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Reign of Charles I. page 21


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At Edinburgh the following day the council issued an order denouncing any further riots, but suspended the further reading of the service on account of the danger to the clergy, till they received further instructions from his majesty. But all warnings were wasted on such a man as Charles. He appeared to go on his way sealed, bound, and blinded to his doom. The more a broad and calculating intellect would have recognised the danger, the more his bull-dog antagonism was aroused. Laud, at his command, wrote a sharp letter, snubbing the council for suspending the reading of the service, and expressing his astonishment that the Scotch should refuse their own work. This was because four Scotch bishops had been pliant enough to frame the liturgy in part; but the Scotch people disclaimed the act of the royally imposed bishops, as much as they disclaimed Laud and his doings themselves. The king commanded lord Traquair, the lord treasurer of Scotland, to enforce the service, and not to give way to the insolence of the baser multitude.

But it was not merely the base multitude, the nobility were as violent against the new liturgy as the people, and came to high words with the bishops and their favourers amongst the clergy. Four ministers, Alexander Henderson, of Leuchars, John Hamilton, of Newburn, James Bruce, of Kingsbarns, and another, petitioned the council on the 23rd of August, to give them time to show the antichristian and idolatrous nature of this ritual, and how near it came to the popish mass, reminding them that the people of Scotland had established the independence of their own church at the reformation, which had been confirmed by parliament and general assemblies, and that the people, instructed in their religion from the pulpit, were not likely to adopt that which their fathers had rejected as contrary to the simplicity of the gospel. But the bishop of Ross, Laud's right-hand man, replied for the council that the liturgy was neither superstitious nor idolatrous, but according to the formula of the ancient churches, and they must submit to that or to "horning," that is, banishment. Still the council delayed, and the people were pretty quiet during the harvest time, but that over, the news having arrived of a peremptory message from the king, commanding the enforcement of the liturgy, and the removal of the council from Edinburgh to Linlithgow, thence in the following term to Stirling, and for the next to Dundee, the people flocked into Edinburgh; and incensed at the idea of their ancient capital being deprived of its honours as the seat of government, they became extremely irritated, attacked the bishops when they could see them, and nearly tore the clothes from the back of the bishop of Galway. He escaped into the council-house, and the members of the council in their turn sent to demand protection from the magistrates, who could not even protect themselves.

For greater security the council removed to Dalkeith, and the marquis of Hamilton recommended to Charles to make some concessions; but far from giving way, a more positive order for the enforcement of the obnoxious liturgy arrived from the king. But it was found impossible to enforce it: the earl of Traquair was summoned up to London, and sharply questioned as to the causes of the delay, and was sent back with more arbitrary commands. On the 18th of October these were made known, and fresh riots took place, Traquair and two of the bishops nearly losing their lives. The king then consented to the petitioners above-mentioned being represented by a deputation personally resident in Edinburgh. The object was to induce the crowds of strangers to withdraw to their homes, when it was thought the people of Edinburgh alone might be better dealt with; but the advocates of the people seized on the plan, and converted it into one of the most powerful engines of opposition imaginable.

At the head of these able politicians, and the contrivers of this profoundly sagacious scheme, were the lords Rothes, Balmerino, Lindsay, Lothian, London, Tester, and Cranstoun, Balmerino had been severely treated by Charles, and had thus become hardened into the most positive opponent of the episcopal movement. In his possession in 1634 was a copy of a petition to the Scottish parliament, too strong in its language even for the Scotch dissentients to present. He Lad under pledge of strictest secrecy lent this to a friend. For this he was committed to prison, and at the instigation of Spottiswoode, archbishop of St. Andrews, it was resolved to prosecute him for high treason, and a verdict was procured against him. But the people were so enraged that they assembled in vast crowds, vowing to murder both the jurors who had given the verdict, and the judges who had accepted it. Government was alarmed, and the king was reluctantly induced to grant Balmerino a pardon. From that moment he became the champion of the people.

He and his colleagues the nobles, the gentry, the presbyterian clergy, and the inhabitants of the burghs, formed themselves into four "tables," or committees, each of four persons, and each table sent a representative to a fifth table, a committee of superintendence and government. Thus in the capital there were sitting five tables, or committees, to receive all complaints and information from the people, and decide on all these matters. Throughout the country were speedily established similar tables, with whom they corresponded. Thus, instead of that mere representation of the petitioners which the king contemplated as an expedient for getting rid of the immediate pressure of the people, one of the most perfect and most powerful systems of popular agitation was organised that the world had ever seen. There was the most instant attention to the suggestions of the people by the provincial tables, and the most prompt and respectful consideration of their reports by the tables in the capital, A permanent government of the people was, in fact, erected, to which the public looked with the utmost confidence, and by which step its whole Weight was brought to bear on the unpopular government of the king,

The formidable nature of this novel engine of the popular will was quickly perceived by the court; and Traquair was ordered to issue a proclamation, declaring the Tables to be unlawful, commanding all people to withdraw to their own homes, and menacing the penalties of treason against ail who disobeyed. This proclamation was made by Traquair at Stirling, on the 19th of February, 1638; but it was disregarded. The Tables had procured early information of the forthcoming proclamation, and had summoned the provincial Tables from all parts to assemble in Edinburgh and Stirling. These cities were thus crowded with the very life and soul of the whole agitation. They had already risen in their demands as they perceived their strength, and had ceased to petition for time, and some trifling alterations in "the buke." They demanded the formal revocation of the liturgy, the canons, and the Court of High Commission; Now, no sooner had the herald read the royal proclamation, than the lords Hume and Lindsay read a counter proclamation, saw it affixed to the market-cross, and copies sent to Edinburgh and Linlithgow, to be read and publicly placarded there

Traquair, who had clearly foreseen these consequences, and in vain warned the king to avoid them by timely concession, wrote to Hamilton, informing him of what had taken place, and that there was no power in the kingdom capable of forcing the liturgy down the people's throats; that they would receive the mass as soon. His words received a speedy confirmation, The Tables determined to publish a solemn covenant betwixt the people and the Almighty to stand by their religion to the death. Their fathers, at the time of the reformation, had adopted such an instrument. The great nobles of the time had sworn to maintain the principles of Wishart and Knox, and to defend the preachers of those doctrines against the powers of antichrist and the monarchy. James and Charles himself had sworn to adhere to this confession of faith, with all their households and all classes of people, in the years 1580, 1581, and 1590, The name of covenant was thus become a watchword to the whole nation, which roused them like a trumpet. This document had been composed by Alexander Henderson, one of the four ministers who had petitioned, and Archibald Johnstone, an advocate, the great legal adviser of the party, and revised by Balmerino, Loudon, and Rothes.

This famous document began by a clear exposition of the tenets of the reformed Scottish church, and as solemn an abjuration of all the errors and damnable doctrines of the pope, with his "vain allegories, rites, signs, and traditions." It enumerated the antichristian tenets of popery: the denial of salvation to infants dying without baptism; the receiving the sacrament from men of scandalous lives; the devilish mass; the canonisation of men; calling on saints departed; worshipping of imaginary relics and crosses; speaking and praying in a strange language; auricular

confession; the shaveling monks; bloody persecutions; and a hundred other abominations. All these were made as great offences against the Anglican, hierarchy, which was fast running back into those "days of bygone idolatry," The various classes, "noblemen, barons, gentlemen, burgesses, ministers, and commons," bound themselves by the covenant to defend and maintain the reformed faith before God, his angels, and the world, till it was again established by free assemblies and parliaments, in the same full purity and liberty of the Gospel as it had been heretofore.

On the 1st of March, 1638, the church of St. Giles, which had witnessed so lately the hasty flight of the bishops, was thronged with the covenanters of all ranks and from all parts of the country. The business was opened by a fervent prayer from Henderson, and then the people were addressed in a stirring harangue by the earl of Loudon, the most eloquent man in Scotland, The effect was such that the whole assembly rose simultaneously, and with outstretched arms, amid torrents of tears, swore to the contents of the covenant- That done, they turned and embraced each other, wept, and shouted aloud their exultation over this great victory, for such they felt it, in the united energy and religious dedication of the nation.

Dispersing to their various homes, the delegates carried the fire of this grand enthusiasm with them. Over moor and mountain it flew, across the green pastoral hills of the south, through the dark defiles of the Highlands, and to the sea-swept isles. Thousands continued to pour into the capital to add their signatures to the covenant; and in every parish on the Sunday the people streamed to listen to the fiery harangues from the pulpits, and to give in their names, with the same tears, emotions, and mutual embraces as in Edinburgh. It was soon found that except in the county of Aberdeen, the covenanters outnumbered their opponents in the proportion of one hundred to one.

Nor did these determined reformers readily admit of any dissent or lukewarmness. Where they found any opposed or inert, they roused them by threats, and often by blows and coercion. Some they threw into prison, and some they set in the stocks for refusing to sign. The catholics were those who principally stood aloof; but these were not calculated at a thousand in all Scotland. Of such they entered the names in a list, and made calculations of their property, with a view to confiscation. In Lanark and other places the contending factions came to blows before the lists were filled up. Active subscriptions were levied for the maintenance of the cause, and before the end of April there was scarcely a single protestant who had not signed the covenant. The bishops had fled to England, and all Scotland stood ready to fight for its faith.

Here was a spectacle which would, have shown the folly of his career to any other monarch; but all reason or representation was wasted on Charles. Traquair entreated him, before plunging into war, to listen to the counsels of his most experienced Scottish ministers; but Charles seldom listened to anything except his own self-will, or any person except his fatal counsellors, Laud and Wentworth, He is said on this occasion to have consulted with a small council of Scotchmen living in England, which had been formed by James on his accession to the English throne, and in accordance with their advice, and in opposition to that of the council in Scotland, he resolved on suppressing the covenant by force.

In May he sent the marquis of Hamilton to Scotland, with orders to endeavour to soothe the people by assuring them that the liturgy and canons should only be exercised in a fair and gentle manner, and that the High Commission Court should be so remodelled as to be no grievance. If these promises did not satisfy them, as Hamilton must have known they would not, for Charles's promises were too well known to be of any value, he was to resort to any exercise of force that he thought necessary.

On the 3rd of June he arrived at Berwick, and sent to the nobility to meet him at Haddington, but no one appeared except the earl of Roxburgh, who assured him that anything but a full revocation of the canons and liturgy was hopeless. On reaching Dalkeith he was waited on by lord Rothes, who, on the part of the covenanters, invited him to take up his abode in Holy rood, as more convenient for discussion.

Hamilton objected to enter a city swarming with covenanters, and where the castle was already invested by their guards. These, it was promised him, should be removed, and the city kept quiet, on which he consented; and on the 8th of June he set forward. But he found the whole of the way, from Musselburgh to Leith, and from Leith to Edinburgh, lined with covenanters, fifty thousand in number. There were from five to seven hundred clergymen collected; and all the nobility and gentry assembled in the capital, amounting to five thousand, came out to meet and escort him in. All this he was informed was to do him honour, but he felt that its real design was to impress him with the strength of the covenant party.

Being settled in Holyrood, Hamilton received a deputation of the heads of the league, and asked them what they required to induce them to surrender opposition. They replied that in the first place they demanded the summons of a general assembly and a parliament. They then renewed the guard at the castle, and doubled the guards and watches of the city. The preachers warned the people to be on their guard against propositions. They informed the marquis that no English service book must be used in the royal chapel, and they nailed up the organ as an abomination to the Lord. They then waited on him, requesting him and his officers to sign the blessed covenant, as they hoped to be regarded as patriots and Christians. The ministers whom the oppressions of Wentworth had chased oat of Ulster to make way for the Anglican service were there, inflaming the people by their details of the cruelties and broken promises of Charles and his lord-lieutenant in Ireland.

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Pictures for Reign of Charles I. page 21

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