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Reign of Charles I. page 25


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The covenanters were greatly incensed at the seizure of their envoy, and demanded his release; but Charles is asserted by several historians, in particular, Crawford and Oldmixon, to have signed a warrant for his execution, and only to have been prevented putting him to death by the solemn declaration that if he did Scotland was lost for ever. After this transaction it became plain that nothing could avert a conflict betwixt the infatuated king and the people of Scotland. The great object of the king was to obtain funds; that of the Scotch to divide the king's attention by exciting discontents nearer home. England itself had abundant causes of dissatisfaction. The disuse of parliaments, the continued illegal levying of taxes by the king's own will, the rigorous and ruinous prosecutions in the star-chamber and the High Commission Court, the brandings, scourgings, and mutilations of such as dared to dispute the awful tyranny of the government, portended a storm at home ere long, and the Scots found abundance of well-wishers and friends amongst the English patriots. These were every day drawing into their ranks men of the highest position and the most distinguished talents. The earls of Essex, Bedford, and Holland, were men secretly connected with them; the lord Say, Hampden, Pym, Cromwell, and other men of iron nerve and indomitable will, were watching with deep interest the movements in the north so congenial to their own.

Whilst the king was pondering on the means of raising money, an event took place, which for the moment promised to present him with a considerable sum. A Spanish fleet of seventy sail was discovered by the Dutch admiral, De Witt? off the Lands' End, As it was bearing troops from Spain to Flanders, which were hard pressed by the Dutch, De Witt followed it up the Channel, firing guns to harass its rear, but still more to awake the attention of Van Tromp, who was lying off Dunkirk. The two celebrated Dutch admirals were soon in full chase of the Spaniards. Sixteen of the ships having four thousand troops on board, bore away with all speed for the coast of Flanders, but the rest fled for shelter into the Downs. Charles sent the Earl of Arundel to demand from Oquendo, the Spanish admiral, his destination, being not without apprehension that they might be intended for a descent on Ireland, or in aid of his disaffected subjects of Scotland.

Oquendo satisfied Arundel that they were really on their way to Flanders, and demanded the protection of Charles as a friendly power. Charles was not unwilling to do so for a consideration, and the sum of one hundred and fifty thousand pounds was the price named in ready cash. For this Charles was to send the Spanish fleet under protection of his own to Flanders, but the two Dutch admirals, having now no less than one hundred sail, from continued fresh arrivals, attacked the Spaniards in the English roads, sunk and burned five of the largest vessels, drove twenty-three more on shore, and pursued the rest across the channel, suffering only ten of them to escape them. All this time the English admiral lay near at hand, but made no movement in protection of the Spaniards. The English people on shore beheld the destruction of the Spanish fleet with the greatest exultation, the memory of the great Armada being yet so strong amongst them; but Charles had lost his much-desired money at the moment that he thought to have grasped it, and with it had acquired an immense amount of foreign odium. To have suffered the vessels of a friendly power, which had fled to him for shelter, to be attacked and chased from his own harbour, lowered him greatly in the estimation of continental nations, and gave them an idea of the audacity of the Dutch, who unrebuked had perpetrated this insult, extremely to the disparagement of England. It was questioned whether, had he already received the money of the Spaniards, he could have protected them from the victorious Dutch, the necessary conflict with whom would have involved England in a foreign war.

At the time of this untoward occurrence Charles had sent for Wentworth from Ireland, to assist him by his counsels as to the best mode of dealing with his difficulties at home, and the Scots in the north. Wentworth had overridden all obstacles in Ireland, and had forced an income out of the reluctant people there; he was thought, therefore, by Charts, the only man whose wisdom and resolution were equal to the crisis. Wentworth had strongly advised Charles against marching against the Scots, knowing that the king's raw levies would have no chance against them; and he had gone on actively drilling ten thousand men, to prepare them for the campaign, which he felt must come, even after all appeared settled at Berwick. There was much speculation amongst all classes as to what might be the result of his arrival, which is well expressed by May in his Parliamentary History: - "Great was the expectation of all the English what might be the effect of his coming over. Great was the opinion which men in general had conceived of his ability and parts, looking at him as the only hinge on which the state was now likely to turn. Some, as they wished, did seem to hope, when they considered his first right principles, that whatsoever he had acted since his greatness, was to ingratiate himself perfectly with the king, that so, at last, by his wisdom and favour, he might happily prevail both upon the king's judgment and affection,, and carry him from those evil counsels which he had long been nurtured in, to such ways as should render him both honourable and happy. That the earl was so wise as to understand what most became a wise man, and what would make greatness beloved and permanent. But others durst not hope so much from him, when they considered his government in Ireland, and the ambition of the man. They feared that neither his virtue was great enough to venture his own fortunes, by opposing any evil counsels about the king, nor his favour great enough to prevail in overruling; that he was sent for only to complete that bad work which others of less brain than he had begun."

Unfortunately, the last opinions were the true ones. Wentworth was a very able but far from wise man, because he wanted the sentiment of goodness in any proportion to his power. He was proud and ambitious, and had sold himself to climb to worldly greatness on the ruins of his early and better principles. He had entered into a league with Laud of the most infamous nature, being under the name of "thorough," to trample out every spark of liberty in these kingdoms, which, had it succeeded, would have sunk into the place of the continental despotisms. But his haughtiness and insolence to his colleagues had already raised him many and deadly enemies, some of the most resolved of whom were those with whom he was now called to act. These were -the king's council, consisting of Laud, the archbishop of Canterbury; Juxton, bishop of London, who was also lord treasurer; the two secretaries, Sir Henry Vane and Francis Windebank; the earl of Northumberland, lord Cottington, and the marquis of Hamilton.

Clarendon, who is a regular royalist, and inclined to see more virtues in Wentworth than other historians of the time, yet is obliged to sketch this picture of the enmities which he justly provoked: - "He was a man of too high and severe deportment, and too great a contemner of ceremony, to have many friends at court, and therefore could not but have enemies enough. He had two that professed it, the earl of Holland and Sir Henry Vane." Besides having said that "the king would do well to cut off Holland's head," he had insulted him in various ways. He had done all he could to prevent Sir Henry Vane being made secretary in the place of Sir John Coke, whom the king displaced on his return from Scotland; but worse still, the king now creating him earl of Strafford, nothing would satisfy him but that he must be also made baron of Proby, Vane's own estate, from which he himself hoped to derive that title. "That," continues Clarendon, "was an act of the most unnecessary provocation that I have known, and though he contemned the man with marvellous scorn, I believe it was the loss of his head. To these a third adversary, like to be more pertinacious than the other two, was the earl of Essex, naturally enough disinclined to his person, his power, and his parts." This enmity in Essex. we are told, was increased by Wentworth's insolent conduct to lord Bacon, for whom Essex had a friendship; and he openly vowed vengeance. "Lastly, he had an enemy more terrible than all the others, and like to be more fatal, the whole Scottish nation, provoked by the declaration he had procured of Ireland, and some high carriage and expressions of his against them in that kingdom." We may add, that Wentworth had no friend in the queen, from his persecution of the catholics in Ireland, and was continually thwarted by her.

But all these councillors could devise no way to raise funds but by the old and irritating mode of ship-money, for which writs to the amount of two hundred thousand pounds were immediately issued, and this bearing no proportion to the requirements of a campaign against the Scots, they advised Charles to call together a parliament. To this he demurred; but when they persisted in that advice, he ordered a full council to be called, and put to it this question: - "If this parliament should prove as untoward as some have lately been, will you then assist me in such extraordinary ways as in that extremity should be thought fit?"

Charles was thus bent on extraordinary ways, and the council promised him its support. Wentworth returned to Ireland, being not only created earl of Strafford, but made lord lieutenant of that country. He promised to obtain a liberal vote from the Irish parliament, which it was thought might act as a salutary example for England. Accordingly, no one daring to oppose his wishes, he obtained four subsidies, with a promise of more if found necessary. The English parliament was delayed till this was effected, and was then summoned for the 13th of April. We have now brought up the affairs of all parts of the kingdom since the dismissal of the last parliament in 1629, to the calling of a fresh one in this most memorable year of 1640, an interval of eleven years. During that period the king had ruled like the despot of a country without a constitution. He and his arch-counsellors, Laud and Wentworth, have endeavoured to force the Anglican church on both Scotland and Ireland; they have persecuted relentlessly all denominations of religion except those of the favoured I church - catholics, puritans, presbyterians; they have branded, mutilated, imprisoned, fined at their good will and pleasure, all who dared to denounce their inquisitorial proceedings; they have imposed taxes of many new and unheard of kinds - as ship-money, fines for building houses in London, seizing of whole territories of private property in Ireland, &c. The lawless and juryless star-chamber and High Commission Court have been the royal inquisitions, into which free subjects, the heirs of Magna Charta and of habeas corpus, were dragged, tortured, and punished at pleasure; and there is a determination to "go thorough," and reduce freeborn England to a crouching and charterless serfdom By this means Scotland is roused to the pitch of armed resistance; England stands sternly not far distant from the same temper; trodden Ireland is not without remaining throes of life; and within 1640 the blood of civil strife, not soon to be stanched, must flow; and instead of no parliament in eleven years, two parliaments in one year; the latter to endure nearly twice as long as the country had been without any, and work more wonderful changes than had yet been seen in England or any other monarchy.

To assist the king and council in what was felt to be a critical emergency, Wentworth, now Strafford, returned, though suffering from a painful complaint. He left orders for the immediate levy of an army of eight thousand men, and Charles took measures for the raising in England fifteen thousand foot and four thousand horse, which he thought would serve to overawe parliament; and, what is singular, the orders for the raising of these troops and providing artillery and ammunition was signed by Laud, so little had he an idea of an archbishop being a minister of the prince of peace. Before the arrival of Strafford, Charles read to the council the account of the liberal subsidies and the loyal expressions which Strafford had put into the mouths of the enslaved Irish commons. This he did at the request of Strafford himself, to prove not only the loyalty of the Irish, but his own popularity there, spite of the assertions of his being hated in that country.

When the king met the parliament on the 13th of April, he had not abated one jot of his high-flown, notions of his divine right, and of the slavish obedience due from parliament. The lord keeper Finch, formerly the speaker of the house, but now more truly in his element as a courtier, made a most fulsome speech, describing the king as "the most just, the most pious, the most gracious king that ever was." That his kingly resolves were in the ark of his sacred breast, that no Uzziah must touch it. That he was like Phoebus; and that though he condescended to lay aside the beams and rays of majesty, they were not to presume upon it. He informed them that for many years in his piety towards them he had taken all the cares and annoyances of government from them, and raised the condition and reputation of the country to a wonderful splendour. That, notwithstanding such exemplary virtues and exhibitions of goodness, some sons of Belial had blown the trumpet of rebellion in Scotland, and that it was now necessary to chastise that stiff-necked people. That they must therefore lay aside all other subjects, and imitate the loyal parliament of Ireland in furnishing liberal supplies. That had not the king, upon the credit of his servants and out of his own estate, raised three hundred thousand pounds, he could not have made the preparations already in progress. That they must therefore grant him tonnage and poundage from the beginning of his reign, and vote the subsidies at once, when his majesty would pledge his royal word that he would take into his gracious consideration their grievances. And all this balderdash, and this stale trick of trying to get the supplies before the discussion of grievances, on the now well-estimated word of the king, from those sturdy commoners who had never yet given way to force or flattery!

Charles then produced the intercepted letters of the Scottish lords to the king of France, to show the treason of the Scots, and the necessity of taking decisive measures with them, But the commons were not likely to be moved from their settled purpose by any such arguments. They elected Serjeant Glanvil as speaker, and proceeded first and foremost to the discussion of the grievances of the nation. Amongst their old members, though the brave Sir John Elliot had perished in prison, and Sir Edward Coke, who by his latter years of patriotism had effaced the memory of the arbitrary spirit of his earlier ones, was also dead, there were Oliver Cromwell, now sitting for Cambridge, Pym Hampden, Denzell Hollis, Maynard, Oliver St. John, Strode, Corriton, Hayman, and Haselrig. There were amongst the new ones, Harbottle Grimston, Edmund Waller, the poet, lord George Digby, the son of the ear] of Bristol, a young man of eminent 'talent, and other men destined to become prominent. Sir Benjamin Rudyard and Grimston delivered speeches recommending at once courtesy and respect towards the crown, but unflinching support of the rights of the people. Harbottle Grimston described the commonwealth as miserably torn and massacred, all property and liberty shaken, the church distracted, the Gospel and professors of it persecuted, parliament suspended, and the laws made void. Sir Benjamin Rudyard protested that he desired nothing so much as that they might proceed with moderation, but that if parliaments were gone, they were lost. A remarkable feature of this parliament was, that of the number of petitions sent in by the people, the dawn of that custom which has now become one of the greatest customs of England and the most efficient support of reforms by the commons. These were poured in against ship-money and other abuses, as the star-chamber, High Commission Court, &c., from the counties of Hertford, Essex, Sussex, &c. After these matters had been warmly debated for four days, for the king had many advocates in the house, on the 17th Mr. Pym delivered a most eloquent and impressive speech, in which he narrated the many attacks on the privileges of parliament and the liberty of the subject, and laid down the constitutional doctrine "that the king can do no wrong," thus bringing the conduct and counsels of his ministers under the direct censure of the house, and loading them with the solemn responsibility - an awful foreshadowing of the judgments to come down on Laud and Wentworth. From that point the debate turned on the arbitrary treatment of the members of the commons, and orders were issued for a report of the proceedings of the star-chamber and the Court of King's Bench against Sir John Elliot, Mr. Hollis, and Mr. Hampden, to be laid on the table of the house. The conduct of the late speaker, Finch, in adjourning the house at the command of the king, was declared unconstitutional.

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Pictures for Reign of Charles I. page 25

Charles I.
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