Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

lous as the price of their forbearance. It appeared from the statement of a witness on the Lancaster trials, that he had covenanted with one of the suspected witches for a yearly allowance of meal, on condition that she should not hurt him,

In a great majority of cases, however, these charges seem to have arisen solely from the malice, the superstitious terrors, or the mercenary views, of the informers ; as, on the other hand, the confessions of the poor creatures themselves were the result of terror, of torture, of ignorance and dotage, or, in some instances, of heroic affection. One old woman tried at Lancaster appears to have accused herself from a vain hope of saving the life of her daughter, who was charged with participation in the crime. The judges, partly, it may be suspected, with a view of flattering the prejudices of the king, exhibited the most disgraceful eagerness for the conviction of the prisoners; and one of them was guilty of the remark, " that such apparent proof was not to be expected against them as others; theirs were deeds of darkness.” In fact, the evidence here allowed to decide in cases of life and death, was such as ought not to have been listened to on the most trifling charge ever obtruded upon the notice of a court of justice. That the witches had held a sabbath at a lone house in Pendle forest, where they had decided on the burning of Lancaster castle for the rescue of some of their associates, on the destruction of one of their enemies, and on various other horrible acts, and from which the whole party retired in the shape

of

[ocr errors]

of colts riding on horseback,--was believed on the unsupported testimony of a boy, who thus took away the lives of his grandmother and others of his near relations. The principal witnesses against one of the witches were three of her own children, one of them a girl of nine years old, and another a youth who was brought into court in a state of extreme weakness from the consequences of a long and most severe imprisonment, and probably of further cruelties. This youth was himself convicted afterwards on the testimony of his little sister, and suffered death.

To prove one of the prisoners a witch, evidence was admitted of its having been the opinion of a man not in court that she had turned his beer sour; -and, against another, that her brother-in-law, an old gentleman then dead, used often to ride a mile or two about to avoid passing her door. To prove the charge of murder by witchcraft, it was thought sufficient to attest, that the deceased on his death-bed had declared his belief that he owed his death to the prisoner ; without specifying any means of injury employed by her, except perhaps some threat or malediction. Great stress, too, was in some cases laid on the bleeding of the corpse at the approach of the sorceress,-a fact which persons were readily found to attest on oatha.

Bacon, after his disgrace, addressed to king James a proposal for occupying himself in preparing a di

a See the trials of the Lancashire witches in the Somers Tracts, vol, ii: 2nd edition.

gest

gest of the laws, with suggestions of various alterations and amendments. This great man was doubtless capable of taking a philosopher's view of the subject of legislation; but, considering both the narrow prejudices and arbitrary principles of the king, and the habitual subserviency of the chancellor, it cannot be matter of regret that this project, owing perhaps to the death of James soon after, was never carried into effect.

CHAPTER CHAPTER XX.

1620, 1621.

Affairs of Bohemia.Negotiations of James.-Embassies of

sir H. Wotton.-His verses on the queen of Bohemia.Levies for the war in Germany.- Earl of Oxford.-James attempts to impose a benevolence.-Negotiations of lord Herbert of Chirbury.Behaviour of a French embassy.Preparations for a parliament.-Letter of Bacon.-Proclamation.-Prohibition of talking of state affairs.-King's speech.-Prosperous state of Bacon.--His private life,studies,-powers of conversation.The commons accuse him to the lords.-Easter recess.-Alarm of Villiers and the monopolists.-Dissolution of parliament advised. Williams dissuades it.-Bacon's submission to the lords.He is deprived of the seals.--Sentence upon him.-Remarks on his case.--Treachery of the king and Villiers towards

him.-His after-life and death. THE affairs of the king of Bohemia now became an object of interest which absorbed all others. The people loudly cried out for war in support of the protestant cause and of a family so nearly allied to the blood royal of England ;-James remained firmly decided on the preservation of peace; and his council was divided. Gondomar, by his cajolery and his bribes, maintained the king, the favorite and the greater number of the courtiers and officers of state, especially those catholicly inclined, in the interests of the house of Austria ; the archbishop,

that

that spirited nobleman William earl of Pembroke, the duke of Lenox and the marquis of Hamilton inclined to the opposite party.

In the course of the summer, the emperor proclaimed the ban of the empire against the palatine, and the duke of Bavaria and the other catholic princes of Germany prepared to execute the sentence, while the princes of the protestant league took arms to resist it. Prince Maurice put himself in motion on the same part; while Spinola raised a formidable force in Flanders, the object of which was not declared. These measures roused king James to extraordinary activity,-in negotiation. His majesty had already two ambassadors in Bohemia; sir Richard Weston a secret catholic, afterwards lord-treasurer and earl of Portland, and sir Edward Conway secretary of state, a mere soldier, thrust into civil offices purely by the favor of Buckingham: in addition to these negotiators he now dispatched sir Thomas Edmonds for Brussels, to obtain an explanation from the archduke Albert of the object of Spinola’s levies. The archduke referred the ambassador to Spinola himself, who acted, he said, by directions from the king of Spain with which he was unacquainted. Spinola, on his part, affirmed that his orders were still sealed; but added, that if Edmonds. would accompany him in his march to Coblentz, he should there be able to give him satisfaction; a proposal which the ambassador found himself obliged to accept, probably not without a full perception of the mockery put upon

himself

« AnteriorContinuar »