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those letters wherein he is so familiar with his King, so flat; and those to Richlieu so puffed with prophane hyperboles, and larded up and down with such gross flatteries, I forbore him further. So I am your most affectionate servitor.
This letter is interesting as being a contemporary account of the death of James I., and of the accession of Charles I. The suspicion that the King was poisoned by the instrumentality of Buckingham, though very improbable, has been suggested by other writers besides Howel.
James Howel to his Father.
London: Dec. 11, 1625.
Sir, I received yours of the 3rd February by the hands of my cousin Thomas Guin of Trecastle.
It was my fortune to be on Sunday was fortnight at Theobalds, where his late Majesty King James departed this life, and went to his last rest upon the day of rest, presently after Sermon was done: A little before the break of day, he sent for the Prince, who rose out of his bed, and came in his night-gown; the King seem'd to have some earnest thing to say unto him, and so endeavour'd to rouse himself upon his Pillow, but his Spirits were so spent that he had not strength to make his words audible. He died of a fever which began with an Ague, and some Scotch Doctors mutter at a plaster the Countess of Buckingham applied at the outside of his stomach: 'Tis thought the last breach of the match with Spain, which for many years he had so vehemently desir'd, took too deep an impression in him, and that he was forc'd to rush into a War, now in his declining age, having liv'd in a continual uninterrupted peace his whole life, except some collateral aids he had sent his Son-in-law. As soon as he expir'd, the Privy Council sat, and in less than a quarter of an hour, King Charles was proclaim'd at Theobalds Court-gate, by Sir Edward Zouch Knight Marshal, Master Secretary Conway dictating unto him, that whereas it had pleas'd God to take to his mercy our most gracious Sovereign King James of famous memory, we proclaim Prince Charles his rightful and indubitable Heir to be King of England, Scotland, France, and Ireland, &c. The Knight Mar
shal mistook, saying, his rightful and dubitable heir, but he was rectified by the Secretary. This being done, I took my horse instantly, and came to London first, except one, who was come a little before me, insomuch, that I found the gates shut. His now Majesty took Coach, and the Duke of Buckingham with him, and came to Saint James; in the evening he was proclaim'd at White Hall Gate, in Cheapside, and other places in a sad shower of rain ; and the weather was suitable to the condition wherein he finds the Kingdom which is cloudy; for he is left engag'd in a war with a potent Prince, the people by long desuetude unapt for arms, the Fleet Royal in quarter repair and himself without a queen, his sister without a country, the crown pitifully laden with debts, and the purse of the State lightly ballasted, though it never had better opportunity to be rich than it had these last twenty years: But God Almighty, I hope will make him emerge, and pull this Island out of all the plunges, and preserve us from worser times. The plague is begun in White-Chapel, and as they say, in the same house, at the same day of the month, with the same number that died twenty two years since, when queen Elizabeth departed. There are great preparations for the funeral, and there is a design to buy all the cloth for mourning white, and then to put it to the dyers in gross, which is like to save the crown a good deal of money, the drapers murmur extremely at the Lord Cranfield for it.
I am not settled yet in any stable Condition, but I lie windbound at the Cape of Good Hope, expecting some gentle gale to launch out into any employment.
So with my love to all my brothers and sisters at the Bryn and near Brecknock, I humbly crave a continuance of your prayers and blessings to,
Your dutiful son,
Of the many accounts of the assassination of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, by Felton, this is one of the fullest. It differs in one or two minor details from that given by Secretary Carleton, who was present, and whose account is published in Ellis's Collection of Original Letters,' vol. iii. pp. 256–260; but Howel is, as usual, fresh and graphic, and may doubtless be trusted, as he was acquainted with many of the officers connected with the Court.
James Howel to the Rt. Hon. Lady Scroop, Countess of
Stamford: Aug. 5, 1628.
Madam,-I lay yesternight at the post-house at Stilton, and this morning betimes the post-master came to my bed's-head, and told me the Duke of Buckingham was slain;
My faith was not then strong enough to believe it, till an hour ago I met in the way with my Lord of Rutland (your brother) riding post towards London; it pleased him to alight, and shew me a letter, wherein there was an exact relation of all the circumstances of this sad tragedy.
Upon Saturday last, which was but next before yesterday, being Bartholomew eve, the Duke did rise up in a welldisposed humour out of his bed, and cut a caper or two, and being ready, and having been under the barber's hand (where the murderer had thought to have done the deed, for he was leaning upon the window all the while) he went to breakfast, attended by a great company of commanders, where Monsieur Subize came to him, and whispered him in the ear that Rochelle was relieved; the Duke seemed to slight the news, which made some think that Subize went away discontented.
After breakfast the Duke going out, Colonel Fryer stept before him, and stopped him upon some business, and Lieutenant Felton, being behind, made a thrust with a common tenpenny knife over Fryer's arm at the Duke, which lighted so fatally that he slit his heart in two, leaving the knife sticking in the body. The Duke took out the knife and threw it away and laying his hand on his sword, and drawing it half out, said, 'The villain hath killed me,' (meaning, as some think, Colonel Fryer) for there had been some difference betwixt them; so reeling against a chimney, he fell down dead. The Dutchess being with child, hearing the noise below, came in her night-geers from her bedchamber, which was in an upper room, to a kind of rail, and thence beheld him weltering in his own blood. Felton had lost his hat in the crowd, wherein there was a paper sewed, wherein he declared, that the reason which moved him to this act, was no grudge of his own, though he had been far behind for his pay, and had been put by his Captain's place twice, but in regard he thought the Duke an
enemy to the state, because he was branded in parliament; therefore what he did was for the public good of his country. Yet he got clearly down, and so might have gone to his horse, which was tied to a hedge hard by; but he was so amazed that he missed his way, and so struck into the pastry, where, although the cry went that some Frenchman had done it, he, thinking the word was Felton, boldly confessed it was he that had done the deed, and so he was in their hands.
Jack Stamford would have run at him, but he was kept off by Mr. Nicholas; so being carried up to a tower, Captain Mince tore off his spurs, and asking how he durst attempt such an act, making him believe the Duke was not dead, he answered boldly, that he knew he was dispatched, for it was not he, but the hand of heaven that gave the stroke; and though his whole body had been covered over with armour of proof, he could not have avoided it. Captain Charles Price went post presently to the King four miles off, who being at prayers on his knees when it was told him, yet never stirred, nor was he disturbed a-whit till all divine service was done. This was the relation, as far as my memory could bear, in my Lord of Rutland's letter, who willed ine to remember him to your Ladyship, and tell you that he was going to comfort your niece (the Dutchess) as far as he could. And so I have sent the truth of this sad story to your Ladyship, as fast as I could by this post, because I cannot make that speed myself, in regard of some business I have to dispatch for my Lord in the way so I humbly take my leave, and rest your Ladyship's most dutiful servant.
Though Howel has here chosen a theme on which some of the noblest rhetoric in literature has been expended, there are many little touches which redeem it from being commonplace. It may very possibly have furnished Addison with a model for the similar reflections in which he delighted to indulge.
James Howel to Sir S. C—.
Holborn March 17, 1639.
Sir, I was upon point of going abroad to steal a solitary walk, when yours of the 12th current came to hand. The high researches and choice abstracted notions I found therein, seemed to
heighten my spirits, and make my fancy fitter for my intended retirement and meditation: add hereunto, that the countenance of the weather invited me; for it was a still evening, it was also a clear open sky, not a speck, or the least wrinkle appeared in the whole face of heaven, it was such a pure deep azure all the hemisphere over, that I wondered what was become of the three regions of the air with their meteors. So having got into a close field, I cast my face upwards, and fell to consider what a rare prerogative the optic virtue of the eye bath, much more the intuitive virtue in the thought, that the one in a moment can reach heaven, and the other go beyond it; therefore sure that a philosopher was but a kind of frantic fool, that would have plucked out both his eyes, because they were a hindrance to his speculations. Moreover, I began to contemplate, as I was in this posture, the vast magnitude of the universe, and what proportion this poor globe of earth might bear with it; for if those numberless bodies which stick in the vast roof of heaven, though they appear to us but as spangles, be some of them thousands of times bigger than the earth, take the sea with it to boot, for they both make but one sphere, surely the astronomers had reason to term this sphere an indivisible point, and a thing of no dimension at all, being compared to the whole world. I fell then to think, that at the second general destruction, it is no more for God Almighty to fire this earth, than for us to blow up a small squib, or rather one small grain of gunpowder. As I was musing thus, I spied a swarm of gnats waving up and down the air about me, which I knew to be part of the universe as well as I and methought it was a strange opinion of our Aristotle to hold, that the least of those small insected ephemerans should be more noble than the sun, because it had a sensitive soul in it. I fell to think that in the same proportion which those animalillios bore with me in point of bigness, the same I held with those glorious spirits which are near the throne of the Almighty. What then should we think of the magnitude of the Creator himself? Doubtless, it is beyond the reach of any human imagination to conceive it: in my private devotions I presume to compare him to a great mountain of light, and my soul seems to discern some glorious form therein; but suddenly as she would fix her eyes upon the object, her sight is presently dazzled and disgregated with the refulgency and coruscations thereof.