Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Beale, Robert
BEALE, ROBERT (1541–1601), diplomatist and antiquary, is said to have been descended from a family settled at Woodbridge in Suffolk. Of his parents, however, we know nothing but their names, Robert and Amy. He married Edith, daughter of Henry St. Barbe, of Somersetshire, sister of the wife of Sir Francis Walsingham. Apparently, he very early formed decided opinions upon the theological controversies of his age; for he seems to have been obliged to quit England at some date during Queen Mary's reign, and not to have returned until after the accession of Elizabeth. It is probably to this period that he refers when, at a much later date, he writes that in his youth he ' took great pains in travelling in divers countries on foot for lack of other abilities.' In 1562 Lord John Grey consulted him concerning the validity of the marriage of his niece with Edward Seymour, earl of Hertford, and Beale in consequence made a journey to the continent for the purpose of laying the case before the learned Oldendorpius and some eminent Italian canonists. The opinion which Beale formed after consultation with these sagacious persons, and which he subsequently maintained in a Latin tract, has stood the test of time; for though a royal commission, with Archbishop Parker at its head, pronounced the marriage void, its validity was established in 1606, and has never since been questioned.
In 1564 he obtained some post in connection with the English embassy in Paris. What was the precise nature of his duties does not appear; but they seem to have sometimes carried him into Germany. Apparently, Walsingham found him in Paris on his appointment as ambassador-resident there in 1570, and made him his secretary. In the correspondence between Burghley and Walsingham of this period he is frequently mentioned as carrying despatches to and fro between Paris and London. He appears to have been a witness of the massacre of St. Bartholomew two years later (24 Aug. 1572), which furnished him with material for a 'Discourse by way of Letter to the Lord Burghley,' written shortly after the event. The same year he succeeded Robert Monson, then raised to the bench, as M.P. for Totnes. It must have been about this time that he was appointed clerk to the council, as in a letter dated 1591 he states that he had then held that post nineteen years. In April 1575 he was sent to Flushing to recover goods which the Flushingers had seized, consisting partly of merchandise and partly of property of the Earl of Oxford; and in the following year he accompanied Admiral Winter to the Low Countries to demand the liberation of the English merchant ships on which the Prince of Orange had laid an embargo in the Scheldt in retaliation for acts of piracy committed by English privateers upon Dutch shipping. The ships were set free at once, but a pecuniary indemnity for the detention, which Beale was instructed to claim, was the subject of much dispute, and apparently was never conceded. In June 1576 Augustus, elector of Saxony, had summoned to Torgau a convention of Saxon divines for the purpose of settling certain disputed questions of theology, in particular, whether omnipresence was or was not an attribute of the physical body of Jesus. The result of their labours was seen in the 'Book of Torgau,' which, after revision at Bergen in the following year by James Andreä, or Andreas, chancellor and provost of the university of Tübingen, and certain other eminent theologians, was issued under the title, 'Formula of Concord,' as the only authoritative exposition of the orthodox creed of Saxony. This work not only explicitly affirmed the ubiquity of the body of Jesus to be an integral part of the creed, but declared all such as denied that doctrine (Cryptocalvinists, as they were called) to be heretics. At this juncture Elizabeth saw fit to despatch Beale on a kind of circular tour to visit the courts of the Lutheran princes of Germany, and put in a plea for toleration in favour of the Cryptocalvinists. We learn from one of his papers that, for the purposes of this mission, 'he made a long and winter journey, making a circuit to and fro of 1400 English miles at the least, repairing personally to nine princes, and sending her majesty's letters to three others.' Elsewhere he says that 'he obtained that which he was sent for, i.e. that the Elector of Saxony and Palatine would surcease from proceeding to a condemnation of other reformed churches that did not agree with the ubiquitaries.' Languet, in a letter to Sidney, dated Frankfort , 8 Jan. 1577-8, is able to write: 'Master Beale has met with no small difficulties in going through his appointed task, but by his prudence and dexterity he has so surmounted them that I hope our churches are saved from the perils which threatened them from the movements of Jacobus Andreas and some other theologians.' In the same letter Languet praised Beale's 'agreeable conversation,' and 'his character, genius, and manifold experience.' Beale was at that time returning to England, and Languet's letter, with which he was entrusted, was to serve as an introduction to Sidney. Writing of marriage, Languet observes: 'Take the advice of Master Beale on the matter. He believes that a man cannot live well and happily in celibacy.' In another letter he writes that Beale 'often used to launch out into the praises of matrimony.'
According to Beale's account he was very ill provided with funds for this journey, while his royal mistress, of course, complained of his extravagance. In a letter to the lord treasurer vindicating himself from the charge he says: 'And I protest upon my allegiance that the gifts I gave at the Duke of Brunswick's in ready money and money's worth for her majesty's honour, being her gossips, and having had nothing to my knowledge sent unto them (and in other places), came to better than 100l. And whoso knoweth the fashions and craving of these princes' courts may well see that, having been at so many places, I could not escape with less. My charges came in this voyage to 932l. one way or another. Before my going over I sold a chain which I had of the Queen of Scots for 65l.' The fact that Beale received a token of esteem from Mary Stuart is interesting in connection with his subsequent relations with that unfortunate lady. During Walsingham's absence in the Netherlands in the summer of 1578 Beale acted as secretary of state, as also in 1581 and 1583, on occasion of Walsingham's missions to France and Scotland in those years. In the autumn of 1580 he took part in the examination of Richard Stanihurst, the jesuit, 'touching the conveying of the late Lord Garret [Gerald Fitzgerald, Lord Offaley] into Spain at the instigation of Thomas Fleming, a priest,' and in 1581 was one of the commissioners who took the depositions of Edmund Campion before his trial. It is significant, however, that the commission under which he acted extended only to threatening with torture. When it was determined to have actual recourse to that method of persuasion, Beale's name was omitted (doubtless at his own request) from the commission. This year Walsingham, being appointed governor of the Mines Royal, made Beale his deputy. According to the latter's own account he did his duty in this post for fifteen years, keeping the accounts with regularity, without receiving any remuneration. Between 1581 and 1584 he was employed in negotiating with the Queen of Scots at Sheffield. Camden suggests that he was chosen for this business on account of his notorious bias in favour of puritanism, designating him 'hominem vehementem et austere acerbum,' 'quo non alter Scotorum Reginae prae religionis studio iniquior.' However this may have been, it is certain that he soon came to be suspected of secret partiality to the cause of Mary, and of something like treachery to the council. Of these negotiations he gives the following account: 'Six several times or more I was sent to the late Queen of Scots. At the first access my commission was to deal with her alone. Afterwards I did, for sundry respects, desire that I might not deal without the privity of the Earl of Shrewsbury, being a nobleman and a councillor. She was with much difficulty brought to make larger offers unto her majesty than she had before done to any others whose negotiations I had seen. I was then suspected to have been, as some term it, won to a new mistress. Whereupon the charge was committed to the said earl and Sir Walter Mildmay, and I was only appointed to attend upon them to charge her by word of mouth with certain articles gathered out of the earl's and my letters. She avowed all that we had reported, and, I thank the Lord, I acquitted myself to be an honest man.'
Beale was hardly fit to treat with a person of such dexterity and resource as Mary Stuart. She seems to have contrived to delude him with the idea that she had really given up ambition, and was desirous only to live a retired life for the rest of her days. This appears from the tone of a letter to Walsingham, written in the spring of 1583. A year later he appears to have formed a juster estimate of the character of the queen. 'With all the cunning that we have,' he then wrote to Walsingham, 'we cannot bring this lady to make any absolute promise for the performance of her offers, unless she may be assured of the accomplishment of the treaty. Since the last break off she is more circumspect how she entangle herself.'
Next year (1585) Beale was returned to parliament for Dorchester, which place he also represented in the two succeeding parliaments (1586 and 1588). In November 1586 he was despatched with Lord Buckhurst to Fotheringay, to notify the Queen of Scots of the fact that sentence of death had been passed upon her. Early in the following year Beale carried the warrant to Fotheringay and performed the ghastly duty of reading it aloud in the hall of the castle by way of preliminary to the execution, of which he was an eye-witness, and wrote an account. Though a zealous puritan, Beale seems to have had a dispassionate and liberal mind. During the persecution of the Jesuits which marked the latter years of Elizabeth's reign, he fearlessly and ably maintained the principle of toleration, both in parliament and as a writer. Thus, we know that he published a work impugning the right of the crown to fine or imprison for ecclesiastical offences, and condemning the use of torture to induce confession, and followed it up at a later date with a second treatise upon the same subject. We cannot fix the precise date of either of these books, but we may infer that the second was a recent publication in 1584 from the fact that Whitgift then thought it necessary to take cognisance of its existence by drawing up and laying before the council a 'schedule of misdemeanours' alleged to have been committed by its author, of which the contents of these two works furnished the principal heads. What precisely he meant to do with this formidable indictment (the articles were fourteen in number) remains obscure. Probably he wished to procure Beale's dismissal from the post of clerk of the council. If so, however, he was disappointed, as apparently no notice whatever was taken of it. In the spring of the same year Beale had shown the archbishop the manuscript of another work which he had nearly completed, dealing with another branch of the same subject, viz. the proper prerogative of the bishops, which the archbishop refused to return when Beale (5 May) presented himself at Lambeth to receive it. On this occasion a great deal of temper appears to have been lost on both sides, Beale predicting that the archbishop would be the overthrow of the church and a cause of tumult, and Whitgift accusing Beale of levity and irreverence, speaking in very disparaging terms of his work, and saying that 'neither his divinity nor his law was great.' Beale addressed a lengthy epistle to the archbishop (7 May), in which he avers that 'by the space of twenty-six years and upwards he has been a student of the civil laws, and long sith could have taken a degree if he had thought (as some do) that the substance of learning consisteth more in form and title than matter, and that in divinitie he has read as much as any chaplain his lordship hath, and when his book shall be finished and answered let others judge thereof.'
In the summer he served under Leicester in the Netherlands during the ill-fated attempt to relieve Sluys, in what precise capacity does not appear, but we infer that he was employed in connection with the transport department. In 1589 he was employed in negotiation with the States, and next year we find him engaged with Burghley and Buckhurst in adjusting the accounts of Peregrine Bertie, Lord Willoughby, commander in the Netherlands. In 1592 the attitude which Beale assumed in a debate upon supply, coupled with an animated speech which he made about the same time against the inquisitorial practices of his old enemies the bishops, gave so much offence to the queen that he was commanded to absent himself both from court and from parliament. In 1592 he addressed a lengthy letter to the lord treasurer, vindicating his opinions on church government with great learning and considerable apparent ability. The same year he was returned to parliament for Lostwithiel, in Cornwall. In 1595 the Earl of Essex appears to have tried to deprive Beale of his office of clerk to the council in favour of one of his own creatures. Accordingly, we find Beale writing (24 April 1595) a letter to the lord treasurer, in which he sets forth his claims to consideration at great length and with no little emphasis. It appears from this document that he had held this office for twenty-three years, that 'he enjoyed it with the fee of 50l. yearly under the great seal of England,' and that he was then suffering from several grievous maladies, amongst them gout and stone. Beale also at this time held another post, that of clerk to the council in the northern parts, and resided at York at least for some part of the year. The emoluments of the office at York amounted, according to Beale's own reckoning, to 400l. yearly, though nominally he had there but 33l. by instructions only alterable without other warrant or assurance.' Beale concluded his letter by begging that on the score of his growing infirmities he might be allowed a deputy to do the business of the office at York during his absence. His request was granted, one John Ferne being appointed in the following August. In 1597 he was joined with Sir Julius Cæsar in a commission to examine into complaints by the inhabitants of Guernsey against Sir Thomas Leighton, the governor of that island. In 1599 he was placed on a special commission to hear and adjudge the grievances of certain Danish subjects who complained of piratical acts committed by English subjects.
In 1600 he was appointed one of the envoys to treat for peace with the King of Spain at Boulogne. The negotiation fell through, the representatives not being able to agree upon the important question of precedency. Next year Beale died at his house at Barnes, Surrey, at eight o'clock in the evening of 25 May. He was buried in Allhallows Church, London Wall. He appears to have left no son, but we know of two daughters, of whom one, Margaret, married Sir Henry Yelverton, justice of the common pleas in the time of Charles I, who thus became possessed of Beale's books and papers, which were long preserved by his descendants in the library of the family seat at Easton-Maudit, Northamptonshire. The library was sold in 1784. The manuscripts are now in the British Museum. The other daughter, Catherine, married Nathaniel Stephens, of Easington, Gloucestershire.
Beale was a member of the Elizabethan Society of Antiquaries, and is mentioned by Milles in the epistle dedicatory to his 'Catalogue of Honour' by the designation of 'worthy Robert Beale, that grave clerk of the council,' as one of the 'learned friends' from whom he had received assistance. He seems also to have taken an interest in geographical discovery; for in Dr. Dee's 'Diary,' under date 24 Jan. 1582, we read: 'I, Mr. Awdrian Gilbert, and John Davis, went by appointment to Mr. Secretary Beale his house, where only we four were secret, and we made Mr. Secretary privy of the north-west passage, and all charts and rutters were agreed upon in general.' Such of Beale's letters as have been printed are dated vaguely 'at his poor house in London.' He certainly had another house at Priors Marston, in Warwickshire, as he is described as of that place in the inscriptions on the tombstone of his wife and daughter Catherine.
Throughout life Beale was a close student and ardent collector of books. He is the author of the following works: 1. 'Argument touching the Validity of the Marriage of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, with Mary, Queen-dowager of France (sister to King Henry VIII), and the Legitimacy of the Lady Frances, their daughter.' In Latin, MS. Univ. Libr., Cambr. Dd. 3, 85, art. 18. 2. 'A Large Discourse concerning the Marriage between the Earl of Hertford and the Lady Catherine Grey.' In Latin, MS. Univ. Libr. Cambr. Ii. 5, 3, art. 4. This work contains also the opinions of the foreign jurists consulted by Beale upon the case. 3. 'Discourse after the Massacre in France,' 15 pp. MS. Cotton, Tit. F. iii. 299. 4. 'Rerum Hispanicarum Scriptores aliquot ex Bibliotheca clarissimi viri Domini Roberti Beli Angli.' Frankfort, 3 vols. folio, 1579; Contents: Vol. i., M. Aretius, Jo. Gerundensis, Roderici Toletani, Roderici Santii, Joannis Vasæi; vol. ii., Alfonsia Carthagena, Michaelis Ritii, Francisci Faraphæ, Lucii Marinei Siculi, Laurentii Vailæ, Ælii Antonii Nebrissensis, Damiani a Goes; vol. iii., Al. Gomecius De Rebus Gestis Fr. Ximenis Cardinalis. 5. 'A Book against Oaths ministered in the Courts of Ecclesiastical Commission from her Majesty, and in other Courts Ecclesiastical.' Printed abroad and brought to England in a Scotch ship about 1583. Strype's 'Whitgift,' vol. i. bk. iii. c. xii. pp. 211-12. 6. 'A Book respecting Ceremonies,, the Habits, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Power of Ecclesiastical Courts,' 1584. Strype's 'Whitgift,' vol. i. bk. iii. c. v. pp. 143-5, 212, vol. iii. bk. iii. nos. v. vi. 7. 'The Order and Manner of the Execution of Mary Queen of Scots, Feb. 8, 1587.' Strype's 'Annals,' vol. iii. bk. ii. c. ii. p. 383. 8. 'Means for the Stay of the Declining and Falling away in Religion.' Strype's 'Whitgift,' vol. iii. bk. iii. no. xxxv. 9. 'Opinions concerning the Earl of Leicester's Placard to the United Provinces.' MS. Cot. Galba, c. xi. 107. 10. 'A Summary Collection of certain Notes against the Manner of proceeding ex officio by Oath.' Strype's 'Whitgift,' vol. ii. bk. iv. c. ix. 11. 'Observations upon the Instructions of the States-General to the Council of State, June 1588.' MS. Cott. Galba, D. iii. 215. 12. 'A Consideration of certain Points in the Treaty to be enlarged or altered in case her Majesty make a new Treaty with the States, April 1589.' MS. Cott. Galba, D. iv. 163. In this Beale was assisted by Dr. Bartholomew Clerke. 13. 'Opposition against Instructions to negotiate with the States-General, 1590.' MS. Cott. Galba, D. vii. 19. 14. 'Collection of the King of Spain's Injuries offered to the Queen of England.' Dated 30 May 1591. With a 'Vindication of the Queen against the Objections of the Spaniards.' MS. Harl. 253, art. 33. 15. 'A Deliberation of Henry Killigrew and Robert Beale concerning the Requisition for Restitution from the States. London, August 1595.' MS. Cott. Galba, D. xi. 125. 16. 'A Collection of Official Papers and Documents.' MS. Addit. 14028. 17. 'Historical Notes and Collections.' MS. Addit. 14029. 18. Letters. Several of Beale's letters have been printed. They are marked by considerable energy of style.[Cooper's Athenæ Cantab, ii. 311-14, 552; Burghley State Papers, ed. Murdin, 355, 778, 781, ed. Haynes, 412-17; Digges's Complete Ambassador; Willis's Not. Parl. iii.; Mosheim's Eccles. Hist. (tr. Murdock), cent. xvi. sect. iii. part ii. cap. i. 39 n; Corresp. of Sidney and Languet (ed. Pears), 132-6, 228-30; Lodge's Illustr. of British Hist. ii. 262-70, 273, iii. 109; Lodge's Life of Sir Julius Cæsar, 15; Froude's Hist. of England, xi. 541, 660; Fuller's Church Hist. (ed. Brewer), v. 15, 22-6; Cal. State Papers, Ireland (1509-1573), Scotland (1509-1603), Domestic (1547-1580); Thomas's Hist. Notes, i. 393; Strype's Annals, iii. parts i. and ii.; Strype's Whitgift; Strype's Parker; Camden's Eliz. i. 260, 338, 445, 457; Britannia (ed. Gough), ii. 178; Cabala, ii. 49, 59-63, 86, 88; Nicolas's Life of W. Davison, 64; Nicolas's Life of Hatton, 461; Dr. Dee's Diary, 18, 38, 46; Zurich Letters, ii. 292, 296, 298; Hearne's Coll. Cur. Discourses, ii. 423; Jardine on Torture, 87, 89; Wright's Eliz. i. 480, ii. 244, 254, 354; Sadler State Papers, i. 389; Ellis's Letters (3rd ser.), iv. 112; Stow's Survey of London, ii. c. 7; Rymer, xvi. 362, 412; Parl. Hist. i. 883-6; Moule's Bibl. Herald, 67; Harris's Cat. Libr. Royal Inst. 313; Coxe's Cat. Cod. MSS. Bib. Bod. iv. 827; Winwood's Memorials; Hardwicke, State Papers, i. 340, 342, 344, 352, 357; Bridges' Hist. Northamptonshire, ii. 163; Atkyns's Gloucestershire, 218; Cat. Cot. MSS.; MSS. Harl. 7, f. 245, 82, f. 43, 1110 f. 102; MSS. Lansd. 27, art. 32; 42, art. 79-82; 51, art. 26; 65, art. 67; 67, art. 10; 68, art. 107, 111; 72, art. 73; 73, art. 2; 79, art. 80; 143, art. 59; 155, art, 62; 737, art. 2; MSS. Addit. 2442, f. 186; 4114, f. 181, 5935, 11405, 12503, 14028, 14029; Malcolm's Lond. Rediviv. ii. 67; Cat. Univ. Libr. MSS. i. 195, iii. 473; Lysons's Environs, i. 22; Madden's Guide to Autograph Letters &c. in British Museum, p. 5.]