Page images

gates, and made themselves masters of the town; but in the assault Captain Walter Raleigh was slain. They quitted the town to proceed for the mine; but finding the passages leading to the spot very difficult, and the river so low, they could not approach the banks near the position of the mine by a full mile; volleys of musketry from parties in the woods slew two of the rowers, and wounded six others. Keymis, perceiving so much hazard in proceeding further, and that the way leading to the mine was through thick and almost impassable woods, and fearing also that their companions, left in the town of St. Thomas, would not be able to defend themselves, the whole country being in a state of alarm, he gave up the enterprise; the party returned, pillaged the town, and set it on fire.

Sir Walter, with the news of his son's death, and of Keymis' return, finding himself cut off from all his hopes, was distressed and perplexed to the very soul, bestowed on Keymis immeasurable abuse, and threatened him with the King's wrath, telling him he had ruined him, and wounded his credit with his Majesty past all recovery. This reproach had such an effect on the poor fellow as to throw him into a state of despondency, during which he retired to his cabin and shot himself. The consequence of all this was, that the whole fleet was in a state of mutiny, the ships dispersed, and four only out of the ten remained with Raleigh. The whole design being thus broken up, the ships leaky, and their provisions nearly exhausted, Sir Walter put to sea and arrived at Kinsale. From hence, it was said, his wish was to go to France; but he was either persuaded, or compelled, by his colleagues to proceed to Plymouth, where he was arrested by Sir Lewis Stukely, his kinsman, by the King's order, and conveyed to the Tower of London.

Now the King, with the advice of Secretary Naunton, selected Sir Thomas Wilson, a man of a mean and unfeeling disposition, to fill the office of a spy; to keep Raleigh in safe custody; to suffer no persons to come at him, except such as were necessary to supply his diet; and to draw from him such information, as might conduce to the object which the government had in view. This treacherous keeper made his daily report to Secretary Naunton, detailing such parts of conversation with Raleigh, as might be suitable for the King's purpose. Raleigh's servant was dismissed, and another appointed by Wilson ; Lady Raleigh and her son were excluded from the Tower, but she was allowed, without restriction, to correspond with her husband; and such was the meanness of this royal personage, that, not content with ordering this faithful and affectionate woman to be confined a prisoner in her own house, “her letters to her unfortunate husband were intercepted and read by the King, and then sent back to Sir Walter; his replies, in their turn, were opened, and their contents, after having been duly weighed by his Majesty, were communicated to his council for their consideration : yet the council could find no new ground of accusation, and were therefore compelled by the King to have recourse to the old sentence which had been passed upon him fifteen years before. James was determined to take

away the life of Raleigh. “He suffered much,” says Burnet, “ in the opinion of all people, by his strange way of using one of the greatest men of that age, Sir Walter Raleigh, against whom the proceedings at first were censured, but the last part of them was thought most barbarous and illegal. . . . The first condemnation of him was very black; but the executing him after so many years, and after an employment had been given, was counted a barbarous sacrificing him to the Spaniards.”

The case, however, presented great difficulties. They resolved that, having been attainted of high treason, he could not be judicially called to account for any

crime since committed. A writ of privyseal was therefore immediately despatched to the Judges to order the execution of the sentence. But the Judges demurred, and declared that neither a writ of privy-seal, nor even a warrant under the great seal to the Judges of the King's Bench, could enable them to pass sentence without the prisoner pleading in person against it. Accordingly, on the 24th of October, though sick of a fever, Raleigh was raised from bed at eight in the morning, with an ague-fit upon him, and brought to the bar of the Court of King's Bench at Westminster, when he

was told by the Attorney-General, that it was the King's pleasure the former judgment should be carried into effect. The record of conviction being read, he was asked the usual question, What he could say why execution should not pass against him? He requested indulgence, since his voice was weak from illness. Being told his voice was sufficiently audible, he summoned his remaining strength, and thus spoke :

My Lord, all I can say is this, that the judgment I received to die, so long since, cannot now, I hope, be strained to take away my life; for since it was his Majesty's pleasure to grant me a commission to proceed on a voyage beyond the seas,

wherein I had power, as marshal, on the life and death of others, so, under favour, I presume I am discharged under that judgment. By that commission I gained new life and vigour; for he that hath power over the lives of others must surely be master of his own. Under my commission, I undertook a voyage to honour my sovereign, and enrich his kingdom with gold, of the ore whereof this hand hath found and taken in Guiana; but the enterprise, notwithstanding my endeavours, had no other success than what was fatal to me, the loss of my son, and the wasting of my

whole estate.' Being about to enter upon an explanation of his failure, the Chief Justice interfered, and told him that, unless he could make good some other plea, execution must be awarded.

Then, after a few words from Raleigh, the sentence for execution was passed. After this Raleigh, addressing the court with great calmness, desired only a little time to settle his affairs; and then he was removed to the gatehouse. The short interval he requested to settle his earthly concerns, and provide for his soul, was most unfeelingly refused by the King; and he was informed that the execution must take place next morning at nine o'clock.

When on the scaffold he made a long and most impressive speech, which, it is said, was delivered with gracefulness and animation. He asked the executioner to show him the axe: taking it in his hand, he kissed the blade, and, passing his finger slightly along the edge, observed to the Sheriff“ 'Tis a sharp medicine; but a sound cure for all diseases.' He then knelt down, and requested the people to pray for him; and remained on his knees for some time, engaged in silent devotion. When laid on the block, and desired to place himself so that his face should be turned to the East, he observed—“It mattered little how the head lay, provided the heart was right.” The head, as usual, when severed from the body, was held up to the view of the people, and then put into a red bag, and immediately carried to a mourning-coach in waiting, and conveyed to Lady Raleigh; and this faithful and affectionate woman, who survived him twenty-nine years as a widow, had it embalmed and preserved in

« EelmineJätka »