The trial of Sir Walter Ralegh: a transcript

The Great Hall at Winchester

Sir Walter Ralegh was tried for treason in the great hall of Winchester Castle on Thursday 17 November 1603. As with almost all treason trials of the period, the result was a foregone conclusion: he was found guilty. The jury took less than fifteen minutes to reach its conclusion, surprising even the king’s counsel, the recently knighted Sir Edward Coke, in its speed: he was still out walking in the castle gardens when the verdict came in.

And yet, the day was in many respects a personal triumph for Ralegh.

Hitherto, he had been widely detested by both his peers and the populace for his arrogance and apparent avarice. He had been, one courtier said a year or two previously, ‘the most hated man in England’. Indeed, the journey from his prison in the Tower of London to the castle in Winchester – the court was out of London because of an outbreak of plague – was particularly fraught. ‘It is almost incredible with what speeches and execrations he was exclaimed upon all the way through London and the towns as he went; which they say he neglected and scorned, as proceeding from base and rascal people. They threw tobacco-pipes, stones and mire at him, as he was carried in the coach,’ a friend at court wrote to the earl of Shrewsbury.

The dignity, courage and wit with which he defended himself during these few brief hours in Winchester changed all that irrevocably. ‘In half a day,’ one witness said, ‘the mind of all the company was changed from the extremest hate to the greatest pity.’ Another said: ‘never [had] any man spoke so well in times past, nor would do in the world to come’. A third, bringing the news to James I, reported that ‘whereas when he saw him first, he was so led with the common hatred, that he would have gone a hundred miles to have seen him hanged; he would, ere he parted, have gone a thousand to have saved his life’.

Walter Ralegh in the 1580s

It was an extraordinary reversal. But was it deserved? Was Ralegh’s trial a major miscarriage of justice, as has often been argued over the intervening centuries, or did the impact of his performance owe more to his charm and articulacy – his very own reality distortion field – than to the weight of evidence in his favour?

I have my own opinion, but the purpose of posting a transcript of the trial online is to allow you to decide for yourself.


THE INDICTMENT: That Sir Walter Ralegh, with other persons, had conspired to kill the king, to raise a rebellion, with intent to change religion and subvert the government, and, for that purpose, to encourage and incite the king’s enemies to invade the realm.

The overt acts charged were, that, on the 9th of June, Sir Walter Ralegh had conferred with Lord Cobham about advancing Arabella Stuart to the Crown of England, and dispossessing the king; that it was then arranged that Lord Cobham should go to the king of Spain and the archduke of Austria to obtain from them 600,000 crowns for the purpose of supporting Arabella Stuart’s title; that Arabella Stuart should write letters to the king of Spain, the duke of Savoy, and the archduke, and undertake these three things: peace with Spain, toleration of the Popish religion in England, and to be governed by the King of Spain in contracting marriage.

The indictment further charged that it was also agreed that Cobham should return by the Isle of Jersey, and there meet Sir Walter Ralegh, to consult further of the plot and the distribution of the 600,000 crowns; that, on the 9th of June, Lord Cobham communicated this agreement to George Brooke, who assented to it; that, on the 12th of June, Cobham and Brooke said that ‘there never would be a good world in England till the King and his cubs were taken away’; that, in furtherance of the above confederacy, Ralegh delivered to Cobham a book written against the king’s title to the crown, which Cobham afterwards delivered to Brooke for the purpose of confirming him in his treasons; that Cobham, on the 16th of June, by the instigation of Ralegh, persuaded Brooke to urge Arabella Stuart to write the letters aforesaid, which he undertook to do; that, on the 19th of June, Cobham wrote letters to Count Aremberg for the advance of 600,000 crowns, and sent the letters by one Matthew de la Rensy; that, by letter received by Lord Cobham on the 18th of Jane, Count Aremberg promised the money; that then Cobham promised Ralegh, that on the receipt of the money he would give him 8,000 crowns, and Brooke 1,000 crowns, to which they both assented.

To the indictment, Sir Walter Ralegh pleaded not guilty.

The Commissioners were: Henry Howard, Earl of Suffolk; Lord Chamberlain Charles Blunt, Earl of Devonshire; Lord Henry Howard, afterwards Earl of Northampton; Robert Lord Cecil; Edward Lord Wotton, of Morley; Sir John Stanhope, Vice-Chamberlain; Lord Chief Justice Popham; Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas Anderson; Mr Justice Gawdie; Mr Justice Warburton

The jury were: Sir Ralph Conisby; Sir Thomas Fowler; Sir Edward Peacock; Sir William Rowe; Henry Goodyer; Thomas Walker; Roger Wood; Thomas Whitby; Thomas Highgate; Robert Kempton; John Chawkey; Robert Bromley

Ralegh was asked if he objected to any of the jury.

RALEGH: I know none of them; they are all Christians, and honest gentlemen, I except against none.

SUFFOLK: You gentlemen of the king’s learned counsel, follow the same course as you did the other day.

RALEGH: My lord, I pray you I may answer the points particularly as they are delivered, by reason of the weakness of my memory and sickness.

POPHAM: After the king’s learned counsel have delivered all the evidence, Sir Walter, you may answer particularly to what you will.

HEALE (the king’s serjeant): You have heard of Ralegh’s bloody attempts to kill the king and his royal progeny, and in place thereof, to advance one Arabella Stuart. The particulars of the indictment are these. First, that Ralegh met with Cobham the 9th of June, and had conference of an invasion, of a rebellion, and an insurrection, to be made by the king’s subjects, to depose the king, and to kill his children, poor babes that never gave offence.

Here is blood, here is a new king and governor. In our king consists all out happiness, and the true use of the gospel; a thing which we all wish to be settled, after the death of the queen. Here must be money to do this, for money is the sinew of war. Where should that be had? Count Aremberg must procure it of Philip, king of Spain, five or six thousand crowns; and out of this sum Ralegh must have 8,000.

But what is that Count Aremberg? Though I am no good Frenchman, yet it is as much to say in English, Earl of Aremberg. Then there must be friends to effect this: Cobham must go to Albert, Archduke of Austria, for whom Aremberg was ambassador at that time in England.

And what then? He must persuade the duke to assist the pretended title of Arabella. From thence, Cobham must go to the king of Spain, and persuade him to assist the said title. Since the Conquest, there was never like treason. But out of whose head came it? Out of Ralegh’s, who must advise Cobham to use his brother Brook to incite the Lady Arabella to write three several letters, as afore said in the indictment.

All this was on the 9th of June. Then three days after, Brook was acquainted with it. After this, Cobham said to Brook, ‘It will never be well in England, till the king and his cubs are taken away.’ Afterwards, Ralegh delivered a book to Cobham, treacherously written against the title of the king.

It appears that Cobham took Ralegh to be either a god, or an idol. Cobham endeavours to set up a new king, or governor; God forbid mine eyes should ever see so unhappy a change. As for the lady Arabella, she, upon my conscience, hath no more title to the crown than I have, which before God I utterly renounce.

[Ralegh smiled at this.]

Cobham, a man bred in England, hath no experience abroad; but Ralegh, a man of great wit, military, and a swordman. Now, whether these things were bred in a hollow tree, I leave them to speak of, who can speak far better than myself.

COKE (the attorney-general): Before I enter into this cause, my lords, I must take this caution that in the narration of these treasons, we of the king’s counsel must often make mention of potentates and persons of great place; yet it is not we who do this of our own heads, for we, professing the law, must speak reverently of kings and great men.

We only repeat what the Lord Cobham and Sir Walter Ralegh have said respecting them. This great and honourable assembly doth look to hear this day what before hath been carried on the rack of scattering reports; and we shall now, by evidence, make a plain discovery to you of as great and secret, but as foul, treasons as ever were imagined.

Towards these offenders there hath been nothing rigorously, nothing unnaturally, nothing precipitately; not rigorously, because no torture hath been used; not unnaturally, because the brother was not pressed (further than he would) to accuse the brother; not precipitately, because of the long time his gracious majesty hath premised before he would bring them to their arraignment.

Here is mischief, mischief in summo gradu, exorbitant mischief. Unto all great mischiefs, there be ever three inseparable incidents. The first is imitation; the second, supportation; the third, is defence. The imitation of evil ever exceeds the precedent; as, on the contrary, imitation of good ever comes short. Mischief cannot be supported but by mischief; yea, it will so multiply, that it will bring all to confusion. Mischief is ever underpropped by falsehood or foul practices.

Within these three fall all Sir Walter Ralegh’s treasons, for his is the treason of the main, the others were the bye. The treason of the bye was that Lord Grey, Brooke, Markham and the others, should hastily surprise the king’s court. This was a rebellion in the heart of the realm; yea, in the heart of the heart; that is, the court. They intended to break open the doors with muskets, and to seize the prince, and some of the privy council, and so of a sovereign to make a subject.

Having him, they meant to carry him to the Tower, and to keep him there until they had extorted three things from him: first, their own pardon; secondly, toleration for the Romish superstition (which, their eyes shall sooner fall out than they shall ever see, for the king hath spoken these words in the hearing of many: ‘I will lose the crown and my life before I will ever alter religion’.) And, thirdly, the removal of certain privy councillors.

In the room of my Lord Chancellor, they would have placed one Watson, a priest, absurd in humanity and ignorant in divinity. Brooke, of whom I will now speak nothing, was to be Lord Treasurer; Markham, principal secretary, oculus patriae; a hole must be found in my Lord Chief Justice’s coat; Grey must be Earl Marshall and Master of the Horse, because he would have a table in court. Besides these changes, proclamations must be made against monopolies.

Now of the mode of executing these treasons, there were divers opinions, some thinking that these things could not be effected by few, and others maintaining that many would not keep counsel. However, they persuaded, some men that the puritans sought the king’s life (which they never did) and that it was necessary to raise force amongst the Catholics to protect him, and that thus, for their merits in this respect, they would obtain toleration for their religion.

And some pretended that every man might right his own wrongs, for that the king was not king until he was crowned, which is false, for he is Rex natus (born king), and his royal dignity descends to him as actually as your baronies do to your lordships, and more strongly.

Watson also devised a blasphemous oath, that they should swear to defend the king’s person, to keep secret what was given to them in charge, and seek all ways and means to advance the catholic religion. The mayor and aldermen of London must be sent for to the Tower, in the king’s name, and conditions taken of them, or there to be safe kept. This was the treason of the ‘bye.

RALEGH: I pray you, gentlemen of the jury, remember that I am not charged with the ‘bye’, which was the treason of the priests.

COKE: You are not. But your lordships will see that all these treasons, though they consisted of several points, closed in together, like Sampson’s foxes, which were joined in the tails, though their heads were severed. But the Lord Grey went further than the ‘bye’, for at the king’s removal from Greenwich at midsummer, he and a hundred gentlemen were to pretend exhibiting a petition, but in fact they pretended perdition, namely to surprise the king.

But fearing the papists’ party was too strong for him, he determined to stay till he had gotten forces intended him from the Low Countries. You will observe, my Lords, that in these treasons they had procured a jargon, a watchword; – in pretence, bonum in se, ‘the King’s safety’, but in intent, malum in se, ‘the King’s destruction’. This, by way of imitation, is the common track of all traitors; and you will find that in the tragedies of all the treasons that have hitherto been enacted, there hath always been a cruel and bloody catastrophe; one thing having being pretended and another accomplished.

Thus, in the reign of Edward II., Queen Isabel and Mortimer pretended that for the ‘good of Holy Church, and our right dear lord the king and of the commonwealth’, they must needs lay their hands upon the king’s person; but the catastrophe and conclusion of this was, that they put him to death, in the most barbarous manner, at Berkeley Castle.

For this treason. King Edward III caused Mortimer’s head to be cut off. My lords, that a conspiracy to incite foreign powers to invade this realm is high treason by law, may be shown by many precedents. In the third year of Henry VII, Sir William Stanley, who found the crown in the dust, and placed it on the King’s head, said, ‘If Perkin Warbeck be the son of Edward IV, I will assist him with 500 men.’ This was adjudged treason, and he died for it.

Edmund de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, had killed a man in his rage, and King Henry VII, though he had promised him pardon, yet would have him submit so far to the law, as to hold up his hand at the bar for it. This discontented the great subject much; whereupon he conspiring to get foreign forces against the King, this intendment only was judged treason.

It will be stood upon by Sir Walter Ralegh today, that we have but one witness. But I will show your lordships that it is not necessary to have two witnesses. In Appleyard’s case, Throckmorton, Redman, and another conspired in Ely to thrust out the Dutchmen from England, but, in truth, intended a rebellion of another kind. Holmes was the only witness who accused Appleyard.

It was stood upon by him, that two witnesses ought to be produced to accuse him; but Catline, the Chief Justice of England, then resolved that the statute of Edward VI was not in force at that day. His words were, ‘Thrust her into the ditch’. Then he went on speaking of accusers, and made this difference: an accuser is a speaker by report, when a witness is he that upon his oath shall speak his knowledge of any man. A third sort of evidence there is likewise, and this is held more forcible than either of the other two; and that is, when a man, by his accusation of another, shall, by the same accusation, also condemn himself, and make himself liable to the same fault and punishment, this is more forcible than many witnesses, and is as the inquest of twelve men. For the law presumes that a man will not accuse himself in order to accuse another.

Now, my masters of the jury, I come to your charge. Treason is of four kinds: treason in corde, which is the root of the tree; treason in ore, which is the bud; treason in manu, which is the blossom; and treason in consummatione which is the fruit. In the case in hand, you shall find the three first of these; these traitors being prevented before the consummation of their mischiefs. But though prevented, they are still traitors in corde, in ore, et in manu, and though their practices have been secret, they are still treasons.

But this case exceedeth in wickedness all that ever went before, in two things; in determinatione finis et in electione mediorum. For it was said by these traitors that there would be no safety in England until the fox and his cubs were taken away, meaning until the king and all his royal issue should be destroyed.

Therefore in this treason the mischief exceeds the punishment, and the terms of law; for this is not only crimem laesae majestatis, but extirpatae majestatis et totius progeniei suae for not only the king, but all his posterity were to be cut off. I shall not need, my lords, to speak anything concerning the king, nor of the bounty and sweetness of his nature; whose thoughts are innocent, whose words are full of wisdom and learning, and whose works are full of honour.

But to whom. Sir Walter, did you bear malice? To the royal children?

RALEGH: Mr, Attorney, I pray you to whom, or to what end speak you all this? I protest I do not understand what a word of this means, except it be to tell me news. What is the treason of Markham and the priests to me?

COKE: I will then come close to you. I will prove you to be the most notorious traitor that ever came to the bar. After you have taken away the king, you would alter religion. You are indeed upon the ‘main’, but you have followed them of the ‘bye’ in imitation. I will charge you with the words.

RALEGH: Your words cannot condemn me; my innocency is my defence. I pray you go to your proofs. Prove against me any one thing of the many that you have broken, and I will confess all the indictment, and that I am the most horrible traitor that ever lived, and worthy to be crucified with a thousand thousand torments.

COKE: Nay I will prove all. Thou art a monster: thou hast an English face, but a Spanish heart. Now you must have money: Aremberg was no sooner in England, I charge thee Ralegh, but thou incitedst Cobham to go unto him, and to deal with him for money, to bestow on discontented persons, to raise rebellion on the kingdom.

RALEGH: Let me answer for myself.

COKE: Thou shalt not.

RALEGH: It concerneth my life.

POPHAM: Sir Walter Ralegh, Mr Attorney is but yet in the general. But when the king’s counsel has given the evidence wholly, you shall answer every particular.

COKE: Oh! I do touch you?

CECIL: Mr Attorney, when you have done with this general charge, do you not mean to let him answer every particular?

COKE: Yes, when we deliver the proofs to be read. Ralegh procured Cobham to go to Aremberg. The night he went, you supped with the Lord Cobham, and he brought you after supper to Durham House; and then the same night by a back way went with La Rensy to Count Aremberg, and got from him a promise of the money.

After this it was arranged that the Lord Cobham should go to Spain and return by Jersey, where you were to meet him to consult about the distribution of the money, because Cobham had not so much policy or wickedness as you.

You pretend that this money was to forward the peace with Spain. Your jargon was peace, which meant Spanish invasion and Scottish subversion.

Would you have deposed so good a king, lineally descended of Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Edward IV? Why then must you set up another? I think you meant to make Arabella a titular queen, of whose title I will speak nothing; but you sure meant to make her a stale. Ah! Good lady, you could mean her no good.

RALEGH: All this while you tell me news, Mr Attorney.

COKE: Oh sir! I am the more large because I know with whom I deal: for we have to deal today with a man of wit.

RALEGH: Did I ever speak with this lady?

COKE: I will track you out before I have done. Englishmen will not be lead by persuasion of words, but they must have books to persuade.

RALEGH: The book was written by a man of your profession, Mr Attorney.

COKE: Sir Walter, I cannot blame you, though you be moved.

RALEGH: Nay, you fall out with yourself! I have said nothing to you; I am in no case to be angry.

COKE: By this book you would persuade me, that he is not the lawful king. I look to have good words from you, and purpose not to give you worse than the matter presses me unto. But if you provoke me, I will not spare you, and I have warrant for it. I will only add two or three circumstances and then come to my proofs.

My Lord Cobham (for whom we all lament and rejoice – lament in that his ancient and noble house, which hath stood so long unspotted, is now ruinated; – rejoice in that his treasons are revealed), my Lord Cobham, as your lordships all know, in his courses was never a politician nor swordsman; but to the invention of these treasonable schemes belonged a politician, and to the execution of them a swordsman. Sir Walter Ralegh was a man fitting for both.

Besides, Sir Walter Ralegh was united in cause with the Lord Cobham, for both were discontented, and my Lord Cobham’s discontent grew by Ralegh, and such was Ralegh’s secrecy and Machiavellian policy in these courses, that he would never confer but with one at once. He would talk with none but Cobham, ‘because,’ sayeth he, ‘one witness can never condemn me’. Since his first examination, he wrote to the Lord Cobham that he had been charged with many things, but had excused him in all; and let him know by his trusty Keymes, that by the law one witness cannot convict a man of treason, and therefore he bade his Lordship be of good courage.

Notwithstanding this, the Lord Cobham did once charge Ralegh, but knowing afterwards that Ralegh had excused him, then he retracted. And now you shall see the most horrible practices that ever came out of the bottomless pit of the lowest hell, for after Ralegh had gotten understanding in the Tower, that Cobham had accused him, which he heard by young Sir John Peyton, who had not purpose to tell it him, but to the error of his youth I impute it…

RALEGH (interrupting): I knew from the lords who examined me that Cobham had accused me, otherwise I had not been sent to the Tower.

COKE: After Ralegh understood that he was accused by my Lord Cobham, it was contrived that the Lord Cobham should retract his accusation, and that he might make his retractation known and believed, the course was this: the Lord Cobham was to desire of the lieutenant of the Tower to have a preacher sent him that he might confess. Doctor Andrews was the man to be named to Mr Lieutenant, that no suspicion might arise.

But the meaning was to have Mr Patrick Galloway, a worthy and reverend preacher, who can do more with the king than any other, and it was intended that he having received Cobham’s retractation of his accusation of Ralegh in solemn confession, might inform the king thereof. And this was to be done by the procurement of the Lord Cobham’s wife, the Lady Kildare.

Then, in order to colour it that the Lord Cobham had no intent to travel at the time he is charged with a design to go to the King of Spain, a forgery is committed in this manner: Cobham being in the Tower, writes a letter directed to my Lord Cecil about the end of October, and gives directions to his man, Mellows, to place it in a Spanish Bible, amongst his books at Cobham; to confirm the same thing, a letter is written by the Lord Cobham out of the Tower, the 16th of October, directed to Sir Thomas Fane, Lieutenant of Dover Castle; this letter is ante-dated as written the 4th of July, and purports to inform Sir Thomas Fane that Cobham had altered his intention of travelling; this letter he gives to Mellows, and desires him to send it to Sir Thomas Fane, and to entreat of him that he would write an answer, falsely dated, as of the 7th of July, signifying that he was glad io hear that he had changed his purpose of travelling.

This answer, when he had procured it from Sir Thomas Fane, my Lord Cobham desired Mellows to lay in the Spanish Bible, with a copy of his own letter to Sir Thomas Fane, and the letter to the Lord Cecil, and to make as though he found them there by chance. Came this contrivance, think you, out of Cobham’s quiver? No, but out of Ralegh’s devilish and Machiavellian policy. You shall hear that it was after Cobham had had intelligence with this viper in the Tower that he devised this false artifice. But Sir Thomas Fane would be no party in such a business, and sent the letter to the [Privy] Council.

RALEGH: I will wash my hands of the indictment, and die a true man to the king.

COKE: You are the absolutest traitor that ever was.

RALEGH: Your phrases will not prove it.

COKE: Cobham writeth a letter to my lord Cecil, and doth with Mellows’ man to lay it in a Spanish Bible, and to make as though he found it by chance. This was after he had intelligence with this viper, that he was false.

CECIL: You mean a letter intended to me. I never had it.

COKE: No my lord, you had it not. You, my masters of the jury, respect not the wickedness and hatred of the man, respect his cause. If he be guilty, I know you will have care of it, for the preservation of the king, the continuance of the gospel authorised, and the good of us all.

RALEGH: I do not hear yet that you have spoken one word against me. Here is no treason of mine done. If my Lord Cobham be a traitor, what is that to me?

COKE: All that he did was by thy instigation, thou viper, for I thou thee, thou traitor! I will prove thee the rankest traitor in all England.

RALEGH: No, no, Mr Attorney, I am no traitor. Whether I live or die, I shall stand as true a subject as any the king hath. You may call me traitor at your pleasure; yet it becomes not a man of quality and virtue to do so. But I take comfort in it; it is all that you can do; for I do not yet hear that you charge me with any treason.

POPHAM: Sir Walter Ralegh, Mr Attorney speaks out of the zeal of his duty for the service of the king, and you for your life. Be patient on both sides.

COKE: I charge Sir Walter Ralegh with contriving and conspiring all this that 1 have recited, and now I will read my proofs for it.

Then the clerk of the crown read the Declaration of Lord Cobham, dated the 20th July:

CLERK: He confesseth that he had conference with the Count Aremberg about procuring 500 or 600,000 crowns from the king of Spain, and a passport to go into Spain, and that he intended to go into Flanders to confer with the archduke there about these practices; and that as he knew the archduke had not money enough to pay his own army, he meant to go from thence into Spain to deal with the king for the 500 or 600,000 crowns, and to return by Jersey, and that nothing should be done until he had spoken with Sir Walter Ralegh for distribution of the money to them which were discontented in England.

Being showed a note under Ralegh’s hand, the examinate, when he had perused the same, brake forth, saying, ‘O traitor! O villain ! I will now tell you all the truth!’ And then said, that he had never entered into these courses but by Ralegh’s instigation, and that [Ralegh] would never let him alone.

Coke asked the clerk to repeat these last words.

CLERK: He would never let him alone. Besides, Ralegh spoke of plots and invasions, of the particulars of which he can give no account, but sayeth that he and Ralegh had conferred of them.

RALEGH: Now, gentlemen of the jury, I beseech you hear me. This is absolutely all the evidence that can be brought against me. Poor shifts! This is that which must either condemn me or give me life, which must free me or send my wife and children to beg their bread about the streets. This is that must prove whether I am a notorious traitor, or a true subject to the King. But first let me see my accusation, that I may make my answer.

Ralegh was shown Cobham’s declaration.

RALEGH: I will show you my answer to this, and how this accusation of my Lord Cobham arises. I was examined before my Lords of the Privy Council at Windsor, touching: the ‘Surprising Treason’, and also of the Lord Cobham’s practices with the Count Aremberg, from all which God knows I was free, for I never was privy to any of them. And as concerning plotting for the Lady Arabella, I protest before God that at that time I never heard one word of it.

It is true, that in that examination, I told the Lords that I knew of no plots between Aremberg and Lord Cobham; but afterwards I wrote to my Lord Cecil that I suspected the Lord Cobham had intelligence with Aremberg; and my reason for suspecting him was that long since, in the late Queen’s time, I knew that he held that course with him in the Low Countries, as was well known also to my Lord Treasurer and my Lord Cecil.

Besides, I suspected his visiting Aremberg from this, for after he departed from me at Durham House, I saw him pass by his own stairs and go over to St. Mary Saviours, where I knew that La Rensy lay, who was a follower of Count Aremberg. I gave intimation thereof by letter to the Lords, but I was willed by my Lord Cecil not to speak of this, because the king, at the first coming of Count Aremberg, would not give him occasion of suspicion.

Wherefore I wrote to the Lord Cecil that if La Rensy were not secured the matter would not be discovered, for he would fly; yet if he were then apprehended, it would give matter of suspicion to the Lord Cobham. This letter of mine being afterwards showed to the Lord Cohham, he thought that I had discovered his dealing with Aremberg, and presently entered into a rage against me, and spake bitterly and railingly of me.

Yet ere he came to the stair-foot he repented him, and, as I heard, acknowledged he had done me wrong. And, Mr Attorney, you said this arrow never came out of Lord Cobham’s quiver, for he is a simple man; but whether to favour or disable my Lord Cobham, you may speak as you will of him, yet he is not such a babe as you make him, but hath dispositions of his own, and passions of such violence that his best friends could never temper them.

But ‘tis very strange that I, at this time, should be thought to plot with the Lord Cobham, knowing him a man that had neither love nor following in England, and myself at this time having just resigned a place of very best command, the wardenship of the Stannaries in Cornwall.

Moreover, I was not so bare of sense but I saw, that if ever this State was strong and able to defend itself, it was now. The kingdom of Scotland united, whence we were wont to fear all our troubles; Ireland quieted, where our forces were wont to be divided; Denmark assured, whom before we were wont to have in jealousy; the Low Countries, our nearest neighbours at peace with us; and instead of a lady, whom time had surprised, we had now an active king, a lawful successor to the crown, who was able to attend to his own business.

I was not such a madman as to make myself in this time a Robin Hood, a Wat Tyler, or a Jack Cade. I knew also the state of Spain well; his weakness, and poorness, and humbleness, at this time. I knew that he was discouraged and dishonoured. I knew that six times we had repulsed his forces, thrice in Ireland, thrice at sea, and once at Cadiz on his own coast.

Thrice had I served against him myself at sea, wherein for my country’s sake I had expended of my own properties £4,000. I knew that where before-time he was wont to have forty great sails at the least in his ports, now he hath not past six or seven; and for sending to his Indies he was driven to hire strange vessels – a thing contrary to the institutions of his proud ancestors, who straitly forbad, in case of any necessity, that the kings of Spain should make their case known to strangers.

I knew that of five-and-twenty millions he had from his Indies, he had scarce any left; nay, I knew his poorness at this time to be such that the Jesuits, his imps, were fain to beg at the church doors; his pride so abated, as, notwithstanding his former high terms, he was glad to congratulate the king, my master, on his accession, and now cometh creeping unto him for peace.

Then, was it ever read or heard of that any prince should disburse so much money without sufficient pawn? And whoso knows what great assurances the king of Spain stood upon with other states for smaller sums, will not think that he would so. freely disburse to my Lord Cobham 600,000 crowns.

And if I had minded to set the Lord Cobham to work in such a case, I should surely have given him some instructions how he should persuade the king of Spain and answer his objections. For I know Cobham to be no such minion as could persuade a King,, who was in want, to disburse so great a sum without great reason and some assurance for his money.

I know the queen of England lent not her money to the States, but had Flushing, Brill, and other towns, in assurance for it; she lent not money to France, but had Newhaven for it. Nay, her own subjects, the merchants of London, did not lend her money without having her lands in pawn. What pawn had we to give the king of Spain? What did we offer him? And to show I was not Spanish, as you term me, I had written at this time a treatise to the king’s majesty of the present state of Spain, and reasons against the peace.

For my inwardness with the Lord Cobham, it was only in matters of private estate, wherein he communicating often with me, I lent him my best advice. And he being a baron of this realm, upon whom all the honour of his house rested his possessions great and goodly, his houses worth at least £5,000-a-year’s revenue, his plate and furniture as rich as was any man’s of his rank; is it likely I should employ a man of these fortunes to enter into such gross treasons, when I knew that Westmoreland and Bothwell, men of better understanding than Cobham, were ready to beg their bread.

And for further argument that he was not desperate in estate nor poor in purse, he employed me to deal with the Duke for him to purchase a fee-farm from the king, for which he offered £40,000; and when I was first examined I had about me in my bosom, for this purchase, £4,000-worth of his jewels. Not three days before his apprehending he had bestowed £150 in books, which he sent to his house at Canterbury. He gave £30 for a cabinet which he offered to you, Mr Attorney, for the drawing of his conveyances.

Think now if it be likely this man, upon an idle humour, would venture all this. Whether he intended to travel to Spain or no, God in heaven knoweth, not I. But for my knowing that he had conspired all those things with Spain for Arabella against the king, I protest, before Almighty God, I am as clear as whosoever here is freest.

POPHAM: My Lords, when Lord Cobham was first examined upon interrogatories, he denied every thing, but he refused to sign his examination, standing upon it as a matter of honour, that being a baron of the realm, his declaration was to be accepted without subscription.

Notwithstanding, he said at last, that if I would say he was compellable and ought to do it, then he would sign. Whereupon I, then lying at Richmond for fear of the plague, was sent for, and I came to the Lord Cobham, and told him he ought to subscribe, or it would be a contempt of a high nature; which presently after he did. Afterwards the Lords showed him a letter, written by Sir Walter Ralegh to my Lord Cecil, and on reading it he exclaimed, ‘That wretch! That traitor, Ralegh! Hath he used me thus? Nay, then, I will tell you all!’ and thereupon delivered his accusation; and surely the countenance and action of my Lord Cobham much satisfied me that what he confessed was true, and that he surely thought Sir Walter Ralegh had betrayed him.

RALEGH: He is as passionate a man as lives, for he hath not spared the best friends he hath in England in his passion.

Cobham’s second examination was then read out, in which he claimed that he was to return home from Spain by Jersey, where Sir Walter Ralegh and he had agreed to confer about distributing the money in England. But he also said that he was afraid to stay in Jersey, since Ralegh would then have had him in his power, and might have revealed him to the king.

Cobham did not sign this examination.

RALEGH: My lords, I take it, that he that has been examined, has ever been asked at the time of his Examination if it be according to his meaning, and then to subscribe.

COKE: Being taken in the presence of so many privy councillors, to whom faith must be given, the declaration is of like force as if it had been subscribed.

RALEGH: Surely, Mr Attorney, you would not allow a bare scroll to have credit with a jury.

SIR THOMAS FOWLER (foreman of the jury): I desire to understand of the court the time of Sir Walter Ralegh’s first letter to the lords, and whether it was written before the time of the Lord Cobham’s accusation?

CECIL: I am divided in myself, and in great dispute what to say of this gentleman at the bar; for it is impossible, be the obligations never so great, but the affections of nature and love will show themselves. A former dearness betwixt me and him, tied upon the knots of his virtues, though slacked since by his actions, I cannot but acknowledge, and the most of you know it. I protest, did I serve a king that 1 knew would be displeased with me for speaking in this case, I would speak, whatever came of it. But seeing he is compacted of piety and justice, and one that will not mislike any man for speaking the truth, I will answer your question.

Sir Walter Ralegh was stayed by me at Windsor, when the first discovery came from Copley of the ‘surprising’ treason. When I found that Brooke was in it, I suspected Lord Cobham. I doubted also that Sir Walter Ralegh was partaker therein; wherefore, after such time as the king at Windsor had received the first letters of discovery, his majesty making haste to go abroad, Sir Walter Ralegh also hasted to follow him, but I then required him, as from the king, to stay; and then he was examined, but not concerning the Lord Cobham, but concerning the ‘surprising’ treason.

The Lord Gerard was then presently sent to apprehend the Lord Grey, and Sir Thomas Vavasor for Mr Brooke. Presently afterwards we understood by Mr Brooke, that he had opened the purpose of surprising the king unto the Lord Cobham; whereupon the Lord Cobham was sent for. At first he stood much upon denial; yet afterwards set down a confession, but refused to subscribe it of a good while.

Afterwards, being urged by my Lord Chief Justice, he at length yielded to subscribe it. For Sir Walter Ralegh, I must say that there was a light given by him to me, that La Rensy had dealt betwixt Count Aremberg and the Lord Cobham; but that Sir Walter Ralegh at that time knew of the Lord Cobham’s accusation, I cannot say, for I think he was not then examined touching any matter concerning my Lord Cobham, for only the ‘surprising’ treason was then in suspicion.

RALEGH: If my lord Cobham had trusted me in the ‘main’, was not I as fit a man to be trusted in the ‘bye’?

CECIL: Ralegh did by his letters acquaint us that my lord Cobham had sent La Rensy to Aremberg, when he knew not that he had any dealings with him.

LORD HENRY HOWARD: It made for you, if La Rensy had only been acquainted with Cobham, and not with you. But you knew his whole estate, and were acquainted with Cobham’s practice with La Rensy, and it was known to you before, that La Rensy depended on Aremberg.

COKE: Ralegh protested against the ‘surprising’ treason, [and] that he knew not of the matter touching Arabella. I would not charge you, Sir Walter, with a matter of falsehood. You say you suspected the intelligence that Cobham had with Aremberg by La Rensy.

RALEGH: I thought it had been no other intelligence, but such as it might be warranted.

COKE: Then it was but lawful suspicion. Sir Walter, you say the Lord Cobham’s accusing you was upon heat and passion. This is manifestly otherwise, for after that the Lord Cobham had twice called for the letter, and twice paused a good while upon it, and saw that his dealing with Count Aremberg was made known, then he thought himself discovered, and after said, ‘O, wretch and traitor, Ralegh!’

And as to improbability, is it probable that my Lord Cobham would turn the weapon against his own bosom, and overthrow himself in estate, in honour, and in all his fortunes, out of malice to accuse you? It will be plainly proved that the Lord Cobham, conferring with his brother Brooke two months before, said to him, ‘You are but fools; you come upon the bye; Sir Walter Ralegh and I are upon the main to take away the King and his cubs.’

RALEGH: Hath Cobham confessed that?

POPHAM: This is spoken my Mr Attorney to prove that Cobham’s speech came not out of passion.

RALEGH: Let it be proved that Cobham said so.

COKE: You say that the Lord Cobham distrusted you, and therefore that it is not likely that you confederated; but mark what Cobham sayeth: he sayeth he was a long time doubtful of Ralegh that he would betray him, and send him and the money to the King. Now, if he feared that you would betray him, there must of necessity be a trust between you. No man can betray another but he that is trusted, to my understanding. This is the greatest argument to prove that he was acquainted with Cobham’s proceedings. Ralegh has a deeper reach than to make himself, as he said, ‘Robin Hood, a Kett, or Cade’, yet I never heard that Robin Hood was a traitor; they say he was an outlaw.

Next, Sir Walter Ralegh, you discoursed largely on the poverty of Spain; methinks it had been better for you to have stayed in Guiana than to have been so well acquainted with the state of Spain; and as to the six overthrows of the king of Spain, I answer – he hath the more malice, because repulses breed desire of revenge. As for your writing against the peace with Spain, you sought but to cloak a Spanish traitor’s heart; to all that you have said about the king being wise and politic, and therefore that you could have no hope to succeed, I answer, there is no king so active, wise, and politic as to be always safe against secret treason.

But you seek to wash away all that is said, by affirming the evidence against you to be but a bare accusation, without circumstances or reason to confirm it. That I will fully satisfy; for as my Lord Cobham’s confession stands upon many circumstances, and concerns many others, I will, by other means, prove every circumstance thereof to be true.

RALEGH: But, my lords, I claim to have my accuser brought here face to face to speak; and though I know not to make my best defence by law, yet since I was prisoner, I have learned that by the law and statutes of this realm in case of treason, a man ought to be convicted by the testimony of two witnesses if they be living.

I will not take upon me to defend the matter upon the statute 25th Edward III, though that requires an overt act; but remember, I beseech your Lordships, the statute of the 1st of Edward VI, which sayeth ‘that no man shall be condemned of treason unless he be accused by two lawful accusers’, and by the statute of the 5th and 6th of Edward VI, ‘Those accusers must be brought in person before the party accused at his arraignment, if they be living.’

Remember also, my lords, the statute of the 1st and 2nd of Philip and Mary, which says, that ‘at the arraignment of any man for treason, every person who shall declare, confess, or depose anything against him, shall, if living, and within the realm, be brought forth in person, before the party arraigned, if he require it, and object and say openly in his hearing what he can against him; unless the party arraigned shall willingly confess the same.’

Whether at this day these laws be in force, I know not; but such was the wisdom of former times, that any man accused, must have at the least two lawful witnesses to be brought forth at the time of his arraignment. Therefore, Mr Attorney, if the wisdom of former times, the assemblies of all the three estates in several parliaments thought it just to have the accusers produced, surely you will not withhold my accuser? If you proceed to condemn me by bare inferences, without an oath, without a subscription, without witnesses, upon a paper accusation, you try me by the Spanish inquisition.

COKE: This is a treasonable speech.

RALEGH: If my accuser were dead or abroad, it were something. But he liveth, and is in this very house!

Consider, my lords, it is no rare case for a man to be falsely accused; aye, and falsely condemned too. And, my lords the judges, remember, I beseech you, what one of yourselves said in times past; I mean Fortescue, a reverend chief justice of this kingdom. He tells of a judge in his time who condemned a woman at Salisbury for murdering her husband upon presumptions and the testimony of one man; and after she was burned, a servant of the man who was slain, being executed for another crime, confessed that he slew his master himself, and that the woman was innocent. What said this judge to Fortescue, touching the remorse of his conscience for proceeding upon such slender proof? He told him, ‘that so long as he lived he should never purge his conscience of that deed’.

And, my Lords, for the matter I desire, remember too the story of Susannah. She was falsely accused, and Daniel called the judges ‘fools, because without examination of the truth they had condemned a daughter of Israel’, and he discovered the false witnesses by asking them questions. I may be told that the statutes I before named be repealed, for I know the diversity of religion in the princes of those days caused many changes.

Yet the equity and reason of those laws still remains, they are still kept to illustrate how the common law was then taken and ought to be expounded; but howsoever that may be, the law of God, I am sure, liveth for ever; and the canon of God sayeth, ‘At the mouth of two or three witnesses shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death’. And again, ‘one witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity or any sin that he sinneth; at the mouth of two or three witnesses shall the matter be established’.

Divers other places of the Old Testament are to this purpose, and the same is confirmed by our saviour, by St. Paul, and by the whole consent of the scripture. By the law of God, therefore, the life of man is of such price and value, that no person, whatever his offence is, ought to die, unless he be condemned on the testimony of two or three witnesses.

If then, by the statute law, by the civil law, and by God’s word, it be required that there be two witnesses at the least, bear with me if I desire one; prove me guilty of these things by one witness only, and I will confess the indictment. I stand not upon niceties of the law; if I have done these things, I deserve not to live, whether they be treasons by the law or no.

Why, then, I beseech you, my lords, let Cobham be sent for; let him be charged upon his soul, upon his allegiance to the King, and if he will then maintain his accusation to my face, I will confess myself guilty.

POPHAM: Sir Walter Ralegh, for the statutes you have mentioned, none of them help you. The statutes of the 5th and 6th of Edward VI, and of the 1st of Edward VI, are general; but they were found to be inconvenient, and are therefore repealed by the 1st and 2nd of Philip and Mary, which you have mentioned, which statute goes only to the treasons therein comprised, and also appoints the trial of treasons to be as before it was at the common law.

Now the 25th Edward III makes declaration of what the common law was; all is now therefore put to the common law, and by the common law one witness is sufficient, and the accusation of confederates, or the confession of others, is full proof. Neither is subscription of the party so material to the confession, if it be otherwise testified by credible persons. And of all other proofs, the accusation of one, who by his confession accuseth first himself, is the strongest, for that hath the force of a verdict of twelve men.

WARHAM: I marvel. Sir Walter, that you being: of such experience and wit, should stand on this point; for many horse-stealers should escape if they may not be condemned without witnesses. By law, a man may be condemned upon presumption and circumstances, without any witness to the main fact. As if the king (whom God defend!) should be slain in his chamber, and one is shown to come forth of the chamber with his sword drawn and bloody, were not this evidence both in law and opinion without further inquisition?

RALEGH: Yet by your favour, my lord, the trial of fact at the common law is by jury and witnesses.

POPHAM: No, the trial at the common law is by examination. If three conspire a treason, and they all confess it, here is never a witness, and yet they may all be condemned of treason.

RALEGH: I know not, my lord, how you conceive the law; but if you affirm it, it must be a law to all posterity.

POPHAM: Nay, we do not conceive the law, we know the law.

RALEGH: Notwithstanding, my lords, let me have thus much for my life; for though the law may be as your lordships have stated it, yet is it a strict and rigorous interpretation of the law. Now the king of England at his coronation swears to observe the equity, and not the rigour of the law; and if ever we had a just and good king, it is his majesty; and such doth he wish his ministers and judges to be. Though, therefore, by the rigour and severity of the law, this may be sufficient evidence, without producing the witness, yet your lordships, as ministers of the king, are bound to administer the law in equity.

POPHAM: Equity must proceed from the king; you can only have justice from us.

CECIL: Now that Sir Walter is resolved by my lords the judges that the accusation is sufficient, I pray you, Mr Attorney, go on with your proofs.

RALEGH: Good Mr Attorney, be patient, and give me leave.

CECIL: An unnecessary patience is a hindrance; let him go on with his proofs, and then repel them.

RALEGH: I would answer particularly.

CECIL: If you would have a table and pen and ink, you shall.

Paper and ink was brought for Ralegh.

COKE: The crown shall never stand one year upon the head of the king if a traitor may not be condemned by circumstances, for you shall never prove the act of treason by two witnesses. Scientia sceleris est mera ignorantia; you have read the letter of the law, but understand it not. This dilemma of yours about two witnesses, led you into treason; for you thought with yourself, either Cobham must accuse or not accuse me; if he accuse me, yet he is but one witness; if he accuse me not, then I am clear.

RALEGH: If I ever read a word of the law or statutes before I was prisoner in the Tower, God confound me.

COKE: But to fortify the Lord Cobham’s accusation against you, I will prove by circumstances that many points therein are true; and this by your own confessions, and by the testimony of others. Now to prove it by circumstances, Cobham says that he was to have a passport to go to Spain and to return by Jersey, there to confer with you. As to this, you say yourself, Sir Walter, that you promised to meet him at Jersey, though it was but to make merry with you and your wife.

RALEGH: I said in his return from France, not Spain.

COKE: Again, Cobham says that money was to be raised for discontented persons; you do not deny that money was to be raised, but you say it was to be for furtherance of the peace.

The clerk then read part of Cobham’s letter to the lords, dated 29th July, 1603, which post-dated his examination.

CLERK: After stating an interview and some correspondence with the Count Aremberg, he goes on: ‘The last letter I wrote him, was that he would procure me a pass for my safe going to Spain; that his master was at great charge; but if he should be advised to deliver 400,000 or 500,000 crowns, as I would direct, it should save his master millions. To this he returned this answer: “That money should be procured: but how it should be distributed, there was the difficulty; and prayed my direction.”

‘To satisfy the scruple which may arise, what should be done with these 400,000 or 500,000 crowns? I must say, and say truly, nothing was determined; but only we did expect the general discontentment, which in my opinion I conceived must be; and so this sum of money was to be employed as time and occasion was offered.’

The clerk then read a brief extract from Copley’s additions to his earlier confessions, dated 18th July.

CLERK: ‘Mr Watson told me that a certain special person, and, as I remember, a Captain, had uttered unto him how the Count Aremberg had proposed him a thousand pounds or crowns, to be seen in a business for him; which this party said that he would not accept, because he meant to stand for our action.’

The clerk then read another brief extract, this time from Watson’s declaration of the l0th August.

CLERK: ‘A jesuited person, in company with honourable lords, when some or all seemed much discontented with the present course of things and times, whispered one of them in the ear, saying, “My lord, be not dismayed, for you shall see, ere long, that the catholics will redress this and other wrongs.” And about that time there was such posting up and down of jesuits and jesuited persons, as made it apparent that some great matter was in handling and working among them, though they kept it so close as I could never find it out; only this much I got out— that they had gathered a great mass of money together, amounting to a million of pounds, as one, or of crowns, as another reported, to levy an army undoubtedly therewith, when time should serve for it.

‘No doubt the mass of money collected by these Jesuits is very great, but not near a million, which no man can imagine possible to be raised out of all the catholics in England. I heard presently after, how it was that it should be made up by Count Aremberg (who then, as I take it, was Ambassador here from the archduke) for that purpose, as was suspected; and, in truth, in my poor judgment, it was most manifest; for that about the same time an offer was made by a lord of this land to another, his honourable friend, to receive a £1000 sterling; of yearly pension, to be given him to stand for the Spanish faction with all the power (which he knew to be great) he should be able to make; affirming further, that another great person and competitor to the Crown should receive a £1000 of yearly pension from Spain for that purpose, to be at their disposing.’

The clerk then read the closing line of Watson’s examination, made the same day as his declaration, August 10th.

CLERK: ‘For Walter Ralegh and my Lord Cobham, he heard, from Mr Brooke and others, that they were wholly of the jesuits or Spanish faction.’

This was followed by an extract from Watson’s declaration of the August 18th.

CLERK: ‘Mr Brooke told me he had heard of a most dangerous plot, intended for a general confusion and destruction of all, which was to begin by coming in through Scotland first: but whether the Spaniards or the French, or both, I know not; only this I remember. He told me of Count Aremberg something that in both our conceits did seem to make it manifest the great mass of money reported to be in the jesuits’ disposition was most of it from the said count, as it was impossible for all the catholics in England to raise so much of themselves; and we had some speech then also of his brother, my Lord Cobham, and Sir Walter Ralegh, how they two stood for the Spanish faction.’

Now the clerk read the examination of George Brooke, made July 18th.

CLERK: ‘There hath divers letters passed of late between the Count Aremberg and the Lord Cobham, carried by one La Rensy, touching the procuring certain crowns, to the value of 500,000 or 600,000; the intent of which was to assist and furnish a secret action for the surprise of his majesty. I saw an answer from the Count Aremberg to one of them, promising he should be furnished with that he wrote for, but requiring to know how to send them over, and how they should be distributed, he being beyond the seas.’

Then came La Rensy’s examination, [which seems to be undated]:

CLERK: ‘Within five days after the arrival of the Count Aremberg, the Lord Cobham wrote a letter to him, and he to the Lord Cobham: the same night Sir Walter Ralegh supped with the Lord Cobham, the Lord Cobham went with this examinate to Count Aremberg. He was brought in by a privy way, and had two hours conference with him that night, and after this, further letters passed betwixt them.

‘My Lord Cobham told La Rensy, if Count Aremberg would procure the contents of that letter, he last wrote, no doubt his Master might have peace. At the time when La Rensy delivered a private letter to the Lord Cobham from Count Aremberg, promising the money, Sir Walter Ralegh was below in the hall with Lord Cobham, at his house at Blackfriars; and afterwards the Lord Cobham took Sir Walter Ralegh up into his chamber with him in private, and left La Rensy in the hall.’

COKE: Ralegh must have his part of the money, therefore now he is a traitor.

The clerk then read Ralegh’s own examination, made on August 13th.

CLERK: ‘He confesseth the Lord Cobham offered him 8,000 crowns of the money for the furthering the peace between England and Spain; and that he should have it within three days; but said, “When I see the money I will make you an answer,” for he thought it one of his ordinary idle conceits, and, therefore, made no account thereof. But this was, as he thinks, before Count Aremberg’s coming over.’

COKE: The peace pretended by Sir Walter Ralegh is merely a jargon, for it is clear the money was for discontented persons. Now Ralegh was to have part of the money, therefore he was a discontented person, and therefore a traitor.

RALEGH: Mr Attorney, you have seemed to say much, but, in truth, nothing that applies to me; only you conclude that I must know of the plots because I was to have part of the money. But all you have said concerning this, I avoid by distinguishing the time when it was spoken. For it is true my Lord Cobham had speech with me about the money and made me an offer.

But how and when? Voluntarily, one day at dinner, some time before Count Aremberg’s coming over. For he and I being at his own board arguing and speaking violently, he for the peace, I against the peace, the Lord Cobham told me that when Count Aremberg came, he would yield such strong arguments for the peace as would satisfy any man; and withal, told (as his fashion is to utter things easily) what great sums of money would be given to some councillors for making the peace; and named my Lord Cecil and the Earl of Marre.

I answering, bade him make no such offer unto them, for by God they would hate him if he did offer it. Now, if after this, my Lord Cobham changed his mind as to the use to be made of the money, and joining with the Lord Grey and the others, had any such treasonable intent as is alleged, what is that to me? They must answer it, not I. The offer of the money to me is nothing, for it was made me before Count Aremberg’s coming; the offer made to the others was afterwards.

Let me be pinched to death with hot irons if I ever knew the money was to be bestowed on discontented persons!

LORD HENRY HOWARD: Allege me any ground or cause, wherefore you gave ear to my Lord Cobham for receiving pensions or money, in matters you had no business to deal with.

RALEGH: Consider, my good lord, I pray you, how could I stop my Lord Cobham’s mouth? But Mr Attorney says, that I have set my Lord Cobham to work; if so, surely the workman ought to give an account of his doings to the workmaster; but when and where did Cobham ever give me an account of this business?

CECIL: Nay, that follows not, Sir Walter; if I set you to work, and you give me no account of what you do, am I therefore innocent?

RALEGH: My Lord, it doth not appear that ever I had speech with him about any of these things, the least of which it seems others knew. Besides, is it likely that if he trusted me in the ‘main’ he would not acquaint me with the ‘bye’, as you term it? But it is strange to see how you press me still with my Lord Cobham, and yet will not produce him. It is not for gaining of time or prolonging my life that I urge this; he is in the house hard by and may soon be brought hither; let him be produced, and if he will yet accuse me or avow this confession of his, it shall convict me and ease you of further proof.

CECIL: Sir Walter Ralegh presseth often that my Lord Cobham should be brought face to face; if he ask a thing of grace and favour, they must come from him only who can give them; but if he ask a matter of law, then, in order that we, who sit here as commissioners, may be satisfied, I desire to hear the opinions of my Lords, the Judges, whether it may be done by law.

The Judges all answered, that in respect it might be a mean to cover many with treasons, and might, be prejudicial to the king, therefore by the law it was not sufferable.

RALEGH: Good my lords, let my accuser come face to face and be deposed. Were the case but for a small copyhold, you would have witnesses or good proof to lead the jury to a verdict; and I am here for my life!

POPHAM: There must not such a gap be opened for the destruction of the king as would be if we should grant this. You plead hard for yourself, but the laws plead as hard for the king. Where no circumstances do concur to make a matter probable, then an accuser may be heard; but so many circumstances agreeing and confirming the accusation in this case, the accuser is not to be produced; for having first confessed against himself voluntarily, and so charged another person, if we shall now hear him again in person, he may for favour or fear retract what formerly he hath said, and the jury may, by that means, be inveigled.

COKE: Now, my Lords, you shall hear of the stirs which were to be raised in Scotland.

The clerk now read an extract from Watson’s examination of August 23rd.

CLERK: Being asked what he hath heard of the motions for the first beginning of the stirs in Scotland, he answereth that it was intended, as he could judge by the speeches of Mr Brooke, that the Spaniards should make their entry by Scotland, and there lay the first beginning.

The clerk then read from an examination Ralegh, in which he said that he thought that, if any troubles ‘should be, the likeliest place to begin would be in Scotland’.

RALEGH: I think so still; I have often spoken it to divers lords of the privy council in the way of discourse and opinion.

COKE: Now let us come to the words of destroying the king and his cubs.

The clerk read from Watson’s examination of August 23rd.

CLERK: ‘Being examined what was the mystery of this ‘bye’ word, the ‘bye’ and the ‘main’, he answereth, that amongst other speeches, Mr George Brooke told him how the Lord Cobham said that Mr Brooke and the priests were on the ‘bye’, but he and Sir Walter Ralegh were upon the ‘main’, which was to destroy the king and all his cubs.’

This was followed by an extract from Watson’s declaration of August 10th.

CLERK: ‘What the Jesuits traitorously intended, was the death of the sovereign and all his royal issue, as then it bolted out (no doubt as God would have it) by a discourse of one nobleman unto another, to this effect, saying, “There is no way of redress save only one, and that is to take away the king and his cubs”, (for these were his words as they were to me delivered,) “not leaving one alive”.’

RALEGH: O barbarous! Do you bring the words of these hellish spiders against me? If they, like unnatural villains, used those words, shall I be charged with them?

COKE: Thou art thyself a spider of hell, for thou dost confess the king to be a most sweet and gracious prince, and yet thou hast conspired against him.

The clerk read from Copley’s confession of July 18th.

CLERK: ‘He sayeth that Brooke told him the stirs in Scotland came out of Sir Walter Ralegh’s head.’

This was followed by an extract from another examination of Brooke.

CLERK: ‘Being asked what was meant by this jargon, the ‘bye’ and the ‘main’, he said, that the Lord Cobham told him that Grey and others were but upon the ‘bye’, but he and Ralegh were upon the ‘main’. Being asked what exposition his brother made of these words, he sayeth, he is loath to repeat it, and after, sayeth, by the main was meant the taking away of the king and his issue, and thinks, on his conscience, it was infused into his brother’s head by Ralegh.’

Now came an extract from Cobham’s examination of August 13th.

CLERK: Being asked if ever he had said, ‘It will never be well in England till the king and his cubs are taken away?’ he said, he had answered before and would answer no more on that point.

RALEGH: Brooke never loved me; and yet until his brother accused me, he said nothing. He hath been taught his lesson.

LORD HENRY HOWARD: This examination was taken before me. Did I teach him his lesson?

RALEGH: I protest before God, I meant it not of your lordship nor any privy councillor; but when money is scant, men will juggle on both sides.

COKE: Now, Ralegh, answer to all this.

RALEGH: In all this I find not myself touched, scarce named; and the course of proof is strange. If witnesses are to speak by relation of one another, by this means you may have any man’s life in a week, and I may be massacred by mere hearsay, as Sir Nicholas Throckmorton was like to have been in Queen Mary’s time. You say, that Brooke told Watson what Cobham told Brooke that I had said to him. What proof is this? To show that my Lord Cobham accuseth me truly, you vouch Watson and Brooke, men with whom I never had to do in my life, and who after all only relate what Cobham told them.

Responding to this point the judges advised the jury that this evidence was intended principally to establish that Cobham had talked about Ralegh’s involvement in these treasons before his arrest, and before he felt he had been betrayed by Ralegh.

RALEGH: Notwithstanding, I still stand upon it, it is only Cobham’s accusation, never subscribed, never avowed, never sworn by him. All your suspicions and inferences are but to fortify my lord Cobham’s accusation.

The clerk read again from Cobham’s examination.

CLERK: He sayeth he had a book written against the king’s title to this crown which he had of Ralegh, and that he delivered it to his brother Brooke, but Sir Walter Ralegh told him it was foolishly written. He sayeth that he had it from Ralegh soon after he came from the king. Brooke in one of his examinations sayeth that he had the book of the Lord Cobham, but never read more of it than the heads of some chapters which contained matter against the king’s title.

COKE: This was done in the time of the Lord Cobham’s discontentment, for it was observed, that after the Lord Cobham came back from the king out of Scotland, he never came towards the king again, nor never went to see the queen or the prince.

RALEGH: Here is much ado about this book. I will tell your lordships how I came to it, and what little account I made of it. I had it out of a privy councillor’s library long since, written above twenty-six years past by a lawyer, and dedicated to a stranger.

LORD HENRY HOWARD: Where had you this book?

RALEGH: In the old Lord Treasurer’s study, after his death. [This was Cecil’s father, Lord Burghley.]

CECIL: Did you ever show or make known the book to me?

RALEGH: No my lord.

CECIL: Was it one of the books which was left to me or my brother?

RALEGH: I took it out of the study in my Lord Treasurer’s house in the Strand.

CECIL: You may remember that, after the death of my father, you desired the having of some cosmographical maps and books of that kind concerning discoveries of the Indian and west parts, which you thought were in my father’s study, and were not to be had in print. I allowed you a search, but if under colour of this you extended the liberty I gave you to other things I meant not, you abused my trust.

It was not hard to find a book of that kind there; for no book that touched the state, nay, scarce a libel that in the queen’s time had been spread against the state, but might have been found amongst those papers, he being a councillor of state; and so perhaps may be yet found with me, and also divers against our present sovereign lord since his coming to the crown. Therefore let it not seem strange to any that such a book was found there.

But you did me wrong, Sir Walter Ralegh, to take it thence.

RALEGH: My Lord, I had no purpose to take that book, but amongst other books and maps it seems it was cast in; and upon sorting of the papers afterwards, it came to my hand. It was a manuscript, and written upon by my Lord Treasurer Burghley, ‘This book I had of Robert Savage’. The scope of the book is to justify the late queen’s proceedings against the queen of Scots.

But I marvel it should be now urged as a matter so treasonable in me to have such books, when it is well known that there comes out nothing in these times but I have it, and might as freely have it as another; and, as my Lord Cecil hath said of his library, I think a man might find in my house all the libels that have been made against the late queen.

COKE: You were no councillor of state, Sir Walter, nor I hope never shall be.

CECIL: Sir Walter Ralegh was truly no sworn councillor of state, yet he hath been often called to consultations.

RALEGH: How my Lord Cobham came by this book I know not; but I remember it lay upon my board at a time when he was with me. And at that time I received a challenge from Sir Amias Preston, which I did intend to answer; and resolving to leave my estate settled, I was laying out all my loose papers, and amongst them was this book, which I think my lord took up; but at that time I knew of no discontentment he was troubled with. And admitting that I delivered this book to my Lord Cobham, not advancing nor approving of it, but discommending the same, as it is proved that I did.

What treason is there in this? If I should go to my Lord Cecil, as I have often done, and should find a searcher with him with a packet of libels, and my lord should let me have one or two to peruse, this, I hope, would be no treason in my Lord Cecil.

LORD HENRY HOWARD: I remember well that I, being sent to take the Lord Cobham’s confession, pressed him about this book; he suddenly brake out into a great passion, and said, ‘A man is unhappy that must accuse his friends. I had the book of Sir Walter Ralegh, but he made no account of it, though he said it was against the King’s title’.

Now, Sir Walter Ralegh, you being questioned what it concerned, said it concerned only the justifying of the late queen’s criminal proceedings against the late queen of Scots, and nothing against the king’s title; and you never gave it my Lord Cobham, but as it lay upon your table, my Lord Cobham might take it.

Hereupon my Lord Cobham being afterwards examined, retracted what before he had said, and now said that it contained nothing against the king’s title, and that he had it not from Sir Walter Ralegh, but took it off from his table when he was sleeping.

COKE: This shows that there was intelligence between Ralegh and Lord Cobham in the Tower; for after Cobham had said the book was against the king’s title, he denied it again, and also retracted what he had said, that Ralegh had delivered it to him.

WADE: In the first place, my Lord Cobham confessed it, and after he had subscribed his examination, he revoked it again. To me he always said that the drift of the book was against the king’s title.

RALEGH: I protest before God, and all his works, I gave him not the book.

Sir Robert Wroth spoke something privately at this point.

COKE: My lords, I must complain of Sir Robert Wroth. He says this evidence is not material.

SIR ROBERT WROTH: I never spake the words.

COKE: Let Mr Serjeant Phillips testify whether he heard him say the words or no.

CECIL: I will give my word for Sir Robert Wroth.

WROTH: I will speak as truly as you, Mr Attorney, for by God, I never spake it.

POPHAM: Wherefore should this book be burned?

RALEGH: I burned it not.

PHILLIPS: You presented your friend with it when he was discontented. If it had been before the queen’s death, it had been a less matter, but you gave it him presently when he came from the king, which was the time of his discontent.

RALEGH: Here is a book supposed to be treasonable. I never read it, commended it, delivered it, nor urged it.

COKE: Why this is cunning.

RALEGH: Every thing that doth make for me is cunning, and every thing that maketh against me is probable!

COKE: The force of this evidence stands upon the time when it was delivered to my Lord Cobham. It appears plainly, by the Lord Cobham himself, that it was after his return from the king, when Sir Walter Ralegh could not but know of his discontentment. Now we shall prove the intelligence between the Lord Cobham and Ralegh in the Tower.

The clerk read part of Cobham’s examination of 13th October, four days earlier.

CLERK: ‘It is true that Keymes came to me in the Tower with a letter from Ralegh, the effect whereof was that he had been before the council, and was asked divers questions of me, but had cleared me in all. And Keymes told me further, that the Lord Henry Howard had made an argument or syllogism against me, “because of my discontentment I was apt to fall into action”.’ His lordship sayeth further, that Keymes did ‘wish him not to be dismayed, for that he brought him word from Sir Walter Ralegh that one witness could not hurt him, or to that effect.’

The clerk now read from the examination of Lawrence Keymes, one of Ralegh’s most trusted lieutenants.

CLERK: He sayeth that he delivered a letter from Sir Walter Ralegh to the Lord Cobham in the Tower; and that, by Sir Walter Ralegh’s orders, he did report to Lord Cobham that my Lord Henry Howard had made a syllogism against him, namely, because he was discontented, therefore he was likely to enter into an action of treason; that Sir Walter Ralegh also ordered him to tell the Lord Cobham not to be dismayed, for that one witness could not condemn him.

RALEGH: I deny the writing of any such letter. My Lord Cecil knows about the time such a letter is supposed to have been written, that I acquainted him with all that I knew. He told me he was glad no more persons were in that treason.

CECIL: This was meant of the priest’s treason.

RALEGH: And I told my Lord Cecil I hoped also that my Lord Cobham stood clear, to which my Lord Cecil replied, he did hope so, and thought no less. But for answer, I say there is no such letter or copy thereof showed which you now speak of; the truth is, that at the time when such a letter should be written by me as you suppose, I had of the Lord Cobham £4,000-worth of his jewels in my hand; he sent to me about them, and thereupon I wrote to him.

For that you tell me of Keymes, I never sent him on any such message. I know not what you might draw from myself for fear of torture, for this poor man hath been a close prisoner these eighteen weeks, and hath been threatened with the rack to make him confess; but I dare stand upon it he will not say it now.

LORD HENRY HOWARD: No circumstance moveth me more than this. Keymes was never on the rack, for the king gave charge that no rigour should be used.

COMMISSIONERS: We protest before God there was no such matter intended to our knowledge.

RALEGH: Was not the keeper of the rack sent for, and he threatened with it?

WADE: When Mr Solicitor and myself examined Kemys, we told him he deserved the rack, but did not threaten him with it.

COMMISSIONERS: That was more than we knew.

CECIL: By the speeches let fall here this day, some may take it as if the Lady Arabella and Count Aremberg were nearly touched in this matter, because they are often named, but for the Lady Arabella, lest any should scandalise so innocent a lady, I dare boldly say she was never privy to any of those things.

A letter was once written to her, but she no way entertained it, but laughed at it, and presently acquainted the king therewith. And for Count Aremberg, it is not to be noted what others said to him, or presumed of him, but how far he consented or approved.

The Lord Admiral being in court with the Lady Arabella, said, ‘The Lady doth here protest, upon her salvation, that she never dealt in any of these things; and so she willed me to tell the court.’

RALEGH: I have already often urged the producing of my Lord Cobham, but it is still denied me. I appeal now once more to your lordships in this: my Lord Cobham is the only one that hath accused me, for all the treasons urged upon me are by reflection from him. It is now clear that he hath since retracted; therefore since his accusation is recalled by himself, let him now by word of mouth convict or condemn me.

Campion, the jesuit, was not denied to have his accusers face to face. And if that be true which hath been so laboured all this day, that I have been the setter-on of my Lord Cobham, his instigator, and have infused these treasons into him, as hath been said, then have I been the efficient cause of his destruction; all his honours, houses, lands, and goods, and all he hath, are lost by me.

Against whom, then, should he seek revenge but upon me? And the world knoweth him as revengeful of nature as any man living.

Besides, a dying man is ever presumed to speak truth: now Cobham is absolutely in the king’s mercy; to excuse me cannot avail him. By accusing me he may hope for favour. It is you, then, Mr Attorney, that should press his testimony, and I ought to fear his producing, if all that be true which you have alleged.

LORD HENRY HOWARD: Sir Walter, you have heard that it cannot be granted; pray importune us no longer.

RALEGH: Nay, my Lord, it toucheth my life, which I value at as high a rate as your Lordship does yours.

CECIL: I am afraid my often speaking may give opinion to the hearers that I have delight to hear myself talk. My affection to you, Sir Walter, was not extinguished by slaked, in regard of your deserts. You have often urged, and still doth urge, the producing of my Lord Cobham, I would know of my lords the judges, if it might not stand with the order of our proceedings to take a further time, and know his Majesty’s pleasure in that which is desired.

However, the judges agreed to continue with the proceedings.

CECIL: Sir Walter Ralegh, if my Lord Cobham will now affirm that you were acquainted with his dealings with Count Aremberg, that you knew of the letter he received, that you were the chief instigator of him, will you then be concluded by it?

RALEGH: Let my Lord Cobham speak before God and the king, and deny God and the king if he speak not truly, and will then say that ever I knew of Arabella’s matter, or the money out of Spain, or the surprising treason, I will put myself upon it. God’s will and the king’s be done with me!

CECIL: Then, Sir Walter, call upon God to help you, for I do verily believe my lords will prove this.

LORD HENRY HOWARD: But what if my Lord Cobham affirm anything equivalent to this, what then?

RALEGH: My Lord, I put myself upon it.

COKE: I shall now produce a witness viva voce.

Coke then produced as a witness a pilot named Dyer.

DYER: I came to a merchant’s house in Lisbon, to see a boy that I had there. There came a gentleman into the house, and enquiring what countryman I was, I said an Englishman. Whereupon he asked if the king was crowned. I answered him that I hoped our noble king was well and crowned, but the time was not come when I came from the coast for Spain.

‘Nay,’ said he, ‘your king shall never be crowned, for Don Cobham and Don Ralegh will cut his throat before he come to be crowned.’

RALEGH: This is the saying of some wild jesuit or beggarly priest; but what proof is it against me?

COKE: It must per force arise out of some preceding intelligence, and shows that your treason had wings.

RALEGH: If Cobham did practise with Aremberg, how could it but be known in Spain? Why did they name the Duke of Buckingham in Jack Straw’s rebellion, and the Duke of York in Jack Cade’s, but to give countenance to the treasons?

The clerk now read Cobham’s letter to Mellows, written in the Tower.

CLERK: ‘Mellows, I allow very well of your advice to desire to speak with a preacher, and I would have you, upon your return from Cobham, to write to my wife that you hear I am not well, and that I have made a request unto the lieutenant to have a preacher come unto me.

‘Now your advice unto her shall be, to be a means unto the king, that he will send Mr Galloway, or some of his preachers unto me, to move me out of conscience to confess more, if that I know anything, that thereby the King might be satisfied of the truth in every point.

‘If this might be brought to pass, it would, I think, do me a great deal of good. My motion to the lieutenant shall be for Mr Doctor Andrews, for I would not have it known for the world that I desire to have any of the king’s ministers, but that motion to come merely from my wife as a matter altogether unknown unto me.

‘I hope you have sent unto Sir Thomas Fane an answer of that letter I desire to have written with his own hand, dated some days after the receipt of mine; that he is glad of my purpose to go to Dover and be there at Bartholomew-tide, but gladder that he doth find I do mean to stay my determination from travel.

‘When you have this letter I would have you put it into the Spanish Bible with the other papers that you know of, and by chance seem that in searching among my books you have found both the one and the other. It will be good proofs to move the lords that my purpose was altered from my travel.

‘This is now come into my head: I hear the peace is likely to go forward. I could wish that you spoke with La Rensy, to deal with Count Aremberg, to move the Spanish ambassador with himself to move the king for my pardon, and to keep me from my arraignment.

‘I would likewise have Aremberg moved to speak unto the queen, and to use his master’s name to move the king in my behalf, and to let her know that he doth daily expect letters from him unto her majesty, to desire her favour for me. In the mean time he was commanded to deliver this unto her.

‘It may be, it will be objected unto him that I am mainly touched with the speeches of the “cubs”. To that he may answer he doth hear that I am burdened but with the accusation of one witness, which he doth think hard to condemn a man for. And if it be answered there be more, he may reply that it comes but from one man’s report, if that be true which vulgarly is spoken.

‘He must be earnest both with the king and queen and all the lords, and entreat the Spanish ambassador to join with him; but ‘ if he can procure a letter from his master to the king and queen in my behalf, I presume it will do me a great deal of good. In the mean time I will desire to have conference with some preacher, unto whom, upon my soul, I will deliver all truth and will not lie, and thereupon I will take the sacrament.

‘More than I have said I cannot upon my salvation; but let that alone, and speak not you so much, for if that were known, I should not now be suffered to speak with any preacher; the hope being I will speak more, will be the means to procure to have one sent unto me.

‘I pray you be earnest with Sir John Levison to pray him to let me have it under his hand, that of his knowledge he knows my brother never loved me, but did hate me; it is as much as my life is worth, and this my affliction is a trial of my true friends. My Lord Cecil did write a letter unto the lieutenant wherein he protested he will do for me as he would do for his own soul; but arraigned I must be, and he knows not what the king will do for my life; so you see what my hope is.

‘God is my record, the innocency of my cause I hope shall quit me. I am the first peer in England that shall be called in question upon a conceit which was never intended to be put in execution. God is my hope, in whom only I do put my trust, for vain is the hope of man.

‘I remember you told me that my own confession in itself was not treason, nor my brother’s accusation of me, but both together doth make it treason; this I would gladly know, because it is very material for me to remember it at my arraignment. I pray you stay no longer at Cobham than you must needs, for time with me is precious.

‘Remember my velvet gown, and let my wife want no money; remember well the contents of my letter, and bum it afterwards. My brother’s wife is permitted to come unto him daily, and this is only but to put him in heart that he may come to give evidence against me.

‘Your master, Henry Cobham.’

The clerk followed this by reading Cobham’s letter to Lord Cecil, found as described in the Spanish Bible.

CLERK: ‘May it please your lordship, as I was bold to make you the first acquainted with my purpose of travel, so now having altered that determination, I am as bold likewise to acquaint you therewith. I have looked into my estate, and I find myself further behindhand than I conceived, so that possibly I cannot dispose of my business to take my journey as I meant.

‘Yet I would be loath to have it so suddenly known, though I am desirous to give you satisfaction of my purpose now and alteration. One favour I would pray of you, that if I may be spared for meeting of any ambassadors, especially you shall bind me unto you for it. And so I humbly take my leave.

‘Your lordship’s brother-in-law,

‘Humbly to command,

‘Henry Cobham.’

Now came the letter from Mellows to Sir Thomas Fane…

CLERK: ‘Sir, I have here enclosed sent you a letter from my Lord Cobham, which, indeed, should have come long since unto your hand; but, by reason of my Lord’s re- straint, there was no use of it nor cause why he should send it.

‘But within these few days, by chance perusing certain papers of his Lordship’s for other uses, amongst others I found this letter, which I presently showed his Lordship, and advised with him whether it might not stand him in stead to have it sent unto you, and to pray you to write an answer accordingly.

‘In the end, upon some reasons, he agreed in opinion with me, and gave me express charge to entreat you, by the ancient friendship you bear him and his house, that you will vouchsafe to write him an answer with a date according to his letter; and therein to take notice that you are very glad that his resolution was altered from travelling, using other words to dissuade him, which he leaveth to your wiser consideration.

‘The meaning hereof is only that, with other circumstances, he may show by your letter that he had no purpose to travel, but had given it over; whereby he shall remove some doubts that he only intended to travel to practise against the king. His lordship would have written unto you himself but that I persuaded him not, holding it safe for him, especially being so surely kept and waited as he is.

‘Wherefore he commends his entire affection unto you, and desires you to pray for him; protesting you have ever been the truest of men to him, and if God had blessed him to have spoken unto you, you had saved his house, which now, through ignorance rather than sin, is entirely ruined.

‘I can write no more of him, but that, by the exactest letter of the law, he shall be tried, for he is wholly left, and hath not one friend in court that is of power or willing to do him good. The arraignment will not be until the term, at which time I expect nothing but the rigour of the law, and his absolute conviction, unless God move the hearts of his peers to judge him by a more favourable construction.

‘And this is all the hope I have; if this fail, the next and only good is to refer him to the protection of Almighty God.

‘And so I leave to be further troublesome, and will be ready to do you any service.

‘Richard Mellows.’

… and Cobham’s own letter to Fane, which was enclosed.

CLERK: ‘Sir, this bearer, my servant William Ward, can tell you what I have done to procure money from my Lord Treasurer for Dover Haven, which is to small purpose, for he hath made me a direct answer that he can spare no money till Michaelmas.

‘I wrote unto his lordship again, that if he would hut write unto me that he would see this £500 paid at Michaelmas, that so much money should he disbursed for the present for the cost of that harbour. My Lord hath made the self-same answer; money now cannot be spared, and that he will give no word for any money that is to be issued out of the Exchequer. More I cannot do.

‘At Bartholomew tide, God willing, I will be at Dover, and stay there with you some fifteen days, about the harbouring business, which sooner I would do, but that I would have all the ambassadors gone. In the meantime I will remain at my house at Cobham, whither I mean to go very shortly, from whence you shall hear from me.

‘Touching my travel, I have half altered my purpose; so soon as I meant to go, I cannot: and when I shall see you, your persuasion may alter my purpose altogether, for I confess unto you I am not so forward in it as I was.

‘I am glad to hear you are better than you were. Commend me very kindly to my lady; and so I leave you to God’s protection.

‘From my house at Black Friar’s, the 4th of July, 1603.

‘Your loving friend, Henry Cobham.’

That was the last of the evidence, and Ralegh now addressed the jury.

RALEGH: You, gentlemen of the jury, I pray you consider there is no cause so weak, no title so bad, but the king’s learned counsel, by wit and learning, can maintain it for good, and that against men of their own profession; much more can they do so with me who never studied the law till I came into the Tower of London, who have been all my life practised in other affairs, and am weak of memory and feeble of health, as you may see. I beseech you, therefore, consider their abilities and my weaknesses.

For all that is said to the contrary, you see my only accuser is the Lord Cobham, who, with tears, hath lamented his false accusing me, and repented of it as if it had been an horrible murder.

You have had many shows of proof, all turning but to presumptions, and those not such as the laws allow; for binding presumptions ought to arise out of preceding matters, and not from subsequent. If you will cast back your thoughts upon my former courses and actions, what have been my travels, adventures, expenses, and attempts, and all against Spain? If you knew also what at this time I have written against the peace with Spain, you would never suspect me to be Spanish. In truth, I have been all my life ever averse to that faction.

But I will challenge nothing to myself, nor expect anything of you but what reason, religion, and conscience ask for every man: only this let me say to every one of you in particular; remember what St. Augustine sayeth. ‘So judge as if you were about to be judged yourselves; for in the end there is but one judge and one tribunal for all men.’ That judge must judge both me and you; before that tribunal both you and I must stand.

Now if you yourselves would like to be hazarded in your lives, disabled in your posterities, – your lands, goods, and all you have confiscated —your wives, children, and servants left crying to the world; if you would be content all this should befall you upon a trial by suspicions and presumptions, upon an accusation not subscribed by your accuser, without the open testimony of a single witness, then so judge me as you would yourselves be judged.

Serjeant Phillips gathered all the evidence and summarised it for the court.

PHILLIPS: The charge made against the prisoner is high treason in conspiring to deprive the king of his crown and state. The means of effecting this were several; first, getting of money from abroad; secondly, raising of tumults in Scotland; and, thirdly, divulging a book against the king’s title. That these treasons were meant by some of them is not in question, for Sir Walter Ralegh confesseth so far; and the Lord Cobham accuseth himself of all these.

But now the question is, whether Sir Walter Ralegh be guilty as inciting or procuring the Lord Cobham to this treason; if the Lord Cobham say truth, Sir Walter Ralegh is guilty; if Sir Walter Ralegh say true, then he is free. So which of them says true is the whole question. Sir Walter Ralegh hath no proof for his acquittal, though he hath at much wit as man can have; but he uses only his bare denial.

But the denial of a criminal is not sufficient to clear him, neither is the evidence on oath of a defendant in his own cause allowed to clear him in any court of law or equity, much less, therefore, in matters of treason.

RALEGH: I will begin where Mr Serjeant left off, namely, as to Cobham’s accusation. Truth ought to be consistent: for that which was once truth must always continue to be so; but the Lord Cobham’s accusation being recanted and disavowed, is no proof nor truth; and besides Lord Cobham’s charge, there is no one thing proved against me by direct evidence, but only by inference, and that false. Why, then, would you have me to bring testimony? Where there is nothing to charge me, what should I discharge myself of? I appeal to God and the kling in this point, whether Cobham’s accusation be sufficient to condemn me.

Mr Attorney, have you done?

COKE: Yes, if you have no more to say.

RALEGH: If you have done, then I have somewhat more to say.

COKE: Nay, I will have the last word for the king.

RALEGH: Nay, I will have the last word for my life.

COKE: Go to, I will lay thee upon thy back for the confidentest traitor that ever came to the bar.

CECIL: Be not so impatient, good Mr Attorney, give him leave to speak.

COKE: I am the king’s sworn servant, and must speak; if I may not be patiently heard, you discourage the king’s counsel, and encourage traitors.

Coke sat down at this point, somewhat sulkily it seems, and refused to speak any more until entreated at length to do so by the commissioners. He proceeded to go through evidence again at length. Ralegh interrupted him and said he did him wrong.

COKE: Thou art the most vile and execrable traitor that ever lived.

RALEGH: You speak indiscreetly, uncivilly and barbarously.

COKE: Thou art an odious fellow; thy name is hateful to all the realm of England for thy pride.

RALEGH: It will go near to prove a measuring cast between you and me, Mr Attorney.

COKE: Well, I will now lay you open for the greatest traitor that ever was. This, my Lords, is he that hath set forth so gloriously his services against the Spaniard, and hath ever so detested him! This is he that hath written a book against the peace! I will make it appear to the world that there never lived a viler viper on the face of the earth than thou.

I will show you wholly Spanish, and that you offered yourself a pensioner to Spain for intelligence. Then let all that have heard you this day judge what you are, and what a traitor’s heart you bear, whatever you pretend.

See, my Lords, what it hath pleased God to work in the heart of my Lord Cobham, even since his coming hither to Winchester; he could not sleep quietly till he had revealed the truth to the Lords, and therefore voluntarily wrote the whole matter to them, with his own hand, but yesterday.

And to discover you, Ralegh, and all your Machiavellian tricks, hear what the Lord Cobham hath written, under his own hand, which I will read with a loud voice, though I be not able to speak this se’nnight after.

Coke now read out Cobham’s letter to the lords himself.

COKE: ‘I have thought it fit, in duty to my Sovereign, and in discharge of my conscience, to set this down for your lordships, wherein I protest, upon my soul, to write nothing but what is true; for I am not ignorant of my present condition, and now to dissemble with God is no time.

‘Sir Walter Ralegh, four nights before my coming from the Tower, caused a letter, inclosed in an apple, to be thrown in at my chamber window, desiring me to set down under my hand, and send to him an acknowledgment that I had wronged him, and renouncing what I had formerly accused him of.

‘His first letter I made no answer to; the next day he wrote me another, praying me, for God’s sake, if I pitied him, his wife, and children, that I would answer him in the points he set down; informing me that the judges had met at Mr Attorney’s house, and putting me in hope that the proceedings against me would be stayed.

‘Upon this, I wrote him a letter, as he desired. I since have thought how he went about only to clear himself by betraying me. Whereupon I have resolved to set down the truth, and, under my hand, to retract what he cunningly got from me; craving humble pardon of his Majesty and your Lordships for my double dealing.

‘At the first coming of Count Arenberg, Ralegh persuaded me to deal with him, to get him a pension of £1,500 from Spain, for intelligence, and he would always tell and advertise what was intended by England against Spain, the Low Countries, or the Indies. And, coming from Greenwich one night, he told me what was agreed upon betwixt the king and the Low Countrymen, that I should impart it to Count Aremberg.

‘But for this motion for £1,500 for intelligence, I never dealt with the Count Aremberg. Now, as by this may appear to your lordships, he hath been the original cause of my ruin; for but by his instigation, I had never dealt with Count Aremberg. ‘So also hath he been the only cause of my discontentment, I never coming from the Court but still he filled and possessed me with new causes of discontentments.

‘To conclude; in his last letter, he advised me that I should not be overtaken by confessing to any preacher, as the Earl of Essex did, for the king would better allow mv constant denial, than my accusing any other person, which would but add matter to my former offence.’

COKE (continuing): O damnable atheist! He counsels him not to confess to preachers, as the Earl of Essex did. That noble Earl died indeed for his offence; but he died the child of God, and God honoured him at his death. Thou wast by when he died.

Now, Ralegh, if thou hast the grace, humble thyself to the king, and confess thy treasons.

Ralegh seemed astonished by Cobham’s latest confession, but at length replied.

RALEGH: I pray you hear me a word. You have heard a strange tale of a strange man; you shall see how many souls this Cobham hath, and the King shall judge by our deaths which of us is the perfidious man. Before my Lord Cobham’s coming from the Tower, I was advised by some of my friends to get a confession from him; therefore 1 wrote to him thus: ‘You or I must go to trial; if I first then your accusation is the only evidence against me.’ Therefore it was not ill of me to beg of him to say the truth.

But his first letter was not to my contenting. I wrote a second, and then he wrote me a very good letter. It is true I got a poor fellow in the Tower to cast up an apple with the letter in it, at Lord Cobham’s window; which I am loath to mention, lest Mr Lieutenant of the Tower might be blamed; though I protest Sir George Harvey is not to blame for what passed. No keeper in the world could so provide but it might happen.

But I sent him his letter again, because I had heard it was likely now he should be first tried; but the Lord Cobham sent me the letter a second time, saying it was not unfit I should have such a letter; and here you may see it, and I pray you read it.

POPHAM: But what say you to the pension of £1,500 a year?

RALEGH: I Say that Cobham is a poor, silly, base, dishonourable soul!

COKE: Is he base? I return it into thy throat on his behalf; but for thee, he had been a good subject.

POPHAM: I perceive you are not so clear a man as you have protested all this while, for you should have discovered this matter to the king.

RALEGH: Hear now, I pray you, what Cobham hath written to me.

Coke argued that the court should not hear Cobham’s letter to Ralegh. Cecil asked to hear it.

COKE: My Lord Cecil, mar not a good cause.

CECIL: Mr Attorney, you are more peremptory than honest; you must not come here to show me what to do.

RALEGH: I pray my Lord Cecil particularly to read the letter, as he knoweth my Lord Cobnam’s hand.

Cobham’s letter to Ralegh was read to the court.

CLERK: ‘Now that the arraignment draws near, not knowing which should be first, I or you, to clear my conscience, satisfy the world with truth, and free myself from the cry of blood, I protest upon my soul and before God and his angels, I never had conference with you in any treason, nor was ever moved by you to the things I heretofore accused you of; and for any thing I know, you are as innocent and as clear from any treasons against the king as is any subject living.

‘Therefore I wash my hands, and pronounce with Daniel, Purus sum a sanguine hujus; and God so deal with me and have mercy on my soul, as this is true !’

RALEGH: Now I wonder how many souls this man hath! He damns one in this letter, and another in that!

My masters of the jury, you may observe that which was showed against me was but a voluntary confession; whereas this is made under oath, and the deepest protestations a Christian can make. Therefore believe which of these hath most force. As to that which is said of the £1,500-a-year pension for intelligence, I cannot deny the offer, but it was never my purpose to accept it.

It was my fault I did conceal it, and this fault of concealing I acknowledge; but for attempting or conspiring any treason against the king or the state, I still deny it to the death, and it can never be proved against me.

The jury was assured at this point by Cecil and Northampton that Cobham had not been offered anything to write his latest letter to the Lords, read out by Coke above.

RALEGH: Nay, my lords, I dare say your lordships would not offer it; but my Lord Cobham received a letter from his wife that there was no way to save his life but to accuse me.

The jury retired. They returned with a verdict in less than 15 minutes, finding Ralegh guilty of treason.

RALEGH: I can say nothing in stay of judgment; for I know well, the jury having found me guilty, the law must now pronounce sentence against me. But I desire my Lords to favour me so far as to repeat to the king my protestation against these three accusations of the Lord Cobham; I never was privy to his practices with Spain, nor to the ‘surprising’ treason, nor to the conferences with Count Aremberg.

True it is I was offered that sum of £1,500 a year for intelligence, but embraced it not; my only fault was that I disclosed it not. If the King’s mercy be greater than my offence, I shall take it thankfully; if otherwise, I must be contented; and if I die, I recommend my poor wife and child of tender years to his majesty’s compassion, but if of the king’s grace I may live, I shall serve him and pray for him during my life.

POPHAM: Sir Walter Ralegh, I am sorry to see this fallen upon you this day. You have always been taken for a wise man, and I cannot but marvel to see that a man of your wit, as this day you have approved it, could be entangled with so many treasons. And sure had you remembered what you were, or in the time of good fortune contented yourself in your own rank, you could not thus have fallen.

You were a man fit and able to have done the king good service; God had bestowed on you many benefits, but no mean was pleasing to you. You had not learned that saying of the greatest and wisest Counsellor of our time in England: ‘In medio spatio mediocria firma locantur’; but trying the wheel of fortune, as you were lifted up by it, so were you cast down; and being overturned, could not again take hold on the place whence vou were cast.

And it may well be sought what causes should lead you to these attempts; it could not be reasonable discontentments, for there was no cause given. Yourself being judge, it ought not to grieve you that the king placed another over the guards, since he did so with good reason, in order to have one whom he knew and might trust in that place, and who had held the same place elsewhere about him. And as to the taking away of your licences for wines from you, why should the king burden the people for your private good? I think you could not well take it hardly that his subjects were eased, though by your private hindrance.

But, in good truth, two vices chiefly led you along: the one was eager ambition, the other corrupt covetousness. Your ambition was to be advanced at once to that grace and favour which you held beforetime, but which you did not gain in a day or a year. For your covetousness, I grieve to find that a man of your quality would have sold yourself for a spy to the enemy of your country for £1,500 a-year. This were a bad and a base practice in any one, but in you who needed it not, having abundance of all things, it were the vilest action in the world.

You have been taxed by the world, Sir Walter Ralegh, with holding heathenish, blasphemous, atheistical, and profane opinions, which I list not to repeat, because Christian ears cannot endure  to hear them. But the authors and maintainers of such opinions cannot be suffered to live in any Christian commonwealth. If these opinions be not yours, you shall do well, before you leave the world, to protest against them, and not to die with these imputations upon you; but if you do hold such opinions, then I beseech you renounce them, and ask God forgiveness for them as you hope for another life; and let not Herriot, nor any such doctor, persuade you there is no eternity in heaven, lest you find an eternity of hell-torments!

One thing stands confessed against you, which is, that you persuaded Lord Cobham against all confession to a preacher; and in doing this, you reproved the example of my Lord of Essex, – that noble Earl, who, had he not been entangled by some in his closet, had no doubt submitted himself to the queen, and lived. He confessed his offences, and obtained mercy of the Lord; for I am verily persuaded he died a good Christian, and the child of God.

Your conceit of not confessing is most irreligious and wicked; for in this world is the time of confessing, that we may be absolved at the day of judgment. You have shown a fearful sign of denying God, by advising a man not to confess the truth. I only add one thing for the honour of the common law. By this day’s experience, it may be seen upon what great reasons it is grounded that the party accusing himself is not to be produced and confronted with the party whom he accuseth.

It is dangerous that traitors should have access to, or conference with one another; for a man is easily brought to retract when he seeth there is no hope of his own life; and when they see themselves must die, they will think it best to have their fellow live, that he may commit the like treason again, and so in some sort seek revenge. If, in this case, my Lord Cobham had been called, then might these treasons have yet been concealed; at least obscured by several retractations.

It now only remaineth to pronounce the judgment, which I would to God you had not to receive this day of me; for if the fear of God in you had corresponded to your other great parts, you might have lived to be a singular good subject to his majesty. I never saw the like trial, and hope I shall never see the like again.

But since you have been found guilty of these horrible treasons, the judgement of the court is that you shall be had from hence to the place whence you came, there to remain until the day of execution. And from thence you shall be drawn upon a hurdle through the open streets to the place of execution, there to be hanged and cut down alive, and your body shall be opened, your heart and bowels plucked out, and your privy members cut off, and thrown into the fire before your eyes; then your head to be stricken off from your body, and your body shall be divided into four quarters, to be disposed of at the king’s pleasure.

And God have mercy on your soul.

[A note on sources: the text I have reproduced is primarily based on David Jardine’s 1832 transcript in Criminal Trials, although I have also interpolated here and there elements of the text as it appears in Cobbett’s State Trials, where I felt the latter offered a fuller, clearer – or occasionally simply more vivid – account.

There is no perfect transcript, of course, and I certainly make no claims to perfection on behalf of the above. Although both Jardine and Cobbett’s versions are substantially the same in terms of argument, they differ quite considerably in detail.

A third summary of the trial, made by the courtier Sir Thomas Overbury, is available online here.  

It goes without saying, I hope, that if anything needs correcting, please do let me know!]

NOTE: If you are interested in my other posts on Ralegh, they are here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

21 thoughts on “The trial of Sir Walter Ralegh: a transcript

Add yours

  1. “I have my own opinion,” you wrote and I’ve searched this and other pages of yours
    and am unable to find it. Could you put me out of my misery : was he a traitor ?

    1. Hi Paul. The evidence, such as it is, is open to various interpretations. I think he probably did indulge in treasonous conversation. I suspect he felt humiliated and scorned by James I and allowed his tongue to run away with itself. I doubt he seriously planned to act on such talk. It’s possible – as someone else has suggested (I’m afraid I can’t remember who off the top of my head) – that he was thinking of letting the plot unfold further before he himself denounced it as a mean of winning the king’s favour. But that is, of course, speculative. Hope that makes sense! Best wishes, Mathew

  2. The transcript of the trial (above) does not appear to include the charge against Sir Walter Ralegh that he was involved in the slaughter of 600 soldiers that surrendered after a siege at Dún an Óir, near Smerick Harbour, Co. Kerry, Ireland. He was honoured for his action at the time, but when it suited the occasion it was used against him. Any information on this on this episode please.

    1. There’s no question he was involved in the slaughter and, as you say, profited from it. I’ve not seen a trial transcript that includes reference to it, though. Happy to be corrected. Where have you read that?

Leave a Reply to Mathew Lyons Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: