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Charles II page 8


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This announcement was received with an outburst of indignation by all parties except the independents and the other dissenters who partook of their ideas of general toleration. But the presbyterians adhered to their ancient bigotry so firmly, that rather than catholics should enjoy toleration, they were ready to forego it themselves. The church, and a vast number of people of no religion at all, joined in the cry out of their hereditary alarm at popery. The moment that the session of 1663 opened, on the 18th of February, both houses fell on the declaration, and the commons, though the bill was not before them, sent an address to the king, thanking him for the other parts of the declaration, but represented the third clause as pregnant with schism, endless liberties and importunities of sects, and certain disturbance of the national tranquillity. In the lords the lord treasurer led the opposition, and the bishops supported him with all their energies, and, to the astonishment of Charles himself, Clarendon, who had been laid up with the gout, on the second day of the debate went to the house, and attacked it with a vehemence of language which gave great offence to the king. Probably Clarendon calculated on more serious damage from the popular feeling, of which his Dunkirk policy had recently given him a sharp taste, than on any strong resentment of Charles, but he was mistaken; the bill was defeated, but the king expressed his wrath to Southampton, the treasurer, and Clarendon, in such terms as struck terror into them, and from that time it was evident that neither of them possessed his confidence any longer. Nor did he spare the bishops. He reproached them with bigotry and ingratitude. He told them that it was owing to his declaration of Breda that they owed their restoration, and that now they were driving him to break that promise. That the intolerance of the bishops in his father's time had caused the destruction of the hierarchy, and done much to ruin the monarchy itself; and no sooner were they reinstated, than they were pursuing the same blind and fatal course. From that day, too, his manner to them changed, and his courtiers, quick to perceive the change, imitated it, and glad to excuse their profligacy, indulged in ridicule of their persons, and mocking of their sermons.

But though Charles had boldly spoken much severe truth in the moment of his resentment, all parties calculated too well on the evanescence of anything in him like a wise or virtuous perseverance, and they pursued their object with an obstinacy which compelled the ease-loving monarch to give way. The commons passed a bill to check the growth of popery, and another that of nonconformity, but though strongly supported in the lords, they were defeated by the presbyterian and catholic members. They then changed their tack, and presented an address to the king, praying him to put in force all the penal laws against the catholics and sectaries of every description. Having expressed their wishes, the commons granted the king four subsidies, and he was about to prorogue parliament, when a strange incident delayed this event for some time. The king, during the discussion on the supplies, made a statement which seemed to commit the earl of Bristol with parliament. The earl and the king becoming warm in mutual explanation before lord Arlington, Charles used strong language, and Bristol, losing his temper, reproached the king with his amours, his indolence, and the sacrifice of his best friends to the malice of Clarendon, and vowed that unless justice was done him within twenty-four hours, he would do a thing that would astonish both the king and the chancellor. This thing was to impeach Clarendon of high treason on the ground that he had, both publicly and privately, endeavoured to fix the character of a papist on the king, and had represented that he alone protected the protestant establishment. Bristol's hasty temper had betrayed him into a charge which he could not substantiate. He was foiled with disgrace, and he only escaped being arrested by flight.

When the next session of parliament opened, on the 16th of March, 1664, the commons returned with unabated animus, and circumstances in the interim had occurred, which, as they favoured both the orthodox scheme and a scheme of the king's, they managed to carry their point by conceding his. In October, a trifling insurrection broke out at Farnley Wood, in Yorkshire. The people, who were of an obscure class, appeared to be fifth-monarchy men and republicans, who complained of the persecutions for religion, and of £he violation of the triennial act, and contended that as the present parliament had sate more than three years, it was illegal, and the people had nothing to do but to erect another of their own accord. This was a mistake; the act did not limit the duration of parliament, but the interval betwixt one parliament and another. The triennial act, passed in the 16th of Charles I., when his parliament wrung a number of those guarantees from him, authorised the sheriffs to issue writs for an election after any parliament bad ceased to sit three years, if the government did not summon one, and in default of the sheriffs issuing such writs, the people might assemble and; proceed to election without.

The government wanted to be rid of this act, and therefore the duke of Buckingham set Gere, sheriff of Yorkshire, and others, to send incendiarians amongst the people to excite them to proceedings of this sort. They were then arrested to the amount of about fifty persons in Yorkshire and Westmoreland, on the plea that they were assembled without lawful cause, the parliament so far from having ceased to sit three years, being still sitting. The ignorant people had been probably purposely misinformed, and some of them were hanged for it. The end of Charles was gained. He told the parliament that the act thus encouraged seditious meetings, and that though he never wished to be without a parliament for three years, he was resolved never to allow of a parliament summoned by such means as prescribed by that act. The parliament readily repealed the act, and passed another, still requiring a parliament at furthest after three years' interval, but sweeping away what Charles called the "wonderful clauses" of the bill.

In return for this favour, the commons now solicited his assent to the conventicle act, which it was hoped would extinguish dissent altogether. This was a continuation of those tyrannic acts which were passed in this infamous reign, some of which, as the corporation and test acts, even survived the revolution of 1688, and have cost us so much trouble in our own time to get rid of. The test act, the act of uniformity, by which bishop Sheldon, the Laud of his time, ejected two thousand ministers, now the conventicle, and soon after this the five mile act, completed the code of despotism, and opened up scene of violence and persecution such as no country in the worst times ever saw surpassed.

Here was this king, who, in the last session of parliament, published his declaration for the indulgence of tender consciences, now wheeling round like ä weathercock, and consenting to this conventicle act. And what was this act? It forbade more than five persons to meet together for worship, except that worship was according to the common prayer. All magistrates were empowered to levy ten pounds in the ministers, five pounds on every hearer, and twenty pounds on the house where this conventicle, as it was called, was held. This for the first offence, or three months' imprisonment, and ten pounds a hearer or six months' imprisonment for a second offence; one hundred pounds a hearer or seven years' transportation for the third; and death without benefit of clergy in case of return or escape. This diabolical act Clarendon, the just and wise Clarendon, applauded, and says that if rigorously executed, it would have produced entire conformity. What were Clarendon's idea of rigour?

Sheldon, the bishop of London, let loose all the myrmidons of the law on the devoted country. The houses of nonconformists were invaded by informers, constables, and the vilest and lowest rabble of their assailants. They broke open the houses of all nonconformists, in search of offenders, but still more in search of plunder; they drove them from their meetings with soldiery, and thrust them into prisons - and such prisons! No language can describe the horrors and vileness of the pestiferous prisons of those days.

The two thousand nonconformist ministers were starving. "Their wives and children," says Baxter, "had neither house, nor home." Such as dared to preach in fields and private houses were dragged to those horrible prisons; those who ventured to offer them food or shelter, if discovered, were treated the same. To prevent the nonconformist ministers even remaining amongst their old friends, Sheldon, the very next session, procured the five mile act, which restrained all ministers from coming within five miles of anyplace where they had exercised their ministry, and from teaching school, under a penalty of forty pounds for each offence.

"The conventicle act," says Lingard, "affected equally catholics and all denominations of dissenters; but it was felt the most severely by the quakers, because, while others, when they met for the purpose of worship, sought to elude detection, these religionists, under the guidance, as they thought, of the Spirit of God, deemed it their, duty to assemble openly, and to set at defiance the law of man." This is true, and the relation of the tremendous persecution of the quakers, which never ceased till the revolution, a period of twenty-four years, has scarcely a parallel in history, and is the more disgraceful, because these people had a principle of non-resistance, except such as consisted in passive endurance, and which exhibited the conduct of their persecutors as cowardly in the extreme. No less than two thousand five hundred of these peaceable people were, according to "Bess's Sufferings of the Society of Friends," in prison at once; "and during their absence the informers and constables came and plundered their wives and children. They threw away, the food of infants, and carried away the very vessels. They frightened and abused the poor women and their children; put the key of the door in their pockets, so that they and their tribe had free ingress and egress night and day; and there they eat, drank, and caroused jovially, declaring that »they would eat of the best, drink of the sweetest, and those rogues of quakers should pay for all." When they complained to archbishop Sancroft of such vile fellows, he only replied that" it required crooked timbers to build a ship."

But the tale of these-monstrosities fill two thick folio volumes, containing upwards of one thousand four hundred closely printed pages. They detail every imaginable species of outrage and insult, petty vexations, and agonising sufferings; confinement in the pestilential dungeons of the time, such as the hole in Newgate, which was the death of numbers; every species of legal and illegal p/under, loss of estate, friends, liberty, and life itself. In London they filled the prisons in suffocating crowds, where in 1662 twenty died, and seven more soon after their liberation; in the present year, 1664, twenty-five more, and in the following year fifty-two others. In the whole kingdom three hundred and sixty-nine perished. Everywhere their meetings were broken up by parish priests, with troopers and mobs at their heels; scarcely an adult was left at large. In Bristol at one time not a single grown-up quaker was out of prison; but the very children collected in meetings in spite of the beatings and insults of their persecutors, who struck them in the face, as they were accustomed to do women, whom it was a favourite plan to drag by the hair of the head, pinch their arms till black and blue, and prick them with bodkins and packing-needles. When this would not do, they sold them to the colonies and sugar-plantations for slaves, where their doctrines soon spread, and persecution soon became as hot as at home, especially in Barbadoes and New England, where monstrous fines, cutting off ears, and hanging became the order of the day. Before the persecution ceased, all the meeting-houses of the quakers were pulled down, and the materials sold. Christopher Wren, the architect of St. Paul's, by command of the king, pulled down their meeting-house at Horselydown. The Friends, however, continued to meet on the sites of the razed meeting-houses, where they were attacked by the soldiery, who knocked them down with the butt-end of their guns, and maltreated them so dreadfully, that the blood lay in the streets, and several died in consequence. Old age met with no respect, and the women, especially, were treated with brutal indecency.

But though the quakers were pre-eminent in suffering in England - in Scotland, the scenes; that were enacting under Lauderdale, with his hell-hound commander, Sir James Turner, were möst frightful. Of Lauderdale, the tyrant deputy of Scotland at this period, Macaulay draws this true portrait: - "Lauderdale, loud and coarse both in mirth and anger, was perhaps, under the outward show of boisterous frankness, the most dishonest man in the whole cabal. He had made himself conspicuous amongst the Scotch insurgents of 1638 by his zeal for the covenant. He was accused of being deeply, concerned in the sale of Charles I. to the English parliament, and was, therefore, in the estimation of good cavaliers, a traitor, if possible, of a worse description than those, who had sate in the High Court of Justice. He often talked with noisy jocularity of the days when he was a canter and a rebel.. He was now the chief instrument employed by the court in the work of forcing episcopacy on his reluctant countrymen; nor did he in that cause shrink from the unsparing use of the sword, the halter, and the boot. Yet those who knew him knew that thirty years Mad made no change in his real sentiments, that he still hated the memory of Charles I., and that he still preferred the presbyterian form of church government to any other." If we add to this picture Carlyle's additional touch of "his big red head," we have a sufficient idea of this monster of a, man, as he was now at work in Scotland with his renegade archbishop Sharpe, with their racks, thumbscrews, and iron boot, so vividly' described by Sir Walter - Scott in x Mortality" and the "Tales of a Grandfather;" and Turner pursuing the flying covenanters to the mountains and morasses with fire and sword.

In Scotland it was not against sects but against the whole presbyterian church that the fury of, the persecutors was directed. The presbyterians had effectually crushed out all dissenters, and now they themselves felt the iron hand of intolerance. No sooner did the conventicle act pass in England, than the royalist parliament passed one there in almost the same terms, and another act offering Charles twenty thousand foot and two thousand horse to march into England, to assist in putting down his subjects there, if necessary. Sharpe was wonderfully elated by the conventicle act, and, establishing what proved to be a high commission court, he managed to place his creature, lord Rothes at the head of the law department as chancellor, who browbeated magistrates and lawyers, and twisted the laws as Sharpe thought fit. The prisons were soon crammed as full as those in England, and proceedings of the law courts more resembled those of an inquisition than anything else, till the peasantry rose and endeavoured to defend themselves. The names of Lauderdale and archbishop Sharpe are made, immortal for the infliction of infernal tortures; their racks and thumbscrews, their iron boots and gibbets are riveted fast and firm to their names. We shall have to see Sharpe called to his account anon, and we will here close the general view of this dreadful period by this summary. The writer of the preface to Mr. De Laune's "Plea for the Nonconformists," says, that De Laune was one of near eight thousand who perished in prison in the reign of Charles

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Pictures for Charles II page 8

Great Seal of Charles II
Great Seal of Charles II >>>>
Rejoicings on the Restoration of Charles II
Rejoicings on the Restoration of Charles II >>>>
Charles II
Charles II >>>>
King Charles II
King Charles II >>>>
Savoy Palace
Savoy Palace >>>>
Charles II and Lady Castlemaine
Charles II and Lady Castlemaine >>>>
Ejection of Nonconformists
Ejection of Nonconformists >>>>
Clock Tower at Dunkirk
Clock Tower at Dunkirk >>>>
The Great Plague, 1965
The Great Plague, 1965 >>>>
The Pest House
The Pest House >>>>
Highgate field
Highgate field >>>>
The Burning of old St. Pauls
The Burning of old St. Pauls >>>>

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