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Reign of Charles I. page 11


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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."

The case of a merchant and member of the house, Mr. Rolles, was then related. His goods had been seized by the officers of the customs for refusing to pay the rates demanded, though he told them that whatever was declared due by law, he would discharge. This case, amongst a multitude of others, threw the house into a great ferment. "They knew the party was a parliament man," said Sir Robert Philips; "nay, they said if all the parliament was with him, or concerned in the goods, they would seize them just, the same."

The king, perceiving the storm he had raised, sent word by secretary Coke to stay further debate on that case till three o'clock the next day, when he would speak with both houses at Whitehall. Accordingly, meeting them there, Charles, after complimenting the lords at the expense of the commons, then said, addressing the members of the lower house, "The complaint of staying men's goods for tonnage and poundage, may have a short and easy conclusion. By passing the bill as my ancestors have had it, my past actions will be concluded, and my future proceedings authorised. I take not these duties as appertaining to my hereditary prerogative. It ever was, and still is, my meaning, by the gift of my subjects to enjoy the same. In my speech of last session, I did not challenge them as right, but showed you the necessity by which I was to take them, till you had granted them, assuring myself that you wanted only time, and not goodwill. So make good your professions, and put an end to all questions arising from the subject."

These assertions were in direct contradiction to his declaration in that very speech which we have already quoted, that the tonnage and poundage was a thing that parliament had nothing to do with. But the concession gratified the commons; still they did not grant the customs duties, but employed themselves strenuously in calling to account those who had been concerned in furthering or executing the king's illegal orders. They summoned to their bar Acton, the sheriff of London, who had seized the goods of Rolles and other merchants, and sent him to the Tower. They summoned also the officers of the customs who made the seizure, who pleaded the king's warrant, and also his own express command; and the king declared, through secretary Coke, that he would defend them. This caused loud outcries in the house, but did not check their proceedings, for they sent messages to the chancellor and barons of the exchequer, who excused themselves by saying all those aggrieved had their remedy at law. Thus they did not attempt to justify their proceedings.

On the 25th of February, two days later than these determined inquisitions, showing that the commons were assuming high and most ominous ground, the committee of religion presented to the house a report, entitled u Heads of articles agreed upon, and to be insisted on by the house." In these they complained that the bishops licensed books in favour of popery, and suppressed books opposed to popery; that such books as those of Mainwaring and Montague should be burnt, and some better order taken for the licensing of books. They demanded that candlesticks should 36 removed from the communion-tables, now impiously styled high altars; that pictures, lights, images, should be taken away, and crossing and praying towards the east for-bidden. That more learned, pious, and orthodox men should be put into livings, and better provision made for a good minister in every parish.

Again Charles sent them an order to adjourn to the 2nd of March, which they did, but only to assemble on that day in the same resolute and unbending spirit. Sir John Elliot immediately denounced Neale, of Winchester, as a rank abettor of Arminianism, and thence passed on to the lord treasurer Weston, who he declared was his grand supporter in it. This Sir Eichard Weston had been seeking his fortune at court many years, and had nearly spent a private fortune of his own before he obtained any promotion. At last he got employed as ambassador to archduke Albert in Flanders, and afterwards to the court of Germany, in which he discharged his trust so well, that on his return he was made chancellor of the exchequer, and a few months before the death of Buckingham, Charles had removed the earl of Marlborough from the office of lord treasurer, and given it to him. Weston was highly elated, and devoted himself with all his ardour to succeed to the place of favourite which Buckingham had held. But though Charles showed him much favour, and eventually made him earl of Portland, he allowed Weston to succeed to the arbitrary offices and public odium of the duke, but not to the ascendancy which Buckingham possessed over him.

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Pictures for Reign of Charles I. page 11

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