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Reign of Charles I. page 4


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The ceremony of the coronation itself was destitute of any national joy. Charles had alarmed the religious feelings of the nation, and had already infected his subjects with want of faith in him. Laud, who was in high favour with both Charles and Buckingham, was a conspicuous object on the occasion, and had made several alterations in the service, and composed a new prayer; all his changes tending to that exaltation of church and state for which he lived, and for which he lost his head. Buckingham was lord constable for the day, another circumstance calculated to find no favour with the people. In ascending the steps of the throne, instead of giving his right hand to the king, he gave him his left, which Charles put by with his right hand, and assisted the duke, saying, "I have as much need to help you as you to help me." Nor was this the only strange thing observed on the occasion. Archbishop Abbot, who performed the ceremony of anointing, was regarded by many as still not canonical, on account of his accidentally killing the king's keeper whilst hunting, although he had received absolution. He performed the act of anointing behind a screen raised for the purpose, so much was the puritans' disapprobation of this ceremony dreaded; and when the archbishop presented the king to the people as their rightful king, and called upon them to testify their consent by their general acclamation, there was a dead silence. Lord Arundel, the earl marshal, hastened to bid them shout, and cry "God save the king," but the response was but very faint and partial.

With the knowledge of a discontented people, Charles went to meet his parliament, and this consciousness would, in a monarch capable of taking a solemn warning, have operated to produce conciliation, at least of tone; but Charles was one of that class of men who suggested the striking words to the Latin fatalist that, He whom God intends to destroy he first drives mad. Accordingly, he opened the sitting with a curt speech, referring them to that of the new lord keeper Coventry, which was in the worst possible taste. He said, "If we consider aright, and think of the incomparable distance between the supreme height and majesty of a mighty monarch, and the submissive awe and lowliness of loyal subjects, we cannot but receive exceeding comfort and contentment in the frame and constitution of this highest court, wherein not only prelates, nobles, and grandees, but the commons of all degrees have their part; and wherein that high majesty doth descend to admit, or rather to invite, the humblest of his subjects to conference and council with him."

Of all language this was, in the temper of the commons, the most adapted to incense them. Such talk of the condescension of the crown, at the moment when they were entering on a desperate conflict with it for curbing the prerogative, only the more stimulated their resolution to their task. They immediately formed themselves into three committees; one of religion, a second of grievances, and a third of evils. They again, by the committee of religion, canvassed the subject of popery; resolving to enact still severer laws against it, as the origin of many of the worst evils that afflicted the nation. They summoned schoolmasters from various and remote parts of the kingdom, and put searching questions to them, as to the doctrines which they held and taught to their scholars; and every member of the house was called upon in turn to denounce all persons in authority or office, known to them as holding the tenets of the ancient faith. In fact, in their vehement zeal for religious liberty, the zealots of the house were on the highway to extinguish every spark of toleration, and to convert the house of commons into an inquisition, instead of the bulwark of popular right.

They again summoned Dr. Montague to redeem his bail, and receive punishment on account of his book, in which they charged him with having admitted that the church of Rome was the true church, and that the articles on which the two churches did not agree were of minor importance. Laud advocated the cause of Montague at court, for he was of precisely the same opinions, and urged the king and Buckingham to protect him. But both Charles and the favourite saw too many difficulties in their own way to care to interfere in defence of the chaplain. They left him to his fate, and he would have been, no doubt, severely dealt with, had not higher matters seized the attention of the house, and caused the offending churchman to become overlooked.

This was the impeachment of Buckingham. The committee of grievances had drawn up, after a tedious investigation, a list of sixteen grievances, consisting of such as had so often been warmly debated in the last reign; the most prominent of which they regarded the practice of purveyance, by which the officers of the household still collected provisions at a fixed price for sixty miles round the court, and the illegal conduct of the lord treasurer, who went on collecting tonnage and poundage, though unsanctioned by parliament. They charged the maintenance of these evils to the advice and influence of a "great delinquent" at court; who had, moreover, occasioned all the disgraces to the national flag, both by land and sea, which had for some years occurred, and who ought to be punished accordingly.

The time was now actually arriving of which James had warned his son and Buckingham, when they urged the impeachment of the earl of Middlesex, but choosing to forget all that, Charles sent down word to the house that he did not allow any of his servants to be called in question by them, especially such as were of eminence and near unto his person. He remarked that of old the desire of subjects had been to know what they should do with him whom the king delighted to honour, but their desire now appeared to be to do what they could against him whom the king honoured. That they aimed at the duke of Buckingham, he said, he saw clearly, and he wondered much what had produced such a change since the former parliament; assuring them that the duke had taken no step but by his order and consent; and he concluded by desiring them to hasten the question of supply, "or it would be worse for them."

On the 29th of March he repeated the menace; but the commons went on preparing their charges against Buckingham, declaring that it was the undoubted right of parliament to inquire into the proceedings of persons of any estate whatever, who had been found dangerous to the commonwealth, and had abused the confidence reposed in them by the crown.

Seeing them bent on proceeding, Charles sent down to the house the lord keeper, to acquaint them with his majesty's express command that they should cease this inquiry, or that he would dissolve them; and Sir Dudley Carleton, who had been much employed as ambassador to foreign states, and had recently returned from France, warned them not to make the king out of love with parliaments, and then drew a most deplorable picture of the state of those countries where such had come to be the case. In all Christian countries, he said, there were formerly parliaments; but the monarchs, weary of their turbulence, had broken them up, except in this kingdom; and now he represented the miserable subjects as resembling spectres rather than men, miserably clad, meagre of body, and wearing wooden shoes.

This caricature of foreigners, had it been true, was the very thing to make the commons cling to their freedom, and keep their affairs in their own hands; and as such arguments had no effect, Charles summoned the house to the bar of the lords, and there addressed to them a most royal reproof, letting them know that it depended entirely on him whether he would call and when he would dismiss parliament, and, therefore, as they conducted themselves so should he act. Their very existence depended, he assured them, on his will.

This was language which might have done in the mouth of Henry VIII., who by the possession of the vast plunder of the church had made himself independent of parliaments, and trod on them at his pleasure; but the times and circumstances were entirely changed. The commons had learned their power and the king's weakness, and would no longer tolerate the insolence of despotism. They returned to their own house, and, to show that they were about to discuss the king's speech in a spirit -which admitted of no interruption or interference, they locked the door, and put the key in the hands of Sir John Finch, their speaker. This ominous proceeding struck terror into the king, and a conference with the upper house was proposed and accepted. There Buckingham endeavoured to smooth down the royal speeches and messages into something like a bearable and constitutional shape, and to defend his own conduct. But by this time the committee of evils, causes and remedies, had come to the conclusion that the only mode of preventing the recurrence of such mal-administration as Buckingham had been guilty of, was to impeach and punish him. The house accordingly passed a resolution to that effect on the 8th of May.

As if Charles were actually inspired by madness, at this moment, when he needed all the assistance of the peers to screen his favourite from the impeachment of the commons, he made a direct attack on their privileges. Lord Arundel, the earl marshal, had given some offence to Buckingham, and was well known to be decidedly hostile to him. As he possessed six proxies, it was thought a grand stroke of policy to get him out of the house at the approaching impeachment; and a plea was not long wanting. Arundel's son, lord Maltravers, had married a daughter of the duke of Lennox without consent of the king, and as Lennox was of blood-royal, this was deemed offence enough to involve Arundel himself. He was charged with not having prevented it, but he replied, that the match had been made unknown to him; that it had been secretly planned betwixt the mothers of the young people. This was not admitted, and Arundel was arrested by a royal warrant, and lodged in the Tower. The real offender, if real offence there were, was Maltravers, but it was Arundel's absence which was wanted. The lords, however, took up the matter as an infringement of their privileges; they passed a resolution that "no lord of parliament, the parliament sitting, or within the usual times of privilege of parliament, is to be imprisoned or restrained, without sentence or order of the house, unless it be for treason or felony, or for refusing to give surety for the peace."

They sent an address to Charles demanding Arundel's immediate liberation; he returned an evasive answer: they sent a second address; Charles then ordered the attorney-general to plead the royal prerogative, and to declare the earl marshal as personally offensive to the king, and as dangerous to the state. The peers would not admit the plea, but passed a resolution to suspend all business till their colleague was set at large; and after a contest of three months the king was forced to yield, and the earl marshal resumed his seat in the house amid cheers and acclamations.

But this most imprudent conflict with the peers had another and still more damaging result. The earl of Bristol, who had been so unjustly and ungraciously received, or rather, not received, on his return from his Spanish embassy, to enable Buckingham and Charles to maintain their charge against Spain, had remained an exile from court and parliament, but not without keeping a watchful eye on the progress of events. He was not a man to sit down quietly under misrepresentation and injury; and now, seeing that the peers had roused themselves from their subserviency, and were prepared to take vengeance on the common enemy, he complained to the house of peers that, as one of their order, and possessed of all their privileges, his writ of summons to parliament had been wrongfully withheld. To have withstood this demand at this moment, might have led to a dangerous excitement. The writ was therefore immediately issued, but Bristol at the same time received a private letter, charging him on pain, of the king's high displeasure not to attempt to take his place. The earl at once forwarded the letter to the peers, requesting their advice upon it, on the ground that it affected their rights, being a case which might reach any other of them, and demanding that he might be permitted to take his seat in order to accuse the man who, to screen his own high crimes and misdemeanours, had for years deprived of his liberty and right a peer of the realm.

This alarming claim of the earl's struck both the king and Buckingham with terror; and to prevent, if possible, the menaced charge, the attorney-general was instantly despatched to the lords to prefer a plea of high treason against Bristol But the peers were not thus to be circumvented. They replied that Bristol's accusation was first laid, and must be first heard; and that without the counter-charge being held to prejudice his testimony, Bristol, thus at liberty to speak out, proceeded to town and to the house of peers in triumph, his coach drawn by eight horses, caparisoned in cloth of gold or tissue; and Buckingham, as if to present a contrast of modesty, a quality wholly alien to his nature, drove thither in an old carriage with only three footmen and no retinue.

Bristol charged him with having concerted with Gondomar to inveigle the prince of Wales into Spain, in order to procure his conversion to popery prior to his marriage with the Infanta; with having complied with popish ceremonies himself; with having, whilst at Madrid, disgraced the king, his country, and himself, by his contempt of all decency, and the vileness of his profligacy. He stated that, "As for the scandal given by his behaviour, as also his employing his power with the king of Spain for the procuring of favours and offices, which he conferred on base and unworthy persons, for the recompense and hire of his lust - these things, as neither fit for the earl of Bristol to speak, nor, indeed, for the house to hear, he leaveth to your lordships' wisdoms how far it will please you to have them examined." He went on to charge him with breaking off the treaty of marriage solely through resentment, because the Spanish ministers, disgusted with his conduct, refused any negotiation with so infamous a person; and that, on his return, he had deceived both king and parliament by a most false statement. All tins the earl pledged himself to prove by written documents and other most undeniable evidence.

Instead of Buckingham attempting to clear himself as an innocent man so blackened by terrible charges would, it was sought to deprive the testimony of Bristol of all value by making him a criminal and a traitor to the king whilst his representative in Spain. Charles went so far as to send the lord keeper Coventry, a most pliant courtier, to inform the lords that he would of his own knowledge clear the duke, the duke himself reserving his defence till after the impeachment by the commons. Charles not only guaranteed to vindicate Buckingham, but accused Bristol of making a direct charge against himself, inasmuch as he himself had been with Buckingham all the time in Spain, and had verified his narrative on his return. The peers passed this royal charge courageously by; and Charles then ordered the cause betwixt Bristol and Buckingham to be removed from the peers to the court of King's Bench; but the lords would not permit such an. infringement of their privileges. They put these questions themselves to the judges - "Whether the king could be a witness in a case of treason? And whether, in Bristol's case, he could be a witness at all, admitting the treason done with his privity?" The king sent the judges an order not to answer these questions, and in the midst of these proceedings the charges against Bristol were heard, and answered by him with a spirit and clearness which appeared perfectly satisfactory to the house. The charges against him amounted to this: - That he had falsely assured James of the sincerity of the Spanish cabinet; had concurred in a plan for inducing the prince to change his religion; that he had endeavoured to force the marriage on Charles by delivering the procuration; and had given the lie to his present sovereign by declaring false what he had vouched in Buckingham's statement to be true. These were so palpably untenable positions that the house ordered Bristol's answer to be entered on the journals, and there left the matter.

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Pictures for Reign of Charles I. page 4

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