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Reign of Charles I.


Charles, on ascending the Throne, completes his Marriage with Henrietta of France - Meets his First Parliament - Adjourns to Oxford - State of Parties - Expedition to Cadiz - Persecution of the Catholics - The Impeachment of Buckingham - Quarrels betwixt the King and Queen - Insolence of the Queen's French Attendants - Their Dismissal - Breach of the Articles of Marriage - Threatened Rupture with France - Expedition to the Isle of Rhe - Its Defeat - Third Parliament - Petition of Right granted - Saville and Wentworth won over from the Popular Party by Peerages - Assassination of Buckingham - The Murderer executed - Apprehensions from Popery and Arminianism - The King's Contests with the Commons - Determines to govern without a Parliament - Peace made with France - Intrigue with Flanders - The King's Schemes to force a Revenue without Parliament - Savage Punishment of Dr. Leighton for his "Plea against Prelacy" - War in Support of the Palatine - Its Failure.
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Within a quarter of an hour after the decease of James, Charles was proclaimed by the knight-marshal, Sir Edward Zouch, at the court-gate at Theobalds. He was in his twenty-fifth year, and so far as the admission of his title, the substantial prosperity of the kingdom, and the relations to foreign states, was an earnest, few monarchs have mounted the throne with more favourable auspices. True, the territories of his brother-in-law, the palsgrave, were in the enemy's hands, his sister was a queen, without a realm. an electress without an electorate; but even the condition of these affairs were not such as defied the efforts of a wise king, who had the protestant states of Germany and Holland in his favour, and was on the point of an intimate alliance with France. It was equally true that Charles had made an enemy of Spain, but the rupture there was not of a kind which defied the application of a wise and conciliatory policy. We shall be called upon, however, to observe how quickly and how irremediably the froward and headstrong spirit of Charles and his supercilious favourite, Buckingham, excited almost universal hostility towards him.

At home, though there was the most entire submission to his right to reign, and the state of parties was such that there demanded no immediate change of executive, yet there were at work feelings and principles which required the nicest wisdom to estimate their nature and their force, and the most able policy to deal with them. The battle betwixt prerogative and popular rights had to be fought out, and all depended on the capacity of the monarch to perceive what was capable of modulation, and what was immovable, whether the result should be success or ruin. Charles was equally prepared by his father's maxims, his father's practice, and his habit of favouritism, to convert one of the grandest opportunities in history into one of the most terrible of its catastrophes.

The first thing which augured ill for him was his continuing in the post of chief favourite and chief counsellor, the vain, incapable, and licentious Buckingham. It is very rarely that the favourite of a monarch continues that of his successor; but Buckingham had been made to feel that the old king's faith in him was shaken, and he had assiduously cultivated the good graces of the heir-apparent. His recommendation of the personal journey to Spain, was precisely the thing to captivate a chivalrous but not very profoundly percipient young man. In this journey Buckingham, with all his folly, sensuality, and audacity, had managed to seize a firm hold on the affectionate and tenacious nature of the prince; and his blind regard for him outlasted counsels of folly, and deeds of wickedness and weakness, which would have ruined him a score of times with a more sagacious patron.

The first matter to which Charles turned his attention was his marriage with the princess Henrietta Maria, sister of Louis XIII. of France, the contract for which was already signed. The third day after his accession, he ratified this treaty as king, which he had signed as prince. The pope Urban, as we have stated, seeing that he could not prevail on the royal family of France to give up the marriage with the heretic prince of England, at length had, through his nuncio, delivered the breve of dispensation.

Louis of France, the queen-mother, the bride, Gaston, duke of Orleans, and the duke of Chevreuse, Charles's proxy, signed the document with the English ambassadors, on the 8th of May, 1625, and the marriage took place on a platform in front of the ancient cathedral of Notre Dame on the 11th. That stately old fabric was hung with rich tapestry and tissues of gold and silver for the occasion. From the palace of the archbishop of Paris to the church, a gallery was erected on raised pillars draped with violet satin, and figured with golden fleurs-de-lis. A great procession marched from the Louvre to the archbishop's palace, and thence through this gallery to the church. First went Chevreuse, as representative of the king of England, arrayed in black velvet, and over it thrown a scarf glittering with roses composed of diamonds. The English ambassadors followed next, and after them walked the bride, wearing a splendid crown of England; her brother the king conducting her on the right hand, and her younger brother Gaston, the duke of Orleans, on the left. Her mother, Maria de Medici, followed her, and next to her Anne of Austria, the queen-consort, in a robe bordered with gold and precious stones, and her long train borne by princesses of the house of Conde and Conti. Marie Montpensier, the great heiress, afterwards married to Gaston, duke of Orleans, led the remaining ladies of the royal family.

At the church door, the king of France and his brother Gaston delivered the bride into the hands of Chevreuse, Charles's proxy, and the cardinal de la Rochefoucault performed the ceremony. From the platform the bride and her attendants advanced into the cathedral, and witnessed mass at the high altar; but Chevreuse, acting exactly as a protestant for the protestant king, whom he represented, retired with the English ambassadors during these ceremonies to a withdrawing apartment prepared for the purpose. On the return of the royal procession to the Louvre, Henrietta, as queen of England, was placed at the banquet on the right hand of king Louis, and was served at dinner by the marshal Bassompierre, as her carver, and by marshal Vitry, the assassin of marshal d'Ancre, the grand panetier.

The duke of Buckingham arrived to conduct the young queen to England, attended by a numerous and splendid retinue of English nobility. The showy and extravagant upstart appeared at the French court in a style which threw even the monarch into the shade. He wore "a rich white satin uncut velvet suit, set all over, suit and cloak, with diamonds, the value whereof," say the Hardwicke Papers, "is thought to be worth fourscore thousand pounds; besides a feather made with great diamonds, with sword, girdle, hatband, and spurs with diamonds, and he had twenty-seven other suits, all rich as invention could frame or art fashion." His conduct was as devoid of all modesty as his dress, and threw discredit on the king, his master, who intrusted his honour and his counsels to such a man.

The king, queen, and queen-mother, accompanied by the whole court, set out to conduct the young fiancée to the port where she should embark for England. The procession, was made as gorgeous and imposing as possible, and at each halting place the court was amused by a variety of pageants and entertainments drawn from a past age. One alone of these deserves remark, being afterwards deemed ominous - a representation of all the French princesses who had become queens of England. They presented a group distinguished by their misfortunes, and the only one wanting to complete the number being herself yet a spectator, the girlish Henrietta, little more than fifteen years of age, who was destined to exceed them all in calamity.

The king was, however, seized with an illness, which compelled him to discontinue the journey, and at Compeigne the queen-mother was also taken so ill as to detain the procession a fortnight at Amiens, There the queen and queen-mother took leave of Henrietta, the mother putting into the young queen of England's hand at parting a remarkably eloquent and affectionate letter; which, however, was ill-advised, inasmuch as it clearly exhorted the young princess, who was going to live amongst a protest-ant people, to a bigoted adherence to all the mischievous notions of the truth only of popery, and of the dangerous heresy of her future subjects. But no doubt this was the spirit which had been carefully instilled into her mind from the first prospect of this alliance, and was not long in producing its bitter fruits. The plague being rife in Calais, the royal procession, now under the guidance of Buckingham, took its way to Boulogne.

Charles, during the delay at Amiens, had been awaiting his wife at Canterbury, and he was destined to a fresh one through the licentious madness of Buckingham. No sooner did that most impudent of libertines reach the French court than he had the audacity to fall in love with the queen of France, the beautiful Anne of Austria, sister of the king of Spain. He lost no opportunity of pressing his suit on the way in the absence of the king, and had the presumption to imagine his daring passion returned. No sooner did he reach Boulogne, than pretending that he had received some despatches of importance, he hurried back to Amiens, where the French procession yet remained, and rushing into the bed-chamber of the queen, threw himself on his knees before her, and, regardless of the presence of two maids of honour, poured out the infamous protestations of his polluted passion. The queen repulsed him with an air of deep anger, and bade him begone in a tone of cutting severity, the reality of which, however, was doubted by Madame de Motteville, who recorded the occurrence.

The sensation excited by this unparalleled circumstance in the French court was intense. The king ordered the arrest of a number of the queen's attendants, and dismissed several of them. Yet Buckingham, on reaching England, does not appear to have received any serious censure from his infatuated master, for this breach of all ambassadorial decency and etiquette; and spite of the resentment of the French king and court, continued to maintain all the character of a devoted lover of the French queen.

On the 23rd of June the report of ordnance wafted over from Boulogne, announced the embarkation; and on Sunday evening she landed at Dover, after a very stormy passage. Mr. Tyrrwhit, a gentleman of the household, rode post haste to Canterbury to inform Charles, who was at Dover Castle by ten o'clock the next morning to greet his bride. Henrietta Maria was at breakfast when the king was announced, and instantly rose, and hastened down stairs to meet him. On seeing him, she attempted to kneel and kiss his hand, but he prevented her, by folding her in his arms and kissing hen She had studied a little set speech to address him with, but could only get out so much of it as, "Sire, je suis venue en ce pays de votre majeste, pour etre commandee de vous" - "Sire, I am come into your majesty's country to be at your command" - but at that point she burst into tears.

It would have been well for her had she always retained the sentiment of those words, but at present she was all amiability. The king, who had not seen her since his stolen view on his way to Spain, was surprised to find her so tall as to reach his shoulder, and looked down at her feet to ascertain whether there was no artificial elevation; on which she gaily put out her foot, saying, in French, "Sire, I stand upon my own feet. I have no help from art. Thus high am I, neither higher nor lower." She then presented to his majesty the duke and duchess of Chevreuse, the prince Charles's relative and proxy, the latter the most celebrated beauty and coquette of the French court; Madame St. George, the queen's governess and favourite, and the rest of her followers, who amounted only to about four hundred! Amongst these were no less than twenty-nine priests of one kind or another, and a rather juvenile bishop, being not thirty years of age.

Charles was delighted with the beauty and vivacity of the young queen. They set out for Canterbury, and on their way thither were met on Barham Downs by the English nobility; pavilions being pitched there for the purpose of the refreshment of the royal pair, and the introduction of the queen to her court. After the wedding, at which the celebrated English composer, Orlando Gibbons, performed on the organ, the royal cavalcade took its way to Gravesend, and thence ascended the Thames, so as to avoid the city, in which the plague was then raging. Thousands of boats of all kinds floated around the royal barge, and the fleet of fifty vessels lying ready for the Spanish expedition, discharged their ordnance as well as the Tower its guns. And thus, in the midst of a smart shower, they reached London Bridge, and made straight for Somerset House, which was the queen's dower palace. The assembled crowds all the way gave shouts of acclamation, and, spite of the queen's popery, every soul was in a mood to be pleased with her. She shook her hand out of the barge window in return for the public greeting, and many anecdotes were circulated in her favour; as that on the vigil of St. John the Baptist, she had eaten both pheasant and venison at Canterbury, though her confessor had stood by her and reminded her that it was a fast; and that, when one of the English suite had asked her if her majesty could endure a Huguenot, she had answered, "Why not? was not my father one?"

But it was not long before she let her new subjects as well as the king see that she was of a wilful and haughty temper. The first time that she kept court at Whitehall, a Mr. Mordaunt, who was present, wrote the following: "The queen, however little in stature, is of a most charming countenance when pleased, but full of spirit, and seems to be of more than ordinary resolution. With one frown - divers of us being at Whitehall to see her - she drove us all out of the chamber, the room being somewhat over-heated with fire and company. I suppose none but a queen could have cast such a scowl."

But we must interrupt the domestic life of the king to notice the commencement of his public career. On the 18th of June, the day after the arrival of the queen, Charles met his first parliament. The king had not yet been crowned, but he appeared on the throne with his crown 011 his head. He ordered one of the bishops to read prayers before proceeding to business, and this was done so adroitly, that the catholic members were compelled to remain during the heretical service. They betrayed great uneasiness, some kneeling, some standing upright, and one unhappy individual continuing to cross himself the whole time.

Charles was not an eloquent speaker, and he, moreover, was afflicted with stammering; but he plunged boldly into a statement which it was very easy for the two houses to understand. He informed them that his father had left debts to the amount of seven hundred thousand pounds; that the money voted for the war against Spain and Austria was expended, and he therefore called upon them for liberal supplies. He declared his resolution to prosecute the wars which they had so loudly called for with vigour, but it was for them to furnish the means.

As he was beginning his reign, and had not plunged himself into very heavy debt, or preached up, like his father, the claims of the prerogative, he had a right to expect a more generous treatment than James. But, notwithstanding the id at of a new reign, and the usual desire on such occasions to stand well with the throne, the commons displayed no enthusiasm in voting their money. There were many causes, even under a new king, to produce this coolness. Charles had won their popularity by abandoning the Spanish match, but he had now neutralised that merit by taking a catholic queen from France. To please the commons and the public generally, he should have selected a wife from one of the protest ant houses of Germany or the Netherlands; but for this he had displayed no desire. In the second place, he had retained the hated Buckingham in all his former eminence, both as a minister of the crown, and as his own associate. The recent conduct of this profligate man in France had outgone his folly and vice in Spain, and had outraged all the most serious feelings and sacred sentiments of the nation. Besides, they had no faith in his abilities, either as a commander or a statesman, and beheld with disgust his reckless extravagance and unconcealed infamy of life at home. No talent whatever had been shown in the war in Germany for the restoration of the Palatinate; and, therefore, the commons, instead of voting money to defray the late king's debts, and to carry on the war efficiently, restricted their advances to two subsidies, amounting to about one hundred and forty thousand pounds, and to the grant of tonnage and poundage, not for life as aforetime, but merely for the year.

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