herbert.

[31] Campbell, Vol. I., p. 303. fn. The imprisonment of what were called "people of quality" usually took place either in the Tower or in the private houses of Aldermen, in those times, although they were sometimes imprisoned in the Fleet.


"Of all the actions of a man's life his marriage doth least concern other people; yet of all actions of our life it is most meddled with by other people." SELDEN.

In all these negotiations, and caballings, and intriguings, the person most concerned, Frances Coke, the beauty and the heiress, was only the ball in the game. Neither her father nor her mother nor anybody else either considered her feelings or consulted her wishes about the proposed marriage, except so far as it was to their own personal interest to do so.

At last the poor girl yielded, or pretended to yield. Lord Campbell says, as well he may, "and without doubt, just as Frances had before copied and signed the contract with Lord Oxford, at the command of her mother, she now copied and signed the following letter[32] to her mother at the command of her father."


"'I must now humbly desire your patience in giving me leave to declare myself to you, which is, that without your allowance and liking, all the world shall never make me entangle or tie myself. But now, by my father's especial commandment, I obey him in presenting to you my humble duty in a tedious letter, which is to know your Ladyship's pleasure, not as a thing I desire: but I resolve to be wholly ruled by my father and yourself, knowing your judgments to be such that I may well rely upon, and hoping that conscience and the natural affection parents bear to children will let you do nothing but for my good, and that you may receive comfort, I being a mere child and not understanding the world nor what is good for myself. That which makes me a little give way to it is, that I hope it will be a means to procure a reconciliation between my father and your Ladyship. Also I think it will be a means of the King's favour to my father. Himself [Sir John Villiers] is not to be misliked: his fortune is very good, a gentleman well born.... So I humbly take my leave, praying that all things may be to every one's contentment.

"'Your Ladyship's most obedient "'and humble daughter for ever, "'FRANCES COKE.

"'Dear Mother believe there has no violent means been used to me by words or deeds.'"

* * * * *

This, as Campbell says, has every appearance of being a letter copied from one written by her father. There is also reason for believing that Coke added the postscript for a very special purpose; for the question arises how Frances, who is admitted on all sides to have hated Sir John Villiers, could have been induced to copy and to sign this letter. Was she literally forced to do so? There happens to be an answer to that question.

"Notes of the Villiers Family.[33]

"N.B. I.B.N. have heard it from a noble Peer, a near relation of the Danvers family, and Mr. Villiers, Brother to the person who now claims the Earldom of Buckingham, as his Brother assumed the Title, that the Lady Frances Viscountess Purbeck was tyed to the Bed-Poste and severely whipped into consent to marry with the Duke of Buckingham's Brother, Sir John Villiers, A deg. 1617, who was 2 years after created Viscount Purbeck."

This was written after the death of Frances, but it has been accepted as true, and that may well be. It is difficult in our days to believe that a young lady could be put to physical torture by her father, until she consented to marry a man whom she loathed; but the parental ethics of those times were very different from those of our own. A man like Coke would have no difficulty in persuading himself that a marriage with Sir John Villiers would be for his daughter's welfare, and, consequently, that a whipping to bring that marriage about would also be for her welfare.

Coke had often waited for the confessions of men who were in frightful agony on the rack, in the dungeons of the Tower; so it must have been a mere trifle to him to await his daughter's consent to a marriage which she detested, while he whipped her, or watched her being whipped, reflecting upon the luxury of the bed-post in comparison with the agony of the rack, flattering himself that he was acting in obedience to Holy Scripture, and piously meditating upon the gratification he must be giving to the soul of Solomon by this exercise of domestic discipline. But a reader may well wonder whether the old brute considered for a moment the worthlessness of a form of marriage obtained by torture, or the fact that such a so-called marriage could be annulled without difficulty.

Lady Elizabeth, perceiving that her only chance left of winning the game was to over-trump her husband, and recognising that her only hope of freedom and prosperity was by consenting to the wishes of Buckingham and James, wrote to the King himself, to say that she would agree to the marriage and would settle her property on her daughter and Sir John Villiers.

Eventually, "The marriage settlement," says Campbell, "was drawn under the King's own superintendence, that both father and mother might be compelled to do justice to Sir John Villiers and his bride; and on Michaelmas Day the marriage was actually celebrated at Hampton Court Palace, in the presence of the King and Queen and all the chief nobility of England. Strange to say, Lady Hatton still remained in confinement, while Sir Edward Coke, in nine coaches,"—one man in nine coaches!—"brought his daughter and his friends to the palace, from his son's at Kingston-Townsend. The banquet was most splendid: a masque was performed in the evening; the stocking was thrown with all due spirit: and the bride and bride-groom, according to long established fashion, received the company at their couchee."

In a footnote to The Secret History of James I., Vol. I., p. 444,[34] we read:

"The Scottish historian, Johnstone, says that Purbeck's marriage was celebrated amid the gratulation of the fawning courtiers, but stained by the tears of the reluctant bride, who was a sacrifice to her father's ambition of the alliance with Buckingham's family."

Here is another account of the wedding, in a letter[35] from Sir Gerard Herbert to Carleton:—

"Maie it please yor. Lordshippe.

" ... I know not any news to write yor. Lo: other than the marriadge of Sir John Villiers with my Lord Coke's youngest daughter, on Monday last, beynge Michailmas day at Hampton Courte when King Queen and prince were present in the chappell to see them married. My Lord Coke gave his daughter to the Kinge (with some words of complement at the givinge). The King gave her Sir John Villiers. The prince sate with her to grand dynner and supper so to many Lordes and Ladies, my Lord Canterbury, my Lord Treasurer, my Lord Chamberlayne, etc. The King dynner and supper droncke healthe to the bride, the bridgegroome stood behinde the bride; the dynner and supper. The Bride and Bridegroome lay next day a bedd till past 12 a clocke, for the Kinge sent worde he wold come to see them, therefore wold they not rise. My Lord Coke looked with a merrie Countenance and sate at the dynner and supper, but my Lady Hatton was not at the weddinge, but is still at Alderman Bennettes prisonere. The King sent for her to the weddinge, but (she) desired to be excused, sayinge she was sicke. My Lord of Buckingham, mother, brethren, there soynes, and his sisters weare throughout day at Court, my Lord Cooke's sonnes and there soynes, but I saw never a Cecill. The Sonday my Lord Coke was restored to his place of counsellor as before....

"Yo: Lo: in all service to commande "(Signed) GERRARD HERBERT.

"LONDON, this "6 Oct."

Lady Elizabeth would not submit to being let out of prison, just for the day, in order to witness the wedding, which was to a large extent a triumph for her husband. She meant, on the contrary, to have a triumph on her own account. Her intention was that one of those who had had a hand in putting her into prison—a prison which in fact was a comfortable house—should come to take her out of it; and she was determined to be escorted from her place of punishment, not as a repentant criminal, but as a conquering heroine.

In a letter to Carleton[36] Chamberlain says:—

"The King coming to towne yesterday it was told me that the Earle of Buck, meant to go himself and fetch 'Lady Elizabeth' as yt were in pomp Fr. William corner (where she hath ben so long committed), and bring her to the King, who upon a letter of her submission is graciously affected towards her. ... Seeing her yielding and as it were won to geve her allowance to the late marriage," the King will "give her all the contentment and countenance he can in hope of the great portion she may bestow upon" Buckingham's brother, Sir John Villiers; "for there is little or nothing more to be looked for from Sr. Ed. Cooke, who hath redemed the land he had allotted his daughter for 20,000L so that they have already had 30,000L of him paide down.... She layes all the fault of her late troubles upon the deceased secretarie," Winwood, "who not long since telling her brother that for all her bitter speeches they two [Lady Elizabeth and her husband] shold become goode frends again. She protested she wold sooner be frends with the Devill."

Lady Elizabeth was so much in the King's good graces that aspirants for office tried to win her influence with James and Buckingham in their favour. Chamberlain, in the letter quoted above, expresses the wish that she might endeavour to obtain for Carleton the post of Secretary of State, which had just then fallen vacant through the death of Winwood. In a letter[37] written a fortnight later, however, Chamberlain says:—

"Your father Savile is gon into Kent to his daughter Salley, the day before his goings I met him and wisht him to applie the Lady Hatton, whom he had alredy visited but moved her in nothing because the time was not fit but she meant to do yt before he went. Some whisper that she is alredy ingaged and meanes to employ her full force strength and vertue for the L. Hawton or Hollis, who is become her prime privie Counsailor and doth by all meanes interest and combine her with the Lady of Suffolke and that house. A man whom Sir Edward Cooke can no wayes indure, and from whose company he wold faine but cannot debarre her." Obviously a very sufficient reason for liking him and espousing his cause.

Lady Elizabeth had fairly outwitted her husband; but, as will presently be seen, she had not yet quite done with him. Another account of her liberation is to be found in Strafford's Letters and Despatches:—[38]

"The expectancy of Sir Edward's rising is much abated by reason of his lady's liberty, who was brought in great honour to Exeter House by my Lord of Buckingham, from Sir William Craven's, whither she had been remanded, presented by his Lordship to the King, received gracious usage, reconciled to her daughter by his Majesty, and her house in Holborn enlightened by his presence at dinner, where there was a royal feast: and to make it more absolutely her own, express commandment given by her Ladyship that neither Sir Edward Coke nor any of his servants should be admitted."

Here is another account[39] of the same banquet, as well as of one given in return by Buckingham's mother, who was still hoping that Lady Elizabeth would increase Sir John Villiers' allowance:—

"The Lady Hatton's feast was very magnificall and the King graced her every way, and made foure of her creatures knights.... This weeke on wensday [Lady Compton] made a great feast to the Lady Hatton, and much court there is between them, but for ought I can heare the Lady Hatton holdes her handes and gives not" (The original is much torn and damaged here) "out of her milke so fouly [fully] as was expected which in due time may turn the matter about againe.... There were some errors at the Lady Hatton's feast (yf it were not of purpose) that the L. Chamberlain and the L. of Arundell were not invited but went away to theyre owne dinner and came backe to wait on the King and Prince: but the greatest error was that the goodman of the house was neither invited nor spoken of but dined that day at the Temple." Camden's account of this dinner (Ed. 1719, Vol. II., p. 648), although very abrupt, is to the point: "The wife of Sir Ed. Coke quondam Lord Chief Justice, entertained the King, Buckingham, and the rest of the Peers, at a splendid dinner, and not inviting her husband."

In a letter to Carlton[40] John Pory said of this dinner: "My Lo. Coke only was absent, who in all vulgar opinions was there expected. His Majesty was never merrier nor more satisfied, who had not patience to sit a quarter of an hour without drinking the health of my Lady Elizabeth Hatton, which was pledged first by my Lord Keeper [Bacon] and my Lord Marquis Hamilton, and then by all the gallants in the next room."

This exclusion from her party was a direct and a very public insult to Coke on the part of his wife, and, through consent, on that of the King also. All Coke had gained by his daughter's marriage with Sir John Villiers was restoration to the Privy Council. As he had made up his mind to take his daughter to market, he should have made certain of his bargain. This he failed to do. As has been shown, he promised L10,000 down with her and L1,000 a year. This Buckingham did not consider enough; but Coke refused to promise more, declaring that he would not buy the King's favour too dear. In a letter to Carleton, Chamberlain says that, if he had not "stuck" at this, Coke might have been Lord Chancellor. As it was, he incurred the whole odium of having sold his daughter, while his wife, who had gained the credit of protesting against that atrocious bargain, quietly pocketed its price in the coin of royal favour. Lady Elizabeth not only embroiled her own family, but also brought discord about her affairs into the family of another, as may be inferred from the following letter:—[41]

"Elizabeth, Lady Hatton, to Carleton. "MY LORDE,

"I understande by your letter the quarrell of unkindness betweene yourself and your wife, but having considered the cause of the difference to proceed only from your loving respect shewne towards me, I hope that my thankfulle acknowledgements will be sufficient reconcilement to give you both proceedings for the continuance of your wonted goode wille and affectione ... even though I understande by your letter you thinke women to be capable of little else but compliments. Wherefore to express a gracious courtesie for your kindness as in the few wordes I am willing to utter you may assure yourselfe yt my desire is to remayne

"Your assured loving Frend "(Signed) ELIZA HATTON.

"HATTON HOUSE "20th March 1618."

One naturally wonders whether, if Carleton showed this letter to his wife, it would tend to heal "the quarrell of unkindness" between them, or to make it worse. Which effect was intended by the writer of the letter is pretty evident. This little epistle might have been written by Becky Sharpe.


[32] Coles' MSS., Vol. XXXIII. p. 17.

[33] Coles' MSS., Vol. XXXIII., p. 17. (Brit. Museum MSS. No. 5834.)

[34] Longmans & Co., 1811.

[35] S.P. Dom., James I., Vol. XCIII., No. 114, 6th October, 1617.

[36] S.P. Dom., James I., Vol. XCIII., No. 158, 31st Oct., 1617.

[37] S.P. Dom., James I., Vol. XCIV., 15th November, 1617.

[38] Vol. I., p. 5.

[39] S.P. Dom., James I., Vol. XCIV., No. 30, 15th November, 1617. Chamberlain to Carleton.

[40] S.P., XCIV., No. 15.

[41] S.P. Dom., James I., Vol. XCVI., No. 69.


"What is wedlock forced, but a hell? "—Henry VI., I., v., 5.

Little is recorded of the early married life of Sir John and Lady Villiers. Before it began they had both been mere pawns in the game, and pawns they remained for a good many years afterwards. If before her marriage the career of Lady Villiers had lain in the hands of her father and her mother; after her marriage it was, for a time, in the hands of her brother-in-law, Buckingham, as the career of Sir John always had been and continued to be during the life of Buckingham.

In the Secret History of James I.[42] we read concerning Buckingham: "But I must tell you what got him most hatred, to raise brothers and brothers-in-law to the highest ranks of nobility, which were not capable of the place of scarce a justice of the peace; only his brother, Purbeck, had more wit and honesty than all the kindred beside and did keep him in some bounds of honesty and modesty, whilst he lived about him, & would speake plaine English to him." If this be true, there must have been some good in Sir John; but Buckingham was impervious to his advice and treated him just as he pleased. It is possible, again, that Lady Villiers, without having any of the affection which a wife ought to have for a husband, may have had a sort of respect for him as a man of probity, much older than herself, who treated her well and even kindly.

George Villiers, a mushroom-grown Duke himself, having made the King create his mother Countess of Buckingham, bethought him of his eldest brother and determined to make him a peer. And not only that. He also conceived the idea of squeezing some more money out of his brother's mother-in-law for him, by offering her a peerage, for the cash thus obtained. It was suggested to her that she might be made Countess of Westmorland; but "she refused to buy the title at the price demanded."[43] Indeed, Lady Elizabeth was ready to fight anybody and everybody. On the one hand, she resisted the attempts of the almighty Buckingham to bleed her still further for Sir John Villiers, and, on the other, she wrote to the King concerning her husband: "I find how desirous he is to rubb up anie thing to make ill bloode betwixt my sonne Villiers & myselfe."[44] Meanwhile she prosecuted her husband in the Star Chamber. Mr. Brant wrote to Carleton: "... The Ladie Hatton prevayleth exceedingly against her husband and hath driven him into a numnesse of on side, which is a forerunner of ye dead palsie, though now he be somewhat recovured."

In May, 1619, Lady Elizabeth was informed that, if she would give that isle, no longer an island, the Isle of Purbeck, which was her property, to her son-in-law, she should be made Countess of Purbeck and he Viscount Purbeck; but she refused to exchange good land for an empty name. However, in July, Sir John Villiers was created Baron Villiers of Stoke (Stoke Pogis) and Viscount Purbeck. This heaping up of peerages in the Villiers family, in addition to the number of valuable posts, and especially high ecclesiastical posts, obtained by Buckingham for his friends, or for anybody who would bribe him heavily enough to obtain them, led to much murmuring and ill-feeling among those whom he did not thus favour, and greatly irritated the populace. There was no apparent reason why Sir John Villiers should be ennobled, and his peerages were looked upon as a glaring piece of jobbery.

The Court also, at this time, was becoming unpopular. Buckingham was filling it with licentious gallants and with ladies of a type to match them. At Whitehall, there was a constant round of dissipation and libertinism. Besides the very free and easy balls, masques and banquets, there were what were called "quaint conceits" of more than doubtful decency, and there was much buffoonery of a very low type. In the Secret History of the Court of James I. it is recorded that, at this time, namely, about 1618 or 1619, there were "none great with Buckingham but bawds and parasites, and such as humoured him in his unchaste pleasures; so that since his first being a pretty, harmless, affable gentleman, he grew insolent, cruel, and a monster not to be endured."

Lord Purbeck held the appointment of Master of the Robes to Prince Charles, and he seems to have lived in the palace of the Prince; for, even as late as 1625, we read of Lady Purbeck remaining in "the Prinses house."[45] In 1620 Chamberlain wrote to Carleton[46] that when Buckingham was overpressed by business, he handed over suitors to his brother Purbeck. On the 18th of January, 1620, a letter[47] of Nethersole's states that Purbeck had resigned his post of Master of the Robes, in order to become Master of the Horse to the Prince.

At some date between that of his marriage in the year 1617 and 1622, Purbeck was received into the Catholic Church, by Father Percy, alias Fisher, a Jesuit. This step does not appear in any way to have affected his position at Court. In a manuscript in the library of the large Jesuit College of Stonyhurst,[48] in Lancashire, it is stated that "the Viscount de Purbeck (sic) brother of the Marquis of Buckingham, having been converted to the Catholic faith and reconciled to the Holy Church, by Father John Persens, S.J., betook himself to the Countess, his mother, and gave her so good an account of the said Father, and of the consolation he had received of him, that she greatly desired to speak to him, and sending him to call the Father, she heard him discourse fully of the Catholic faith, &c."

In Laud's Diary there is an entry: "1622, April 23. Being the Tuesday in Easter week, the King sent for me & set me into a course about the countess of Buckingham, who about that time was wavering in point of religion." And again: "May 24. The conference[49] between Mr. Fisher [Percy] a Jesuit, & myself, before the lord Marquis of Buckingham, & the countess, his mother."

There are people who are of opinion that for a Protestant to become a Catholic is an almost certain proof of madness; and such will rejoice to hear that, some time after Lord Purbeck had been received into the Catholic Church, he either showed, or is reputed to have shown, signs of lunacy.

Some authorities doubt whether Purbeck was ever out of his mind; but on the whole the weight of evidence is against them. Yet there are some rather unaccountable incidents in their favour. Again, when anybody is reputed to be mad, exaggerated stories of his doings are very likely to be spread about. Even in these days of advanced medical science, it is sometimes difficult to decide whether a patient is insane or not, and it is quite possible to suffer from very severe fits of depression without being the subject of maniacal melancholia, or from very violent fits of passion without being a madman.

There is just a possibility, too, that Buckingham may have wished to keep his brother quiet, or to get him out of the way, because that brother "would speake plaine English to him" about his licentious conduct and other matters, as we have already read. When a friend or a relative tells a man that he is behaving scandalously, the recipient of the information is apt to say that his informer is "cracked."

The earliest hint of Lord Purbeck's insanity was given in 1620. "The Lord Viscount Purbeck went abroad in the latter end of May 1620, under colour of drinking the waters of Spaw, but in fact, as Camden tells us, to hide his being run mad with pride."[50] The strongest evidence of anything like actual madness is in a letter[51] from Chamberlain to Carleton, written on 8th June, 1622. It may, however, be mere gossip. "The Lord of Purbecke is out of order likewise, for this day feurtnight getting into a roome next the street in Wallingford house, he beat down the glasse windowes with his bare fists and all bloudied &c." If this be true, may it not be possible that he was trying to break his way out of a room in which Buckingham had locked him up on the pretence that he was insane? Of Wallingford House the same correspondent says in another letter: "Buckingham has bought Lord Wallingford's house at Whitehall, by paying some money[52] making Sir Thomas Howard, Visct. Andover, and some say, releasing the Earl and Countess of Somerset."

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