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Reign of Charles I. page 5

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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.

But now the impeachment of Buckingham by the commons was brought up to the lords. It consisted of thirteen articles; the principal of which were that he had not only enriched himself with several of the highest offices of the state which had never before been held by one and the same person, but had purchased for money those of high admiral and warden of the Cinque Ports; had in those offices culpably neglected the trade and the security of the coasts of the country; had perverted to his own use the revenues of the crown; had filled the court and dignities of the land with a host of his indigent relations; had put a squadron of English ships into the hands of the French, and on the other hand, by detaining for his own use a vessel belonging to the king of France, had provoked him to make reprisals on British merchants; had extorted ten thousand pounds from the East India Company; and even charged him with being accessory to the late king's death, by administering medicine contrary to the advice of the royal physicians.

Eight managers were appointed by the commons to conduct the impeachment - Sir Dudley Digges, Sir John Elliot, Serjeant Glanville, Selden, Whitelock, Pym, Herbert, and Wandsford. Digges opened the case, and was followed by Glanville, Selden, and Pym. Whilst these gentlemen were speaking and detailing the ground charges against him, Buckingham, confident in the power and will of the king to protect him, displayed the most impudent recklessness, laughing and jesting at the orators and their arguments. Serjeant Glanville, on one occasion, turned brusquely on him, and exclaimed, "My lord, do you jeer at me? Are these things to be jeered at? My lord, I can show you when a man of a greater blood than your lordship, as high in place and power, and as deep in the favour of the king as you, hath been hanged for as small a crime as the least of these articles contain."

Sir John Elliot wound up the charge, and compared Buckingham to Sejanus; as proud, insolent, rapacious, an accuser of others, a base adulator, and tyrant by turns, and one who conferred commands and offices on his dependents, "Ask England, Scotland, and Ireland," exclaimed Sir John, "and they will tell you whether this man doth not the like. Sejanus's pride was so excessive, as Tacitus saith, that lie neglected all counsel, mixed his business and service with the prince, and was often styled imperatoris laborum sodas. My lords," he said, "I have done. You seethe man, by him came all the evils; in him we find the cause; on him we expect the remedies."

The direct inference that if Buckingham was a Sejanus the king was a Tiberius, and a rumour that Elliot and Digges had hinted that in the death of the late king there was a greater than Buckingham behind, transported Charles with rage, and urged him on one more of those acts of aggression which ultimately brought him to actual battle with his parliament. He had the two offending members called out of the house as if the king required their presence, when they were seized and sent to the Tower. This outrage on the persons of their fellow members and delegated prosecutors, came like a thunder-clap on the house. There was instantly a vehement cry of "Rise! rise! rise!" The house was in a state of the highest ferment.

Charles hurried to the house of lords to denounce the imputations cast upon him, and to defend Buckingham; and Buckingham stood by his side whilst he spoke. He declared that he had punished some insolent speeches, and that it was high time, for that he had been too lenient. He would give his evidence to clear Buckingham, he said, in every one of the articles, and he would suffer no one with impunity to charge himself with having any concern in the death of his father. But all this bravado was wasted on the commons: again with closed doors they discussed the violation of their privileges, and resolved to proceed with no further business till their members should be discharged. In a few days this was done, and the house passed a resolution that the two members had only discharged their bounden duty.

At this crisis the earl of Suffolk died, leaving vacant the chancellorship of the University of Cambridge; and Charles, with that perversity which proved his ruin, seized on the opportunity to mark his friendship for Buckingham, and thus to stamp his opinion of the proceedings of the commons, to confer the honour on him. The news of Suffolk's death reached the palace early on Sunday morning, and the next day, about noon, Dr. Wilson, chaplain to Montague, lord bishop of London, arrived in Cambridge, bringing a verbal message from the bishop that the king desired the heads of houses to appoint the duke. These facile gentlemen were very ready to comply, but the fellows and younger members declared that the heads had no more to do with it than they had, and forthwith nominated Howard, earl oi Berkshire, without waiting for his consent. On Tuesday morning, however, the bishop of London, with Mason, the duke's secretary, and a Mr. Cozens, arrived with the king's mandate for choosing Buckingham. Then there was a violent strife, the heads of houses and the bishop persuading and intimidating the fellows, and to such effect that at length the election of the favourite was carried by a mere majority of three. There was but one doctor who dared to vote against the duke; and many of the fellows who were utterly opposed to him, hired horses, and rode off out of the way to avoid importunity. Great was the triumph of the royal party when the event was announced. Buckingham presented the messenger who brought him the news with a fine gold chain, and sent by him a letter of thanks from himself, and another from the king, in which he told the heads of houses and the fellows who had voted for the duke that they should be rewarded for it, and that he would ever testify Buckingham worthy of their election. On the other hand, the house of commons passed a resolution that the election of a man under impeachment by them, was an insult to the house, and ordered this resolution to be communicated to the heads of houses, and that they should be called up to answer for their conduct. The king sent them word not to stir in this business, which, he said, belonged not to them but to him; but this resolve was only delayed by the proceedings against Buckingham.

On the 8th of June, a week after his election as chancellor of the University of Cambridge, he opened his defence in the house of lords. In this he had been assisted by Sir Nicholas Hyde. He divided the charges against him into three classes: such as were utterly unfounded in fact; such as might be true but did not affect him; and lastly, such as he had merely been the servant of the king or the executive in. In all the circumstances which could be proved, he merely acted in obedience to the late or the present king, with one exception, the purchase of the office of warden of the Cinque Ports, which he admitted that he had purchased, but which he thought might be excused on the ground of public utility. As to the grave charge of the delivery of the king's ships to the French admiral, he did not mean to go into it, not but that he could prove his own innocence in the affair, but that he was bound not to reveal the secrets of the state; and he pleaded a pardon which had been granted by the king on the 10th of February, that is, four days after the opening of the present parliament.

Thus Charles had kept his word: he had allowed the duke to throw the total responsibility of his deeds on himself, and he had granted him a pardon by anticipation, to forestall the conclusions of parliament. This defence by no means satisfied the commons, and they proceeded to reply; but in this they were stopped short by the king, who the very next day sent a message to the speaker, desiring the house to hasten and come at once to the subject of supply, or that he Would "take other resolutions." The commons set themselves, without loss of time, to prepare a remonstrance in strong terms, praying for the dismissal of the favourite; but whilst employed upon it, they were suddenly summoned to the upper house, where they found commissioners appointed to pronounce the dissolution of parliament. Anticipating this movement, the speaker had carried the resolutions of remonstrance in his hand, and before the commissioners could declare parliament dissolved, the speaker held up the paper and declared its contents. The lords, on this, apprehending unpleasant consequences, sent to implore Charles to a short delay, but received the king's energetic answer - "No, not for one minute! "

Thus terminated this remarkable parliament, the second of this reign: such a session as had never before been witnessed in this country. From first to last the actions of Charles were like those of a man driven from his right reason by passion; and the conduct of the commons as the result of a settled determination to maintain its rights; which boded far more than any eye or mind could foresee, but which we, who live after the conflict, perceive clearly to be the commencement of that unexampled warfare which will for evermore display its great lesson to the nations. Charles was the blind maniac of prerogative, - blind to all signs in heaven and in earth; blind to the lurid lights of the lowering sky; deaf to the mutterings of the tempest rising hourly around him. The commons were the steadfast rock rooted in the soul of the people, and impassable to the shocks of regal rage.

Charles was left by his own wild agency to try how his fancied right divine would furnish him funds to discharge his debts at home and his obligations abroad. That he was not insensible to his danger, or to the price which he had paid for the support of his favourite, is made plain to us by Meade, the careful chronicler of the time. "The duke," lie says, "being in the bed-chamber private with the king, his majesty was overheard, as they say, to use these words: - 'What can I do more? I have engaged mine honour to mine uncle of Denmark and other princes. I have, in a manner, lost the love of my subjects, and what wouldst thou have me do?' Whence some think the duke meant the king to dissolve the parliament."

But however he might feel this, he was in no disposition to take warning; the spirit and the inculcations of his father worked in him victorious over any better instincts. It was hard for the descendant of a hundred kings, who from age to age had trampled carelessly on popular rights, to give up that comfortable ascendancy to the people. Thousands of men had been arraigned and punished for high treason to kings, but for a king to be arraigned and punished for high treason against the people, could not enter into a kingly head, till such a head had fallen from the block. And towards this great lesson Charles was now driving as urged by a fate. Like the horse which pushes against the knife held to its breast, or the bull-dog which plucked the kettle from the fire because it spurted a boiling drop upon him, and died in a deadly scalding struggle with it, the courage of Charles rose doggedly, unchangeably, against all opposition and auguries, and would have been admirable had it not been exerted to annihilate the liberties of the nation for ever, to triumph over Magna Charta.

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