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Reign of Charles I. page 31

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Pym, after this exordium, went seriatim through the pleas of Strafford in his reply, and rent away ruthlessly the arguments by which he endeavoured to veil the flagrancy of his actions; but he dwelt for this time more especially on his conduct in Ireland, representing him there as treading on all the rights, privileges, and property of the people in a manner utterly regardless of any constitution or compacts. He then produced as witnesses Sir Pierce Crosby, Sir John Clotworthy, lord Ranelagh, lord Mountnorris, and Mr. Barnwell, who had suffered insult, loss of office, and honour from his overbearing despotism. To this Strafford replied in a long and able speech. The subject of Ireland was resumed the next day, and then from day to day. After the managers had gone through some particular charge, and produced their witnesses, the court adjourned for half an hour, when Strafford made his defence and produced his witnesses, the managers commented on the evidence, and the court closed for the day. Thus it went on for thirteen days. "All the hasty and proud expressions that he had uttered at any time," says Clarendon, "since he was first made a privy councillor; all the acts of passion or power that he had exercised in Yorkshire, from the time that he was first president there; his engaging himself in projects in Ireland, as the sole making of flax and selling tobacco in that kingdom; his extraordinary proceedings against lord Mountnorris and the lord chancellor Loftus; his assuming a power of judicature at the council table to determine private interest, and matter of inheritance; some rigorous and extrajudicial determinations in cases of plantations; some high discourses at the council-table in Ireland; and some casual and light discourses at his own table and at public meetings; and, lastly, some words spoken in secret council in this kingdom, after the dissolution of the last parliament, were urged and pressed against him to make good the general charge of an endeavour to overthrow the fundamental government of the kingdom, and to introduce an arbitrary power."

"In his defence," continues the same historian, "the earl behaved himself with great show of humility and submission, but yet with such a kind of courage, as would lose no advantage; and, in truth, made his defence with all imaginable dexterity, answering this and evading that with all possible skill and eloquence; and though he knew not till he came to the bar upon what parts of his charge they would proceed against him, or what evidence they would produce, he took very little time to recollect himself, and left nothing unsaid that might make for his own justification."

Though this is the language of the royalist historian, it is borne out by all accounts of this extraordinary trial. Strafford was one of the most eloquent, able, and imposing men of any age. His commanding person, and persuasive and impressive manner, had made his influence paramount wherever he had appeared. He had the faculty vastly developed of making the worse appear the better reason; and never had his splendid talents been so successfully displayed as on this great occasion, when all the ability, the patriotism, and the elocution of the time were arrayed against him. The very weight and vastness of the opposition bearing upon him acted in his favour. There he stood, alone, as it were, against the three kingdoms, dauntless, and unsubdued; laden with growing infirmities, and the deadly hatred of innumerable hosts, yet disdaining to succumb to them; and with a readiness of wit, a promptness of reply, an adroitness of application or of evasion, a keenness of ridicule, a weight of reason, and a rich eloquence, that raised admiration even in those who most loathed him. The sympathies of the ladies were every day more and more enlisted in his cause. They were seen - those of the highest rank - taking notes, discussing the proceedings, and discovering their vivid interest in him by a thousand signs. The courtiers wore enraptured; the lords, even the sternest, rapidly relaxed, and at length were almost all on his side. The clergy were unanimous in their plaudits of him, and the managers saw with dismay a change which threatened their defeat.

Maynard and Glynne, two acute lawyers, were the managers who chiefly brought forward the accusations, and directed the evidence against him; but they appeared no match for Strafford's intellect and address. They endeavoured to establish a charge of constructive treason, that is, of treason not founded on one clear and palpable act, but on accumulated evidence, the aggregate of many offences; but the prisoner's answer to this was triumphant. They had not his letters, which we have; and though they could point to a long course of arbitrary and unconstitutional conduct, amounting to high misdemeanours, they could not lay their fingers on the damning proofs of his avowed intentions under his own hand, as we now can in the Strafford Papers. But even had they possessed these, it would still have been technically impossible to establish a charge of high treason according to any definitions of law, or any ideas of treason then existing. All the statutes of high treason had heretofore been directed against designs or attempts to injure or remove the king, or any of his family; to subvert the government, or change the possession of the crown. That there might be such a thing as treason against the people and their rights; against the kingdom, as well as the king; so entirely had royal rights occupied attention; so little had the rights of subjects been regarded; that this, the highest of all possible treasons, had never come into governing heads. It was now the fate of these ministers, and of their master, to make that crime patent to the world and all its ages.

In vain would Pym or Selden then search Coke upon Littleton, or the statutes at large, for any definition of a treason that would serve them. The statute of 25 Edward III. c. 2 was the great landmark of English history in those matters, and amongst the seven distinct declarations of treasonable offences, they would look in vain for one to fit Wentworth. 1. "If a man doth compass the death of our lord the king, or of our lady his queen, or of their eldest son and heir." 2. "If a man do violate the king's companion, or the king's eldest daughter unmarried, or the wife of the king's eldest son and heir." 3. "If a man do levy war against the lord our king in his realm." 4. "If a man be adhered to the king's enemies, giving them aid or comfort in his realm or elsewhere." 5. "If a man counterfeit the king's great or privy seal." 6. "If a man counterfeit the king's money, or bring false money into the kingdom," &c. 7. "If a man slay the chancellor, treasurer, or the king's justices of the one bench or the other, justices in eyre, or justices of assize, and all other justices assigned to hear and determine, being in their places during their office."

In these seven clauses lay all the law of high treason at that day, and against none of these most assuredly had Strafford offended. He was working with the king and his officers; his acts and intentions pointed in a totally different direction. His object was to strengthen the king's government beyond all precedent; to make him, as we now have it under his own hand, the most absolute and independent monarch that ever lived. True, from the reign of Henry IV. to that of queen Mary, many other species of high treason had been created by the crown, and especially by Henry VIII., such as clipping money; burning houses to extort money; stealing cattle by Welshmen; wilful poisoning; execrating the king; allowing the king to marry a woman that was not a maid, and not telling that piece of unpleasant news; refusing to abjure the pope; believing Henry VIII. to have been lawfully married to Anne of Cleves; impugning his supremacy; or not dispersing when assembled to the number of twelve upon proclamation. But in none of these reigns, when almost every imaginable or unimaginable thing affecting kingship was made treason, it had ever entered the royal or legal head to conceive a treason against the people. Therefore, had all these descriptions of treason been yet existent, none of them would have availed against Strafford, who was most loyal to the king and his government, but an arrant traitor to the people. All these kinds of treason, however, had been abrogated by the statute 1 Mary c. 1, leaving only, as before, the seven kinds of Edward III., and which statute yet remains the great statute of treason, with the addition since, of another clause for the defence of the protestant succession of the house of Hanover.

On this ground, therefore. Stratford stood strong; and his lawyer, a Mr. Lane, argued thus upon the famous statute of Edward III., declaring that nothing was treason that was not comprehended in that statute. That the foundation on which the impeachment was laid, that of "endeavouring to overthrow the fundamental laws of the kingdom, and to introduce an arbitrary power," was wholly erroneous and untenable; and this was held to be good law by the most celebrated lawyers of the time. "With regard to this crime," they said, "an endeavour to subvert the fundamental laws, the statute of treasons is totally silent." Strafford, therefore, boldly told them that he did not deny but that he might have committed misdemeanours, nor, were they proved, would he complain of being punished for them; but he denied that their cumulative evidence could any more make one treason, than twenty non-entities could make one entity. "There is no treason in this; and when one thousand misdemeanours will not make one felony, shall twenty-eight misdemeanours heighten it to a treason?"

The matter was too palpable to be denied, but at this crisis an event occurred which gave fresh hope to the accusers. The younger Sir Henry Vane communicated to Pym a paper which he had discovered in the cabinet of his father, the secretary of state. The account which he gave of the occurrence, according to Whitelock, was this: - That his father being out of town, sent him the key of his study, desiring him to search for some papers which he wanted.

That in this search he came upon one paper of such extraordinary contents, that he held himself bound in duty to secure them. The paper was a minute of what had passed in the privy council on the morning of the day on which the-last parliament had been dissolved. The question before the council was offensive or defensive war with the Scots. The king said, "How can I undertake a war without money?" And Strafford was made to reply, "Borrow one hundred thousand pounds of the city. Go rigorously on to levy ship-money, Your majesty having tried the affections of your people, you are absolved and loosed from all rules of government, and may do what power will admit. Having tried all ways, you shall be acquitted before God and man. You have an army in Ireland, which you may employ to reduce this kingdom to obedience, for I am confident the Scots cannot hold out five months." Laud and Cottington declared with equal violence that the king was absolved from all law, Pym, having obtained from young Vane a copy of this paper, on the 10th of April informed the commons of the fact. After hearing it read, Vane the younger rose and confirmed the relation, excusing himself on the ground that it had appeared his bounden duty to make the matter known, and that Mr. Pym had confirmed him in this opinion. After giving Mr, Pym the copy, he had returned the original paper to its proper place in the cabinet. Sir Henry Vane, the father, here rose, and remarked, with much sign of resentment against his son, that he now saw whence all this mischief came, and that he could give no particulars of this farther, but found himself in an ill condition from its testimony.

On the 12th, charge was made against Strafford in court, who replied that old Vane was his most inveterate enemy, and that, as was most probable, if he had delivered this paper to his son, he had been guilty of a most unpardonable breach of his oath as a privy councillor, to preserve the king's secrets; and was, therefore, totally unworthy of credit. That he had been strictly examined on what passed at that council, and at first denied all memory of any such words spoken by him, Strafford, on that occasion; and even on his third examination, after having been shown this paper, he had only recollected he had spoken these words, or some like them. That such words and such council were riot likely to be soon forgotten; yet, of eight privy councillors then present, none of those whose evidence could be obtained could remember any such words, except the earl of Northumberland, who thought he recollected such words as those - of being absolved from all rules of government. The archbishop of Canterbury and Windebank were not present to give their evidence; but the marquis of Hamilton, the bishop Juxton, and lord Cottington, could remember no such words. Even had he used the words, it depended much on whether the phrase "this kingdom" meant England or Scotland; that the country under debate was Scotland, and he had demanded of Vane, whether the word used was really "this" or "that," And further, could the authority of this paper be established, it would not establish a charge of treason, for the law demanded the evidence of two witnesses, and this was but the evidence of one.

Pym therefore put in the verified copy of the paper, for the paper itself having been laid on the table of the committee of the commons, had been purloined, and was never afterwards recovered. That in the possession of Charles was in the handwriting of Digby, which brought him under suspicion. Pym contended that the evidence of the minute itself, and that of Sir Henry Vane, amounted to the required proofs of the law, being two witnesses against the earl. The lord steward, Arundel, then called on Strafford to say whether he had any observations to make on this additional proof, and he replied most eloquently, demanding: -

"Where has this species of guilt lain so long concealed? Where has this fire been so long buried during so many centuries, that no smoke should appear till it burst out at once, to consume me and my children? Better it were to live under no law at all, than to fancy we have a law on which we can rely, and find at last that this law preceded its promulgation, and try us by maxims unheard of till the moment of the prosecution. If I sail on the Thames, and split my vessel on an anchor, in case there be no buoy to give warning, the party shall pay me damages; but if the anchor be marked out, then is the striking on it at my own peril. But where is the mark set upon this crime? Where the token by which I should discover it?

"It is now full two hundred and forty years since treasons were defined, and so long has it been since any man was touched to this extent upon this crime before myself. We have lived, my lords, happily to ourselves at home; we have lived gloriously abroad in the world; let us be content with what our fathers have left us; let not an ambition carry us to be more learned than they were in these killing and destructive acts. My lords, be pleased to give that regard to the peerage of England, as never to expose yourselves to such moot points, such constructive interpretations of law. If there must be a trial of wits, let the subject matter be of somewhat else than the lives and honours of peers. It will be wisdom for yourselves, for your posterity, and for the whole kingdom, to cast into the fire these bloody and mysterious volumes of constructive and arbitrary treason, as the primitive Christians did their books of curious arts, and betake yourselves to the plain letter of the statute, which tells you where the crime is, and points out the path by which you may avoid it.

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Pictures for Reign of Charles I. page 31

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