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no individual by name, nor does it specify the house in which the transaction occurred. Indeed Mr. Long argues it to be “incredible” that the better part of the night should have been spent in conveying the old woman the six miles which alone separate Shefford from Littlecote, But surely nothing would be more likely than that the men who fetched her should have been directed to carry her about by a long circuitous route, on purpose to deceive her as to the place she was taken to. As to the river she crossed and supposed it might be the Thames, it was probably the Kennet at Hungerford, which is there almost as broad as the Thames. She may even have been taken round by Newbury, and this would lead her past Donington Park, which she says she thought she recognized. Again the deposition has no date. But upon this point Mr. Long, I think, labours under a mistaken impression, which interferes with the view he would otherwise, perhaps, take of the whole matter. He seems to think that to implicate Darell as the perpetrator of the crime, it must have occurred within a few months before his death. Now as that was in 1589, if the deposition is to be supposed to bear nearly the same date as the letter, viz. 1578, eleven years previous, “the whole tradition” he says, as regards Darell, “is scattered to the winds,” (p. 391 vol. vi.) But there is in fact no authority for supposing any close connection in time of the imputed crime with the death of the perpetrator. Aubrey says nothing of the kind. And if among the traditional versions of the story picked up by Lord Webb Seymour or others in the neighbourhood, or still current there, some may, to heighten its horror, have related that the violent death of Darell closely followed his crime, this may be supposed an error, without the least impeachment of the main facts of the narrative. I may here mention another of the points of the story which Mr. Long characterises as “preposterous” (p. 395 vol. vi.) and therefore rendering the whole incredible; but only because he mistakes altogether the meaning of the phrase employed in the deposition of the midwife, “ viz. that if the lady was safely delivered, she, the midwife, was to be well rewarded, whereas if the lady MISCARRIED, Mistress Barnes was to be immolated forthwith.” Whereupon Mr. Long dilates jocosely on the absurdity of supposing the gentleman in black velvet to have such an appetite for “infant cremation” as unnecessarily to act the part of an assassin when a miscarriage would have answered his object in a perfectly honest and satisfactory manner. But of course the word “miscarried,” in the deposition did not, and could not, mean, in relation to a labour then actually in progress, a fatal result to the child, (as Mr. Long supposes) but to the mother, for whose life Darell might very naturally have been anxious. Well, but is there any truth in that part of Aubrey's story which relates that Darell was tried for the murder, and escaped punishment by the aid of Mr. Attorney-General Popham, and that the latter was paid for this service by the conveyance to him of the reversion of the estate of Littlecote upon Darell’s death without heirs P Upon these points the documents furnished by Mr. Long do not certainly afford any strong evidence either way. But some matters appear in them which do, I think, lend some countenance to the statement so positively made by Aubrey; e. g. 1. The singular letter of W. Darell of June 17th, 1583, to his cousin Reginald Scriven, who seems to have been servant, secretary perhaps, to the Lord Chancellor Bromley, in which, referring to the “secret advice ’’, and many favours that he (Darell) had gratuitously received from Bromley, “when he was Solicitor,” Darell continues, “O that I might not even heare say too that he had been my good Lord also.” “And if it may be to have him my good and indifferent Lorde, I pray you move; and, as you may, let fall in substance this, I have a manor standing in good sort with me of the value of £300 by the yeare. This will I convey to My Lorde and Mr. Harry Bromley that maryed my kinswoman, and to his eyers, &c., if I dy without heyer male of my body begotten. And I will enter into a covenant, or be bound in £5000 for ye doing of it, &c.”
Now this offer of making over the reversion of his estate, under a bond of no less a sum than £5000 for so doing, to the Lord Chancellor, if he would be his (Darell's) good Lorde, (a phrase in those days used to signify Patron or Protector in difficult circumstances), coupled with the doleful complaints, which fill the rest of the letter, of the troubles and ill fortune under which he had long been and still was labouring, seems to shew that Darell was at this period in danger from some serious legal proceedings, in which the Chancellor's protection would be worth purchasing by so large a bribe.
For as a bribe it seems clearly to have been intended. It is certainly not the kind of offer which would be made to a powerful Law Officer like the Lord Chancellor in return for ordinary friendliness of a legitimate character. That it could not be meant merely as a grateful requital for the past favors enumerated above, . is shewn by the interjectional phrase “O that I might, &c.,” and the conditional tenour of the offer, “if it may be I have him my good and indifferent Lorde, &c.” Still more by the bond to the amount of £5000 for the due execution of the engagement.
2. Next in order of time we find that Darell was certainly indicted at Marlborough Sessions in October 1585, i.e. two years and four months after the date of the above letter, of some offence (see p. 217, vol. iv.), but from which he some-how got off. Is it not possible that this indictment had some relation to the charge of child murder? (It is well known that courts of Quarter Sessions were competent to try all felonies). And further may it not be that the protection sought by Darell on such high terms of the Lord Chancellor Bromley two years before might have been on that occasion obtained of Mr. Solicitor-General Popham in 1585, and rewarded in some similar manner P
3. For the reversion of Darell's estate had certainly before his death in 1589 been made over to Popham, since upon that event occurring, Popham instantly took possession of it, and of the title deeds then in the house at Littlecote, through his agent, William Rede, (p. 220, vol. iv.)
It may be said, no doubt, that Popham had probably purchased the estate in 1585, in the name of Rogers and Clarke for £800, (see p. 220, vol. iv). But this was certainly a very inadequate sum to pay, (even if it was bonā fide paid) for the handsome mansion and estate of Littlecote with seven manors and 3400 acres of land, 30 farm houses, 20 cottages, 3 mills, and other appendages |
It may be justly argued that these latter points taken by themselves by no means warrant implicit belief in so grave an accusation against Judge Popham as that with which the tradition preserved by Aubrey charges him. But they tend at least to add some probability to this part of the narrative.
On the whole, without going the length of asserting that the documents with which Mr. Long has favored us contain conclusive evidence to the entire truth of the tale as related by Aubrey, it is evident that they do confirm it in many of its most important particulars. And it seems strange indeed that the gentleman to whom we are indebted for their discovery and communication should be the one of all others to declare that through their means “the facts of the story have one by one melted away,” “leaving little or nothing of the dish first served up to us by our good gossip Aubrey,” and to sneer at the “credulity” of those who still think it may have some foundation l (vol. vi. p. 395.)
If it had none before, other than “gossip” and “old wives” tales,” it has now, thanks to Mr. Long, a far more substantial one. It is not often that legendary tales or local traditions have turned out to be so well supported by the discovery of contemporary documentary evidence, as has happened through his aid to the Littlecote Legend.
I remain your's very truly,
Claim to the (Earlbom of Ülists,
: * readers of this Magazine may recollect that in a notice sox o of the successive Earls of Wiltshire in a former volume," mention was made of the first creation of that dignity, anno 1397, in the person of Sir William Le Scrope, K.G. eldest son of Richard, first Lord Scrope of Bolton, the Chancellor of Richard II. Two years later, on the dethronement of that unhappy monarch, the Earl of Wilts, who almost alone among the courtiers of Richard remained faithful to his benefactor, was executed at Bristol, together with Sir John Bushy, and Sir Henry Grene, it is said without trial and contrary to the terms granted on their capitulation, by the invader Henry of Bolingbroke, Earl of Hereford, afterwards Henry IV. Sir William Scrope left no issue. Nevertheless (the original grant by letters patent having been made in an exceptional form, to him and his heirs male for ever (sibi et heredibus suis masculis in perpetuum)” the dignity would descend to his next surviving brother and his male heirs in succession, (in accordance with the law as declared in the case of the Earldom of Devon) unless his execution, or rather its affirmation by Parliament in the same year, acted as an attainder, and consequently as an extinction of the title. It would seem as if this supposition had at that time and ever since been taken for fact, inasmuch as neither his next brother, Sir Roger, second Lord Scrope of Bolton (after the decease of his father), nor any through nine generations of his descendants, who continued in direct male line to inherit the Barony of Bolton, down to the year 1630, appear to have at any time claimed the superior title of Earl of Wilts. Moreover the dignity of Earl of
| Wol. iv. p. 10. * See the Charter printed in the fifth Peerage Report, p. 117.