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Reign of Charles II. (Concluded)


The Bill of Limitation - Proceedings of the Commons - Dissolution of Parliament - Fresh Secret Treaty with Louis - New Parliament meets at Oxford - Plot of Fitzharris - Dissolution of Charles's Fifth and Last Parliament - Executions of Fitzharris and Archbishop Plunket - The Tables turned on the Popular Leaders - Execution of College, the Protestant Joiner - Arrest of Shaftesbury - Prosecutions of the Cameronians in Scotland- Conduct of James in Scotland - Imprisonment and Escape of Argyll - Duke of York near perishing at Sea - Persecutions of the Whigs - Flight and Death of Shaftesbury - Proceedings against the City - The Rye House Plot - Arrests of Lord Russell, Sidney, Wildman, and others - Trials and Executions of Russell and Sidney - Trial and Imprisonment of Hampden - Corporations deprived of their Charters by quo warranto Writs - Intrigues of Halifax - Conduct of Monmouth - Sickness and Death of the King.
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Amid the contending factions of his court, and the most absolute destitution of money - for, the commons would grant nothing without the exclusion bill - Charles is described as being outwardly merry. Reresby, at the end of December, 1680, says that Charles "seemed quite free from care and trouble, though one would have thought at this time he should have been overwhelmed therewith; for every one now imagined he must either dismiss the parliament in a few days, or deliver himself up to their pressing desires; but the straits he was in seemed no way to embarrass him."

Yet his situation would have embarrassed a much wiser man. The opposition, trusting to his need of money, calculated on his giving way to the exclusion bill; and they kept up their warfare by speeches, pamphlets, and addresses to the public, and by secret, pressure on him through his ministers, his mistress, his nephew, the prince of Orange, and his allies. Sunderland and Godolphin urged his concession to the opposition in parliament; the duchess, when he sought retirement with her, harped on the same string; Halifax, who had offended the opposition greatly by his determined resistance to the exclusion bill, now proposed a bill of limitations of the authority of James in case of his succession; and the prince of Orange warned the king on no account to adopt this bill, because it would undermine the very foundation of the monarchy. The Spaniards complained that Louis was violating the treaty of Nimeguen, and called on him to act as their ally and a party to the treaty.

To contend with Louis required money, even if he were so disposed, and money he had none. Instead of answering his demands for it, the commons expressed their resentment of his resistance to the exclusion bill, by attacking all the supporters of the king. They summoned various tory leaders on one pretence or another to their bar; they demanded the removal of Jeffreys from the office of recorder of London, and he made haste to submit; they voted impeachments against Scroggs and North, the chief justices, and Lewis Weston and other judges. They sent a message to the king, that unless the duke of York was excluded, there was no safety to protestantism - a great truth, but one which they had most deplorably damaged by the base means which they had used to establish it. They voted that the marquis of Worcester, Halifax, Clarendon, and Feversham, were promoters of popery; that they and Lawrence Hyde, and Seymour, ought to be removed from the king's council, and that till then no money could be voted; and, moreover, that any one lending the king money upon any branch of the revenue, should be adjudged enemies of the country. As they were going on voting still further resolutions of a like kind, Charles sent and prorogued parliament, and then by proclamation dissolved it, ordering another to assemble at the end of two months at Oxford.

The very naming of the place of meeting struck the opposition with alarm. In London they had a strong protection in a strongly sympathising population; but Oxford was notorious for its royalist and tory feeling; and there Charles, amid a fiery mob of fortune-seeking gownsmen, and a strong body of soldiery, might overawe parliament, and direct particular attacks against the opposition leaders. These fears were well founded. But the king had, in the interim, also strengthened himself in another manner. He had first set to work every person of the duke's friends that he possibly could, to induce him to appear at least to conform to the demands of parliament, but finding that utterly unavailing, he had turned to his old friend Louis. The French monarch, who never liked to leave Charles at the mercy of his parliament, again gratified his desire, and agreed to pay him two millions of livres this year, and half a million of crowns in each of the two following years,, on condition that he should leave the Spaniards to his overbearing encroachments. The many hints thrown out of secret treaties betwixt Charles and Louis had not been lost, and no written contract of this agreement was made, but it was treated as a matter of honour, and only the two monarchs, with Barillon on the one side, and Hyde on the other, were included in the secret.

Being thus made independent of his parliament, Charles disregarded the strongest remonstrances against holding the parliament in Oxford, and on the day appointed appeared there attended by a troop of horse guards, besides crowds of armed courtiers, and the opposition members and their party equally armed, and attended by armed followers. It appeared more like a preparation for war than for peaceful debate. Charles addressed the assembled hearers in the tone of a man who had money in his pocket. He spoke strongly of the factious proceedings of the last parliament, and of his determination neither to exercise arbitrary power himself, nor to suffer it in others; but to show that he had every disposition to consult the wishes of his subjects, he proposed to grant them almost everything they had solicited. He then offered the substance of the bill of limitations proposed by Halifax, that James should be banished five hundred miles from the British shores during the king's life; that, on succeeding, though he should have the title of king, the powers of government should be vested in a regent, and that regent in the first instance be his daughter, the princess Mary of Orange, and after her sister Anne; that if James should have a son educated in the protestant faith, the regency should continue only till he reached his majority; that besides this, all catholics of incomes of more than one hundred pounds per annum, should be banished, the fraudulent conveyance of their estates be pronounced void, and their children taken from them and educated in protestantism.

This was a sweeping concession; short of expelling James altogether, nothing more could be expected, and it was scarcely to be expected that Charles would concede that. Oil this one point he had always displayed unusual firmness, and it was a firmness highly honourable to him, for by it he maintained the rights of a brother, at the expense of the aggrandisement of his own son. Nothing would have been easier than to have, by a little finesse, conveyed the crown to Monmouth, the favourite of the protestant bulk of the nation, and for whom he had a strong affection. But the whigs overstood their opportunity; they were blinded to their own interest by the idea of their strength, and that having so much offered, they were on the point of gaining all. This was the culminating point of their success; but they rejected the offer, and from that hour the tide of their power ebbed, and their ruin was determined.

There was another attempt to spur on the country tu carry the exclusion bill, by making use of a miserable pretence of a plot got up by two low adventurers, Everard and Fitzharris. First these fellows pretended that the king was leagued with the duke to establish popery; but when Fitzharris was thrown into Newgate, he got up another story, that he had been offered ten thousand pounds to murder the king by the duchess of Modena, and that a foreign invasion was to assist the catholic attempt. The opposition were ready to seize on this man as another Dangerfield, to move the country by the disclosures of these plots. But Charles was beforehand with them, cut off all intercourse with the prisoner, and ordered the attorney-general to proceed against him. The commons claimed to deal with him, and sent up an impeachment to the lords; the lords refused to entertain it, and voted that he should be tried as the king directed, by common law. The commons were exasperated, and declared that this was a denial of justice, a violation of the rights of parliament, and any inferior court interfering would be guilty of a high breach of the privileges of their house. They were going on with the reading of the exclusion bill, when suddenly the king summoned them to the house of lords, and dissolved parliament. He had, on hearing of their proceedings, privately put the crown and robes of state into a sedan chair, and hastened to the house. The astonishment and rage of the opposition were inconceivable. Shaftesbury called on the members not to leave the house, but it was in vain; they gradually withdrew: the king rode off, attended by a detachment of his guards, to Windsor, and thus, after the session of a week, ended his fifth and last parliament.

If the whigs had not been blinded by their passions and their fancied success, they might have seen the reaction that was taking place. The long series of pretended plots had gradually opened the eyes of the people: they began to wonder how they could have believed them, and have consented to the spilling of so much blood on the evidence of such despicable characters. At the execution of lord Stafford, instead of those yells of rage with which they had received some of the previous victims, they cried that they believed him, and prayed God to bless him. They might have seen this change still more clearly in what now followed. Charles issued a declaration of his reasons for dissolving this parliament. That he had offered them everything that reasonable men could desire, for which he had received only expressions of discontent, and endeavours to usurp his authority. That they had arrested Englishmen for offences with which parliament had nothing to do; had declared the most distinguished persons enemies to the king on mere suspicion; had forbade any one to lend the king money in anticipation of his revenue; insisted on excluding the heir-apparent from the succession, notwithstanding all possible guarantees conceded, and were endeavouring to create a quarrel betwixt the two houses, because the lords would not interfere with the king's prerogative. This declaration, which was read in the churches, produced a strong effect. The king was regarded ńs unreasonably treated, and addresses of support were sent up from all quarters. The university of Cambridge went the length to say that "our kings derive not their titles from the people, but from God, and that to him only they are accountable. They had an hereditary right of succession, which no religion, no law, no fault, no forfeiture can alter or diminish." The whigs published a counter-address, but still drawing their arguments from Oates's plot, it failed to tell; that delusion had gone by, and the opposite one of "divine right" was moving now, in consequence, with an exaggerated impetus. The king persisted on bringing Fitzharris to trial; the whigs endeavoured to defend him by pleading that being impeached by the commons, no other court than parliament could try him; but this was overruled, he was tried, condemned, and hanged.

At the same time suffered the titular archbishop of Armagh; the last victim of the popish plot, and perhaps the most hardly and unjustly used. Oliver Plunket, the archbishop, was imprisoned merely for receiving orders in the catholic church, contrary to the law; but whilst in prison some of the Irish informers charged him with being concerned in the popish plot; but instead of trying him in Ireland, where he was well known, and could produce his witnesses, he was brought over to England, and before his evidence could arrive, was tried and condemned. A more shameful proceeding never disgraced any country. The earl of Essex, who had been lord-lieutenant in Ireland, solicited his pardon, saying to Charles, that from his own knowledge, the charge against him was undoubtedly false. "Then," retorted the king, "on your head, my lord, be his blood. You might have saved him if you would. I cannot pardon him, because I dare not." The storm, in fact, was about to burst on the heads of those who had raised it. There was no parliament to defend them and the government now proceeded to retaliate. The miscreants who had served Shaftesbury in running down his victims, now perceived the change of public opinion, and either slunk away or offered their services to government against their former employers.

The first to be arrested were Shaftesbury himself, College, surnamed the protestant joiner, and Rouse, the leader of the mob from Wapping; Lord Howard was already in the Tower on the denunciation of Fitzharris. The grand jury refused to find the bill of indictment against lord Howard; they did the same in the case of Rouse, but College was tried, and the same witnesses which had been deemed worthy enough to condemn the catholics, were brought against him. But the jury now refused to believe them against a protestant, and acquitted him. College, however, was not permitted to escape so easily. He was a noisy and determined leader of the people, sung songs and distributed prints, ridiculing the king and court, and was celebrated as the inventor of the protestant flail. It was found that some of his misdemeanours had been committed in Oxfordshire, and he was sent down and tried there, where the tory feeling was not likely to let him off again. There the miserable wretches, whose concocted evidence had doomed to death so many charged by them as participators in the popish plot, were now arrayed against each other. Dugdale, Tuberville, and Smith swore against College; Oates, Bolron, and others committed the political blunder of contradicting them, and representing them in colours that in truth belonged to the whole crew. For this proceeding Oates was deprived of his pension and turned out of Whitehall; but College was condemned amid the roars of applause from the gownsmen. The execution of College was the commencement of a murderous retaliation on the whigs, as savage as had been theirs on the catholics. Shaftesbury, through the influence of the sheriffs, and the vehement demonstrations of the city made in his favour, was saved for the present by the jury ignoring the indictment, amid the acclamations of the people, and the event was celebrated by bonfires, ringing of bells, and shouts of "a Monmouth, a Shaftesbury, and a Buckingham!"

But the arrest of Shaftesbury had led to consequences which were fatal to him, and most disastrous to the whig party generally. Amongst his papers were found, in particular, two which roused the indignation of the tory and catholic parties to a perfect fury. One was the form of an association for excluding James and all catholics from the throne, and from political power, and including a vow to pursue to the death all who should oppose this great purpose; the other contained two lists of the leading persons in every county, ranged under the heads of "worthy men," and "men worthy," the latter phrase being supposed to mean worthy to be hanged. When this was published, the "men worthy" sent up the most ardent' addresses of loyalty, and readiness to support the crown in all its views; and many of the "worthy men" even hastened to escape from the invidious distinction. The king lost no time in taking advantage of this ferment. He availed himself of the information contained in these lists, and struck out the most prominent "worthy men" in office and commission. As the dissenters had supported Shaftesbury and his party, he let loose the myrmidons of persecution against them, and they were fined, distrained upon, and imprisoned as remorselessly as ever. He determined to punish the city for its partisanship, and by& quo warranto to inquire into its privileges, of which we shall ere long see the result.

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