« PreviousContinue »
He had begun to be weary of his favourite the earl of Somerset, who was the only one who kept that poft fo long, without any public reproach from the people, till at last he was convicted of the horrid confpiracy against the life of Sir Thomas Overbury, and condemned as a murderer. While these things were in agitation, Villiers appeared at court; he was according to all accounts, the gayeft and handsomest man in his time, of an open generous temper, of an unreferved affability, and the most engaging politeness.
In a few days he was made cup-bearer to the King, by which he was of course to be much in his prefence, and fo admitted to that conversation with which that prince always abounded at his meals. He had not acted five weeks on this ftage, to ufe the noble hiftorian's expreffion, till he mounted higher, being knighted, and made gentleman of the bed-chamber, and knight of the most noble order of the garter, and in a fhort time a baron, a viscount, an earl, a marquis, and lord high-admiral of England, lord warden of the cinque ports, mafter of the horse, and entirely difpofed all the favours of the King, acting as abfolutely in conferring honours and diftinctions, as if he himself had wore the diadem.
We find him foon after making war or peace, according to humour, refentment, or favour. He carried the prince of Wales into Spain to fee the Infanta, who was propofed to him as a wife; and it plainly enough appears, that he was privy to one intrigue of prince Charles, and which was perhaps the only one, which that prince, whom all hiftorians, whether friends or enemies to his cause, have agreed to celebrate for chastity, and the temperate virtues. There is an original letter of prince Charles to the duke, which was published by Mr. Thomas Hearne, and is faid once to have be
longed to archbishop Sancroft.
As it is a fort
of curiofity we shall here infert it,
"I have nothing now to write to you, but to give you thankes both for the good councell ye gave me, and for the event of it. The King gave mee a good fharpe potion, but you took away the working of it by the well relifhed "comfites ye fent after it. I have met with the partie, that muft not be named, once alreddie. "and the culler of wryting this letter fhall make mee meet with her on faturday, although it is "written the day being thursday. So affuring "you that the bus'nefs goes fafely onn, I rest
"Your conftant friend
"I hope you will not fhew the King this let"ter, but put it in the fafe cuftody of mister "Vulcan."
It was the good fortune of this nobleman to have an equal intereft with the fon as with the father ; and when prince Charles afcended the throne, his power was equally extenfive, and as before gave fuch offence to the House of Commons and the people, that he was voted an enemy-to the realm, and his Majefty was frequently addreffed to remove him from his councils. Tho' Charles I. had certainly more virtues, and was of a more military turn than his father, yet in the circumftance of doating upon favourites, he was equally weak. His misfortune was, that he never fufficiently trufted his own judgment, which was often better than that of
his fervants; and from this diffidence he was tenacious of a minifter of whofe abilities he had a high opinion, and in whose fidelity he put confidence.
The duke at laft became fo obnoxious, that it entered into the head of an enthufiaft, tho' otherwife an honeft man, one lieutenant Felton, that to affaffinate this court favourite, this enemy of the realm, would be doing a grateful thing to his country by ridding it of one whose measures in his opinion, were likely foon to destroy it.
The fate of the duke was now approaching, and it is by far the most interesting circumstance in his life.
We fhall infert, in the words of the noble hiftorian, the particular account of it.
John Felton, an obfcure man in his own perfon, who had been bred a foldier, and lately a lieutenant of foot, whofe captain had been killed on the retreat at the Ifle of Ree, upon which he ⚫ conceived that the company of right ought to • have been conferred upon him; and it being • refufed him by the duke of Buckingham, general of the army, had given up his commiffion and withdrawn himfelf from the army. He was of a melancholic nature, and had little converfation with any body, yet of a gentleman's family in Suffolk, of a good fortune, and reputation. From the time that he had quitted the army he refided at London; when the Houfe of Commons, tranfported with paffion and prejudice againft the duke, had accufed him to the Houfe of Peers for feveral mifdemeanors and mifcarriages, and in fome declarations had filed him the cause of all the evils the kingdom fuffered, and an enemy to the public.
Some tranfcripts of fuch expreffions, and fome general
general invectives he met with amongst the people, to whom this great man was not grateful, wrought fo far upon this melancholic gentleman, 'that he began to believe he should do God good 'fervice if he killed the duke. He chofe no other ⚫ inftrument to do it than an ordinary knife, which 'he bought of a common cutler for a fhilling, and thus provided, he repaired to Portsmouth, where he arrived the eve of St. Bartholomew. The duke was then there, in order to prepare and make ready the fleet and the army, with which he re⚫ folved in a few days to tranfport himself to the • relief of Rochelle, which was then befieged by 'cardinal Richelieu, and for the relief whereof the 'duke was the more obliged, by reason that at his being at the Ifle of Ree, he had received great fupplies of victuals, and fome companies of their garrison from the town, the want of both which they were at this time very fenfible of, and griev " ed at.
This morning of St. Bartholomew, the duke had received letters, in which he was advertised, that Rochelle had relieved itself; upon which he directed that his breakfast might be speedily made ready, and he would make hafte to acquaint the King with the good news, the court being then at Southwick, about five miles from Portf' mouth. The chamber in which he was dreffing himself was full of company, and of officers in the fleet and army. There was Monfieur' 'de Soubize, brother to the duke de Rohan, and other French gentlemen, who were very follicitous for 'the embarkation of the army, and for the departure of the fleet for the relief of Rochelle; and they were at that time in much trouble and and perplexity, out of apprehenfion that the news the duke had received that morning might flacken the preparations of the voyage, ' which their impatience and interest, perfuaded
them was not advanced with expedition; and fo they held much discourse with the duke of the impoffibility that his intelligence could be true, and that it was contrived by the artifice and dexterity of their enemies, in order to a'bate the warmth and zeal that was used for 'their relief, the arrival of which relief, thofe 'enemies had much reason to apprehend; and a longer delay in fending it, would eafe them of that terrible apprehenfion; their forts and works towards the fea, and in the harbour being al• most finished.
This difcourfe, according to the natural cuf'tom of that nation, and by the ufual dialect of that language, was held with fuch paffion and vehemence, that the standers-by who under• ftood not French, did believe they were angry, ' and that they used the duke rudely. He being ready, and informed that his breakfast was ready, drew towards the door, where the hangings were held up; and in that very passage turning himself to fpeak with Sir Thomas Fryer, a colonel of the army, who was then speaking near his ear, he was on a fudden flruck over his fhoulder upon the breaft with a knife; upon which, without ufing any other words, than that the villain has killed me, and in the fame moment pulling out the knife himself, he fell 'down dead, the knife having pierced his heart. No man had ever feen the blow, or the man 'who gave it; but in the confufion they were in, every man made his own conjecture, and declared it as a thing known, moft agreeing, that it was done by the French, from the angry discourse they thought they had heard from them, and it was a kind of miracle, that they 6 were not all killed that inftant: The fober fort that preferved them from it, having the fame opinion of their guilt, and only referving them