Page images
PDF
EPUB

returned answer to the king that there had been a strong current of practice and proceeding in chancery after judgment in common law, and many times after execution, continued since Henry the Seventh's time to the lord chancellor that now is, both in the reigns seriatim, of the several kings, and the times of the several chancellors, whereof divers were great learned men in the law; it being in cases where there is no remedy for the subject by the strict course of the common law, unto which the judges are sworn.”—“This,” (continues Wilson), “satisfied the king; justified the lord chancellor; and the lord chief justice received the foil, which was a bitter potion to his spirit.” The matter terminated in Coke's utter disgrace.

On the 3d of June, 1616, a commission was issued to the archbishop of Canterbury, and others of the council, to inquire who who were the authors of calling the chancellor into question of praemunire; and on the third of the following October, the lord chief justice was cited, says Camden, in his Annals of King James, before the chancellor; dismissed from his office; banished Westminister hall; and further ordered to answer some matters contained in his reports. The truth is, that James the more readily sided with the chancellor in this affair, because Coke had of late spoken too freely of the prerogative. He had said publicly in his court, glancing at some recent instance of royal interference, “that the common law of England would be overthrown, and the light of it obscured.” The puisne judges also had indulged in the use of similar censures on different occasions, and the king now summoned them to his presence; reprimanded them severely: and required them to crave his pardon on their knees, to which all of them submitted except the chief justice, who steadfastly refused. It is but candid to confess that this humiliation was exacted with the chancellor's concurrence, and was performed in his presence.

On the 24th of May, lord Ellesmere, who had attained his seventy-sixth year, presided as lord high steward on the trials of the earl and countess of Somerset for poisoning sir Thomas Overbury. It has been said that he positively refused to affix the seal to the pardon so unjustly granted to them by James; but it is scarcely credible that he who could advise, or at least silently witness, so undue an exer-, tion of the royal prerogative as has been just now mentioned, would have resisted, as it were in the same hour, that exercise of it, which has been in all ages implicitly allowed. Soon after this period he rapidly declined. In the autumn of 1616, he solicited James, by an affecting letter, to accept his resignation, which being kindly refused, he repeated his request by a second. The king and prince flattered him by entreaties to retain his office, and on the 7th of November in that year, he was advanced to the dignity of viscount Brackley. At length, on the third of the following March, James, in a visit to him on his death-bed, received the seal from his hand with tears. He survived only till the fifteenth, when sir Francis Bacon, the new lord keeper, waited on him to notify the king's intention to create him earl of Bridgwater. He was buried at Dodleston, in Cheshire.

“It may not be too much to say,” adds Mr. Lodge in conclusion, “that for purity of reputation this great man's character stands distinguished from those of all other public ministers of this country in all ages; while for wisdom in council, profound knowledge of the laws, and general learning, he has seldom been excelled. Hacket, in his life of archbishop Williams, says that he was a man ‘qui nihil in vità nisi laudandum aut fecit, aut dirit, aut sensit,” for his domestic life was as exemplary as his private conduct. His attention to the extra-judicial duties of his high office was not less sedulous and constant than to the causes in his court.” Three professional tracts from his pen are in print. His speech in the exchequer chamber, in the case of Colvil of Culross, usually called the case of the Postnati, published in 1609: “The Privileges and Prerogatives of the High Court of Chancery,” in 1641, and “Certain Observations concerning the office of Lord Chancellor,” in 1651. But his great work, if it yet exists, remains in manuscript—four treatises—on the High Court of Parliament; the Court of Chancery; the Star Chamber; and the Council Board. These, in his last hours, he gave to his chaplain, Williams, who some years after presented them to the king. FRANCIs Bacon was the younger of the two sons of sir Nicholas Bacon,' keeper of the great seal under queen Elizabeth. He was born at York House, in the Strand, on the 22d of January, 1561, and educated under the care of Whitgift, afterwards primate in Trinity College, Cambridge, of which he was entered at the age of twelve years. It should seem that it was not the intention of his parents to devote him to the profession of the law, for soon after he had left the university, he went to Paris with sir Amias Powlett, and lived in the house of that minister during his embassy, on the affairs of which he was at least once despatched, to communicate personally with the queen; but his father having been prevented, as is said, by a sudden death, in 1579, from making the provision intended for him, he returned and enrolled himself a member of the society of Gray's Inn. Here he studied the common law with the closest application, and relaxed his giant mind by laying the foundation of his philosophy. He remained long at the bar undistinguished, but by his talents and eloquence, and by the extensive practice to which they had conducted him; nor was it until 1588, that he obtained even the degree of counsel to the queen, for he had culti

* See Am. Jur. vol. 17, p. 330.

vated a strict intimacy with Essex, the uniform rival, and indeed enemy, of his powerful relations, the Cecils, who therefore, in a great measure denied him their patronage. The reversion of the registership of the star-chamber they did give him, and it was an office of considerable emolument, but this was probably the only instance of their favor ever extended to him, and the fruits of it he did not reap until some twenty years after in the succeeding reign. In the year 1596, the office of solicitor general becoming vacant, Essex and his friends exerted themselves to the utmost to place him in it. They were unsuccessful, and Essex, with the romantic generosity and grandeur of heart which distinguished him, bestowed upon Bacon as an alleviation of his disappointment, Twickenham Park, including a highly ornamented mansion, celebrated for its pleasure grounds, which had obtained the name of the “garden of paradise.” Yet, it is painful to relate, that some years after, when his unhappy benefactor was arraigned, Bacon not only pleaded against him at the bar, but at length published a declaration of his treasons by way of justifying his execution. This ingratitude was universally execrated; Bacon was even threatened with assassination, and the stain he had cast upon himself was so glaring, that he failed at that time to receive the sordid reward at which he had aimed; for Elizabeth's ministers, to whom he had thus sold himself, ventured not to admit him publicly into their councils. Under James, however, whose love for learning was greater than for morals, his exertions were more successful. His rewards for services rendered the monarch, whose confidential agent he was in the house of commons, while he had the address to persuade that body of his entire independence and great political worth, are supposed to have been considerable. In 1607, he was appointed solicitor general, and on the 27th of October, 1613, he obtained the post of attorney general; and such was the esteem in which he was then held, that he was allowed to take his seat in parliament, although it was conceived that by reason of his office he had no right to it, as being attendant on the house of lords; “but this favor was granted him purely out of respect to his person, and the services he had formerly rendered the country in that house, namely, the commons.” Soon after that period, the memorable George Williers first appeared at court, and Bacon, who was the foremost of the flatterers of his youth and inexperience, and whose importance as a councillor to his own welfare, Williers had the prudence to discern, soon felt the beneficial influence of that powerful favorite. On the 9th of July, 1616, the king received Bacon into the privy council, a distinction which it was not usual to bestow upon attorneys general; on the 3d of March, 1617, O. S., delivered the great seal to him; and on the 4th of January, in the succeeding year, exalted him to the degree of lord high chancellor. It was not, however, upon the exertions of his patron alone that Bacon relied for his advancement. His consummate policy in the pursuit of his own interests is almost without a parallel. The letter, which may be found in his works, soliciting the king to promote him to the office of lord keeper, furnishes a curious instance of the craft with which he advanced his own cause, and undermined the pretensions of others, solely by appealing to the ruling foible in his master's regal character—namely, the jure divinum nature of the prerogative. In this letter, after setting forth that his father had the place, which was some “civil inducement” to his desire, and chiefly, because the chancellor's place, after it went to the law, was ever conferred upon some of the learned counsel, and never upon a judge, for that Audley, was raised from a king's sergeant; his father (sir Nicholas Bacon) from attorney of the wards; Bromley from

« PreviousContinue »