Davison, William

, a very eminent statesman, and secretary of state in the reign of queen Elizabeth, was, if not a native of Scotland, at least descended from those who were, as himself professed to sir James Mel vile. At what time he came into the court of queen Elizabeth, or in what state, is uncertain. It is most probable, that his parts and learning, together with that extraordinary diligence and wonderful address for which he was always distinguished, recommended him to Mr. Killigrew, afterwards sir Henry Kiiligrew, with whom he went in quality of secretary, at the time he was sent into Scotland, to compliment queen Mary upon the birth of her son. This was in 1566, and there is a good reason to believe that he remained from that time about the court, and was employed in several affairs of great consequence. In 1575, when the states of Brabant and Flanders assumed to themselves the administration of all affairs till his catholic majesty should appoint a new governor of the Low Countries, Mr. Davison was sent over with a public character from the queen to those states, under the plausible pretence of exhorting them to continue in their obedience to his catholic majesty; but, in reality, to see how things actually stood in that part of the world, that her majesty might be the better able to know how to proceed in respect to the | several applications made to her from the prince of Orange, and the people of Holland. He executed this commission very successfully, and therefore the queen sent him over as her minister, to pacify the troubles that had arisen at Ghent; and when his presence was no longer necessary there, he was commissioned on her behalf to the States of Holland, in 1579. His conduct there gave equal satisfaction to the queen his mistress, and to those with whom he negotiated. He gave them great hopes of the queen’s assistance and support, and when a sum of money was desired, as absolutely necessary towards providing for their defence, he very readily undertook to procure it upon reasonable security; in consequence of which, a very considerable sum was sent from England, for which all the valuable jewels and fine plate that had been pledged by Matthias of Austria to the States of Holland, and which were the remains of the magnificence of the house of Burgundy, were transported to England. These journies, and the success attending them, gave Mr. Davison great reputation at court, insomuch, that in all matters of a nice and difficult nature, Davison was some way or other continually employed. Thus in 1583, when matters wore a serious aspect in Scotland, he was sent thither as the queen’s ambassador, in order to counteract the French ministers, and to engage the king of Scots and the people, both to slight the offers made them from that country, and to depend wholly upon assistance from England. Affairs in the Low Countries coming at last to a crisis, and the states resolving to depend upon queen Elizabeth, in the bold design they had formed of defending their freedom by force of arms, and rendering themselves independent, Mr. Davison, at this time clerk of the privy council, was chosen to manage this delicate business, and to conclude with them that alliance which was to be the basis of their future undertakings. In this, which, without question, was one of the most perplexed transactions in that whole reign, he conducted things with such a happy dexterity, as to merit the strongest acknowledgments on the part of the States, at the same time that he rendered the highest service to the queen his mistress, and obtained ample security for those expences which that princess thought necessary in order to keep danger at a distance, and to encourage the flames of war in the dominions of her enemy, whom at that juncture she knew to be meditating how he | might transfer them into her own. Upon the return of Mr. Davison into England, after the conclusion of this treaty, he was declared of the privy-council, and appointed one of her majesty’s principal secretaries of state, in conjunction with sir Francis Walsingham; so that, at this time, these offices may be affirmed to have been as well filled as in any period that can be assigned in our history, and yet by persons of very different, or rather opposite dispositions; for Walsingham was a man of great art and intrigue, one who was not displeased that he was thought such a person, and whose capacity was still deeper than ‘those who understood it best apprehended it to be. Davison, on the other hand, had a just reputation for wisdom and probity; and, though he had been concerned in many intricate affairs, yet he preserved a character so unspotted, that, to the time he came into this office, he had done nothing that could draw upon him the least imputation. It is an opinion countenanced by Camden, and which has met with general acceptance, that he was raised in order to be ruined, and that, when he was made secretary of state, there was a view of obliging him to go out of his depth in that matter, which brought upon him all his misfortunes. This conjecture is very plausible, and yet there is good reason to doubt whether it is well founded. Mr. Davison had attached himself, during the progress of his fortunes, to the potent earl of Leicester; and it was chiefly to his favour and interest that he stood indebted for this high employment, in which, if he was deceived by another great statesman, it could not be said that he was raised and ruined by the same hands. But there is nothing more probable than that the bringing about such an event by an instrument which his rival had raised, and then removing him, and rendering his parts useless to those who had raised him, gave a double satisfaction to him who managed this design. It is an object of great curiosity to trace the principal steps of this transaction, which was, without doubt, one of the finest strokes of political management in that whole reign. When the resolution was taken, in the beginning of October 1586, to bring the queen of Scots? to a trial, and a commission was issued for that purpose, secretary Davison’s name was inserted in that commission; but it does not appear that he was present when that commission was opened at Fotheringay castle, on the llth of October, or that he ever assisted there at all. Indeed, | the management of that transaction was very wisely left in the hands of those who with so much address had conducted the antecedent business for the conviction of Anthony Babington, and his accomplices, upon the truth and justice of which, the proceedings against the queen of Scots entirely depended. On the 25th of October the sentence was declared in the star-chamber, things proceeding still in the same channel, and nothing particularly done by secretary Davison. On the 29th of the same month the parliament met, in which Serjeant Puckering was speaker of the house of commons; and, upon an application from both houses, queen Elizabeth caused the sentence to be published, which, soon after, was notified to the queen of Scots; yet hitherto all was transacted by the other secretary, who was considered by the nation in general as the person who had led this prosecution from beginning to end. The true meaning of this long and solemn proceeding was certainly to remove, as far as possible, any reflection upon queen Elizabeth; and, that it might appear in the most conspicuous manner to the world, that she was urged, and even constrained to take the life of the queen of Scots, instead of seeking or desiring it. This assertion is not founded upon conjecture, but is a direct matter of fact; for, in her first answer to the parliament, given at Richmond the 12th of November, she complained that the late act had brought her into a great strait, by obliging her to give directions for that queen’s death; and upon the second application, on the 24th of the same month, the queen enters largely into the consequences that must naturally follow upon her taking that step, and on the consideration of them, grounds her returning no definitive resolution, even to this second application. The delay which followed after the publication of the sentence, gave an opportunity for the French king, and several other princes, to interpose, but more especially to king James, whose ambassadors, and particularly sir Robert Melvile, pressed the queen very hard. Camden says, that his ambassadors unseasonably mixing threatenings with intreaties, they were not very welcome; so that after a few days the ambassadors were dismissed, with small hopes of succeeding. But we are elsewhere told, that, when Melvile requested a respite of execution for eight days, she answered, “Not an hour.” This seemed to be a plain declaration of her majesty’s final | determination, and such in all probability it was, so that her death being resolved, the only point that remained under debate was, how she should die, that is, whether by the hand of an executioner, or otherwise. In respect to this, the two secretaries seem to have been of different sentiments. Mr. Davison thought the forms of justice should go on, and the end of this melancholy transaction correspond with the rest of the proceedings. Upon this, sir Francis Walsingham pretended sickness, and did not come to court, and by this means the whole business of drawing and bringing the warrant to the queen to sign, fell upon Davison, who, pursuant to the queen’s directions, went through it in the manner that Camden has related. But it is very remarkable, that, while these judicial steps were taking, the other method, to which the queen herself seemed to incline, proceeded also, and secretary Walsingham, notwithstanding his sickness, wrote the very day the warrant was signed, which was Wednesday, February 1st, 1586-7, to sir Amiss Pawlet and sir Drew Drury, to put them in mind of the association, as a thing that might countenance, at least, if not justify, this other way of removing the queen of Scots. It is true, that Mr. Davison subscribed this letter, and wrote another to the same persons two days after; but it appears plainly from the anssver, that the keepers of the queen of Scots considered the motion as coming from Walsingharn. The warrant being delivered to the lords of the council, they sent it down by Mr. Beale, their clerk, a man of sour and stubborn temper, and who had always shewn a great bitterness against the queen of Scots. The day of his departure does not appear; but queen Mary had notice given her on the Monday, to prepare for death on the Wednesday, which she accordingly suffered. As soon as queen Elizabeth was informed of it, she expressed great resentment against her council, forbad them her presence and the court; and caused some of them to be examined, as if she intended to call them to an account for the share they had in this transaction. We are not told particularly who these counsellors were, excepting the lord treasurer Burleigh, who fell into a temporary disgrace about it, and was actually a witness against Mr. Davison. As for the earl of Leicester and secretary Walsingharn, they had prudently withdrawn themselves at the last act of the tragedy, and took care to publish so much, by | their letters into Scotland; but secretary Davison, upon whom it was resolved the whole weight of this business should fall, v.-deprived of his office, and sent prisoner to the Tower, at which nobody seerus to have been so much alarmed as the lord treasurer, who, though himself at that time in disgrace, wrote to the queen in strong terms, and once intended to have written in much stronger. This application bad no effect, for the queen having sent her kinsman Mr. Cary, son to the lord Hunsdon, into Scotland, to excuse the matter to king James, charged with a letter to him under her own hand, in which she in the strongest terms possible asserted her own innocence, there was a necessity of doing something that Davison[?] carry an air of evidence, in support of the turn she had now given to the death of that princess. On the 28th of March following, Davison, after having undergone various examinations, was brought to his trial in the star chamber, for the contempt of which he had been guilty, in revealing the queen’s counsels to her privy counsellors, and performing what he understood to be the duty of his office in quality of her secretary. We have several accounts of this trial, which, in a variety of circumstances, differ from each other. In this, however, they all agree, that the judges, who fined him ten thousand marks, and imprisonment during the queen’s pleasure, gave him a very high character, and declared him to be, in their opinions, both an able ana an honest man. One thing is very remarkable, that, in the conclusion of this business, sir Christopher Wray, chief justice of the queen’s bench, told the court, that though the queen had been offended with her council, and had left them to examination, yet now she forgave them, being satisfied that they were misled b? this man’s suggestions. Sir James Melvile, who wrote at that time, and who seems to have had some prejudice against Davison, said very candidly and fairly upon this occasion, that he was deceived by the council. As soon as the proceeding was over, the queen, to put it out of doubt with the king of Scots, that his mother was put to death without her privity or intention, sent him the judgment given against Davison, subscribed by those who had given it, and exemplified under the great seal, together with another instrument, under the hands of all the judges of England, that the sentence against his mother could not in the least prejudice his title to the succession. As for Mr. Davison, now left to a strange reward for his past services, a long | imprisonment, which reduced him to indigence, he comforted himself with the thoughts of his innocence; and, to secure his memory from being blasted by that judgment which had withered his fortune, he had long before written an apology for his own conduct, which he addressed to secretary Walsingham, as the man most interested in it, and who could best testify whether what he affirmed was truth or not. In this he gave a very clear and natural detail of the transaction which cost him all his sufferings. It is allowed by all who have written on this subject, and especially by Camden, that he was a very unhappy, though at the same time a very capable and honest man. As such we have seen him recommended to queen Elizabeth by the treasurer Burleigh, and as such he was strongly recommended by the earl of Essex to king James I. It seems, that noble person stuck fast by him under his misfortunes, which plainly shews the party to which he had always adhered. That lord lost no opportunity of soliciting the queen in his favour, and never let slip any occasion of testifying for him the warmest and thesincerest affection. At length, it seems he was not altogether unsuccessful; for though, upon the death of secretary Walsingham, the queen absolutely rejected his motion, that Mr. Davison should come into his place, yet, afterwards, it seems that she yielded in some degree, as plainly appears by the earl’s letter to king James. That we are under an incapacity of tracing him farther, is owing to the profound silence of the writers of those times.

Davison came not suddenly or surprisingly into his high office, but easily, naturally, and gradually, in the very same way that his predecessors, Cecil, Smith, and Walsingham had done, and with the general approbation of all the council; and, as he was no mean or obscure person when called to that high employment, so he was not given to subserviency, at the peril of his life and reputation; and notwithstanding the star chamber sentence, he very well knew how to make his innocence plain, both to that age and to posterity.

Mr. Whitaker, in his elaborate work entitled “Mary queen of Scots vindicated,” has not forgotten Elizabeth’s conduct with regard to Davison. In the first edition he took proper notice of it, and gave a general account of the unfortunate secretary’s apology. But in the second edition he has inserted the apology at large, and accompanied | it with a number of notes that strongly display the unjust and cruel manner in which Davisou was treated by his royal mistress. The pointed observations of Mr. Whitaker’s concluding note afford such a correct view of his character, as, although somewhat different from the preceding in the Biographia Britannica, is probably nearer the truth.

"Let me here, at the end of the apology, remark finally concerning Davison, that, though he was not an honest man, yet he was so nearly one, as to be a very prodigy for the ministry of Elizabeth. He refused, it appears, to sign that very bond of association which was signed by all the nation, and which even the despairing Mary offered, on her liberty being granted, to sign herself. Yet he refused, though Leicester pushed on the association, and though Elizabeth urged him to sign it. Among the pleas which he advances for himself in his other apology, he particularly states * his former absolute refusal to sign the band of association, being earnestly pressed thereunto by her majesty’s self,‘ (Robertson, II. 483). This indeed is a very strong evidence of a manly virtuousness in him. But he did other things in the same spirit of virtue. He declined to act as a commissioner on the examination of Babington and his accomplices for their conspiracy in favour of Mary, and took a journey to Bath, in order to save himself from acting, (Robertson, II. 483). He was a means, too, of preventing the commissioners who were sent to try Mary at Fotheringay castle, from pronouncing sentence upon her immediately after the trial, and of obliging them to return first to London, and report their proceedings to Elizabeth, (Robertson, II. 483). We have already seen that he kept the warrant for the execution of Mary five or six weeks in his hands, without offering to present it to Elizabeth for her signing. We have equally seen that he actually neglected to obey a personal command of Elizabeth’s for bringing the warrant to her, and that he thus neglected for ’ many days,‘ even till the queen fired at his conduct, and sent him a peremptory order to bring it. Even then, and even when Paulet’s answer had been received, and all delay was now at an end for ever, he would not be concerned in sending away the warrant himself, but returned it into the hands from which he had received it, and left Cecil and the council to send it. And, as in all the time ’ before her trial, he neither | is nor can be charged, to have had any hand at all in the cause of the said queen, or done any thing whatsoever concerning the same, directly or indirectly,‘ so, * after the return thence of the commissioners, it is well known to all her council, that he never was at any deliberation or meeting whatsoever, in parliament or council, concerning the cause of the said queen, till the sending down of her majesty’s warrant unto the commissioners by the lords and others of her council,’ (Robertson, II. 481).

These deeds of honesty, no doubt, had successively marked him out for vengeance to the rest of the ministry, and to the queen. He was therefore selected by Cecil, `with her majesty’s own privity,’ to be the secretary with whom the warrant should he lodged for signing, (Robertson, II. 481). He was thus exposed to a train of decisive trials. It would be seen whether he offered to present the warrant to Elizabeth for her signature. Should he not offer, a command might be given him by Elizabeth to bring it up. Should he hesitate to obey this, a sharp rebuke and a peremptory order might be sent him. If he was refractory in all these points, then the wrath of Elizabeth would burst out upon him, and sweep him away from her presence for ever. If he complied in any, his farther compliance might be tried in ordering him to the great seal with the warrant, and in directing him to use the warrant, when sealed, with secresy. Should he be found pliable in this trial, the grand scheme of assassination, the favourite wish of Elizabeth’s heart, which had repeatedly been talked over by her other ministers before Elizabeth and him, which they all united to approve, though none of them offered to undertake, and which had been so talked over and so approved of, merely to put Davison upon undertaking it, might finally be urged upon Davisou in private by Elizabeth herself. Should he bend to this urgency, and engage in the work of assassination, Elizabeth, as soon as ever the work was done, would have risen upon him with an affected passion, and made his life the forfeit of his compliance. And should he not bend, all his present, and all his former refractoriness would be remembered at once against him, and unite to draw down the rage of Elizabeth in a storm of real resentment upon him. Either way the man was sure to be ruined. He complied, though only in part. He brought up the warrant at the second order. He carried it to the great seal. He even | united with Walsingham to mention Elizabeth’s proposal of assassination to Paulet; but he would go no farther. He actually protested to Elizabeth herself against the proposal before he mentioned it to Paulet. He protested to her against every scheme of assassination. And he was therefore ruined at last by Elizabeth, in a most impudent stretch of falsehood, for doing what he did not do, and in truth and reality, for not doing what he was wanted to do.

Thus fell Davison, a memorable evidence of the cunning, the perfidiousness, and the barbarity of Elizabeth and her Cecil! But he was fully revenged of them both in his fall. He wrote the present apology, which serves so greatly to expose the characters of both. It is very convincing in itself; is even drawn up with the air and address of a fine writer, and is peculiarly valuable to the critical investigators of Elizabeth’s conduct. It differs very usefully from that in Dr. Robertson’s Appendix, in being written within the very month of all the main transactions recorded in it, and being therefore very full, circumstantial, and accurate; while that was written many years afterward, is only general and short, and is often inaccurate. It was not, however, a? Camden says, a ‘ private’ apology sent to ‘ Walsingham,’ (Orig. i. 465. Trans. 392). It was evidently calculated, as I have shown before, for the inspection of Elizabeth herself. And, as it would naturally be sent to his brother-secretary for her inspection, so was it a bold challenge to her for the truth and exactness of all his averments, and would serve only to increase the load already descending to crush him. The other was written, not only when the little particulars had faded off from the mind, when memory had confounded some circumstances that were distinct in themselves, and a regular narrative, if it could have been given, was no longer of consequence but, what is very surprizing, when Davison had lost all copy, and even all minutes of this very apology. It was drawn up, too, when he was no longer afraid of showing his forbearance in the cause of Mary, and indeed had reason for displaying it all at large. He therefore goes back much farther in the second apology than in the first, to the return of Mary’s judges from Fotheringay, to the moment of her trial, to the examination of Babington, &c. and to the times preceding all. In this whole period he shows us his secret attachment to Mary, | by such a train of incidents as seems peculiarly calculated for the eye of Mary’s son on his accession to the throne of England. Yet Elizabeth must have been alive at the writing of it, since she is spoken of as still queen; and I therefore suppose it to be written at the latter end of Elizabeth’s reign, when all the nation began to turn their eyes towards Scotland for a successor to her; and when Davison would naturally endeavour to make that attachment to Mary, for which he had suffered so severely from Elizabeth, promote his interest with James.

Francis, the secretary’s son, published a poetical mispellany in 1602, under the title of a “Poetical Rapsodie,” containing small pieces by the compiler himself, and by some friends. A second edition of this appeared in 1608, a third in 1611, and a fourth in 1621. Mr, Ellis has extracted some of these pieces in his “Specimens,” vol. III. 1


Biog. Brit. &c.