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Reign of Charles I. page 31

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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."

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."

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