Instigating Treason: the Life and Death of Henry Cuffe, Secretary

  • Alan Stewart
Part of the Language, Discourse, Society book series (LDS)

Abstract

High treason was the most serious crime in early modern England, and in its most heinous form threatened the life of the monarch. Yet treason did not consist in the actual assassination of a monarch, nor the attempt of assassination, nor even the discussion of such an attempt, but in the circumstances ‘when a man doth compasse or imagine the death of our Lord the King’.1 In this chapter, I analyse one of the most notorious treason trials of the Elizabethan period, that of Robert Devereux, second earl of Essex and his followers, for treason against the queen following Essex’s abortive rebellion in 1601. I suggest that in exploring the ways in which a death might be compassed or imagined, the trial throws light on the underbelly of service relations in the period, and points in particular to the fatal vulnerability of a man who makes his living through scholarship: the secretary.

Keywords

Alan Verse 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    E. Coke, The Third Part of the Institutes Of the Laws of England (W. Lee and D. Pakeman, 1644), B3°.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    ‘Hugh {sic} Cuffs speech at this Execucion: Secretary to the Lord of Essex’, Joseph Hall’s commonplace book, Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC [FSL] MS V.a.339, fol. 207r; for other versions, see Walter Bilmor’s commonplace book, British Library, London [BL] Harley MS 1327, fol. 55r–v; William Cole’s commonplace book, BL Additional MS 5845, fol. 178r. For a longer version of the scaffold proceedings see Public Record Office [PRO] State Papers (SP) 12/279, art. 25; FSL MS G.b.4, 1–5; printed in T.B. Howell (ed.), A Complete Collection of State trials, and proceedings for high treason and other crimes and misdemeanours from the earliest period to the year 1783, 21 vols (T.C. Hansard, 1816), vol 1, 1414.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    On Cuffe see Paul Hammer’s entry for the New Dictionary of National Biography; I am grateful to Dr Hammer for letting me read his article in manuscript. See also Dictionary of National Biography s.v. Henry Cuffe; A.L. Rowse, ‘The Tragic Career of Henry Cuffe’, in Court and Country: Studies in Tudor Social History (Harvester Press, 1987), 211–41.Google Scholar
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    See Jonathan Goldberg, Writing Matter: from the Hands of the English Renaissance (Stanford University Press, 1990); Richard Rambuss, Spensers Secret Career (Cambridge University Press, 1993); Lisa Jardine and William Sherman, ‘Pragmatic Readers: Knowledge Transactions and Scholarly Services in Late Elizabethan England’, in Religion, Culture and Society in Early Modern Britain: Essays in Honour of Patrick Collinson (Cambridge University Press, 1994), 102–24; Alan Stewart, ‘The Early Modern Closet Discovered’, Representations 50 (1995), 76–100.Google Scholar
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    See F.J. Levy, ‘The Making of Camden’s Britannia’, Bibliotheque dHumanisme et Renaissance 26 (1964), 84–5; Levy, Tudor Historical Thought (The Huntington Library, 1967), 48, 251; for Hotman, see François and Jean Hotman, Epistolce (Georgius Gallet, 1700), 270–1, 277–8, 281–2, 285–7, 298, 311, 318, 321–2, 324, 326–8.Google Scholar
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    The outline of Cuffe’s defence was promptly propagated by Bacon’s A Declaration, K°—K2t, but the following analysis is based on several later printed sources: William Camden, The Historie of the Most Renowned and Victorious Princesse Elizabeth, Late Queene of England (Benjamin Fisher, 1630), Book 4, 169–71, 186–94; Francis Hargrave (ed.), A Complete Collection of State-Trials, and Proceedings for High-Treason, and other Crimes and Misdemeanours, 11 vols, 4th edition (T. Wright for various, 1776–1781), vol. 1, cols. 209–12; Howell, A Complete Collection. Google Scholar
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    J. Barrell, Imagining the Kings Death:Figurative Treason, Fantasies of Regicide 1793–1796 (Oxford University Press, 2000), 29–30 and passim. Barrell argues that by the 1790s the terms ‘compasse and imagine’ were vague and insecure.Google Scholar
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    M.T. Crane, Framing Authority: Sayings, Self, and Society in Sixteenth-Century England (Princeton University Press, 1993).Google Scholar
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    L. Hutson, ‘Fortunate Travelers: Reading for the Plot in Sixteenth-Century England’, Representations 41 (1993), 86, 88.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2005

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  • Alan Stewart

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