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Reign of Charles I. page 33


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At this moment Pym was haranguing the house of commons on the discovery of the plot to debauch the army, and informing them, moreover, that there was already a strong body of French troops assembled on the opposite coasts. That it was declared to be their intention to take possession of Jersey and Guernsey, and to land at Portsmouth. This was so far true that Montague, a favourite of the queen's, had been despatched to the French court, a fleet had assembled on the coast of Bretagne, and an army in Flanders, Montreuil had endeavoured to convince the popular leaders, through the earl of Holland, that the army was destined for the war in the Netherlands, and the fleet to protect the coasts of Portugal. Their being so near their country, however, was sufficient to justify the popular suspicion, and the public excitement continued to increase. Montague was advised to seek his safety by flight, and the queen was so terrified, that she ordered her carriages to Whitehall to flee to Portsmouth. The lords, however, prevented this by a remonstrance to the king, and thereby probably saved the queen's life from the enraged mob; for it was now that the disclosures of colonel Goring of the army plot became public.

Pym seized the opportunity of this occurrence to press on the commons a resolution to the effect that the seaports should be closed, and that the king should command that neither the queen, the prince, nor any person attending upon his majesty, should leave London without the permission of the king, acting on the advice of his parliament. This was passed, and Pym then called on them to make a solemn protestation, after the manner of the Scottish covenant, which should be taken by the whole house, binding them by a vow, in the presence of God, to maintain and defend his majesty's royal person and estate, as well as the power and privileges of parliament, the lawful rights and liberties of the subject, the peace and union of the three kingdoms against all plots, conspiracies, and evil practices, and that neither hope, fear, nor any other respect, should induce them to relinquish this promise, vow, and protestation. It was instantly signed by the speaker, and by every member present.

The commons next addressed a letter to the army in the north, assuring them that, notwithstanding the attempts to corrupt them, parliament relied on their fidelity, and would take care to furnish their pay. They ordered the forces in Wiltshire and Hampshire to advance nearer to Portsmouth, and those in Kent and Sussex to draw towards Dover, and declared any man advising the introduction of foreign troops to be an enemy to his country. These resolutions they despatched with the protestation to the upper house by Denzell Hollis, calling on the whole house to subscribe to the protestation. The next morning, being the 4th of May, the lords desired a conference with the commons, and informed them of a message from the king, desiring that the intimidation of the mobs might be withdrawn, that the deliberation of the parliament might be free; and as the peers proposed to take the protestation unanimously, Dr. Burgess, a popular preacher, was sent out to inform the people of this, and to desire that they would peaceably withdraw to their own homes. The crowds, on this assurance, melted rapidly away. The protestation was then sent out to be subscribed by the whole nation, as the covenant had been in Scotland, and with the intimation that any one declining to adopt it should be looked upon as an enemy to his country. To complete their security, the commons passed a bill that parliament should on no account be dissolved without the consent of both houses.

The next day, on a false alarm that the house of commons was in danger, the trained bands, headed by colonel Mainwaring, marched with beat of drum to Westminster; it proved an unnecessary caution, but one that convinced the peers and the king that any resistance to the commons, backed by the public, was useless. The very next day the news was circulated in parliament, that six or eight dangerous conspirators had fled, amongst them Jermyn, the queen's favourite, and Percy, both members of the commons, and that the queen was still bent, if opportunity could be found, of escaping too. On the following day, May 7th, the peers voted by a majority, that the fifteenth and nineteenth charges against Strafford were proved, namely, that he had quartered soldiers on the peaceable inhabitants of Ireland contrary to law, and had imposed on his own authority an illegal oath on all Scotchmen living in that country. Thereupon they consulted the judges, who unanimously decided that Strafford deserved to suffer the pains and penalties of treason. The catholics kept away from the house, because they would not take the protestation, and therefore took no part in Stratford's condemnation. The bill was passed by a majority of twenty-six to nineteen. The following morning, May 8th, the bill of attainder was read a fourth time and passed; and at the same time the lords also passed the commons' bill against the dissolution of parliament,

Charles was now reduced to a pitiable condition. On the one hand, he had solemnly pledged himself, both to Strafford and to parliament, never to consent to the earl's death; but, on the other hand, the two houses had pronounced against him, and the public was waiting with impatience for his ratification of the sentence. He had lately seen the ominous assemblage of the people, and the march of the city bands to support parliament; the Scots still lay in the north, waiting with fierce desire for the fall of their enemy; one signal, and the whole country would be in a blaze. The bill was passed on Saturday, and perhaps never was a Sunday spent by any man, or any house, in so dreadful a state as that passed by Charles and his family. The only alternative left him was to summon his privy council, and submit to them his difficulty. But from them he derived very little comfort. The members in general urged on him the necessity of complying with the demand of both houses of parliament, and the manifest desire of the public, who were again loudly declaring that they would have either the head of Strafford or the king's. The bishops strongly urged the same arguments; the terror of the parliament and public was upon them.

Williams, the old bishop of Lincoln, who had been treated with stern severity by both Strafford and Laud, told the king when he talked of his conscience, that there was a public as well as a private conscience; that he had discharged his private conscience by doing all in his power to save the earl, and he might now exercise his public conscience by conceding to the decision of his parliament. That the question now was not about saving Strafford, but about saving himself, his queen, and family. Honest Juxton, bishop of London, alone had the courage to tell him boldly not to consent to the shedding of the blood of a man that in his conscience he felt to be innocent. Usher of Armagh, Morton of Durham, and another bishop, advised him to be guided by the opinion of the judges. The judges being then asked, repeated their judgment that the case, as put to them by the lords, amounted to treason. Thus borne down by all parties, Charles reluctantly gave way, and late in the evening, though he would not directly sign his assent to the bill, he signed a commission to several lords to give the assent. Even in this last act his friends endeavoured to console him with the assurance that "his own hand was not in it." It was a miserable subterfuge, for the deed was equally valid, and he executed it with tears, declaring the condition of Stratford happier than his own.

The day of execution was fixed for Wednesday, the 12th of May, and on Monday, the 10th, the commission to this effect passed the great seal. But still Charles could not give up the hope of saving the unhappy man. He sent to the two houses to inform them that he would instantly disband the Irish army; and the next morning, having appeared to have made a favourable impression on the commons, who had returned a very flattering message, he sent the prince of "Wales to the house of lords with a letter, once more imploring them to consult with the commons, and grant him u the unspeakable contentment" of changing the sentence of the earl to perpetual imprisonment, never to interfere in his favour; and if the earl should ever seek his liberty, especially by any application to himself, his life should be forfeited. If, however, it could not be done with satisfaction to the people, he said "fiat justitia." In a postscript, said to be added at the suggestion of the queen, he added the fatal words, "If he must die, it were charity to reprieve him till Saturday;" words which seemed to imply that, though he asked, he really did not hope to save him. Nothing, however, could have saved him. The house, after reading the letter twice, and after "sad and serious consideration," sent a deputation to inform him that neither of the requests could be complied with.

Though Charles, who has been so often styled "the martyr," was not martyr enough to sacrifice himself for his friend and devoted servant, it is but justice to observe that no man ever showed more faithful attachment to his favourites and ministers. He never would desert Buckingham; he did not give up Strafford or Laud without a severe struggle; and had he been as faithful to his subjects as to his friends, no better or happier monarch could have reigned.

Strafford, on the previous Tuesday, hearing of the king's extreme agitation and trouble on his account, had sent him a letter, which bore on its face the marks of a grand magnanimity. He informed him, that the hearing of the king's unwillingness to pass the bill, on the ground that he did not believe him guilty, and of the excitement of the people against him on that account, had brought him into a great strait. That the ruin of his family on the one side, and fear of injury to the king on the other, had greatly troubled him. That to say that there had not been a great strife in him, would be to say that he was not made of flesh and blood. Yet considering that the chief thing was the prosperity of the realm and the king, he had, with a natural sadness, come to the conclusion to desire the king to let matters take their course rather than incur the ills that refusing to sign the bill might bring on his sacred majesty. "Sire," he continued, "my consent shall more acquit you herein to God, than all the world can do besides. To a willing mind there is no injury clone; and as, by God's grace, I forgive all the world with a calmness and meekness of infinite contentment to my dislodging soul, so, sire, to you I can give the life of this world with all the cheerfulness imaginable, in the just acknowledgment of your exceeding favours, and only beg that in your goodness you would vouchsafe to cast your gracious regard upon my poor son and his three sisters, less or more, and not otherwise than as their unfortunate father may hereafter appear more or less guilty of this death. God long preserve your majesty."

It were hard and ungracious, indeed, to attribute any insincerity or interested motive to a devotion so nobly expressed, had not the author's own deed too plainly justified it. But as Baillie deprives his fine defence of one of its most beautiful effects, that of appealing to the saint in heaven who had left him his children, by assuring us that he actually occasioned the death of this saint by striking her on the breast in his anger when, in a state of pregnancy, she discovered a letter of his mistress, and bringing it to him, upbraided him with it; so we fear, on this occasion, he was but acting this exalted part. Whitelock assures us that the king sent Carleton to him, to inform him that he had been compelled to pass the bill, and adding that he had been the more reconciled to it by his willingness to die. On hearing this, Strafford started tip from his chair, lifted up his eyes to heaven, laid his hand upon his heart, and said, "Put not your trust in princes, nor in the sons of men, for in them there is no salvation." Strafford was a great actor, and had probably been calculating on a similar letter by Goodman three months before, which was supposed to have saved his life.

The night before the day fixed for his execution, archbishop Usher visited the prisoner, who begged him to go to his fellow-prisoner, archbishop Laud, and beg his prayers for him that night, and his blessing when he should go forth in the morning. He had in vain endeavoured to persuade the lieutenant Balfour to permit him to have an interview with the fallen prelate. In the morning, when led out to the scaffold, on approaching the window of the archbishop's prison, he begged the lieutenant to allow him to make his obeisance towards the prelate's room, though he could not see him himself.

Laud, however, was on the watch, and putting forth his hands from his window, bestowed his blessing. That was all that his weakness and his emotion permitted. He sank, overcome with his grief, to the floor. Strafford made a profound obeisance, and the procession moved on. But after a few steps the earl turned round again, bowed to the ground once more, saying, "Farewell, my lord! God protect your innocence!" Then proceeding again, he assumed a lofty and dignified air, more even than was usual to him. At the Tower-gate the lieutenant requested him to enter a coach, lest the people should wreak their hatred upon him; but he declined, saying, "No, master lieutenant, I dare look death in the face, and I hope the people, too. Have you a care that I do not escape, and I care not how I die, whether by the executioner, or the madness of the people. If that give them better satisfaction, it is all one to me." He was accompanied to the scaffold by archbishop Usher, the earl of Cleveland, and his brother, Sir George Wentworth, and others of his friends were there to take their leave of him. The crowd assembled to see their great enemy depart was immense, and he made a speech from notes which he had prepared, still protesting his innocence; declaring that so far from wishing to put an end to parliaments, he had always regarded them, under God, as the best means to make the king and his people happy. His head fell at a single blow, and the astonished people could scarcely believe that they saw the last of their mortal enemy. They retired in quietness, as if overcome by the greatness of the satisfaction; but they testified their joy in the evening by bonfires in the streets.

Strafford was a man of that address, and that commanding intellect, that had he persisted in the noble cause of constitutional liberty with which he began, there was no fame, no gratitude from his country and from posterity, which he might not have earned. But having once sold himself for rank and power, he devoted himself to the mean ambition of carrying out the will of a despotic king, to the task of extinguishing the laws and rights of a great nation, with the same unhesitating and unswerving resolution, Yet there is scarcely an historian who does not lament his death, as unwarranted by the nature of his offence; Clarendon bewails his fate as the victim of popular rage and royal weakness, yet there is every reason to believe that he voted for his death, for his name is not to be found in the list of the Straffordian dissentients; Hume pronounces his execution an enormity greater than the worst he had himself committed; Lingard thinks the propriety of his punishment has been justly questioned; and even Knight thinks he ought not to have been put to death. We cannot hold that opinion. So long as capital punishment shall be deemed necessary at all, we must believe that of Strafford was most righteously deserved, If treason against a king, who is but a servant to a nation, be a heinous offence, how much more so must be treason against a nation, Treason against a king is treason against an individual or family, treason against a nation is treason against millions and against all their posterity. The tendency of statesmen is to flatter and serve kings at the expense of the people; therefore the more strictly should their offences against the people be denounced and punished For Strafford's monstrous and unmitigated popular treason, we have only to look at his actions and read his own avowal in the Strafford papers. He had told Charles that he "would make him as absolute a king as any prince in the world could be." He set about to corrupt, intimidate, and mould the Irish parliament into his obsequious tool. He seized on vast estates in the province of Connaught, on pretence that they had been forfeited to the crown. He summoned juries to decide on the king's right to them, telling them that if they brought in any other verdict, "he would fine them at a sound rate;" and when they were not conformable, he dragged them into his star-chamber - the castle-chamber - fined them four thousand pounds apiece, and marched troops into Galway to seize on the estates of such as resisted the king's will. Having by these means raised a revenue, with that he raised an army to keep them down, and offered to carry that army to crush the liberty and religion of the Scots; nor did he mean to stop there, but, as he said, to carry the same process to England, and make the king absolute. All this time he was encouraging Laud in his like work in England, and Laud encouraging him in what they called their "Thorough;" thorough extinction of all law but the royal will. He told the king that liaying got from the judges a declaration of the lawfulness of ship-money, he had got a great thing; but that still the crown would only stand on one leg unless he got the like power declared for raising a standing army; and asked, "What should deter a king from a path which so manifestly, so directly led to the establishment of his throne, and the secure and independent seating of himself and posterity in wealth, strength, and glory, far above any of their progenitors; verily in such a condition, as there was no more hereafter to be wished them in this world?" And Laud wrote back, "Go on, in God's name!" After that, to doubt the justice of Stafford's punishment, is to commit treason against right, and the lives and liberties of our fellow men ourselves.

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