Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 01.djvu/28

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Abbot
Abbot
14

James was deaf to his entreaty, and Abbot determined to act justly at all hazards. He drew up an elaborate paper, in which he pointed out the evils attending facility of divorce; he declared that ‘in the greatest breaches between man and wife, reconciliation is the best; and the worthiest pains that can be spared is to bring that about.’ But on such arguments as these, and on the insufficiency of evidence, Abbot, with strange perversity, did not, at the critical moment, lay any decided emphasis. He sent to the king a statement of his views, supported by numberless irrelevant quotations from theologians of the reformation era, which only served to exasperate James. The king replied in a letter, of which the first words ran: ‘I must freely confess to you I find the grounds of your opposition so weak as I have reason to apprehend that the prejudices you have of the persons is the greatest motive in breeding these doubts in you.’ Still Abbot did not swerve, and when he was called upon for his judgment, with the brevity that the king had enjoined on him, he pronounced for the validity of the marriage. But the majority of the commissioners — seven out of twelve — took an opposite view, and the marriage was finally annulled. Abbot’s loss of favour at court by his conduct of this case was a general topic of conversation at the time, and all his subsequent misfortunes were ascribed by one contemporary writer to his persistent disregard of the king’s wishes in the matter (Weldon, Court of King James, printed in Secret History of James I’s Court, 1811, i. 388). His presence at the marriage of the divorced countess and the Earl of Somerset in 1614 seems therefore inconsistent with his previous attitude. But it is probable that he knew that the days of Somerset’s ascendency were already numbered, and that this knowledge did not make him unwilling to conciliate the king by his presence at the ceremony. According to Bacon’s account of the mysterious trial of Somerset and his wife for the murder of Overbury, papers had some time previously fallen into Abbot’s hands which formed the basis of the accusation (Spedding, v. 288). And Abbot was about to introduce to James’s notice George Villiers, who rapidly reconciled the king to Somerset’s downfall.

His introduction of George Villiers to court was the most disastrous step that Abbot ever took. It is true that Villiers at the time (10 Dec. 1615) styled the archbishop his father, and Abbot declared that he would repute and esteem him for his son, but the queen prophesied truly when she told the archbishop ‘if this young man be once brought in, the first persons that he will plague must be you that labour for him’ (Goodman, Court of James I, ii. 160, and Rushworth, Collections, i. 456). When Villiers had been installed as the king’s favourite, the question of the Spanish marriage once again came to the surface, and Abbot found that the views against which his whole soul rebelled had in Villiers their warmest advocate. Very steadily, between 1617 and 1622, the scheme for Charles’s marriage with the infanta of Spain took shape, and Abbot and his friends left no stone unturned to thwart its progress. To create war with Spain was their definite object, and Abbot’s ally, Winwood, the secretary of state, who was always ‘exceedingly beholden,’ as Chamberlain had written (9 Jan. 1612–13), ‘to that prelate for his good word and opinion,’ has been charged with agitating for Sir Walter Raleigh’s despatch on his last expedition in the hope of his breaking the peace with Spain (Gardiner, History, ed. 1884, iii. 53). But here, at any rate, Abbot suffered the bitterest disappointment. Raleigh attacked the Spaniards in South America, but, so far from England supporting his acts, he was charged before six English commissioners, of whom, as ill fortune would have it, Abbot was one, and proved to have been guilty of breaking his promise to his sovereign, and of injuring the subjects of the king of Spain (22 Oct. 1618). His execution, on a sentence passed upon him fifteen years before, followed, and Abbot was in no position to raise a protest. Winwood, whose complicity in Raleigh’s aggressions was openly suspected, had died 27 Oct. 1617, much to Abbot’s grief, and the archbishop had to salve his conscience for Raleigh’s death by attributing it to his ‘questioning’ of ‘God’s being and omnipotence, which that just Judge made good upon himself in over-humbling his estate, but last of all in bringing him to an execution by law, where he died a religious and christian death’ (Abbot to Sir Thomas Roe, 19 Feb. 1618–19). And meanwhile the affairs of Abbot’s friend in Germany, the elector palatine, were intensifying his desire of a war not only with Spain but with the catholic powers of the empire. The elector, as the champion of protestantism on the continent, had been chosen king of Bohemia, and the emperor and the catholic princes of Germany were arrayed against him. In the most vigorous letter he ever penned, Abbot sketched the policy that England, as he thought, should at once adopt. Serious illness kept him from the council when the question of aiding the king’s son-in-law was to be discussed; but he wrote (12 Sept. 1619) to Naunton, the king’s