They saw the execution of Ralegh, the sacrifice of the Palatinate, the exaction of benevolences, the multiplication of monopolies, the supremacy of Buckingham. Against none of the acts of folly and wickedness which distinguished James's government did Bacon do more than protest; in some of the worst, and above all in the attempt to coerce the judges into prostrating law at the King's feet, he took a personal part. But even his remonstrances were too much for the young favourite, who regarded him as the"inere creature of his will. It was in vain that Bacon flung himself on the Duke's mercy, and begged him to pardon a single instance of opposition to his caprice. A Parliament was impending, and Buckingham resolved to avert from himself the storm which was gathering by sacrificing to it his meaner dependants. To ordinary eyes the Chancellor was at the summit of human success. Jonson had just sung of him as one "whose even thread the Fates spin round and full out of their choicest and their whitest wool," when the storm burst. The Commons charged Bacon with corruption in the exercise of his office. It had been customary among Chancellors to receive gifts from successful suitors after their suit was ended.
Bacon, it is certain, had taken such gifts from men whose suits were still unsettled; and though his judgement may have been unaffected by them, the fact of their reception left him with no valid defence. He at once pleaded guilty to the charge. " I do plainly and ingenuously confess that I am guilty of corruption, and do renounce all defence." " I beseech your Lordships," he added," to be merciful to a broken reed." The heavy fine imposed on him was remitted by the Crown; but the Great Seal was taken from him, and he was declared incapable of holding office in the State or of sitting in Parliament. Bacon's fall restored him to that position of real greatness from which his ambition had so long torn him away. "My conceit of his person," said Ben Jonson," was never increased towards him by his place or honours. But I have and do reverence him for his greatness that was only proper to himself, in that he seemed to me ever by his work one of the greatest men, and most worthy of admiration, that had been in many ages. In his adversity I ever prayed that God would give him strength: for greatness he could not want." His intellectual activity was never more conspicuous than in the last four years of his life.
He had presented " Novum Organum" to James in the year before his fall; in the year after it he produced his " Natural and Experimental History." He began a digest of the laws, and a " History of England under the Tudors," revised and expanded his " Essays," dictated a jest book, and busied himself with experiments in physics. It was while studying the effect of cold in preventing animal putrefaction that he stopped his coach to stuff a fowl with snow and caught the fever which ended in his death.
James was too shrewd to mistake the importance of Bacon's impeachment; but the hostility of Buckingham to the Chancellor, and Bacon's own confession of his guilt, made it difficult to resist his condemnation. Energetic too as its measures were against corruption and monopolists, the Parliament respected scrupulously the King's prejudices in other matters; and even when checked by an adjournment, resolved unanimously to support him in any earnest effort for the Protestant cause. A warlike speech from a member before the adjournment roused an enthusiasm which recalled the days of Elizabeth. The Commons answered the appeal by a unanimous vote, "lifting their hats as high as they could hold them," that for the recovery of the Palatinate they would adventure their fortunes, their estates, and their lives. " Rather this declaration," cried a leader of the country party when it was read by the Speaker, " than ten thousand men already on the march." For the moment the resolve seemed to give vigour to the royal policy.
James had aimed throughout at the restitution of Bohemia to Ferdinand, and at inducing the Emperor, through the mediation of Spain, to abstain from any retaliation on the Palatinate. He now freed himself for a moment from the trammels of diplomacy, and enforced a cessation of the attack on his son-in-law's dominions by a threat of war. The suspension of arms lasted through the summer; but mere threats could do no more, and on the conquest of the Upper Palatinate by the forces of the Catholic League, James fell back on his old policy of mediation through the aid of Spain. The negotiations for the marriage with the Infanta were pressed more busily. Gondomar, the Spanish Ambassador, who had become all-powerful at the English court, was assured that no effectual aid should be sent to the Palatinate. The English fleet, which was cruising by way of menace off the Spanish coast, was called home. The King dismissed those of his ministers who still opposed a Spanish policy; and threatened on trivial pretexts a war with the Dutch, the one great Protestant power that remained in alliance with England, and was ready to back the Elector. But he had still to reckon with his Parliament; and the first act of the Parliament on its re-assembling was to demand a declaration of war with Spain. The instinct of the nation was wiser than the statecraft of the King. Ruined and enfeebled as she really was, Spain to the world at large still seemed the champion of Catholicism. It was the entry of her troops into the Palatinate which had first widened the local war in Bohemia into a great struggle for the suppression of Protestantism along the Rhine; above all it was Spanish influence, and the hopes held out of a marriage of his son with a Spanish Infanta, which were luring the King into his fatal dependence on the great enemy of the Protestant cause.
In their petition the Houses coupled with their demands for war the demand of a Protestant marriage for their future King. Experience proved in later years how perilous it was for English freedom that the heir to the Crown should be brought up under a Catholic mother; but James was beside himself at their presumption in dealing with mysteries of state. "Bring stools for the Ambassadors," he cried in bitter irony as their committee appeared before him. He refused the petition, forbade any further discussion of state policy, and threatened the speakers with the Tower. "Let us resort to our prayers," a member said calmly as the King's letter was read, "and then consider of this great business." "The temper of the House was seen in the Protestation which met the royal command to abstain from discussion. It resolved " That the liberties, franchises, privileges, and jurisdictions of Parliament are the ancient and undoubted birthright and inheritance of the subjects of England; and that the arduous and urgent affairs concerning the King, state, and defence of the realm, and of the Church of England, and the making and maintenance of laws, and redress of grievances, which daily happen within this realm, are proper subjects and matter of council and debate in Parliament. And that in the handling and proceeding of those businesses every member of the House hath, and of right ought to have, freedom of speech to propound, treat, reason, and bring to conclusion the same." The King answered the Protestation by a characteristic outrage.