Page images



BACON has himself in his Latin Letter to Father Fulgentio, written towards the close of his life, classed together his Moral and his Historical works; and they come properly under the same division. They are distinguished by the same general character from his other writings: from his Philosophical or Scientific works on the one hand; from his Letters, and other remains chiefly referring to the events of his own life or of his own time, on the other. Under these three heads all his writings may be conveniently enough arranged. His Moral and Theological works are full of narrative or historical passages; his Historical works of moral disquisition and reflection. History, in truth, is only ethical and economical speculation in a narrative form, the actual exemplification of the principles and precepts of moral wisdom.

[ocr errors]

Bacon's principal and indeed only considerable historical work is his History of the Reign of King Henry the Seventh,' first published, in a folio volume, in 1622. "This," says Tenison, 66 was the first book which he composed after his retirement from an active life." We have already had occasion to quote his Letter to the King of the 21st of April, 1621, announcing his intention of writing it.

In another Letter to the King, dated the 8th of October, he seems to speak of it as already finished: "I durst not," he says, "have presumed to entreat your majesty to look over the book, and correct it, or at least to signify what you would have amended; but, since you are pleased to send for the book, I will hope for it." It had, as we have seen from the Letter of Sir Thomas Meautys, been perused by his majesty in manuscript

all that has been written since by Hume and others, Bacon's History still remains, perhaps, unsurpassed in our literature in all the highest qualities of historical composition, in luminous and lively narrative, in expressive portraiture, in a vein of profound political sagacity, above all in skill and power of writing. At any rate, as we have said, it is most assuredly one of Bacon's very happiest performances; and, if there be anything admirable in the eloquence and wisdom of his other writings, this deserves attention, and will reward our perusal and study, as much as any of them.

The Dedication, "To the Most Illustrious and Most Excellent Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall, Earl of Chester, &c." is as follows:

It may please your Highness,

In part of my acknowledgement to your highness, I have endeavored to do honour to the memory of the last King of England that was ancestor to the king your father and yourself; and was that king to whom both unions may in a sort refer, that of the roses being in him consummate, and that of the kingdoms by him begun. Besides his times deserve it. For he was a wise man and an excellent king: and yet the times were rough, and full of mutations, and rare accidents. And it is with times as it is with ways; some are more up-hill and down-hill, and some are more flat and plain; and the one is better for the liver, and the other for the writer. I have not flattered him, but took him to life as well as I could, sitting so far off, and having no better light. It is true your highness hath a living pattern incomparable, of the king your father: but it is not amiss for you also to see one of these ancient pieces. God preserve your highness.

Your highness's most humble and devoted servant,

The story is taken up from the defeat of Richard at Bosworth, giving Henry his crowning and conclusive claim to the throne. Next in importance might be reckoned the claim he derived from his intended marriage with the heiress of the House of York. "As his victory gave him the knee," says our author, "so his purpose

of marriage with the Lady Elizabeth gave him the heart; so that both knee and heart did truly bow before him.""

Henry, however, was in no hurry to seek that additional support. The battle was fought on the 22nd of August, 1485; the new king was solemnly crowned on the 30th of October; and it was not till the 18th of January in the following year that the marriage was celebrated" with greater triumph and demonstrations," writes Bacon," especially on the people's part, of joy and gladness, than the days either of his entry or coronation; which the king rather noted than liked.” “And it is true,' he adds, "that all his lifetime, while the Lady Elizabeth lived with him, for she died before him, he showed himself no very indulgent husband towards her, though she was beautiful, gentle, and fruitful. But his aversion towards the House of York was so predominant in him, as it found place not only in his wars and councils but in his chamber and bed." The narrative then proceeds :

Towards the middle of the spring, the king full of confidence and assurance, as a prince that had been victorious in battle, and had prevailed with his parliament in all that he desired, and had the ring of acclamations fresh in his ears, thought the rest of his reign should be but play, and the enjoying of a kingdom; yet as a wise and watchful king, he would not neglect anything for his safety, thinking, nevertheless, to perform all things now rather as an exercise than as a labour. So he being truly informed that the northern parts were not only affectionate to the House of York, but particularly had been devoted to King Richard the Third, thought it would be a summer well spent to visit those parts, and by his presence and application of himself to reclaim and rectify those humours. But the king, in his account of peace and calms, did much overcast his fortunes, which proved for many years together full of broken seas, tides, and tempests. For he was no sooner come to Lincoln, where he kept his Easter, but he received news that the Lord Lovel, Humphrey Stafford, and Thomas Stafford, who had formerly taken sanctuary at Colchester, were departed out of sanctuary, but to what place no man could tell: which advertisement the king despised and continued his journey to York. At York there came fresh and more certain advertisement, that the Lord Lovel was at hand with a great power of

men, and that the Staffords were in arms in Worcestershire, and had made their approaches to the city of Worcester to assail it. The king, as a prince of great and profound judgment, was not much moved with it; for that he thought it was but a rag or remnant of Bosworth field, and had nothing in it of the main party of the House of York. But he was more doubtful of the raising of forces to resist the rebels, than of the resistance itself; for that he was in a core of people whose affections he suspected. But the action enduring no delay, he did speedily levy and send against the Lord Lovel to the number of three thousand men, ill armed but well assured, being taken some few out of his own train, and the rest out of the tenants and followers of such as were safe to be trusted, under the conduct of the Duke of Bedford. And as his manner was to send his pardons rather before the sword than after, he gave permission to the duke to proclaim pardon to all that would come in; which the duke upon his approach to Lord Lovel's camp did perform. And it fell out as the king expected; the heralds were the great ordnance. For the Lord Lovel, upon proclamation of pardon, mistrusting his men, fled into Lancashire and lurking for a time with Sir Thomas Broughton, after sailed over into Flanders to the Lady Margaret; and his men, forsaken of their captain, did presently submit themselves to the duke. The Staffords likewise, and their forces, hearing what had hap pened to the Lord Lovel, in whose success their chief trust was, despaired and dispersed; the two brothers taking sanctuary at Colnham, a village near Abingdon. Which place upon view of their privilege in the King's Bench, being judged no sufficient sanctuary for traitors, Humphrey was executed at Tyburn; and Thomas, as being led by his elder brother, was pardoned. So this rebellion proved but a blast, and the king having by this journey purged a little the dregs and leaven of the northern people that were before in no good affection towards him, returned to London.

Then follows the story of the first Pretender, Lambert Simnell:

There followed this year, being the second of the king's reigu, a strange accident of state, whereof the relations which we have are so naked, as they leave it scarce credible; not for the nature of it, for it hath fallen out often, but for the manner and circumstance of it, especially in the beginnings. Therefore we shall make our judgment upon the things themselves,

as they give light one to another, and as we can dig truth out of the mine. The king was green in his estate; and contrary to his own opinion and desert both, was not without much hatred throughout the realm. The root of all was the discountenanc ing of the House of York; which the general body of the realm still affected. This did alienate the hearts of the subjects from him daily more and more, especially when they saw, that after his marriage, and after a son born, the king did, nevertheless, not so much as proceed to the coronation of the queen, not vouchsafing her the honour of a matrimonial crown; for the coronation of her was not till almost two years after, when danger had taught him what to do. But much more when it was spread abroad, whether by error or the cunning of malcontents, that the king had a purpose to put to death Edward Plantagenet closely in the Tower: whose case was so nearly paralleled with that of Edward the Fourth's children, in respect of the blood, like age, and the very place of the Tower, as it did refresh and reflect upon the king a most odious resemblance, as if he would be another King Richard. And all this time it was still whispered everywhere, that at least one of the children of Edward the Fourth was living: which bruit was cunningly fomented by such as desired innovation. Neither was the king's nature and customs greatly fit to disperse these mists, but contrariwise, he had a fashion rather to create doubts than assurance. Thus was fuel prepared for the spark : the spark, that afterwards kindled such a fire and combustion, was at the first contemptible.


There was a subtle priest called Richard Simon, that lived in Oxford, and had to his pupil a baker's son, named Lambert Simnell, of the age of some fifteen years, a comely youth, and well favoured, not without some extraordinary dignity and grace of aspect. It came into this priest's fancy, hearing what men talked, and in hope to raise himself to some great bishopric, to cause this lad to counterfeit and personate the second son of Edward the Fourth, supposed to be murdered; afterwards, for he had changed his intention in the mauage, the Lord Edward Plantagenet, then prisoner in the Tower, and accordingly to frame him and instruct him in the part he was to play. This is that which, as was touched before, seemeth scarcely credible; not that a false person should be assumed to gain a kingdom, for it hath been seen in ancient and late times; nor that it should come into the mind of such an abject fellow to enterprise so great a matter; for high conceits do sometimes come streaming into the imaginations of base

« PreviousContinue »