conspirators disclosed to the government a plot so widely spread, and involving so many of the highest in the land, that it would have been perilous to have pressed home accusations against all who might be implicated. Essex was tried along with the young earl of Southampton, and Bacon, as one of her majesty's counsel, was present on the occasion. Coke, who was principal spokesman, managed the case with great want of skill, incessantly allowing the thread of the evidence to escape, and giving the prisoners opportunity to indulge in irrelevant justifications and protestations which were not ineffectual in distracting attention from the real question at issue. On the first opportunity Bacon rose and briefly pointed out that the earl's plea of having done nothing save what was absolutely necessary to defend his life from the machinations of his enemies was weak and worthless, inasmuch as these enemies were purely imaginary; and he compared his case to that of Peisistratus, who had made use of a somewhat similar stratagem to cloak his real designs upon the city of Athens. He was thereupon interrupted by the earl, who proceeded to defend himself, by declaring that in one of the letters drawn up by Bacon, and purporting to be from the earl to Anthony Bacon, the existence of these rumours, and the dangers to be apprehended from them, had been admitted; and he continued, “If these reasons were then just and true, not counterfeit, how can it be that now my pretences are false and injurious?” To this Bacon replied, that “the letters, if they were there, would not blush to be seen for anything contained in them, and that he had spent more time in vain in studying how to make the earl a good servant to the queen than he had done in any thing else.” It seems to be forgotten in the general accounts of this matter, not only that Bacon's letters bear out what he said, but that the earl's excuses were false. A second time Bacon was compelled to interfere in the course of the trial, and to recall to the minds of those present the real question at issue. He animadverted strongly upon the puerile nature of the defence, and in answer to a remark by Essex, that if he had wished to stir up a rebellion he would have had a larger company with him, pointed out that his dependence was upon the people of London, and compared his attempt to that of the duke of Guise at Paris. To this the earl made little or no reply. Bacon's use of this illustration and of the former one of Peisistratus, has been much commented on, and in general it seems to have been thought that had it not been for his speeches Essex might have escaped, or, at all events, have been afterwards pardoned. But this view of the matter depends on the supposition that Essex was guilty only of a rash outbreak. That this was not the case was well known to the queen and her council. Unfortunately, prudential motives hindered the publication of the whole evidence; the people, consequently, were still ignorant of the magnitude of the crime, and, till recently, biographers of Bacon have been in a like ignorance. The earl himself, before execution, confessed his guilt and the thorough justice of his sentence, while, with singular lack of magnanimity, he incriminated several against whom accusations had not been brought, among others his sister Lady Rich. After his execution it was thought necessary that some account of the facts should be drawn up and circulated, in order to remove the prejudice against the queen's action in the matter. This was entrusted to Bacon, who drew up a Declaration of the Practices and Treasons attempted and committed by Robert, late Earl of Essex, his first draft being extensively altered and corrected by the queen and council. Nothing is known with certainty of the reception given to this official explanation, but the ill-feeling against Bacon was not wholly removed, and some years later, in 1604, he published, in the form of a letter to Mountjoy, an Apology for his action in the case. This Apology gives a most fair and temperate history of the relations between Bacon and Essex, shows how the prudent counsel of the one had been rejected by the other, and brings out very clearly what we conceive to be the true explanation of the matter. Everything that Bacon could do was done by him, until the real nature of Essex's design was made apparent, and then, as he had repeatedly told the earl, his devotion and respect were for the queen and state, not for any subject; friendship could never take rank above loyalty. Those who blame Bacon must acquit Essex of all wrong-doing.
Bacon's private fortunes, during the period after the death of Essex, were not in a flourishing condition. He had obtained a grant of £1200 from the fines imposed on Catesby, one of the conspirators, but his debts were sufficient to swallow up this and much more. And, though he was trusted by Elizabeth, and on good terms with her, he seems to have seen that he had no chance of advancement. But her death in 1603, followed by the undisputed succession of James, gave him new hopes. He used every means in his power to bring himself under James's notice, writing to all his friends at the Scottish court and to the king himself. He managed to obtain a personal interview with the king, but does not seem to have been much satisfied with it. In fact, while the king confirmed in their situations those who had held crown offices under Elizabeth, Bacon, not holding his post by warrant, was practically omitted. He was, however, continued, by special order of the king, as learned counsel extraordinary, but little or no law business appears to have been entrusted to him. He procured, through his cousin Cecil, the dignity of knighthood, which, contrary to his inclination, he received along with about 300 others, on the 23rd of July 1603. Between this time and the opening of James's first parliament he was engaged in literary work, and sent to the king two pamphlets—one on the Union, the other on measures for the pacification of the church. Shortly after he published his Apology. In March 1604 parliament met, and during their short session Bacon's hands seem to have been full of work. It was a busy and stirring time, and events occurred during it which carried within them the seeds of much future dissension. Prerogative and privilege came more than once into collision, the abuses of purveyance and wardship were made matters of conference, though the thorough discussion of them was deferred to a succeeding session; while James's temper was irritated by the objections brought against his favourite scheme of the Union, and by the attitude taken up by the House with regard to religious affairs. The records are barely full enough to enable us to judge of the share taken by Bacon in these discussions; his name generally appears as the reporter of the committees on special subjects. We can occasionally, however, discern traces of his tact and remarkable prudence; and, on the whole, his attitude, particularly with regard to the Union question, recommended him to James. He was shortly afterwards formally installed as learned counsel, receiving the salary of £40, and at the same time a pension of £60 yearly. He was also appointed one of the commission to treat of the conditions necessary for the Union; and the admirable manner in which the duties of that body were discharged must be attributed mainly to his influence and his complete mastery of the subject. During the recess he published his Advancement of Learning, dedicated to the king.
He was now brought into relations with James, and his prospects began to improve. It is important for us to know what were his ideas upon government, upon parliaments, prerogative, and so forth, since a knowledge of this will clear up much that would seem inexplicable in his life. It seems quite evident that Bacon, from position, early training and, one might almost think, natural inclination, held as his ideal of government the Elizabethan system. The king was the supreme power, the centre of law and justice, and his prerogative must not be infringed. Parliament was merely a body called to consult with the king on emergencies (circa ardua regni) and to grant supplies. King and parliament together make up the state, but the former is first in nature and importance. The duty of a statesman was, therefore, to carry out the royal will in as prudent a manner as possible; he was the servant of the king, and stood or fell according to his pleasure. He was not singular in his opinions and he was undoubtedly sincere; and it is only
- See Macaulay's Essay on Bacon.
- The whole story of Essex is given in Spedding's Letters and Life. It is vigorously told by J. Bruce in the introduction to his Correspondence of James VI. with Sir Robert Cecil (Camden Society, 1861).
- See Letters and Life, iv. 177, vi. 38, vii. 116, 117.