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Reign of Charles I. page 8


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Under these circumstances Buckingham displayed all the wavering confusion of mind which characterises an inefficient commander. One day he was ready to comply with the written requisition of the officers of the army to abandon the siege; the next, he determined to stay and assault the place. This state of miserable vacillation was terminated by the arrival of the earl of Holland on the 27th of October, with fifteen hundred men; and the Rochellais sending eight hundred more, it was resolved to make a general assault on the place. On the 6th of November this assault began, but the cannonade produced no effect on the adamantine works and solid walls of the fort; the slaughter of the troops on all sides was terrible, and the attempt was abandoned, Buckingham then wished himself safe on board his fleet; but unfortunately for him and his army, the marshal Schomberg had now posted himself with a strong force on the island betwixt him and his vessels. He had occupied and garrisoned Fort Free, which Buckingham had so imprudently left in his rear, and compelled him now to defile his army along a narrow causeway across the marshes, connecting the small island of Oie with that of Rhe. Nothing could demonstrate more forcibly the utter incompetence of Buckingham for military command than thus suffering the enemy to land and lodge in the line of his retreat. Schomberg now attacked the defiling troops with his ordnance, and the cavalry in the rear. The cavalry was thrown into confusion, and the pressure and disorder on the causeway became frightful; the artillery played upon them with dreadful effect, and numbers were pushed off into the bordering bogs and salt pits and suffocated. The destruction soon amounted to twelve hundred men, and twenty pair of colours were taken. There was no want of courage exhibited by either Buckingham or his men. Courage, it has been well said, was the sole qualification for a general which he possessed; he was the last to leave the beach; and the men once off the causeway, turned resolutely and offered battle to Schomberg. But that prudent general was satisfied to let them go away, which they prepared to do, to the utter consternation of the people of Rochelle, who had risen on the strength of their promises, and were now exposed to a formidable army under the command of Gaston, duke of Orleans, and Schomberg,

A really good general, though he had suffered considerable loss, would still have thrown himself into Rochelle, and with the sea kept open by his fleet for supplies, might have yet done signal service in defence of the place. But Buckingham was no such general. He determined to withdraw, contemplating another enterprise equally impossible to him as the taking of the citadel of St. Martin. He had an idea of the glory and popularity of recovering Calais, and communicated this notable project to the king. Charles was charmed with the project, and as he had assured Buckingham that he had done wonders, and almost impossibilities on the island of Rhe, so he anticipated an equally splendid result: this in any other man except Charles, would have looked like bitter irony. In the eyes of the more sensible officers of the fleet and army, the notion of attempting the surprise of Calais with a reduced and defeated force, and such a general, was scouted as madness. Buckingham turned the prows of his fleet homewards, and arrived towards the end of November, The fleet and army were indignant at the disgraceful management of the campaign,; the people at home were equally so at the waste of public money, and the ruin of national honour; but Charles received Buckingham with undiminished affection, and took to himself the blame of the failure of the expedition, because he had not been able to send sufficient reinforcements and provisions. But he was not long suffered to run on without an impressive reminder of the consequences of this scandalously managed attempt. The people of Rochelle sent over envoys to represent to him their condition, in consequence of listening to his promises; the French were beleaguering their town, and the most terrible fate awaited them if they were thus deceived and abandoned. Charles gave them comfortable words, and entered into a solemn engagement to stand by them so long as their forts could resist the enemy, and to make no peace without the guarantee of all their ancient liberties.

But how were these grandiloquous words to be redeemed? He had exhausted all the resources of his arbitrary exactions, and had incurred an additional amount of unpopularity by seizing and imprisoning numbers of those who refused to submit to a forced loan; and when they demanded a fair hearing through the exercise of the habeas corpus, they were told that the king's command superseded that. The crown lawyers, in. fact, vaunted the royal will as the supreme law, whilst Selden, Coke, and the constitutional lawyers referred them to Magna Charta, which had been thirty times confirmed by the kings, and thus aroused a wonderful feeling of popular right in the kingdom.

Whilst such was the state of public feeling, the usual pressure for money rendered it necessary to adopt some means of raising it. Besides the requirements of the home government, the proposed aid to the people of Rochelle made immediate funds necessary. To attempt extorting supplies by the modes which had so exasperated the public, was a course which all reasonable men regarded with repugnance and apprehension. Charles himself would have braved any danger rather than that of meeting parliament, with all its remonstrances and demands of redress of public grievances; but his council urged him to make another trial of the commons, and he consented. The writs were issued on the 29th of January, for the assembling of parliament on the 17th of March. Yet in the course of that very week the king proceeded to repeat the very conduct which parliament had so strongly condemned, and which must render its meeting the more formidable. He required one hundred and seventy-three thousand four hundred and eleven pounds for the outfit of the expedition to Rochelle, and instead of waiting a grant from parliament, Charles ordered the money to be raised by a commission from the counties, and that within three weeks. With that irritating habit which he had inherited from his father, he added a menace, saying that if they paid this tax cheerfully, he would meet his parliament; if not, "he would think of some more speedy way."

Conduct so restless and insulting on the very eve of the opening of parliament, raised the wildest ferment in the public: the commissioners shrank in terror from their task, and Charles hastened to revoke the commission saying that "lie would rely on the love of his people in parliament." This was on the 16th of February, but like Pharaoh, Charles repented himself of his momentary concession, and on the 28th he issued an order to raise the money which the counties had refused, by a duty on merchandise. The merchants were, however, not a whit more willing to submit to an illegal imposition, nor more timid than the counties; the ministers trembled before the storm, and anticipated certain impeachment; the judges pronounced the duty illegal, and once more Charles recalled his order.

What rendered the public more sensitive to these acts of royal licence was, that a number of foreign troops were about to be brought into the kingdom, on the plea of employing them against France, but which the people saw might be turned against themselves or their representatives, They were, therefore, worked up to a pitch of extreme excitement, and bestirred themselves to send up to the house of commons a body of such men as should not be readily intimidated. Never before had parliament assembled under such favourable circumstances. Daring as had been the king's assaults on the public liberties, this had only served to rouse the nation to a resolute resolve to withstand his contempt of Magna Charta at all hazards. Westminster elected one Bradshaw, a brewer, and Maurice, a grocer. Huntingdon sent up a far more remarkable man, one Oliver Cromwell, the first time that he had been returned to parliament from any place. There was a general enthusiasm to turn out all such members as had been inert, indifferent, or ready to betray their trusts out of terror or a leaning towards the court. When the members assembled the house was crowded; there were four hundred such men as had rarely sate in any English parliament before. Both county and town had selected such brave, patriotic, and substantial freeholders, merchants, and traders, as made sycophants and time-servers tremble. They were no longer the timid commons who had formerly scarcely dared to look the lords or even the knights in the face; they were well aware of their power, and in wealth itself they were said to be three times superior to the house of peers. In running his eye over them, a spectator would see such men as Cromwell, Hampden, Selden, Pym, Hollis, Elliot, Dudley Digges, Coke, Wentworth (soon to apostatise), and others, with intellects illumined by the study of the orators, lawgivers, and philosophers of republican Greece, animated with the great principles of Christianity, and with resolutions like iron. Many of these men had been attended to London by trains of their neighbours, sturdy freeholders and substantial shopkeepers, more numerous than the retinues of any lords, such was the intense expectation of what might ensue, and the prompt resolve to stand by their representatives. And they were not deceived, for this third parliament of Charles I. marked itself out as one of the great land-marks of our history.

The king was conscious that if he hoped to gain his great object from them - money - he must curb his haughty temper, and assume a conciliating manner. He therefore, just before the opening of the session, liberated seventy-eight gentlemen who had been imprisoned for refusing to pay the forced loan; he let the earl of Bristol out of the Tower, though he lay under an impeachment for high treason; accorded the same favour to bishop Williams, whom Buckingham had caused to be lodged there; and restored archbishop Abbott who had been suspended for refusing to license Sibthorpe's base sermon. But when he had made all these concessions to popular opinion, Charles could not command his inveterate habit of threatening, and so spoilt all. In his opening speech he said: - "I have called you together, judging a parliament to be the ancient, speediest, and best way to give such supply as to secure ourselves and save our friends from imminent ruin. Every man must now do according to his conscience; wherefore, if you, which God forbid, should not do your duties in contributing what this state at this time needs, I must, in discharge of my conscience, use those other means which God hath put into my hands, to save that which the follies of other men may otherwise hazard to lose. Take not this as threatening - I scorn to threaten any but my equals - but as an admonition from him that, both out of nature and duty, hath most care of your preservation and properties."

This was followed by an equally impolitic speech of the lord keeper Coventry, who informed the commons that the king had come to parliament, not because it was at all necessary, not because he was destitute of other means, but because it was more agreeable to the goodness of his most gracious disposition. And then added, "If this be deferred, necessity and the sword may make way for others. Remember his majesty's admonition; I say, remember it."

Surely if the veriest novices in government had been set to talk to parliament, they could not have done it in a more insane, blundering style. If the commons had had as little tact as the king and his minister, there would have been hard words hurled back again, and the parliament would have been not many days ere it had ceased to exist. But the commons had men as profound as these were shallow. They took all patiently, and set about quietly to determine on the question of supplies. They came to the resolution to offer ample ones - no less than five subsidies, the whole to be paid within one year - but they tagged this simple condition to them, that the king should give them a guarantee against any further invasion of their rights.

As we have already stated, during the past year many gentlemen had been imprisoned for refusing to pay the demands of the king made without sanction of parliament. Five of them had been, at their own request, brought before the King's Bench by writ of habeas corpus, and their counsel demanded that, as they were charged with no particular offence, but merely committed at the particular command of the king, they should be discharged or admitted to bail; but both were refused. The question was now discussed by the house, and it was resolved that no subsidy should pass without a remedy granted against this royal licence. "It will in us be wrong done to ourselves," said Sir Francis Seymour, "to our posterity, to our consciences, if we forego this just claim and pretension."

"We must vindicate what?" demanded Wentworth; "new things? No; our ancient, legal, and vital liberties, by enforcing the laws enacted by our ancestors; by setting such a stamp upon them that no licentious spirit shall dare henceforth to invade them." In the repeated debates which followed. Sir Edward Coke particularly distinguished himself, old as he was, by his powerful and undaunted speeches. He called upon the members to stand by the ancient laws, and was stoutly seconded by other members, who narrated the infringement of those laws by the abuses of raising money by loans, by benevolences, and privy seals; by billeting soldiers, and imprisonment of men for refusing these illegal demands, and their refusal of the benefit of the habeas corpus. In vain were the speakers warned by the court party to beware of distrusting the king, who had been driven to these measures by necessity, and by others, who declared that such was the king's goodness that it was next only to that of God. But Coke cried out, "Let us work whilst we have time! I am absolutely for giving supply to his majesty, but yet with some caution. Let us not flatter ourselves. Who will give subsidies if the king may impose what he will? I know he is a religious king, free from personal vices, but he deals with other men's hands, and sees with other men's eyes."

This was approaching the subject of the favourite, which even the boldest were afraid of touching, but which Coke soon after entered upon plainly, and with all courage.

On the 8th of May the house passed the four following resolutions, without a dissentient voice even from the courtiers - 1st, That no freeman ought to be restrained or imprisoned, unless some lawful cause of such restraint or imprisonment be expressed. 2nd, That the writ of habeas corpus ought to be granted to every man imprisoned or restrained, though it be at the command of the king or privy council, if lie pray for the same. 3rd, That when the return expresses no cause of commitment or restraint, the party ought to be delivered or bailed. 4th. That it is the ancient and undoubted right of every free man, that he hath a full and absolute property in his goods and estates, and that no tax, loan, or benevolence ought to be levied by the king or his ministers, without common consent by act of parliament.

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Pictures for Reign of Charles I. page 8

Charles I.
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