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Reign of Charles I. page 32


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"Let us not, to our own destruction, awake these sleeping lions, by raking up a company of old records which have lain for so many ages by the wall, forgotten and neglected. To all my afflictions, add not this, my lords, the most severe of any, that I for my other sins - not for my treasons - be the means of introducing a precedent so pernicious, that in a few years the kingdom will be in the condition expressed in a statute of Henry IV., that no man shall know by what rule to govern his words and actions. These gentlemen at the bar say that they speak for the commonwealth against my arbitrary acts, and they believe so; but under favour, it is I who speak for the commonwealth against their arbitrary treason.

"Impose not, my lords, difficulties insurmountable upon ministers of state, nor disable them, after serving with cheerfulness their king and country. If you examine them, and under such severe penalties, by every grain, by every little weight, the scrutiny will be intolerable. The public affairs of this kingdom must be left waste, and no wise man, who has any honour or fortune to lose, will ever engage himself in such dreadful such unknown perils.

"My lords, I have now troubled your lordships a great deal longer than I should have done, were it not for the interest of these pledges which a saint in heaven left me.

I should be loth ---" here he pointed to his children, and his weeping stopped him. "What I forfeit for myself is nothing, but that my indiscretion should extend to my posterity, I confess, wounds me very deeply. You will be pleased to pardon my importunity. Something I should have said, but I see I shall not be able, and therefore I shall leave it. And now, my lords, I thank God that I have been by his blessing sufficiently instructed in the vanity of all temporary enjoyments, compared to the importance of an eternal duration. And so, my lords, even so with all tranquillity of mind, I submit clearly and freely to your judgment; and whether that righteous doom shall be life or death, I shall repose myself, full of gratitude and confidence, in the arms of the great Author of my existence - 'In te Domine confido: non confundar in asternum.'"

What the effect of this address must have been on the audience generally, may be inferred from the observations of Whitelock, the chairman of the committee which was conducting the prosecution: - "Certainly, never any man acted such a part on such a theatre, with more wisdom, constancy, and eloquence; with greater reason, judgment, and temper; and with a better grace in all his words and actions, than did this great and excellent person, so that he moved the hearts of all his auditors, some few excepted, to remorse and pity."

The commons were alarmed at the effect of the trial. The production of Vane's paper had been a blow enough to have sunk another man, but the extraordinary eloquence and address of Strafford seemed to have effaced even that; they had little faith in procuring a verdict from the lords in their present course, and they resolved to change their plan, and proceed against the offender by a bill of attainder. They have been accused of adopting the arbitrary measures of Henry VIII. in so doing, and of depriving Strafford of the fair influence of his trial; but we, who enjoy the benefit of their deed, ought not to join in that cry. Strafford was guilty, if ever man was, of the most atrocious attempt that a man can entertain - that of destroying the liberties of his country. The laws had been so framed, from royal bias, as not duly to designate his crime; but not for that, nor for any temporary feeling of pity raised by his admirable defence, did these patriots mean to allow of his escape.

There were, moreover, other causes which made the commons press on the punishment of Strafford, The discovery had been made that the king and courtiers were contriving the escape of the prisoner from the Tower. The scheme was, that a hundred and twenty soldiers should be introduced into the fortress, where, there being no other guard than the servants of the lieutenant, they would be able to take possession, and effect the earl's escape; or they might, by the king's order, remove him to another prison, and admit of his escape by the way. Vessels were in readiness to convey him from the coast, and all means prepared for ids getting on board. But the whole of this scheme failed from the intervention of one honest man. This was Balfour, the lieutenant. In contemplation of great crimes in former days, the king had suddenly changed the lieutenant; but such an act now would have created instant suspicion, and roused the whole city. The king therefore sent the warrant for the removal of Strafford; but Balfour refused to obey it, though tempted by royal promises, and by Strafford with a bribe of twenty thousand pounds, and an advantageous match for his daughter. The honest officer listened to the lure with contempt, and the plot was at an end. But another was speedily substituted in its place. This was a plan to march the army at York suddenly to London, and thus take forcible possession of the prisoner. Advantage was taken of the discontent of the troops on account of the arrears of their pay remaining undischarged, whilst the Scotch army was amply supplied, and agents were sent down to tamper with the officers at York. These appear to have fallen readily into the proposition, and a petition was sent to the king from the officers, representing that as there were vast quantities of malignants collected in London, who were followed by vast multitudes, they deemed it expedient, for the safety of his majesty's person and of parliament, that the ringleaders should be seized and punished, and they offered to march up and do it. Charles not only accepted this petition, but, at the request of the officers, put his initials to it, in testimony of his sanction of their proposal. The petition itself may be seen in Clarendon.

But this plot also failed, through the quarrels of the two leading officers in the management - colonel Goring and Percy, the brother of the earl of Northumberland. Jermyn, the queen's favourite, whom she married after the king's death, was sent down to reconcile them, but did not succeed, and Goring, in his exasperation against Percy, revealed the whole plot to the earl of Bedford, lord Saye, and lord Kimbolton.

Mr. Hyde was sent by the commons to the peers, to inform them of these conspiracies. The Scotch commissioners were clamorous for his conviction, and the city of London refused to lend any more money to parliament till that was secured. But in the house of commons the bill of attainder met with unexpected opposition from one of the most zealous of the reformers, lord Digby- He saw, like the rest, that technically they could not condemn Strafford for high treason as the law then stood, and he feared the precedent of condemning men under a show of law that did not exist. It was, in fact, too ranch imitating the king. It was a real difficulty, which the patriots had not sufficiently foreseen. Instead of charging him with treason, as it was then defined, they should first have remodelled the law, or have charged Strafford with the violation of the national guarantee of Magna Charta, on which there could be no doubt, and for which he was well worthy of death; but it was too late to retrace their steps, and they were obliged to condemn him for the unquestionable crime of treason against the nation, making the act of the legislature in all its branches an extension of the law. Digby himself did not question his guilt. He said "he believed him still that grand apostate to the commonwealth, who must not expect to be pardoned in this world till he be despatched to the other;" but he pleaded that on the ground of law he should have his life spared- But the commons knew that whilst he lived there was no security. On the first occasion the king would pardon and restore him, and all their labour would be thrown away. They sought, therefore, to erect parliament, in so great an emergency, into a court of equity as well as of law, believing that what was decreed by both houses, and had the sanction of the crown, was and would be a law of itself. They did not, like the Tudors and the Stuarts, seek to condemn him by setting aside the established courts and trial by jury; they gave him the highest court in the realm, and a full trial by his peers, and by their bill they now called for a verdict.

But that verdict was not obtained without a great struggle. In the commons it was warmly debated, and it was not till the eleventh day, the 21st of April, that it was carried by a vast majority. Only fifty-four, or, according to Whitelock, fifty-nine members voted against the bill, and the next morning the names of these were placarded in the streets as "Straffordians," who, to allow a traitor to escape, would betray their country. The lords, who had been greatly influenced by Strafford's speeches, and his confident exposition of the law, displayed no alacrity to pass the bill of attainder through their house; but they soon found themselves exposed to the pressure from without. The nation had made up its mind to the punishment of the man who had advised the king to reduce them to the condition of serfs; and the lords could not appear anywhere without being pursued by cries of "Justice! justice on the traitor!" They surrounded the parliament house in vast crowds, uttering the same demands, and a petition was carried up from the city, signed by many thousands. The country was terrified by rumours of insurrections and invasions, which were made plausible by the army plot, and the court preparations for rescuing and getting away Strafford. There is also clear evidence from the despatches of Rosetti, who was in the confidence of the queen, that the king had ordered the fortifications of Portsmouth to be strengthened; and the command of the fortress was given to Goring, that he might have a place of retreat if he was obliged to quit London, and an opening for the landing of troops from France or Holland, whom he might prevail on to come to his assistance.

In carrying up the bill to the lords, the attorney-general, St. John, had endeavoured to get rid of the legal objections to the death of Strafford, by saying that laws were made for the protection of the peaceable and the innocent, not for those who broke all law for the destruction of the people. That we gave law to deer and hares, but knocked on the head wolves or foxes wherever we found them. This was a dangerous doctrine, and did not at all mend the matter: he did not see that the real strength and justification of the case was in all the three branches of the legislature interpreting the law as extending to the state and constitution altogether, and by their united act rendering it law - a precedent infinitely more valid than such as are acted on ewry day - the dicta of ordinary judges.

In the meantime, the anxiety and perplexity of the king became excruciating. He had clearly, by his confident assertions of protection, drawn Strafford into the snare, and if the lords passed the bill, how was he, by his own decayed authority, to defend him? He had previously sought the aid of the earl of Bedford, who was the most influential of the peers, and promised him the disposal of all the great offices of state, on condition that Stafford's life should be spared. Bedford had accepted it, but just at this crisis he fell sick and died. Clarendon says, that from his own knowledge, it was the plan of Bedford to give the king the excise as a settled source of income, and thus extricate him out of all his troubles, the very thing which we shall find was afterwards granted to his son, Charles II. On Bedford's death, lord Saye accepted the same position on the same terms; and it is asserted by Clarendon that it was by his advice that Charles now took a step that proved very fatal. He proceeded to the house of lords on the 1st of May, whilst the bill of attainder was still before it, and calling for the commons, informed them that having, as they knew, been constantly present at the trial of Stafford, he was perfectly familiar with all that had been advanced on both sides, and that the serious conclusion at which he had arrived was, that he was not guilty of treason, and, therefore, in his conscience, he could not condemn him if the bill were passed and came to him. "It was not," he said, "for him to argue the matter with them; his place was to utter a single decision. But," he continued, "I must tell you three great truths: - First, I never had any intention of bringing over the Irish army into England, nor ever was advised by any one to do so. Second, there never was any debate before me, either in public council or private committee, of the disloyalty or disaffection of my English subjects. Third, I was never counselled by any to alter the least of any of the laws of England, much less alter all the laws."

After the long breach of the law that the king shall not levy taxes without consent of parliament; after the long exercise of the arbitrary power of the Star-chamber and the High Commission Court, where Magna Charta was utterly set aside; after the brandings, the lopping off of ears, the slitting of noses, and the fining and imprisonment of the subject at the king's pleasure, these assertions show how utterly regardless of truth this king was. He then admitted that Strafford was guilty of great misdemeanours. "Therefore," he said, "I hope you may find some middle way to satisfy justice and your own fears, and not to press upon my conscience. My lords, I hope you know what a tender thing conscience is. To satisfy my people I would do great matters, but in this of conscience, no fear, no respect whatever, shall ever make me go against it. Certainly, I have not so ill-deserved of the parliament this time, that they should press me on this tender point." He proposed that Strafford should be rendered incapable hereafter of holding any place of trust or honour under the crown.

But the very declarations which he had made in this address were so untrue, that so long as Strafford lived, every one must have felt there was no security against his return to power. The commons, however, took up the matter in another manner. On their return to their own house - the king had not recognised their presence by a single observation in the other - they instantly passed a resolution, declaring the king's interference with any bill before either house of parliament, a most flagrant abuse of their privileges. This was Saturday, and the next day the ministers, Scotch and puritan, took up the subject in their pulpits, and roused their hearers to a sense of their danger, only to be averted by the death of the arch-traitor. On Monday the population poured out in a vast concourse, and directed their way towards Westminster. Six thousand infuriated people surrounded the houses of parliament, armed with clubs and staves, crying out for justice on the prisoner,

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Pictures for Reign of Charles I. page 32

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