OREALD.COM - An Old Electronic Library
eng: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Reign of Charles I. page 2

Pages: 1 <2> 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35

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.

But still more apprehensive were they on the subject of religion. The breach with Spain had naturally removed any delicacy on the part of the Spaniards to conceal the treacherous concessions, in perfect contradiction to the public professions of both the late and the present king, which had been made on that head. It was now freely whispered that the like had been made to France, and the sight of the crowd of priests and papistical courtiers who had flocked over with the queen, and the performance of the mass in the king's own house, led the zealous reformers to believe that there was a tacit intention on the part of the king to restore the catholic religion.

What rendered the commons more sensitive on this head were the writings of Dr. Montague, one of the king's chaplains, and editor of his father's works. In a controversy with a catholic missionary, he had disowned the Calvinistic doctrines of the puritans with which his church was charged, and declared for the Arminian tenets of which Laud was the great champion. This gave great offence; he was accused of being a concealed papist, and two puritan ministers. Yates and Ward, prepared a charge against him, and laid it before parliament. Montague denied that he was amenable to parliament, and "appealed unto Caesar." Charles informed the commons that the cognisance of his chaplains belonged to him, and not to them. But they asserted their right to deal with all such cases, and summoned him to appear at the bar of the house, where they bound him in a bond of two thousand pounds to appear when called for.

Charles endeavoured to recall their attention to the state of the finances, showing them the inadequacy of their votes; the fitting out of the navy amounting alone to three hundred thousand pounds. He was beyond all indignant at the grant of tonnage and poundage for only one year, seeing that. his predecessors from the time of Henry VI., had enjoyed it for life; and the lords threw out that part of the vote for this reason, so that he had no parliamentary right to collect that at all. To make matters worse, instead of listening to the pleading of lord Conway, the chief secretary, for further grants, they presented to the king, after listening to four sermons one day, and taking the sacrament the next, a "pious petition," praying him, as he valued the maintenance of true religion, and would discourage superstition and idolatry, to put in force all the penal statutes against catholics.

To this demand Charles could only return an evasive answer. He had recently bound himself by the most solemn oaths to do nothing of the kind; and under the sanction of the marriage treaty with France, the mass was every day celebrated under his own roof, and his palace and its immediate vicinity swarmed with catholics and their priests. Nay, he had, just before summoning parliament, been called on by France to send a fleet in virtue of this treaty to assist in putting down the Huguenots. Soubise, the general of the Huguenots, still retained possession of Rochelle and the island of Rhe, and their fleet scoured the coasts in such force, that the French fleet dared not attempt to cope with it. Richelieu, therefore, called on Charles to give Louis assistance. Accordingly, though the affairs of the English fleet had been most wofully conducted ever since Buckingham had been lord admiral, he mustered seven merchant vessels, and sent them with the Vanguard, the only ship of the line that was fit for sea, under the command of admiral Pennington, to Rochelle. The destination of the fleet was declared to be Genoa, but on reaching Dieppe, the officers and crew were astonished to receive orders to take on board French soldiers and sailors, and proceed to Rochelle to fight against the protestants. They refused to a man, and notwithstanding the imperative commands of the duke of Montmorency, the lord admiral of France, they compelled their own admiral to put back to the Downs.

On this ignominous return, Pennington requested to be permitted to decline this service, and his desire was much favoured by the remonstrances of the Huguenots, who sent over an envoy, entreating the king not to give such a triumph to popery as to fight against the protestants. Charles, with that fatal duplicity which he had learned so early under his father, sent fair words to Soubise, the duke of Rohan, and the other leaders of the Huguenots; but Buckingham, by speaking out more plainly, exposed the hollowness of his master. He assured the navy that they were bound by treaty, and fight they must for the king of France. Both officers and owners of the ships declared that as they were chartered for the service of the king of England, they should not be handed over to the French without an order from the king himself. Thereupon Buckingham hastened down to Rochester, accompanied by the French ambassador, who offered to charter the vessels for his government. Men, owners, and officers, refused positively any such service.

Disappointed by this display of true English spirit, Charles ordered secretary Conway to write to vice-admiral Pennington in his name, commanding "him that he should proceed to Dieppe and take on board as many men as the French government desired, for which this letter was his warrant. At the same time Pennington received an autographic letter from Charles, commanding him to make over the Vanguard to the French admiral at Dieppe, and to order the commanders of the seven merchant ships to do the same, and in case of refusal to compel them by force. All this appears to have been imposed on Pennington as a matter of strict secrecy; and that officer had not the virtue to refuse so degrading a service. The fleet again sailed to Dieppe: the men must have more than suspected the object; and when Pennington made over the Vanguard, and delivered the royal order to the captains of the seven merchant vessels, to a man they refused to obey, and weighed anchor to return home. On this Pennington, who proved himself the fitting tool of such a king, fired into them, and overawed all of them except Sir Ferdinand Gore, in the Neptune, who kept on his way, disdaining to disgrace himself by such a deed.

The French were taken on board and conveyed to Rochelle. But that was all that was accomplished; for the English seamen instantly deserted on reaching land, and many of them hastened to join the ranks of the Huguenots, the rest returning home overflowing with indignation, and spreading everywhere the disgrace of the royal conduct.

In the whole of this transaction the headstrong fatality of Charles was conspicuous, and foreboded the miseries that were to follow. In the midst of the public excitement from this cause, the parliament met at Oxford on the 1st of August. The result was as might have been expected. On the king demanding the restoration of the vote of tonnage and poundage, negatived by the lords, or that other subsidies should be granted in lieu of this, the commons refused both. In reply to the king's inquiry how the war was to be carried on, they replied that they must first be satisfied against whom the war was really to be directed. They complained that the penal statutes against the papists were not enforced as promised, and proceeded to their favourite avocation of attacking the public grievances. On this topic Coke came forward with an eloquence and a boldness which astonished the court. With unsparing vigour worthy of his earlier years - but in a much better cause than that in which his abilities were then often exercised - he denounced the new offices created, the monopolies granted, and the lavish waste of the public money, all for the benefit of Buckingham and his relations. He insisted that the useless pensions which had been recently granted should be stopped till the late king's debts were paid, and that a system of strict economy should be substituted for the now extravagant expenditure of the royal household. Others followed in the same strain, denouncing the odious practice of selling offices, in which Buckingham and his mother were the great vendors.

A third party showed that they were armed with dangerous matter by the still disgraced and restrained earl of Bristol. They charged Buckingham with his maladministration of affairs, with his incompetency as lord high admiral, and with having involved this country in an unnecessary war with Spain, merely in revenge of a private quarrel with the Spanish minister, Olivarez. They demanded an inquiry into that affair. One of the members of the house venturing to defend the government, and condemning the licence of speech against the crown, was speedily brought upon his knees, and compelled to implore pardon at the bar. Sir Robert Cotton, the founder of the Cottonian Library, applauded the wisdom and spirit of the house in thus summarily dealing with this unworthy member; and after giving a description of the conduct of the late favourite, Somerset, and of the follies and crimes of favourites of former reigns, as the Spencers, the Gavestons, the Poles, and others, pronounced Buckingham as far more insolent, mischievous, and incompetent than any of them.

The favourite, thus rudely handled, was quietly enjoying himself at Woodstock; but the king sent and made him aware of the necessity of defending himself. He hastened to town, and delivered in his place in the peers, a statement of the accounts of the navy, and a stout denial of any personal motives in the quarrel with Spain. He clearly showed that he felt whence the danger came, and alluding to the earl of Bristol, said, "I am minded to leave that business asleep, hut if it should awake, it will prove a lion to devour him who co-operated with Olivarez."

To cut short these awkward debates, the king sent word to the commons that as the plague was already in Oxford, it was necessary to make quick work, and that they should finish the grant of supplies. He offered to accept for the present forty thousand pounds; but the house refused even this, saying that if that was all that was necessary, it might readily be raised by a loan to the crown. This put the king beyond his patience, and he menaced them with a speedy dissolution; adding if they were not afraid of their health, he would take care of it for them, by releasing them from the plague-invaded city, and find some means of helping himself. The commons were not in a temper to be intimidated; on the contrary, they went into a most warm and spirited debate on the king's message, and appointed a committee to prepare a reply. In this they thanked him for his care of their health, and of the religion of the nation, and promised supplies when the abuses of the government were redressed; and they called upon him not to suffer himself to be prejudiced against the greatest safeguard that a king could have - the faithful and dutiful commons - by interested persons. Before they had time, however, to present this address, Charles dissolved the parliament, which had only sat in this Oxford session twelve days.

Thus deprived of all the necessary funds for a war, none but so infatuated a monarch as Charles would have persisted in plunging into it. War had not yet been proclaimed against Spain; it was neither necessary nor expedient; on the contrary, every motive of political wisdom warned him to keep peace in that quarter, if he really wished to be at liberty to prosecute the interests of the palsgrave and the protestant cause. But led by the splenetic imbecility of Buckingham, so far was he from seeing the folly of a war with Spain, that he was soon pushed into one with France. In fact, he took every step which would have been avoided by a wise prince, and speedily involved himself in a labyrinth of difficulties inextricable. Spain quieted and even soothed; France cultivated, with the object of obtaining its influence and aid in the recovery of the Palatinate; and the protest-ants of Germany sympathised with, if not aided substantially in their severe struggle against Austrian bigotry, Charles might have eventually restored his sister and her husband to their old estate, and have won a place in the European world superior to any king of his time. Instead of this, he took the surest means to exasperate his own people, and his most powerful neighbour, that his worst enemies could have suggested.

To raise money for the prosecution of the war against Spain, he ordered the duties of tonnage and poundage to be levied, notwithstanding they were not voted by the peers. He issued writs of privy seal to the nobility, gentry, and clergy, for loans of money, and menaced vengeance if they were not complied with. All salaries and fees were suspended, and to such a strait was he reduced by his efforts to man and supply the fleet, that he was obliged to borrow three thousand pounds from the corporations of Southampton and Salisbury to enable him to meet the expenses of his own table.

At length the fleet was ready to sail with a force of ten thousand men; the English fleet consisting of eighty sail, and the Dutch sent an addition of sixteen sail. In. weight and armament of ships such a force had scarcely ever before left an English port. But formidable as was this naval power, it was rendered perfectly inert by the same utter want of judgment and genius which marked all the measures of Buckingham. Its destination was to have been kept secret, so that it might take the Spaniards by surprise; but it was well known, not only to that nation, but to the whole Continent. In spite of this, such a force in the hands of a Drake or a Nottingham, might have struck a ruinous blow to the Spanish navy and seaports; but Buckingham, for his own selfish purposes, appointed to the command Sir Edward Cecil, now created viscount Wimbledon, a man who had, indeed, grown gray in the service of the states of Holland, but only to make himself known as most incompetent to such an enterprise. He was, moreover, a land officer, whilst the admiral to whom the command regularly fell, in case the lord high admiral himself did not take it, Sir Robert Mansell, vice-admiral of England, had a high reputation, and the confidence of the men as an experienced officer.

<<< Previous page <<< >>> Next page >>>
Pages: 1 <2> 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35

Pictures for Reign of Charles I. page 2

Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About