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Reign of Charles I. page 32

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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.

"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.

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