Tuesday, August 23, 2011

George Villiers

Sir George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham, died on August 23, 1628.  Buckingham enjoyed a long period of favor under King James I of England, with James at one point (1625) dissolving Parliament so that Villiers would not be impeached - after the Cadiz expedition against Spain failed.  But James had died three years earlier, and after another botched military effort (to La Rochelle), Buckingham was assassinated by John Felton, who’d been wounded in the expedition. 

Villiers was slain in the Greyhound Pub (now Buckingham House), and like so many stories about people who’ve died under unhappy circumstances, there were reports of Villiers appearing as a ghost.  Sir Walter Scott addressed these in his “Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft”.  ‘…we read in Clarendon of the apparition of the ghost of Sir George Villiers to an ancient dependant. This is no doubt a story told by a grave author, at a time when such stories were believed by all the world; but does it follow that our reason must acquiesce in a statement so positively contradicted by the voice of Nature through all her works? The miracle of raising a dead man was positively refused by our Saviour to the Jews, who demanded it as a proof of his mission, because they had already sufficient grounds of conviction; and, as they believed them not, it was irresistibly argued by the Divine Person whom they tempted, that neither would they believe if one arose from the dead. Shall we suppose that a miracle refused for the conversion of God's chosen people was sent on a vain errand to save the life of a profligate spendthrift? I lay aside, you observe, entirely the not unreasonable supposition that Towers, or whatever was the ghost-seer's name, desirous to make an impression upon Buckingham, as an old servant of his house, might be tempted to give him his advice, of which we are not told the import, in the character of his father's spirit, and authenticate the tale by the mention of some token known to him as a former retainer of the family. The Duke was superstitious, and the ready dupe of astrologers and soothsayers. The manner in which he had provoked the fury of the people must have warned every reflecting person of his approaching fate; and, the age considered, it was not unnatural that a faithful friend should take this mode of calling his attention to his perilous situation. Or, if we suppose that the incident was not a mere pretext to obtain access to the Duke's ear, the messenger may have been impressed upon by an idle dream--in a word, numberless conjectures might be formed for accounting for the event in a natural way, the most extravagant of which is more probable than that the laws of Nature were broken through in order to give a vain and fruitless warning to an ambitious minion.’

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