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The murder of James I and other poisonings

Guest Ryan Murtha

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Guest Ryan Murtha

I'm reading A Phoenix's excellent paper on Did Bacon Die in 1626, which goes into the issue of why he would need to fake his death. It turns out Buckingham seriously offended King James, and so poisoned him, and James' son Charles I was complicit in the murder and coverup. This, along with Buckingham's other poisonings (including Henry Wriothsley, Earl of Southampton) and the previous poisonings of Leicester, are what alienated the crown from the rest of the aristocracy, leading to the Civil War and Charles' beheading. I had no idea of any of this about Buckingham but it is coming into the open, e.g., the 2015 book The Murder of King James I

I was reminded of a passage about poisoning and royal succession in the 1602 Anti-Machiavel which sounds very much like Hamlet:

When the emperor Claudius would espouse Agrippina, his brother’s daughter, he made a law whereby he authorized the marriage of the uncle with the niece, which was published all over. But Suetonius says that no man would imitate and follow the emperor’s example, and everybody so detested and abhorred such marriages as being contrary to the natural law and common sense. And indeed this marriage fell out not well for him; for Agrippina poisoned him to bring Nero to the empire, her son by another marriage; although Claudius had by his first wife Messalina a natural son called Brittanicus, whom Nero poisoned when he came to the empire. So that by the incestuous marriage wherewith Claudius had contaminated and poisoned his house, he and his natural son, who by reason should have been his successor, were killed with poison.

There are a number of other stories about royal poisonings in Anti-Machaivel; the author frequently compares the spread of Machiavelli's writings with pestilence and poison. This was originally published in French in 1576, at Geneva. I am convinced it is Bacon, as implausible as that may sound; it has over fifty parallels in Bacon, and it has extensive parallels with The Anatomie of the Minde, also 1576. It looks like Bacon composed these two books during his time at Cambridge, and although his later writings allude to Machiavelli in terms of respect, those allusions have been carefully written and actually point at Anti-Machiavel. Machiavelli was so popular at the time, opposing him openly would have alienated a large part of Bacon's continental audience.

At any rate, here are some of the grisly stories which may have informed the fifteen-year-old mind of the author of Hamlet and Macbeth, and I will attach a full PDF of the Anti-Machiavel. The book has been totally neglected, but it is important (not all the stories are so ghastly) and from 1577 bore a dedication "for kinred" to Francis Hastings and Edward Bacon, Francis Bacon's half-brother. Three professors have hinted about its connection with Francis Bacon, but they cannot say more, evidently. 

As we see it well painted in poets’ tragedies, where many tyrants are seen who enduring long have done nothing during the space of their life but knit cords, fasten gallows in some eminent places, whet swords and daggers, and temper poisons for afterward to drink the poison, to stab the dagger in their bosoms, or hang themselves on the gibbet in the sight of all the world; who laughing and mocking them say it is well employed.

Philip made to die by poison his lawful son Demetrius, a prince of exceeding great towardness, by the false accusation of Perseus, his bastard son. After some time, this king having discovered that by a false accusation he had murdered his own son, he would have disinherited Perseus; and being continually tormented with the shadow and resemblance of his son Demetrius, which his conscience always brought before his eyes, he died desperately, detesting and execrating that wicked Perseus. Perseus, then his only son, who remained to succeed him in his kingdom, after a few years’ reign was taken prisoner by the Romans and led in a triumph to Rome, where he miserably died in a prison.

He practiced to make Monsignor le Dauphin eat a poisoned apple, which was given to a child, who was charged to give it to none but to the said Dauphin. But it so happened that the child gave it to one of the sons of the said Duke of Orleans, who died thereof.

Commodus, who had acquired infinite enemies by means of his marmosets, determined at once to cause a goodly execution to be made. He made two lists of the names of those he would execute, one of which was entitled the dagger, and the other the sword. These two lists fell by hap into the hands of Laetus, who was one of his marmosets, and of Martia, one of his courtesans, who found themselves first on the list. Seeing the danger near and evident, they conferred together and resolved rather to slay than be slain. Martia took the charge to poison him, which she did; but Commodus, who had eaten and drunk too much, was provoked to vomit, and cast up the poison. Seeing this, Laetus and Martia had him strangled in his bed. Behold here the end whereunto Perennis, Cleander, and other marmosets brought their masters, and the end they made themselves, and the great evils and slaughters of good people whereof they were the cause. Think you not that this is a goodly example to all kings and princes, to keep them from suffering themselves to be governed by reporters and flatterers?

Herod, born of a low and base race, was created king of Judea, Galilee, Samaria and Edom. He espoused a noble lady of the king’s race named Mariamne, by whom he had two children, Alexander and Aristobulus. But Herod had a sister called Salome, who was a very Tisiphone and served for nothing but to kindle and light fires in the king’s court by false reports she invented. This infernal fury did so much that she persuaded Herod that Mariamne sought to poison him by his cup-bearer, and brought out certain false witnesses to prove it. The king believed it and put to death his wife, one of the fairest princesses in the world, and of whose death there was afterward infinite griefs and repentances. ... God willed that Herod should discover that the accusations against his two dead children were but slanders, and that Antipater had himself conspired to poison his father.


Our ancestors, moved with this sincerity and loyalty, would not employ the physician of their enemy king Pyrrhus, who offered to poison his master for a certain sum of silver, but they revealed to the king the disloyalty of the physician.

What repose could Nero have, who confessed that often the likeness of his mother, whom he slew, appeared to him, which tormented and afflicted him; and that the furies beat him with rods and tormented him with burning torches. What delicateness or sweetness of life could Caligula and Caracalla have? who always carried coffers full of all manners of poisons, as well to poison others as themselves in case of necessity, for fear they should fall alive into the hands of their enemies. Heliogabalus also, what comfort had he in the world? who provided always cords of silk to hang himself, and brave poinards and golden swords, exceedingly sharp, in like manner at a need to slay him.

Lastly, he made no other end than other cruel princes; for he died with sorrow (according to Herodian, who was in his time) because he saw his children such mortal enemies one against another; and Bassianus the eldest had enterprised to kill his father, who yet did pardon him. But Bassianus pardoned not his father’s physicians, who would not obey him when he commanded them to poison his sick father; for as soon as his father was dead he hanged and strangled them all. Herein also God punished the cruelty of Severus, that having exercised all these cruelties and slaughters to establish the empire in his house, he was frustrated of his intention; for of those two sons Bassianus and Geta, one slew the other; and Bassianus, after he had slain Geta endured not long, but was slain by Macrinus, and left behind him no children. Therefore although it seemed that God spared to punish Severus’ cruelty for his other good virtues, yet he remained not unpunished; for seeing his son, who had learned from him how to be cruel, enterprise to slay him, he died of grief and sorrow.










Antimach FINAL.pdf

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