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At court he found no change in faces, but smothered murmurings for the loss of so many gallant gentlemen, against which his friends opposed in their discourses the chance of war, and the failure of his promised supplies. His fame, however, fell more and more in obloquy among the vulgar, whose judgements are only reconciled with good successes: so that he plainly perceived he must engage in some fresh expedition in order to heal, by his best endeavours, his wounded reputation. In the mean while, he was not unmindful, in his civil course, to practise the usual methods of gaining over such as were of principal credit in the Lower House of Parliament, applying lenitives, or subducting from that part where he knew the humours were sharpest: when, amidst all his machinations, he was surprised with his fatal stroke.
There was a younger brother of mean fortune, born in the county of Suffolk, by name John Felton, by nature of a deep, melancholy, silent, and gloomy constitution; but bred in the active profession of a soldier, and at this time lieutenant of a company of foot in the regiment commanded by Sir James Ramsey. This man had closely within himself conceived the Duke's death: but what may have been his immediate or greatest motive, is even yet unascertained.
It was said at first, that upon his captain's death he had been stung with a denial of his company; and the Duke, it is certain, had in compliance with Ramsey's recommendation bestowed it upon one Powel, the colonel's lieutenant and a gentleman of extraordinary valour: but to this, as Feiton acknowledged, Powel both by his station and his merit might justly pretend. By others it was stated, that between a
knight of the same county, whom the Duke had lately taken into some good degree of favour, and the said Felton there had been ancient quarrels, which might perhaps still lie festering in his breast, and by continued inflammation produce this gangrenous result. Neither of these causes, however, appears adequate to the great effect. The assassin himself, not three hours before his execution, alleged to Sir Richard Greham two only inducements : the first, a certain libellous book, written by one Egglestone a Scottish physician, which represented the Duke as one of the foulest monsters upon earth, unworthy not only of life in a Christian court and under so virtuous a king, but of any room within the bounds of humanity;' the other, the remonstrance itself of the Lower House against him, which (thinking it perchance, the fairest cover) he put in the second place. Whatever were his motives, he prosecuted and achieved his enterprise in the following
In a by-cutler's shop on Tower-Hill, he purchased a tenpenny knife, the sheath of which he sewed to the lining of his pocket, that he might at any moment draw forth the blade with one hand, as he had maimed the other. This done, he reached Portsmouth, partly (as it is said) on horseback, and partly on foot, for he was in great poverty, which might perhaps have a little edged his desperation. There without any suspicion, among numbers solicitous of employment, he pressed into an inward chamber, where Buckingham was at breakfast with Monsieur de Soubes and Sir Thomas Fryer; and a little before his Grace's rising from the tablė, moved thence into a kind of lobby between that room and the next
where divers were in waiting for the Duke's appearance.
In this lobby, as Buckingham was passing through, the assassin with a back stroke gave him a deep wound in his left-side. The Duke, having just time to pull out the knife, sunk down under the table, and expired. *
One circumstance ensuing upon this transaction is beyond all wonder; that, within the space of not many minutes after the removal of the body into the first room, there was not a single creature remaining in either of the chambers! Usually such cases draw together a great and sudden conflux of people: but the very horror of the deed it should seem had stupified all curiosity, and so dispersed the multitude, that it is thought even the murtherer † himself might have escaped, if he had not lingered about the house below, 'not from any confused arrest of conscience (as has occasionally occurred in similar examples) but from pride in his own achievement, as if in effect there were little difference between being remembered by a virtuous fame and a memorable infamy.
Thus fell, at the age of thirty-six, this illustrious peer, in a moment of great recourse unto him, and general dependence upon him: the house and town,
* Before this bloody event, Sir Clement Throgmorton, a gentleman of grave judgement, had advised him to wear a privy coat. The Duke received his suggestion very kindly; but replied, " that against any popular fury a shirt of mail would be but a weak defence, and for any single man's assault, he took himself to be in no danger.” So dark is destiny !
† On the trial of Felton, an attempt was made to introduce examination by torture; but the judges, to their honour (as dependent at that time, for the continuance of their offices, on the pleasure of the court) declared, that 'torture could not by the law of England be administered.'
full of servants and suitors; his Duchess in an upper room, scarcely yet out of bed; and the court, which had been the stage of his greatness, not above eight or nine miles from him.
As to ominous presages of his end, it is reported, that being about to take leave of the Bishop of London, whom he knew by his own eminent abilities well planted in the royal affection, after mutual courtesies he thus addressed him: “ I know your Lordship hath very worthily good accesses unto the King our Sovereign, let me pray you to put his Majesty in mind to be good, as I no ways distrust, to my poor wife and children.” At these words, or at his mode of uttering them, the Bishop being somewhat troubled, asked him, whether he had any secret bodings in his mind ?' "No," replied the Duke, “but I think some adventure may kill me as well as another man.” The day before he was assassinated, in consequence of some indisposition, the King honoured him with a visit, and found him in his bed; where, after much serious discourse, the Duke, on his Majesty's departing, embraced him in a very unusual and passionate manner, as he did also his friend the Earl of Holland, as if his soul had divined that he should see them no more. On the very day of his death, his sister the Countess of Denbigh received a letter from him, her reply to which she copiously bedewed with her tears. It ended thus : I will pray for your happy return, which I look at with a great cloud over my head, too heavy for my poor heart to bear without torment; but I hope the great God of heaven will bless you."
The day following, her friend the Bishop of Ely, who was thought the fittest person to prepare her mind for the doleful tidings, came to visit her: but hearing she was at rest, he waited till she should awake of herself, which she presently did with the terror of a frightful dream. Her brother seemed to pass through a field with her, in her coach; where hearing a sudden shout of the people, and asking the reason, she was told it was for joy that Buckingham was sick. This melancholy vision she had scarcely related unto her gentlewoman, before the Bishop entered her chamber, as the chosen messenger of the Duke's death,
But the most remarkable instance of all is the celebrated story of the apparition, which is recorded by Lord Clarendon. “ There was an officer in the King's wardrobe in Windsor Castle, of a good reputation for honesty and discretion, and then about the age of fifty years or more. This man had in his youth been bred in a school in the parish where Sir George Villiers, the father of the Duke, lived; and had been much cherished and obliged, in that season of his age, by the said Sir George, whom afterward he never saw.
About six months before the miserable end of the Duke of Buckingham, about midnight, this man being in his bed at Windsor (where his office was) and in very good health, there appeared to him on the side of his bed a man of a very venerable aspect, who drew the curtains of his bed, and fixing his eyes upon him, asked him if he knew him.'. The poor man, half dead with fear and apprehension, being asked the second time whether he remembered him, and having in that time called to his memory the presence of Sir George Villiers and the very clothes he used to wear, in which at that time he seemed to be habited, he answered him, that he