The Reign of James I (Continued) page 17
Never did appearances show more real, never were they more hollow. The Spaniards had endeavoured by every act, into which the sacred name of religion had been dragged, to make the most of their advantage in the presence of the prince, and to extort terms beyond the original contract; they were, therefore, justly punished. But nothing could justify the deep and deliberate falsehood, and repeated perjury of a young protestant prince, whose conduct stamped a deep stain on his country and on protestantism itself. The protestants had long and loudly denounced the Jesuitry of the catholics, and asserted that no faith could be put in their most solemn engagements. Here, however, was a voluntary surrender of the pure and lofty morality of protestantism, a willing abasement of its honour to the level of the worst catholic duplicity. We shall see that the whole of Charles's conduct was lamentably in keeping with this unprincipled beginning.
Buckingham was impatient to be in England, from news which he received that certain courtiers were busily at work in endeavouring to undermine his credit with the king, Behind him he left nothing but detestation, which Olivarez, the chief minister, took no pains to conceal When the prince and he set out they were attended by the king himself, and a brilliant assemblage of the nobles, who added to the prince's presents a number of fine Andalusian horses and mules. They halted for several days at the Escurial, where they were splendidly entertained, and then the king rode on with them as far as Campillo. The parting of the affianced brothers-in-law was of the most affectionate kind, and the king ordered a column to be erected on the spot, as a lasting monument of it. Bo Charles rode on, attended by several nobles, and entertained most honourably at their castles. He visited the cell of a celebrated nun at Carrion, who was held to be a saint, and to whom Donna Maria had given him a letter.
Arrived at the port where the English fleet was waiting for him, he no sooner stepped on board than he laughed at the credulity of the Spaniards, called them fools, and wondered at his easy escape from them. They landed at Portsmouth on the 5th of October, and there and all the way to and through London, their reception was one piece of exultation at the safe return of the prince from the clutches of the dreaded Spaniards, The country resounded with the ringing of bells, firing of cannon, the whizzing of fireworks, and the shouts of the people. The clergy, without waiting for royal orders, put up thanksgiving in the churches for the prince's happy arrival.
Meantime, the prince's perfidy was awaking the Spaniards from a trance of astonishment to a tempest of rage. From Segovia, he had sent back Clerk, a creature of Buckingham's, to the earl of Bristol. Calculating that the papal dispensation would by that time have arrived, Clerk was to hand to Bristol an order from the prince not to present the proxies left in his hands - which were to be given up immediately after the delivery of the dispensation - till he received further orders from home. The reason alleged by Charles was that he feared on the marriage by proxy the Infanta would retire into a convent. The idea was so absurd, that Bristol saw at once that it was a mere pretence to break off the match. As his honour as well as the honour of the nation was implicated, he at once hastened to the king and laid the doubts of the prince before him. The astonishment of the king may be conceived. He had fixed the 29th of ^November for the espousals, the 29th of December for the marriage: orders for public rejoicings were already issued, a platform covered with tapestry was erected from the palace to the church, and the nobility had been summoned to attend. He gave Bristol every assurance that the princess should be delivered to the English without delay, and Bristol despatched these assurances in all haste to James. Meantime, the countess Olivarez communicated privately to the Infanta the prince's message, at which she laughed heartily, saying that she never, in all her life, had a mind to be a nun, and thought she should hardly turn one now, merely to avoid the prince of Wales.
Only four days before the one appointed for the espousals, three couriers on the heels of each other arrived from England, bearing from James the message that he was perfectly willing for the marriage to proceed, on condition that the king of Spain pledged himself, under his own hand, to take up arms for the restoration of the palatine, and fixed the day for hostilities to commence. At an early period of the negotiation, Philip had declared that on the completion of the agreement for the marriage, he would give James a carte blanche regarding the affairs of the prince palatine, and whatever terms James required, he pledged himself to accede to. Now he repeated that although he could not in honour proclaim war against his nephew, the emperor - being engaged as mediator betwixt him and the palsgrave, at the instance of James - yet he would pledge himself in writing never to cease, by intercession or by warfare, till he had restored the palatine to his hereditary dominion. Bristol and his fellow ambassador thought this assurance amply satisfactory; they sent off" a messenger in hot haste, bearing their assurances that all possible difficulty was removed; and they went on putting their households into velvet and silver lace, to do honour to the marriage ceremony, as if it were really to take place. Bristol wrote more earnestly to the king, reminding him that the honour of both king, prince, and ambassadors, was most solemnly pledged; that, the matters of the palsgrave had been treated of separately, and that his majesty had always represented to Bristol himself that he regarded the marriage as a certain pledge of the palatine's restoration. He added that the prince and my lord duke had also acted entirely on that opinion during their stay there. Charles and Buckingham, in fact, seem to have taken very little trouble about the ex-king and queen of Bohemia.
But all was in vain; the prince had determined not to complete the marriage. It was believed that the view which he had had of the princess Henrietta at Paris had, even before his reaching Spain, changed his intentions; and a courier brought from James an order for Bristol not to deliver the proxy till Christmas, "because that holy and joyful time was best fitting so notable and blessed an action as the marriage." When we add, that the proxy was well known to the king and prince to expire before Christinas, we can duly estimate this awful language of hypocrisy. The king of Spain saw at once that he had been imposed upon; he gave instant orders to cease the preparations for the marriage, for the Infanta to drop the title of princess of England, which she is said to have done with tears, and to return to her usual state. The fury of indignation against the English in Spain may readily be conceived.
. The earl of Bristol had acted too much the part of a faithful and honourable servant of the crown to escape the censure of such a court, and the vengeance of such a man as Buckingham. He had not hesitated, in spite of the remonstrances of the prince, to represent to James, during their sojourn in Madrid, the disgraceful conduct of that despicable libertine. James had the folly or the wickedness to show to the favourite these letters, and he received his recall. The ambassador wrote to James, requesting a remittance sufficient to bear him home, having pledged all his lady's jewels, and incurred a debt of fifty thousand crowns for prince Charles, so that he had not funds even for his journey.
It does not appear that James or Charles took any notice of this most reasonable appeal; but Philip not only exonerated Bristol from any share in the disgraceful proceedings, but warned him of the danger which threatened him at home, and offered to make him one of the most distinguished men of his own realm, if he would take up his abode in Spain. Bristol, however, declined the noble offer, saying that he would rather lose his head in England, conscious ' as he was of innocence, than live a duke of Infantado in Spain, with the imputation of treason, which was sure in such a case to be cast on him. Though he was ordered to quit Spain without delay, he was instructed to travel slowly, and on his landing he was commanded to retire to his house in the country, and consider himself a prisoner. The malicious Buckingham did his best to have him committed to the Tower, but the duke of Richmond and the earl of Pembroke opposed this injustice with effect.
James had got his baby Charles and his dog Steenie home again, but he soon found that they had involved him in troubles and debts, which very much abated the pleasure of their company. They had brought home neither wife nor her much desired money; on the contrary, they had spent his last shilling, involved him in debt, thrown away the greater part of his jewels, had left the cause of his daughter and son-in-law in a worse position than before, and now were vehement to engage him in a war with Spain. Under the gloomy oppression of these embarrassments, he lost even his appetite for hunting and hawking, shut himself up alone at Newmarket, and wrote to the palatine, recommending him to make his submission to the emperor; offer his eldest son, who was to be educated in England, to him for his daughter; accept the administration of his hereditary territory, and allow the duke of Bavaria the title of elector for his life. Under the advice of Charles and Buckingham the palsgave positively declined any such arrangement.
The only resource now was to call a parliament, but it was one which had rarely brought him any satisfaction. Before doing this he took the opinion of the privy council during the Christinas holidays on these points: - Whether the king of Spain had acted sincerely in the negotiations for the marriage? and whether he had given sufficient provocation to call for a war? The council unanimously supported the idea of the king of Spain's sincere dealing, and a majority declared that there was no just cause for a war.
This result, so hostile to the wishes of Buckingham, filled him with chagrin, and his wrath fell with especial weight on Williams, the lord-keeper, and Cranfield, the treasurer. These men had been his most servile creatures; they were, in fact, altogether his creatures; but during his absence they had seen such evidences of displeasure in the king towards him, that they imagined his power was about at an end, and they were emboldened to oppose him. But his fierce displeasure, and the symptoms of even growing popularity which showed themselves round him, terrified them, and they made the most humble submission.
On the 2nd of February, 1624, Williams wrote a most crawling letter to Buckingham, begging Mm to forgive his past conduct, "to receive his soul in gage and pawn:" they were reconciled. People who before hated Buckingham, now looked upon him as a patriot, for having broken off the papist match, and for seeking to punish Spain by a war. The heads of the opposition in the house of commons, the earl of Southampton, the lord Say and Sele, and others came over to him; and through Preston, a puritan minister and chaplain to the prince, he was brought in favour with many other members of the country party. Buckingham and Charles assured James that the demand of war with Spain was the only cry for him, as nothing would so readily draw money from the commons. Accordingly, though trembling and reluctant, James summoned parliament, which met on the 19th of February.
He opened it in much humbler tones than ever before. He expressed a great desire to manifest his love for his people. He then informed them that he had long been engaged in treaties with different countries for the public good, and had actually sent his son and the man whom he most trusted to Spain, and all that had passed there should be laid before them; and he begged them to judge him charitably, and to give him their advice on the whole matter. One thing he begged to assure them of, that in everything, public and private, he had always made a reservation for the cause of religion; and though he had occasionally relaxed the penal statutes against catholics a little, yet as to suspending or altering any of them, "I never," he exclaimed, "promised or yielded; I never thought it with my heart nor spoke it with my mouth I" And this whilst, on the 20th of July previous, he had positively sworn in the Spanish treaty to procure the abolition of all those laws from parliament; a fact notorious not only to Charles, Buckingham, and Bristol, but to all the lords of the council, and the Spanish ambassadors, still in London. He concluded by begging them to remember that time was precious, and to avoid all impertinent and irritating inquiries.
On the 24th of February, a conference of both houses was held at Whitehall, at which Buckingham went into the detail of the journey of the prince and himself to Spain. Bristol was prohibited attending parliament, and the duke gave his own version of the whole affair. According to him - for he produced only such despatches as had been in a private conference with the lord-keeper Williams deemed safe; "his highness wishing," said Williams, "to draw on a breach with Spain without ripping up of private despatches" - the Spaniards behaved in a most treacherous manner. That after long years of negotiation the king could bring the court of Spain to nothing. That the earl of Bristol had merely got from them professions and declarations; and that though the prince had gone himself to test their sincerity, he had met with nothing but falsehood and deceit. That as to the restitution of the Palatinate, he had found it hopeless from that quarter.
Perhaps no minister bronzed in impudence by years of crooked dealing, ever presented such a tissue of base and arrant fictions to the commons of England. The despatches, had they been produced, would have crowned the king, the prince, and the favourite, with utter confusion. Bristol could have proved, had he been allowed, that he had actually completed the treaty when the prince and Buckingham came and put an end to it. So indignant were the Spanish ambassadors at this shameful misrepresentation of the real facts, that they protested vehemently against the whole of the statement, and declared that had any nobleman in Spain spoken thus of the king of England, he would have paid with his head for the slander.
Buckingham was not only defended but applauded. The prince during the whole time stood at his elbow, and aided his memory or his ingenuity. Coke declared that Buckingham was the saviour of his country; and out of doors the people kindled bonfires in his honour, sung songs to his glory,, and insulted the Spanish ambassadors. The two houses, in an address to the throne, declared that neither the treaty for the marriage, nor that for the restitution of the Palatinate, could be continued with honour or safety with Spain.
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