James I died in March 1625. It wasn’t long after that that Dr Eglesham suggested that James had been poisoned by his favourite – the Duke of Buckingham pictured at the start of this post. Eglesham helpfully produced a pamphlet entitled The Forerunner of Revenge which helpfully outlined his claims. But could James’ favourite really have killed the man who raised him from comparative poverty to being one of the wealthiest men in the country – not to mention one of the most powerful.
James, who was not a healthy man, fell ill with tertian ague and took to his bed. Tertian fever was a kind of malaria but it, mostly, wasn’t fatal. He was given a remedy by George Villiers that involved a drink with a restorative and a plaster. James’ condition declined quickly after George’s remedies. The restorative was a white powder and James regretted having taken it.
It has been suggested that Villiers (pictured right) may have had form – his wife’s brother died in suspicious circumstances making her an heiress. And apparently the Marquess of Hamilton’s corpse didn’t behave as it should have – it was described as having swelled suggesting that the marquess may have been poisoned.
James Hamilton, for those who are interested, came to England with James in 1603. He was part of the anti-war faction at court. Buckingham and Hamilton had also had a bit of a spat in 1620 when Buckingham took exception to a comment about the sale of titles and advancement of men who did not have the requisite blood lines. Buckingham felt that the snub was aimed at him and his extended family.
The main problem in terms of George’s defence was that he did not apply medicines that James’ own doctors sanctioned. He’d sought a diagnosis of his own and paid a different doctor for the cure which he administered. Eglesham not only took umbrage from this but also from the fact that as masters of the Goldbeaters’ Company his fortune has suffered a severe setback in 1621 when the king revoked their patent under pressure from Parliament. Parliament didn’t have a grudge against the Goldbeaters or Eglesham they were seeking to control the power that George Villers had gained from the monopolies that the king had given to him during his rise to favour.
Nor did it help that Eglesham, a Scot, had just lost his key patron – the Marquess of Hamilton – yes, the chap with the bloated corpse. One of the rumours was that Hamilton had been killed as part of a Catholic conspiracy. It was even suggested that Eglesham had secretly helped to convert Hamilton to Catholicism on his deathbed. This wasn’t good news either as England was on an anti-Catholic high following the disasterous trip by Charles and Buckingham to Madrid in 1623. Eglesham, in fear for his life, fled to Brussels – and wrote the Forerunner of Revenge which was published in English and Latin. It was widely read.
The Spanish were delighted with the book because it gave them an opportunity to destabilise England now that Charles and Buckingham had gone to war with the Hapsburgs – think of it as an early application of fake news.
Eglesham blamed Buckingham for his misfortunes, had laid the evidence of Buckingham’s crimes out in his text and now declared that it was Charles’ job to punish crime and uphold justice because without justice the Crown would fall.
As it happened Eglesham’s work would resonate through the period. Charles’ loyalty to Buckingham saw him trying to protect the Duke from Parliament by dissolving Parliament when it sought to impeach his friend in 1626. He then raised revenues by other avenues than Parliament. These to things led to a failure of justice in terms of the “crimes” which Buckingham had committed by his foreign policy and his continued power not to mention the failure in justice when Charles had members of the gentry imprisoned without trial for their failure to pay his forced loans.
Whether Buckingham actually did kill James is another matter entirely – but a grand read for fans of conspiracy theories. Certainly Parliament took the view that there was no smoke without fire when it came to their impeachment attempt in 1626.
Bellamy, Alastair and Cogswell, Thomas (2015) The Murder of James I New Haven: Yale University Press
Ruigh, Robert, E.(1971) The Parliament of 1624: Politics and Foreign Policy Harvard: Harvard University Press.
By Robert E. Ruigh