Friday, July 24, 2009
Earl of Worcester writes to Lord Treasurer Cecil
E. Somerset, 4th Earl of Worcester
Edward Somerset, 4th Earl of Worcester (c.1568–1628) was an influential aristocrat and office holder in the reigns of both Elizabeth I and James I. Worcester was made Knight of the Garter in 1593. See Garter Knights roster here. Worcester was one of the investigators of the Earl of Essex after the failed rebellion of 1601. Elizabeth then favored him with Essex’ former position: Master of the Horse. The Stuart king appointed Worcester Keeper of the Great Park and, eventually, Lord Privy Seal.
In June 1603 Worcester was nominated custos rotulorum (keeper of the rolls) for Monmouthshire. In the 16th century this was the highest position within each county.
In Shakespeare’s play, The Merry Wives of Windsor, at Act I, sc. 1, Slender jokes about Shallow being a “ratolorum.’
SHALLOW: Ay, cousin Slender, and Custalorum.
SLENDER: Ay, and Ratolorum too.
On September 5, 1604, in spite of his personal preference for the Roman Catholic faith, Worcester was given a seat on a royal commission for the expulsion of the Jesuits; later he examined the conspirators of the "Gunpowder plot" in the Tower.
Edward Somerset became a patron of drama; in 1601, Worcester’s Men had comedian Will Kempe in its ranks. Worcester’s Men combined with the Earl of Oxford’s Men in 1602 and, due to Oxford’s successful petition. they were able to play the Boars Head Theatre. John Heywood’s controversial pamphlet, An apology for actors of 1612, was dedicated to Worcester.
Worcester’s letter to Cecil of July 24, 1609. is an interesting window into the times.
He discusses King James' annoyance at the slowness of letter carriers.
He discusses the interrogation of Mr. Strange, an accused Jesuit and Papist.
He relates the story of a stable fire that killed royal horse, and worried it might have been a Jesuit plot.
He calms down Robert Cecil, who was apparently upset at being called a fool... and worse.
The Earl of Worcester to the Lord Treasurer, July 24, 1609
"Your letter I received this day, being Tuesday, at 2 in the afternoon, whereby I found great laziness in the posts. The King was very inquisitive all the morning what might be the cause, examining the hours and miles, concluding it could be no other but the post was 'sonke.' I showed him your letter, wherewith he was well satisfied, saying there needed no dispatch. Not long after he would needs have me write concerning the examination of Strange, that you might be thoroughly resolved by his learned counsel of the state of that cause against your coming to Salisbury. His desire, as you know, is that he might be proceeded with not substantially, mentioning his priesthood or Jesuitical profession, but finding by his confession main points of treason to be his declared opinion; beside his flying from a direct answer to the interrogatories argues his treasonable heart. For example, at the first examination before the Lords, he confessed the King being excommunicated by the Pope, that it was lawful or at least a happiness for any that could light upon him to kill him. Being put from that by the grossness of his argument, he said it was the common opinion, but he would not be the doer of it. Now being urged to declare his opinion, he believes as the Church does; but being demanded what the Church holds in that point, he does not remember: which forcibly must needs be concluded that he thinks the Church holds so, and he is of the same mind, which no jury in the world will doubt to avow him a traitor. This proceeding of the Jesuit he merrily alludes to Peter's thrice denial of Christ, for three times he has refused directly to deliver his opinion, as bound in duty to his Sovereign. For the Venetian's cause he will make no judgment until he be advertised what success the confronting will produce: I mean of the priest and Dabscat.
Yesternight the King's stable fell on fire by negligence of a candle set on a post, which fell into the litter and burned the stable, 20 or 30 horse being in the stable. There miscarried but 4, and but 2 of them burnt to death, the other 2 unlike to recover. If our coach horses had miscarried, which were in the same place, we had made a short progress. I waited on the King as my duty was. He lost a pad horse, I lost another; he one hunting horse, I another; all our saddles both his and mine burnt, and the Queen's coach harness. While this tragedy was acting, it was a world to hear the report here. Some said it was a new Powder treason. An Englishman said a Scottish man was seen there with a link and he fired the stable. Some other said it was a device to set the stable on fire to draw all the guard and Court thither, that they might work some practice upon the King. But God be thanked, neither King, Queen or Prince slept the worse or even waked until the morning in due time.
One word more touching yourself. You take exceptions to be called 'fool,' and as it will be maintained, not only so but a parrot monger and a monkey monger and twenty other names; which fearing the issue of future inconvenience or challenge I will forbear to speak of any more."
Farnham, 24 July.