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Reign of Charles I. page 33

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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,

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.

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