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Reign of Charles I. page 30


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This was the more prominent, because at this time the Scotch commissioners were residing in London, and were extremely active in endeavouring to proselyte the people to their rigid notions. "They resided," says Clarendon, "in the heart of the city, near London Stone, in a house which used to be inhabited by the lord mayor, or one of the sheriffs, and was situated so near to the church of St. Antholins, a place in all times made famous by some seditious lecturer, that there was a way out of it into a gallery of the church. This benefit was well foreseen on all sides in the accommodation, and this church assigned to them for their own devotions, where one of their chaplains still preached, amongst which Alexander Henderson was the chief, who was likewise joined with them in the treaty in all matters which had reference to religion; and to hear those sermons there was so great an influx and resort by the citizens out of humour and faction; by others of all quality out of curiosity; and by some that they might the better justify the contempt they had of them; that from the first appearance of day in the morning on every Sunday, to the shutting in of the light, the church was never empty."

The throngs, and especially the women, continued there all day, and those who could not get in hung upon and about the windows. It was a novelty of no trifling description to the nonconformists thus to have free religious service without all the rites, ceremonies, and gaudy vestments which Laud had forced on them, at the same time that he strictly suppressed the conventicles. The earl of Rothes, the marquis of Hamilton, who was now playing his part of courting the people, and lord Loudon, whom Charles had liberated from the Tower, in order to conciliate the Scots, made themselves very agreeable, we are told, to the puritans, who, on their part, were in no hurry to be rid of the Scots, for, said Baillie, one of the deputies, "we make our negotiation long or short, as the necessities of our good friends in England require, for they are still in that fray, that if we and our army were gone, yet were they undone."

On the other hand, Charles was naturally anxious to be rid of the Scotch on that account. As we have seen, he had agreed to all their demands but the last. Their ships were to be restored, the acts of their late parliament confirmed, their castles to be in the hands of Scotchmen only, they were to enjoy their own religion, and they recovered by vote of the house of commons one hundred and twenty-five thousand pounds for their expenses for five months, and three hundred thousand pounds for a "friendly relief for their losses and necessities." "Three hundred thousand pounds sterling," exclaims Baillie, "five million four hundred thousand merks Scots, is a pretty sum in our land." But when they came to the fourth article, that the punishment of what they called the incendiaries should be left to the two parliaments, he made a resolute stand. What they called incendiaries, were what he deemed his faithful servants, Laud, Wentworth, Traquair, &c. To give them up voluntarily, who had been the ministers of his own measures, he rightly deemed, would be an indelible dishonour to him. Still more difficult was the last clause, that which related to the establishment of a lasting peace betwixt the two nations, and this the Scots contrived to encumber with so many conditions, that there was 110 speedy prospect of agreeing upon it.

Defeated in this hope of clearing himself of the presence of the Scots, Charles began to try the effect of concessions to his own people. He knew that his recent exercise of the forest laws, and the immense extension of the forest boundaries, had made him very unpopular with the inhabitants of the country, and of many large proprietors; and he now sent an order to reduce the forests to their former dimensions.

There was another measure by which he had formerly strengthened himself, that of winning over able and determined members of the opposition by honours and influence. Wentworth, Digges, Noyes, Finch, and others had been drawn over from the popular party, and had rendered him signal service. It was now proposed, and the marquis of Hamilton had the credit of the suggestion, to call the leading members of the opposition to the ministry, and thus convert them into friends. The first step was taken by appointing Bedford, Bristol, Hertford, Mandeville, Saville, and Say, of the privy council. But scarcely was this done, that they were accused of having become more courtly, and their zeal less fervent. This was, if true, a triumph to the king, and it was proposed next, to make Bedford the lord treasurer, Pym chancellor of the exchequer, Say master of the wards, in place of Cottington, and Denzell Hollis secretary of state, in place of Windebank. Hampden was also to have a place, but what, was not decided. Essex, Kimbolton, and others, were to be included in this cabinet. None of these appointments, however, were brought to bear, except that of making Say master of the wards, Essex lord chamberlain, and Oliver St. John solicitor-general. Clarendon says that the obstacle was the prosecution of the earl of Strafford, for the chief end at the moment in nominating these leaders of the opposition to be ministers of the crown, was undoubtedly to save Strafford. To this, however, none of them would consent.

Many of them were already busy, as members of the select committee for preparing evidence for the trial of Strafford, in forwarding the impeachment. The committee consisted of Pym, Hampden, Hollis, Digby, Strode, Sir Walter Earl, Selden, St. John, Maynard, Palmer, Glynne, and Whitelock; and Hyde, Culpepper, and lord Falkland were assisting them to manage the conferences with the lords. No offers of honour or promotion, we may be assured, would draw Pym or Hampden from their determined object of punishing Laud and Strafford, and binding the king fast to the constitution.

All being prepared, Strafford was brought from the Tower on the 22nd of March, 1641, and placed before the tribunal appointed to try him in Westminster Hall. He had been about three months in prison, and meantime a deputation had arrived from Ireland, for no sooner was he arrested, than the Irish - who had been compelled to submit to his tyrannies and exactions, and even to sing his praises by placing a fine eulogium on the wisdom and moderation of his government on the journals of that parliament, in which he had by measures and arbitrary acts forced from them extraordinary votes of money - rose and denounced him as a traitor and cruel despot. Their deputation brought a petition, calling on the commons of England to join them in obtaining his condign punishment. They enumerated their grievances and sufferings from his lawless violence under sixteen heads. The commons welcomed the deputation, as may be supposed, and to secure full evidence of Stafford's doings in Ireland, not only accused his most active instrument, Sir George Ratcliffe, of high treason, too, but almost every one of his willing subordinates, and secured all of them that they could, and kept them in readiness to be questioned, by which means they also prevented them from doing mischief with the army. The Scottish commissioners were equally vehement in demanding justice against him for having counselled the king to put down their religion and government by force, and offering to supply an army of Irish for the purpose. Thus all three kingdoms were arrayed against the common enemy.

Charles, who had led him by his promises into the jaws of danger, now cast about with much anxiety how he was to save him. Amongst other projects, that of seeking aid from France through the queen was attempted. Henrietta thought if she could get personally to the king, her brother, she could win him over to aid them in this crisis; she therefore wrote to him, proposing to pay him a visit on the plea of seeking a restoration of her injured health in her native air. But there were too many and too powerful personages, on both sides of the water, interested in preventing this for her to succeed.

Here, the whole of the parliamentary opposition were too much alive to the consequences of such a scheme to readily permit it; and at Paris the cardinal Richelieu, through resentment against Charles for his support of Flanders and the Huguenots, was not the less opposed to the visit. The earl of Holland, who was gained over to his interest, gave him prompt notice of the intention, and he replied in the name of the king, that although he should always be most happy to see his royal sister, he could not advise her to absent herself from England for a day at this critical juncture.

After much debate, it had been concluded that the trial should take place in Westminster Hall, before the lords and commons. The earl of Arundel was appointed to preside as lord high steward. On each side of the throne was erected a cabinet, where the king, queen, and prince of Wales could sit without being seen, these cabinets having trellice work in front, and being hung with arras. Before the throne ran lines of seats for the peers, and woolsacks for the judges, and on each side of the peers were ranged seats for the commons, who consented to sit uncovered there. Near them were the Scotch and Irish deputies, and there was a desk or dock inclosed for the prisoner and his counsel. One-third of the hall was left open to the public, the rest being defended by a bar; and there was a gallery near for ladies, which was crowded by those of highest rank. There was an intense interest, indeed, felt by all classes, and the hall was daily so crowded, that Mr. Principal Baillie, minister of Kilwinning, whom we have already mentioned as one of the Scotch deputies, says, "We always behoved to be there before five in the morning: the house was full before seven."

Strafford was brought from the Tower guarded by a hundred soldiers, who filled, with the officers, six barges, and on landing at Westminster he was received and conducted forward by two hundred of the trained band. All cross streets and entries were occupied by a strong force of constables and watchmen, placed there as early as four in the morning. The king, queen, and prince arrived about nine o'clock, and about the same time the prisoner was com ducted into the hall. On his appearance the porter demanded of the usher of the black rod, whether the axe should be borne before him; but the usher said no, the king had expressly forbidden it.

The bishops did not appear amongst the lords, for their presence had been strongly objected to by the house of commons, on the plea that the canons forbade their taking part in any trial which involved bloodshed - "clericus non deliet interesse sanguini" But the real cause was, that they were such rabid supporters of Laud, who was the determined accomplice of the prisoner in all his assaults on the constitution; and Williams, of Lincoln, very politicly volunteered a motion as from the prelates themselves, that they should be excused. The commons had objected to those who had been made peers since Strafford had been impeached, as they were his avowed friends. All, except lord Littleton, who had been made a baron and lord keeper in the place of the fugitive Finch, refused to comply, and took their seats and sate; and so says Clarendon, might the bishops, too, had they had the same spirit.

All being ready, the impeachment was read, consisting of twenty-eight capital articles, and then Strafford's reply to it, which filled two hundred sheets of paper. This occupied the first day. The court rose about two o'clock, and the prisoner was reconducted to the Tower. This was the routine of each day during the trial, which lasted eighteen days. On entering the court at nine o'clock, Strafford made three obeisances to the earl of Arundel, the high steward, two of which might be interpreted as intended for the king and queen, though they were not at first visible, nor during the whole time were supposed to be so; but the interest of the proceedings quickly made the king impatient of the trellice work, and, according to Baillie, he pulled it down with his own hands. "It was daily the most glorious assembly," continues Baillie, "that the isle could afford; yet the gravity was not such as I expected. After ten, much public eating, not only of confections, but of flesh and bread; bottles of beer and wine going thick from mouth to mouth without cups, and all this in the king's eye. . . . There was no outgoing to return, and often the sitting was till two, three, or four o'clock at night."

As Strafford went and came, the crowd conducted themselves towards him with forbearance and courtesy, and he returned their greetings with humility and politeness. Few of the lords at first returned his obeisances, and the managers, thirteen in number, showed him no favour. When the lord steward ordered the committee of management to proceed on the second morning, Pym opened the proceedings with an eloquent charge, commencing with these words: - "My lords, we stand here by the commandment of the knights, citizens, and burgesses, now assembled for the commons in parliament, and we are ready to make good that impeachment whereby Thomas, earl of Strafford, who stands charged in their name, and in the name of all the commons of England, with high treason. This, my lords, is a great cause, and we might sink under the weight of it, and be astonished with the lustre of this noble assembly, if there were not in the cause strength and vigour to support itself, and to encourage us. It is the cause of the king; it concerns his majesty in the honour of his government, in the safety of his person, in the stability of his crown. It is the cause of the kingdom: it concerns not only the peace and prosperity, but even the being of the kingdom. We have that piercing eloquence, the cries, and groans, and tears of all the subjects assisting us. We have the three kingdoms, England, and Scotland, and Ireland, in travail and agitation with us, bowing themselves, like the hinds spoken of in Job, to cast out their sorrows. Truth and goodness, my lords, they are the beauty of the soul, they are the perfection of all created natures, they are the image and character of God upon the creatures. This beauty, evil spirits and evil men have lost; but yet there are none so wicked, but they desire to march under the show and shadow of it, though they hate the reality of it. This unhappy earl, now the object of your lordships' justice, hath taken as much care, hath used as much cunning, to set a face and countenance of honesty in the performance of all these actions. My lords, it is the greatest baseness of wickedness, that it dares not look in its own colours, nor be seen in its natural countenance. But virtue, as it is amiable in all aspects, so the least is not this, that it puts a nobleness, it puts a bravery upon the mind, and lifts it above hopes and fears, above favour and displeasure: it makes it always uniform and constant to itself. The service commanded to me and my colleagues, is to take off those vizards of truth and uprightness, which hath been sought to be put upon this cause, and to show you his actions and intentions in their own natural blackness and deformity."

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Pictures for Reign of Charles I. page 30

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