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Reign of Charles I. page 29

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On the 11th of November, 1640, assuming an outward air of unconcern, Strafford went to take his seat in the house of lords. The earl of Northumberland, writing to the earl of Leicester on the 13th, declared that "a greater and more universal hatred was never contracted by any person, than he has drawn upon himself, yet he is not at all dejected." No sooner, however, did he appear in the house, than his evil angel appeared there too, and demanded his seizure on a charge of high treason. Pym, when Wentworth abandoned the cause of reform at the temptation of the king, had said plainly to him, "You are going to leave ms, but we will never leave you while your head is upon your shoulders!" and for himself he kept that vow singly, sternly, inviolably, till it was accomplished.

Baillie, who was one of the Scotch commissioners, gives this striking account of his arrest: - "He calls rudely at the door: James Maxwell, keeper of the black rod, opens. His lordship, with a proud, gloomy countenance, makes towards his place at the board head: but at once many bid him avoid the house; so he is forced in confusion to go back till he is called. After consultation, being called in, he stands, but is commanded to kneel, and on his knees to hear the sentence. Being on his knees, he is delivered to the keeper of the black rod, to be prisoner till he was cleared of these crimes the house of commons had charged him with. He offered to speak, but was commanded to be gone without a word. In the outer room James Maxwell required him, as prisoner, to deliver his sword. When he had got it, he cries with a loud voice for his man to carry my lord-lieutenant's sword. This done, he makes through a number of people towards his coach, all gazing, no man capping him, before whom, that morning, the greatest of England would have stood uncovered, all crying, 'What is the matter?' He said, 'A small matter, I warrant you.' They replied, 'Yes, indeed, high treason is a small matter.' Coining to his place where he expected his coach, it was not there, so he behoved to return the same way, through a crowd of gazing people. When at last he found his coach, and was entering, James Maxwell told him, 'Your lordship is my prisoner, and must go in my coach;' so he behoved to do."

In a few days he was committed to the Tower, and the commons proceeded to deal with the rogues next in degree. Sir Francis Windebank, one of the secretaries of state, had been one of the most ready instruments of Laud, and at the same time privately a catholic, on which account he had released a number of catholic priests from prison, to the great anger of the puritans. Seeing the hour of retribution coining, Windebank did not wait for it, but procuring letters from the queen, he escaped to France, where he was well received, and subsequently threw off the mask and openly professed Catholicism. Clarendon asserts that the commons willingly let him escape, because his arrest and trial might have implicated his colleague, Sir Henry Vane, whom they did not want to touch.

The lord keeper Finch was the next delinquent aimed at. He had proved himself a most pliant instrument of the king, justifying his most oppressive measures in parliament, and a zealous enforcer of his illegal acts. He had been the great mover in the prosecution of Hampden for refusal of ship-money, and had prosecuted others severely for the same resistance. He now begged to be permitted to defend him self before the house of commons, which was permitted: and appearing at its bar with the great seal, he made the most humble obeisance, and endeavoured to excuse himself with many plausible words and tears. But all this well-acted contrition did not prevent the house from voting him a traitor, and the next morning sending up his impeachment to the lords. But the cunning fellow had seen sufficient in the house to assure him of its verdict, and had made good use of the time. He was nowhere to be found, nor was heard of again till he was safe in Holland.

From the ministers the commons stretched their hands to the judges, who had sanctioned the king's levy of ship- money, and had condemned John Hampden. They ordered Branston, Davenport, Crawley, Trevor, and Weston to find heavy bail for their appearance to answer the charges of Parliament; and Berkeley, who had exclaimed on the bench that "the law knew no king-yoking policy, but that Rex was Lex," was treated with less ceremony, being plucked from the very judgment-seat as he sat in his ermine, amid judges and lawyers, and taken away as a felon to receive the censure of Parliament and pay a fine of ten thousand pounds. They extended their measures even further than the judges - to the sheriffs and lieutenants of counties who had been very active and overbearing in the collection of ship-money; but they contented themselves with giving these a fright. Not so with the farmers and officers of the customs, who for so many years had insolently fleeced the people at the arbitrary will of the king; they were glad to compound for a pardon by a fine of one hundred and fifty thousand pounds.

Never was there such a scene in the history of nations. The effect was that of magic. It was as if a thunderbolt had fallen in the midst of the haughty advocates of national slavery. They fell flat and licked the feet of their chasteners. There was an instant hush of all praises of despotism and exhortation to illegal taxation, like that which in a populous city follows the explosion of a mine, and the whole fabric of absolutism dropped at once like a house of cards. Finch, the renegade, and Windebank, the bloodhound of Laud, had dropped the strutting honour of lord keeper and secretary of state, and fled hastily from the wrath to come. The servile judges were prostrate in the dust; the two arch-absolutists were in durance, waiting the just award of an insulted people, and only one of the leading offenders had managed to escape deserved censure by a more cunning treason. This was the marquis of Hamilton, who, seeing the tempest ahead, came to Charles at York, where he summoned the council of peers, and, according to Clarendon, asked leave to travel. "If," says this historian, "the marquis of Hamilton had been then weighed in the scales of the people's hatred, he was at that time thought to be in greater danger than any of the others, for he had more enemies and fewer friends in court and country, than either of the others." He had been the sole manager in Scotland, and had advised the king's agreement with the people, and then, says Clarendon, had advised his breaking it. He had obtained profitable monopolies in iron and wine, and had "outfaced the law in bold projects and pressures upon the people." He now came to the king with great professions of service, yet represented that his presence might be prejudicial to the king's interests. Charles expressed his surprise and unwillingness that he should leave him, and assured him that he would protect him through all. He hesitated, saying," that he knew there were no less fatal arrows aimed at the archbishop of Canterbury and the earl of Strafford than at himself; and. that he had advertised the first and advised the last to take the same course he meant to secure himself by withdrawing; but he said the earl was too great-hearted to fear, and he doubted the other was too bold to fly."

The king being unwilling to hear of his retirement, Hamilton then said there was only one other course that he could adopt to save himself and serve the king, and that was by pretending service to the other party, by which means he should learn all their intentions, and could apprise the king in time of them, and might otherwise sway matters to his advantage. In other words, he proposed to be a spy under the garb of a friend to the reformers. Charles caught at the idea, and from this moment we are to regard Hamilton in this light.

This, then, was the marvellous state of affairs at this moment. "Within less than six weeks," says Clarendon, "these terrible reformers had caused the two greatest counsellors of the kingdom - Laud and Strafford, whom they most feared, and so hated - to be removed from the king, and imprisoned under an accusation of high treason; and frightened away the lord keeper of the great seal of England and one of the principal secretaries of state into foreign kingdoms for fear of the like, besides preparing all the lords of the council, and very many of the principal gentlemen throughout England, who had been sheriffs and deputy-lieutenants, to expect such measure of punishment from their general votes and resolutions as their future demeanour should draw upon them for their past offences." And thus ended the ever memorable year 1640, in which the parliament had secured the ascendancy after fifteen years determined struggle with the present king, and many more with his father; had humbled the proud and obstinate monarch; imprisoned his two arch-counsellors; impressed a salutary terror on the whole royal party; and initiated changes of the most stupendous kind.

The house of commons commenced the year 1641 with an endeavour to secure annual parliaments, and succeeded in obtaining triennial ones, They proposed that the issuing of the writs should take place at a fixed time, and to prevent the crown defeating this intention, they demanded, in case the king did not order the write at the regular time, it should be imperative on the lord keeper or lord chancellor to do it; in case they neglected it, it should become the duty of the house of lords to do so; if the lords failed, then the sheriffs, and if the sheriffs neglected or refused, the people should proceed to elect their own representatives without any writs at all. To frustrate in future any hasty prorogations, by which the house of commons was liable at any moment to be stopped by the crown, they proposed that the king should not have power to prorogue or dissolve parliament within fifty days of its meeting without its own consent.

At one time Charles would have resented so bold a measure most indignantly, and would have dissolved the audacious body at once; but now he condescended to reason with them in a far different tone. He protested against the measure as a direct encroachment on his prerogative, by which sheriffs and constables were to be endowed with powers that hitherto had been only kingly; but he was fain at last to give way, and the bill, so far as regarded triennial parliaments, was passed, and a bill securing the houses from hasty prorogation followed in May. By that act Charles tied up his hands from dissolving parliament at all without its own consent, so that he could no longer defeat its measures as he had done. Thus a real and most momentous infringement on the prerogative was made, being brought about by the king's resistance to the cession of real rights. In obstinately claiming the people's privileges, he was driven to forfeit his own. He was now in a cleft-stick. The army of the Scots still lay in the north, and both the English commons and the Scottish commissioners in London were in no hurry to have it disbanded. Whilst it lay there well supported by parliamentary allowance, the king and his friends were overawed and powerless, and both parties, the commons of England and the covenanters of Scotland, were the better able to press their claims and support each other. Both parties were bent on abolishing or reducing episcopacy.

The Scottish commissioners exerted themselves with the leaders of the English commons to move for the thorough abolition of episcopacy in England, and the establishment of presbyterianism; but this led only to the development of a variety of views in the commons. Some of the members favoured the Scottish proposal, and of these were the supporters of the petition with fifteen thousand signatures, brought in from London by alderman Pennington, called the "root and branch petition." Others, as the lords Wharton, Say, and Brooke, preferred the still more levelling system of the independents. On the other hand, some of the most prominent reformers, the lords Digby and Falkland, and Selden and Rudyard, were opposed to the extinction of the bishops. Digby compared the London petition to a comet portending nothing but anarchy, and with its tail pointing to the north, meaning that it was a Scottish comet; and lord Falkland was for relieving the bishops of their temporal cares, but not removing them from the church altogether. The question was warmly debated for two days, but the fate of the bishops was deferred awhile by that of Strafford.

The catholics, however, did not go without a fresh proof of the bitter hostility of the zealous puritans. There were great complaints sent from both houses about seminary priests remaining in the country contrary to the statutes, and especially of one Goodman, a priest, who had been condemned to death for merely being found living in England, having been reprieved by the king. Charles in vain told them he did not feel justified in putting a man to death solely for his religion; this was not regarded as an act of mercy, but as one of favour towards the catholics on account of the queen. The commons remonstrated on the 29th of January, and desired that Goodman might be left to the course of law.

Charles was sunk so low at this juncture, that he had no power to exercise the prerogative even to save an innocent man from the persecuting zeal of these religionists, who had not yet learnt that mutual toleration was one of the prime glories of Christianity. He gave up Goodman to their discretion, but sent them a petition which he had addressed to him, begging that he would not expose himself to a breach with his subjects on his account, for he would willingly perish to preserve peace; and if he were the Jonah which caused the tempest, they might cast him out of the ship. Whether the man's magnanimity, or their own engrossment with other matters was the cause, they never proceeded to put the law in execution against him, but he was left to perish in prison.

The jealousy against the catholics was increased by the queen having a nuncio from the pope named Rosetti, residing with or near her, and by the residence of Mary de Medici, the queen's mother, also with her. Charles assured parliament that Rosetti was there merely in a private capacity, and in full accordance with her marriage articles, but that he should be given up. They could not demand that the queen's mother should be delivered up, too, for she was a refugee forced to fly hither from the ungrateful malice of Richelieu, whom she had raised to his unexampled power; and who is supposed to have aided the Scots the more cordially from his resentment of Charles affording her an asylum. And yet Mary de Medici was so bigoted a; catholic, and had such a crew of insolent French priests with her, as occasioned great scandal, and revived the old nuisance in a great degree of Henrietta's own French retinue.

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Pictures for Reign of Charles I. page 29

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