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The Reign of James I (Continued) page 20

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On the other hand, there was a decided desire in the French court for this alliance, spite of past experience. Mary de Medici, the queen-mother of France, had acquired a predominating influence in the government of her son Louis XIII., by means of her clever and intriguing almoner, Richelieu, who soon mounted into vast power in the state. She entertained a strong hope of effecting a marriage for her daughter with the heir of England, and was no doubt early informed of the probability of the failure of the Spanish courtship. It was soon conveyed to Charles by the English ambassador at Paris, that Henrietta had said, "The prince of Wales need not have gone so far as Madrid to look for a wife." This following the suggestion of the queen of Spain, left no doubt of the wishes of the court of France, and the bait seems to have been soon taken. Buckingham would certainly promote the idea to spite the Spaniards; and Henry Rich, lord Kensington, appeared in Paris before the Spanish match was formally broken off, to open the subject to the queen-mother.

The object of the envoy was instantly divined, and the Spanish ambassador exclaimed at court, "How! does the prince of Wales, then, mean to wed two wives, since he is nearly married to our Infanta?"

Mary de Medici, though extremely anxious for the marriage, played the part of the politician well under Richelieu, and gave no decided encouragement to the hints of the English envoy, till lie assured her plainly that the match with Spain was positively broken off. Even then, she assured lord Kensington that "she could not consider the matter seriously, as she had received no intimation of such proposal from the king of England, and that the princess could not make advances; she must be sought." On this Kensington spoke out on authority, and received a favourable answer, We are assured that a great sensation was excited at the French court, and the ladies crowded round lord Kensington to have a view of the prince's portrait, which he carried in a locket; and the locket was soon privately borrowed by the princess, and kept for a good long observation, she expressing her satisfaction with the looks of the royal lover. Kensington, by his courtly assiduity at Paris, and his letters to Charles, endeavoured to create a strong personal interest in the prince and princess towards each other. Hay, earl of Carlisle, one of James's favourites, a handsome, empty fop, who prided himself on adorning his person with lace and jewels to the amount of forty thousand pounds, was sent as a formal ambassador for the marriage negotiation, the real conductor of it still being Kensington. A miniature portrait of Henrietta was sent to Charles, who appeared to be enraptured with it.

So far all went well. But notwithstanding the anxious desire for the marriage on the part of the French court, it was not likely that so crafty a diplomatist as Richelieu would make an easy bargain for the English. The portion of the princess was settled at eight hundred thousand crowns. She was pledged to renounce all claims for herself and her descendants on the crown of France. Then came the subject of religion. James and Charles had lately bound themselves by the most solemn oaths that no catholic wife of the prince should have more indulgence in that respect than of her own private worship; and that no toleration should be extended to the English catholics whatever, on account of such a marriage. But this was not likely to pass. The pope Urban, in the first place, was extremely inimical to the match. He augured little good from a prince who had shown such duplicity in the Spanish courtship; and he predicted that the union, if effected, would be disastrous; being fully informed by the seminary priests who were in England, secretly prosecuting the support of Catholicism, of the determined temper of the people on that score, and assured by them that if the king dared to relax the penal laws, he would not be king long; and if he did not, the pope argued, what prospect of happiness could there be for a catholic queen? He was, therefore, extremely averse to grant a dispensation.

Under these circumstances the negotiation appeared for. some time at a stand. On the part of the English people, the opposition was scarcely perceptible. They perceived that they were pretty certain to have a catholic queen; the Stuart family did not incline to stoop to the alliance of any further petty protestant princes; the experiment of the Palatinate was not encouraging. The people of England, therefore, were far more disposed to receive a daughter of great Henry IV., who had been a protestant at heart even when he had yielded the profession of his faith to political necessity, than a granddaughter of Philip II., who had rendered his memory so odious in England and all over the world by bloody persecutions of the protest-ants. On the part of the French, however, the proceedings every day seemed involved in growing difficulties.

Richelieu, who, up to the time of the breaking off the Spanish match, was most compliant, now insisted on the concession to the catholics of all the advantages stipulated for by Spain. He asserted that it would be an affront to his sovereign to offer less. James, spite of his recent oath, signed a paper, promising indulgence to the catholics, which Kensington and Carlisle assured Richelieu was quite sufficient: but it had no effect on the astute French minister.

"We did sing a song to the deaf," wrote the ambassadors, "for he would not endure to hear of it." In vain did they remind him that the French court had promised that if they gave toleration to the catholics, it would send soldiers to the Palatinate, and unite their interests with those of England entirely. Richelieu did not deny this, but contended that the security was not sufficient; they must have an actual treaty. Meantime lord Nithsdale, a catholic, was sent post haste to Rome, to make great promises of favour to the English catholics in order to procure the dispensation.

At length the French court agreed to accept the secret agreement of James, which was to the effect that the English catholics should enjoy a greater freedom of religion than had been guaranteed by the Spanish contract. This was signed by James, Charles, and the secretary of state, on the 8th of November, and Louis placed his signature on the 12th to the treaty of marriage. By this treaty it was provided, not expressly, as many historians have asserted, that the children of the marriage should be brought up Roman catholics till their thirteenth year, but that they should remain under her care till that age; a stipulation amounting very much to the. same thing; for though Charles chose to construe the article in his own way, the mother used her opportunity thus guaranteed to fix the catholic faith firmly in the hearts of her sons, as was too well and too disastrously shown in the end,

If the English court thought the difficulties all now surmounted, they were greatly mistaken; for the French ministers now expressed themselves as not satisfied with James's secret engagement. It was, they contended, too vague, and they called upon him to specify precisely the indulgences which he intended towards the catholics. Both James and Charles, it must be confessed, had established a character for easily slipping through their most solemn engagements; and the princes who could so soon forfeit their oaths to parliament to continue the penalties on their catholic subjects, might as readily forfeit these now made to relieve themselves from them. No precautions could in reality bind such men, but the French ministers were resolved to obtain all the guarantees possible.

At this proposition Carlisle expressed his astonishment, and wrote to James in a tone of unequivocal indignation. He advised the king to make no farther concessions; feeling sure that if he were firm, the French would give way rather than hazard the failure of the match. But to preach firmness to James was to expect solidity from a mist. He was far more afraid of endangering the match than of perjuring himself to accomplish it. He was alarmed at the obstinacy of the pope; at the declaration of Philip of Spain, that he held the marriage contract with Charles as still valid, from a private agreement betwixt the prince and himself; and at the strenuous efforts making by Philip to bring the court of France to this persuasion. To complete his dismay, the Huguenots of France, just at this moment, made a rising under the conduct of Soubise, who had formerly been on terms of close intimacy with some members of the English government. They demanded a better observance of the edicts in favour of the protestants, seized the isle of Rhe, near Rochelle, placed it in a state of defence, sent out a fleet to range the coast, and vowed not to lay down their arms till their demands were granted. James consented to add these express stipulations to his secret bond: That all catholics imprisoned on account of their religion, since the rising of parliament, should be liberated; that all fines levied on recusants since that period should be repaid; and that for the future they should suffer no interruption to the free exercise of their religious faith.

All obstacles on the part of the French court were now removed, and the young princess prepared for her journey to England. But the pope continued his opposition, still presaging misfortune from the marriage, and refusing to deliver the dispensation. The patience of the queen-mother was exhausted; the ministers of France proposed to proceed on a dispensation from the ecclesiastic authorities in their own realm; but to this James demurred, lest the validity of the marriage might hereafter be called in question. At length the pope was satisfied by an oath taken by Louis, binding himself and his successors to compel James and his son, by all the power of France if necessary, to keep their engagement. The dispensation was delivered by Spada, the papal nuncio; the duke of Chevreuse, a prince of the house of Guise, and therefore a near relative of James and Charles, through the queen of Scots, was appointed proxy by Charles, and Buckingham was ordered to go over and receive the bride. But James was still destined not to see the completion of the marriage, after all his trouble through nine years of matrimonial negotiations, nor what would equally have delighted him, the receipt of the money.

On the 13th of March, 1625, he returned to Theobalds from the hunt with an illness upon him, which was regarded as the tertian ague, but which soon developed itself as gout at the stomach. He had long been so thoroughly undermined in constitution by his habits of eating and drinking, that it- required no fierce attack of sickness to carry him off. He had always had a strong repugnance to doctors and physic, but now the court physicians were hurried to his bedside. At this moment appeared the mother of Buckingham with an infallible specific, a plaster and a posset obtained from an Essex quack, named Remington. These were pronounced marvellous in the cure of ague; and though the physicians protested against their use, they were applied. They did not delay, if they did not accelerate the catastrophe. On the eleventh day of his illness, James received the sacrament in the presence of Charles, Buckingham, and the court attendants, in a mood of zealous devotion that is said to have drawn tears from all eyes. Williams, bishop and lord-keeper, preached his funeral sermon, and said, that having told the king "that holy men in holy orders in the church of England doe challenge a power as inherent in their functions, and not in their person, to pronounce and declare remission of sins to such as being penitent, doe call for the same, he had answered suddenly, 'I have ever believed there was that power in you that be in orders in the church of England, and therefore I, a miserable sinner, doe humbly desire Almighty God to absolve me my sinnes, and you, that are his servant in that high place, to affoard me this heavenly comfort.' And after the absolution read and pronounced, lie received the sacrament with that zeal and devotion, as if he had not been a fraile man, but a Christian cloathed with flesh and blood."

On Sunday, the 27th of March, the fourteenth day of his illness, Charles was hastily called before daylight to go to him, but before he reached the chamber the king had lost the power of speech. He appeared extremely anxious to communicate something to him, but could not, and soon after expired. He was in the fifty-ninth year of his age, and the twenty-third of his reign. Two only of his seven children, three sons and four daughters, Charles and the ex-queen of Bohemia, survived him.

The character of James has been pretty clearly portrayed in the relation of the events of his reign. Had he been born to a private station, he might have passed through life with the reputation of a learned, shrewd, amiable, and even able man: but the whole caste of his mind was superficial; and his intense vanity meeting with none of the checks which it would have done in a private station, converted him at once into a ridiculous boaster and a pitiless tyrant. He deemed that all men ought to bow to his superior judgment, especially in learning and theology, and he could bear no question of his infallibility. Those who ventured to have a will, an opinion, or a conscience of their own, he brow-beat, insulted without mercy or delicacy, and persecuted to the death. As there was no depth or breadth in the constitution of his mind, he could not penetrate into the strong under-current of the age; he could not even perceive the ominous agitation of its surface; but with an obstinacy which at once indicated his shallow genius and the intensity of his egotism, he struggled against the rising tide of liberty and free thought, as if they were but a temporary overflowing of a petty stream, which he might almost turn aside with his foot, but which in the end swept away his race.

James was not naturally inhuman, though in his rage against heresy, he perpetrated such atrocities against the lives and properties of catholics and puritans. He was amiable in his family, constant to his wife, and too indulgent to his children. But his good feeling unfortunately demonstrated itself too commonly in lavish favours and fortunes on the base. He was, like all weak monarchs, perpetually surrounded by favourites, base, rapacious, and profligate, who absorbed his wealth, and insulted and oppressed his subjects. His manners were often coarse, and not seldom disgusting. His language in moments of passion was at once violent, despicable, and obscene. In his fury he would scream and foam at the mouth, and when the paroxysm had passed, he descended to the opposite extreme of self-abasement and repentance. At such moments, whether raging with ire, or offering recompense to injustice, he was most undignified and unkingly. On one occasion, he demanded of Gibb, the messenger, some papers which should have been delivered to his care. Gibb, on his knees, protested that he had never received them. James, in his fury, cursed and kicked him, and Gibb, in a just indignation, left the court. It was soon afterwards found that the papers had been intrusted to another person, whereupon James sent for Gibb to do him right; but instead of confessing his error, and his regret for the wrong, he fell on his knees and implored his pardon.

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