Devonshire Characters and Strange Events/Sir "Judas" Stukeley

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SIR LEWIS STUKELEY, or Stucley, who has been branded as the Judas of Devonshire, was the eldest son of John Stukeley, of Affeton, by Frances St. Leger. He had two brothers and several sisters. He was great-nephew to "Lusty" Stucley, and partook of that vein of meanness and treachery that characterized Thomas. He was married to Frances daughter of Anthony Monk, of Potheridge, a family which, if not more ancient, was free from the taint of baseness that savoured three of the Stukeleys. By her he had five sons; none were knighted, the shame of the father rested on them, and it was not till the next generation that knighthood was again granted to the representative of the Stukeleys, of Affeton.

Lewis himself was knighted, not for any worthiness that he had shown, but as the representative of a good family, when James I was on his way to London in 1603. In 1617 he was appointed guardian of Thomas Rolfe, the infant son of Pocahontas by J. Rolfe. Then he was created Vice-Admiral of Devon, and in that capacity he left London in June, 1618, with verbal orders from the King to arrest Sir Walter Raleigh, then arrived at Plymouth on his return from the Orinoco. Sir Walter had been released from his long captivity in the Tower, because he gave hopes to James of finding a gold-mine in Guiana. He had been there before, had brought away auriferous spar, and had heard tidings of deposits of gold. James was in debt and in need of money, and he clutched at the chance of getting out of his difficulties through the gold of Guiana. That there was gold there is certain; Raleigh's mine has been identified; but since he had left the Orinoco, the Spaniards had pushed up the river and annexed land and built stations.

James did not want to break with the Spanish Government and gave Raleigh instructions not to come to blows with the Spaniards. Unhappily, Raleigh's lieutenant, whom he had dispatched up the river, did come to blows with them, and blood was shed; it was however in self-defence, for the Spaniards had fallen upon the English party when unprepared and killed some of them. This unfortunate business, and the fact that Raleigh could not reach his gold-mine, the way to it being intercepted by the Spaniards, made him turn back with a heavy heart. On reaching Plymouth, he hasted towards London to state the case to the King, when he was met at Ashburton by his cousin, Sir Lewis Stukeley, with smiles and professions of love—but having war in his heart. His rancour against his kinsman was due to a quarrel in 1584, when, as Stukeley asserted, Sir Walter did "extreme injustice" to Stukeley's father, then a volunteer in Sir Richard Grenville's Virginia voyage, by deceiving him in a matter of a venture he had made. James was in a great fright lest he should be plunged in war with the King of Spain, and very angry because the gold-mine had not been found; and Stukeley was promised £500 to worm out of his cousin some damning admissions, as that there never had been any goldmine at all, and to betray these to James. Stukeley had received only verbal instructions from the King. He therefore reconducted Raleigh back to Plymouth, where he placed him in Radford, the house of Sir Christopher Harris, who was charged with his custody, till Stukeley received orders from James. Raleigh was ill—or feigned to be ill—the former is the more probable, and he being laxly guarded formed a plan of escape to France. He commissioned Captain King, the only one of his officers who remained faithful to the last, to make arrangements for flight with the master of a French vessel then lying in the Sound. At nightfall, the two stole from Radford and got into a boat lying at the little quay below the house. They had not rowed far, however, before qualms came over Raleigh; it seemed to him unworthy of his past and of his honour to fly his native land; and he perhaps counted too securely on the generosity of the despicable James. He changed his mind, and ordered King to return to Radford. Next day he sent money to the Frenchman, and begged him to wait for him another night. Night came, but Raleigh did not stir. This singular irresolution in a man so energetic, ready, and firm, points surely to the fact that he was ill at the time, suffering from the ague which so often prostrated him. Stukeley at length received orders to take his prisoner to London, and the opportunity to escape was gone for ever. As Raleigh passed through Sherborne, he pointed out the lands that had once been his, and related how wrongfully they had been taken from him.

At Salisbury Raleigh complained of illness, and begged to be allowed to halt there for a while. It was asserted by a French quack, Mannourie, set as a spy over him, that he got the doctor to anoint him so as to produce sores wherever the ointment was applied. This was one of the charges afterwards brought against him, at the special insistence of King James, who always kept his eye on trifles. Whilst Raleigh was at Salisbury, Sir Lewis Stukeley robbed him of all his jewels and money, leaving him only the emerald ring on his finger, engraved with the Raleigh arms. It has been asserted that Sir Walter endeavoured here to bribe his cousin to connive at his escape. Had this been the case, Stukeley would certainly have mentioned it in his "Humble Petition," and justification of his conduct after the execution of Raleigh. He was not the man to fail to flaunt such a feather in his cap as that he had resisted a bribe, had such a bribe been offered him.

Whilst Raleigh lay ill at Salisbury, Captain King hurried up to London, by his master's direction, to hire a vessel to wait at Gravesend till he should be able to go on board. The master of the vessel at once betrayed the matter. Sir William St. John, a captain of one of the King's ships, immediately took horse and rode to meet Stukeley and his prisoner on their way to town, and encountered them before he reached Bagshot. Stukeley then confided to him certain charges against Raleigh which he was to lay before the King.

Next day Stukeley had fresh matter to dispatch to the Court. It was this: La Chesnee, the interpreter of the French Embassy, visited Sir Walter at Brentford. He had brought with him a message from Le Clerc, agent for the King of France, offering him a passage on board a French vessel, together with letters of introduction which would secure him an honourable reception in Paris. Raleigh thanked him for the offer, but replied that he had already provided for his escape. All this Stukeley learned by applying his ear to the keyhole or by worming the secret out of Raleigh by professions of kindness and desire to assist him to escape.

James at once took alarm. A plot with France was a serious matter at that time. He accordingly directed Stukeley to continue to counterfeit friendship with Raleigh, to assist him in his meditated escape, and only to arrest him at the last moment; and to bring this attempt as one more charge against Raleigh. So Stukeley continued to insinuate himself into the confidence of his cousin, and endeavoured by all means in his power to wheedle out of him such papers as might afford evidence of his designs and might serve to help to bring him to the scaffold.

On his arrival in town, Raleigh was conducted to his own house in Broad Street. There he was revisited by Le Clerc, who repeated his former offers.

The next morning Sir Walter got into a boat attended by Stukeley, all smiles, and the honest King; and, as prearranged, he was arrested at Woolwich and at once lodged in the Tower.

On 29 October, 1618, Raleigh's head fell under the executioner's axe. He was a victim to Spanish resentment and to James's meanness in offering him as a sacrifice to curry favour with Spain. Gardiner says Raleigh was executed "nominally in accordance with the sentence delivered in 1603; in reality because he had failed to secure the gold of which James was in need. The real crime was the King's, who had sent him out without first defining the limits of Spanish sovereignty."

The writer of the notice of Sir Lewis Stukeley in the Dictionary of National Biography takes a lenient view of Stukeley's conduct. "Stukeley certainly gave hostile, not necessarily false evidence against Raleigh. He seems to have been a harsh, narrow-minded, and vulgar man, glad to have his cousin in his power, to revenge himself on him for the pecuniary loss his own father had entertained." Gardiner says: "Stukeley seems to have thought it no shame to act as a spy upon the man who had called upon him to betray his trust;" but it is precisely this charge that cannot be established. We have no good evidence that Raleigh did attempt to bribe him. Popular opinion ran strongly against Stukeley, and he was nicknamed Sir Judas. He tried to hold up his head at Court, but no man would condescend to speak to him. He met on all sides with glances full of contempt and gestures of disgust. He hurried to James, and offered to take the Sacrament upon the truth of a story Raleigh had denied on the scaffold—that he had been offered a commission by the French King (the story came through Mannourie); but no one would have believed Stukeley a whit the readier had he done this.

Indeed, Mannourie subsequently admitted that it was false, when he was arrested for clipping the gold, the blood money, he had received for spying on Sir Walter. In a letter from the Rev. T. Lorkin to Sir T. Puckering on 16 February, 1618-19, he says: "Manourie, the French Apothecary, (who joigned with Stukely in the accusation of Syr Walter Raleigh) is at Plimouth for clippyng of gold … his examination was sent up hether to the King, wherein … (as I hear from Syr Rob. Winde, cupbearer I thincke to his Majesty, who saith he read the examination) that his accusation against Raleigh was false, and that he was wonne thereto by the practise and importunity of Stukely, and now acknowledges this his present miserable condition a judgment of God upon him for that."

When Stukeley made this offer to King James, a bystander dryly observed that if the King would order him to be beheaded, and if he would then confirm the truth of his story with an oath while on the scaffold, then possibly he might be believed.

One day Sir Judas went to call on the old Earl of Nottingham, who was Lord High Admiral, and asked to be allowed to speak to him. The Earl turned on him instantly. "What," he said, "thou base fellow! Thou who art reputed the scorn and contempt of men, how darest thou offer thyself into my presence? Were it not in my own house, I would cudgel thee with my staff for presuming to be so saucy." Stukeley ran off to whine to the King, but even there he met with no redress. "What," said James, "wouldst thou have me do? Wouldst thou have me hang him? On my soul, if I should hang all that speak ill of thee, all the trees in the country would not suffice." It was even said, probably without truth, that James had said to Stukeley, "Sir Walter's blood be on thy head."

A few days after the scene with the King, it was discovered that Stukeley had been for many years engaged in the nefarious occupation of clipping coin. It was even said that he tampered in this way with the very gold pieces which had been paid to him as the price of his services for lodging Raleigh in the Tower and betraying him. When arrested he endeavoured to excuse himself by inculpating his son. Could meanness descend to a lower depth?

"1618-19. Jan. 12. … Upon Twelf night Stukely was committed close prisoner in the Gate house for clipping of gould. He had receyved of the Exchequer some weeks before £500 in recompense for the service he had performed in the business of Syr Walter Raleigh, and beganne (as is said) to exercise the trade upon that ill-gotten money (the price of blood). Upon examination he endeavoured to avoid it from himself, by casting the burden either upon his sonne or man. The former playes least in sight and can not be found. The servant is committed to the Marshalsay, who, understanding that his Master would shift over the business to him, is willing to sett the saddle upon the right horse, and accuses his Master."[1]

But the accusation was not pressed. King James owed Stukeley too deep a debt to let him suffer, and he threw him a pardon, so that the evidence against him was not gone into. It may be remembered that "Lusty" Stukeley had also been implicated in clipping and coining, and had only escaped arrest by flying the country.

Stukeley, an outcast from society in London, went down to Affeton. But even there he was ill-received. The gentry would not speak to him, his own retainers viewed him with a cold, if not hostile, eye, and rendered him but bare obedience.

The brand of Cain was on him, and he fled from the society of his fellow men to the isle of Lundy, and shut himself up in the lonely, haunted tower of the De Mariscoes. There he went raving mad and perished (1620), a miserable lunatic on that rock, surrounded by the roaring of the waves and the shrieks of the wind. His body was conveyed to South Molton, so that he was denied even a grave beside his ancestors at Affeton.

For authorities, see Gardiner, Prince Charles and the Spanish Marriage, Vol. I, London, 1869; Dr. Brushfield's Raleghana, Part VII; the Dictionary of National Biography, s.n.; and the various Lives of Raleigh.

  1. Letter from T. Lorkin to Sir T. Puckering.