James VI & I had enjoyed favourites before – Esme Stuart, Robert Kerr for example. But George Villiers was to prove his favourite And we introduce the finely ‘compacted legs’ of the future Duke of Buckingham to you today. And also some proper history work on royal finances you’ll be relieved to know – and the Cockayne project.
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There is a magnificent palace in Northamptonshire called Apethorpe Palace. It’s owned by English heritage, and viewing is by appointment only on specific dates. It is maintained to a degree but not in the National Trust way, filled with furniture and all that – it is empty and somehow more magnificent for all of that. Many moons ago the Aged M and I went there and marvelled, mouths open, a little at the corner. Northamptonshire it must be said, is a surprisingly underrated county, full of wonders. Anyway, if you are near Apethorpe do try to get in, and you can see the CCT church at Blatherwyke too, and round it off with a visiting to Fotheringhay, the abbey, shed tears over the blood of Mary Queen of Scots and polish it off with a pub lunch and a pint at the Jockey. A grand day out, whether or not you are wearing the wrong trousers.
Apethorpe was acquired from the Crown by one of the grandees of Elizabethan England, Sir Walter Mildmay. The grandees of Elizabethan England were much addicted to building magnificent country houses to attract the monarch to visit, with is a bit odd because it could ruin you if she did, but such was the genesis of Apethorpe; and Mildmay was indeed graced with the royal presence multiple times and it did nearly ruin him. Anyway, I am getting deja vue, as though I have already told you all this, so let me move on.
One reason why Apethorpe was so successful in attracting royal visitors was because it was in pretty good striking distance from London, and good for hunting, so ideal for a summer progress; obviously, the royals did not like the prospect of going anywhere north of the River Trent, since that would take you into the north of England where you might meet people called Crowther, or something hideous and that would never do, never never do. Although for all his manifold sins Henry VIII did so progress, and James also of course – although only on a trip to or from Scotland. Anyway, I warble. Get on with it, man.
In 1614, James was on a royal progress, and in August tipped up at Anthony Mildmay’s gaff, the Mildmay incumbent at the time. Now don’t imagine for a moment, if you were so tempted, that the royal progress was a kind of camping trip in the country, the sort of precursor of the great British summer holiday of which we were the recipients in the 70’s, stuck in a caravan on the coast, with liberal usage of the words ‘bracing’ and ‘I’m sure it’ll blow itself out before long’. Oh dearie me no, entertainment on a grand scale was expected, between the hunting outings – and as you know, James was a king who adored hunting more than life itself.
So, Anthony had determined to put his best foot forward, and since he knew the king and his court, encouraged by the enthusiasm and patronage of the Queen, revelled in the masque, he’d employed one of the masters of that art to lay on a bit of a do; that being Ben Johnson, the playwright and according to Britannica England’s second most important playwright after that other chap. I must do a podcast or shedcast on all these Elizabethan and jacobean dramatists some time they have quite a life; Ben was a bricklayer and soldier in the wars in the Low countries before becoming a dramatist; who played with religion converting to Catholicism, later converting back, ostentatiously downing a complete chalice of wine at communion when he did so. Anyway, he created a long list of masques as well as plays, and one of these was laid on by Mildmay to entertain James between heading out into the countryside to murder small furry animals.
While enjoying the entertainments at Apethorpe, James’ eye fell upon a beautiful young man, lovely thing he was, just 21, full of the vigour and health of youth, charming, graceful, bloomimg. Excellent calf definition. Probably though fear I’m running away with myself. James was very much impressed, and was introduced to this fresh adonis. His name was George, George Villiers.
It’s maybe a bit surprising that George was at the royal court, given that he came from a family that was not particularly grand, but I guess that was the advantage of the royal progress – more local families could get to see their king. George was the son of George Villiers and his second wife Mary Beaumont, and it is Mary really who was the architect of her son’s success, if that’s the right word, celebrity shall we say. George was born in 1592, and his father died in 1606 when he was 14. Mary fell on hard times for a while before she remarried, but made sure she developed her son’s talents. These were not in scholarship it turns out, though he seemed to remember his schoolmaster, Anthony Cade with affection, at the crucible of his education, the vicarage schoolhouse at Billesdon. We are talking here, by the way, of one of Leicestershire’s most famous sons, though some way behind David Gower, Gary Lineker and Dean Richards of course. Anyway, Mary made sure her lad was well schooled in skills that would stand him in good stead in his chosen future career, namely dancing, fencing, and riding.
Mary was ambitious for her son; she was a formidable character, never very popular later at court, though she was apparently very attractive, and One writer referred to her as a ‘beautiful and provident mother’. But she didn’t hold back, spoke her mind, never really acquired the courtier’s skill of tact. Her bond with her son was close. George Villiers’ background and roots seem to have been important to him, which is an attractive attribute; when he had the wherewithal, he remembered Anthony Cade his old school teacher and presented him to James I – which must have been quite a thing for a backwoodsman from the heart of rural England; he also secured a magnificent appointment for him – which Anthony was far too humble to accept, much preferring the quiet life. Similarly, George talked affectionately about his youth with his mother ‘when I did nothing else but unreasonably and frowardly wrangle’, and wrote to her with gratitude for the ‘more than ordinary natural love of a mother, which you have ever borne me’. To his mother he would always be ‘the same naughty boy, George Villiers.’
Anyway, enough. Mary Married again to Thomas Compton, who was well connected; Thomas’ brother William would be a future Earl of Northampton. George was thus able to travel for a couple of years to France, to acquire more refinements – for as second son of a second wife George would need his refinements to avoid falling on his own hard times. But when he arrived at court, his entire fortune was £50 a year. But through his stepfather in 1611 George met one Sir James Graham, who would be his mentor.
As an aside, someone once tried to take me through the theory of the rules you need to stick to when writing a fantasy novel, which sounded quite convincing; so, the hero has to be weak and impoverished or disadvantaged in some way – since having a Hero from places like Eton, obviously, doesn’t sound like much of a challenge or great story. Said hero then needs to acquire a protector and mentor that can help them through the danger of their early years; or that’s what I remember, anyway. Just as Robert Kerr had his Thomas Overbury to mentor him at court, James Graham would serve that function for our fantasy hero George Villiers. Graham was a court insider, one of the Gentlemen of the King’s Privy Chamber. It was probably he that got George in front of the king’s lascivious eye, and he that brought him to court at London, and quickly too. We know this because just four weeks after Apethorpe, one Lord Fenton brought cousin up to date with the news from court, writing
‘I think your lordship has heard before this time of a youth, his name is Villiers, a Northamptonshire man; he begins to be in favour with His Majesty’
Well, the existing favourite, Somerset who was still the man of the moment in 1614, knew a rival when he saw one, and reacted with furious jealousy, much to James’ irritation, and was able to use his influence to prevent George getting gainful employment at court. It was a bad period for George; he was spotted at the races in Cambridge in a torn and split old black jacket, shocking stuff, and it was reported on the grapevine that when he was at court
‘he could not get a room in the inn to lodge in, and was therefore glad to lie in a trundle-bed in a gentleman’s chamber’.
However – it was not enough for Somerset to get him out of the king’s presence. The King had a quiet word in James Graham’s shell-like and told him to educate the lad in the ways of the court. And then George found himself a patron, from the Patriot’s faction – the Earl of Pembroke, and George Abbot the ABC; and they wangled the lad a job right under Somerset’s nose, as a cupbearer to the king, just like the Pharoah’s cupbearer Joseph found in prison in the musical, and that book, ooh what’s it called – ah, the Bible that’s the one. James’ cupbearer’s conversation impressed him, though I’m slightly surprised he could hear what he was saying over the grinding of Somerset’s teeth. It doesn’t necessarily seem to be only George’s mind James was impressed with, manufacturing a masque for the occasion expressing of having George act in it, so that he could feast his eyes on the lad.
Pembroke and Abbot now had the bit between their teeth; George Villiers had become a stalking horse, to bring down Somerset, though unbeknownst to them, Somerset and his Countess would prove more than competent doing that all on their own, as you are already aware, what with enemas and apothecary boys and all that. Anyway, the patriot’s faction engineered a little scene, enlisting the support of the Queen to do so.
So there we are, picture the scene – it’s St George’s Day, 1615, and James has announced to his wife that he shall call on her, together with their second son, Charles. I imagine this is a situation familiar to you al, and that you frequently announce to members of your family that you shall be calling on them, I know I do, and Jane is grateful for the advance warning. Anne had everything ready for their arrival, with Buckingham kept in reserve at a discreet distance. At just the right moment, she asked the young buck to pass her his rapier, and then knelt before her hub and asked him to bestow the office of gentleman of the bedchamber on her protégé. How could any husband refuse such a reasonable request – of course James happily agreed. Anyway, James agreed with the gossip going around about Villiers by that stage; one courtier had described him as
‘everything in him full of delicacy and handsome features; yea, his hands and face seemed to me especially effeminate and curious’
‘the handsomest-bodied man of England; his limbs so well compacted and his conversation so pleasing and of so sweet a disposition’
So, bearing this in mind as he gazed on the fine young man, James gave him a pension of £1,000. By ’eck, here is another of those examples of the king’s general lack of feck. £1000! Enough to maintain the station of an earl, to a young whipper snapper from Leicester. I looked it up on h National Archives currency converter, that’s the equivalent of £134,00 quid a year, or 20,000 days of skilled labourers time. Just like that! Handsomest-bodied man in England indeed. Obviously, as a Gent of the bedchamber, that handsome body would be ever closer to the king’s own body – indeed sharing a bed with it at Farnham castle later the same year. Sharing beds in the 17th century was a common thing, so that’s not evidence of sex and all that, but still, intimate.
By 1616, the main obstacle to the rise of Pembroke and Abbot’s protégé had been removed – Somerset had been buried by the Overbury scandal, and there was nothing in the way of George Villiers’ rise, which is absolutely dizzying, I mean like the most dramatic fairground ride. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin with the goodies distributed
January 1616 – Master of the King’s Horse. Quite interesting how all this sort of stuff worked. Their was a current incumbent of the post, the Earl of Worcester, who didn’t want to give the job up. So James oiled the wheels as it were by making Worcester the Keeper of the Seal and giving him a pension of £1,500. I have 3 observations. One – Villiers was in high favour – this was a job Somerset had failed to procure for himself. 2nd we are clearly, were we in any doubt, not in a structured process of matching skills to roles here, the word meritocracy had but 4 letters in the early modern world. And third – 1500 quid just to give his playmate a job, which paid a salary of only £66. No wonder James and his nation were destitute.
I am sorry about his, I was going to give you a quick list, but I digress again because it’s fascinating to see how the system worked. Although George received a salary of but £66 a year to be master of the horse, scarcely financial success, the job also brought with it some privileges worth rather more. This came in the form of Diets – George was given 16 meals a day free at the king’s board. This meant he could feed himself, his servants and chumps for free. Or, he could commute it for money payments; instead; and spookily a diet of 16 diets was worth, you guessed it, £1500 a year. Plus he also got free stabling. So all in all, it was worth quite a bit, but surely no way to run a country. Also George had a fun time shopping for Italian and Spanish horses for the king, because apparently English stock wasn’t up to much. Fun times.
Anyway next, April 1616 – appointed to the order of the Garter. So quickly! Burghley would have been green with envy, but then Burghley’s boss Queen Elizabeth was notoriously as mean as mouseshit. George was appointed to garterdom at the same time as the Earl of Rutland, of the Manners family. Of whom more later.
August 1616 after the ceremony, George Villers started seriously coming into the money, he was created Baron Whaddon, and given Lord Grey of Wilton’s lands in Buckinghamshire, worth £1500. Poor old Lord Grey had been convicted of treason in the Bye Plot, and confined to the Tower, where he also got into further trouble by having a bit of nookey with one of Lady Arabella Stuart’s household, before dying in the tower. Sic transit and all of that.
However, Baron Whaddon wasn’t considered anything like grand enough a title, so straightway Jimmy also made him Viscount Villiers, which true enough does sound better than Baron Whaddon, about which there’s something vaguely unclean, not sure what. This led to a further problem, because £1,566 a year plus 16 Diets wasn’t enough for the dignity of a Viscount; just in case you are interested, Duke is at the top, then Marquess, then Earl, then Viscount, then baron, then baronet bringing up the rear. So James had a bunch of land bestowed upon Viscount Villiers, worth about £30,000. I mean the boat had officially come in, that’s £4 squid in today’s spondulikes, there was more than a little fishy on the Villiers little dishy when this boat came in. Little old cultural reference there for those of an advanced age. Anyway, everyone around the little dishy of state patronage were now looking a little green around the gills, which gives me a chance to introduce a new character onto our stage – one Lionel Cranfield. Big hand ladies and Gents.
Now Lionel was not a noble, Lionel Cranfield was a London merchant, from a merchant family in the rag trade. He was, as they say, a canny lad, about 40 by this time after a successful career as a merchant and financier. He’d branched out from selling Kerseys in Italy, that’s a material, to playing the Jacobean finance game; lending money to asset rich, cash poor nobles; buying up farms, by which I mean monopolies or the rights to raise rents from crown lands for an agreed fee. It’s that world of financial goings on that very often looks more than a little dodgy to us ordinary mortals, and obviously, sometimes is – Lionel Cranfield knew where the bodies were buried. He was a fully paid up member of London society, and may well have been part of a drinking and dining society called the Sireniacal fraternity, which met at the Mitre Tavern, and may have overlapped with Ben Jonson’s chums at the Mermaid tavern, including the likes of Inigo Jones and John Donne and other luminaries.
Now, after the Addled Parliament as you all know the royal government was thoroughly raddled, refusing to call any more of those pesky parliaments that were so, well, rude, and so looked for other ways to make generate the crown and income. And who better to ask how to catch a pheasant than a poacher? And so the Howard faction had brought Cranfield into government in 1613, to show them how they could sweat the royal assets and condemn the prospect of public consultation through parliament to the outer darkness where it belonged. And once there, Canfield became part of the newly forming Villiers faction, and warned his partner that ‘the favours of princes are looked on with many envious eyes’, that he’d been noticed by the more established courtiers and was causing much envy.
Not that Villiers was a man to be worried by such trifles; there are three things that matter to a king’s favourite, and those three things are, in order of descending importance, the king, the king and finally the king. For James, Villiers was now his Steenie, short for Stephen because James declared his friend was just like St Stephen, and as everyone knew, everyone who saw St Stephen’s face saw ‘the face of an angel’. The biblical allusions went even further; he declared to his Privy Council that he loved Buckingham more than any other man, since
just as christ had his John, so he had his George
The rise to glory, favour and power did not stop there. By February 1617, Steenie was made Earl of Buckingham, and appointed to the Privy Council. The 25 year old, from being the protégé of a faction, was now himself, The Faction, the pupil had become the master. We are now firmly in the age of Buckingham, whose influence will extend over all for the next 10 years or so, and over 2 kings.
Well, that’s all very fun but we probably need to get some proper work done you and I, you know, grindstone history, so let’s get loin-girding and put the nose to the whirly stone thing. Ready? Let’s talk about royal finances, given that I have introduced Cranfield into the discussion.
When the Addled Parliament had diddled, the royal debt stood at a stonking £680,000. I have mentioned a few of the wizard wheezes in which Julius Caesar and the Howard faction indulged to keep the parliamentary wolf from the king’s door – selling Baronetcies, the raising of a benevolence, loans, a few quid from the church. But this is a few quid from the back of the sofa sort of stuff; not a permanent solution that Salisbury had been aiming for in the Great Contract. And it got harder. The City of London for example, mainstay of the monarchy for centuries for forced loans and the euphemistically entitled ‘gifts’ was closed to James – because first he stopped paying the interest on his loans from them, then stopped paying the principal altogether; so, not going to do well on a credit score app anytime soon, and therefore London was not going to be keen to make any more generous gifts. James’ loyal servants really did leave no stone unturned – one of them involved levying fines on buildings made within 7 miles of London in contravention of some obscure proclamation of 1603. The sweaty desperation of it all comes down across the centuries; worse, there were some saying look, give it up king old chap, don’t you know, just make concessions on those customs impositions everyone got so cross about and call a jolly old parliament. Not on your nelly, replied the grim king. Still the debt rose remorselessly to £726,000.
Then from the same stable as the king’s new poacher Cranfield, came a business scheme to raise a few quid. William Cockayne was an alderman with long contact with James, probably since 1606, and became a trusted financial adviser. Cockayne was a man on the up, Sheriff of London, Alderman, soon to be Mayor of London; a major figure in London’s plantations in Ireland, seeing to the defences of Londonderry; he’d financed William Baffin’s expedition to Greenland in 1612. Cockayne was a clothier, and Cockayne had a pet project, the sort of thing he probably bored people with interminably over pie and a pint that sort of thing. It annoyed Cockayne that despite the glory of England’s wool trade, and growing cloth trade, the vast balance of the value added in the production of cloth was taken not by England and it’s production of raw Broadcloths; it was taken by those pesky Dutch, who did all the dyeing and finishing and cloth production; and as a result wandered around with all those Bruegels and such like in their front rooms while he could barely rise to pinning up his 4 year old daughter’s primary school portraits.
So he had a plan. He reckoned that he had the Dutch merchants over a barrel, that they were dependant on English broadcloths and if he bought up all the broadcloths, and had them dyed and finished in England, we could sell them all over Europe and the Dutch would be stymied. As it happens, England was already having a deal of success with lighter fabrics and clothes, referred to in history books as the New Draperies – the sort of thing that Cranfield had spent his early career selling into Italy, kerseys and so on.
So, by an aggressive trade strategy of forbidding the export of English broadcloths, all that lovely production would be switched to honest English workers; all the sales would be switched to slightly less honest English Merchants, and extra customs revenue would flow into the coffers of the distinctively dodgy king of Great Britain – an extra £47,000 quid in customs revenue, mi lud. Well, Cockayne had never got anywhere with this project. My Dad once told me that if a financial project looks too good to be true then d’you know what? It probably is. Maybe one of the reasons we look like inheriting the earth rather than blasting off to the stars but as it happens Robert Cecil would have agreed with my Dad. And anyway, the Company of Merchant Adventurers who controlled the trading monopoly with Flanders always nixed the idea – it wouldn’t work they said, the Dutch were way too powerful – best to build up this new draperies market segment, in segmentation and market domination lies profit, not in trade wars.
With Salisbury gone, with James desperate for a few quid to last him to the end of the week, Cockayne saw his chance, and he pitched. Now, we are not playing around here, the stakes were enormous, and if this project was to fly, the pothole that was the Merchant Adventurers would have to be removed from the runway. The lure of financial independence and Cockayne’s golden tongue talked the King round. In a remarkable series of steps, James suppressed the Merchant Adventurers, and immediately granted a charter to the New Merchant Adventurers, whose governenor would be…hmm…let me think now…’The Alderman of Faringdon’s a good man sah’ – ‘oh William Cockayne you say? Good shout!’. Cockayne, spookily, was joined on the board by many members of his own company the Eastlands company. Thus Cockayne looked to be a double winner. James issued a proclamation prohibiting the export of unfinished cloth and the game was afoot.
Well, for a while in 1616 William Cockayne was riding high. Cockayne knew that he had to keep his king on his side, and James, now that he’d thrown the book at this thing, desperately wanted to believe in his financial wizard. But the snake kept slithering into the garden of Eden they had created, with whisperings of evil knowledge and truth; the new company did not have the money to buy sufficient quantities of cloth. Weavers in Wiltshire and Gloucester suddenly had no one to sell their cloth to, their income fell, and in despair they rioted. Cockayne kept the king looking his way, and away from all those inconvenient truthes. At the height of it all in June 1616, he persuaded the king to come round to his gaff, the modestly named Cockayne House, and entertained him royally, presenting a bill later to the New Adventurers Company for their ents budget of £3,000. That, my friend, is equivalent to £400,000 in todays spondulikes. That is a very grand day out very grand indeed, Wallace would be shocked and Gromit amazed. Nor did the king and his lad go away empty handed from the hoolie, goodie bags were provided – a gold basin and £1000 for the king, £500 for Prince Charles.
However, while Cockayne was keeping the king’s attention on him, the Dutch were playing hard ball, and giving a demonstration on how to deploy raw commercial power and channel dominance. They banned the import of English cloth, and within a year its was a plain as a pikestaff that as far as parrots were concerned, this one had dropped off it’s perch, good and proper – no one was buying the finances of the new company were a mess, weavers were going hungry, trade was hammered. So eventually James recognied defeat, graciously allowed the old Merchant Adventurers to buy back their privileges for £50,000 and ended the trade war by repealing the ban on undyed cloth – so James came out of it fine I guess. Cockayne’s name was mud for a while, but by 1620 he was back entertaining the King and Prince as Mayor of London. The only losers here were the ordinary weavers who had lost their jobs and suffered years of recession. ‘Twas ever thus, I guess, as Sam sang it, still the same old story.
Money, worried James, money’s too tight to mention. Money. Money. Money. Money. Don ‘t make me call parliament Steenie. Well one option, since now he’d tried selling baronetcies like they were going out of fashion, then selling cloth, and flogging future revenue to financial farmers – what was left in the silver cupboard? He’d have to sell his son maybe, Charles, who was now 16 and of marriageable age, and might be wroth a few quid for his wife’s dowry if flogged on the open market. I jest of course, but it has to be said that a dowry was not the least of the considerations involved in the arranging of the Prince’s marriage. The trouble was that the idea of a match with a Spanish monarch was attractive financially, dynastically and diplomatically, but religiously a tough call. The French would be a better match maybe – but they were dragging their feet, and not offering a dowry anywhere near as high as Spain’s. Darn, maybe it must be parliament.
Then at the 11th hour, enter the Dutch. You know those two towns of ours that Elizabeth took as surety for all the loans and armies you sent us, Brill and Flushing? Well – we’d like to buy them back now, if that’s OK. This was indeed most acceptable to our hero; he’d make £250,000, enough to keep the parliamentary wolf from the door, and he’d save £26,000 a year on garrisoning costs into the bargain. Fair enough, it was less than half what the Dutch owed – but the deal was done, and relief gained.
Still the situation remained desperate. So desperate that when Villiers came to James with the name of Walter Ralegh on his lips, James, remarkably was prepared to listen.
This is curious. Because James remained anything but a fan of Ralegh. As far as he was concerned with some justice, Ralegh had indeed been involved in a plot against him, and should have been executed; but although the legal sleight of hand was that Ralegh was dead at law, mercy had stayed James’ hand. Ralegh had been confined to the Tower in 1603 and been there ever since. Now I confess to having something of a blind spot about Ralegh, which is wrong of me, given the extraordinary variety and adventure of his life – explorer, coloniser, courtier, lover and now, in the Tower, man of letters and apothecary. The thing is that being a noble and courtier meant a rather different experience to hoi polloi cooling their heels in the fleet; Ralegh had a bit of space and freedom in the tower; he had access to a garden, where he grew flowers, and invented medicines including his ‘Great Cordial’ which had ingredients of some complexity – and acquiring some notoriety, although presumably useless. His wife and seemingly love of his life Bess Throckmorton was able to visit; and indeed their last child Carew seems to have been conceived and christened in the Tower.
And then there was his great magnus opus, the Historie of the World, which was published while he was in the chokey. It would be massively popular in the 17th century, reprinted multiple times. But it did not do Walter any favours with the man whose favours he very much needed – the king. The trouble with the magnus opus was that it was unduly lippy as far as kings were concerned; Ralegh’s thesis was that God intervenes in man’s affairs to punish kings who abuse their power. Also James suspected that the portrait of the king Ninias, who rules right after a famous and successful Queen, was in fact a pop at James; Ralegh described Ninias as a man
Esteemed no man of war at all but all together feminine and subjected to ease and delicacy
So James was no more inclined to release Ralegh than he’d ever been. But, Walter had an ace in the hole; he claimed to know where there was money, lots and lots of money – Gold. Also, he’d become something of a national treasure after the trial; from being seen as a rather reviled vainglorious failure, his dignified and defiant conduct at the trial had endeared him and now he was also a memory of a golden & glorious Elizabeth age.
Now, Buckingham came to have a chat with James and spoke on Ralegh’s behalf. He related Ralegh’s claims – that in Guyana on the northern coast of South America, was to be found the source of El Dorado, a mine to end all mines, a mountain of wealth. So James hoped two birds would be slain by the stone of mercy – money and popularity. What’s not to like? Silly not to. Entirely co-incidentally, by the way, Buckingham received a cash gift of £1,500 from Ralegh. Entirely co-incidental, obviously.
A deal was struck; Ralegh would fit out an expedition to Guyana, there to find the man of gold, El Dorado and make his king financially independent for life; Ralegh would be conditionally released, though until he was successful he would remain, legally, a dead man walking. And so the dead man walked out onto the streets of London in March 1616.
Bess Ralegh got to work to raise the £30,000 necessary to run the expedition to Guyana; she sold property, called in loans, mortgaged her own future. The anti Spanish, Patriot faction at court, Pembroke, Abbot and Arundel, stood surety for this last throw of the dice. The Spanish Ambassador was livid. Said Ambassador was a chap called Sarmiento de Acuña Diego, the count of Gondomar – for ease and for the comfort of any Spanish ears listening in, we’ll call him Gondomar from now on. He dished the dirt until he could dish no more, proving that Walt had already been to Guyana and found nowt, and that the Spanish owned the area, and the idea of the mine was a joke. James, of course, didn’t want to hear. But he agreed to make Ralegh promise to offer no violence to any Spaniard, Spanish possession, not so much as a nose thumbing at anybody who thought they might once have seen a Spaniard’s grandmother’s servant crossing the road on a summer evening. Gondomar was sceptical but could do no more; he not unreasonably pointed out that for a man who sailed in peace, the man was rocking an awful lot of military hardware in his fleet.
This of course was the Elizabethan privateering gambit revived – succeed and cover me with gold, and who cares who said what to whom this is no time to be picky, fail and you have seriously traduced your honour and that of your monarch you bad, bad man. A story did the rounds at the time, about a conversation between Francis Bacon and Ralegh while walking in the gardens at Grays inn. Ralegh boasted that he would capture the Spanish treasure fleet if he failed to find gold on the Orinoco River; Bacon was shocked
But that would be piracy!
Ha ha ha, fluttered Ralegh
Whoever heard of men being pirates for millions?
Which is a fair point of course. Real politique.
On 19th June 1617 the fleet of 12 had assembled at Plymouth. The Mayor of Plymouth hired a drummer boy, and the last Elizabethan adventurer boarded the Destiny to sail for god, gold and glory. The ship was cheered the harbour cleared, and merrily did they drop below the hill, below the kirk, below the lighthouse top.