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Reign of Charles I. page 34

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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.

The fall of Strafford carried terror through the court. Many began to think of flying while it was time. Cottington had given up his office of master of the wards, and lord Save and various other noblemen of the popular party were introduced into the ministry. The marquis of Hertford was made governor to the prince, the earl of Essex lord chamberlain, the earl of Leicester the lord-lieutenant of Ireland, in place of Strafford. The king was wholly averse to the new ministers, but hoped to win upon them as he had done upon Strafford, Loudon, and Montrose; and indeed, after their appointment, a bolder and more independent spirit seemed to awaken in the lords. They threw out several bills sent up from the commons, amongst others, one for excluding the bishops from their house. Essex, though a great reformer, was by no means averse to the hierarchy, and always obliged his servants to accompany him to church, and kept a chaplain who was a thorough conformist. The lords did not object to the bishops and clergy in general being excluded from the star-chamber, the privy council, and the commissions of the peace; but they contended that bishops had always formed a part of their body, and that the commons might next take it into their heads to exclude barons.

The commons, however- pressed on the lords a bill for the abolition of the two greatest engines of tyranny in the country, the star-chamber and the High Commission Court, and these, with another for a poll-tax for the maintenance of the armies. The lords passed them, but Charles hesitated. He had given up much this session: the right of prorogation without consent of parliament, thus making parliament perpetual if it pleased; the right to demand tonnage and poundage without the same consent; he had limited the forest laws; granted to the judges their places during good behaviour; and withdrawn the commission for the presidency of the north as illegal. But to give up the civil and ecclesiastical inquisitions, those ready and terrible torture houses of the crown, went hard with him. The poll-tax he passed at once, because he thought it would be unpopular, but he refused the others. The commons came to a resolution that he should pass all three or none; and the tone of both parliament and the public was so menacing, that on the 5th of July he gave his consent, and put an end to those un-English abominations.

The terror of the court was on the increase. Mary de Medici, the queen's mother, was glad to get away, the only obstacle being the want of money; but the commons, glad to be rid of her, granted her ten thousand pounds, with which she departed, and got as far as Cologne, where she died shortly after. The earl of Arundel went with the queen-mother as her escort, and remained abroad collecting antiquities and works of art and science in Italy. The queen herself made another attempt to escape from the dangerous vicinity of parliament, and begged to be allowed to accompany her mother, and to seek the restoration of her health, which it was alleged had suffered much from anxiety, and from rumours and libels about her. To this, however, parliament was too prudent to consent, knowing well that Henrietta's real design was to arouse a spirit of sympathy for the king in France, and bring aid from that quarter, A deputation of both houses, therefore, waited on her to dissuade her from this intention, promising all means at home for the benefit of her health, and she graciously acquiesced.

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