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The Quatercentary of Sir Walter Raleigh's Trial
Part III: James's Succession

Elizabeth died in 1603, without having named her successor. Cecil was present at her death-bed, and we only have his word for it that, when he enquired of the dying Queen whether James should succeed her, she made a motion indicating her assent. Cecil lost no time in ensuring that his long efforts to ingratiate himself with James would bear fruit. He immediately issued orders for the accession of James to be publicly proclaimed throughout the Kingdom, and sent a despatch-rider to Scotland to summon the new King, then himself set out to meet James on his progress to London.

In due course, Cecil was to become the power behind James's throne, just as his father, Burghley, had been the power behind Elizabeth's. Aside from Cecil, James's principal courtiers were characterised by two qualities - their outstanding good looks, combined with an almost total ineptitude in matters of public administration. His first favourite, Sir Robert Carr - later Earl of Somerset - was rewarded with the gift of Raleigh's country house, Sherborne, following the forfeiture of Raleigh's worldly possessions upon his being attainted for treason. After Carr fell from grace, he was displaced by Sir George Villiers - later Earl, then Marquis, and finally Duke of Buckingham. The King was not alone in his susceptibility to the attractions of Buckingham's physical beauty: Laud, the Archbishop of Canterbury, recorded "a delightful dream in which Villiers came into his bed";and even Bacon wrote, in response toa letter from Villiers, that "the flame it hath kindled in me will never be extinguished". King James wrote to Buckingham, whom he nicknamed "Steenie", as "my only sweet and dear child", as "sweetheart", and even as "wife".

the King and his "toy-boys"
Jame I
(upper right) Robert Carr
(lower right) George Villiers

With Essex out of the way, and with the King's "toy boys" providing no real threat to Cecil's control of the government, only Raleigh could be seen as a serious challenge to his power and influence under the new regime. But, quite apart from Raleigh's own (honourable but foolish) refusal to accept friendly overtures from Lennox on James's behalf, Cecil had well and truly poisoned the well between James and Raleigh. In secret correspondence with James in the last years of Elizabeth's life, Cecil had insinuated that Raleigh was opposed to James's succession, preferring one of the female claimants - either Lady Arabella Stuart, who had a more direct lineal claim, or possibly the Spanish Infanta - whom Raleigh might be able to manipulate as successfully as he had manipulated Elizabeth. Similar insinuations had been communicated to James by Essex - who also implicated Cecil as favouring the Infanta - and by Lord Admiral Howard (later the Earl of Nottingham). Thus, when James and Raleigh first met, James was already thoroughly prejudiced against Raleigh, making the famous pun: "Raleigh, Raleigh, O my soul, mon, I have heard but rawly of thee".

Perhaps there is another reason for James's animosity to Raleigh, namely Raleigh's reputation for having introduced the smoking of tobacco to England. In an essay published in 1604, entitled A Counterblaste to Tobacco, James issued what was probably the first "Government Health Warning" on this subject, describing smoking as "a custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and in the black stinking fume thereof nearest resembling the horrible stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless". In what was quite possibly a reference to Raleigh, James's essay mentioned "the foolish and groundless first entry thereof into this Kingdom", observing that "It was neither brought in by king, great conqueror, nor learned doctor of physic".

Title-page to A Counterblaste to Tobacco

But Raleigh was a political survivor. He had reversed Elizabeth's disfavour more than once, and outlasted all of her principal courtiers apart from Cecil. Realistically, there was little chance that Raleigh would ever overcome the new King's animosity to him; but that risk was not one which Cecil was prepared to take.

Possibly, Cecil had another reason for wanting Raleigh out of the way. His own role in bringing down Essex was not calculated to endear him to the new King, and James - a homosexual or bisexual with a particular attraction to dashing young men of good looks and heroic attainments - formed a strong posthumous attachment to his "martyr". At his trial, Essex had attempted to deflect attention from his own treason by declaring that he could "prove thus much from Sir Robert Cecil's own mouth: That he, speaking to one of his fellow councillors, should say that none in the world but the Infanta of Spain had the right to the Crown of England." There can be little doubt that Cecil did, indeed, "hedge his bets". Throughout his time in government service, and even whilst England was at war with Spain, Cecil was in receipt of a Spanish "pension" - that is, regular bribes from the Spanish Crown. If there were any truth in Essex's allegation that Cecil and Raleigh supported the Infanta's claim to the succession, Raleigh was the only man alive who could betray Cecil. Cecil needed Raleigh eliminated.

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links to other parts of this article

Part I: Raleigh and Elizabeth I

Part II: The Essex Trial

Part IV: The Main and Bye Plots

Part V: Cobham’s Allegations

Part VI: The Law of Treason

Part VII: The Accused

Part VIII: The Prosecutor

Part IX: The Trial

Part X: Raleigh’s Execution

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this page last updated 20 January 2004