Buckingham and his master set themselves to work to conquer public opinion. On the one hand, they threw over their engagements to France on behalf of the English Roman Catholics. On the other hand they sent out a large fleet to attack Cadiz, and to seize the Spanish treasure-ships. Buckingham went to the Hague to raise an immediate supply by pawning the crown jewels, to place England at the head of a great Protestant alliance, and to enter into fresh obligations to furnish money to the king of Denmark. It all ended in failure. The fleet returned from Cadiz, having effected nothing. The crown jewels produced but a small sum, and the money for the king of Denmark could only be raised by an appeal to parliament. In the meanwhile the king of France was deeply offended by the treatment of the Roman Catholics, and by the seizure of French vessels on the ground that they were engaged in carrying goods for Spain.

When Charles's second parliament met on the 6th of February 1626, it was not long before, under Eliot's guidance, it asked for Buckingham's punishment. He was impeached before the House of Lords on a long string of charges. Many of these charges were exaggerated, and some were untrue. His real crime was his complete failure as the leader of the administration. But as long as Charles refused to listen to the complaints of his minister's incompetency, the only way in which the Commons could reach him was by bringing criminal charges against him. Charles dissolved his second parliament as he had dissolved his first. Subsequently the Star Chamber declared the duke innocent of the charges, and on the 1st of June Buckingham was elected chancellor of Cambridge University.

To find money was the great difficulty. Recourse was had to a forced loan, and men were thrown into prison for refusing to pay it. Disasters had occurred to Charles's allies in Germany. The fleet sent out under Lord Willoughby (earl of Lindsey) against the Spaniards returned home shattered by a storm, and a French war was impending in addition to the Spanish one. The French were roused to reprisals by Charles's persistence in seizing French vessels. Unwilling to leave La Rochelle open to the entrance of an English fleet, Richelieu laid siege to that stronghold of the French Huguenots. On the 27th of June 1627 Buckingham sailed from Portsmouth at the head of a numerous fleet, and a considerable land force, to relieve the besieged city.

His first enterprise was the siege of the fort of St Martin's, on the Isle of Ré. The ground was hard, and the siege operations were converted into a blockade. On the 27th of September the defenders of the fort announced their readiness to surrender the next morning. In the night a fresh gale brought over a flotilla of French provision boats, which dashed through the English blockading squadron. The fort was provisioned for two months more. Buckingham resolved to struggle on, and sent for reinforcements from England. Charles would gladly have answered to his call. But England had long since ceased to care for the war. There was no money in the exchequer, no enthusiasm in the nation to supply the want. Before the reinforcements could arrive the French had thrown a superior force upon the island, and Buckingham was driven to retreat on the 29th of October with heavy loss, only 2989 troops out of nearly 7000 returning to England.

His spirits were as buoyant as ever. Ill luck, or the misconduct of others, was the cause of his failure. He had new plans for carrying on the war. But the parliament which met on the 17th of March 1628 was resolved to exact from the king an obligation to refrain from encroaching for the future on the liberties of his subjects.

In the parliamentary battle, which ended in the concession of the Petition of Right, Buckingham took an active share as a member of the House of Lords. He resisted as long as it was possible to resist the demand of the Commons, that the king should abandon his claim to imprison without showing cause. When the first unsatisfactory answer to the petition was made by the king on the 2nd of June, the Commons suspected, probably with truth, that it had been dictated by Buckingham. They prepared a remonstrance on the state of the nation, and Coke at last named the duke as the cause of all the misfortunes that had occurred. "The duke of Bucks is the cause of all our miseries ... that man is the grievance of grievances." Though on the 7th of June the king granted a satisfactory answer to the petition, the Commons proceeded with their remonstrance, and on the 11th demanded that he might no longer continue in office.

Once more Charles refused to surrender Buckingham, and a few days later he prorogued parliament in anger. The popular feeling was greatly excited. Lampoons circulated freely from hand to hand, and Dr Lambe, a quack doctor, who dabbled in astrology, and was believed to exercise influence over Buckingham, was murdered in the streets of London. Rude doggerel lines announced that the duke should share the doctor's fate.

With the clouds gathering round him, Buckingham went down to Portsmouth to take the command of one final expedition for the relief of La Rochelle. For the first time even he was beginning to acknowledge that he had undertaken a task beyond his powers. There was a force of inertia in the officials which resisted his efforts to spur them on to an enterprise which they believed to be doomed to failure. He entered gladly into a scheme of pacification proposed by the Venetian ambassador. But before he could know whether there was to be peace or war, the knife of an assassin put an end to his career. John Felton, who had served at Ré, had been disappointed of promotion, and had not been paid that which was due to him for his services, read the declaration of the Commons that Buckingham was a public enemy, and eagerly caught at the excuse for revenging his private wrongs under cover of those of his country. Waiting, on the morning of the 23rd of August, beside the door of the room in which Buckingham was breakfasting, he stabbed him to the heart as he came out.

Buckingham married Lady Katherine Manners, daughter of Francis, 6th earl of Rutland, by whom he left three sons and one daughter, of whom George, the second son (1628-1687), succeeded to the dukedom.

Bibliography

Article in the Dict. of Nat. Biography, by S.R. Gardiner; Life of Buckingham, by Sir Henry Wotton (1642), reprinted in Harleian Miscellany, viii. 613; A Parallel between Robert Earl of Essex and George late Duke of Buckingham, by the same writer (1641), in the Thomason Tracts, 164 (20); Characters of the same by Edward, Earl of Clarendon (1706); Life of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, etc. (London, 1740); Historical and Biographical Memoirs of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham (London, 1819); Letters of the Duke and Duchess of Buckingham (Edinburgh, 1834); Historia Vitae ... Ricardi II., etc., by Thos. Hearne (1729); Documents illustrating the Impeachment of Buckingham, published by the Camden Society and edited by S.R. Gardiner (1889); Epistolae Hoelianae (James Howell), 187, 189, 203; Poems and Songs relating to George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, ed. by R. W. Fairholt for the Percy Society (1850); Rous's Diary (Camden Soc., 1856), p. 27; Gent. Mag. (1845), ii. 137-144 (portrait of Buckingham dead); Cal. of State Papers, and MSS. in the British Museum (various collections). Hist. MSS. Comm. Series. See also P. Gibbs, The Romance of George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham (1908).

(S. R. G.; P. C. Y.)

[1] i.e. in the Villiers line; see above.

[2] The Life, by Sir Henry Wotton, gives August 28th as the date of his birth, but, when relating his death on August 23rd, adds, "thus died the great peer in the 36th year of his age compleat and three days over." August 28th was therefore probably a misprint for August 20th.