Essex's Innocency and Honour Vindicated

Laurence BRADDON   |   Arthur CAPEL, 1ST EARL OF ESSEX

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(CAPEL, Arthur, 1st Earl of Essex) BRADDON, Laurence. Essex's Innocency and Honour Vindicated; or, Murther, Subornation, Perjury, and Oppression, Justly Charg'd on the Murtherers of That Noble Lord and True Patriot, Arthur (Late) Earl of Essex. As Proved before the Right Honourable (late) Committee of Lords, or ready to be Deposed. In a Letter to a Friend. London: Printed for the Author, 1690. Square quarto, early 18th-century three-quarter calf and drab paper boards rebacked, red morocco spine label; pp. (ix), 62.

First edition of attorney Braddon's contemporary investigation into the still-unresolved death of the 1st Earl of Essex, accused of treason in a plot to assassinate Charles III and imprisoned in the Tower at the time of his death, with Braddon, himself imprisoned after Essex's death, offering extensive testimonies and eyewitness accounts to charge unnamed "powerful and bloody men" in the death of Essex, with engraved folding frontispiece (often missing) depicting the body of Essex, the "bloody footprint" on his clothing, and the image of "the razor notch'd & brook" (sic).

England's long early history of political murders and executions is perhaps best known through accounts of Henry VIII and his successor, Queen Elisabeth. To some historians, however, one of the most fascinating records of that time is found in the life and death of Arthur Capel, 1st Earl of Essex, who was charged and imprisoned in connection with the Rye House Plot to assassinate King Charles II. Essex, said to have acted "on his belief that subjects could restrain or overthrow princes who violated the trust vested in them," would ultimately die in the same rooms in the Tower that held his father prior to his execution in 1649 (ODNB).

On July 13, 1683, Essex was found dead in the Tower with his throat cut. When the government contended he slashed his own throat with a razor, his attorney Laurence Braddon instead argued Essex was murdered. To this day the cause of his death—whether suicide or murder—remains unresolved. While "advocates of the case for suicide point to his distress upon arriving at the Tower… a compelling case for homicide rests on two surgeons' description of the fatal wound, which extended from ear to ear… deep enough to nick the vertebrae at the back of the neck. The instrument that supposedly did this was a handleless French razor between 4-1/4 and 4-1/2 inches long, which the user had to grasp in his fingers. This would leave between 2-1/4 and 2-3/4 inches of blade exposed, but the cut was between 3 and 4 inches deep" (ODNB). It was also noted that "the inquest jurors acted in unorthodox circumstances, for someone had moved and cleaned the body before they viewed it… Jurors had reportedly been denied when they asked to see the clothes in which Essex had died, for example, and when they requested an adjournment to seek more evidence they were told the king himself wanted their verdict immediately… In the cumulative actions of these jurors, as policed and directed from above, we see one of the ways in which the state both grew and slowly changed shape, and one of the ways in which homicide became more fully public." When Essex's attorney Braddon early opened his own investigation into the death, he was arrested and imprisoned for nearly five years. It was only with "the Revolution of 1688-9 that critics were released and the case reopened." It was then that Braddon, also released from prison, could "publish on London's presses the results of his investigation" (Kesselring, Making Murder Public, 65-7).

This first edition of Essex's Innocency and Honour Vindicated is especially notable in containing the folding frontispiece engraving (often missing) of the alleged crime scene, and Braddon's prefatory "Apology," where he boldly announces "now is the time to speak" and declares that Essex was murdered by "THE TRANSCENDENT AUTHORITY and INTEREST OF SOME AND THE TREACHERY and BLOODY CRUELTY OF OTHERS" (emphasis in original). Included in the text are lengthy numerous witness accounts and testimonies, including arguments that physical evidence and the location of the body contradicted Essex's alleged suicide. This fascinating work particularly signals how the death of Essex and "other plots and conspiracies marked the age, infusing politics with talk of murder like never before" (Kesselring, 143). Copies found with frontispiece full page (this copy) and folding; no priority established. Substantially differs from the anonymously issued 1689 edition (attributed to Robert Ferguson), titled Innocency and truth vindicated… In a conference between three gentlemen concerning the present inquiry into the death of that noble Lord and true patriot. ESTC R19636. Wing 4101. Early owner signature above title page. Small numbered notation to frontispiece verso. Traces of bookplate removal.

Interior fresh with light scattered foxing, boards with light expert restoration. A handsome wide-margined copy..

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