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Reign of Charles I. page 18


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This being done, Laud uttered a most hypocritical speech, professing high admiration of the talents, wisdom, learning, and various endowments of Williams, and Ins sorrow to see him thus punished, declaring that he had gone five times on his knees to the king to sue for his pardon. But even so Williams was not destined to escape. The officers who went to take possession of his effects, found amongst his papers two letters from Osbaldeston, master of Westminster school, in one of which he said that the great leviathan - the late lord treasurer, Portland - and the little urchin, Laud, were in a storm; and in the other that "there was great jealousy between the leviathan and the little meddling hocus-pocus."

This, which was no crime of Williams, but of Osbaldeston, was, however, made a crime of both. Williams was condemned on the charge of concealing a libel on a public officer, and fined eight thousand pounds more, and to suffer imprisonment during the king's pleasure. The chief offender, Osbaldeston, could not be found; he had left a note saying he was "gone beyond Canterbury;" but he was sentenced to deprivation of his office, to be branded, and stand opposite to his own school in the pillory, with his ears nailed to it. He took good care, however, not to fall into such merciless hands.

Such was Laud up to this point. One of those awful exhibitions which the history of the church, ever and anon, has presented. Professing the meek and benevolent gospel of Christ, but acting the unmitigated gospel of the devil; ambitious beyond the stretch of imagination, cruel as death, insatiable as the grave. There are those who have pronounced him honest, pious, and a pattern of ecclesiastical eminence. We leave his actions to speak for themselves. The press was now in his hands; he had made terrible examples of such as dared to differ in opinion from him; yet instead of having in reality reached a secure pre-eminence, he had created ten thousand implacable enemies, who only bided their time. We must now turn our attention to his brother in the "thorough," the equally insane despot Wentworth.

Amongst those means of raising a permanent revenue for the crown, independent of parliament, which we have already detailed, as tonnage and poundage, the fees on compulsory knighthood, and the resumption of forest lands, there was discovered another which was owing to the ingenuity of attorney-general Noye. The landed proprietors had been greatly alarmed by the rumours that the king would lay claim to the greater part of every county in England except Kent, Sussex, and Surrey, but the whole public was struck with consternation at the additional project of the attorney-general. As he had been always of a surly and morose disposition, he carried this ungracious manner with him into his apostacy. Formerly he had acted like a rude ill-tempered patriot, now he was the more odious from being at once obsequious to the crown, and coarsely insolent to those whose rights he invaded.

In the records of the Tower he discovered writs compelling the ports and maritime counties to provide a certain number of ships during war, or for protecting the coasts from pirates. It was now declared that the seas were greatly infested with Turkish corsairs, who not only intercepted our merchantmen at sea, but made descents on the coast of Ireland, and carried off the inhabitants into slavery. The French and Dutch mariners, it was added, were continually interrupting our trade, and making prizes of our trading vessels, and that it was necessary to assert our right to the sovereignty of the narrow seas, which it was contended "our progenitors, kings of England, had always possessed, and that it would be very irksome to us if that princely honour in our time should be lost, or in anything diminished."

But the real cause was that Charles was at that time, 1634, engaged in the treaty with Spain to assist him against the United Provinces of Holland, on condition that Philip engaged to restore the palsgrave. Noye's scheme was highly approved and supported by the lord keeper Coventry. On the 20th of October, 1634, a writ was issued by the lords of the council, signed by the king, to the city of London, commanding it to furnish before the 1st of March next, seven ships, with all the necessary arms, stores, and tackling, and wages for the men for twenty-six weeks. One ship was to be of nine hundred tons, and to carry three hundred and fifty men; another eight hundred tons, with two hundred and sixty men; four ships of five hundred tons, with two hundred men each; and one of three hundred tons, with one hundred and fifty men. The common council and citizens humbly remonstrated against the demand as one from which they were exempt by their charters, but the council treated their objections with contempt, and compelled them to submit.

In the spring of 1635 similar writs were issued to the maritime counties, and even sent into the interior, a most unheard of demand; and instructions were forwarded to all parts, signed by Laud, Coventry, Juxton, Cottington, and the rest of the privy council, ordering the sheriffs to collect the money which was to be levied instead of ships, at the rate of three thousand three hundred pounds for every ship. They were to distrain on all who refused, and take care that no arrears were left to their successors. The demand occasioned both murmuring and resistance. The deputy-lieutenants of some inland counties wrote to the council, begging that the inhabitants might be excused this unprecedented tax; but they were speedily called before the council, and severely reprimanded. The people on the coasts of Sussex absolutely refused to pay, but they were soon forced to submit by the sheriffs.

Noye died before this took place, and squibs regarding him were publicly placarded, saying that his body being opened, a bundle of proclamations were found in his head, worm-eaten records in his stomach, and a barrel of soap, alluding to the enforcement of the monopoly on that article, in his paunch. Thomas Carlyle has aptly styled this turncoat lawyer, so extolled for his genius and learning by the royal party, "an amorphous, cynical law-pedant, and invincible living heap of learned rubbish," He found plenty like him to carry out his plans, farther than he ever dreamed of, or themselves either. These illegal writs returned a sum of two hundred and eighteen thousand five hundred pounds to the royal treasury.

To put an end to all murmurs or resistance, Charles determined to have the sanction of the judges, knowing that he could not have that of parliament. He therefore removed chief justice Heath on this and other accounts already noticed, and put in his place the supple Sir John Finch, lately conspicuous as speaker of the commons. The questions submitted to the judges were whether, when the good and safety of the realm demanded it, the king could not levy this ship-money, and whether he was not the proper and sole judge of the danger and the necessity. Finch canvassed his brethren of the bench individually and privately. The judges met in Serjeant's Inn on the 12th of February, 1636, when they were all perfectly unanimous except Croke and Hutton, who, however, subscribed, on the ground that the opinion of a majority settled the matter.

To obtain this opinion Charles had let the judges know through Finch, that he only required their decision for his private satisfaction; but they were startled to find their sanction immediately proclaimed by the lord keeper Coventry in the star-chamber, order given that it should be enrolled in all the courts at Westminster, and themselves required to make it known from the bench on their circuits through the country. Nor was that all, for Wentworth, now become a full-fledged agent of despotism, contended that "since it is lawful for the king to impose a tax towards the equipment of the navy, it must be equally so for the levy of an army; and the same reason which authorises him to levy an army to resist, will authorise him to carry that army abroad, that he may prevent invasion. Moreover, what is law in England is also law in Ireland and Scotland. This decision of the judges will, therefore, make the king absolute at home, and formidable abroad. Let him," he observed, "only abstain from war a few years, that he may habituate his subjects to the payment of this tax, and in the end he will find himself more powerful and respected than any of his predecessors."

Such were the principles of Wentworth, ready on the smallest concession to grant a dozen other assumptions upon it, and such the counsellors, himself and Laud, who encouraged the already too fatally despotic king to his destruction, The judges were, for the most part, equally traitorous to the nation, and preached the most absolute doctrines, and passed the most absolute sentences. Richard Chambers, the London merchant, who had already suffered so severely for resisting the king's illegal demands, also refused payment of this, and brought an action against the lord mayor for imprisoning him for his refusal. But judge Berkeley would not hear the counsel of Chambers in his defence; and afterwards, in his charge to the grand jury at York, described ship money as the inseparable flower of the crown. But they were not so easily to override the rights of the people of England. There were numbers of stout hearts only waiting a fitting opportunity to unite and crush the spirit of despotism now growing so rampant. One of the most distinguished of these patriots was John Hampden, a gentleman of Buckinghamshire, whose name has become a world-wide synonyme for sturdy constitutional independence,

Hampden was distinguished alike for his ancient descent - tracing in a clear direct line from the Saxon period - for his great estate, and his mild and courteous manners. He was the last man to all appearance who would assume the character of a demagogue or vehement reformer. But under this gentle exterior, and a great love of literature and retirement, he bore a mind of singular sagacity, glowing with the light and fervour of the ancient champions and: historians of liberty, of sensitive perception of the approaches of tyranny, and a conscience which forbade him alike to co-operate with any attempts against the just rights of others, or to suffer their diminution by a weak compliance.

He was born in 1594, and his father dying in his childhood, he came early into his estates. He was a student at Oxford when Laud was master of St. John's, and he afterwards studied law in the Inner Temple. Whilst he was a mere youth, his mother was very anxious that he should take advantage of king James's creation of peerages to become a lord; but he had the good sense steadily to decline honours given as the wages of court slavery, or sold to the highest bidder. He entered parliament in. 1621, at the same time with Wentworth, who for awhile was equally ranged on the side of liberty, and a much more forward and noisy champion of it than himself. In 1626, when Charles was illegally levying his forced loan, Hampden refused to contribute. He had during each successive parliament firmly supported the efforts of the patriots in the house - Pym, Selden, Elliot, and the rest, and he now declared that "he could be content to lend like others, but he feared to draw upon himself that curse in Magna Charta which should be read twice a year against those who infringe it." He was sent prisoner to the Gate House, and thence released, but ordered to confine himself to one of his manor-houses in Hampshire. He had, however, in parliament borne a decided share in the determined opposition to the king's proceedings, along with Selden, Elliot, Pym, St. John, Croke, and others. After the defection of Wentworth, Noye, Finch, and others, Hampden became still more prominent in his public support of the patriotic opposition. Amid the fierce bigotry of those dauntless but intolerant men, he was almost the only one who had arrived at the true idea of Christianity, that it was a tolerant and forbearing religion, allowing to others the same freedom of conscience that he claimed for himself. He was greatly annoyed at the religious acrimony which prevailed, and declared that he would renounce the church of England on the spot "if it obliged him to believe that any other Christians should be damned; and that nobody would conclude another man to be damned who did not wish him so."

In 1634, Hampden having lost his wife, to whom he was much attached, became additionally serious and religious, and at the same time devoted himself more sedulously to his public duties. He determined not only to resist the payment of ship-money, but to try the question, so as to make far and wide its illegality known. He consulted his legal friends, Holborne, St. John, Whitelock, and others, on the best means of dealing with it, and encouraged by his example, thirty freeholders of his parish of Great Kimble, in Buckinghamshire, also refused payment. No sooner, therefore, had Charles obtained the opinion of the judges, than he determined to proceed against Hampden in the court of Exchequer. The case was conducted for the crown by the attorney-general, Sir John Banks, and the solicitor-general, Sir Edward Littleton. The sum at which Hampden was assessed was only twenty shillings: the trial lasted for twelve days before the twelve judges, that is, from the 6th to the 18th of December, 1637.

It was argued on the part of the crown that the practice was sanctioned by the annual tax of Dane-gelt, imposed by the Saxons; by former monarchs having pressed ships into their service, and compelled the maritime counties to equip them; that the claim on the part of the king was most reasonable and patriotic, for if he did not exercise this right of the crown, in cases of danger, before the parliament could be assembled serious damage might accrue. The crown lawyers ridiculed the refusal of a man of Mr, Hampden's great estates to pay so paltry a sum as twenty shillings; and declared that the sheriff of Bucks ought to be fined for not putting upon him twenty pounds. But it was replied upon the part of Hampden, that the amount of the assessment was not in question, it was the principle of it. That the Dane-gelt could give no evidence in the case, the imperfect accounts to be drawn on the subject from our ancient writers being too vague and uncertain. Nor could the practice of any monarchs before or after Magna Charta, establish any law on the subject, for Magna Charta abrogated any arbitrary customs that had gone before, and strictly and clearly forbade them afterwards. That no breach of that great charter could be pleaded against it, for it was paramount and perpetual in its authority. That various statutes since, and last of all the Petition of Right, assented to by the king himself, made any such taxation without consent of parliament illegal and void. That the very asking of loans and benevolences of different monarchs was sufficient proof of this, for if they had the right to tax, they would have taxed, and not borrowed. That the most arbitrary prince that ever sate on the English throne, Henry VIII., when he had borrowed, and was not disposed to repay, did not consider his own fiat sufficient to cancel the debt, but called in parliament to release him from the obligation. They reminded the judges of the great Edward I.'s confirmation of the charters, and of the statute De Tallagio non concedendo. As to the plea of imminent danger from foreign invasion, as in the case of the great Armada, as the crown lawyers had instanced, such cases, they argued, were next to impossible; notices of danger, as in the case of the Armada itself, being obtained in almost every instance in ample time to call together parliament. That in this case, there was no urgency whatever to prevent the summoning of a parliament; for neither the insolence of a few Turkish pirates, nor even the threats of neighbouring states were of consequence enough to warrant the forestalling of the constitutional functions of parliament.

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Pictures for Reign of Charles I. page 18

Charles I.
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