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Reign of Charles I. (Concluded.) page 9


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Instead of the house of commons sitting according to adjournment, on the 11th, the military councils, the select committee, and the general sate, and framed a new scheme of government. It was called "A new representative, or an agreement of the people. The composition was said to be Ireton's, but had probably been framed by Cromwell, Ireton, Peters, Vane, Pride, and the leading republicans. It was but an amplification of the late remonstrance; it proposed that the present parliament, which had now sate eight years, should be finally dissolved in April next, and a new one elected according to this formula. It declared that officers and malignants should be incapable of electing or being elected; that the house of commons should consist of three hundred members, and the representation of the country should be more equal. These propositions, having been sanctioned by the general council of soldiers and inferior officers, were carried to parliament. The commons went the next day and readily voted these measures, as well as that both the commons and lords, by violating the vote of non- addresses, had committed an act most unparliamentary and detrimental to- the kingdom, and that the treaty at Newport was a monstrous error, disgrace, and peril to the country. They again restored the order expelling the eleven presbyterian members from the house.

On the 16th a strong party of horse was despatched under colonel Harrison to remove the king thence to Windsor Castle. It was at midnight on the 18th when Harrison arrived, and the king was awoke from his sleep by the trampling of horses and the fall of the drawbridge. He was greatly alarmed at the occurrence in that solitary place, and early woke his servant Herbert, and demanded what it was. Herbert told him that it was the arrival of colonel Harrison which had occasioned the noise. At that name Charles turned pale, for he had been secretly informed that Harrison was appointed to assassinate him. He bade Herbert wait in the ante-room, and hastened into his closet to control his terrors by prayer. He was completely unmanned, and shed tears, saying, "I trust in God, who is my helper, but I would not be surprised; this is a place fit for such a purpose." After an hour he called in Herbert, and bade him go and learn the particulars, and on his return Herbert informed him that Harrison was only come to remove him to Windsor. This greatly relieved him, and on the morrow he set out under a strong escort. No Harrison appeared, for he had withdrawn again in the night, having arranged for the king's departure. At the entrance of Farnham, another body of horse appeared drawn up in good order, and at its head an officer gallantly mounted and armed. He wore a montier cap, a buff coat, and a rich fringed crimson sash about his waist. As the king rode by at an easy pace, as one who delighted in seeing men well mounted and armed, the officer gave the monarch a military obeisance, which Charles politely acknowledged.

On inquiring the name of this officer, it proved to be Harrison, and the king at once declared that he did not look like a murderer. Harrison was the son of a butcher near Nantwich, who had articled him to a lawyer, but at the breaking out of the war, being a decided independent, he took arms, and now was numbered amongst the trustiest officers of the army, and held scarcely inferior to Cromwell or Ireton. At the place where they stopped for the night, Charles took Harrison by the arm, and leading him to a window, told him candidly that he had been informed that he intended to assassinate him; to which Harrison replied, according to Clarendon, that "his majesty need not entertain any such apprehension or imagination - that the parliament had too much honour and justice to cherish so foul an intention; and assured him that whatever the parliament resolved to do, would be very public, and in a way of justice to which the world should be witness, and would never endure a thought of secret violence: which his majesty could not persuade himself to believe, nor did he imagine they durst ever produce him in the sight of the people under any form whatever of a public trial."

As they approached Bagshot, the king desired to stop and dine at lord Newburgh's, who had married the lady Aubigny, whose husband was killed at Edge Hill, to which Harrison reluctantly consented, first sending forward scouts to search the park and environs of the house, to ascertain that there was no force prepared for a surprise. A surprise was, indeed, intended, but of another kind. Lord and lady Newburgh had been corresponding with Charles in cipher, and had concocted the mad scheme of giving Charles a horse of unrivalled fleetness, on which, watching his opportunity, he could escape by dashing off and outriding his guard. He was to complain of his horse being lame or sluggish, and to say at Bagshot he would borrow another. But luckily for himself - as he might have been shot in attempting to escape, and thus have deprived history of one of its greatest lessons - the horse intended for him had received a severe kick, and lord Newburgh had no other horse fleeter than those on which the troopers were mounted. The king, therefore, seeing himself well watched, and every soldier riding with his pistol on cock, gave up the idea. At Windsor, where they arrived on the 23rd of December, Charles seemed to feel himself rather a king again than a prisoner. According to the earl of Leicester's journal in the Sydney Papers, he appeared as merry as usual, and declared that he had no fear. He made a jest of the proceedings in parliament for calling him to trial, saying that " he had yet three games to play, the least of which gave him hope of regaining all." These were probably still some secret plans of escape; the exertions of Holland in his favour, where the prince of Orange, at the instance of the prince of Wales, promised to intercede, and the plottings of Ormond in Ireland, for Sir John Temple says, "he has a strange conceit of Ormond's working for him. He still hangs upon that twig, and by the inquiries which he made after his and Inchiquin's conjunction, I see he will not be beaten off it." Sir John also notes that the king took no notice of the parliamentary proceedings, but "gave orders very lately for sowing the seed of some Spanish melons which he would have set at Wimbledon."

The strange infatuation of this most extraordinary monarch, has nothing like it short of insanity; still scheming, plotting, unconvinced of his danger to the end. On the very day that he reached Windsor, the house of commons, or the Rump fragment of it, appointed a committee of thirty-eight "to consider of drawing up a charge against the king, and all other delinquents that may be thought fit to bring to condign punishment." That, one would think, was a fearful vote, but it passed unheeded on the besotted king.. On the 1st of January, 1649, the committee made the following report: - "That the said Charles Stuart, being- admitted king of England, and therein trusted with a limited power to govern by and according to the laws of the land, and not otherwise; and by his trust, oath, and office, being obliged to use the power committed to him for the good and benefit of the people, and for the preservation of their rights and liberties; yet, nevertheless, out of a wicked design to erect and uphold in himself an unlimited and tyrannical power, to rule according to his will, and to overthrow the rights and liberties of the people; yea, to take away and make void the foundations thereof, and of all redress and remedy of misgovernment, which by the fundamental constitutions of this kingdom were reserved on the people's behalf, in the right and power of frequent and successive parliaments, or national meetings in council; he, the said Charles Stuart, for accomplishing of such his designs, and for the protecting of himself and his adherents in his and their wicked practices, to the same ends hath traitorously and maliciously levied war against the present parliament, and the people therein represented." The report, therefore, declared that he should be brought to judgment for his treason to the nation.

The next day the ordinance of the commons confirming the report was sent up to the lords, or at least to the few of them remaining, only amounting to about a dozen, who rejected it without a dissenting voice, and then adjourned. The commons immediately closed their doors, and passed a resolution that the commons of England in parliament assembled were, under God, the origin of all just power as the representatives of the people; that whatsoever they decreed was law, and did not require any concurrence from the lords.

But nothing was more notorious than that this junto of the commons was not the commons; was not the sole representatives of the people, but had forcibly turned out of doors the majority of those representatives; even if it were true, which it was not, that the consent of neither king nor lords was necessary to establish constitutional law. The whole was no longer a parliament or a constitution, but a revolution, and must be justified alone on the necessity of revolution, and of the national salvation no other way to be attained. The army, and not parliament, was the ruling power, and was seeking to introduce a form of government unknown to England through all past history, and by means equally unknown. Monarchs had been deposed, as Richard II., but that had been by a rival faction, and under the plea, though forced, of abdication. Bolingbroke had never presumed to try and execute a king as a traitor to the realm, and he remained an unquestionable usurper. The parliament was, therefore, now using means unknown to the constitution for an event equally unknown to it, and which, therefore, as we have said, could be justified by no constitutional principles or forms, but must stand on its own merits, appealing to the common sense of posterity for its justification. They had taken upon them to destroy the ancient constitution, and construct a new one, and its intrinsic merits could alone indemnify them to the world. The clinging to the old parliamentary power was but a concession to the prejudices of the public, and to abate somewhat the force of appearance in a violence, which, though they contended, and which we believe was an absolute necessity, was yet a violence beyond all historic precedent.

On the 6th of January the commons passed the ordinance for the trial of the king. By it they erected a high court of justice for trying him, and proceeding to judgment against him. It consisted of no less than a hundred and thirty-five commissioners, of whom twenty were to form a quorum. Amongst the commissioners named were Fairfax, Cromwell, Ireton, Harrison, Waller, Skippon, Walley, Pride, Ewer, Tomlinson, altogether three generals and thirty-four colonels of the army; there were three lords, Grey of Groby, Monson, and Lisle; most of the members of the Rump; aldermen Wilson, Pennington, Fawkes, and Andrews; Bradshaw, Thorpe, Nicholas, serjeants-at-law; twenty-two knights and baronets, besides some citizens and country gentlemen. Of these commissioners no more than eighty assembled. On the 8th, fifty assembled in the Painted Chamber, Fairfax at their head, and ordered that on the morrow the herald should proclaim the approaching trial, and invite all people to bring in what matters of fact they had against Charles Stuart. Accordingly that was done both at Westminster and in the city the same day, the 9th. The commons ordered the great seal in use to be broken up, and a new seal introduced, bearing the inscription, "The Great Seal of England," and on the reverse, "In the first year of Freedom, by God's blessing restored, 1648," i.e., 1649, new style.

The commissioners then appointed John Bradshaw, a native of Cheshire, and a barrister of Gray's Inn, who had practised much in Guildhall, and had lately been made a serjeant, lord president of the High Court; Mr. Steel, attorney-general; Mr. Coke, solicitor-general; Messrs. Dorislaus and Aske, as counsel for the commonwealth; and? appointing the old Courts of Chancery and King's Bench, at the upper end of Westminster Hall, as the place of trial, they fixed the day for the 19th of January.

Charles still could not realise the awful event that awaited him. He could not persuade himself that any body of men, however powerful, could dare to violate " the divinity that doth hedge about a king." Amid all the evils or ghastly fortunes of crowned heads, none had yet come in so questionable a shape. He relied on the sacred descent from a hundred monarchs, and on the interference of foreign potentates should any actual desecration menace him. But these foreign potentates, though some of them were nearly allied in blood, and all had a common interest in preventing such a castastrophe and example, looked on with cold indifference. In France, Henrietta, so far from being able to obtain aid, saw the infant king driven from his capital by insurgents, and was herself only saved from starvation by cardinal de Retz, the leader of the Fronde. The king of Denmark, his cousin-german, made no effort in his favour; the states of Holland promised, but contented themselves with something short of a remonstrance; and the king of Spain had long been in friendly correspondence with the parliament. The Scottish estates alone expressed their decided dissent from the proceedings, and endeavoured to move Cromwell; but he referred them to their own league and covenant, and contended that if it were necessary to punish malignants, it was pre-eminently so to punish the chief and instigator of malignants.

When Charles was removed to St. James's, he began to think more seriously of his situation. There he was consigned to the keeping of Tomlinson, a colonel of foot, who treated him not as a crowned head, but as a prisoner who must not, on any account, be suffered to escape. No one was suffered to see him but the soldiers of his guard, who, day and night, remained in his chamber, never suffering him to go into another room for prayer or any other purpose; and lest any of them should be corrupted by him, the same men never came twice on that duty.

On the 20th of January the commissioners assembled in the Painted Chamber to the number of sixty-six, and proceeded in state to Westminster Hall. The decisive hour was now come! The great hour of the teaching and the liberation of nations wag come! The sublime drama of king and people was already composed; its characters were already in existence; the stage and machinery were prepared. Kings had for ages proclaimed their divine commission and appointment to rule, and trample down nations and laws at their pleasure; priests and nobles had echoed and applauded these vaunts, and they who had dared to deny them, had fallen in their blood. Tyranny, with its self-seeking favourites and its armed myrmidons, had ridden royally over human rights, with hurrahs from the silken minions behind its chariots, and groans of crushed hearts beneath its wheels. Patriots had risen, had dared, perished, and left behind adored but ineffectual names. Bloody blocks, prisons with their freezing dungeons, their racks and secret horrors, had done their work on the noblest of God's creation. Thrones and crowns, and coronets glittered gaily where the brave had fallen and the righteous had been condemned; but the hour of retribution was now come. The grandest spectacle in the history of man had now to be exhibited. The tears, and prayers, and blood of the saints of liberty should be proved not to have been spent in vain. It must be given to England, as the portion of its eternal fame, to avenge the scorn and sufferings of the fallen hosts of patriots; to assert the rights, not of cities, but of nations; not of nations, but of mankind. Royalty had long enough lorded it over patriotism, - patriotism should now rule, arraign, and condemn royalty. The people of England had erected its tribunal in the face of Heaven and of all nations, formally to impeach, try, condemn, and punish absolutism in the person of one of its most earnest and most determined champions. The scene was one to hold in statue like stillness the eyes of angels and of men; the lesson one to strike terror through the hearts of all monarchs, and to go forth as the charter of liberty to the ends of the earth and of all time.

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Cromwell discovering the Kings letter
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Carisbrook Castle
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Cromwell suppressing the mutiny
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John Bradshaw
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Removal of Charles
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King Charles summonde to execution
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