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Reign of Charles I. page 3

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On the 3rd of October this noble but ill-used fleet sailed from Plymouth, and took its way across the Bay of Biscay, where it encountered one of its storms, and received considerable damage, one vessel foundering with a hundred and seventy men. The admiral had instructions to intercept the treasure ships from America, to scour the coasts of Spain, and destroy the shipping in its harbours. But instead of doing that first which must be done then if at all - attack the ships in the ports - he called a council, and was completely bewildered by the conflicting opinions given. The conclusion was to make for Cadiz, and seize its ships, but the Spaniards were already aware of and prepared for them. Instead of keeping, moreover, a sharp watch for the Plata ships, he, Wimbledon, let several of them escape into port, which of themselves were thought, says Howell, rich enough to have paid all the expenses of the expedition. There was still nothing to prevent a brave admiral attacking the vessels in harbour; but more accustomed to land service, the commander landed his forces, and took the fort of Puntal. Making next a rapid march towards the bridge of Suazzo, in order to cut off the communication between the Isle de Leon and the continent, his soldiers discovered some wine cellars by the way, and became intoxicated and incapable of preserving order. Alarmed at this circumstance, their incapable leader conducted them back to the ships. Not daring to attack the port, he determined to look out for the treasure ships. But whilst cruising for this purpose, a fever broke out on board the vessel of lord Delaware; and as if it were his intention to diffuse the contagion through the whole fleet, the admiral had the sick men distributed amongst the healthy ships. A dreadful mortality accordingly raged through the whole fleet. No Plata ships could be seen, for they appear to have been aware of their enemies, and held away towards the Barbary coast; and after waiting fruitlessly for eighteen clays. Wimbledon made sail again for England. No sooner did this imbecile quit the coast than fifty richly laden vessels entered the port of Lisbon. On landing at Plymouth, with the loss of a thousand men, in this most ignominious voyage, the people received the admiral with hisses and execrations.

Under Henry VIII. or Elizabeth, the commander would have paid for his misconduct with his head; Charles did not even order a court-martial to investigate the causes of the disgraceful failure, but submitted it to inquiry before the privy council. There Wimbledon laid the blame on the ignorance and insubordination of the officers under him, and the earl of Essex and the rest accused him of utter incapacity. The wretched Wimbledon threw himself on the support of the favourite, who had selected him, and Buckingham, who seemed ready to dare any amount of odium, protected him; the matter being left to sink into silence as the resentment of the public subsided, or fresh causes of anger superseded it. The failure of the enterprise, however, was extremely embarrassing in another respect. The magnificent promises of wealth from the capture of the rich argosies of the Spaniards had all vanished into thin air, and money must be raised by some means. The favourite, therefore, set off into Holland with the crown jewels and the royal plate, which he pawned for three hundred thousand pounds. He then entered into a treaty with the king of Denmark, who engaged, on the payment of a monthly subsidy from England and another from the United Provinces, to furnish an army of thirty-six thousand men. Thence Buckingham contemplated a journey to Paris; but his conduct there on occasion of his last visit was not likely to be forgotten, and he received a message from Richelieu forbidding his reception. The principal courtiers even vowed that if he ever ventured there they would take his life.

This rebuff had the effect upon his vain and vindictive mind, which all such wounds to his pride had. He at once sought to avenge himself, and in his resentment he would ruin kingdoms if possible. Lord Holland, who was thoroughly in his interest, and Sir Dudley Carleton, were despatched there in his stead; but they did not go to strengthen the alliance, a matter of so much importance, but to insult and irritate the French court. They were instructed, not, as the true policy would have been, to unite their influence with that of England, for the restoration of the palsgrave, but to demand the restoration of the ships which had been lent to France, and to open a communication with Louis's revolted subjects, the Huguenots. If Louis proposed measures to draw closer the alliance, which of all things was desirable, they were to refer the matter home, but they were not to fail in cultivating a friendship with the insurgent protestants, and to assure them of assistance on any emergency. The whole was the policy of a mean and suicidal spite. Richelieu, however, manifested a much deeper statesmanship than Charles or Buckingham was capable of. He at once promised the restoration of the ships, defeated the designs of England by making peace with the Huguenots, and then, with an air of friendliness, volunteered to send an army into Germany if Charles would do the same. That subtle statesman seemed as if he would show them the paltry and egregious folly of their conduct.

Defeated in this quarter, Buckingham sought revenge in another. The queen's French attendants had caused the king much annoyance, and there can be little doubt that Buckingham seized the present occasion to get them sent without ceremony from the country. Charles was passionately attached to Ms young queen, who was handsome, lively, and, when in good humour, extremely fascinating; but she soon showed that she had a strong self-will and a petulant temper. In whatever did not please her, the horde of French men and women who surrounded her, found occasion to encourage her discontent, and stimulate her to opposition. Her favourite, Madame St. George, seems to have been especially active in this mischievous style; and Charles became excessively incensed against them. Particularly on the subject of the queen's chapel and the open display of her religion, the priests stirred up the queen to importune the king. These foolish bigots could not see that Charles was placed in a most awkward situation by the toleration of that religion at all. He had set apart one of the most retired chambers in Whitehall for her chapel, and had forbidden any English people, men or women, to attend the service there. But this did not satisfy the priests: they urged the queen perpetually to demand from the king the chapel at St. James's, and to have it fitted up with all the embellishments and apparatus of a royal open chapel. Charles angrily replied that if the queen's closet was not large enough, they could have the great chamber; if that would not hold them, they might go into the garden; and if the garden were too contracted, then the park was the fittest place. One change he made, which was done with his usual want of tact. The name of Henriette, as the French called it, and its French pronunciation, was so unaccustomed to English ears, that she was prayed for in the royal chapel by the name of "queen Henry," and he, therefore, ordered her second name, Maria, to be anglicised into Mary, in the public service. This was most ominous and hateful to the ears of his subjects, who were thereby reminded that they had again a queen Mary, and papist queen too.

Charles found her confessor, Father Sancy, a most troublesome, impertinent fellow, who exercised the worst influence over the queen; and he insisted on his being at once sent home, but did not succeed without much trouble. Then Madame St. George took immense offence at the king's not allowing her to ride in the same coach with himself and the queen, as though she had the right to do that irrespective of the king's will, because she had thus accompanied the princess in France as her governess. Spite of the king's command, she persisted in thrusting herself in, and he was obliged to prevent her forcibly. In her anger at this, she worked the queen into a most offensive humour. "From that hour," wrote Charles to Henrietta's mother, "no man can say that my wife has behaved two days together with the respect that I have deserved of her." To settle these matters, Charles sent to the queen by the count de Tilliers, one of the heads of her establishment, the regulations which had been kept in the court of the queen, his own mother, and desired the count to see that they were kept. To this Henrietta sent back the reply, "I hope I shall be allowed to order my own house as I think best."

Charles complained grievously, and most justly, to Mary de Medici, of this; observing that if she had spoken to him privately about it, he would have done all he could to please her, but he could not have imagined her offending him in that public manner. "After this answer," he continued, "I took my time, when I thought we had leisure to dispute it but by ourselves, to tell her both her fault in the publicity of such answers, and her mistakes in the business itself. She, instead of acknowledging her mistakes, gave me so ill ať answer that I omit to repeat it, When I have anything to say to her, I must manage her servants first, else I am sure to be denied. Likewise I have to complain of her neglect of the English tongue, and of the nation in general."

It was clear that the crew of insolent foreigners must be packed off before there could be any domestic peace; but this might have been long delayed had Buckingham been permitted to visit Paris. He wrote to the favourite whilst in the Netherlands his complaints on this head, telling him that he was tempted to send away the monsers (monsieurs), because it was told him that they were actually intending to steal away his wife, and were plotting amongst his own subjects. He says that he cannot find positive proof of their scheme for carrying off the queen to France on the plea of ill-usage; but as to the plotting, he has good grounds to believe it. In another letter to Buckingham, he says, "As for news, my wife begins to mend her manners. I know not how long it will continue: they say she does so by advice." Probably her mother, Mary de Medici, had given her that sensible advice; at all events, the catastrophe of the French exodus was delayed till Buckingham came home, fuming against the whole French court.

Meantime Charles, who was in straits with his parliament and subjects, which needed not the humour of a froward wife to aggravate them, was compelled to try again the more than dubious resort to parliament for money. All that Buckingham had raised on the plate and jewels, was but as a mite in the great gulf of his necessities. To prepare the way for any success with the commons, he was obliged to do that which must certainly embroil him with his French allies, and add fresh fuel to the fire of domestic discord which consumed him. Certainly never had any man a more difficult part to play, except such a man as had acted with such absolute want of prudence in his measures; for nothing is easier than for men, by their folly or absurd resentments, to knit themselves up into a web of difficulties. He now resolved to break his marriage oath to France, and persecute the catholics to conciliate the protestants.

Orders were accordingly issued to all magistrates to put the penal laws in force; and a commission was appointed to levy the fines on the recusants. All catholic priests and missionaries were warned to quit the kingdom immediately, and all parents and guardians to recall their children from catholic schools, and young men from catholic colleges on the Continent. But worse than all, because personally insulting and irritating to the higher classes, who constituted the house of peers, and who hitherto had exhibited much forbearance, he conceded to the advice of his council, that the catholic aristocracy should be disarmed. The effect of this order may be imagined, from a scene which took place at a seat of lord Vaux, in Northamptonshire. The deputy-lieutenant, accompanied by two knights, and a Mr. Knightly, a magistrate, proceeded to make a search. They found there lord Vaux, his mother, and a younger brother of lord Vaux. In conducting the search Mr. Vaux, the younger brother, became excited by the indignity of the process, and observed that he thought the inspectors had now done everything they could except cutting the throats of the recusants, and swearing that he wished it would come to that. Knightly told the young man that he was mistaken: there were various clauses of the statutes which they had not put in force; as for instance the fine of twenty pounds per month for non-attendance at church, as well as a fine of twelve pence for every oath, and forthwith demanded that penalty from him. Young Vaux refused with hot words and fresh oaths; Knightly then demanded that lord Vaux or his mother should pay it for him; and on their refusal ordered the constables to distrain to the amount of three shillings on the goods. This put the finish to the patience of lord Vaux himself, who told Knightly that he would call him to account for his conduct in another place; on which Knightly replied that his lordship knew where he lived. Lord Vaux, in his anger, thrust Knightly out of the house, saying that he had done, and should now go about his business; but this infuriating Knightly, he turned back again, declaring that he had not done, he would make a farther search. The parties thereupon came to blows: lord Vaux broke the head of Knightly's man with a cudgel, and the deputy-lieutenant and his followers thought it time to get away. Lord Vaux was soon after arrested by the privy council on the complaint of Knightly, and dealt with in the star-chamber.

Certainly no proceedings could indispose the house of peers to the king more than such as these; but meantime Charles was active in endeavouring by other measures to win a party there. The earl of Pembroke had for some time made himself head of the opposition, and on great occasions brought with him on a vote no less than ten proxies, Buckingham himself being only able to command thirteen. He prevailed on Pembroke to be reconciled to the favourite; and at the same time, to punish the lord-keeper Williams, who had quarrelled with Buckingham, and told him that he should go over to Pembroke, and labour for the redress of the grievances of the people, he dismissed him, and gave the great seal to Sir Thomas Coventry, the attorney-general.

To manage the commons, and to prevent the threatened impeachment of Buckingham, when the judges presented to him the lists of sheriffs, he struck out seven names, and wrote in their places seven of the most able and active of the leaders of opposition in the commons, the most determined enemies of the favourite, namely: - Sir Edward Coke, Sir Thomas Wentworth, Sir Francis Seymour, Sir Robert Philips, Sir Grey Palmer, Sir William Fleetwood, and Edward Alford. As this office disqualified them from sitting in parliament, the king thus got rid of them for that year; but Coke contended that though a sheriff could not sit for his own county, he could for another, and got himself elected for the county of Norfolk, but did not venture to take his seat.

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