OREALD.COM - An Old Electronic Library
eng: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Reign of Charles I. page 30

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 <30> 31 32 33 34 35

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.

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.

<<< Previous page <<< >>> Next page >>>
Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 <30> 31 32 33 34 35

Pictures for Reign of Charles I. page 30

Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About