ccd-leicesterhead1.jpg (9571 bytes)Dwight Peck's reprint series

Leicester's Commonwealth: The Copy of a Letter Written by a Master of Art of Cambridge (1584) {file 4}

Scanned and reprinted from
Peck, ed., Leicester's Commonwealth (Athens and London: Ohio University Press, 1985).

Leicester's Commonwealth

The Copy of a Letter
Written by a Master of Art of Cambridge to his friend in London, concerning some talk passed of late between two worshipful and grave men about the present state and some proceedings of the Earl of Leicester and his friends in England.

Conceived, spoken and published with most earnest protestation of all dutiful good will and affection towards her most excellent Majesty and the realm, for whose good only it is made common to many.



The French Translation (1585) and Its Addition

On 30 March 1585 Sir Edward Stafford reported from Paris that he had received word of the appearance of a French translation of Leicester's Commonwealth (the relevant letters are printed in Appendix E). He suggested that it had been printed in Rheims, home of Dr. Allen's seminary, though the exile community was asserting that it had been done at Cologne (both are unlikely), and he indicated that Thomas Throgmorton had been engaged in translating it until he had stopped him. Throgmorton may well have been its translator; at least, as Mendoza informed Philip II on 1 June, it was certainly done by an Englishman.1

Entitled the Discours de la vie abominable . . . le my Lorde de Lecestre, the bulk of the work is a close and accurate translation of the entire Commonwealth (marred only by the fact that the compositor has worked havoc upon the proper names). Prefaced to it, however, is an allegorical emblem (apparently borrowed from another source), with a rather dull poem explaining it, along with several dedicatory verses. At the end there is affixed what Stafford called a "villainous" and a "filthy addition," which adds further charges against the Earl, at least one of which is indeed filthy. Stafford was certain that the matter for the addition had been sent out of England, and though that may or may not be true, certainly it displays the same detailed acquaintance with Leicester and his associates that the Commonwealth does. Although the tone is rather more sprightly than the Commonwealth's, in the absence of other evidence, we are safe in assuming that the same men were responsible for both publications.

A few points are worth remarking about the addition: first, it is clearly aimed at a French audience (why Stafford should have been so sure that it was intended for an English one is not at all clear); second, its author considers it an updating, one of a planned series; third, it is purely defamatory, with none of the ancillary concerns for toleration and the succession found in the book itself; fourth, it includes an intensified attack upon the Puritans and a stronger, though rather transparent, effort to suggest divisions between the Puritans and Leicester their leader; and fifth, it contains the Commonwealth's only direct allusion to members of the Catholic Court party, that is, to Lord Harry Howard and Charles Arundell (as well as to the Earls of Arundel and Southampton) - this impersonal mention, and its mistaking "Sir Robert" for Sir Edward Stafford, may have been intended as smokescreen.

The French publication can be seen in the British Library (10806.a.10). The text for this English version of La vie's addition is that of a contemporary retranslation attached to a manuscript copy of the Commonwealth (not of La vie), Exeter College, Oxford, MS. 166 (pp. 203-26). It is apparently a retranslation of the printed French, not the (hypothetical) English original, and the handwriting is unfamiliar. The spelling and punctuation have been modernized.


An Addition of the Translator, in which are declared many enormous and unchristian acts committed by the said Earl of Leicester, of which there hath been new advertisement and knowledge day by day.

The abominable and wretched life of this monstrous Earl is so plainly set forth, declared, and deciphered in the precedent discourse and conference that it may seem to thee a thing right strange (gentle reader) that any man should be able to add any more. But the sea or gulf of this man's sins is so bottomless that it is a thing impossible to sound the depth of it, and his life so brutish and the injuries he hath done to all manner of people are such and so great in number that it is very difficult to take perfect notice of them without making as it were a general assembly of all the people of England, to hear what each man can allege in particular. Wherefore all that we can conveniently do about this business is nothing else but (for the better beautifying and more perfecting the story of his life) to add from day to day such his actions as the time shall discover unto us. In which, as I have done mine endeavor in this my translation and additions, so others as I understand will perform shortly in setting out this book both in Latin and Italian, as soon as they can receive more large advertisement from England, from whence there is already gathered, as I hear, a good quantity that shall be augmented from more to more. For his Lordship taketh so good a course herein that writers shall never want matter, he being as it were so drunk in the hateful and abominable pleasures of this life that he doth every day disgorge himself of so huge a surfeit of sin and vomiteth up such loathsome filth in such quantity and variety that he giveth occasion more than enough to all tongues to speak, all pens to write, and all the world to wonder. But to the end I may stay you no longer in this proem, and that you may enter into the matter, I will propound in the first place (the rather to gratify the French readers, and to make them understand what good affection this good lord beareth to the nation) how traitorously he behaved himself in Flanders toward Monsieur, son and brother of the Most Christian Kings, which I know will carry so good a taste that it will pass current over all France for an act of a very knave.

Now then, when after great long consultation upon the treaty of marriage between Monsieur and the Queen of England it was in fine determined and concluded to turn all that business into an enterprise of the Low Countries, this good apostle-like Earl, finding in his own conceit his credit to be greatly diminished, his glory obscured, and all the grace of his future royalty like to be reversed by the too long stay of his Highness in England, he showed himself so inclining to this voyage of Flanders that he made offer of all his devoir and service for the advancement of the enterprise, and forthwith he presenteth himself to Monsieur, offering to serve him and conduct him in person to the said countries, promising with oaths and protestations (a thing which he useth of custom when he means least faith) so to deal with the Prince of Orange that his Highness should obtain of him what he listed and upon what conditions he pleased, so far forth as Monsieur, thinking this had proceeded of a good affection and sincere mind, accepted his offer and took him with him when he went. But being arrived at Antwerp, this good Earl (calling to mind, I trow, the liberal promises he had made by vows and oaths) showed himself so desirous to acquit him toward his Highness and so eager to do him some acceptable service that not enduring to wait the opportunity to do it himself he dispatched with all diligence Mr. Philip Sidney, his nephew, to the Prince of Orange , and why, trow you? Certainly for no other end but to stir and provoke the Prince against his Highness and the French, and to will him to take good heed to Monsieur's proceedings among them, and above all to teach him this lesson: that he never suffer any lords to grow so great in the country but that he leave it still in his own power to put them beside the seat when himself shall think good; lo, the sum of his nephew's message to the Prince of Orange, which he did full diligently, following the command of his uncle, and adding matters very reproachful of his own head, to derogate from the great virtue and honor of his Highness, as the Prince of Orange himself confessed after to Monsieur, who telling it to some of his friends imprinted it so deeply in the hearts of many as they will never forget it if opportunity will serve of revenge.2

Now (gentle reader) I refer me to thy judgment if ever any prince of the estate and calling of Monsieur were more traitorously handled by such a petty companion (for he was no better in regard of so great a prince). Considering specially how well his Highness had deserved of all the English nation, which (for better discovering the wickedness of this monster) I will make you understand in a few words.

Monsieur, having weighed and considered with himself the near neighborhood of the two realms of England and France and the calamity that had often come to both of them by means of wars most bloody, and the commodity like to come hereafter and already come by means of the peace and unity that they have held a good while together, was so moved in mind to do his uttermost endeavor to tie and join them with an undissolvable knot of amity that he made a motion of marriage between the Queen and him, as well by his ambassadors as himself in person, passing into England, nor making any doubt (for the benefit of the two flourishing realms) to venture himself to the danger and hazard of a journey so long and perilous, without being accompanied either of his accustomed train, either of his usual guard for his person, showing more than sufficiently by that one act how firmly he trusted in the good faith of the Queen and in the good mind of her people; from which I dare be bold to say the Queen of England had more honor in the conceit of the world than in any one affair that ever she dealt in with any prince beside whatsoever. Which her Majesty (for I speak it to her honor) with all her principal nobility3 of the country seemed to have very good consideration of, in giving his Highness such honorable entertainment as so noble a prince, making offer so liberal of his amity and alliance, did well deserve. For there was not a man of honor and mark in all the country that was not well apaid and glad of this goodly alliance, setting aside only this monster and his complices, who having long since cast in his mind how to make the crown one day fall on his head, as in the precedent conference hath been plainly declared, and foreseeing the annihilating of all his complots and designments if such a marriage and alliance should take effect, he opposed himself by all the means and secret practices that he could devise, disguising notwithstanding and covering (as much as was possible) all his devices and appointments with all kind deceits, dissembling, lying, and flattering, showing so good a countenance to Monsieur as Judas did when he kissed his master, yet so as elsewhere his instruments and fuelers4 (the Puritans and others) murmured and grudged, scattering infamous libels and babbling and preaching in open pulpit against his Highness and all the French, and himself with his complices consulting and concluding among themselves to rebel openly in case the marriage should take effect. And (which is more) his malice to Monsieur was so great and his hate so irreconcilable that after, when he had no cause at all to mistrust the marriage, his Highness being now departed out of England (as hath been said), he ceased not for all that to show the fruits of a cruel and malicious heart, seeking all occasions and means under color of promised fidelity and service to avert and alienate from his Highness the hearts of his honorable friends, not respecting either the affiance Monsieur had in him, either the commandment of the Queen his mistress, either his own promises confirmed with infinite oaths and protestations. Now then, regard and behold, friendly readers, with the eyes of your understanding another Catiline, excessive in ambition, in malice more than monstrous, traitorous beyond measure, perjured afore the face of God, and therefore worthily odious to all the world.

But you will say to me (perhap) that this good Earl, being not furnished with honesty and sincerity more than he should necessarily bestow and employ in favor of his own kinsfolks and friends of his own country, had great reason not to be too prodigal of the same to Monsieur, being a stranger and a foreigner.

But if peradventure it will be proved that he showed himself no less faithless to his friends than malicious to his enemies, nor less ingrateful to his kin than dissembling and false to strangers, I think you will make no great difficulty to conclude with me that he is the [most] monstrous man that lives on the earth, of which I will make you most plain demonstration by this example. It came to pass that Sir Henry Sidney, father of the Sidney that we spake of before and brother-in-law to this good Earl (as having married his sister) and one of the Queen's Privy Council as well as himself, being informed of the many extortions, usuries, oppressions, frauds, and other enormities committed by one Scory, pretended Bishop of Hereford5 (an old apostata and renegade monk, and one that hath of long time done more slander than service to the church of England), and being, as I say, moved with an honest zeal of justice, exhibited a bill in the Star Chamber against the said Scory of all those his misdemeanors, not doubting, considering the greatness and honorableness of that court, that justice would speedily have his course against a transgressor so very manifest.

But the affair had this issue, that albeit Sir Henry Sidney employed all his credit and all his friends to the following of this matter, yet notwithstanding this good Earl his brother-in-law handled the matter so finely with the Queen (whose eyes he blinded no doubt with some honest pretence) that by her express commandment the matter was taken quite out of the Star Chamber and the deciding thereof referred to certain other bishops who were made judges and arbitrators, with other ministers, companions, and brothers in Christ of the said party accused, which judges having a great zeal to the house of the Lord judged it necessary to wink at and bear somewhat with the infirmity of their frail brother, for fear of slandering the gospel. In such sort that the matter was huddled up I know not how among themselves, but this I know well, that the Apostata was sent home again without any notable punishment.6 But if you have a desire to know what moved this Earl so willfully to oppose himself against his brother-in-law in the favor of so detestable a villain and in a cause so wicked and injust, sure to answer you in a word, Quid non mortalia pectora cogis, Auri sacra fames, O detestable famine of gold, what canst not thou enforce man unto?7 For Scory handled his matter and pleaded his case so well and wisely that the Countess of Leicester was assaulted with some thousands of angels,8 which she, poor lady, finding herself too weak to resist so great an army so well ranged in battle [ar]ray and making so fair a muster, did not only yield herself prisoner without making any resistance, but also gave notice to her Robin of the great forces of the enemy. She also won him without great difficulty to yield himself a slave with her to the same fortune. Which was no great marvel, seeing his hap daily to be such that how valiant and brave soever he shows himself in other matters, yet when he must try it hand to hand in close lists with any bribe of gold or other gift he hath straight fought craven and shamefully yielded without stroke striking, as you see plainly in this example, the whole process whereof was revealed by the bishop's own son. Neither must you marvel that I call him his son, for the ministry of England is not barren nor idle, nay which is more (thanks be to God) they have in the name of the Lord begotten good store of children and increased and multiplied exceedingly. But as I said unto you, this young bishop, or at the least son and heir of a bishop, being come to the city of London with the reverend prelate his father, told to one of his friends that they had brought with them more money (to clear and level those accounts with the Countess of Leicester as I told you before) than would have served him to have played away at dice and cards as they say (his whole rest) in seven year. Out of which words they that knew the humor and disposition of this good priest's son might easily guess that the sum was not small, for I assure you that this is so gentle a companion, and (praise be to the Lord) so brave and gallant a gamester at dice and cards and other exercises of base mystery as the ministry of England hath not bred the like this great while.9

But to come to the last act of this comedy, my good Lord of Leicester, failing somewhat in the managing of this matter, did not carry it so cleanly but that it came to be discovered and so made known to his brother-in-law Sir Henry Sidney and his friends, namely the Earl of Pembroke, son-in-law of the said Sidney and consequently nephew by marriage of the Earl of Leicester, who took this matter in so evil part as not being able otherwise to dissemble it he told this great Lord his uncle in plain terms that if by his means the course of justice was impeached and hindered in this matter of the bishop (as many would judge it was), it was a plain sign he had neither honor nor honesty; in so much as this good Lord, finding himself taken so tardy nor knowing of what wood to make his shafts, found out a very ready way to maintain his credit by heaping up sin upon sin and masking this corruption of his under the veil of perjury, denying the facts with great oaths and protestations. All which false and feigned words could not so satisfy his said nephew but that he said after to one of his friends that his uncle was a very beast, treacherous to his kin and unthankful to his friends, "by whose alliance" (said he) "I have spent and impaired my state to the value of twenty thousand pound, without ever receiving at his hand honor, advancement, or any other pleasure," which words, coming from the mouth of a personage so honorable and so near allied to this Earl as is the Earl of Pembroke, seemeth to me to be of sufficient weight to aver the assertion or conclusion before recited, namely that this monster of a man is no less unfaithful and false to his kinsfolk and friends than to strangers and others that belong not to him, as shall appear yet more plainly in the discourse ensuing, wherein I will declare another notable prank.

There was a certain man named Appleyard,10 a gentleman of good calling and brother of this man's first wife (but, that notwithstanding, one of the instruments employed to work her death, as in the precedent conference is more plainly declared),11 which Appleyard by the just judgment of God ran so far into debt that not any way knowing how to escape the hands of his creditors and the law was constrained for remedy to have recourse to the aid and favor of this Earl his brother-in-law, who being content to relieve his necessity herein (but so as it might be without any cost of his own) solicited another of his favorites named George Darcy (a gentleman of an honorable house)12 to do so much at his request in favor of his companion Appleyard to be his surety and give his band for him, promising Darcy of his honor to save him harmless and indemnified for all forfeitures that by law he should incur in this dealing.

Darcy, trusting in the word and honor of so great a monarch as this great Lord his good master, made no great scruple to perform it and indeed became bound to the creditors of Appleyard, who not being satisfied nor discharged of the part of the said Appleyard according to his promise, commenced their suit against Darcy, constraining him for the payment thereof to sell all his patrimony that his father had left him, and all of it not being sufficient for the entire payment they caused him to [be] kept in prison for the rest, in manner that the poor gentleman was driven to stay a good while in prison, spoiled of his goods and liberty, calling continually on this good Lord his master by the solicitation of his friends and beseeching his Lordship with all humility to have consideration of his poor estate, and if the commiseration of his present calamity or respect of his past service were not sufficient to move him to compassion of his distressed state, yet at the least it might please his Lordship to do somewhat for him for his own honor's sake, which he had engaged to him so deeply for his indemnity.

But this good Earl, that had brought him to this so pitiful estate as you have heard, made so little reckoning whether he sank or swam that he was content to hear all these complaints without any compassion and to behold his ruin without any remorse, leaving him at the mercy of his creditors and so quite forsaking him at so great an extremity and final ruin. As the poor gentleman feels too well at this day (if he yet live), leaving an insupportable grief in the minds of his friends, a scorn of his family, and an example in himself to all the world and most evident witness of the ungratitude, falsehood, and most barbarous usage of this monster.

But in this we may very well consider the just judgment of God. This Darcy, having been at some other time an instrument of the wickedness of this monster, found him in the end the only motive and author of his ruin. For you must understand that about the beginning of the reign of her Majesty that now reigneth in England, the Duke of Swethland (and after king of the same country) came into England in person to demand her Highness in marriage. But our Earl that shot at the same mark, thinking the presence of so great a competitor to be too great a dis[ad]vantage to himself, could by no means endure it, and for that cause thought it expedient to procure him an answer not only very short but very sharp, namely as should prick him to the very heart and should send him back again in far greater haste than he came.

For he appointed with himself to cause him to be massacred, and giving the matter in charge to Darcy he associated to him in this enterprise the forenamed Appleyard, who taking upon them to have done it had also surely effected it (as Darcy afterward confessed to divers) if the Duke had not surceased his suit and hasted from England with great diligence.13

Now consider I beseech you a while, friendly readers, first the barbarous ingratitude of this Earl, that made no scruple at all utterly to overthrow a gentleman that had dedicated his goods, his soul, and life, and whole service to him. Then consider the justice of God in punishment of this Darcy by the same man in favor of whom he had so grievously offended. And last of all mark how after these discourses of his treachery, falsehood, oppressions, rapines, and perjury we be come as it were by due course by degrees to touch his bloody practices of murder. Of which sith occasion so well serves of our present purpose I will yet bring you as briefly as I can certain examples most notable and manifest. It is a thing well known and spread over all the Court that my Lady Stafford, wife of Sir Robert Stafford,14 having observed and noted divers most abominable disorders and enormities of this good Earl, and doubting in her heart that if speedy redress were not had thereof all the world would cry out of it to the great slander and reproach of all the Court, complained one day to the Queen, of which this my good Lord being advertised very speedily and imagining belike in his mind that this complaint proceeded of the abundance of some melancholic humor in her, and moved with a brotherly charity, judged that this humor offending should be well purged, and to this end gave in charge to one George Vaux, his yeoman of his bottles, to provide with all diligence that some drugs might be had fit for such operation. Who belike, not taking good heed to the confection of the potion, instead of Elleborum15 took a quantity of Regal,16 and the less to offend the weak and delicate stomach of the lady (who perhaps could not well brook the force of so strong a medicine if she should know of it) he espied an opportunity and a fit commodious hour for her to take it unwittingly. For spying her one day passing by the place where my Lord's bottles stood that were in his charge, he presented her with a cup of my Lord's wine under a color of courtesy, which the good lady, not dreaming of any malice, refused not but took a good draught, which was the dearest draught that ever she drank in her life, for the poor lady had no sooner swallowed down this good wine of my Lord's but that she was immediately after swollen and as it were leprous; in such sort that albeit by the great goodness of God she escaped death, yet notwithstanding, all the world might easily see that she had been poisoned, although the said lady neither then nor after (such was and yet is the greatness of the Earl) could have any redress or amends of so great and unsupportable an injury. Yet notwithstanding, this ill happened to this lady brought yet both to herself and others this good: to take better heed hereafter how they come to such bargains to come so near to my Lord's bottles or to taste of his Lordship's wine anymore.17

Furthermore his Lordship's bloody practices about Monsieur Simiers when he dealt for Monsieur in England are evident and most plain, not only by that that is before recited in the precedent conference but that also that he would have practiced with Mr. Fairfax [Fervaques] to assault him in the open street as he was going to the Royal Exchange, under pretense of an old quarrel that was between them; and to this end he promised him the aid and assistance of all his hewsters and murderers, of which he entertains no small number to serve him at all assays.

But God (that by his providence overthrows the purposes of the wicked) suffered this to come to the knowledge of the Queen, who calling Leicester to her in presence of divers of her Council and great lords made him there a knight of the new order for this his new practice, giving him goodly titles of murderer, traitor, and villain, and protesting of her honor that if Simiers should leese but one drop of his blood his Lordship should be hang[ed] like a knave as he was, which words did so cool and abate the courage of this brave knight that that which he had so wickedly plotted passed no farther, although the stay was not in himself, whose wicked meaning was sufficiently declared in this matter long before.18

Unto this practice we may also add another no less traitorous, murderous, and mischievous than those that are above mentioned. Namely how he would have set one Captain Moffett to kill the Earl of Westmoreland in Flanders where he served the King of Spain. But the Captain, not willing to commit such an act, discovered it to the Earl and purchased thereby the immortal hate and disgrace of the said Leicester, which he knowing to be so bloody and his revenge so unmerciful and unmeasurable durst not return into England his country, but liveth abroad in exile and shall be constrained so to do till it shall please God to confound and take away this bloody butcher out of the world.19

Now I beseech thee (gentle reader) again to consider if ever thou have heard of a more notorious murdering villain than this, or if thou canst not liken him to Timon or to a misanthropos (a hater of mankind),20 without pity, without religion, without all humanity. Neither is it unlikely that being so daily accustomed as he is to all villainies and murders that all sense of human nature is extinguished in him, and that he is transformed into a substance or mass of sin. Yes, certain, the likelihood is very great and yet notwithstanding, this good gentleman is not only very zealous forsooth of the gospel but also the very primate, head, and protector of the purest gospellers and preachers (I mean the Puritans) of this present time; and sure it stands with very good reason, for there is such an analogy and proportion between the members and the head, and their sympathy in nature and quality suiteth so well the one to the other, that we may well say of them the common proverb Dignum patella operculum,21 that is a fit cover for such a dish, or like master like man; for as touching him you have already heard what he is, and to prove to you what companions these his brethren the Puritans are it shall suffice to show his Lordship's opinion of them. You must know therefore that he having caused a certain number of these Puritan ministers [to assemble] one day in his chamber, as he useth to do ordinarily once or twice in the week, when they had after their manner prophesied, catechized, disputed, and preached, he said after to one of his friends (in good sadness) that they were knaves and villains and caitiffs, "although," he said, "I am constrained to use their aid." Lo, hear the testimony of this good Earl touching his brethren, in which you may be bold to believe him of his word, although I do not wish you in other matters to believe his oath, and herein you must note certain points. First, what good apostles these his new evangelists are whom in show of the world he will seem so greatly to reverence and as it were adore. Secondly, what agreeableness there is between a head so monstrous and a body so prodigious and villainous as he himself confesseth his ministers and Puritans to be. And lastly, one may see manifestly, whatsoever he pretends in outward appearance, that indeed he hath no religion at all, but is rather a very miscreant and atheist, serving his turn only of the pretext of this new religion, to make his matter the better, that is to say, to strengthen himself by mean of a faction and by that means to advance his plots and appointments of his future kingdom, when the hour and opportunity shall serve him. But concerning his atheism and impiety, though his own confession may suffice us in this case, yet to show it as clear as the sun itself I will bring you yet one other example, of one notable villainy of his and an act of a mere atheist, passing all I have yet recited, the which act was revealed by Robert Christmas, sometimes one of his minions and favorites,22 who being by the just judgment of God fallen in misery and calamity and having lost his living and all his credit was constrained to pass many wretched years in prison, where lamenting himself one day of his fortune to one of his friends that came to visit him did impute all his misfortune to the just judgment of God for his furthering in times past many of this Earl's villainies, and specially for having so long concealed this execrable wickedness which I am about to tell you, the story whereof is thus.

This gallant Earl being greatly in love with a lady (whose name I will spare for her honor) and not finding himself so far in her good grace and favor as he desired, to accomplish his disordinate appetite he went to one of his she-friends and special counsellors, marvellous well seen in such affairs, called Mother Davis [or Davies], a famous and notable sorceress abiding as then beyond the river of Thames over against Paul's. For you must understand that his Lordship is furnished of all sorts of counsellors and fit instruments for all exploits, for he employeth some for bawdry, others for rapines and extortions, and some for conjuring, enchanting, and sorcery, by whose aid he daily effecteth such marvellous matters that he seemeth to the judgment of every man to be omnipotent in doing all mischief. But to prosecute my former matter and the course of my story, this great matron Mother Davis knowing well that this good companion was no novice or prentice in such affairs nor so conscionable as to make a scruple of small matters, nay further, knowing him to be so hardy a knight that for a need he would leap frankly over the very mountains of iniquity, she made no bones of the matter to ordain him a receipt for his mistress, a receipt I say drawn from the very dregs and sink of sorcery, namely such a one as in my opinion there is not a heart of any Christian man (except his) that could once abide to hear it spoken, so far would it be from one to put an act so horrible in execution.

For the most accursed beast appointed him to take young martins out of their nest and cause them to be distilled with some of his own nature or seed and certain other herbs and drugs mentioned in the said receipt, and having drawn forth no doubt some precious liquor out of these filthy simples he caused the lady to drink of the same. O accursed impiety and unworthy the ears of a Christian, yet fit enough for such a sorceress as she is, such an old witch whose profession is no other than to consecrate herself body and soul to the service of the devil. But this is a thing marvellous and fearful, that a Christian lord, such a one as Leicester nameth himself, that is to say the protector and patron of so pure a gospel, would offer himself an executor of so damnable a practice, coming from the mouth most venomous of so wicked a sorceress, inducing him not only to be partaker of the sorcery but also to commit a sodomitical act against his own [human] nature. But will you know the reason, at the least in mine opinion? I believe he had heard of certain heretics in times past that were wont to sprinkle the beastly sacrifices they offered with their own seed, and for this cause thinking it would derogate much from his absolute puissance if such petty companions should excel him in any kind of vice he made no difficulty to practice this goodly conclusion of sorcery, and so well he effected it that within a few days he made the lady drink this villainous and odious liquor in certain wine that was presented her, an act not only abominable afore God, injurious to his own nature, but also traitorous and disloyal toward the lady his mistress, to whose service he did owe all loyalty, yea and his very life, for divers respects which I may not utter for not discovering her name, which I will not do for the honor I bear her, greatly lamenting her ill fortune that being so great a lady as she is she should be notwithstanding so unlucky to be drenched with such a cup so unpleasant, not fit for a dog, to be drawn to affect a vessel so foul and unsavory as is the villainous, filthy, and brutish corpse of this monster of a man. But fearing (friendly reader) that by making thee taste so filthy a dish I may offend your stomach, as I have in part before this offended mine own, I now cease to search this matter any farther, being indeed astonished at his wickedness, and detesting all his villainies, and having a horror of his loathsome life, which he hath led a long time, saucing it with all sorts of beastliness.

Having therefore sufficiently declared his honesty by these particularities, or rather deductions, I approach now to the end of my discourse, omitting very many exploits achieved by this brave Earl, the which in their own nature are odious and would be esteemed in other men monstrous, though in his Lordship they can be counted but peccadilia, little faults, in regard of other more wicked villainies with which he is replenished. Wherefore I will pass over to speak at large of his endeavor that he hath ever used to sow and nourish debate and contention between the great lords of England and their wives, in which he alway showed himself a good practicer and very diligent, knowing that according to the Italian proverb, Nel mare turbato guadagna il pescatore, in a troubled water the fisher gains most.23 Although to say true, his Lordship hath not always gained much at this play, but hath oftentime so fished that instead of a fish he hath taken a frog,24 and at sometime lost both hook and line and pain and honor and all. And of his such practices I could bring you many examples, as that of the Earl of Arundel and his lady, between whom he sought all means to nourish discord, hoping by that means to subvert the greatest and most honorable family of England.25 The same he attempted between the Earl of Oxford and his lady, daughter of the Lord Treasurer of England, and all for an old grudge he bare to her father the said Lord Treasurer.26 The like he sought to do between the Earl of Southampton and the Countess, thinking by so doing to satisfy his appetite and fond lust, although he was frustrated of his intent therein.27 But among all his other practices that which he brought to pass between the Earl of Shrewsbury and his pretended wife is worthy to be noted, whom he so bravely brought about (playing his own part then of the very Earl of Leicester in person) that he induced the good dame to accuse her husband of high treason, thinking by this means to take out of his hands his most honorable prisoner the Queen of Scots, and to give her in keeping to one of his creatures, to be able thereby to command the life of the said afflicted princess at his pleasure.28 Of all which examples alleged I could (I say) make you a discourse in particular, if I did not think them to be fit to pass over as matter of little weight in respect of others before mentioned. Also I will say nothing of his dissimulation and deceit that he useth commonly in matter of law and justice, writing his letters contrary one to the other, one openly in favor of the suitor (to whom he pretendeth to desire to pleasure), another secretly in favor of the adverse part, as my Lord Chief Justice of England and the Queen's Attorney General can tell very well and have oftentimes confessed.29 Neither will I now speak (partly for the reason before alleged and partly because I am not yet sufficiently advertised of the matter) of his malicious and violent persecuting of my Lord Harry Howard, brother to the Duke of Norfolk, and of Mr. Charles Arundell, the Queen's near kinsman and sometime in great reputation and credit with her, being two personages honorable in divers degrees and much favored and esteemed in Court, and yet he keepeth one of them as I am informed in prison, and hath constrained the other to leave his country and to live an exile to maintain his liberty.

I overpass I say all these things here with silence, and many other, for the cause aforesaid and for avoiding of tediousness, contenting myself that I have already discovered in this brief addition his treason and falsehood toward the person of so great a prince as the king's brother Monsieur was, that I have laid before your eyes his foul ingratitude toward his own friends, his barbarous and inhuman dealing toward his kinsfolk, his oppressions, corruptions, perjuries, murderous practices, sorceries, sin against nature, and flat atheism. For the plainer demonstration of whose excess[es] and enormities I have painted him out in all his colors, and I have proved him a gentleman perfect in all knavery, so as his Lordship needs not give place to any man whatever he be in all kind of lewdness, yea that he deserveth to bear away the prize due to the chief hangman on the earth, and for this I believe that ere long he shall be by common consent of all villians of the world judged and reputed worthy to carry the scepter and to be commander among them, which if it come to pass it may be some satisfaction to his ambitious humor, which never aimeth at other mark than crowns and kingdoms.

But to end this discourse, you see that I have already acquitted my promise to the reader and showed my goodwill to this good Earl, so as I think I am not one halfpenny in his debt, now I will take my leave of his Lordship without kissing his hands till [the] time they be better washed with tears of repentance, having been in times past so defiled with blood and with all sorts of filthiness and of wickedness.


1. C.S.P. Spanish, 1580-86, p. 538.

2. During Anjou's second visit to England (Nov. 1581-Feb. 1582), his courtship, though prominent in gossip, had given way to an attempt to secure financial aid for his ventures in the Low Countries. Leicester's party, which urged English support of the Dutch rebels against Spain, began to back his cause in hopes that Elizabeth would, by aiding Anjou, aid their Dutch friends as well. Thus Leicester and Walsingham became more amiable toward him, feigning support of his marriage. When Anjou left on 7 Feb., he was given not only money but also an English entourage including Leicester and over one hundred gentlemen, in order to lend prestige as he began his new regime. William Prince of Orange met the Party at Flushing, where he was introduced to Leicester by Philip Sidney, with whom he had been acquainted since 1577. On 19 Feb. the party entered Antwerp in state, where Leicester's presence gained some acceptance of Anjou as figurehead sovereign. The Earl, however, was striving to undermine Anjou and (probably with Elizabeth's sanction) was warning Orange to keep the unreliable Frenchman in check. In the following Jan. Anjou made his inept attempt to take real power by force and was expelled from the Netherlands for good. See Read, Walsingham, 2: 89-103, and for their arrival in Antwerp, Holinshed, 4: 460-87.

3. Literally, "all the ancient and principal nobility."

4. Literally, boutefeux: "one who kindles feuds and discontents" (Dr. Johnson's Dictionary).

5. John Scory, an ex-Dominican monk, Protestant Bishop of Rochester (1551) and of Chichester (1552), Marian exile, Bishop of Hereford until his death on 25 or 26 June 1585.

6. Scory was notoriously avaricious. In 1582 Sidney, as Lord President of the Council in the Marches, began investigations into his dealings, and on 20 Nov. the Bishop sent his son Sylvan to Court to seek intervention in his behalf (Strype, Annals of the Reformation, vol. 3, part 1, pp. 171-72). Sylvan returned to him with promises of help from Walsingham (Bp. Scory to Walsingham, 3 Feb. 1583, S.P. 12/158/55), but Sidney persisted, and by June the old man had come to London, accusing Sidney of malfeasance and requesting of Burghley that he "be either exempted from [Sidney's] authority, to answer in the courts there at Westminster" or else translated to another see. Sometime later, with the matter apparently unresolved, he returned home, complaining of the existence in his district of rumors that whilst in London he had been imprisoned and that he "must with six bishops make a purgation" (ibid., p. 174); whether his case was really heard by six bishops is not known, nor is there evidence of Leicester's involvement.

7. Virgil, Aeneid, bk. 3, line 56.

8. The conventional pun: angels as heavenly beings and as the gold coin with the Archangel Michael as its device.

9. In Jan. 1584 a spy reported that Sylvan Scory was haunting the French ambassador's house and saying that "if his father were dead and his goods sold, he would not tarry" in crossing the seas. Upon his father's death in June 1585, Sylvan burst into the house (even as the old man was dying), yelling, "All is mine, all is mine, where is my sword, where is my sword," and, with eight or nine "ruffians and roisters," forcibly ejected his mother and his brother-in-law Giles Allen, and began selling off the Bishop's goods. Allen begged the Privy Council to act in the matter, and in his petition he pointed out the need for haste, "for the body of the dead remaineth yet unburied" (S.P. 12/180/1). Sylvan thereupon appealed to Leicester for help but was arrested anyway and brought up to London; on 27 July he wrote again, asking that the Earl prevent the matter from coming before the Council because it would be "most tedious and brabbling" to their Lordships and because he could assure them that in the end he would win the case anyway, even though his mother had stolen all his evidence. He mentioned that all those helping his mother were "most arrant Papists" (S.P. 12/180/49). At an earlier examination, 12 Feb. 1585, Scory had testified, among other things, that he had never read Leicester's Commonwealth, that whilst abroad he had known Morgan and Throgmorton but not well, that he had consorted with Mendoza but only for reasons of private gratitude, not treason, and that he had been the means of making Mendoza and Leicester friends by inviting them to dinner at Mr. Customer Smith's! (S.P. 12/176/53.) By 10 Jan. 1586 Scory was serving in the Low Countries as a horseman, was later a Member of Parliament, and seems to have died in 1617. He is noted in John Aubrey's Brief Lives, pp. 269-70.

10. John Appleyard was halfbrother of Amy Robsart; during the 1560s Leicester gained several offices for him and "procured him to be made sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk" (in 1559), but he felt he had received only "fair promises," and in 1567 they fell out. He believed that Horsey and Christmas had incensed the Earl against him and that his only fault had been to press Leicester for leave to reopen his sister's case - since he claimed to have reason to think that murder could be proved. In early 1567 Appleyard was approached by someone to join a plot to accuse Leicester of her death, and he was heard asserting "that he had for the Earl's sake covered the murder of his sister" (according to Blount's report to Leicester, the suborners were Norfolk, Sussex, and Heneage). After a stay in the Fleet, he made submission in May after having been shown a copy of the coroner's verdict of accidental death (all from H.M.C. Salisbury MSS., 1: 345-46,349-52). In May 1570 he led an insurrection in Norfolk aimed at freeing the Duke of Norfolk from the Tower; in late Aug. he and three others were condemned to death (letter, 31 Aug. 1570, Lodge, Illustrations, 1: 512-13; John Jerningham's pardon, 28 June 1571, Calendar of Patent Rolls, 1569-72, p. 165). In May 1574, after four years in Norwich Castle, he was removed to house arrest and apparently died not long after.

11. The French is less ambiguous; it is her death, not Appleyard's involvement, that is discussed in the Commonwealth.

12. This George Darcy is unidentified, as are his troubles. In 1581 Charles Arundell wrote to a Mr. Darcy, warning him to beware of "false supporters and rotten staves" (S.P. 12/151/56).

13. This allegation is unconfirmed elsewhere. The Duke of Sweden (later Eric XIV) never came into England; he attempted the journey in Aug. 1560 and was expected again in autumn 1561. The reference may be to his brother John Duke of Finland, who pursued Eric's suit by proxy from autumn 1559 to the following spring. This tale is at variance with the Commonwealth's version of the Swedish suit.

14. This is Douglass Howard, formerly Lady Sheffield, wife of Sir Edward Stafford.

15. Hellebore, a medicinal herb. The MS.'s margin note states that "one is an herb called sentuary, the other a poisoning herb called wolfwort," i.e., wolfbane.

16. Literally, "Reagal," probably red arsenic, often called realgar.

17. Lady Sheffield swore, in Star Chamber testimony of 1604-1605, that Leicester had tried to poison her as a consequence of her refusal to disclaim his marriage to her (Hawarde, Reportes, p. 199); there is no independent confirmation. Possibly in deference to her reputation in the French Court, the author here retails her version of the poisoning while suppressing its origin in her relationship with Leicester. Little is known of George Vaux, merely that he was one of Leicester's servants (e.g., Huntington Library MS. EL 6206 B, fol. 63).

18. Fervaques, on instructions of the Queen of Navarre, had been instrumental in alienating Anjou from his agent Simier (the "old quarrel" mentioned). When Anjou arrived in England in Nov. 1581, he had Fervaques in his entourage; Simier followed, ostensibly to challenge Fervaques to the field, actually to report Anjou's progress to the French king. In mid Dec. Fervaques accepted Simier's challenge, then, apparently with Leicester's connivance, endeavored to have Simier attacked by assassins on the London Exchange. Simier escaped and informed the Queen, who rebuked Leicester severely and forbade anyone to harm Simier. Fervaques, convinced that Simier had been warned in advance, pursued the supposed informant, one Lafin, with his dagger drawn, right into the Queen's presence and found himself sequestered from coming to Court. Most available evidence is in H.M.S. Salisbury MSS., 2: 463,470- 73 et passim and H.M.C. Rutland MSS., 1: 131, plausibly reconstructed by M. Hume in Courtships of Queen Elizabeth, pp. 276-79. The Exeter translator has erroneously anglicized Fervaques to "Fairfax."

19. In Jan. 1575 Thomas Moffett arrived in Antwerp with a plan, not to kill, but to abduct Westmoreland away to England (as Dr. Story had been in 1570) and with letters (supposedly instructions) bearing Leicester's seal. The English ambassador to France, Dr. Wilson (then in Antwerp), referred him to Edward Woodshaw, a Catholic refugee who was an informant for Lord Burghley. On 26 Jan., before proceeding with the plan, Woodshaw wrote to Burghley asking his and Leicester's direct sanction, as he had doubts about Moffett. On 19 Feb. he wrote again to accuse Moffett of treachery: He said that Moffett had told Westmoreland of the plan and that together they had devised a counterplan to deceive Leicester of the thousand pounds promised for the abduction, and he asked that Leicester have Moffett sent for home and kept a close prisoner. Burghley passed Woodshaw's news on to Leicester, who replied on 27 Feb. that "Moffett is playing the varlet" and that he would try to have him brought back to England (all from H.M.C. Salisbury MSS., 2: 86-93). Whether such a plan originated with Leicester or with the exiles, to discredit the Earl or to trap Woodshaw, is open to question. On 16 Oct. 1594, Sir Edward and Lady Stafford were seeking to gain favorable treatment for "old Captain Moffett" in Newgate prison, apparently successfully (cited in Miscellanea Genealogica et Heraldica, n.s. 3 [1880], p. 369, with inaccurate reference).

20. Timon, fifth-century Athenian, proverbial misanthrope; see Plutarch's Life of Antony (translated into English by Thomas North, 1579) and Lucian's Timon (translated into French by Filbert Bretin, 1582). "Misanthropos" is in Greek characters in both the French edition and the Exeter manuscript.

21. Proverb, from Saint Jerome, Selected Letters, no. 1, section 7.

22. Christmas had been a servant of Leicester's since at least June 1566 (S.P. 15/13/5); Leicester was once tasked by a Puritan writer for keeping him on, as he and a few others "were sinners above all men in England" (British Library, Harleian MS. 419, fol. 162). In 1581 Arundell included him in his attacks upon Oxford and Leicester (S.P. 12/151/50).

23. A proverb also used by Richard Grafton (Chronicle), Sidney (Arcadia), Samuel Daniel (Civil Wars), and Bishop Hall. See the Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs, pp. 207-8.

24. Another proverb (Oxford Dictionary, p. 205).

25. That is, the Howards. Philip, Earl of Arundel (after 1580), the Duke of Norfolk's son, had been married in 1569 at the age of twelve to Ann Dacres, also twelve. After leaving Cambridge in 1576, he came to Court, where he lived extravagantly while his wife remained in the country. Under the influence of his uncle Lord Harry, he moved in the circles of the Catholic Court party, though not yet himself a Catholic. As that group's fortunes fell after 1580, he rejoined his wife and openly professed her religion, for which they both suffered accordingly. In his later, more serious troubles (beginning in 1583 and ending with his capital sentence for treason in 1589 and his death in the Tower on 19 Oct. 1595), he accounted Leicester his chief enemy, but there is no evidence of Leicester's having sowed discord in his marriage. On his life, see English Martyrs 2, C.R.S. 21 (1919).

26. Oxford married Anne Cecil, the daughter of his guardian Lord Burghley, on 19 Dec. 1571. After his return from Europe in 1576 he did put his wife aside, accusing her of adultery. He was not reconciled to her until 1582, shortly before her death. There is no evidence of Leicester's responsibility in this matter, but the reference may be to the events of 1580 when Oxford defected to Leicester's party.

27. Henry Wriothesley, second Earl of Southampton, was a Catholic who spent eighteen months in the Tower at the time of Norfolk's treason (and was accused of having charged Leicester with being the cause of the Duke's death, H.M.C. Salisbury MSS., 2: 21). In about 1577 Southampton accused his wife, Mary née Browne, of incontinence with a servant, and in early 1580 he put her away for this reason. She blamed his servant Dymock for having turned him against her; Fr. Parsons blamed Charles Paget (C.R.S. 2, p. 183). At his death on 4 Oct. 1581, the Earl left a will grossly unfair to his wife and children, and ten days later (and several times after) she appealed to her friend and kinsman Leicester for help in circumventing it, which he supplied. (The best account is Akrigg, Shakespeare and the Earl of Southampton, pp. 12-19.) The only evidence of Leicester's having created discord appears in one of the widow's letters to him: "Ten thousand times have I remembered your speeches to me full often touching the disposition of the man [her husband]. I think I shall hold you for more than half a prophet" (printed in Stopes, Life of Henry, Third Earl of Southampton, p. 9).

28. In late 1583 the Countess of Shrewsbury and her sons William and Charles Cavendish spread rumors that her husband had been guilty of adultery with his prisoner the Queen of Scots. Queen Mary protested to Elizabeth in Dec., and in Jan. she accused Leicester and Walsingham of having been behind it all (C.S.P. Scots, 1584-85, p. 5). In Sept. 1584 Elizabeth acquitted Shrewsbury of all blame, and in Nov. the Countess and her sons were examined by the Council over their actions (the Earl brought suit for defamation against the sons in Jan. 1586), but because of the scandal, by late Aug. 1584 the Earl, to the chagrin of Mary's supporters, had already been relieved of his charge. A coherent account is in E. Williams, Bess of Hardwick, chaps. 13-15, though the reconstruction of the Countess's motives, pp. 159-61, must be regarded as fanciful.

29. The margin identifies Sir Christopher Wray (1524-1592), Chief Justice of the Queen's Bench from 1574 until his death, and Mr. (later Sir) John Popham, Attorney General from 1581 to 1592 (Chief Justice until his death in 1607).

Appendices with Related Notes
Appendix APrinted and Manuscript Forms of Leicester's Commonwealth
Appendix BThe French Translation, 1585, and its Addition
Appendix CSidney's Defense of Leicester
Appendix DFurther Notes
Appendix ERelated Documents
Appendix FGenealogical Tables
BibliographyBibliography of Printed Works Cited
PDF version, 2006 (2.0 MB)

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