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Embassy of John Digby earl of Bristol to Spain. - Account
of him.-Views of Buckingham.—He persuades the prince to go to Spain ;-their mode of gaining the king's consent.
-The prince's journey.—Lines by Waller.-His arrival and reception at Madrid.—Correspondence of the king and Buckingham.-James required to own the pope's supremacy.- Correspondence of the prince with the pope.-Se. cret articles added to the treaty.—Disagreement between Buckingham and the Spanish ministry.—Desponding letter, of James, his steps in favor of recusants.-Etiquette of the Spanish court.- Articles signed.-Letter of Bristol. Departure of the prince.--Letter of Bristol to the prince. On the death of Philip III. of Spain and the accession of his son Philip IV., in the spring of the year 1622, lord Digby, soon after created earl of Bristol, was sent ambassador extraordinary to that court, not only to perform the accustomed ceremonies of condolence and congratulation, but to resume with the new monarch the marriage treaty. which his predecessor had contrived to lengthen out for so many years without bringing it perceptibly nearer to its accomplishment. This ambassador was a person of considerable political distinction, and the steps of his advancement in public life de. serve to be traced.
John Digby, fourth son of sir George Digby of Coleshill in Warwickshire, was descended from the second of seven brothers of a family long distinguished for their zeal in the cause of the house of Lancaster, who all fought in Bosworth field against king Richard III. ; and from the eldest of which brothers the unfortunate sir Everard Digby derived his birth. The same conspiracy which proved fatal to this gentleman, the head of the house, became, through the following circumstances, a means of advancement to the younger branch,
John Digby, after an education at Oxford, and two or three years passed in France and Italy, had returned home an accomplished gentleman of fiveand-twenty. He was in Warwickshire when the gun-powder plot burst forth; and having been a witness of the insurrection attempted by the disappointed conspirators on their arrival in that county, for the purpose of seizing the person of the princess Elizabeth, lord Harrington, under whose care she was residing, pitched upon him as a fit person to post to court with tidings of the safety of the prin: cess and the defeat of the whole design.
The very handsome exterior of the messenger, set off by a dignified and spirited demeanor, instantly caught the eye of the king, whose attention was thus drawn to the intelligence and address which he discovered in the execution of his commission. Digby was speedily appointed a gentleman of the privy-chamber and carver to his majesty. The next year he was knighted : he was sent am
bassador to Spain in 1611, and again in 1614, to treat of a marriage between prince Henry and the infanta ; and after his second return he was made vice-chamberlain of the household and a privy-councillor. During these missions it had come to the knowledge of the ambassador that the counsels of his master were regularly betrayed to the king of Spain, and on his return he gave information of certain transactions between the earl of Somerset and the Spanish government, respecting which both the earl, then in the Tower for his concern in Overbury's murder, and sir Robert Cotton were subjected to repeated examinations.
But James, though sufficiently convinced, as it seems, that his favorite had received the pay of the most catholic king, was either unwilling or afraid to accuse him of high treason ; especially for an offence which he shared with so many of the courtiers and ministers, and the charge was dropped.
The fidelity of Digby, however, was rewarded by a commission, in 1617, to treat with the court of Spain for the hand of the infanta ; and James was so well pleased with his exertions in this favorite negotiation, and the hopes which he brought back, that he bestowed on him the title of lord Digby and the castle and manor of Sherborne ;-part of the spoils of Somerset, who had first wrested them from the injured Raleigh.
The German embassies of which lord Digby made a report to the parliament of 1621 have been already mentioned; his zeal and diligence had been conspi
cuously displayed in them; their ill-success derogated in no degree from his merit or reputation ; and he was now for the fourth time dispatched into Spain to co-operate with sir Walter Aston, the ambassador in ordinary, in overcoming the obstacles which had so long embarrassed a marriage-treaty already of urexampled prolixity. For this negotiation Digby was peculiarly adapted, both by long experience of the Spanish court and by his personal character. He was diligent and patient, able and wary ; of high honor, integrity and courage ; haughty and reserved in his temper, and of a' gravity which no Spanish grandee could surpass. The favor of his master, who always piqued himself on exercising his own choice in ambassadors and in bishops, had supported lord Digby in an independence on Buckingham, and his connexions, such as no other public man, not even the proud lord-keeper, had been able to assert. But his departure for his fourth Spanish embassy, left the indignant favorite to meditate at leisure a scheme of which his disappointment and humiliation formed an essential part; and which produced, as we shall see, the most remarkable and unexpected results. In the mean time, the terms on which the ambassador stood with the Villiers family may well be collected from a pas: sage of a contemporary private letter :
“I am told of a great falling out between my lord: treasurer (Cranfield earl of Middlesex) and my lord Digby, insomuch that they came to pedlar's blood and trailor's blood. It was about some money which
my lord Digby should have had, which my lordtreasurer thought too much for the charge of his employment, and said himself could go in as good a fashion for half the sum. But my lord Digby replies that he could not peddle so well as his lordshipa.”.
The power of the marquis of Buckingham at the English court seemed already to have extended itself in every direction as far as the authority of the sovereign himself could reach. Nothing was ever denied him, and there was apparently nothing which he scrupled to ask: The doting king was even contented to live himself in absolute poverty and want, that he might shower riches with a more lavish hand on his favorite; and sublime as were his speculative notions of the majesty of a king,—of the almost divine honors attached to the character,-he was willing in practice to submit himself to the will and pleasure of an insolent and capricious minion, who did not deign to observe towards him the common decencies of outward respect. Still, there was something wanting to the ambition of Buckingham; the edifice of his
power was lofty indeed, but not stable, and he had now to attempt the difficult task of placing it on a broader and a surer basis. The caprice of the king might at any moment overthrow its own work; the first frown of royalty, the first hint that the favorite was no longer inviolable, would serve as the signal of attack to a host of foes, some keen for pri
a See An Inquiry into the literary and political character of James I., London 1816. p. 168.