OREALD.COM - An Old Electronic Library
eng: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Charles II page 7


Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 <7> 8 9 10

She was subdued to her yoke; and this was the treatment of an English king to a princess who brought him three hundred and fifty thousand pounds dowry, the settlement of Tangier, which might in any reign of sense and policy have been made a commanding station in the Mediterranean, and Bombay, our first settlement in India, the nucleus of our present magnificent Indian empire.

Whilst these revolting scenes had been passing in the palace, the lives of more patriots were brought into question without. Vane and Lambert were put upon their trial before the Court of King's Bench on the 2nd of June. The prominent actors in the drama of the late revolution had both in their different ways done immense damage to royalty; and though the convention parliament had requested Charles to leave them in impunity, notwithstanding that they were not included in the bill of indemnity, and Charles had assented, the cavaliers could not rest satisfied without their blood. Lambert had been one of Cromwell's ablest generals, one of his major-generals, and to the last he had done his best to maintain the cause of the commonwealth by his sword, and had attempted to prevent the march of Monk at the very time that he was planning the return of the king. Vane had been one of the very ablest counsellors and diplomatists that the commonwealth, had had. True, he had not sate on the trial of the king, he had had no hand whatever in his death; but he had done two things which could never be forgotten or forgiven by the royalists. He had furnished the minutes of the privy council from his father's cabinet, which determined the fate of Strafford, and the court held him tobe the real author of his death; next, though he did not assist in condemning the king, he accepted office under what was now termed the rebel government. Besides and beyond these, he was a man of the highest diplomatic abilities, and of a spotless character and high religious temperament, which cast the most odious hue on the vile spirit and lives of the new reigning power and party. The prisoners were charged with conspiring and compassing the death of the present king, and the recent acts in proof of this were alleged to be consulting with others to bring the king to destruction, and to keep him out of his kingdom and authority, and actually assembling in arms. These were vague and general charges, which might have been applied to all who had been engaged in the late government,, and on the same pleas have put all the commonwealth men to death.

Lambert, who had been most courageous in the field, appeared before a court of justice, a thorough coward. His late transactions had shown that he was a man of no military genius, and now he trembled at the sight of his judges. He assumed a very humble tone; pretended that when he opposed general Monk that he did not know that he was a favourer of the house of Stuart, and he threw himself on the royal clemency. As there was clearly nothing to be feared from such a man, he received judgment of death, but was then sent to a prison in Guernsey for life, where he amused himself with painting and gardening.

But Vane showed, by the ability with which he defended himself, that he was a most dangerous man to so corrupt and contemptible a dynasty as now reigned. The nobility of his sentiments, the dignity of his conduct, and the acute- ness of his reasonings, all marked a man who kept alive most dangerous and disparaging reminiscences. Every plea that he advanced, and the power with which he advanced it, which before a fair and independent tribunal would have excited admiration, and insured his acquittal, here only inspired terror and rage, and insured his destruction. He contended that he was no traitor. That by all principles of civil government, and by the statute of Henry VII., he had only contended against a man who was no longer king de facto. That the parliament, before his union with it, had entered on the contest with the late king, and put him, on what they held to be sufficient grounds, out of his former position and authority. That they, by the avowed law of the land, the statute of the 11th of Henry VII., and the practice based upon it, were become the actual reigning and rightful power. Under that power, and by the constitutional, acknowledged government he had acted, taking no part in the shedding of the king's blood; and what he did after he did by the authority of the only ruling government. He therefore denied the right of any court but the high court of parliament to call him in question, and he demanded counsel to assist him in any case in rebutting the charges against him. But every argument that he advanced only the more militated against himself. The court was met to condemn him and get rid of him, and the more he could prove its incompetence, the worse must their arbitrary injustice appear. The more he could prove the commonwealth a rightful government, the more must the present government hate and dread him. The judges declared that Charles had never ceased to be king either de facto' or de jure from the moment of his father's death. That he was not king de facto, but an outcast deprived of all power and name from this country, was notorious enough, but that mattered little; they were resolved to have it so. In order to induce Vane to plead, they promised him counsel, but when he had complied, and pleaded not guilty, they answered his demand for counsel, by telling him they would be his counsel.

Before such a tribunal there could be but one result - right or wrong, the prisoner must be condemned; but Vane made so able and unanswerable a defence, that the counsel employed against him were reduced to complete silence: whereupon chief justice Foster said to his colleagues, "Though we know not what to say to him, we know what to do with him." And when he adverted to the promise of the king that he should not be condemned for what was past, and to his repeated demand for counsel, the solicitor-general exclaimed, "What counsel does he think would dare to speak for him in such a manifest case of treason, unless he could call down the heads of his fellow traitors - Bradshaw or Coke - from the top of Westminster Hall?" He might have added - in that vile state of things, that disgraceful relapse of the English public into moral and political slavery - what jury would dare to acquit him? The king was so exasperated at the accounts carried to him at Hampton Court of the bold and. unanswerable defence of Vane, that he wrote to Clarendon, " The relation that hath been made to me of Sir Harry Vane's carriage yesterday in the hall, is the occasion of this letter, which, if I am rightly informed, was so insolent as to justify all that he had done, acknowledging no supreme power in England but parliament, and many things to that pilrpose. You have had a true account of all, and if he has given new occasion to be hanged, certainly he is too dangerous a man to let live, if we can honestly put him out of the way. Think of this, and give me some account of it to-morrow." What account Clarendon gave, we may imagine, for he is careful to pass over altogether so small a matter as the trial and death of this eminent man, in his own autobiography.

Vane was condemned, and executed on Tower Hill on the 14th of June, on the very spot where Strafford suffered, thus studiously making his death an act of retribution for his decisive evidence against that nobleman. On taking leave of his wife and friends, Sir Harry confidently predicted, as the former victims, Harrison, Scott, and Peters had done, that his blood would rise from the ground against the reigning family in judgment, on earth as well as in heaven. "As a testimony and seal," he said, "to the justness of that quarrel, I leave now my life upon it, as a legacy to all the honest interests in these three nations. Ten thousand deaths rather than defile my conscience, the chastity and purity of which I value beyond all this world." So alarmed were the king and courtiers at the impression which this heroic mid virtuous conduct was likely to make on the public, that they took every means to prevent the prisoner being heard on the scaffold. They placed a body of drummers and trumpeters under the scaffold, to drown his voice when he addressed the people. When he complained of the unfairness of his trial, Sir John Robinson, the lieutenant of the Tower, rudely and furiously contradicted him, saying, "It's a lie; I am here to testify that it is a lie. Sir, you must not rail at the judges." When he began again, the drummers and trumpeters made the loudest din that they could, but he ordered them to be stopped, saying he knew what was meant by it. Again, as he attempted to proceed, they burst forth louder than ever; and Robinson, furious, attempted to snatch the paper out of his hand which contained his notes. Vane, however, held it firmly, and then Robinson, seeing several persons taking notes of what the prisoner said, exclaimed in a rage, "He utters rebellion, and you write it;" and the books were seized, or all that could be discovered They next, two or three of them, attempted to wrest his papers from him, and thrust their hands into his pockets, on pretence of searching for others. A more indecent scene never was seen, and Vane, seeing that it was useless to attempt being heard, laid his head on the block, and it was severed at a stroke

But the effect of Vane's words and conduct died not with him. The people, degraded as they had become, could not avoid perceiving that the devil was uppermost for a time; that he was taking revenge for the virtue and the great principles of the commonwealth; that the base and worthless were exterminating the true - those who were the real glory of the nation. Burnet says, "It was generally thought that the government lost more than it gained by the death of Vane;" and even the gossiping Pepys said that he was told that " Sir Hairy Vane was gone to heaven, for he died as much a saint and martyr as ever man did, and that the king had lost more by that man's death than he would get again for a long while."

But these plain signs could not stop the thirst for blood. Colonels Okey, Corbet, and Barkstead, three of the regicides, had got away to Holland, as Goffe, Whalley, and Dixwell had to the New England settlements. The latter managed, in various disguises, but in continual fears, to escape; but Okey, Corbet, and Barkstead were hunted out by Downing, who, having been Cromwell's ambassador at the Hague, had made his peace with the new government, and was ready to earn favour by making himself its bloodhound in running down his former friends. He had once been chaplain to Okey's regiment. Having secured them, the States were truckling enough to give them up, and they suffered all the horrors of hanging and embowelling at the gallows. General Ludlow, Mr. Lisle, and others of the commonwealth men had retired to Switzerland, which nobly refused to give them up; but the royalists determined to assassinate them if they could not have them to hack and mangle at the gibbet. Murderers were sent after them to dog them, and though Ludlow escaped, as by a miracle, from several attempts, Lisle was shot, on Sunday, of all days, as he was entering the church at Lausaune; and the murderers rode away shouting, "God save the king," and made their escape into France.

If the country was discontented at the destruction of itę most eminent and virtuous men, it found that it must prepare to see its foreign prestige sold to France. The king wanted money; Louis XIV. wanted Dunkirk back again, which Cromwell had wrested from France, and which remained a proof of the ascendancy of England under that great ruler. Clarendon, who should have endeavoured to save the nation from that disgrace, did not know where else to look for the necessary supplies for Charles's pleasures, and if he did not suggest, actually counselled the measure. It was contended that Dunkirk was useless to England, and that the expense of maintaining it was onerous. But not only France, but Spain and Holland knew very well its value as & bulwark against the well-known designs of Louis - of adding Belgium, and if possible Holland, to France. Charles knew this very well, too, and was ready to sell it to the highest bidder. Spain and Holland were eager to make the pur* chase, but Charles was expecting other favours from France^ and could not get them if he sold Dunkirk to either of those nations. He was in treaty with Louis for ten thousand foot and a body of cavalry, to enable him jbo tread down the remaining liberties of the people., He therefore gave the preference to France - for not a patriotic feeling, but the most base personal views swayed him in such matters - and struck a bargain with D'Estrades for five million of livres. Charles struggled for the payment in cash, but Louis would only give bills for the amount; and then, knowing Charles's necessity, he privately sent a broker, who discounted the bills at sixteen per cent, and Louis himself boasts, in his published works, that he thus saved five hundred thousand livres out of the bargain, without Charles being aware of it. The indignation of the public at this transaction was loud and undisguised; the merchants of London had in vain offered themselves to advance the king money, so that Dunkirk might not be sacrificed, and now the people openly said that the place was sold only to satisfy the rapacity of the king's mistresses, of whom he was getting more and more - Miss Stewart, Nell Gwynne, and others of less mark. The reprobation of the affair was so universal and violent, and Clarendon was so fiercely accused of being a party to it, that from this hour his favour with the nation was gone for ever.

Whilst the king was thus spilling the best blood, and selling the possessions of the country, the nonconformists were vainly hoping for his fulfilment of his declaration of Breda, as it regarded liberty to tender consciences. The act of uniformity came into force on the 24th of August, St. Bartholomew's Day, on which day the deprivation of two thousand presbyterian ministers would be enforced. They therefore petitioned for three months' delay, which Charles promised, on condition that during that time they should use the book of Common Prayer. But no sooner was this promise given, than the royalists, and especially the bishops, contended that the king was under no obligation to keep the declaration of Breda, inasmuch as it had only been made to the convention parliament, which had never called for its fulfilment. Clarendon did not venture to counsel Charles to break his word, but he advised the summoning of the bishops to Hampton Court, where the question was discussed in the presence of Ormond, Monk, and the chief law-officers and ministers of state. The bishops expressed much disgust at those fellows, the nonconformists, still insisting on interrupting the king in the exercise of his undoubted prerogative; they were supported by the crown lawyers, and the Act was enforced in all its rigour, spite of the royal promise, which had over and over lost its slightest value. The storm of persecution burst forth on the nonconformists with fury. Their meetings were forcibly broken up by soldiery, and "their preachers and many of themselves thrust into prison on charges of heresy and violation of the laws. Numbers again prepared for flight to New England, and to prevent this sweeping emigration of useful artisans, the earl of Bristol, the former impetuous and eccentric lord Digby of the civil wars, and Ashley Cooper planned a scheme which should at once relieve both dissenters and catholics. This was to induce the king, on the plea of fulfilling his declaration of Breda, to issue a declaration of indulgence of a broad and comprehensive character. This was supported in the council by Robartes, lord privy seal, and Bennet, the new secretary of state. Accordingly, Charles, on the' 6th of December, issued his declaration, called a declaration for refuting four scandals cast on the government - namely, that the act of indemnity had been merely intended to be temporary, that there was an intention to keep a large standing army; that the king was a persecutor; and that he was a favourer of popery. In answer to the third scandal, he declared he would submit to parliament a bill for ample indulgence to tender consciences; and though he would not refuse to make the catholics, like the rest of his subjects, a partaker in this privilege, yet to show the fallacy of the fourth scandal, if they abused his goodness he would pursue them with all the rigour of the laws already existing against them.

<<< Previous page <<< >>> Next page >>>
Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 <7> 8 9 10

Pictures for Charles II page 7


Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About