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Reign of Charles I. page 10

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The secret, was out; the word was spoken! The name at which Charles and the duke had trembled, lest it should come into discussion, was, spite of threats and messages, named; and the "naming, and the charging with all the disgraces and miseries of the nation, was received with a sudden and general acclamation of" Yea! yea! 'Tis he! 'tis ha!" The day was come that James had so solemnly warned both Charles and Buckingham of - when they should have their bellyful of impeachments; having, as Coke now reminded them, themselves set the ball rolling. Aldred, in the letter just quoted, says: - "As when one good hound recovers the scent, the rest come in with full cry, so one pursued it, and every one came home and laid the blame where he thought the fault was, on the duke of Buckingham, to wit." The duke was speedily accused of treachery and incapacity, both as high admiral and commander-in-chief. All the disgraceful failures, at Cadiz, at Rochelle, on the isle of Rhe, and even in Germany, were charged upon his evil counsels or worse management.

Selden proposed a declaration to his majesty under four heads, expressive of the dutiful devotion of the house, of the violation of the nation's liberties, of the intentions of the house, and of the interference of the duke to prevent inquiry. He declared that all this time they had been casting a mantle over the accusation made against Buckingham, and that it was time to revert to that. "At this moment," says Aldred, "as we were putting the question, the speaker, having been not half an hour, but three hours absent, and with the king, returned, bringing this message - that the house should then rise - being about eleven o'clock - adjourn till the morrow morning, and no committees to sit, or other business to go on in the interim."

The next day the house met, when Finch apologised for his absence, and his going to the king, declaring that he had communicated nothing but what was to the honour of the house; and wishing that his tongue might cleave to the roof of his mouth before he spoke a word to the disparagement of any member. He informed them that his majesty had no desire to fetter their deliberations, so that they did not interfere with his ministers, and added words of courtesy from the king. The commons observed that they had no intention of charging anything on the king, but must insist on inquiring when necessary into the conduct of his ministers; and the words of Mr. Kirton being found fault with, which intimated a hope that all those found guilty, might have their throats cut, the house resolved that "he had said nothing beyond the bounds of duty and allegiance, and that they all concurred with him therein."

On the following day they went into committee, and commenced their labours of inquiry into the proceedings of the executive. They examined Burlemachi, a foreign speculator, as to a commission which he was alleged to have, for engaging and bringing into this kingdom troops of German horse. He confessed to such warrant, and to having received thirty thousand pounds for this purpose; one thousand of these horse being, as he admitted, already raised and armed, raid waiting their passage in Holland. "And the intention of bringing over these mercenaries," said one of the members, "is to cut our throats, or to keep us in obedience!" Another member declared that twelve of the commanders were already arrived, and had been seen in St. Paul's. The house next fell upon a new scheme of excise, which it was proposed to levy without consent of parliament, and voted that any member who had any information regarding this new imposition and did not disclose it, was an enemy to the state, and no true Englishman.

The danger which was obviously approaching Buckingham in the proceedings of this committee, alarmed the king; and the same day, the 7th of June, he commanded the commons to meet him in the house of lords, and then observing that he thought he had given a full and specific answer to their petition of right, but as they were not satisfied, he desired them to read the petition again, and he would give them an answer which should satisfy them. Taking his seat on the throne, this was done, and he then ordered the former answer to be cut off, and the following, in the established form, to be inscribed - "Let right be done as is desired." "Now," he added, "I have performed my part j wherefore, if this parliament have not a happy issue, the sin is yours. I am free of it."

Thus was passed the Petition of Right, the most important document since the acquirement of Magna Charta. The rejoicing for this conquest, this assurance of quieter days and secure firesides, sped through the city, and thence over the kingdom, and was everywhere demonstrated by acclamations, ringing of bells, and bonfires. On the 10th of June, three days afterwards, the king, as if pleased with this public expression of satisfaction, sent Sir Humphrey May to inform the house of commons that he was graciously pleased that their Petition of Right, with his answer, should be recorded not only on the journals of parliament, but in those of the courts of Westminster, and should, moreover, be printed for his honour and the content of the people. On the 12th the commons showed their content by voting the king the five subsidies, and hastening to pass the bill for five other subsidies granted by the clergy.

But the exultation over this great triumph did not prevent the commons from pursuing their labours of inquiry into abuses. They obtained a judgment from the lords against Dr. Mainwaring for his encouragement of kingly absolutism in his sermons, and censured Laud and Neale, of Winchester, for licensing similar sermons; they then came to Buckingham himself, and voted a strong remonstrance against his undue influence and unconstitutional doings, which was presented by the speaker to the king. The house felt itself highly aggrieved by a speech which the favourite was reported to have made at his own table - "Tush! it makes no matter what the commons or parliament doth; for without my leave and authority, they shall not be able to touch the hair of a dog." Buckingham protested that he had never uttered such words, and called upon the house of lords to demand that the members of the commons who had thus reported it, should be called in to prove it; but the duke was forced to content himself with entering his protest on the journals of the lords.

The commons not having voted the tonnage and poundage, calculated that the king would not hastily dissolve the house, and therefore prayed him to remove Buckingham from his counsels, as the author of so many calamities; and they took the opportunity to remind him that tonnage and poundage could not be collected without their consent, as the king's concession of the Petition of Right testified. This called forth Charles again as hotly as ever. Though he had admitted in granting this petition, that no kind of duty could be imposed without consent of parliament, he now sought to except the tonnage and poundage from this condition. He therefore, on the 26th of June, suddenly went to the house of lords, and summoned the attendance of the commons. The action had been so impromptu, that the lords had no notice of it, and neither he nor they had had time to robe themselves, when the commons at nine o'clock in the morning made their appearance. All unrobed as he was, Charles seated himself on the throne, and lectured the commons on their already beginning to put false constructions on his passing the Petition of Right. "As for the tonnage and poundage, it is a thing I cannot want, and was never intended by you to ask, nor meant by me, I am sure, to grant." And he called on them, but more especially the lords, who were the judges, to take notice of what he declared his meaning to be when he granted the petition.

The mischief had been done by former parliaments granting this impost, which we now call customs duties, for life; and though parliament had never altogether surrendered the power of voting it, nor had voted it for life to Charles, he had come to consider it as merged into a matter of prerogative, and not to be affected by his general concession just made. The commons, however, meant nothing less than that, as well as every other grant of taxes on the subject, to be void without their assent. Here, therefore, as so often afterwards, they found themselves just where they were with the king as matter of dispute, though they had settled the question as matter of right. ~No man was ever so hard as Charles I. to be made to see what he did not like. He therefore gave his assent to the subsidies, and prorogued the parliament till October; and, as if to mark how far he was from intending to submit to what he had thus so solemnly in the face of the whole nation bound himself to, he proceeded to reward the men who had so shamefully advocated absolute power in him. He made bishops of both Montague and Mainwaring, and promoted Sibthorpe to good fat livings.

Whilst these great national struggles had been going on, queen Henrietta had given birth on the 13th of May to a son which only survived a few hours; and she had been counterfeited by a mad girl at Limoges, who gave out that she was the unhappy queen of England, who had escaped from her tyrant husband and his savage heretical subjects, much to the exasperation of the good people of France. Louis, however, who knew that his sister was now living in great comfort and harmony with her husband, compelled the impostor to confess her falsehood, and made her do penance by walking in public procession with a lighted taper in her hand, and then shut her up in prison. Charles had also found time to settle Maryland, naming it after his queen, who was, as we have observed, called at court queen Mary. He had collected from the streets fifteen hundred orphans and homeless children, and shipped them thither, showing what works of real advantage to his kingdom were open to this monarch, if he had not been cursed with the fatal ambition of making himself absolute.

The king's attention was soon drawn from the battle with the commons to the demands of the unfortunate people of Rochelle upon him. He had solemnly pledged his honour to assist them, and they now sorely needed it. Since Buckingham left them to their fate, Rochelle had been invested by the French army under the king and Richelieu, and the besieged loudly called on the king of England to succour them according to his promise. The earl of Denbigh was despatched thither with a numerous fleet, yet had done nothing; but having shown himself before the town for seven days, returned, to the great mortification of the Rochellais. Denbigh had been raised to his rank and title simply for marrying a sister of Buckingham's, and the people murmured, loudly at the fleet being put into such incompetent hands. The hatred of the duke rose higher and higher, and on the same day that he was pronounced by the commons the cause of all these national calamities, his physician, Dr. Lambe, was murdered by a mob in London, and a placard was affixed on the walls in these words: - "Who rules the kingdom? - The king. Who rules the king? - The duke. Who rules the duke? - The devil. Let the duke look to it, or he will be served as his doctor was served." A doggrel rhyme was in the mouths of the common people: -

Let Charles and George do what they can,

The duke shall die like Dr. Lambe.

The king was extremely concerned when the placard was shown him, and added double guard at night, but the duke treated the whole with contempt, and prepared to proceed himself with the fleet to relieve Rochelle. Charles went with him to Deptford to see the ships, and is reported to have said to Buckingham on beholding them, "George, there are those who wish that both these and thou may perish; but we will both perish together, if thou dost." Buckingham proceeded to Portsmouth, where he was to embark. Clarendon relates that the ghost of Buckingham's father had appeared to an officer of the king's wardrobe three times, urging him to go to his son and warn him to do something to abate the hatred of the people, or that he would not be allowed to live long. Since the demonstrations in London, it needed no ghost to show his danger. But he was never gayer than on the eve of the verification of the omens and the menaces.

The duke, on the 23rd of August, rose in high spirits, even dancing in his gaiety, and went to breakfast with a great number of his officers. Whilst he was at breakfast, M. Soubise, the envoy of the people of Rochelle, went to him, and was seen in earnest private conversation. It is supposed that Soubise had come to the knowledge of certain recent negotiations betwixt England and France, in which, though both monarchs showed every tendency to listen to an accommodation, neither had yet ventured to propose it; but that it was the object of Buckingham rather to treat than to fight when he got to Rochelle. At that very moment Mr. Secretary Carleton had arrived from the king with instructions to Buckingham to open by some means a communication with Richelieu, and thus, as it vrere, accidentally to bring about a treaty. Probably Soubise had acquired hints of these tilings, for both he and many other Frenchmen about Buckingham appeared greatly discontented, and vociferated and gesticulated energetically. The duke, it is said, had been endeavouring to persuade Soubise that Rochelle was already relieved, which he was too well informed to credit.

The duke now prepared to go out to his carriage, which was waiting at the door, and as he went through the hall, still followed by the French gentlemen, colonel Friar whispered something in his ear. He turned to listen, and at the same moment a knife was plunged into his heart, and there left sticking. Plucking it out with the word "Villain!" he fell, covered with blood. His servants, who caught him as he was falling, thought it was a stroke of apoplexy, but the blood both from the wound and his mouth, quickly undeceived them. Then an alarm was raised; some ran to close the gates, and others rushed forth to spread the news. The duchess of Buckingham and her sister, the countess of Anglesea, heard the noise in their chamber, and ran into the gallery of the lobby, where they saw the duke lying in his gore. He was only in his six-and-thirtieth year.

The first suspicion fell upon the French, and they were in great danger from the duke's people; but when a number of officers came rushing in, crying out, "Where is the villain? Where is the butcher?" a man stepped calmly forward, saying, "I am the man - here I am!" He had quietly withdrawn into the kitchen as soon as he had done the deed, and might have escaped had he so willed. On hearing him avow the murder the officers drew their swords, and would have despatched him, but were prevented by the secretary Carleton, Sir Thomas Morton, and others, who stood guard over him till a detachment of soldiers arrived and conveyed him to the governor's house.

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