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Reign of Charles I. page 11

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The assassin turned out to be John Felton, a gentleman by birth and education, who had been a lieutenant in the army during the expedition to the isle of Rhe. He had thrown up his commission because he could not obtain the arrears of his pay, and had seen another at the same time promoted over his head. He had, therefore, most likely, a personal grudge against the duke, but had also been led on by religious fanaticism. He was a stout, dark, military-looking man, from Suffolk; but according to his own account, was first excited to the deed by reading the remonstrance of the parliament against the duke, when it seemed to him that that remonstrance was a sufficient warrant for the act, and that by ridding the country of him he should render a real service to it. He described himself as walking in London on Tower Hill, when he saw a broad hunting-knife on a cutler's stall, and that it was suggested to him instantly to buy it for this purpose.

At Portsmouth one of the royal chaplains was sent to him in his dungeon, where he lay heavily ironed; but Felton, supposing the chaplain sent to draw something from him rather than for his consolation, said, "Sir, I shall be brief with you; I killed him for the cause of God and my country!" The chaplain, to mislead him, told him what was not true, that the surgeons gave hopes of his life; but Felton promptly replied, "That is impossible! I had the power of forty men, assisted by Him who guided my hand." On being removed to London, the people crowded to see him, showering blessings on him as the deliverer of his country, and one old woman at Kingston said, "Now, God bless thee, little David!" meaning that he had killed Goliah.

The king was at church when the news reached the court, and Sir John Hippsley went up to him and informed him of what had taken place. Charles had sufficient power over himself to remain outwardly unmoved during the service; but as soon as it was over, he hastened to his own apartment, threw himself on the bed, and gave way to a passion of tears, lamenting the loss of so valuable a servant, and the dreadful nature of his end; and he continued in a depressed and sorrowful mood for some days. Yet outwardly he assumed so much equanimity, that it was thought by the public, and by many about him, that he was secretly glad to be rid of a man who had helped to render him so unpopular. They were greatly mistaken. Charles had a firm attachment to this profligate and mischievous man, and noted carefully the expressions which now escaped those who thought they might speak what they really thought of him, and remembered them to their prejudice. He further demonstrated his regard for his fallen favourite, by paying his debts and taking his widow and children under his especial protection. He termed the duke his martyr, and had him buried in Westminster Abbey, though he took the precaution to bury the corpse privately, and have an empty coffin carried on men's shoulders, and attended by about a hundred mourners by night, and the way guarded by soldiers, lest the populace might attempt to seize and insult the body.

Felton was lodged in the Tower, and threatened with the rack to make him confess his accomplices, but he steadfastly replied that he had no accomplices or abettors but the remonstrance of the commons. The earl of Dorset went to see him, accompanied, as reported, by Laud, and menaced him with the rack if he would not reveal his colleagues. Felton replied, "I am ready, but I must tell you that I will then accuse you my lord of Dorset, and no one but you." Charles urged his being racked, but the judges, who saw better than he did the spirit that was abroad, refused to sanction it, declaring that torture, however used, had always been contrary to the law of England. Felton gloried in his deed, but at length, through the exertions of the clergy, came to confess that he had been misled by a bad spirit; yet it has been doubted whether he ever really abandoned inwardly the persuasion of having done a great and patriotic deed. When the attorney-general on the trial lauded the virtues, the abilities, wisdom, and public services of Buckingham to the skies, Felton, on being asked what he had to say, why judgment should not be passed on him, replied that v/ he had deprived his majesty of so faithful a servant as Mr. Attorney-general described, he was sorry, and extending his arm, exclaimed, "This is the instrument that did the deed, let it be cut off for it!" He was hanged at Tyburn, and then gibbeted at Portsmouth, the scene of his crime; a crime, we may add, perfectly superfluous, for Felton's knife only forestalled the axe of the executioner. The commons had already taken up the offensive against Buckingham: he was condemned both in its and in public opinion, as an evil counsellor of the king, and an arch-traitor to the country, and the power of Charles could no more have protected him from the fiat of parliament, than it did Strafford afterwards.

In place of the duke, the earl of Lindsay was ordered to take command of the expedition for the relief of Rochelle, and he was accompanied by Walter Montague, the second son of the earl of Manchester, who was to open a negotiation with Richelieu. Montague was already a catholic at heart, and afterwards became so avowedly, and was made commendatory abbot of Pontoise, and a member of the council of Anne of Austria. No doubt it was from this known tendency that he had been chosen for this mission. For five days the fleet manoeuvred before Rochelle, and after two ineffectual, and probably rather pretended than actual, endeavours to force an entrance, returned to Spithead. Montague, meantime, had been introduced to Louis, had hurried back to London, and was on the point of returning, when the news came of the surrender of Rochelle. This event put an end to the dreams of a protestant state in France, and greatly consolidated the power of that country. To the Rochellais it was a terrible lesson against putting faith in. English kings. When they were seduced to surrender their peace and prosperity to the promises of protection and religious liberty by Charles, the town contained fifteen thousand souls; when they opened their gates to their own sovereign, they were reduced to four, and these the most ghastly shadows of men from famine. All this destruction and misery was the work of Charles and Buckingham.

This event had greatly grieved the protestants in England, and it was whilst the public was brooding over these matters, and over fresh acts of arbitrary oppression in the star-chamber and Court of High Commission, as well as by the continued levy of tonnage and poundage and other duties, that Charles called together parliament. It had been prorogued to the 20th of October, but met on the 20th of January, 1629. The king sent the commons a message, desiring them to proceed to vote the tonnage and poundage without delay, this having been neglected by the parliament in the last session; but the house insisted on going first into the grievances. These were two-fold - such as related to the constitution, and such as affected the faith of the nation. Charles had not only persisted in the enforcement of revenue without parliament, and had dared to tamper even with the Petition of Rights after he had granted it, but had issued a new edition of the articles of the church, into which he had introduced a clause to suit the intentions of himself and his great ecclesiastical adviser, Laud, now made bishop of London. The commons agreed to take the religious question first, declaring that the business of the kings of this earth should give place to the business of the King of heaven.

Popery and Arminianism were the things which the puritans held in almost equal horror. In reference to popery they inquired what was the reason that the laws regarding it were relaxed? and that out of ten individuals who had been arraigned for receiving ordination in the church of Rome, only one had been condemned, and the execution of that one respited? Two committees were appointed to inquire from the judges on what grounds they had refused to receive evidence tendered against the recusants at their trial, and of the attorney-general by what authority he had discharged the persons in question, on their giving bail for their re-appearance. Every member was bound to give all the information to the house in his power regarding the relaxation of the penal laws, and all attempts or warrants to stay proceedings against the papists.

But the growth and favour of Arminianism in high places was the most absorbing subject of animadversion. Laud, now bishop of London, was bent not only on introducing Arminianism to its fullest extent, but ceremonies and rites merging fast into Catholicism. Therefore the puritans declared the heresy of Arminianism to be the spawn of popery. Laud had notions of church government as absolute as Charles had of civil government. All the promotions by him were of Arminian clergymen. Montague was become bishop of Chichester, Mainwaring was a bishop, and all those who meant to get preferment saw plainly that they must profess Arminianism, and the love of gorgeous ceremonies and plenty of surplices.

The passage which Charles had introduced into the new authorised edition of the articles was, "The church hath power to decree rites and ceremonies, and hath authority in matters of faith." Mr. Pym called upon the house to take a covenant for the maintenance of their religious rights, which were in danger; and both lie and others denounced the introduction of idolatrous ceremonies into the church by Charles and others. Sir John Elliot protested vehemently against the introduction of the new clause into the articles. He called on the house to enter not a mere resolution but a "vow" on its journals against it, which was done; namely, "that the commons of England claimed, professed, and avowed for truth, that sense of the articles of religion which were established in parliament in the thirteenth year of queen Elizabeth, which by the public acts of the church of England, and by the general and current exposition of the writers of that church, had been declared unto them, and that they rejected the sense of the Jesuits, Arminians, and all others wherein they differed from it."

The king sent the house a message, desiring them to leave matters of religion, and proceed to pass the vote for tonnage and poundage. This led to a sharp debate betwixt the court party and the opposition. The courtiers lauded the good-ness of the king, and the enlargement of their liberties which he had granted; but Mr. Coriton replied bluntly, "When men speak here of neglect of duty towards his majesty, let them know we know no such thing, nor what they mean. I see not how we neglect the same. I see it is all our heart's desire to expedite the bill of tonnage and poundage in due time. Our business is still put back by their messages, and the business in hand is God's. And his majesty's things are certainly amiss, and every one sees it: but woe be unto us if we present not the same to his majesty!" On the 2nd of February the house, instead of the vote of tonnage and poundage, presented to the king "an apology" for delaying that bill, and containing a complaint of his majesty's encroaching on the orders and privileges of their house by three messages in two days, urging them to change inconveniently the orders of their proceedings. Charles replied by a message through secretary Coke that he was as zealous for the faith as they were, but must again think it strange that the business of religion should be an obstruction to his business. He once more desired them to pass the vote for the tonnage and poundage, adding one of his mischievous and most impolitic threats, of quickening them by other means if they did not.

The house resenting this ill-advised message, went on discussing the affairs of the church. Mr. Kirton, who had in the last session talked of cutting the throats of all traitorous ministers, now declared Laud and Neale, bishop of Winchester, to be at the bottom of all the troubles that were now come upon them and their religion. On the 11th of February, in the committee on religion, Oliver Cromwell made his first appearance as a speaker in that house, a circumstance of great mark, seeing what the honourable member afterwards grew into. He said, "He had heard by relation from one Dr. Beard, that Dr. Alablaster had preached flat popery at Paul's Cross, and that the bishop of Winchester had commanded him, as his diocesan, that he should preach nothing to the contrary. Mainwaring, so justly censured in this house for his sermons, was by the same bishop's mean preferred to a rich living. If these are the steps to church preferment, what are we to expect?" Whereupon the committee ordered Dr. Beard to be written to by Mr Speaker, to come up and testify against the bishop; "the order for Dr. Beard to be delivered to Mr. Cromwell." After severe animadversions on Neale, who, Mr. Kirton said, had leaped through many bishoprics, but always left popery behind him, the house passed to the consideration of the Petition of Eight.

Selden called the attention of the house to this subject, and showed that though Charles had promised that the Petition of Eight should be printed, and that the king's printer had struck off fifteen hundred copies of that document, the king had sent for and destroyed them, and had then had printed and circulated another copy, from which the king's assent was removed, his first evasive answer restored, and his sophistical explanation at the close of the session, that it did not apply to tonnage and poundage, was introduced. This flagrant violation of his word, and of all the forms of parliament, struck the house with ominous doubts of ever binding the king by any law or by any principle. They summoned the king's printer to their bar, and demanded by what authority he had thus substituted a false for the true petition. He replied that the day after the session the attorney-general had sent for him, and forbade him to publish the copy printed, as did also the earl of Worcester, lord privy seal; and that he was sent for again to court, furnished with the new copy, and ordered to print and publish it in that form.

The house was in the highest state of indignation and astonishment. Such a deliberate falsification of a document passed by the house and ratified by himself, branded the king as capable of any act of duplicity, and went to destroy all confidence in not merely his word, but his most solemn legislative act. The chief speakers of the commons expressed their horror and disgust at the deed in no measured terms. Selden exclaimed, "For this Petition of Eight, we see how it has been invaded since our last meeting. Our liberties of life, person, and freehold have been invaded; men have been committed contrary to that petition. No man ought to lose life or limb but by the law, and hath not one lately lost his ears by order of the star-chamber? Next, they will take away our arms, and then our legs, and so our lives. Let all see we are sensible of this. Evil customs creep in upon us: let us make a just representation thereof to his majesty."

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