- Chapter I – Ancestry-Birth-Early Life
- Chapter II – Charles I, Spanish Adventures-First Parliaments
- Chapter III – Cromwell Sees the Parliament in Tears
- Chapter IV – The King and the Commons
- Chapter V – Lord of the Fens
- Chapter VI – A Short Account of Religion
- Chapter VII – Absolute Monarchy
- Chapter VIII – The Earl of Stratford
- Chapter IX – The Long Parliament
- Chapter X – Scottish Intrigues and Irish Massacres
Ancestry, Birth, and Early Life
Oliver Cromwell, perhaps the most startling, certainly the most unique figure in the whole pageantry of English history, was born at Huntingdon, on the 25th of April, 1599, and was christened in the parish church four days later, as shown by the register which is still preserved.
His family has been traced to Welsh extraction, and after his rise to power the heralds were able to invent for him a genealogical table which a worthy biographer naively describes as being two feet four inches in width and eight feet long. In this fabulous pedigree his descent from the ancient Lords of Powis and Cardigan is asserted, dating back to the Norman Conquest, but on this subject Oliver says, simply, “I was by birth a gentleman, living neither in any considerable height, nor yet in obscurity.” An offshoot of that stock gives us Morgan Williams, the great-great-grandfather of the Protector, with whom the authentic history of the family really begins.
This Morgan Williams was a gentleman of Glamorganshire who enjoyed the income of a small estate, and he seems to have acquired an honorable position at the Court of Henry VII. He was married to Elizabeth, a sister of Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex, and upon this brilliant alliance established the claim of his family to recognition at Court.
Richard Williams, the son of Morgan Williams, was a great favorite with Henry VIII. In a tournament at Westminster, on May-day, 1540, Richard, who had won his spurs and was now a Knight, performed daring deeds of valor, and, as the King’s champion against the challengers of France, Flanders, Spain, and Scotland, dexterously unhorsed his opponents until the merry Monarch vociferously called him from the lists and laughingly said, “Formerly thou wast my Dick, but hereafter thou shalt be my diamond.” With that he took a diamond ring from his finger and bade Sir Richard wear it, commanding that he ever after bear such a one in the fore gamb of the demi-lion in his crest. And this ring appears on the armorial bearings of the Protector a century later. It was this Sir Richard who first assumed the name of Cromwell, acting under the advice of the King and out of compliment to his celebrated but unfortunate relative, Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex; and in the deeds and wills which were thereafter recorded, the name is written Williams, alias Cromwell. Sir Richard was a useful and valiant Knight, and for his part in suppressing an insurrection of His Majesty’s Catholic subjects in Lincolnshire he received a grant of the nunnery of Hinchinbrook, together with other spoils which flowed from Henry’s demolition of the monasteries. In the war with France (1543) he was sent over in command of the King’s infantry forces, and on his return to England the King bestowed upon him various marks of the Royal favor.
Sir Henry (Williams) Cromwell, the eldest son and heir of Sir Richard-of-the-Diamond, enjoyed the esteem of Elizabeth and was knighted by the Virgin Queen in 1563. In the course of his public services he sat in the House of Commons for Huntingdon, was four times Sheriff of Huntingdon and Cambridge shires, and was Commissioner in the inquiry concerning the Draining of the Fens, a matter which thenceforward engaged the attention of the Cromwell family for one hundred years. His domestic establishments were in Huntingdonshire, Ramsey being his summer and Hinchinbrook his winter seat. Some elaborate additions were made to Hinchinbrook House, and Sir Henry expended his ample means with so much munificence that he was called the Golden Knight throughout all that country. Whenever he came to Ramsey from Hinchinbrook, “he threw considerable sums of money to the poor townsmen.” The Golden Knight seems to have been a chivalrous gentleman of the old school and he was universally beloved for his beneficence. He was twice married. His first wife was Joan, daughter of Sir Ralph Warren, Knight, twice Lord Mayor of London. After her death he espoused a gentlewoman of the name of Weeks, who in turn died of a lingering illness, and the popular superstition at once claimed that she had been bewitched. Our patient biographer, Mr. Noble, relates this incident in connection with her mysterious sufferings and death:
“John Samwell, Alice his wife, and Ann their daughter, then inhabitants of Warboys, were ridiculously supposed to be the authors of this lady’s death, and were committed to prison. The mother (who seems by age to have been weak and decrepit), was so seized and tortured in prison, and kept constantly without sleep, that her faculties (much impaired before) became now entirely lost, and at length she confessed any the most strange fooleries, that the malice and folly of her enemies could devise, in consequence of which they were all, in defiance of common-sense, tried before Mr. Justice Fenner, April 4, 1593, and convicted of the fact, of not only being the cause of the death of Lady Cromwell, but also bewitching five of Mr. Throgmorton’s children, and seven of his servants, the gaoler’s man, etc. No mercy, we may readily imagine, would be shown to these unbefriended victims, when even Majesty degraded itself by writing the most idle nonsense (some years after this) to prove, not only that there were witches, but recommending certain means to be used as infallible ways to discover them; they were therefore all three publicly murdered, suffering amidst the acclamations of a barbarous and rude populace, who rejoiced that they themselves were relieved from (as they supposed) dangerous neighbours. It was found upon their conviction, that their goods, which amounted in value to £40, were forfeited to Sir Henry as lord of the manor of Warboys; but he, unwilling to possess himself of the supposed felon goods, gave them to the corporation conditionally, that they procured from Queen’s College in Cambridge a doctor or bachelor of divinity to preach every day of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin, a sermon against the sin of witchcraft in one of the churches in Huntingdon.”
This sermon was preached annually as late as Mr. Noble’s day, 1787.
The Golden Knight had eleven children born of his first marriage, his second yielding no progeny. These were six sons and five daughters, of whom Sir Oliver Cromwell was the first son and heir, and Robert, the father of the Lord Protector, the second son.
Upon the death of the Golden Knight (January 6, 1603), Sir Oliver, the Protector’s uncle, established his residence at Hinchinbrook and lived a life of prodigality which was perhaps not surpassed in England. He was knighted at the Court of Elizabeth in 1598. When James VI of Scotland, after waiting a score of years with ill-disguised impatience for the death of Elizabeth, came over upon her demise to become James I of England (1603), he stopped at Hinchinbrook with a large retinue, and was sumptuously entertained from Wednesday until Friday as Sir Oliver Cromwell’s guest. The memory of this hospitality was ever afterwards gratefully cherished by the King. The abundance and variety of the meats and wines were rare even to Majesty; it was said that no subject had ever furnished such a feast to a King, and Sir Oliver’s gifts to the monarch at parting included a cup of gold, superb horses, fine hounds and hawks, besides “fifty pounds amongst his Majesty’s officers.” “Morry, mon,” said James in his broad Scotch tongue, “thou hast treated me better than anyone since I left Edinburgh.” The high esteem which was entertained by the Court for Sir Oliver and his family was shown by the subsequent visits of King James to Hinchinbrook in 1605, 1616, and 1617; and Sir Oliver, beholding the darkest hours of his country’s history, never wavered in his adherence to the Royal fortunes. He died on the 28th of August, 1655, in the ninety-third year of his age.
Robert Cromwell, brother to Sir Oliver, and father of the Lord Protector, was a poor man and possessed an estate in the town of Huntingdon, the total income of which did not exceed £300 a year. He married Elizabeth, daughter of William Steward, of Ely, and widow of William Lynne, a gentleman of Bassingbourne. It is said that she was related to the Royal House of Stuart, and the usual genealogies exist to support the doubtful claim. Her family had been enriched from the revenues of the Church upon the spoliation of the monasteries, and her great-uncle, Robert Steward, D.D., was for twenty years the last Catholic Prior, and then, for twenty years more, the first Protestant Dean, of Ely. She was a woman of most exalted virtue and was gifted with a wise sense of domestic economy. In the management of their living, and especially of the brewery (which it has been impossible for the fond biographers of Oliver to explain or laugh away), she exercised a guiding care. By her frugality she was enabled to bestow the advantages of a modest education upon the seven children who lived to maturity out of a family of ten, and afterwards to provide each with a fair settlement in life. Oliver, the only son who lived, possessed her tenderest affection, which he most ardently reciprocated. In his young manhood he deferred to her advice, and later, when he had achieved honor and power, he established her in the Royal Palace of Whitehall, and when she died he buried her in Westminster Abbey.
Oliver Cromwell, afterwards the Lord Protector, was the fifth child of this marriage, and the only son who grew to manhood. When he was four years old (1603), his good grandfather, the Golden Knight, died, and Oliver had thus an early taste of solemn and woeful surroundings.
All attempts to relate the story of his early life have failed for lack of authentic information. The few incidents of his boyhood days which have come down to us are nothing more than village traditions. Among them is the story that, one day when he was sent to Hinchinbrook to visit his grandfather, an ape seized him in the cradle and carried him to the roof of the house. Again, there is the incredible tale of his wrestling when four years old with Prince Charles, one year younger, an encounter in which his victory was said to prophesy the outcome of their later combat. A third narrative tells us that one day, while reposing after a fatiguing sport, a gigantic figure having the appearance of a woman drew the curtains of his bed, and after gazing at him for a silent moment, told him that he would become the greatest man in England. The specter did not mention the word king, and it was gravely asserted that this significant omission caused him to reject the Royal title when his Parliament pressed him to accept it. Another tradition, based on the doubtful authority of the Royalist, Heath, relates that Oliver, while at school in Huntingdon, enacted the part of Tactus in an absurd play entitled The Five Senses. Tactus, after stumbling over a robe and crown, soliloquises in this ridiculous fashion:
“Tact. Tactus, thy sneezing somewhat did portend. Was ever man so fortunate as I? To break his shins at such a stumbling-block! Roses and bays pack hence; this crown and robe My brows and body circles and invests! How gallantly it fits me! Sure the slave Measured my head that wrought this coronet. They lie that say complexions cannot change; My blood’s ennobled, and I am transformed Unto the sacred temper of a king. Methinks I hear my noble Parasites Styling me Caesar or great Alexander, Licking my feet, and wondering where I got This precious ointment. How my pace is mended! How princely do I speak! How sharp I threaten! Peasants, I’ll curb your headstrong impudence, And make you tremble when the lion roars. Ye earth-bred worms! Oh, for a looking-glass! Poets will write whole volumes of this change! Where’s my attendants? Come hither, sirrahs, quickly, Or, by the wings of Hermes…”
Again, Oliver was saved from drowning by Mr. Johnston, a clergyman, who when asked in later years by Cromwell if he remembered it, replied, “Yes, I do, but I wish I had put you in rather than see you in arms against your King!”
But we do know that when he was very young his education was first committed to the Rev. Mr. Long, of Huntingdon, and then to Dr. Beard, master of the free grammar school in that place, a man of erudition and sense. That he made progress in his studies and possessed a reasonably studious habit, is proved by the strong mental development which his letters exhibit. He had a good understanding of Greek and Latin literature, and when he came into power he encouraged men of letters with liberality and discretion. He collected one of the best libraries in England, and an official dispatch to The Hague in the days of the Protectorate describes an interview of two hours between the Dutch Ambassador, Beveringe, and the Protector, in which Oliver gave his answers in Latin. This record of his scholarship is sufficient to refute the statements of the Royalist writers that his entire youth was passed in debauchery. His warm admirer, Mark Noble, quoting from the Royalist writers, Heath, Dugdale, and Warwick, has said that Oliver was a fast youth, that there was much sowing of wild oats, that gambling was his favorite pastime, and that there was a vein of coarseness in him which led to acts of extreme vulgarity. But these stories are not supported by any evidence that may be accepted as entirely credible, and they are doubtless founded upon partisan exaggeration of a country lad’s indiscreet pranks. Sir Philip Warwick, a careful but biased writer, says:
“The first years of his [Cromwell’s] manhood were spent in a dissolute course of life, in good-fellowship and gaming, which afterwards he seemed very sensible of and sorrowful for; and as if it had been a good spirit that had guided him therein, he used a good method upon his conversion, for he declared he was ready to make restitution unto any man who would accuse him, or whom he could accuse himself to have wronged (to his honour I speak this, for I think the public acknowledgments men make of the public evils they have done to be the most glorious trophies they can have assigned to them); when he was thus civilised, he joined himself to men of his own temper, who pretended unto transports and revelations.”
The wild career which his enemies have ascribed to his youth could not have developed to any serious extent when Oliver, on the 23rd of April, 1616, being then only seventeen years old, entered Cambridge University as a fellow of Sidney-Sussex College.
In the next year (1617) Oliver’s father died, and he, the only son among seven living children, became at eighteen a young heir, weighed with grave responsibilities, and compelled thus early to assume the direction of affairs. This bereavement forced his retirement from college, and he speedily returned to Huntingdon. There is a tradition that he shortly afterwards came to London and engaged in the study of law. Carrington says, “He came to Lincoln’s Inn, where he associated himself with those of the best rank and quality, and the most ingenious persons; for though he were of a nature not adverse to study and contemplation, yet he seemed rather addicted to conversation, and the reading of men and their several tempers, than to a continual poring upon authors.”
On one of his visits to Huntingdon an incident occurred which had well-nigh left a permanent stain upon his early life. This was an attempt of Cromwell’s to seize the management of the estate of his uncle, Sir Thomas Steward, through an inquest of lunacy which he procured upon his uncle’s mind. The inquiry failed of its expected result, much, we may presume, to Oliver’s discomfiture. The story was first printed in Sir William Dugdale’s Short View of the Late Troubles, and pictures Cromwell in financial straits making application to his uncle for assistance. “Finding,” says Dugdale, “that by a smooth way of application to him he could not prevail, he endeavoured by colour of law to lay hold of his estate, representing him as a person not able to govern it.” Sir Thomas was naturally incensed at this conduct, but Oliver’s mother, and his uncle, old Sir Oliver, undertook to restore peace between them with so much success that Sir Thomas, dying soon after, left the coveted property by will to his over-impatient nephew. The only excuse that can be presented in Oliver’s behalf is that he was sincerely convinced of the mental incapacity of the old Knight.
His studies of the law at Lincoln’s Inn were probably of a cursory nature. That he came to London at frequent intervals, if he did not indeed reside there, is proved by a very interesting record. In Saint Giles’ Church, Cripplegate, London, is a carefully preserved record containing the following entry of his marriage:
“Oliver Cromwell to Elizabeth Bourchier, August 22, 1620.”
He was married early, being at this time only twenty-one years and four months old. His bride, one year his senior, was the daughter of Sir James Bourchier, a Knight who had acquired affluent means as a London furrier, and had established a country seat at Felsted, in Essex. She was a woman of noble spirit, and of gentle and amiable manners. At their marriage Cromwell had conveyed to her, “for the term of her life, for her jointure, all that parsonage house of Hartford, with all the glebe lands and tithes,” in the County of Huntingdon. But some years later, when his necessities seemed to require it, this docile and excellent woman surrendered her jointure, which went to the extinguishment of his debts, together with the ample fortune which she had brought him. There is a letter from this lady to her husband, written after they had been married thirty years, which exhibits so much tender affection between this exalted pair, that our history would be incomplete if it were left out. “My Lord Chief justice” is Oliver St. John; “President” is John Bradshaw, the President of the Regicides Court; “Speaker” is William Lenthall, of the House of Commons.
“27th December, 1650.
“My Dearest, I wonder you should blame me for writing no oftener, when I have sent three for one: I cannot but think they are miscarried. Truly if I know my own heart, I should as soon neglect myself as to omit the least thought towards you, who in doing it, I must do it to myself. But when I do write, my Dear, I seldom have any satisfactory answer; which makes me think my writing is slighted; as well it may: but I cannot but think your love covers my weakness and infirmities.
“I should rejoice to hear your desire in seeing me; but I desire to submit to the Providence of God; hoping the Lord, who hath separated us, and hath often brought us together again, will in His good time bring us again, to the praise of His name. Truly my life is but half a life in your absence, did not the Lord make it up in Himself, which I must acknowledge to the praise of His grace.
“I would you would think to write sometimes to your dear friend my Lord Chief justice, of whom I have often put you in mind. And truly, my Dear, if you would think of what I put you in mind of some, it might be to as much purpose as others; writing sometimes a letter to the President, and sometimes to the Speaker. Indeed, my Dear, you cannot think the wrong you do yourself in the want of a letter, though it were but seldom. I pray think on; and so rest,
“Yours in all faithfulness, “Elizabeth Cromwell.”
Elizabeth was a woman of warm heart, faithful in her affections, and without genius. In the elevated station in which she afterwards flourished, she preserved a good sense and a homely wisdom which protected her from ridicule. While her husband trusted her judgment somewhat less than that of his mother, he leaned much upon her steadfast sympathy and always cherished a fondness for her society.
After their marriage he took his wife home to live with his mother at Huntingdon, and settled down to a life that was quiet and industrious, engaging himself about the farm, studying the drainage of the fens, taking the part of a good citizen in such affairs as might concern the town, and rejoicing in the birth of his children. His first son was born in the year following his marriage, and in all there came five sons and four daughters, of whom three sons and all the daughters lived to maturity.
Oliver Cromwell’s Children. (Married to Elizabeth Bourchier, 22nd August, 1620.)
1. Robert, baptized at St. John’s Church, Huntingdon, 13th October, 1621; died while at Felsted Free Grammar School, in Essex, 31st May, 1639.
2. Oliver, baptized at St. John’s, 6th February, 1623; went to Felsted school; a captain in Troop Eight of the Earl of Bedford’s Horse, 1642; at Peterborough Cathedral when the Puritan soldiers broke its stained glass, 1643; and died of smallpox at Newport Pagnell shortly before the battle of Marston Moor.
3. Bridget, baptized at St. John’s, Huntingdon, 4th August, 1624; married to Henry Ireton, 15th June, 1646; widowed, 26th November, 1651; married to Charles Fleetwood in 1652; died at Stoke Newington, near London, September, 1681.
4. Richard, born at Huntingdon, 4th October, and baptized at St. John’s, 19th October, 1626; attended Felsted school. Noble says that he was entered in Lincoln’s Inn, 27th May, 1647—his name cannot now be found there; married, in 1649, Richard Mayer’s daughter, of Hursley, Hants; first in Parliament, 1654; succeeded his father as Protector, 1658; died at Cheshunt, 12th July, 1712, aged 86.
5. Henry, born at Huntingdon, 20th January, 1628; baptized at All Saint’s Church, 29th same month; Felsted school; in the army at sixteen; Captain in 1647; Colonel in 1649, and in Ireland with his father; Lord Deputy of Ireland in 1657; in 1660, his father being dead and his weak brother deprived of power, he retired to Spinney Abbey, in Cambridgeshire; died 23rd March, 1674; buried in Wicken church; a man of amiability and gentleness, and having much of the force of his father’s character.
6. Elizabeth, baptized at St. John’s, Huntingdon, 2nd July, 1629; married to John Claypoole, 1646 (Noble, in Vol. II, p. 375, says Claypoole married Mary, the second daughter—an obvious slip of the pen); died at Hampton Court, 6th August, 1658, four weeks before her father.
7. James, named for his mother’s father; baptized at St. John’s, Huntingdon, 8th January, 1632; buried next day.
8. Mary, baptized at St. John’s, Huntingdon, 9th February, 1637; married Thomas, Viscount Fauconberg, 18th November, 1657; died 14th March, 1712.
9. Frances, baptized at St. Mary’s, Ely, 6th December, 1638. It was said that Charles II seriously desired to marry her, hoping thereby to obtain Cromwell’s consent to the restoration, but that Oliver rejected the alliance, fearing that Charles would never forgive him his father’s death. She married Robert Rich, grandson to Earl of Warwick, 11th November, 1657. He died three months later, 16th February, 1658; and she married Sir John Russell, 7th May, 1663. Died 27th January, 1720.
The Protector’s widow died at Norborough, her son-in-law Claypoole’s place, in Northamptonshire, 8th October, 1672.
It can be well understood how this pastoral life, unfolding its beautiful domestic incidents, and strengthening from day to day the ties of family love, would gradually develop the divinity that slept in the soul of Oliver Cromwell. The Puritan spirit of the age was beginning to exercise its influence upon him. Dr. Simcott, Cromwell’s physician in Huntingdon, told Sir Philip Warwick “that for many years his patient was a most splenetic man, and had fancies about the cross in that town; and that he had been called up to him at midnight, and such unseasonable hours, very many times, upon a strong fancy, which made him believe that he was then dying.” A valuable piece of professional information was that from Dr. Simcott, and it reveals the great struggles which night and day racked that mighty heart while the problems of eternity were pressing themselves upon him. But the light came at last to his groping soul. He formed his first clear understanding of Christianity, not indeed the broad and generous Christian spirit of today, but the dark and dogmatic system of that age which he, and those who believed as he did, received from Calvin and the Puritan reformers. He was converted to a firm belief in Christianity, and went heart and soul with the Puritans.
Waller, his kinsman, or rather Hampden’s kinsman, for the poet was not, strictly speaking, akin to Cromwell, wrote thus of him:
Oft have we wondered, how you hid in peace A mind proportioned to such things as these; How such a ruling spirit you could restrain And practise first over yourself to reign. Your private life did a just pattern give How fathers, husbands, pious sons should live; Born to command, your princely virtues slept Like humble David’s while the flock he kept.”
And he was prospering in worldly things. In John Milton’s panegyric there is this lofty passage: “Being now arrived to a ripe and mature age, all which time he spent as a private person, noted for nothing so much as the culture of pure religion and an integrity of life, he was grown rich at home; and enlarging his hopes with reliance in God for any the most exalted times, he nursed his great soul in silence.”
We would like to leave him there, in the quiet town on the banks of the winding river Ouse, before his mind had conceived the thought of dominion. His lot would have been happier though without glory, had he been permitted to pass his life away with his family, and his livestock, and his fens, and left the King and the Commons to fight it out. But in 1628 Charles I called his third Parliament, and Oliver Cromwell was elected a member for the town of Huntingdon.
Charles I, Spanish Adventures, and First Parliaments
When Charles Stuart, by the death of his brother Henry, became Prince of Wales and heir to the British throne, it was considered a public misfortune; for Charles from his youth was noted as an autocratic and ceremonial Prince, with a gift for polemic discussion which fitted him better for the Church than the State.
While Prince Henry lived, King James had conceived an overpowering ambition to contract a matrimonial alliance with the Royal House of Spain, and a treaty had been in negotiation for several years under which the Prince of Wales was betrothed to the Infanta. On Henry’s demise Charles was substituted on the part of England. The English Ambassador pressed the alliance with great assiduity, but the Spanish Court procrastinated until their good faith was gravely suspected. The concessions in matters of religion which were demanded by the Spaniards inflamed the popular prejudices of the English, and the proposed match provoked general disfavor and resentment. A knowledge of this condition of public feeling in England impelled the Pope to use every obstacle to break the match, and the Spanish King never intended until the last moment to permit the nuptials to be celebrated. The Earl of Bristol was Ambassador from England in this affair, but in spite of the humiliating assent of King James to every fresh demand for concessions, he was unable to bring the Infanta home to England.
Coupled with this long-sought marriage was another feature of English policy which was to go hand in hand with the match. The beautiful Princess Elizabeth, daughter of James I, had been espoused by Frederick, the Elector Palatine, who, at the breaking out of the Thirty Years’ War, had been deposed by the Catholic League as King of Bohemia. The English Court craved the assistance of the Spaniards in the restoration of this Prince. The Spaniards as a Catholic nation demurred. France, Germany, and Rome opposed the English claims. But the fatuous heart of James was led to hope that by an alliance with Spain he could secure both the marriage and the restoration. It was in this emergency, when reasons of State demanded the early marriage of the Prince, that the Duke of Buckingham, then the favorite at Court, proposed the quixotic scheme of a personal visit to Spain by the Prince and himself.
The King opposed it, but Charles pleaded earnestly for the Royal permission, which was reluctantly granted. The romantic excursion was arranged with all the secrecy which such a rash adventure required. On the 17th of February, 1624, accompanied by only two followers, the Prince and the Duke left London, well disguised, and rode in haste to Dover, whence they sailed to Boulogne, and then by horse reached Paris. While they tarried there to observe the splendor of the French Court, the Prince, with an emotion which somewhat diminished the ardor of his present mission, beheld the beautiful Henrietta Maria, the sister of Louis XIII and England’s future Queen.
On the 7th of March they arrived in Madrid, where, in spite of their attempted secrecy, Olivarez, the Prime Minister, had already received advice of their coming. The Spanish King at once arranged for the entertainment of the Prince on a scope of magnificence which could not have been surpassed. It was ordered that on all occasions of meeting Charles should have precedence of the King, that he should make his entrance into the Royal Palace with the degree of ceremonial which was used by the Kings of Spain at their coronation, that he should reside under the King’s roof, that a hundred of the guard should attend him, and that he be obeyed as the King’s own self.
Receptions, processions, and public honors of every sort overwhelmed him, but in the midst of them all he was carefully guarded from any opportunity of meeting the Infanta, and the joyous pleasures of courtship were jealously denied him. After a time he was indeed permitted to see the Princess, but only in the presence of the Court, and the conversation which he was expected to address to her was written out and supplied to him beforehand by Olivarez, which was certainly a mean indignity upon a Prince so accomplished and correct.
Charles now became aware of a settled purpose on the part of those both in Spain and at Rome, to secure his conversion to the Catholic faith, or end the match. The day following their arrival Olivarez had hinted at this to Buckingham, and Bristol had soon after informed Charles that there was no other expectation in Court or public than to see him renounce his own convictions and assume those of the Infanta. To Bristol, Charles replied, “I wonder what you have ever found in me, that you should conceive I would ever be so base and unworthy as for a wife to change my religion.” The truth of Bristol’s remark was corroborated by a letter which Pope Gregory XV addressed to Charles, urging him to adopt the ancient religion which his fathers had practiced. He wrote in terms of great courtesy urging upon the Prince’s attention his favorite argument, that a Church that had once been the seat of truth could not now live in error. A letter from the same didactic pen implored Buckingham to perpetuate his own name in the Book of Life by compassing the Prince’s conversion, thus adding a soul to salvation. Charles answered the letter politely, pressing for the dispensation and promising his protection to his Catholic subjects in England, but offered no prospects that his own convictions would change. Death claimed Gregory before this letter reached him, and his successor, Urban VIII, wrote to both Charles and his father, still pressing the Prince’s reconciliation to the Roman dogmas.
This unseemly attack upon his conscience, the many humiliations in his addresses to the Infanta, and the undisguised duplicity of the Spanish Court in its present treatment of the match, cooled the affections of the Prince, and he reflected upon a speedy return to England. It was not long before he discovered, however, that the Spaniards had set a watch on him, and he sent home a despairing message to his father, that if the King of Spain should detain him a prisoner, he would be pleased never to be thought of again as a son, and bade him reflect upon the good of his sister and the safety of the English Crown.
The strained situation of this affair was increased by a trivial misunderstanding which arose between Olivarez and Buckingham; and just when matters were become most gloomy for the young Prince, the dispensation arrived from Rome, and the Spanish King announced his readiness to proceed with the marriage. Charles presented a message from his father commanding his immediate return. The Spaniard pressed him with apparent cordiality to remain, and the Infanta added her solicitations. Now, and not until now, was Spain in earnest about the match, and now was England as much opposed to its further consideration.
It is at this stage of the negotiation that we perceive the first indication of that elasticity of conscience and lack of sincerity in Charles, which were afterwards developed into enormous defects in his character.
The question of the Prince’s ability to depart from Spain before the solemnization of the marriage ceremony was full of grave doubts. Upon learning that a watch was kept on his movements, he sent Buckingham to tell them, that although they had stolen thither out of love, they would never steal thence out of fear. But this courageous tone was simulated; for being now resolved against the match, and fearing a consequence that he would never again see England, he wrote in deep despair to the King his father, “You must now, Sir, look upon my sister and her children, never thinking more of me, and forgetting that you ever had such a son.”‘ He communicated to His Spanish Majesty the necessity for his instant return to his native land. Philip was startled at this announcement, and urged upon him that, having waited so many years for a wife, he would stay some few months longer. He told him that if he would consent to postpone the nuptials until spring, he would sign a blank power and permit him to write his own conditions for the restitution of the Palatinate. Charles’ secret resolution was inexorable, but he executed a proxy under the most solemn oath before high Heaven, authorizing the espousals to be made in his name by the King of Spain and Don Carlos, his brother. This paper was delivered into the custody of the Earl of Bristol, with direction that the ceremony take place within ten days after ratification by the Pope. But a creature of the Duke of Buckingham’s was entrusted with an instrument commanding the Earl to stay the delivery of the proxy until the receipt of further instructions from England, and Bristol was kept in ignorance of this instruction until the Prince had sailed away.
When Charles returned home without the Infanta, all England was ablaze with bonfires. King James sent an embassy to Madrid to thank Philip for the magnificent hospitality which he had extended to his son. But new conditions touching the Palatinate were insisted upon to the discomfiture of the Spanish Court.
So grave was this international question now become that James called a Parliament which was entertained by Buckingham with a highly wrought description of the Spanish adventure. The Duke, formerly envied and mistrusted, was now a popular hero. Some of the members, with a mischoice of words which in that Puritan age smacked of impiety, declared that he was their Savior. The Parliament presented an address to the King, advising that the treaties both for the marriage and the Palatinate be broken off, and offered to bestow upon him a very large appropriation if war should result.
And war did result, but it was a pusillanimous war. Twelve thousand troops were dispatched under the command of Count Mansfeldt, a German soldier of fortune, and supported by the Navy under the Duke of Buckingham, commissioned to secure the restoration of the Palatinate to King James’ son-in-law, the Elector Frederick. The attempt ended in defeat, and when his troops returned with decimated ranks King James had been gathered to his fathers. His last words to Charles, now betrothed to the French Princess, Henrietta Maria, exhorted him to love his wife but not her religion; to take especial care of the children of his sister, the Queen of Bohemia; and to exercise all his power to re-establish himself in the ancient dignity of England’s former kings. Nothing was said to the young Prince concerning those great principles of civil rights which were burning themselves upon the mind of the nation. With a last gasp for prerogative, on the 27th of March, 1625, he yielded up his spirit.
Charles the First! Blushing in youth, affluent in health and strength, descended from a long line of kings, possessing great dignity of mind, bearing a noble and commanding carriage, beloved for his virtue and soberness, and full of that sweetness of hope which sat well on his twenty-five years of life, gifted thus, he seemed an ideal monarch, and the nation hailed his accession with great joy.
The contract of marriage with Henrietta Maria, Catholic daughter to the Protestant champion, Henry IV of France, had been already duly executed. The French Duke of Chevereux, acting as proxy for Charles, was attended by a retinue containing the flower of the English nobility. Cardinal Richelieu pronounced the ceremony which made the Princess Queen of Great Britain. Then, while the nuptial mass was sung, the English party withdrew to the house of their Ambassador—a mournful presage that they, having escaped one Catholic marriage, were not prepared to divest themselves of prejudice against another. But while this shadow of mistrust was present at the marriage feast, there was nevertheless great rejoicing over the union of two young hearts in that exalted station. The Duke of Buckingham, accounted to be the handsomest and courtliest man in Europe, came over to escort the Queen to her lord. A Royal Navy convoyed her across the Channel. On arriving at Dover the youthful Queen, then only fifteen years and seven months old, being somewhat discomposed by a slight seasickness, sent to Charles, begging him not to come until the morrow. At ten o’clock on the following morning the King came with all his Court to receive her. She was at breakfast, but flew to meet him. She tried to kneel and kiss his hand, but he caught her in his arms and kissed her. She then began a set speech. “Sire, I am come into this Your Majesty’s country to be at your command.” A flood of girlish tears prevented her from continuing, and Charles, to whose heart they appealed more earnestly than her words, took her aside and soothed her with his vows of devoted love. He playfully expressed surprise that she appeared so much taller than he expected, and glanced down at her feet, thinking that she stood on tiptoe. Perceiving his look, she said in French, with her head reaching to his shoulder, “Sire, I stand upon my own feet. Thus high am I, neither higher nor lower.”
She then besought him, out of her respect and love to him as her husband, that he would not be angry with her for her faults of ignorance or youth before he had first instructed her how to banish them, and especially desired him to use no third person when she did anything amiss, but to inform her of her failing himself. To this womanly appeal the King granted his affectionate submission.
The first Parliament began on the eighteenth day of June 1625. The King’s necessities for money were imperative. The war with Spain, undertaken by his predecessor in response to the desire of Parliament, the expenses of his marriage, the funeral and unpaid debts of his father, the promise of subsidies to the King of Denmark for the war against the Catholic League—these and other obligations called for generous supplies. So confident was Charles that the loyalty and affection of this Parliament would dictate to them the granting of a sufficient appropriation, that he would ask for no sum, nor would he allow his ministers to influence the amount. Every sentiment of national honor and religion demanded a wise grant of funds. The disappointment of the King can therefore be well understood when, without any attempt to disclose a motive for their parsimony, they voted him, for all the expenses of his grave situation, the sum of two subsidies, equal to about one hundred and twelve thousand pounds.
That this grant was niggardly and detestable, and calculated only to stir the King’s resentment, cannot be denied. And yet the men who sat in that Parliament were the ablest in England. Among them were Sir John Eliot, the most prominent of the agitators for constitutional government; Sir Edward Coke, wise in statesmanship and learned in the law; John Pym, unsurpassed for his fearless advocacy of popular rights; and Sir Thomas Wentworth, afterwards risen to melancholy celebrity as the Earl of Strafford. The proprieties of the case, the necessities of the existing complications, could not be forgotten in the deliberations of these men. It is rather to be inferred that the education of the public mind through centuries of monarchal government had produced a universal desire to confine within constitutional bounds the powers of the Royal authority, and to perform by consent of the people in Parliament a great many of those functions which had been previously exercised by the sole pleasure of the Sovereign. Swayed partly by their love of liberty, and partly by the fear of an unwholesome influence of the Catholic marriage, the subjects of Charles I had determined at the commencement of his reign to use those methods of popular agitation which finally drove the refractory House of Stuart out of England and reduced the King’s actual prerogative to a mere semblance of power. So they voted him two subsidies, when twelve would hardly have permitted him to meet his engagements.
The King preserved an admirable patience in this extremity, and sought to move the Parliament by explaining to them the plans which had reduced him to such urgent necessities. He told them that by a promise of money to the King of Denmark he had secured a pledge from that monarch to enter Germany with an army and conduct a war of diversion; that a large force of English soldiers under Count Mansfeldt was ready to invade Spain; that the maintenance of the fleet and the defence of Ireland required liberal provision; that he was obliged to press the war for the restitution of the Palatinate to his kindred; that debts amounting to three hundred thousand pounds, contracted by his father, were pressing him sorely; and that in spite of great frugality in his establishment the private purse of the Crown was empty and must be replenished. He condescended to remind them that this was the commencement of his reign; that he was young; and that if he now met with kind and dutiful usage it would endear him to the use of Parliaments, and would forever preserve an entire harmony between him and his people.
The plague now broke out in London and raged with such fatal fury that the Parliament adjourned to Oxford. And while sitting there they were apprised of an incident which caused so much consternation that they at once became inexorable to any further demands for appropriations.
When King James had grown weary of the Spanish match and negotiated the alliance with France, he had engaged to furnish Louis XIII, the brother of Henrietta Maria, with eight warships to be employed against the Genoese. It was not long before a cry went up from the besieged Huguenots in La Rochelle that it was the real object of the French King to use these ships to batter down their walls. When the fleet reached Dieppe this surmise proved to be true. To the honor of the English sailors, they mutinied at the command to surrender their vessels into the hands of the French for an assault on La Rochelle; and their commander, Captain John Pennington, declared that he would rather be hanged in England for disobedience than fight against his brother Protestants in France. The ships returned to England, where Buckingham, Lord Admiral, artfully told them that peace had been declared between the Huguenots and the French King, and ordered them back. When they reached Dieppe the second time, they found that they had been falsely informed by the Duke, whereupon one vessel escaped to England, and all the officers and all the sailors of the other ships immediately deserted. One gunner alone preferred to obey his King rather than his conscience, and the news of his death in the first attack was received with great delight in England.
Further supplies were refused. The Commons sent many dutiful and affectionate messages to the King, but gave him no money. They likewise presented a petition concerning religion, and the King assented to all of its demands. In the meantime the La Rochelle affair led to a general denunciation of the duke of Buckingham, whose continued favor at Court was much resented, and when it developed that the House of Commons intended to press his impeachment, the King, on the 12th of August, 1625, dissolved the Parliament.
Charles now adopted the bad alternative of borrowing money from his subjects, through the issue of Privy Seals. With means raised in this way he equipped a fleet, and sent it to Spain to intercept the rich galleons from America, but it was attacked with the plague and obliged to return home with thinned ranks. The Duke of Buckingham did not accompany this enterprise, but placed Sir Edward Cecil in command, neglecting Sir Robert Mansel, a sailor of much larger capacity. The indignation that stirred the nation upon this incompetent expedition forced the King to call his second Parliament. Before they assembled Charles called for a full execution of the laws against the Catholics, hoping thus to assuage the narrow hatred of the Puritans against those persecuted people. In order to keep out the leading men who had in the last Parliament opposed his wishes, he had appointed four of the popular leaders sheriffs—Sir Thomas Wentworth, Sir Edward Coke, Sir Robert Phillips, and Sir Francis Seymour—thus incapacitating them to serve in the House of Commons. But the rising spirit of the times could not be quieted by such measures. The second Parliament met February 6, 1626. The Commons voted him this time three subsidies and three fifteens, but held the bill back until the end of the session, a plain intimation that they themselves would now endeavor to regulate and control every part of the Government which was not to their liking. The popular passion demanded a victim, and the Commons selected the Duke of Buckingham for punishment.
A fifteen was an ancient English tax, being one fifteenth of the valuation of the personal property in each town.
“The Duke was indeed,” says Lord Clarendon, “a very extraordinary person, and never any man in any age, nor I believe in any country or nation, rose, in so short a time, to so much greatness of honor, fame, and fortune, upon no other advantage or recommendation than of the beauty and gracefulness of his person.” The Duke was a younger son of Sir George Villiers of Brooksby, whose family traced its line to the Conquest. In his youth he was sent into France, where he acquired the accomplishments and education of a gentleman. Returning to England at the age of twenty-one, he went to Court, where his manly beauty instantly attracted the attention of King James, who made him his cupbearer. Excelling in the arts of a courtier, he won so much upon the Royal favor that the marks of the King’s esteem fell thick and fast upon him. He was knighted, was made a Gentleman of the Bed-Chamber, and received the Order of the Garter. He was then elevated successively to the rank of Baron, Viscount, Earl, Marquis, and finally became Duke of Buckingham. He was appointed Lord High Admiral of England, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, Captain-General of the Army, Master of the Horse, Constable of Dover and Windsor Castles, and Master of the King’s Forests and Chases. All rivals to the Royal favor were displaced in his rapid rise. He became himself the dispenser of patronage, and the members of his own family received a large share of the public bounty. So much success could not fail to excite great jealousy. So much responsibility could not fail to overtax the capacity of one so young. But when Charles came to the throne, Buckingham, who had won his confidence in the Spanish affair, was continued in power, a thing which surprised those who knew that the Duke had once, in a moment of rage, threatened the Prince with personal assault.
The nation evinced a disposition to lay all the common ills at the door of the Duke’s administration. He was known to be responsible for a great many objectionable things in existing treaties with Catholic countries, which drew upon him the rage and hatred of the Puritans. The visible decline of English power upon the high seas was attributed to his incompetent control of the Navy. Dr. Samuel Turner, Sir John Eliot, and others ventured to suggest in Parliament an impeachment against the Duke. The proposition was received by the Commons with profound though cautious approbation. Charles, upon hearing of this, arrogantly commanded them not to touch his servant, and ordered them to finish the bill for the subsidies, as he intended in a few days to dismiss them. And it was intimated very plainly to them that if they did not exhibit a more dutiful regard for the King, he would be likely to dispense with Parliaments and govern exclusively by his prerogative. Unabashed by his rebuke, they brought in an impeachment against Buckingham, and refused to make the appropriations, and the King determined to dissolve them before the attack upon his favorite could be concluded.
In this impeachment Buckingham was accused of having united many offices in his own person; of having obtained two of them by the payment of money; of neglecting to protect English commerce on the seas, insomuch that many merchant ships had been captured by the enemy; of delivering the eight ships to the King of France to attack La Rochelle; of accepting bribes for his patronage; of accepting extensive grants from the Crown; of procuring many titles of honor for his kindred; and lastly, of applying a plaster to the late King without consulting the physicians.
The Duke answered these charges with frankness and skill, admitting most of the allegations to be true, but disclaiming any dishonest or unworthy motive. And in this condition the affair was pushed upon the deliberation of the Lords.
While the matter of the impeachment was taking legal shape, the Earl of Suffolk, who was Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, died, and Buckingham, through the influence of the Court, was chosen Chancellor for that great seat of learning. The Commons resented this, and protested to the King against it. But in order to show his contempt for them, the King wrote a letter to the University in high praise of the Duke, and commended them for his election.
Other unpleasant incidents preceded the dissolution of the Parliament, and inflamed the resentment of that body to the King. It was alleged that Sir Dudley Digges and Sir John Eliot, in their presentation of the impeachment, had used seditious language against the King’s honor, and they were both thrown into prison. The Commons protested to a man that the words had not been used; the two imprisoned members denied them; and the King, expressing his belief in their statements, restored them to liberty.
A second matter affected the Lords. Buckingham, who had never forgiven the Earl of Bristol for pressing the Spanish match after Charles and himself decided to relinquish it, had influenced the King to dismiss Bristol from Court. Not satisfied with this victory, he had, at the calling of this Parliament, prevailed upon Charles to withhold a writ from Bristol. The Earl appealed to the Lords for the privilege of his peerage. The Lords petitioned the King in Bristol’s behalf, whereupon the Monarch sent him his writ with a letter commanding him not to obey its summons to Parliament. Bristol in his reply made the ingenious point that the writ, under the Great Seal, commanded him, on his faith and allegiance, to attend the Parliament, while in the letter under the Privy Seal, the King had expressed his pleasure that he would personally continue in retirement. In the end Bristol was permitted to come to Parliament, where he joined in the impeachment of Buckingham, and was in turn accused of high treason by the Duke.
In a further instance of what he considered a just exercise of the powers of the Crown, Charles aroused the apprehension of the Lords, who were thus far loyal to him and opposed to the encroachments of the Commons. The King had privately taken offense at the Earl of Arundel, on account of a marriage negotiated by the Earl for his son with a sister of the Duke of Lenox, and had committed him to the tower during the sitting of Parliament without assigning a cause. The Lords respectfully remonstrated against this as a violation of privilege. Many messages between the King and the Lords ensued. At length the Lords refused to sit until the Earl was restored to them, or a cause assigned for his arrest, and the King was forced to yield him up.
The Commons, still refusing supplies, were persistently urging their grievances at the foot of the Throne. They used every endeavor to gain the King’s assistance in the Puritan legislation that had been framed to stamp out the Catholic faith in England. A cry against Popery was eternally on their tongues. Charles, hungrily waiting for an appropriation, was quick in his promises but ever slow in his performance. The House, forced by the temerity of its own conduct to expect a wrathful dissolution, conceived a measure which would forever cripple the King’s attempt to conduct the government despotically in the absence of a Parliament. They began to prepare a remonstrance against the levying of tonnage and poundage without consent of Parliament. The income from this source constituted an important part of the revenues of the Crown. The King, apprised of their proceeding, and perceiving that there was an intention to hold back all legislation until they had accomplished a revolution in the ancient methods of the government, dissolved them on the 15th of June, 1626.
As this action was expected, the Commons had made haste to complete their remonstrance, which, at the dissolution, was published to the country. The King, anxious to stand well in the eyes of his subjects, likewise published a declaration, in which he gave his reasons for dissolving their sitting before they had finished a single act.
A careful study of the conflict during the session of this Parliament, in which the King indomitably strove for the preservation of his prerogative, and the Commons as stubbornly contended for popular rights, discloses weakness on both sides. The King had no settled purpose but to oppose their aggressions. He was surrounded by unwise counselors who could neither advise him to yield with grace a part of their demands, nor propose a counter course of action so expedient as to compel their approval. The Commons had no settled policy for their guidance but to oppose the King in every measure which they knew him to value. They frivolously passed from a remonstrance upon one grievance to a remonstrance upon another grievance without pressing any point to final victory. But their steadfast opposition was an evidence to the nation, whose representatives they were, that they were fixed in their purpose to alter and improve the Constitution while preserving its ancient form. And these conflicting views of duty, honestly entertained by the King and the Commons, were well represented by the party cries, “Prerogative” and “Privilege.”
The theory of the character of the English Sovereign in that age presented him as a mysterious being, perfect and immortal. As King he was not subject to death, being a corporate part of the Constitution, and speaking in the plural pronouns our and we. Though in infancy, he was always mature, and not human in his office, he could do no wrong. Ubiquitous, he could act simultaneously in all parts of his dominion, and such was the value of a King’s word that whatever he declared to have passed in his presence became legal truth. His prerogative was so complete that laws were made or failed by his single voice, and peace or war rested solely upon his will. Cherishing this strictly legal but theoretical construction of his power, Charles now determined to sway the scepter absolutely.
His first act was to close a peace with Spain. Commissioners were then appointed to gather the customs duties, which, it was held by the Commons, could not lawfully be levied except by act of Parliament. Large sums of money were collected from the Catholics upon the practical nullification of the laws against teem. He called upon the nobles for large loans. He demanded one hundred thousand pounds from the City of London. He required the seaport towns to furnish him with ships. A general tax was levied, equal to the four subsidies and three fifteens which the late Parliament had intended to grant to the King. The Lord Lieutenants of the several counties were directed to muster men for military service, with commissions to execute martial law upon public enemies or rebels. Preparations were made to equip a fleet for foreign service.
In the month of September 1626, Charles received advice that the King of Denmark had been defeated by the Emperor of Germany. Thereupon, a further general tax was assessed upon all Englishmen for the war in the Palatinate. The soldiers who returned from Spain were billeted upon the people, and outrage and disorder followed them wherever they appeared. The Bishop of Lincoln, having expressed sympathy with the Puritans who were opposing the tax, was prosecuted in the Court of Star Chamber. Dr. Sibthorpe and Dr. Mainwaring, at the instigation of the court, preached sermons calling upon the people to pay the money as a religious obligation to their rulers. Sir John Eliot, Sir Thomas Wentworth, and John Hampden were among those who were thrown into prison for refusing to pay.
While the young Monarch was, by these rash measures, bringing troublous times upon his people, the specter of discontent appeared upon his own hearthstone. The Catholic marriage was not in its first years a happy one. The nuptial contract provided that the Queen should have a certain number of priests for her household chaplains, together with a bishop, who should exercise all ecclesiastical jurisdiction matters of religion. The arrogant bearing of these priests soon offended the high-minded Monarch. They began to announce that the pope, upon the marriage treaty, assumed to himself, or his delegates, the direction and control of the Queen’s whole family, and that the King of England, being a heretic, had no power to intermeddle therein. Beneath the influence of this false teaching, the Queen became somewhat restless under the King’s authority, and an unhappy estrangement ensued between the Royal pair. Buckingham did what he could to enlarge this infelicity, lest the Queen’s influence might prevail against his own.
As a matter of fact, the contract of marriage between Charles and his vivacious Queen contained certain concessions which the youthful Monarch, under the glamour of ardent and irresponsible love, had yielded without alarm. But with a larger experience in life, Charles as a reflecting husband and hopeful father, now observed with dismay that these obligations pinched his conscience and irritated his mind. One article of the treaty provided that “the children of this future marriage shall be brought up by their mother till the age of thirteen years.” With the Catholics this was doubtless a stipulation for the religion of the children. “James the First,” says a Dutch historian of the times, “here betrayed the cause of his religion, and thus drew on his posterity all their calamities.” That this obligation became hateful to Charles is shown by an authentic story which represents the King as coming into the Queen’s chamber during the early infancy of their first child, and beholding a Catholic priest about to baptize it, whereupon Charles stopped him and called in an Episcopal minister, who performed the rite. Among the last letters still extant which Charles wrote to the Prince of Wales is one in which he charges him most solemnly to obey his mother in all things saving religion.
The King has left an interesting account of a scene that transpired in the Royal bed-chamber. He says:
“One night when I was abed, she put a paper in my hand, telling me it was a list of those she desired to be of her retinue. I took it and said I would read it next morning; but withal told her that, by agreement in France, I had the naming of them. She said there were both English and French in the note. I replied that those English I thought fit to serve her I would confirm; but for the French, it was impossible for them to serve her in that nature. Then she said all those in the paper had breviates from her mother and herself, and that she would admit no other. Then I said that it was neither in her mother’s power nor hers to admit any without my leave, and if she stood upon that, whomsoever she recommended should not come in. Then she bade me plainly take my lands to myself, for if she had no power to put in whom she would in those places, she would neither have lands nor houses of me, but bade me give her what I thought fit in pension. I bade her then remember to whom she spoke, and told her that she ought not to use me so. Then she fell into a passionate discourse, how she is miserable, in having no power to place servants; and that business succeeded the worse for her recommendation; which when I offered to answer, she would not so much as hear me. Then she went on saying she was not of that base quality to be used so ill. Then I made her both hear me and end that discourse.”
The individual whose presence among his wife’s attendants most annoyed the King was Father Saucy, the Queen’s confessor. Charles had already once expelled this meddling priest from the kingdom, but the French King sent him back to England, to the great indignation of Charles, who had discovered that he had enticed from the Queen disclosures of the most sacred passages in their married life.
What pained the King above all things, however, was the refusal of Henrietta Maria to be crowned with him in Westminster Abbey, her priestly advisers having forbidden her participation in the religious ceremonies of the Established Church. On that august occasion Charles walked alone, clad in a dress of white velvet, emblematic of the purity of his bridal union with the State. As the Royal procession neared the church, the Queen viewed it from an adjacent window, and exchanged frivolous comments with her ladies on the imposing celebration. No entreaties could break through the narrow bigotry of her mind, and no ceremony of coronation was ever performed in her behalf. She was Queen of England only by virtue of her marriage, and not by her installation into that office. In later years Cromwell refused to pay her dower upon the demand of the French King, because of this imperfect title.
Charles was especially inflamed against his wife’s religious advisers, because he believed that they had made her walk in penance to Tyburn and fix her gaze on the gallows. The Queen denied that she had gone thither by counsel of her priests, and explained that in leaving her chapel after the vesper service she had turned her footsteps through the park in the direction of Tyburn entirely without design.
Another source of the King’s displeasure was in her refusal during her early residence in England to learn the language and observe the customs of the country. But while the Queen’s Catholic zeal and the occasional explosion of her temper led to those infelicities which often surround an ill-assorted marriage, she was nevertheless an affectionate and devoted wife, fond of her husband, and the object always of his adoring passion.
It has been charged that Charles was swayed too much by his Queen’s influence in those measures which made his reign unpopular, and the charge seems to be well sustained by historical evidence. At the time of her departure for Holland to sell the Crown jewels for the prosecution of the war, Charles had made her a solemn promise that he would receive no person into favor or trust without her knowledge and consent; and that, as she had undergone many reproaches and calumnies at the commencement of the war, he would never make any peace but by her mediation, that the kingdom might receive that blessing only from her. Undoubtedly a knowledge of this ascendency of the Queen in her husband’s affairs had great weight with the Commons in their persistent obstinacy during the war.
But Charles, smarting under the interference of the Queen’s priests and some of her ladies, whom he justly charged with alienating his wife’s confidence and esteem, dismissed the entire French retinue and sent them home to France. This, as a violation of the marriage contract, was followed by a declaration of war, and a Navy was dispatched to France under the command of Buckingham. This force made for La Rochelle, but the wary Huguenots, filled with distrust of the English under a remembrance of the ships that were shortly before employed against them, refused to admit them inside their fortifications. The Duke then landed upon the Isle of Rhée, whence, after some insignificant and inglorious adventures, he was forced to depart without honor and with the loss of a considerable portion of his men.
The clamor of the nation over this mortifying disaster became so loud that there was no alternative, even for Charles Stuart, but to call a Parliament. Accordingly, on the 17th of March, 1628, his third Parliament assembled, in no pacific frame of mind.
Cromwell Sees the Parliament in Tears
Oliver Cromwell, while cultivating his land at Huntingdon and studying the law of God’s eternal mercies and judgments from the new translation of the Bible, was called to the third Parliament of Charles I in 1628, as member for the town of Huntingdon. The austerity of Puritanism had burnt itself into his soul. For popery he entertained the intolerant hatred of his party, and he looked with but little more patience upon the dignified and stately ceremonial of the Established Church. The persecutions of the Puritans in the Star Chamber had driven many of these straightlaced believers to more hospitable homes in the New World; and the tradition that both Oliver Cromwell and his cousin, John Hampden, had intended, if liberty perished, to try their fortunes in America, is probably founded on fact.
Parliament found public affairs in a bad state, and all because the House of Stuart would never profit by experience, nor attempt to forecast for the signs of the times. They believed, with Shakespeare,
“There’s such divinity doth hedge a king, That treason can but peep to what it would.”
The three leading nations of Europe were ruled by three youths, Philip of Spain, Louis of France, and Charles of England, who in turn were almost wholly swayed by their intriguing ministers, Olivarez, Richelieu, and Buckingham. It was the zenith of the monarchal system, and the time was ripe for the assertion of popular rights.
When Oliver Cromwell, at the age of twenty-nine, entered the House of Commons, clad in home-spun clothes and walking with a shambling, slouching gait, with neither grace of manner nor dignity of carriage, he attracted but little attention. “Who,” cried a Royalist clergyman in a sermon preached after the Restoration, “Who that beheld such a bankrupt, beggarly fellow as Cromwell first entering the Parliament House, with a threadbare, torn coat, and a greasy hat (and perhaps neither of them paid for), could have suspected that, in the course of so few years, he should, by the murder of one King and the banishment of another, ascend the throne, be invested in the Royal robes, and want nothing of the state of a King but the changing of his hat into a crown?” “Odds fish, Lory!” exclaimed Charles II, when he heard this speech from the man who had been glad to eulogize Cromwell when living, “Odds fish, man! Your chaplain must be a bishop. Put me in mind of him at the next vacancy.”
The Lords in their robes and the Commons being assembled, the King made them a speech from the Throne, calling their attention to the necessities for supply. “Every man must do according to his conscience,” said he, “wherefore if you (as God forbid) should not do your duties in contributing what the 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 particular men may otherwise hazard to lose. Take not this as a threatening,” he continued, with rising spirit, “for I scorn to threaten any but my equals.”
After this high speech the King departed, and the Commons at once began a discussion of grievances and the state of the kingdom, taking into consideration the late arbitrary acts of the Privy Council, as the billeting of soldiers, forced loans, and the imprisonment of certain patriots who had refused to pay the tax. It was shown that their ancestors had been so careful to secure the liberties of Englishmen, that six several statutes, as well as a provision in Magna Charta, already prohibited such infractions as the late imprisonments. Sir Francis Seymour opened the debate with great ability. He said:
“This is the great council of the kingdom, and here with certainty, if not here only, His Majesty may see, as in a true glass, the state of the kingdom. We are called hither by his writs, in order to give him faithful counsel, such as may stand with his honor, and this we must do without flattery. We are also sent hither by the people, in order to deliver their just grievances, and this we must do without fear. Let us not act like Cambyses’ judges, who, when their approbation was demanded by the Prince to some illegal measure, said that ‘though there was a written law, the Persian Kings might follow their own will and pleasure.’ This was base flattery, fitter for our reproof than our imitation; and as fear, so flattery, taketh away the judgment. For my part, I shall shun both, and speak my mind with as much duty as any man to His Majesty, without neglecting the public. But how can we express our affections while we retain our fears, or speak of giving till we know whether we have anything to give? For if his Majesty may be persuaded to take what he will, what need we give? That this hath been done, appeareth by the billeting of soldiers, a thing nowise advantageous to the King’s service, and a burden to the Commonwealth; by the imprisonment of gentlemen for refusing the loan, who, if they had done the contrary for fear, had been as blamable as the projectors of that oppressive measure. To countenance these proceedings, hath it not been preached from the pulpit, or rather prated, that ‘all we have is the King’s by Divine right’? But when preachers forsake their own calling, and turn ignorant statesmen, we see how willing they are to exchange a good conscience for a bishopric. He, I must confess, is no good subject, who would not willingly and cheerfully lay down his life, when that sacrifice may promote the interests of his Sovereign, and the good of the Commonwealth. But he is not a good subject, he is a slave, who will allow his goods to he taken from him against his will, and his liberty against the laws of the kingdom.”
Sir Thomas Wentworth, after reciting some of the recent grievances, fulminated a future impeachment against himself as an “evil counselor” in these words:
“This hath not been done by the King, under the pleasing shade of whose Crown I hope we shall ever gather the fruits of justice, but by projectors, who have extended the prerogative of the King beyond the just symmetry which maketh a sweet harmony of the whole. They have brought the Crown into greater want than ever by anticipating the revenues. And can the shepherd be thus smitten and the sheep not scattered? They have introduced a Privy Council ravishing at once the spheres of all ancient government, imprisoning us without either bail or bond. They have taken from us—what? Shall I say, indeed, what have they left us? … By one and the same thing have King and people been hurt, and by the same must they be cured. To vindicate, what, new things? No, our ancient, vital liberties.”
Sir Benjamin Rudyard, alarmed at the tone of these speeches, arose and pleaded for a medium course, which, if followed by the Parliament, would possibly have saved all the blood and treasure of the Civil War. With dramatic emphasis, he cried:
“This is the crisis of Parliaments! We shall know by this if Parliament live or die. … Men and brethren, what shall we do? Is there no balm in Gilead? If the King draw one way, the Parliament another, we must all sink. I respect no particular; I am not so wise to contemn what is determined by the major part. One day tells another, and one Parliament instructs another. I desire this House to avoid all contestations; the hearts of Kings are great; it is comely that Kings have the better of their subjects. Give the King leave to come off; I believe His Majesty expects but the occasion. It is lawful and our duty to advise His Majesty, but the way is to take a right course to attain the right end, which I think may be thus: by trusting the king, and to breed a trust in him, by giving him a large supply according to his wants, [and then] by prostrating our grievances humbly at his feet. From thence they will have the best way to his heart, that is done is duty to his Majesty. And to say all at once: Let us all labor to get the King on our side, and this may be no hard matter, considering the near subsistence between the King and people.”
Sir Edward Coke said he was willing to give supply to His Majesty, yet with some caution. He continued:
“I am not able to fly at all grievances, but only at loans. Let us not tatter ourselves. Who will give subsidies, if the King may impose what he will, and if after Parliament the King may enhance what he pleaseth? the King will not do it; 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. Will any give a subsidy that may be taxed after Parliament at pleasure? The King cannot tax any by way of loans. … In Magna Charta it is provided, that ‘No freeman shall be taken, or imprisoned, or restrained from his freehold, or liberties, or immunities, nor outlawed, nor exiled, nor in any manner destroyed, nor will we come upon him or send against him, except by legal judgment of his peers or the law of the land. We will sell or deny justice to none, nor put off right or justice’—which charter hath been confirmed by good kings above thirty times.”
Sir Robert Phillips said:
“I read of a custom among the old Romans, that once every year they held a solemn festival, in which their slaves had liberty, without exception, to speak what they pleased, in order to ease their afflicted minds; and, on conclusion of the festival, the slaves severally returned to their former servitudes. This institution may, with some distinction, well set forth our present state and condition. After the revolution of some time, and the grievous sufferance of many violent oppressions, we have now at last, as those slaves, obtained, for a day, some liberty of speech; but shall not, I trust, be hereafter slaves, for we are born free. Yet what new illegal burdens our estates and burdens have groaned under, my heart yearns to think of, my tongue falters to utter! The grievances by which we are oppressed, I draw under two heads—acts of power against law, and the judgments of lawyers against our liberty.”
It will be seen from these speeches that the cry for constitutional government was almost universal. Even the Court party could not defend the late abuses, and the King’s ministers were forced to ask for subsidies with grievances, a concession that so charmed the Commons that they voted an appropriation of five subsidies. The King received word of this generous action with tears of gratitude. So fearful were they, however, of the insincerity of his promises for the permanent redress of their grievances, that it was determined to hold back the grant until they could provide an impregnable law which would forever protect their liberties from the encroachments of the Crown. Forced loans, benevolences, taxes without consent of Parliament, arbitrary imprisonments, the billeting of soldiers, martial law—these made up the story of their grievances; and to abolish such burdens for themselves and their posterity, that statute was framed which has come down to us as a precious heritage with Magna Charta, and which is known as the Petition of Right.
The King learned of the preparation of the Petition of Right with undisguised alarm. The Lord Keeper was dispatched to the Parliament House with message after message, all of which, though couched in varying tones of entreaty, self-abasement, or command, equally displayed the agitation of the King’s mind. The Court party opposed the measure with skill and vigor. They argued, with truth, that Magna Charta contained in substance all that the Commons sought to incorporate in the Petition of Right. The Commons, admitting this, recalled that it had been necessary to secure a confirmation of Magna Charta from their Kings thirty times—why not secure its confirmation from Charles? The Court party claimed that arbitrary imprisonment was already unlawful under the Great Charter. The others pointed to the six statutes which frequent violations of the Charter had required to be enacted—why not incorporate a seventh statute in the Petition of Right? The insidious influence of the Court prevailed upon the Lords to propose to the Commons that the concluding clause in the Petition be worded as follows: “We present this our humble Petition to Your Majesty, with the care not only of preserving our own liberties, but with due regard to leave entire that sovereign power wherewith Your Majesty is trusted for the protection, safety, and happiness of the people.” The subtle force of this apparently humble peroration would have left the whole without effect, and it was an evidence of the intelligence of the House that they instantly rejected it. The Petition passed in the form of a declaratory statute, and was delivered to the King. For two centuries it had been customary for the Sovereign to approve or reject a bill by one word, yet when Charles came in State before the Parliament, he spoke these ambiguous words, which were considered to contain his assent to the Petition:
“The King willeth that right be done according to the laws and customs of the realm, and that the statutes be put in due execution, that his subjects may have no cause to complain of any wrong or oppressions, contrary to their just rights and liberties, to the preservation whereof he holds himself in conscience as well obliged as of his prerogative.”
There were great disputations after the King’s departure. The Commons would not be content with such equivocation. But while they were discussing the means of securing the King’s positive assent, a message from the throne commanded them to finish the appropriations, as they would be dismissed in one week. Not alarmed at this threat, they calmly neglected the matter of supply, and framed an impeachment against Dr. Roger Mainwaring “for seducing the conscience of the King,” by having insisted in a sermon on the duty of paying the forced loan. Having forwarded this impeachment to the Lords, they turned to strike at the Duke of Buckingham.
Instantly came a message from the King, reminding them of their impending adjournment and commanding them not to cast any aspersion or scandal upon his favorite.
Consternation and woe seemed suddenly to engulf the House. Sir John Eliot attempted to speak, but one of the King’s ministers, apprehending that he would mention the Duke’s name, commanded him not to proceed. “Hereupon,” says John Rushworth, who was present, “there was a sad silence in the House for a while.” Thomas Alured, one of the members, has left a pathetic description of the scene that now ensued. He writes:
“Yesterday was a day of desolation among us in Parliament, and this day we fear will be the day of dissolution. … Sir Robert Phillips of Somersetshire spake and mingled his words with weeping. Mr. Pym did the like. Sir Edward Coke, overcome with passion, seeing the desolation likely to ensue, was forced to sit down, when he began to speak, by the abundance of tears. Yea, the Speaker in his speech could not refrain from weeping and shedding of tears. Besides a great many whose grief made them dumb. But others bore up in that storm and encouraged the rest.”
By-and-bye they became somewhat more composed. But what a scene for that young and thoughtful Oliver Cromwell to witness! No hope of quarter for the King from him, if ever the memory of that day come back to him on the field of battle! “Did they not in former times,” says Alured, “proceed by fining and committing John of Gaunt, the King’s own son; had they not in very late times meddled with and sentenced the Lord Chancellor Bacon and others?”
Sir Edward Coke made another effort. He now saw that God had not accepted of their humble and moderate carriages and fair proceedings; and he feared the reason was, they had not dealt sincerely with the King and country, and made a true representation of all their miseries. “Let us palliate no longer,” he cried. “I think the Duke of Buckingham is the cause of all our miseries, and till the King be informed thereof, we shall never go out with honor or sit with honor here. That man is the grievance of grievances!”
The Lords attempted to direct the alarm into other channels. They began to talk of the peril of the nation from Continental entanglements. They referred to the growing power of the House of Austria, the ambition of the King of Spain who was seeking to make his monarchy universal, the increasing danger of the Catholic League, and the lack of their own preparation to meet any emergency. But the Commons would not be diverted from their course.
The King perceived that he had gone too far in his absolutism, and came down to the Parliament House, and gave his assent to the Petition of Right in the usual form, speaking the words, “Let it be law as is desired.”
The tenth article of the Petition of Right, which rehearses the grievances complained of in the preceding articles, is as follows:
“They [the Parliament] do therefore humbly pray Your Most Excellent Majesty, that no man hereafter be compelled to make or yield any gift, loan, benevolence, tax, or such like charge, without common consent, by act of Parliament; and that none be called to make answer, or take such oath, or to give attendance, or be confined or otherways molested or disquieted concerning the same, or for refusal thereof; and that no freeman, in any such manner as is before mentioned, be imprisoned or detained; and that Your Majesty would be pleased to remove the said soldiers or mariners, and that people may not be so burdened in time to come; and that the aforesaid commissions, for proceeding by martial law, may be revoked and annulled; and that hereafter no commissions of like nature may issue forth, to any person or persons whatsoever, to be executed as aforesaid, lest, by color of them, any of Your Majesty’s subjects be destroyed, or put to death, contrary to the laws and franchise of the land.”
The Commons now persisted in completing the Buckingham impeachment, and they presented it to the King, who, after considering it in the Star Chamber, ordered that all record of any charges against the Duke be expunged.
They then began a remonstrance against tonnage and poundage, which brought the King to the Parliament House so hastily that the Lords had not sufficient time to put on their robes. And they were presently prorogued until October (and later until January) with every mark of the Royal displeasure.
The King and the Commons
The English nation, in its desire for constitutional government, would perhaps have felt itself completely satisfied by the enactment of the Petition of Right, had not Charles Stuart, in the knowledge of all men, lacked those elements of candor and sincerity which were essential to the enforcement of any law designed to protect the liberties of his people. Before giving his assent to the Petition of Right, he had called the two chief justices, Hyde and Richardson, to Whitehall, and propounded certain questions, directing that the other judges should likewise pass upon them. His first question was, “Whether in no case whatsoever the King may not commit a subject without showing cause?” The flexibility of the most sacred laws, in the hands of pliant judges, is shown by their reply. “We are of opinion,” said the judges, the two chief justices concurring, “that by the general rule of law, the cause of commitment by His Majesty ought to be shown, yetsome cases may require such secrecy, that the King may commit a subject without showing the cause for a convenient time.” The King then asked them a second question: “Whether in case a habeas corpus be brought, and a warrant from the King without any general or special cause returned, the judges ought to deliver him before they understand the cause from the King?” This answer was equally elastic. “Upon a habeas corpus brought for one committed by the King,” they said, “if the cause be not specially or generally returned, so as the court may take knowledge thereof, the party ought by the general rule of the law to be delivered. But, if the case be such that the same requireth secrecy and may not presently be disclosed, the court in discretion may forbear to deliver the prisoner for a convenient time, to the end the court may be advertised of the truth thereof.” A third question from the Monarch was advanced: “Whether, if the King grant the Commons Petition, he doth not thereby exclude himself from committing or restraining a subject for any time or cause whatsoever without showing a cause?” And the judges replied, “Every law, after it is made, hath its exposition, and so this petition and answer must have an exposition as the case in the nature thereof shall require to stand with justice, which is to be left to the courts of justice to determine, which cannot particularly be discovered until such case shall happen. And although the Petition be granted, there is no fear of conclusion as is intimated in the question.”
The truth must be confessed that Charles had an utter contempt for the very notion of popular rights. He had imbibed his ideas of the responsibility of a King from his father, whose view of the question is shown in a letter which he wrote late in life to the House of Commons, commanding “that none therein shall presume henceforth to meddle with anything concerning our Government.” It was this narrow conception of the monarchal system which led Charles to violate every statute that was aimed at the powers of the Crown, and his oft-repeated promises, “on the word of a King,” were found by his unhappy subjects to be without any binding force upon his conscience.
Free for a time from the interventions of his Parliament, Charles now participated in those operations of war which had engaged nearly the whole of Europe. The Earl of Denbigh, brother-in-law of the Duke of Buckingham, had been dispatched to the relief of the Huguenots besieged in the town of La Rochelle. The Huguenots bore so much resemblance to the Puritans, whom the King despised, that it is not likely his concern for their welfare had more than a political depth. An army and a fleet had gathered at Portsmouth, and thither Buckingham proceeded, to give his personal attention to their departure. The King and his Court followed Buckingham, and were hourly expected to arrive, when an event occurred which threw the nation into the wildest excitement. This was the assassination of the Duke of Buckingham.
John Felton, a lieutenant of a company whose captain had met his death in the inglorious retreat from the Isle of Rhée, had taken umbrage at Buckingham because the command of the company had not fallen to him, and had resigned from the army. He was descended from a good family, but was of a taciturn and brooding disposition. While in London he learned something of those debates in the House of Commons in connection with the impeachment of the Duke, in which Buckingham was declared to be a public enemy, responsible for all the evils which the kingdom suffered. Walking through the streets of the great city, a murderous-looking knife in a cutler’s window riveted his attention, and, instantly seized by the design of ridding the nation of its tyrant, he purchased the weapon. The morning of the 23rd of August, 1628, found him at Portsmouth prepared to finish his sanguinary undertaking.
The Duke had just received letters informing him that the French, under command of Cardinal Richelieu, had been forced by the Protestant forces in La Rochelle to retire, and he directed his breakfast to be served forthwith in order that he might carry the tidings to the King at the house of Sir Daniel Morton, at Southwick, only five miles away. After discussing the situation of La Rochelle with some French gentlemen who were in his chamber, Buckingham started to go to his breakfast, which had been laid for him in another room. As he lifted the curtain of a dark passage-way connecting the two apartments, the Duke turned to give an order to one of his officers, Colonel Fryar, who then stood close beside him, when a hand out of the dark passage-way reached over Fryar’s shoulder, and plunged a knife into the Duke’s heart. “The villain hath killed me!” he exclaimed, and drawing the dagger from his bosom, he fell to the floor and expired.
So expertly was the deed accomplished that no one had seen the blow nor the assassin. The greatest consternation ensued, and there was a disposition shown to charge the murder upon the Frenchmen, whose loud voices had been indistinctly heard outside in the discussion of the letters from La Rochelle. A close search in the passage-way discovered a hat which had evidently been dropped by the culprit in his flight. In the crown of this hat was a paper containing some words from the impeachment proceedings, styling the Duke an enemy to the kingdom, with a brief prayer following them. Several men were taken into custody under suspicion, but in the midst of the excitement, when all were asking, “Where is the murderer?” Felton came up in perfect composure, and said, “I am he.” Some hot-headed adherents of the Duke drew their swords and advanced to kill him, but he eyed their approach calmly and without fear. This stolid demeanor secured his protection from those of quieter nerve, who beat down the weapons of his assailants and remanded him to the charge of the guard.
Felton was now dragged into a private room, where, in order to ascertain whether he had confederates, his captors dissembled insomuch as to tell him that the Duke was not dead but only severely wounded. He answered with a disdainful smile that the Duke, he knew full well, had received a blow which had terminated all their hopes. When asked at whose instigation he had performed the atrocious murder, he replied, still smiling, that they should not trouble themselves on that point, as no man living had credit or power enough with him to have impelled him to such a deed, that he had never entrusted his purpose or resolution to any man, that it proceeded only from the impulse of his own conscience, and that the motives of his conduct would appear if his hat were found, in which he had deposited them, because he had expected to perish in his attempt and desired to leave his reasons on record.
Felton’s bearing in this arduous examination was that of a man who had done Heaven a good service. But after he had been in prison some time his conscience convinced him of the enormity of his crime, and he acknowledged that what he had understood to be a whispering of Divine purpose he now perceived was an instigation of Satan. He humbly solicited the forgiveness of the King and of the Duke’s widow and friends, and he implored the judges who pronounced capital punishment upon him that his right hand might be struck off before he would be put to death.
The King was at public prayers in the church at Southwick, when Sir John Hippesly spurred up to the door and entered. Without waiting for a pause in the services, the eager messenger informed the King what had happened. Charles received the news with an undisturbed countenance. So great was the control which he exercised over his feelings that his courtiers, who scrutinized his face, concluded he was secretly glad to be rid of a minister who had become an object of public odium. But under this outward composure the monarch concealed an agony to which he gave full expression shortly afterwards in the privacy of his own chamber. The attacks that had been made on Buckingham through all sources of public expression had only increased the King’s love for him. He retained an affectionate interest in Buckingham’s friends and cherished to the last a prejudice for his enemies. His kindness to the Duke’s wife and children was unremitting, and the large debts standing against Buckingham were discharged by the King’s bounty. When Felton’s trial came on, the King was desirous of putting him to the torture as a full measure of revenge for the murder of his favorite, but his advisers dissuaded him from this on the ground that it would be obnoxious to public sentiment. Felton was before the King’s privy council when Bishop Laud proposed to put him on the rack and make him name his confederates. Felton ingeniously retorted that if that were done he might in his extremity name his Lordship as quickly as any other, whereupon the Bishop pressed the point no further.
Before passing from the Duke of Buckingham, it may not be without interest to briefly describe the character of that most picturesque man. He was gifted with a generous disposition, and possessed a noble nature according to the standard of his times. His affability and courtesy towards all men, his apparent willingness to oblige all suitors, and his unquestioned personal courage, extorted the admiration of his countrymen. But the happy affluence of his own career caused him to offer such rash counsels to the King that admiration was soon succeeded by contempt, and contempt by open indignation and revolt. He was most vehement in his attachments and would go all lengths to oblige a friend. In dealing with his enemies he never affected dissimulation, but would acquaint them frankly with the causes of his resentment and warn them of his purpose of revenge. His manners were charming and his deportment was unequalled, not only in the fastidious Court of Charles, but even in Paris, where perfect manners were the aim of life. In his embassy to France to bring home the Queen, where he appeared in all the brilliance with which the wealth of England could adorn him, he far surpassed the gay courtiers of Louis in those vanities in which they esteemed themselves unrivaled. Trained in the favor of two Royal masters, it is not strange that his conceit was without bounds. While in Paris he even dared to entertain a passion for the French Queen, and, mistaking her graciousness for encouragement, he returned secretly after having taken public leave, and attempted to pay his addresses to her, but was dismissed with a gentleness which proved that even Majesty was not insensible to his charms. His ambition was great, yet his honors followed on each other’s heels so swiftly that he could yearn for nothing. It was the misfortune of his career that there was no one among all his friends to warn him frankly of those impetuous passions which provoked the indignation of the people. He considered every act which met their disfavor as a mere incident to be forgotten in the achievement of some new glory, and he never attempted to atone for such slights upon their judgment by mending his conduct or altering his policy. His private life was not free from the gallantries of the age, although he seems to have been an affectionate husband. Had he been permitted to attain maturity of years before undertaking those great responsibilities of power, his name would doubtless have been an illustrious one on the page of history. But his performances were the experiments of youth, and his life ended in an inglorious tragedy, without drawing tears from his countrymen. He was thirty-six years old when he died.
The King, now free from the counsels of his dangerous favorite, might gracefully have adopted the occasion as propitious for retracing those steps which he had made towards the assumption of absolute power. The progress of English civilization required it. The consensus of English opinion demanded it. But Charles went unfalteringly forward.
William Laud, now Bishop of London, succeeded Buckingham as the King’s most influential adviser. Sir Richard Weston, a much abler man, who had recently been made Lord Treasurer, and who was fitted for a prudent councilor, found his importance second to that of Laud. The Bishop of London was the head and front of the High Church party, ready to surpass the Catholics in ceremony, and for that reason an object of the bitter hatred of the Puritans. Laud was a virtuous man who abstained from pleasures and applied all his vast interest with the Court to exalt the power of the clergy. He was unsuited to a high station by his lack of patience and discretion. He imagined that all his enemies were necessarily the enemies of the State, and he persecuted them accordingly. Many temptations were sent to him from Rome to bring him over to the Catholic Church. He received a secret assurance from the pope that he could have a cardinal’s hat, but while of a narrow and bigoted mind, he was personally honest and he refused the offer. It was his desire to secure to the Episcopal Church in England that absolute sway over the souls of the people which the Catholic Church enjoyed in Italy and Spain. In the pursuit of this aim he persuaded the King to adopt a policy called “Thorough,” which was responsible for a large part of the oppressions that ended in Civil War. His selection, therefore, as the successor of Buckingham was not calculated to appease the restless suspicions of the Parliament, soon to reassemble.
Dr. Mainwaring, who had preached that sermon on passive obedience which had evoked a sentence from Parliament prohibiting him forever from preferment in the Church, was pardoned by the King and presented with two rich livings. Dr. Montague, whose Appeal to Caesar had likewise stirred the wrath of Parliament, was made Bishop of Chichester.
The fleet which Buckingham had fitted out for the relief of La Rochelle was dispatched thither in command of the Earl of Lindesey. Expecting this succor to his foes, Richelieu, a man whose vast genius was equal to every emergency in war as in peace, had devised an engineer’s boom which obstructed the boisterous ocean for a mile on the seafront of La Rochelle. When the English fleet arrived, they found it impossible to convey their supplies over this barricade, seeing which, the unhappy Huguenots surrendered. The indomitable inhabitants of the town, buoyed up by the expectation of assistance from England, had subsisted for many weeks upon horse flesh, hides, and leather, and dogs and cats. Their situation at the surrender, in full view of armed assistance, was most deplorable. Out of fifteen thousand who had held the city at the commencement of the siege, but four thousand were alive when the gates were opened to the invaders. Their surrender with a succoring Navy in sight presented to the world another example of the incapacity of the English military system under a Government that was not supported by popular opinion.
The Parliament, which was to have reassembled on the 20th of October, 1628, met by proclamation on the 20th of January, 1629. They began at once to discuss their grievances, and learned to their great disgust that the copies of the Petition of Right which had been distributed to the nation had by Royal order the King’s first answer appended, in which he had equivocally confirmed the petition, instead of the usual form in which his second answer had been framed. They found that tonnage and poundage had been levied in express violation of the Petition of Right, and that merchants had had their goods seized for refusing to pay the duties. Among these merchants were Mr. Chambers, Mr. Vassal, and Mr. Rolls, of London, whose consignments of goods were seized by the customs officers for their failure to pay the imposts. The merchants had pleaded the statute of Magna Charta for exemption from taxes assessed without consent of Parliament, and had sued out writs of replevin for their goods. The King’s judges had ordered the sheriffs not to recognize the writs, and thus had the commercial privileges of the nation been invaded.
As it was this question of tonnage and poundage, or, in modern parlance, customs duties, which so often caused a breach between Charles and his Parliaments, it seems fitting to give a brief account of the controversy. The levying of customs duties in former times had been generally done as a temporary grant of Parliament. But when, on the accession of Henry V, the martial spirit of the nation was fired by the conquests of that youthful Sovereign, the right of tonnage and poundage was conferred upon him, and afterwards upon all succeeding Princes, during life. The necessity of these taxes for the support of the Navy was so apparent that each King had claimed it immediately on his accession, and the Parliament had usually granted the Claim. In the time of Henry VIII no grant of tonnage and poundage was made by Parliament until the sixth year of his reign. Yet Henry, who had not then reached the height of his power, continued to levy the tax all through that time, and when Parliament did make the grant they censured the merchants who had neglected to pay the Crown officers. Four succeeding Sovereigns had continued the old custom, which was undoubtedly a violation of the spirit of the constitution, but which Parliament had never undertaken to check until now. In the short interval which passed between the accession of Charles and the meeting of his first Parliament, he had followed the example of his predecessors, and when Parliament assembled they made no complaint. But what happened to be the first intimation on the part of that House of Commons that they had thus early formed a plan for making the young Monarch the creature of Parliaments and not the master of them, was that, instead of granting tonnage and poundage during the King’s lifetime, as it had been done in the preceding reigns, they voted it only for a year, reserving the power of renewing or refusing it after the year would have elapsed. The House of Lords, who believed that this duty was necessary to the increasing necessities of the Crown, and who always viewed the encroachments of the Commons with jealousy, rejected the bill in this form, and the Parliament had been dissolved without further action on that question. The King continued to levy the tax, at first without any signs of discontent on the part of his subjects. But the discussion of the matter in the succeeding Parliament inflamed everyone against it. There was an effort made to have it declared illegal to levy tonnage and poundage without consent of Parliament. But that Parliament was likewise abruptly dissolved ere they had taken decisive action.
In the interval between the second and third Parliaments there had been so many violent applications of the King’s prerogative, that the matter of tonnage and poundage had been somewhat obscured by more important affairs. But in the first session of the third Parliament, the Commons, not content with the large concessions that had been granted to them in the Petition of Right, had proceeded to take up tonnage and poundage, showing a fixed intention of exacting, in return for the grant of this revenue, a still further relinquishment of the powers of the Crown. Their hasty prorogation was brought about by their intended remonstrance on that subject.
When the King opened the second session, he had foreseen that tonnage and poundage would be the first subject the Commons would consider, and the tone of his speech from the throne was very mild and patient. He assured them “that he had not taken these duties as appertaining to his hereditary prerogative, but that it ever was, and still is, his meaning to enjoy them as a gift of his people; and that if he had levied tonnage and poundage he pretended to justify himself only by the necessity of so doing, not by any right which he assumed.” Some of the King’s friends then presented a bill granting the right to collect tonnage and poundage as it had been done in former reigns, and the King sent a message directing the Commons to speedily consider the measure. The House, not intending to pass the bill in that form, resented its introduction by one of the King’s creatures, and sullenly refused to take any action with it as put before them. That their express plan to grant tonnage and poundage at their own pleasure, and for limited periods, was strictly within the limits of the constitution, is undoubtedly true. By the King’s own expressions, which have just been quoted, and by the form of every bill which had granted this tax to the Crown, the levy was shown to be a free gift of Parliament, and, consequently, might be withheld at pleasure. The money was granted to maintain the Navy for the protection of the seacoast and of commerce. But had not Parliament the right to say to what extent they would maintain the Navy, even for those purposes?
But Charles, notwithstanding his declaration to the Commons, was not prepared to give his assent to these propositions. He was persuaded that a certain class in the House of Commons, which was swayed by visionary ideas of a limited Monarchal system, was determined to derogate from the Crown every prerogative that made it an object of sovereign power. His predecessors would not have yielded to such influences, neither would he yield to them. If they pressed him too hard, he secretly determined that he would himself seize every function of Government, and conduct an absolute monarchy.
The Commons persistently refused to vote on the bill for tonnage and poundage, in spite of the King’s frequent messages commanding them to do so; but they passed to a discussion of the state of religion, and presented His Majesty a remonstrance on that subject.
The English people, not satisfied to deal only with those problems of civil government which seemed to be tearing the nation asunder, were distressed by the agitation of religious disputes. Fatalism and free will were the opposing sentiments which occasioned the controversy. The early reformers, led by John Calvin, had based their teachings upon predestination and absolute decrees. These tenets met with opposition from James Arminius, a prominent divine of Leyden, Holland, whose followers, the Arminians, soon introduced the discussion into England. The King and the High Church party generally entertained the Arminian theories, and some of the Arminians themselves, under the indulgence of James and Charles, had been appointed to the highest preferments in the Church. Bishops Laud, Neile, Montague, and others high in ecclesiastical station, who were the chief supporters of the beautiful ceremonial system of the Episcopal Church, were stigmatized as Arminians. Some members of the House of Commons believed that in attacking Arminianism, which they considered an esoteric and mysterious system, they could lay against that denomination a suspicion of disguised popery, and their attacks were consequently a matter of great frequency. “To impartial spectators, surely,” says the philosophic Hume, “if any such had been at that time in England, it must have given great entertainment to see a popular assembly, inflamed with faction and enthusiasm, pretend to discuss questions to which the greatest philosophers, in the tranquility of retreat, had never hitherto been able to find any satisfactory solution.”
In the speeches that remain to us, we can witness the fervor that possessed those men. Francis Rouse spoke thus in warning tones:
“I desire that it may be considered how the see of Rome doth eat into our religion, and fret into the banks and walls of it, the laws and statutes of this realm, especially since those laws have been made in a measure by themselves, even by their own treasons and bloody designs. And since popery is a confused heap of errors, casting down Kings before popes, the precepts of God before the traditions of men, … I desire that we may consider the increase of Arminianism, an error that makes the grace of God lackey it after the will of men, that makes the sheep to keep the shepherd, and makes a mortal seed of an immortal God. Yea, I desire that we may look into the very belly and bowels of this Trojan horse to see if there be not men in it ready to open the gates to Romish tyranny, and Spanish monarchy, for an Arminian is the spawn of a Papist.”
And then John Pym, the leader of liberty, but, like the others, somewhat narrow on religious toleration, arose and spoke about a violation of the law “in bringing in of superstitious ceremonies amongst us, especially at Durham, by Mr. Cozens, as angels, crucifixes, saints, altars, candles on Candlemas Day, burnt in the church after the popish manner.”
Sir John Eliot denied the infallibility of the bishops in these words:
“It is said, if there be any difference in opinion concerning the seasonable interpretation of the Thirty-nine Articles, the bishops and the clergy in the convocation have power to dispute it, and to order which way they please; and for aught I know popery and Arminianism may be introduced by them, and then it most be received by all. A slight thing that the power of religion should be left to the persons of these men! I honor their profession; there are among our bishops such as are fit to be made examples for all ages, who shine in virtue and are firm for our religion. But the contrary faction I like not. I remember a character I have seen in a diary of Edward VI, that young Prince of famous memory, where he doth express the condition of the bishops of that time under his own handwriting: ‘That some for sloth, some for age, some for ignorance, same for luxury, and some for popery, were unfit for discipline and government.’”
And what of Oliver Cromwell? Where is he all this time? Still dressed in homespuns, Oliver keeps his seat and listens, has kept his seat all through these two sessions, has witnessed the endeavors of these honest men to bring the King to constitutional government, has observed and thought, has wept and prayed. And now he rises to speak.
It was not much of a speech that young Oliver made. He never was a good speaker, and as yet he had not tried it at all. But he informed the Commons what countenance the Bishop of Winchester did give to some persons that preached flat popery, and mentioned the persons by name; and how by this bishop’s means, Mainwaring (who by censure the last Parliament was disabled from ever holding any ecclesiastical dignity in the Church, and confessed the justice of that censure) is nevertheless preferred to a rich living. “If these be the steps to Church preferment,” cried Oliver, “what may we expect?”
Though he was employed in the work of important committees of the House, this is the only public performance we have from Oliver in that Parliament; but it is enough to show the bent of his mind, enough to show which side he will take if it come to choosing sides. That “flat Popery” was a thing that offended him to the soul then, and aroused him to anger many times in later years, until in the growth of his mind he came at last to look with tolerable patience even upon popery.
And all this time messages were coming from the King, and were evaded in various ways by the Commons, on the matter of tonnage and poundage. And as every day found the King and the Commons farther apart, there was little hope that any more public business would be done by this Parliament than vas done by the two former ones. Finally, when the King, in a rather more peremptory tone than he had yet used, demanded a settlement of the tonnage and poundage, the Commons fell to attacking his ministers. Sir John Eliot named the Lord Treasurer Weston “in whose person all evil is contracted. I find him acting and building on those grounds laid by his master the great Duke.” A question of impeachment was moved, but the Speaker said that the King had commanded him not to put it to the House. The Commons, unable to transact business, adjourned until Wednesday, February 25th. When they came together on that date, they were again adjourned by the King’s order until March 2nd. On March 2nd they met again and urged the Speaker to put the question, but he informed them that he had an order from his Majesty to adjourn until March 10th, and put no question. He then attempted to leave the chair, when two members, Denzil Hollis and William Strode, foreseeing a dissolution, dragged him back, swearing “by God’s wounds, he should stay there as long as the House chose!” Sir Thomas Esmond and his friends strove to rescue the Speaker. Other members drew their swords, and amid tears, groans, imprecations, and shouts, Sir Michael Hobart locked the door. In the midst of this scene of violence a protestation was read in the House, which denounced as public enemies (1) anyone who should bring popery or Arminianism into the Church, (2) anyone who should counsel or advise the levying of tonnage or poundage without consent of Parliament, and (3) anyone who should pay the same if levied.
On March 10, 1629, the King dissolved the Parliament, and eleven years elapsed before another sat in England.
The Lord of the Fens
After the violent dissolution of the third Parliament, Oliver Cromwell returned to Huntingdon in much perturbation of mind. The mad pace at which the nation seemed going to destruction filled him with vague alarms. He had not won a large share of public attention. His sole part in the debates had consisted in that denunciation of “flat Popery” which Dr. Alablaster had preached at Paul’s Cross. His fame was of slow growth, and the fact that he was not proscribed with the five members twelve years later shows that he had not even then become a leader among the English patriots.
Shortly after his return to Huntingdon he was appointed a Justice of the Peace for that borough, Thomas Beard, D.D., his old schoolmaster, and Robert Barnard, Esquire, likewise securing commissions. In the new charter that was granted to Huntingdon, Cromwell saw that the Aldermen had received power to work injustice to the property owners in the borough, and he spoke his mind in a savage way to Robert Barnard, then Mayor. On complaint at London, Cromwell was summoned before the Council, where he acknowledged that his words had been spoken in the heat of passion, and the matter was dropped.
While residing at Huntingdon, he wrote this letter, the first from his pen that has been preserved, relating to his third son, Richard. The young father’s pride of heart is discernible:
“To my approved good friend, Mr. Henry Downhall, at his Chambers in St. John’s College, Cambridge: These.
“Huntingdon, 14th October, 1626.
“Make me so much your servant as to be Godfather unto my child. I would myself have come over to have made a formal invitation, but my occasions would not permit me, and therefore hold me in that excused. The day of your trouble is Thursday next. Let me entreat your company on Wednesday.
“By this time it appears, I am more apt to encroach upon you for new favours than to show my thankfulness for the love I have already found. But I know your patience and your goodness cannot be exhausted by your friend and servant,
But he grew tired of Huntingdon, and prevailed upon his wife and mother to join with him in the sale of certain lands there, out of which his present living was derived. This sale put him in possession of about £1,800, and with this money he bought livestock for a grazing farm which he had rented at St. Ives, five miles down the Ouse River, and moved there with his wife and a rapidly increasing family of children. His mother remained at Huntingdon, where her old associations were doubtless too tenderly cherished to be hastily severed.
His life at St. Ives was quiet, thoughtful, and at times moved with doubts, at others full of hope. Striving after godliness was his chiefest care. Prayer was an institution in his household, and the laborers on his farm were called from their work frequently to join the family in its devotions. In the morning they knelt with him in the worship of God until the sun was high in the heavens, and at even they came early from their toil to renew their supplications to the Throne of Grace. Under this strict application of piety the farm did not thrive, but Oliver’s soul grew rich in grace, and it was here that he penned that letter to Mr. Storie, which, as the only remaining epistolary relic of the St. Ives residence, is given here. It exposes a very lively interest in religion:
“To my very loving friend, Mr. Storie, at the sign of the Dog in the Royal Exchange, London: Deliver these.
“St. Ives, 11th January, 1636.
“Amongst the catalogue of those good works which your fellow-citizens and our countrymen have done, this will not be reckoned for the least, that they have provided for the feeding of souls. Building of hospitals provides for men’s bodies; to build material temples is judged a work of piety; but they that procure spiritual food, they that build-up spiritual temples, they are the men truly charitable, truly pious. Such a work as this was your erecting the Lecture in our country; in the which you placed Dr. Wells, a man of goodness and industry, and ability to do good every way; not short of any I know in England; and I am persuaded that, since his coming, the Lord hath by him wrought much good among us.
“It only remains now that He who first moved you to this, put you forward in the continuance thereof; it was the Lord; and therefore to Him lift we up our hearts that He would perfect it. And surely, Mr. Storie, it were a piteous thing to see a Lecture fall, in the hands of so many able and godly men, as I am persuaded the founders of this are; in these times, wherein we see they are suppressed, with too much haste and violence, by the enemies of God’s truth. Far be it that so much guilt should stick to your hands, who live in a city so renowned for the clear shining light of the Gospel. You know, Mr. Storie, to withdraw the pay is to let fall the Lecture: for who goeth to warfare at his own cost? I beseech you therefore in the bowels of Jesus Christ, put it forward and let the good man have his pay. The souls of God’s children will bless you for it; and so shall I; and ever rest, your loving friend in the Lord,
“P.S.: Commend my hearty love to Mr. Busse, Mr. Beadly, and my other good friends. I would have written to Mr. Busse; but I was loathe to trouble him with a long letter, and I feared I should not receive an answer from him: from you I expect one so soon as conveniently you may. Vale.”
At this time his mother’s brother, old Sir Thomas Steward, Knight, lay fatally ill at Ely. This was the uncle on whom the inquest of lunacy had been held. The record notes that he was buried in the Cathedral of Ely, 30th January, 1636, and Oliver received the principal part of his property under the will. This inheritance induced him to remove to Ely, which he did shortly after Sir Thomas’ death, and continued to reside there until the time of the Long Parliament, and his family still after that until about the close of the first Civil War. His mother appears to have joined him at Ely, thinking to pass her days in the shadow of the old Cathedral, and never dreaming of her apartments in the Palace of Whitehall, where her spirit was finally to pass away.
It was at Ely that, while cultivating his farms, fondly rearing his children, and still pondering the divine mystery, he wrote a beautiful letter to his cousin, Mrs. St. John—a letter warm with the spirit of God’s peace, and in which he tells her of that spiritual regeneration by which his soul had been lifted out of moral darkness into a higher light. The letter reveals completely the religion of a zealous and enthusiastic Puritan:
“To my beloved Cousin, Mrs. St. John, at Sir William Masham his House called Otes, in Essex: Present these.
“Ely, 13th October, 1638.
“I thankfully acknowledge your love in your kind remembrance of me upon this opportunity. Alas, you do too highly prize my lines, and my company. I may be ashamed to own your expressions considering how unprofitable I am, and the mean improvement of my talent.
“Yet to honour my God by declaring what He hath done for my soul, in this I am confident, and I will be so. Truly, then, this I find: That He giveth springs in a dry barren wilderness where no water is. I live, you know where—in Meshec, which they say signifies Prolonging; in Kedar, which signifies Blackness; yet the Lord forsaketh me not. Though He do prolong, yet He will I trust bring me to His tabernacle, to His resting-place. My soul is with the congregation of the firstborn, my body rests in hope; and if here I may honour my God either by doing or by suffering, I shall be most glad.
“Truly no poor creature hath more cause to put himself forth in the cause of his God than I. I have had plentiful wages beforehand; and I am sure I shall never earn the least mite. The Lord accept me in His Son, and give me to walk in the light, as He is the light! He it is that enlighteneth our blackness, our darkness. I dare not say, He hideth His face from me. He giveth me to see light in His light. One beam in a dark place hath exceeding much refreshment in it—blessed be His name for shining upon so dark a heart as mine! You know what my manner of life hath been. Oh, I lived in and loved darkness, and hated light; I was a chief, the chief of sinners. This is true: I hated godliness, yet God had mercy on me. O the riches of His mercy! Praise Him for me; pray for me, that He who hath begun a good work would perfect it in the day of Christ.
“Salute all my friends in that Family whereof you are yet a member. I am much bound unto them for their love. I bless the Lord for them; and that my Son, by their procurement, is so well. Let him have your prayers, your counsel; let me have them.
“Salute your Husband and Sister from me—He is not a man of his word! He promised to write about Mr. Wrath of Epping; but as yet I receive no letters—put him in mind to do what with conveniency may be done for the poor Cousin I did solicit him about.
“Once more farewell. The Lord be with you; so prayeth your truly loving Cousin,
Here is another brief note from Ely. This crude young farmer Oliver has interested himself in a sick and destitute man, one Benson:
“Ely, 13th September, 1638.
“I doubt not but I shall be as good as my word for your money. I desire you to deliver Forty Shillings of the Town Money to this Bearer, to pay for the physic for Benson’s cure. If the Gentlemen will not allow it at the time of account, keep this Note, and I will pay it out of my own purse. So I rest, your loving friend,
These four letters are all that remain of Oliver’s writings previous to the Long Parliament. During the eleven years that passed between the third and fourth Parliaments, the “draining of the Fens” was commenced. This was a work of vast importance throughout Cambridgeshire, and it embraced the construction of the great Bedford Level, to carry the Ouse River directly to the North Sea, holding it safely in strong embankments for about twenty miles and not leaving it in winding stagnation to inundate the whole country, as formerly. Oliver’s part in this affair has never been clearly disclosed. There seems to have been much dissatisfaction with a part of the plan, however, and Cromwell became spokesman for those who raised the clamor, acquitting himself with so much success and pushing the work forward with so much vigor, that he was called “The Lord of the Fens” in the good-humored approbation of his neighbors.
In these St. Ives days, his firstborn, Robert, in whom his soul delighted, was at Felsted school, in Essex, and there he fell ill and died. His age was seventeen years and seven months. What the nature of his sickness was we do not know. It may have been smallpox, for they buried him at Felsted. The old Parish register at Felsted contains a Latin note of his burial, written by the vicar some years after the event, to this effect: “Robert Cromwell, son of the illustrious warrior, Oliver Cromwell, and of Elizabeth, his wife, was buried May 31st, 1639. And Robert was a remarkably pious youth, fearing God above many.” Oliver was well-nigh overwhelmed with grief at this bereavement. But the anguish of the Puritan father found its sure solace in that religion which was the food of his life. “I know both how to be abased and how to abound,” he cried, repeating the words of Paul. “Everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth me.” Twenty years later, while he lay on his deathbed, his thoughts sped back beyond his conquests to this early sorrow, and he repeated the words, assuring his watchers with an emotion that stirred every heart, that, “this Scripture did once save my life, when my eldest son died, which went as a dagger to my heart, indeed it did.”
It is surprising how little of his early private life has been preserved, and much of that which remains is misty with tradition. We have seen enough, however, to recognize a man of fine domestic qualities, an honest neighbor, and a good citizen, who would have passed his life in a quiet way among his fellows, seeking God with all the ardor of his soul, had not the trumpet blast of civil war called him to fight against his King and countrymen on a field of action the like of which England had never seen before.
A Short Account of Religion
As the approaching conflict concerns the religious as well as the political rights of Englishmen, it seems proper, before following Cromwell into Parliament, to take a brief view of the progress of the Christian religion from the earliest times.
The history of religion may be described as the search of men and nations after the true God. When the lowly Nazarene began his ministry, the world was at the feet of pagan idols. But his doctrines of the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man soon took hold so irresistibly upon the hearts of men, and his teachings sprang into such sudden favor, that the four centuries following his death were marked by an intense conflict between the Christian Church and the Roman Empire for the possession of the human race, in the end whereof the Empire went down. On the ruined throne of the Caesars the prelates of the Church, who were now become luxurious through the prestige of success, and seemed forgetful of the humble fisherman whose followers they claimed to be, proceeded to establish an oligarchy which should be more powerful than any government the world had ever known. Their ambitious design was achieved by confining the political judgments of men under an inflexible ecclesiastical yoke. The Christian Church, so named in the Apostolic days of Antioch, became the Holy Catholic Church, and its dogmas filled the earth. But while the seat of spiritual authority was maintained without grave interruption at Rome, the decline of martial glory there, when contrasted with the military pomp of the Byzantine Empire, furnished occasion to a ductile people to transfer their attentions from the West to the East, from Rome to Constantinople. The Emperor Constantine had submissively accepted the Christian doctrines as preached to him by Sylvester, a pope who wisely claimed his title from the Emperor rather than from Saint Peter; and it was not long before the Patriarch of Constantinople vied with the Bishop of Rome in a career of magnificent authority. This rivalry led pope Gregory to make his famous declaration that any bishop who claimed the title of Universal Bishop was Antichrist.
The simple doctrines which the Christ had expounded to the world in his Sermon on the Mount, as an ample exposition of the whole duty of man, were now augmented by unnecessary and perplexing additions. Under Leo the Great, the definitions of the authority of the Bishop of Rome had transformed the earthly head of the Church from a shepherd to a despot. The transparent forms of the primitive Gospel were thrust aside for the impressive and sensuous embellishments of reviving arts. The relics of saints were invested with the power of divine healing. Their graven images could work wondrous miracles. The sacerdotal character assumed an ascendency which rightfully belonged only to intellectual supremacy. The people were taught to venerate the effigies of departed prelates. The mystical doctrine of transubstantiation was unfolded. The ceremony of the mass was inaugurated. The system of auricular confession was instituted. Purgatory was established for the souls of the dead who were to be eased in their sufferings by the prayers of the faithful at the altar. The use of indulgences was expounded as of great efficacy to men. The Church placed itself in close sympathy with the emotions of the human mind. The priesthood assured salvation to all who would confess and do penance, the most depraved of the race receiving an absolution at death which secured for them the glories of eternal life upon equal terms with those who had lived holy and devout lives. The natural yearning of mortality to pierce the mysteries of the unseen world led to that pretended communication between earth and heaven, in the most minute affairs, through the interposition of the machinery of the Church, which afterwards provoked the Protestant revolt. The pope was affirmed to be the veritable successor of Peter and to hold the keys of heaven, and he straightway proclaimed that the eternal gates should be opened to no one outside the pale of the Catholic Church. The sinner who believed could cease from striving, the Church having made his succor sure. Under this policy the papacy seemed impregnably established. If the precedents contained in the Bible fell short of the aspirations of the Roman hierarchy, mystical traditions were brought forward and invested with an authority equal to that of Holy Writ.
This was the elaborate and magnificent system of religion which was built upon the name of the lowly and unostentatious Nazarene. When the decay of the Roman Empire left Rome a prey to the barbarians who constantly threatened to invade the eternal city, the pope intrepidly seized the reins of temporal power. The princes of the earth trembled before him; his shepherd’s crook was more potent than all their scepters, and he became the greatest suzerain in Europe. From having been in the first century “the Servant of the Servants of God,” the pope was, under the style of the papal salute, transformed in much less than a thousand years into “Lord of Lords and King of Kings.” He assembled armies and marched them to Palestine; he wrested the Holy Sepulchre from the custody of the infidel. His lieutenants were the crowned kings of Europe. When Constantinople rejected his claim of supremacy as Peter’s successor he angrily turned his back upon her, and the Turk came and smote her, and was unmolested in his spoil. Kings who questioned his commands lost their crowns. He was not only Christ’s vicar on earth, but the Council of Lateran styled him “Our Lord God the pope.” The ancient Jewish theocracy had been reincarnated and earth was again ruled by a kingdom of priests. But the stern aspect of the authority which was borrowed from the Jews was delightfully emblazoned with the beauties of the old pagan rites. The papal discipline had all the Jewish severity; the papal ceremonies had all the Olympian felicity.
With this view of the divine origin and omnipotent power of the papacy impressed upon the rude minds of those early ages, it is not a cause for wonder that the people bowed in languorous obedience to the invincible pope. Compare his condition with that of any earthly tyrant. The King dies and his encroachment ends. The pope lives forever, and the trembling creature whose intellect begins to question the unfathomable mystery of Rome stops affrighted when he realizes at the start that heaven may be lost by an excommunication, or that earth may become a barren desert by an interdict. An inexhaustible indulgence brought gracious pardon and divine healing to the soul of every confessing sinner within the Church; the believer could not offend beyond the power of priestly absolution, and only the “unpardonable sin” of adverse private judgment could consign the erring mortal to the endless tortures of an eternal hell.
Could any timorous man exercise his mind or raise his arm against the genius of the papacy as thus implanted in the heart of Europe? Strange indeed would it be to see the absolute pope losing his followers, both kings and their peoples departing from the ancient faith or allegiance, until he himself is reduced to the sovereignty of a small portion of Italy, is finally imprisoned by a Catholic Emperor, and then divested of all temporal power. Yet such was his fate. Neither the Inquisition nor the stake, though both were ceaselessly employed to preserve his power, could avert it.
History does not disclose when the first protest against the papacy was made. It is doubtless true that there were those who transmitted the faith in its ancient simplicity from the days of the Apostles. As early as the fifth century, we find pope Leo denouncing heresy, a word which originally meant simply choice. But it is certain that in primitive times the valleys of Piedmont became known as the nursery of a large sect called the Vaudois or Waldenses (Men of the Valleys), who were the earliest Protestants and were distinguished for their pious and exemplary lives. Their organization has been attributed to one Peter Waldus, a rich merchant of Lyon, who became so grievously offended with the impurities of the Church (1160) that he led the people of the Piedmont valleys to a system of independent worship by which each man followed the Christian teachings according to his own understanding of the Scriptures. Saint Bernard, writing of Waldus’ work says, “The churches are without people, the people without priests, the priests without honour, and Christians without Christ. The churches are no longer conceived holy, nor the sacraments sacred, nor are the festivals any more celebrated.” But while Waldus was one of the prophets of the Waldenses, it seems clear that their tenets flourished much more anciently. A Dominican named Rainer Saccho gives this testimony:
“There is no sect so dangerous as the Leontists (Waldenses, that is, the People of Lyon) for three reasons: First, it is the most ancient—some say as old as Sylvester (A.D. 314), others as the apostles themselves. Secondly, it is very generally disseminated; there is no country where it has not gained some footing. Thirdly, while other sects are profane and blasphemous, this retains the utmost show of piety; they live justly before men, and believe nothing respecting God which is not good; only they blaspheme against the Roman Church and clergy, and thus gain many followers.”
This passage was written only a few years after the death of Waldus, and if Peter had been indeed the founder of this noble band, the Dominican would not have conceded their origin to so remote an age.
About the same time other sects were noticed in a more or less flourishing condition in France, in Flanders, in Germany, and in the north of Italy, who were distinguished for their opposition to the Roman Church. But while the ancient darkness was thus pierced by an occasional faint ray of light, it was in England that there suddenly burst upon the religious world with dazzling brilliance and audacity the Morning Star of the Reformation. John Wycliffe, then thirty-seven years old, was master of Balliol College, Oxford, in 1361. Thirteen years later, during the struggle that was maintained by Edward III and his Parliament against the pretensions of the papacy, he electrified Europe by the learning and eloquence of his reply to the pope’s claim of supremacy. The King soon afterwards sent him to Bruges to confer with the papal legate for the mitigation of certain grave abuses practiced by the Catholic Church in England. While in Flanders he seems to have determined his course, for upon his return to England he boldly attacked the system of the papacy and styled the pope “Antichrist” and “the proud, worldly Priest of Rome.” Efforts were made to repress him, but he thrived under persecution. Believing the Bible to be the true guide of the people, he declared that they ought to read it, and he translated it and organized a great body of poor preachers to go from town to town and distribute copies of the Scriptures. He refuted the dogma of transubstantiation, and denied the infallibility of the pope. His teachings made a vast impression on the public mind. Finally he was “silenced” by ecclesiastical judgment, and ordered into retirement, but persisted with a manly courage and simple faith in addressing the people. He was stricken with paralysis while preaching and died two days later (1384), when sixty years old. His followers were the Lollards, and while they met with many mischances after Wycliffe’s death, they were never wholly extirpated even up to the time of the Reformation.
But there came a time when there were three giants in the earth—Leo X, pope of Rome; Michael Angelo, the master of the Renaissance; and Martin Luther, the Monk of Wittenburg. The history of the Reformation is too vast to be recounted here. But the incident which aroused Luther’s sleeping passion was the sale of indulgences, by the proceeds of which Leo was able to avail himself of the genius of Angelo in the decoration of his churches and palaces. The system of indulgences had become a universal scandal. Gradually, the idea that it was in the power of the Church to forgive sin had expanded into the notion that the pope could issue pardons of his own free will, which, being dispensed to his people, exculpated them from their moral transgressions. The sale of these pardons had become a fruitful source of the papal revenue; and John Tetzel, a Dominican friar, was one of the chief agents in this shameless traffic. Luther’s indignation, smothered for a time, became irrepressible. He wrote ninety-five theses denying the pope’s right to forgive sins, and nailed them on the church door at Wittenburg (1521), offering to maintain them in the university against all disputants. His doctrine was, “If the sinner was truly contrite, he received complete forgiveness. The pope’s absolution had no value in and for itself.” His attack on indulgences soon broadened into a warfare on the whole papal system. The Emperor of Germany summoned him before the Imperial Diet at Worms and he there confronted the most splendid audience that Europe could assemble. “Unless I be convinced,” he said, “by Scripture and reason, I neither can nor dare retract anything, for my conscience is a captive to God’s word, and it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. There I take my stand. God help me, I can take no other course.”
Here was a champion who overthrew the pope. Luther established the Reformation imperishably. Germany revolted from the papal yoke. All through Europe the new doctrines caused disquiet. Henry VIII heard of them in England and hastened to write a book against them which prompted the agitated Holder of the Keys to dub him “Defender of the Faith.” But this champion of the papacy was soon to become its greatest scourge. While the spread of Protestantism was temporarily checked by Henry’s zeal, a much less holy motive than that which had swayed the mind of Luther finally instigated Henry himself to revolt against the ancient Church.
Henry VIII, under a dispensation from Pope Julius II, had in contravention of the laws of all civilized countries married the wife of his deceased brother, Arthur. It is now a settled judgment that no pope has power to dispense with the principle of those laws. Three sons and two daughters had been born to this couple, but they had died in infancy and the Princess Mary survived as their only offspring. An appalling apprehension of a renewal of the Wars of the Roses, to follow a disputed succession at his death, filled Henry with the greatest perturbation. He had, indeed, a natural son whose mother was a daughter of Sir John Blount, but while illegitimacy was not an absolute bar, William the Conqueror having been a natural son, it was improbable that the English people would peaceably accept such a Sovereign. Mary was the presumptive heir to the Crown, but no woman had ever reigned alone in her own right in England. It was impossible that Catherine could again enjoy the privilege of motherhood. Henry was in the flower of his age and yearned for a lawful son. Under these considerations, the repugnance which he had long endured respecting his unnatural alliance, now became insupportable. He appealed to Clement to break the tie which Julius had illegally authorized.
An army of 24,000 Germans, Spaniards, and Italians, commanded by the Duke of Bourbon, had captured Rome and made Clement practically a prisoner. His position was an extremely delicate one. Henry demanded his divorce. Spain, ruled by the brother, and Germany by the nephew of Catherine, threatened him with their displeasure if he yielded. France, which had been led by Wolsey to hope for a matrimonial alliance with Henry, favored the suit of the English Monarch. Clement at length acceded to Henry’s petition. It is gratifying to be able to quote Dr. Lingard, the most eminent of Catholic historians, on this disputed subject. Dr. Lingard says:
“The envoys presented to him [the pope] for signature two instruments which had been drawn up in England, by the first of which, he empowered Wolsey to hear and decide the cause of the divorce; by the second he granted to Henry a dispensation to marry, in the place of Catharine, any other woman whomsoever, even if she were already promised to another, or related to himself within the first degree of affinity.”
Clement signed these remarkable documents and formally delegated his full powers to Campeggio and Wolsey, himself declaring the King’s marriage null and void, and in advance of hearing the case, authorizing them to give sentence for Henry. But the proceedings were most tedious. The divorce had been first agitated in 1527; the influence of the German and Spanish Crowns had retarded it; Wolsey had joined the opposition and thereby forfeited his power. Finally Henry defied Rome, declared himself Head of the Church, snatched the English dominions away from the papacy, and received at the hands of Cranmer, as Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1533, an annulment of the fateful marriage.
The pope promptly excommunicated Henry, delivering over his soul to the Devil and his dominions to the first invader; but the interdict did not turn the English people back to the papacy, as a similar curse had turned the French in the time of Philip Augustus. The Parliament, standing for the national independence, passed the Act of Supremacy by which the interference of foreign bishops, princes, and potentates was repudiated within the limits of the English dominions. Henry, assuming to himself the power and jurisdiction of a pope, then commenced the reformation of the Church; still, he could not break far away from the Roman forms. He endeavored, though with ill success, to suppress Tyndale’s translation of the Bible—the only one known to Englishmen; he affirmed that the sacrament of bread and wine was the real body, and approved of the worship of images; he hinted that auricular confession to a priest was necessary, although contrition and amendment of life might accomplish salvation; he averred that ceremonies were good and lawful, as having mystical significations in them; but he renounced Purgatory, declaring that while the souls of the departed might be prayed for, yet they should be left to God’s mercy, and that the gross abuses of this doctrine, as in papal pardons and masses, should be corrected. It was a vast advance for freedom of religion. Four of the seven sacraments were passed over. The Bible and the ancient creeds were made the standards of faith without the traditions of the Church or the decrees of the pope.
That the clergy had followed their King in his revolt against the papacy is shown by the signing of this declaration by the Archbishop of Canterbury, seventeen bishops, forty abbots and friars, and fifty archdeacons and proctors of the convocation. But a reactionary feeling shortly led Henry and the Parliament to pass the law of the Six Articles, establishing the communion in one kind, the perpetual obligation of vows of chastity, the utility of private masses, the celibacy of the clergy, and the necessity of auricular confession, leaving the papacy and some of its traditions still eliminated.
Impelled partly by his avarice and partly by his contempt for Rome, Henry now began to suppress the monasteries which under the encouragement of the papal system had acquired fabulous wealth and power. It was asserted after due examination that these institutions were the hotbeds of the grossest immorality, and they were accordingly seized and their revenues and lands either annexed to the Crown or bestowed upon the favorites of the Court. This confiscation comprised 645 monasteries, of which twenty-eight had abbots who enjoyed a seat in Parliament; ninety colleges; 2,374 chantries and free chapels; and 110 hospitals. Certainly the brusque Tudor earned the pseudonym which was with grave humor bestowed upon him, Mauler of Monasteries.
When, upon the death of Henry, Edward VI, his son by Jane Seymour, came to the throne, the Reformation was pushed forward with a piety and spiritual zeal which had been absent in the preceding reign. Edward, though in his boyhood, was gifted with singular wisdom and moderation. The statute of the Six Articles was promptly repealed, and it was enacted that the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper should be administered in both kinds, in accordance with its first institution and the practice of the Church for five hundred years. Private masses were prohibited. Uniformity of worship was enjoined upon the people. But at this moment there arose a controversy over an infinitely inconsiderable incident which led to a permanent schism in the Church of England. The clergy had continued to wear the vestments of the Roman forms. Many of the preachers were poor, and it was now alleged that the prescribed habits were relics of popery and should be abolished. Bishop Hooper refused to be consecrated in the clerical robes. Cranmer and Ridley insisted that he must conform to custom. Dr. Rogers and others upheld Hooper. Conformists and Nonconformists disputed about clothes, the Nonconformists soon winning the greater popularity. Out of this breach ultimately grew the various Protestant denominations, and it is fortunate for mankind that the controversy, however trivial in its origin, became unreconcilable; for uniformity in that age would inevitably have fastened another intolerant sacerdotal tyranny upon the world in the place of that which had just been overthrown.
Much was heard then and much is heard in this age of an almost universal desire for Christian union; but so long as all Christians acknowledge one Divine Author of their faith, is it not unquestionably to the interest of Christendom that men should maintain honest differences of opinion in matters that are not essential to salvation? It can probably be safely affirmed that a large numerical preponderance in any one of the Christian denominations, ancient or modern, would lead to political inequalities in a greater or less degree which would be prejudicial to the common welfare. Bishop Burnet, on behalf of the King and the Conformists, propounded this question: “What must be done when the major part of a Church is, according to the conscience of the supreme civil magistrate, in an error, and the lesser part is in the right?” The Bishop then answers himself with true Royalist doctrine: “There is no promise in Scripture,” he says, “that the majority of pastors shall be in the right; on the contrary it is certain, that truth, separate from interest, has few votaries. Now, as it is not reasonable that the smaller part should depart from their sentiments, because opposed by the majority, whose interest led them to oppose the Reformation, therefore they might take sanctuary in the authority of the prince and the law.” But this is a very palpable fallacy. A hundred and forty years later James II was on the throne, and James and the minority were Roman Catholics. Would it have been right then for the majority to be guided by the conscience of the supreme civil magistrate? The good bishop would hardly admit so much. The growth of sects at any stage of the world’s history has always emphasized the intellectual and spiritual expansion of the race and broadened the lines of human liberty. From a disputation concerning clothes, the schism soon spread until the Nonconformists directed their attacks against the assumption which the State maintained that it had the right to control the worship and the consciences of the people. Those persons who refused to subscribe the liturgy, ceremonies, and discipline of the Church, as arranged by Archbishop Parker and his Episcopal coadjutors (1564) were called Puritans as a term of reproach for their aspirations after pure hearts and a holy conversation. The divisions which came among the Puritans at a later date will be described in another place.
The principles of religion which Edward endeavored, during his short reign, to impress upon his people as the essential spirit of the Reformation, were the right of private judgment, and the sufficiency of the Bible as the rule of faith and life; and, in despite of a multiplicity of sects, no Protestant congregation has ever departed from this broad foundation. No papists were burnt in Edward’s time. Cranmer, the first Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury, did much to promote the new forms; but he was narrow, weak, bigoted, and cruel, and while he exhibited a commendable patience towards the Catholics, he destroyed dissenting brethren of his own faith with horrid tortures. At Edward’s death (1553), Mary came to the throne without serious opposition; and then might have been realized the words of the Savior of Mankind, who, foreseeing the miseries that would attend the establishment of His religion, mournfully warned the world that he came not to bring peace but a sword. A pliable Parliament instantly subverted England to that execrable subordination to the papacy which Rome had exacted of King John when his barons were endeavoring to establish their liberties at Runnymede. Mary and her bishops, Rochester and Bonner, lighted the torch which burned unintermittingly for five years amid the cries of expiring martyrs. All of King Edward’s laws with regard to religion were repealed. “It was determined,” says Hume, “to let loose the laws in their full vigor against the reformed religion; and England was soon filled with scenes of horror, which have ever since rendered the Catholic religion the object of general detestation, and which prove that no human depravity can equal revenge and cruelty covered with the mantle of religion.” Dr. Rogers, Bishop Hooper, Doctors Sanders, Taylor, Philpot, and Farrar, all noted for their fine characters and their prominence in the Church, were burnt at the stake. The torture of Bishops Ridley and Latimer followed in like manner. Cranmer was thrown into prison and there pusillanimously signed no less than six recantations, but without avail, and he died in the flames to which he himself had cruelly consigned others. To deny the real presence, though only in private conversation, was a sufficient cause for this ferocious penalty. Neither age nor sex was spared. It is computed that 277 victims suffered death at the stake for their opinions under Mary’s persecutions. Her reign was marked by a deep trail of blood and a smoking cloud of fagots, which have made her for all time the most odious of England’s sovereigns.
Many of the Puritans fled to the Continent and found refuge among their Protestant brethren in France, Flanders, Germany, and Switzerland. In Geneva John Calvin was soon made their leader, and John Knox was likewise there, until sent for to take charge of the church at Frankfort. A disagreement arose among the expatriated Puritans over their forms of worship, some inclining to King Edward’s Book of Common Prayer, while others objected to it as the “leavings of popish dregs.” At Mary’s death, while they all agreed on the essentials of their religion, they were farther apart as to its outward forms than they had been before.
The accession of Elizabeth was hailed as a providential deliverance from the enormities of the past reign. This famous Sovereign restored the Protestant faith to its greatest supremacy, and under her beneficent government an almost universal toleration was established in England. But while Elizabeth’s policy was such as to win for her the uninterrupted loyalty and esteem of her subjects, her wisdom was not sufficiently enlightened to convince her that the coercion of religious convictions was beyond the power of an earthly ruler. Therefore her first Parliament passed an act (June 24, 1559) for the uniformity of religion, which was a source of mental disquiet to the Nonconformists throughout her reign, and which produced strife in the Church for nearly a hundred years. Some men preferred their ministers in black gowns, others in surplices, and others in no especial habit; and in attempting to enforce a rigid observance of non-essentials, their gracious Sovereign forgot the precedent of the disagreement among the Romans about eating flesh and observing festivals, which was expediently adjusted by the Apostle Paul in this wise injunction: “Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not, and let not him that eateth not judge him that eateth. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. Why dost thou judge thy brother? or, why dost thou set at nought thy brother? For we shall stand before the judgment seat of Christ” [Romans 14:3]. Had the Reformation returned at once to a wise tolerance of minor variation in forms, as it returned to the doctrines of the Apostolic Church, much bitterness and reproach would have been avoided.
From the broad church structure which Cranmer had endeavored to graft on the roots of English papacy, and which he vainly hoped would win the approval of all those who dissented from Rome, there grew branches of Protestantism which were none the less parts of the parent stem because they were branches. The Presbyterians, opposing the rule of bishops, first sprang up in Geneva under Calvin, and in Scotland under Knox. The Independents or Congregationalists arose later (about 1550) out of the Presbyterian Church. The policy of the Independents was that each church or congregation was entitled “to elect its own officers, to manage all its own affairs, and to stand independent of, and irresponsible to, all authority, saving that only of the Supreme and Divine Head of the Church, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Its theory was, therefore, the widest departure that had yet transpired in the desertion of the Roman dogmas; and it was the spirit of Independency, whether in or out of that denomination, which finally secured religious freedom to Protestants, and repulsed the encroachments of the civil power. Sir Walter Raleigh, speaking in Parliament in 1592, opposed a bill to transport the Independents (or Brownists, as they were improperly called). “I am sorry for it,” he said, “but I am afraid there is near twenty thousand of them in England; and when they are gone, who shall maintain their wives and children?” It was not until Independency took so deep a root in the English religion, and its followers became so numerous in the masses of the people, that the true spirit of Protestantism flourished. The Roman fallacy, that there must be an earthly head of the Church, and that heresy, or choice of opinion, was dangerous to the State, could not be exterminated until the Puritans rose in arms and crushed it—and crushed with it the pretensions of Church and Crown to absolute power. Henry, in breaking with Rome, was an actual pope in England, and Cranmer, who came immediately after him, was little less than pope. Calvin, severe and cruel in spite of his gigantic work in the Reformation, was a pope in Geneva. Luther, autocratic and splenetic, was a pope in Germany. Knox, uncompromising and dictatorial, was a pope in Scotland. These men were all Reformers, and as such they deserve the grateful esteem of mankind; but had either of them been suffered to reconstruct religion unopposed by a healthful variation of opinions, he would verily have substituted in the place of the Roman oligarchy a system which shortly would have become equally tyrannical and corrupt.
This digression has taken a wide range, but it seemed necessary, in order that the reader might be in possession of the motives and the secret springs of the approaching struggle, to briefly review the history of the search of men and nations after the true God. As Cromwell set out from Huntingdon to take his seat at Westminster, he could not but reflect, in his spirit of deep devotion, that if other men were in spiritual strife or doubt, he at least had found fulfillment of the promise, “Seek and ye shall find.”
The eleven years which elapsed between the dissolution of King Charles’ third Parliament and the assembling of his fourth formed a period of great tranquility for the nation. Lord Clarendon, in his fascinating history, observes that all His Majesty’s dominions “enjoyed the greatest calm and the fullest measure of felicity that any people in any age, for so long time together, have been blessed with, to the wonder and envy of all the other parts of Christendom.”
Still, the absolute Government which the perturbed Monarch now sought to impose upon his people was but impatiently accepted by them. Charles, who, since the death of Buckingham, had refused to trust others as he had trusted that brilliant and erratic adviser, became his own Minister, and developed his administration upon those narrow theories of kingcraft which he had received from his father. There were no military incidents in this period, excepting a contribution of six thousand men to aid the Protestant cause in the invasion of Germany by the illustrious Gustavus of Sweden, and the religious controversy with Scotland, which brought about, first, the Short Parliament, and afterwards the Long Parliament, and which will be explained on a further page.
The King’s chief advisers were, Henrietta Maria, his Queen, the Earl of Strafford, and Archbishop Laud. The Queen, possessed of sense and spirit, beautiful, accomplished, and full of affection, had been enabled ever to hold the unshaken fidelity and devotion of Charles, whose passion for her increased as the difficulties of his situation encompassed him more and more. Strafford, who as Sir Thomas Wentworth had opposed the King in the preceding Parliaments and been instrumental in forwarding the passage of the Petition of Right, was now come over to the Court party, and enjoyed the lucrative posts of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and President of the Council of York. William Laud, Bishop of London, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury and Commissioner of the Treasury, acquired a high ascendency over the ceremonial King; and it was chiefly by his counsels that those measures of religious restriction were adopted which, taken with the evils of the civil government, finally aroused the Puritans to revolt.
It was the severity, intolerance, and bigotry of William Laud in the spiritual affairs of the realm, more than the political course of the King and of Strafford, which finally led the people to form themselves into two conflicting armies. The Puritans would rather have given up all they possessed, and turned their backs on country and kindred, than conform to the innovations which the Archbishop had introduced into the English Church, and Laud would rather have had them leave the country than not conform. The unwisdom of this course will be seen by comparing it with the policy of Richelieu, who, while entertaining a violent hatred of Protestantism, so wrought upon the patriotism of the Protestants that they were always glad to join the Catholics in defense of their common country. In England Laud depressed the Puritans so as to undermine their loyalty to the Crown. Under his system of governmental preferments, it soon became apparent to all that the good order, morality, and piety of the Church were suffering a serious decline.
The first step taken by Charles after the dissolution of the third Parliament was to lay an information in the Star Chamber for seditious speech against nine members of the House of Commons, Sir John Eliot, Denzil Hollis, Benjamin Valentine, Walter Long, William Coriton, William Strode, John Selden, Sir Miles Hobart, and Sir Peter Hayman. Of these men Sir John Eliot refused to acknowledge his fault, was fined heavily, and thrown into prison, where he died, while two others, Hollis and Strode, were twelve years later immortalized by being named in the writ for the arrest of the five members.
A proclamation was issued accounting it presumption for anyone to suggest the calling of another Parliament.
Tonnage and poundage continued to be assessed by the royal authority without the consent of Parliament.
In order that the militia might be duly drilled, each county was assessed a certain sum for maintaining a muster-master, appointed for that purpose.
Compositions were openly made with the recusant Catholics, and the religion of that sect became a regular source of the revenue. The Catholics were not oppressed in any other way during the reign of Charles, and the harsh laws which the Puritan spirit of the nation had called forth against them were allowed to sink into a tolerant inactivity.
A commission was issued for compounding with those enjoying Crown lands upon defective titles—an expedient by which some money was secured to the gaping Treasury.
An old statute, now thought to be obsolete, was revived, by which all who possessed twenty pounds a year should be obliged, when summoned, to appear and receive the order of knighthood.
Monopolies were erected. Soap, leather, salt, and other commodities were put under the control of commercial oligarchies, which extorted large prices for their goods.
The last and perhaps the most obnoxious measure for replenishing the royal exchequer, was the famous, or infamous, writ of ship-money, in which the sheriff of every county in England was directed “to provide a ship of war for the King’s service, and to send it amply provided and fitted, by such a day, to such a place”; and with that writ instructions were sent to each sheriff, that “instead of a ship, he should levy upon his county such a sum of money, and return the same to the Treasurer of the Navy for His Majesty’s use,” with directions for proceeding against those who refused to pay. This was ship-money, “a word,” says Clarendon, “of a lasting sound in the memory of this kingdom, by which for some years really accrued the yearly sum of two hundred thousand pounds to the King’s coffers.” It was John Hampden’s refusal to pay this tax (his share of which was only some twenty shillings), and the great trial which followed, that first won for him the admiration of all patriotic Englishmen. In this trial the judgment of the court was in the King’s behalf, and men who had heretofore paid the tax as a loan or favor to the King in his necessity, were now offended when it was exacted as his legal right. “They no more looked upon it,” remarks the noble historian, “as the case of one man, but the case of the kingdom, nor as an imposition laid upon them by the King, but by the judges, which they thought themselves bound in conscience to the public justice not to submit to.” Men were willing to admit that urgent necessity or public safety would justify on occasion an extreme exercise of the regal power in the levying of this arbitrary tax. But when the judges sustained the action of the King’s council as sound doctrine of law, and found the levy of the twenty shillings to be legal for no other reason than that Hampden could afford to pay the money, it was justly considered that the liberties of the subject were being unduly invaded.
In 1633 Charles made a royal progress to Scotland to be crowned King there, and he was received by the people with every sign of welcome and loyalty. The popular discontents did not then seem to have passed beyond the Tweed. Dr. Laud preached on a Sunday in the chapel at Edinburgh, and took occasion to recommend to his hearers the duty of conformity to the Episcopalian worship, his remarks on that subject being received with an apparently gracious accord.
The Court of Star Chamber resumed its activities upon the King’s return to London. Sir David Fowlis was fined five thousand pounds for having dissuaded a friend from compounding with the commissioners of knighthood.
There were three individuals whose malice towards the government was notorious, and whose parts were looked upon with slight respect, yet who now became popular heroes by the severe treatment they received in the Star Chamber. These were William Prynne, a lawyer, Henry Burton, a preacher, and John Bastwick, a physician. While they were not esteemed to possess unusual ability in their several professions, yet, like others of mediocre parts, they were all too willing to accept the crown of martyrdom, and martyrs they became. Prynne had written an absurd book vulgarly denouncing the established hierarchy and the practices of the English Church, especially the new superstitions introduced by Laud. He was condemned to be disbarred from practice; to stand in the pillories of Westminster and Cheapside; to have both ears cut off, one in each place; to pay five thousand pounds to the King; and suffer imprisonment for life. The other two offenders were treated with equal brutality. Prynne, regaining his liberty after a time, renewed his attacks, and had his ears—or what was left of them—cut off a second time, receiving another heavy fine and another imprisonment. These persecutions aroused general indignation. The universal desire for political and religious liberty drove many of the Puritans to America. On one occasion, eight ships were weighing anchor in the Thames and ready to sail, when they were stayed by an order from Council. According to two Royalist historians, there were present on those vessels Sir Arthur Hazelrig, John Hampden, John Pym, and Oliver Cromwell in search of new homes in a new world. The story is popular but not credible, as Rushworth records, that, on receiving a petition from the merchants, passengers, and owners of the ships, “His Majesty was graciously pleased to free them from their late restraint, to proceed in their intended voyage.” If our four patriots were on the ships there was thus no reason for their disembarkation. But there can be no doubt that an emigration to America, as a means of evading the insufferable evils of the times, had been discussed among these men and their associates. Lord Brooke and Lord Saye-and-Sele had purchased a large tract of land in America and established a settlement named after both, Saybrook, and there is evidence that Pym, Hampden, Sir Benjamin Rudyard, Lord Mandeville, and the Earl of Warwick were financially interested in the transaction. It is entirely reasonable to assume that Oliver Cromwell, encouraged by his cousin John Hampden, was also an investor. It might be interesting to conjecture what the history of England would have been, had these men undertaken to endure a patriot’s exile in America instead of engaging in the alternative of civil war.
Laud, in 1637, sought to introduce the English liturgy into Scotland, and his efforts were attended by a disastrous failure. Any project which this man laid his hand to was instantly beset with the cry of popery, so great was the nation’s abhorrence of the innovations which he had introduced. A papist he was not, although he had at times considered the feasibility of a reconciliation between the English and the Roman Churches. But the texture of his religion was similar to that of Rome. Hume says, “The same profound respect was exacted to the sacerdotal character, the same submission required to the creeds and decrees of synods and councils, the same pomp and ceremony was affected in worship, and the same superstitious regard to days, postures, meats, and vestments. No wonder, therefore, that this prelate was everywhere among the Puritans regarded with horror, as the forerunner of Antichrist.” And so, on Sunday, the 23rd of July, 1637, a Scottish bishop, acting as the instrument of Laud, took up the new liturgy. “Let us read the collect of the day,” he said, and Jennie Geddes hurled her stool at his head! “De’il colic the wame of thee!” answered Jennie. “Thou foul thief, wilt thou say mass at my lug?” The word “mass” was taken up and there was a great outcry. “A pope, a pope!” cried some, “stone him!” Turbulent scenes were enacted in all the other churches where attempts were made to introduce the new ceremonies. In short, the Scottish nation with one voice rejected the liturgy. Hume, always an apologist and pleader for the King, sententiously observes, “The treacherous, the cruel, the unrelenting Philip, accompanied with all the terrors of a Spanish Inquisition, was scarcely, during the preceding century, opposed in the Low Countries with more determined fury, than was now, by the Scots, the mild, the humane Charles, attended with his inoffensive liturgy.”
The first act in Scotland which followed the rejection of the liturgy was the universal adoption of the famous Covenant. This obligation required the subscribers to renounce popery, to resist religious innovations, and to defend each other against all opposition whatever, for the greater glory of God, and the greater honor and advantage of their King and country. The people, without regard to age, sex, or condition, made haste to sign the Covenant. There was no subsidence of the tumult, and Charles sent the Marquis of Hamilton, the most prominent Scottish nobleman, and closely attached to the royal interests, as commissioner to treat with the Covenanters. When Hamilton proposed that they renounce and recall the Covenant, they plainly told him that they would sooner renounce their baptism. Hamilton returned to England with this answer, and was immediately sent back with more satisfactory concessions. The King was now willing to abandon all those measures of religion for Scotland which had been so patiently cherished both by King James and himself. He would abolish the liturgy, the canons, and the high commission court, and Hamilton was invested with authority to call first an Assembly, and then a Parliament, where every national grievance might receive redress. These proposals displayed the humanity and betrayed the weakness of the King. The Covenanters willingly accepted the Assembly and the Parliament, in which they expected to have control, but they relinquished nothing on their own part. The Scottish people were filled with devotion to the King and respect for his government, but their fear of popery and their detestation of the ecclesiastical tyranny of Laud moved them to the adoption of such measures for the protection of their religion that Charles summoned an army and marched towards Scotland to subdue them. This was in May 1639.
The brave Northerners were not to be frightened by a show of force, and they gathered a small army under the command of David Leslie, a soldier trained in the Low Country wars, and marched forward with Scotland’s best nobility in the ranks to “humbly present their grievances to the King.”
The English army was commanded by the Earl of Arundel, a nobleman of such magnificence that he “resorted sometimes to the Court because there only was a greater man than himself, and went thither the seldomer because there was a greater man than himself.” The Earl of Essex was Lieutenant-General, and the Earl of Holland General of the Horse. The royal fleet was entrusted to the charge of the Marquis of Hamilton. Charles had, under an old feudal custom, summoned all the nobility of his realm to attend him in this expedition at their own charge, and it seems clear that he depended more upon the pomp and circumstance of war to overcome the opposition of his Scottish subjects, than upon a sanguinary battle. This feeling was likewise entertained by the Army, the common soldiers calling it “a bishops’ war.” By the time the King reached York a suspicion had gained lodgment in his breast that certain men of station who accompanied him did not regard the uprising in Scotland with that abhorrence of rebellion which should inflame a loyal subject. It was unwisely proposed that a short protestation be drawn, in which all men should “profess their loyalty and obedience to His Majesty, and disclaim and renounce the having any intelligence, or holding any correspondence with the rebels.” This device unmasked some malcontents, Lord Brooke and Lord Saye being among those who could not in conscience subscribe the protestation; and we have the admission from Whitelock, the Parliamentary historian, that both Pym and Hampden, while not in this army, were engaged in correspondence with the Scottish leaders who were responsible for this aggression.
Essex moved forward with a large part of the royal forces, and occupied Berwick without other opposition than the solemn warning, repeated many times by Scottish gentlemen whom he met on his march, that he would be overwhelmed and annihilated by a superior army as soon as he approached the walls of that town. The King followed Essex to the borders of Scotland, and encamped his forces in an open field called the Berks, on the farther side of Berwick. The Earl of Holland with three thousand horse, two thousand foot, and a train of artillery, marched some twelve miles beyond the border to a place called Dunce. When he came in sight of the Scottish forces, their banners bearing the legend “For Christ’s Crown and Covenant,” he was deceived, by reason of the manner in which they were placed among the trees on the brow of a hill, and thinking their numbers greatly in excess of what they really were, he instantly retired to the King’s camp “with an account,” says Clarendon with naive humor, “of what he heard and saw, or believed he saw, and yet thought not fit to stay for an answer.”
The Scots promptly sent letters to the King “lamenting their ill fortune, that their enemies had so great credit with the King, as to persuade him to believe that they were or could be disobedient to him, a thing that could never enter into their loyal hearts, that they desired nothing but to be admitted into the presence of their gracious Sovereign, to lay their grievances at his royal feet, and leave the determination of them entirely to his own wisdom and pleasure.” Other messages, the most humble and submissive in spirit, were sent to the King, and a peace, known as the Pacification of Berwick, soon followed. The King indiscreetly disbanded his army before any of the obligations of this agreement were carried out by the Scots, and he had no sooner reached London than he discovered that the late military affair was wholly without substantial result; and he then determined, with fatal tenacity, to make war upon them a second time and conquer their obstinacy.
In all these years every expedient known to absolute rulers had been used to raise a revenue sufficient to carry on the government. But taxes and loans, monopolies, compoundings, knighthoods, ship-money, and all the other desperate resources of this desperate Monarch, had been exhausted. There was palpably but one thing which he could now do. That was to trust his people. Accordingly he called his fourth Parliament, to the great joy of all England which had thought never to see a Parliament again. Before this step was taken, the Earl of Strafford was dispatched to Ireland, to call a Parliament there, from which he procured a large sum of money, with a further offer of “their persons and estates,” if required. It was vainly hoped that this action would influence the English Parliament to like liberality and devotion.
The fourth Parliament, known to history as the Short Parliament, met April 13, 1640, with Oliver Cromwell sitting in it for Cambridge. Its members, smarting under the arbitrary acts of the King’s Government during the past eleven years, had assembled under a grim determination to assert their rights as representatives of the people of England. The King sent the usual message, requesting supply. The Commons pursued their usual dilatory and exasperating tactics, giving precedence to their grievances, which were set forth in a great speech by John Pym. The House of Lords, swayed by the most amicable sentiments towards both King and Commons, presumed to advise that the first business should be supply. The Commons resented this timely advice as “so high a breach of privilege, that they could not proceed with any other matter until they first received satisfaction and reparation from the House of Peers.” The Lords apologized humbly, but the Commons would not be appeased, and they appointed a committee to examine the history of England in order that it might be ascertained whether so grievous an affront had ever before been put upon a House of Commons. When several days had been spent in this manner, and the urgent necessities of the government were no nearer relief, the King sent them a message, commiserating the unhappy estrangement between the two Houses, and offering, if Parliament would grant him twelve subsidies to be paid in three years, to forever relinquish his claims to the obnoxious ship-money tax. Acquiescence with this suggestion would have gone far towards relaxing the strained relations which existed between Charles and his Parliament. But the Commons would not have it so. Certain members observed that “they were to purchase a release of an imposition very unjustly laid upon the kingdom, and by purchasing it they should upon the matter confess it had been just, which no man in his heart acknowledged.” A whole day was consumed in a fruitless though good-tempered debate on the message. There was but one ill-natured speech made, and that was by “a private country gentleman, little known,” who observed that the supply was to be employed in supporting the Episcopal war, which he thought the bishops were fittest to do themselves. The identity of this speaker has not been disclosed.
The next day, John Hampden, the most popular man in the House, perhaps the most popular man in England, moved the question, “Whether the House would consent to the proposition made by the King as it was contained in the message?” This motion would undoubtedly have been carried against the King, if put to the question then. But Sergeant Glanvile, the Speaker of the House, who stood upon the floor while the Commons, as Committee of the Whole, were debating the message, delivered an eloquent and pathetic speech, pleading for a grant of the sum demanded by the King. He denounced ship-money and the judgment of the court against Hampden on that tax. But he advised them that he had computed the amount which he would have to pay on his extensive estates under the twelve subsidies, and the amount seemed so small as to disarm opposition. He implored them to comply with the King’s desire “for the good of the nation, and to reconcile him to Parliaments forever, which this seasonable testimony of their affections would infallibly do.” This appeal seemed to touch his hearers sensibly, but some who were bent on nothing if not to oppose the royal will demurred to his counsels and demanded the question.
Then Lord Clarendon, at that time sitting as Mr. Hyde, arose, and desired that the question might not be put. He told Mr. Hampden that it was a captious question, to which only those who were opposing the King would give their votes. He reminded the House that those who desired to give the King a supply, as he believed most did, while they might differ as to the proportion and the manner, could receive no satisfaction by that question. He therefore proposed an amendment that the question of supply alone should be put, to be followed, if carried in the affirmative, by questions for the amount and the manner. If the first motion were carried in the negative, he told them, it would produce the same effect as the other question proposed by Mr. Hampden would do.
Hyde’s motion was expedient and timely, and contained an easy solution of the existing entanglement, and there were loud calls for the Speaker to put the question. “Mr. Hyde’s question,” cried some. “Mr. Hampden’s question,” cried others. The confusion increased, and the spirit of the House waxed hot. There was a chance for Hyde’s motion to pass when Sir Henry Vane the elder rashly stood up, and, as an officer of the King’s household, warned the House that it would be useless to adopt Hyde’s motion, “For,” he said, “if you should pass a vote for the giving the King a supply, if not in the manner and proportion proposed in His Majesty’s message, it will not be accepted by him!”
This speech, which Clarendon avers to be the outcome of Vane’s malice, and of which Whitelock says that in demanding twelve subsidies Vane exceeded the King’s wish by one half, incensed the Parliament. The afternoon was far spent and the House wearily adjourned. When they met the next morning they were summoned to the House of Lords, and dissolved by the royal command. This was on the 5th of May, 1640.
This Parliament lasted but three weeks, and the time was consumed by Pym’s speech on the grievances of the nation, the altercation between the two Houses on the right of the Commons to originate the appropriation bills, and the debate on the King’s message asking for twelve subsidies.
The nation was greatly distressed by this sudden dissolution, for it was thought that an equal number of sober and dispassionate men would never sit in Parliament again during those troublous times. It must be acknowledged, however, that while the general bearing of the Commons was extremely loyal and apparently pliant to the King’s desires, there were those among them who, wearing smooth faces and speaking meek words, had come to Parliament with a deep-rooted desire to subdue the King and destroy his power.
The King was greatly discomfited by the failure of his effort to win the support of his Parliament. He saw that he had been guilty of rash judgment in its hasty dissolution, and even inquired of his advisers whether he might by proclamation assemble them once more. Finding that impossible, and being wholly without money, his borders threatened by an invading army, and every measure for unlawful taxation already exhausted, he was well-nigh driven to despair. In this embarrassing situation he made an emphatic appeal to his friends for assistance. The Lords of the Council, and others of the nobility, as well as private gentlemen of means, advanced him money with so much alacrity that in the course of a fortnight he was in possession of £300,000, an amount contributed by a few friends which was equal to nearly six of the twelve subsidies he had sought to obtain from the whole nation.
An army was quickly raised for service against the Scots. The officers of the former campaign were generally slighted, an affront to be remembered by them at a later day. The Earls of Essex, Arundel, and Holland were displaced. The young Earl of Northumberland was made General, and Lord Conway General of the Horse. The Earl of Strafford went to Ireland and gathered both men and money there. In the meantime Northumberland was seized with a dangerous sickness, and Strafford, himself in ill health, hurried back to England to take command as Lieutenant-General, leaving the Earl of Ormond in charge of Irish affairs.
Before the arrival of Strafford, the Lord Keeper Conway, a man of voluptuous habits, but who had already won an enviable reputation in arms, a man of learning, and of unquestioned devotion to the King, marched his cavalry to the banks of the Tweed near Newburn, and sat down there in a secure encampment to watch the Scots. And it was here that his army was subjected to a rout that was irreparable, unexplainable, and infamous. The Scottish hosts appeared upon the opposite bank of the river at a time and place when they were expected, made their way through a deep though fordable stream, and up a hill where the English waited in battle array to receive them. On the near approach of the Scots the whole English force, without giving or taking a blow, turned and fled pell-mell, the horse flying from Newburn, and the foot, who had caught the infection of fear, retreating in disorder from Newcastle. Conway made no attempt to stop this headlong flight, although his troops, when they found themselves not pursued, were heartily ashamed of themselves and begged that they be led once more to meet the foe. But they were conducted to Durham, where Strafford found them on his return from Ireland. The Scots, meanwhile, unable to comprehend that they had won a great victory, surrounded the fortifications of Newcastle, but dared not enter until, after standing there for two days, they felt reasonably sure that the stronghold could be occupied without resistance.
The King and Strafford were incensed at the cowardly retreat of the English forces, and Strafford expressed his indignation so forcibly that he became an object of greater aversion to the Army than the Scots themselves, against whom it seems pretty well established there was no very bitter hatred. He withdrew the army to Yorkshire and he himself followed the King to York. If the English troops had proved themselves worthy of reliance they could have beat back the Scots beyond the Tweed without great effort. Or if the nation had been filled with a tranquil loyalty towards the King, the train bands of Yorkshire alone could have crushed this invasion. But the King could trust no one. Once more his money was gone. A foreign enemy was fortified in his very kingdom. His army, and the people generally, he felt to be unfaithful. In this extremity a petition arrived from a number of Lords and other influential persons in London, plainly bearing the handiwork of Pym and Hampden, beseeching him to call a Parliament.
And a Parliament must needs be called forthwith. But Charles was not sufficiently courageous to assemble his Parliament by the most direct method. That would be too humiliating. Instead, he called a great council of all the Peers of England to attend him at York, that their advice might be had in this pressing emergency. The precise object of Charles in calling his Peers together was not explained at the time, nor has research in our times disclosed a satisfactory reason. Whether it was the King’s thought that they, as a part of the highest estate of the realm, would recognize his perilous situation, and, through that, their own dangerous environment; whether he expected them to stand with him in his usurpation of all the powers of the government and set the Commons at defiance; or whether, by having the whole body of the Peers petition for a Parliament, he intended to save a part of his dignity, at the same time acceding to this great desire of the nation, are questions which each student of history must resolve for himself. It is probable that the King was moved by a partial consideration of all these motives. The Peers came together, and promptly advised that a Parliament be straightway called. The King acceded to this request with such grace as the occasion permitted, and writs were issued calling the Parliament for November 3, 1640.
The Council of State, which had supported the King in the amazing methods of government of the past eleven years, contained Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, the Earl of Strafford, and Lord Cottington, as principal ministers; and joined with them were the Earl of Northumberland, a young nobleman to whom Charles was much attached; Juxon, Bishop of London, as High-Treasurer; and the two secretaries, Sir Henry Vane the elder and Sir Francis Windebank. The Marquis of Hamilton, an intriguing but powerful Scot, was also closely identified with the King’s policy.
In the meantime a treaty of peace was put into negotiation with the Scots at Ripon, the sitting of the commission for pacification being shortly afterwards removed to London, where the Court followed them. The Scottish army was still on English soil. With this situation of affairs confronting the nation, on the 3rd of November, 1640, the Long Parliament met at Westminster.
In the chair was Speaker Lenthall, and in front of him, John Rushworth, as Assistant Clerk, making careful record of the proceedings for the perusal of posterity. Pym sat on the left side some distance down the hall. Between him and the Speaker were Edmund Waller, the poet; Denzil Hollis, afterwards named as one of the five members; Henry Marten, the witty, the delightful, the dissolute Republican; and Oliver St. John, a severe and unrelenting patriot, whose place as Attorney-General could not corrupt him from his conscientious opposition to the Court. On the opposite side were Edward Hyde, afterwards the Earl of Clarendon, whose graceful history is one of the chief literary achievements of that age; his friend Lord Falkland, and Sir Henry Vane, Senior, one of the King’s Secretaries. Near these, on the same side, were William Strode, another one of the obnoxious five, Alderman Pennington, and the Huntingdon “sloven,” Oliver Cromwell. John Selden, Sir Arthur Hazelrig, and young Sir Harry Vane were also there, together with many others whose names became prominent only as the stirring times afforded them opportunities to play their parts.
THE EARL OF STRATFORD
No sooner had the Long Parliament come together than a desperate blow was struck at the assumptions of the Crown. This consisted in a successful attempt to destroy the Prime Minister. Sir Thomas Wentworth, afterwards Earl of Strafford, Baron Wentworth, and Baron of Raby, was born in Chancery Lane on Good Friday, April 13, 1593. His family boasted a descent from John of Gaunt, and later, from Margaret, Duchess of Somerset, the grandmother of Henry VII. He was educated at St. John’s College, Cambridge, where the elegant occupations of scholarship consumed all of his time. His letters indicate that at this period he explored nearly the whole realm of polite literature. Having attained the age of eighteen, he, in accordance with a custom of the time, set out for foreign travel, spending some fourteen months on the Continent in charge of a tutor. Upon his return to England he was knighted by James I, and married soon afterwards to Lady Margaret Clifford, a daughter of the Earl of Cumberland. This lady lived but a short time. After a decent period of mourning, he married his best-beloved spouse, Lady Arabella Hollis, a sister of Denzil Hollis, and after her death he was united to Elizabeth Rhodes, the daughter of a simple Knight, this third wife surviving him. He sat in the Parliaments of King James, and enjoyed sufficient favor from Buckingham to secure the office of Keeper of the Records for the West Riding of Yorkshire.
In the Parliaments of Charles he continued to be a prominent member, and was identified with Pym, Selden, Seymour, and Eliot in those early measures of the first Parliament which it was fondly hoped would restrict the King’s authority. Early in 1626 he made formal application to Buckingham for the Presidency of the Council of York, a judicial body erected with somewhat extraordinary powers, with jurisdiction in the northern parts of England. He failed of his desire, and in the next Parliament (I626) his place of Keeper of the Rolls was taken from him through Buckingham’s displeasure. At the expiration of this Parliament the Forced Loans were demanded, and Wentworth was assessed for £40. He refused to pay this and was thrown into prison, his incarceration being shared by the Lady Arabella, who presented him with his second child there. While thus restrained of his liberty he was elected to the third Parliament of Charles (1628), where he became further distinguished for the vehemence of his opposition to the Court. He inveighed with great warmth of language against those measures of the King’s advisers, the adoption of which by himself at a later day cost him his head. He said:
“They have introduced a Privy Council, ravishing at once the spheres of all ancient government, imprisoning us without bail or bond. They have taken from us—what shall I say? Indeed, what have they left us? They have taken from us all means of supplying the King and ingratiating ourselves with him by tearing up the roots of all property, which, if they be not seasonably set into the ground by his Majesty’s hand, we shall have instead of beauty, baldness.”
Through all the debates in this Parliament on subsidies Wentworth spoke and voted with the opposition, keeping fully abreast with Pym and Eliot in the boldness of his denunciations of the King’s demands. What was the astonishment of the country, therefore, when, within three weeks of the prorogation of this Parliament, they learned that Sir Thomas Wentworth, the staunch patriot, had been created a Baron, and shortly afterwards a Viscount, and, finally, that he had been appointed to the important position of President of the North! The reasons for his apostasy are not known. A fair presumption is that he was ambitious, as other able men have been ambitious, and that as his preferment could come only from the King’s favor, he had surrendered, or altered, his principles of popular rights in such a manner as to permit his advocating for the future the policy of the Crown. That he honestly believed the Commons were at that time carrying their restriction of the prerogative with a too high hand, cannot for a moment be admitted. He had been far too active in the conduct of the opposition to make so charitable an explanation plausible. One theory of his desertion is that he joined the popular side only for the purpose of convincing Buckingham, who had refused him the Presidency of the North, that he was not one who could be safely despised, and having proved his power, he was now ready to support the Crown. But whatever the cause, his desertion was viewed by the Parliamentarians with the deepest chagrin, and Pym is reported to have said to him, on the eve of his departure for York, “You are going to leave us, I see, but we will never leave you while your head is on your shoulders.”
No sooner had he attached himself to the Court party than Buckingham, falling beneath the murderous stroke of Felton’s knife, passed away, and Wentworth entered upon the discharge of his duties in the Council of the North with greater freedom for his abilities than would have been permitted to him under the control of the favorite. In his inaugural address before that body he said (and who would look for these words from the hotheaded patriot of a year before?):
“To the joint individual well-being of sovereignty and subjection do I here vow all my cares and diligence through the whole course of my ministry. I confess I am not ignorant how some distempered minds have of late endeavored to divide the consideration of the two as if their ends were distinct, not the same, nay, in opposition; a monstrous, a prodigious birth of a licentious conception; for so should we become all head or all members. But God be praised, human wisdom, common experience, Christian religion, teach us far otherwise.”
Then, in a burst of enthusiastic loyalty, he picturesquely observes:
“Princes are to be indulgent, nursing fathers to their people; their modest liberties, their sober rights, ought to be precious in their eyes; the branches of their government be for shadow, for habitation, the comfort of life. They repose safe and still under the protection of their scepters. Subjects, on the other side, ought, with solicitous eyes of jealousy, to watch over the prerogatives of the Crown. The authority of a King is the keystone which closeth up the arch of order and government, which contains each part in due relation to the whole, and, which once shaken and infirmed, all the frame falls together into a confused heap of foundation and battlement, of strength and beauty.”
When it became necessary to assess those obnoxious measures of taxation which have been already described, Wentworth exacted them with an iron hand and punished contumacious landholders with very little display of patience, forgetting, it seemed, the imprisonment which he himself had undergone rather than pay unlawful fines. The success of his administration was complete, and, his capacity for larger employment having been fully developed, he was (1632) appointed Lord Deputy of Ireland, a position to which the major part of his melancholy fame belongs.
Upon assuming charge of the Lord Deputyship he discovered that Irish affairs were in a very deplorable condition. Of the annual contribution of £120,000 for the support of the Army, not more than £106,000 had been paid in. Wentworth refused to listen to any suggestion to reduce the military establishment, and found himself confronted with the necessity for devising new methods of finance. The arsenals had been suffered to lapse into decay; the coasts were guarded only by two small vessels which the Lord Justices declared were all the country could afford, although the channels were infested with pirates, who had just captured a ship containing linen of the value of £500 belonging to the Lord Deputy; Dublin Castle was in a ruinous condition; and the churches were lacking repair, one of them being used as a stable for the horses of Wentworth’s predecessor.
The new Lord Deputy began his administration with the wisdom and energy which always characterized his public services. He laid a more autocratic hand on public affairs than his companions at the Irish Council table could view with favor, and some enmities were engendered in their bosoms which burst forth in the hour of his peril to ruin him. The Lord Justices desired him to recoup the revenue by a merciless infliction of the penalties prescribed against Catholics. This he refused to do, and directed that the taxes be assessed in lawful proportion, unbiased by religious prejudices. He paid special attention to the cultivation of the commercial industries of Ireland, especially flax, hemp, and wool. His mind was possessed with a desire to develop the natural resources of that fruitful island. “Ireland,” he wrote to the Home Government, “seems now only to want foreign commerce to make them a rich, civil, and contented people, and consequently more easily governed by Your Majesty’s Ministers under the dictate of your wisdom, and the more profitably for your Crown, than in a savage and poor condition.” A naval force was secured from England and piracy was suppressed. A Parliament was called to sit at Dublin (1635–36) which, under Wentworth’s firm hand, was perfectly tractable to the King’s desires. Charles had been reluctant to assemble the Parliament, but the Lord Deputy had persisted until he carried his point. It was here that the first clear glimpse of his policy of “Thorough” is obtained. Should the Parliament fail to grant the King’s demands, “I could not,” writes Wentworth, “in a cause so just and necessary, deny to appear for him at the head of the army, and there either persuade them fully that His Majesty had reason on his side, or else think it a great honour to die in the pursuit”—of what both justice and piety command him to regard as his duty.
The marks of the royal favor which his vigorous policy in Ireland elicited, encouraged him to apply for an earldom, but it was refused. Soon after he was summoned to England to answer charges against his administration, which were met by him with so much skill and candor that Charles was delighted, and the earldom was again asked for. Wentworth argued that if he returned to Ireland without the coveted promotion, his vindication would not be complete, and the strength of his government would be weakened. But Charles again refused. “The marks of my favor,” said the King, with an apparent frankness which only irritated his aspiring Minister, “which stop malicious tongues are neither places nor titles, but the little welcome I give to accusers, and the willing ear I give to my servants. I will end with a rule that may serve for a statesman, a courtier, or a lover—never make an apology till you be accused.”
It does not appear that the King availed himself of Wentworth’s judgment up to this time in affairs other than those connected with his positions in Ireland and the Council of the North. But now the war cloud was appearing over Scotland, and Wentworth imparted his views on that matter to the Earl of Northumberland in July 1638, and it is very probable that they were laid before the King. He advised that the Scottish ports be blockaded and their shipping seized. He said:
“It may be asked how money shall be found to carry us through the least part of this. In good faith every man will give it, I hope, from his children upon such an extremity as this, when no less, verily, than all we have comes thus to the stake. In a word, we are, God be praised, rich and able, and in this case, it may be justly said, Salus populi suprema lex, and the King must not want our substance for the preservation of the whole.”
The English forces moved forward and made that valorous march to Dunce Hill and that ignominious retreat from Dunce Hill, which will ever recall the nursery rhyme,
The King of France and forty thousand men Marched up a hill—and then marched down again!
and the first war with Scotland was over, and the Pacification of Berwick begun.
Charles now turned with full reliance to the ablest man in his party. He wrote to Wentworth to come to England, but bade him be sure to conceal the cause. He wished, he said, to consult him on some military projects, but added, “I have much more, and indeed too much, to desire your counsel and attendance for some time, which I think not fit to express by letter more than this, the Scottish Covenant spreads too far.” Wentworth replied with alacrity, expressing his willingness to go, but asked that power from His Majesty be sent for the administration of Irish affairs during his absence. He complained, too, of the gout, which had racked an exceedingly frail body with pain for several years past. Charles had every reason to solicit his counsels. His advice was always judicious. The great force and firmness of his personal character had impressed itself upon the government of Ireland, and he was fitted now both by his experience and his natural parts, to become the King’s Prime Minister. Greatly deterred by his gout, he reached London in November, 1639, and resumed his place in the Privy Council.
In January, 1640, he was created Earl of Strafford, invested with the Order of the Garter, and in place of the title of Lord Deputy of Ireland received that of Lord Lieutenant, which had not been used since the administration of Elizabeth’s unhappy Earl of Essex. To this was also added at his request the Barony of Raby—a peerage which the Vane’s claimed as pertaining to their family by right, and they resented Strafford’s assumption of the title with a revengeful bitterness which they afterwards displayed in his trial. He had made other enemies at Court. Holland “could not forget a sharp, sudden saying of his,” says Clarendon (“I cannot,” adds the historian quaintly, “call it counsel or advice”), “that the King would do well to cut off his (Holland’s) head.” The Earl of Essex, a friend of the late Lord Clanricarde whom Strafford had grievously offended in Ireland, “was naturally enough disinclined to his person, his power, and his parts.” The Duke of Hamilton had no love for him, and the whole Scottish nation hated him for the declaration he had procured in Ireland against their Covenant. Clarendon continues:
“So that he had reason to expect as hard measures from popular councils as he saw were like to be in request, as all these disadvantages would create towards him. And yet, no doubt, his confidence was so great in himself and in the form of justice (which he could not suspect would be so totally confounded) that he never apprehended a greater censure than a sequestration from all public employment in which, it is probable, he had abundant satiety; and this confidence could not have proceeded (considering the full knowledge he had of his own judges) but from a proportionate stock of, and satisfaction in, his own innocence.”
The Short Parliament was called, and Strafford made that hasty trip to Dublin to obtain from an Irish Parliament a vote of their “persons and estates,” if necessary, to the King’s cause. He also levied an army of eight thousand men to assist the King in the reduction of the Scotch rebellion, and was then struck down by an excruciating attack of his old malady. On his return he stopped at Chester, unable to travel farther; and here the news was brought him that his own county of York had refused to furnish the King two hundred men for the garrison of Berwick. While the Privy Council were considering what satisfaction they should demand of the county authorities, Strafford wrote indignantly from his sickbed to one of the Secretaries of State, expressing his astonishment that “the Council should think of any other satisfaction than sending for them up and laying them by the heels.” The second Scotch war, and the events which led up to the assembling of the Long Parliament, have been already recounted; and with this necessary sketch of Strafford’s career, we approach its closing scenes.
The opening session of the Long Parliament was a loud outburst of complaint on behalf of the whole nation. The universal fear was that the liberties of the people were to be surrendered into the hands of the pope, and Strafford and Laud were publicly execrated as the instigators of the unholy bargain. The Queen and her mother were urgently pressing the pope for money and men, and an impregnable alliance might have been promoted could Charles but have turned Catholic. In this very moment of darkness, a popular marriage was arranged between Prince William of Orange and the young Princess Mary of England; but it was learned that a rash assertion had been made by the Queen to the papal legate, that the Prince was to bring over twenty thousand men, that Strafford would be rescued from his impending fate, and that France and Ireland would actively cooperate in these measures. It cannot be a matter of wonder, therefore, that the alarmed Commons set out to make a bloody sacrifice.
The Parliament met on the 3rd of November. By the 6th, John Pym, preeminently the leader of the lower House, had carried a motion for inquiry into the alleged abuses in Ireland. Strafford’s friends, in great perturbation of mind, pressed him to return to Ireland, but he scorned to fly. He did indeed prefer to remain in command of the army at York, a situation in which he could have defended himself and contended for his cherished principles of monarchy. But with characteristic courage he sped to London, reaching the capital on the 10th; and on the 11th, at three in the afternoon, he hastened to his place in the House of Lords, prepared to charge treason against some of his enemies. He came too late! Almost at the moment of his arrival, Pym appeared with his committee at the bar of the House, and, reading a resolution from the Commons directing his impeachment, prayed their Lordships that he might be at once committed to prison. The haughty Earl, with a “proud, glooming countenance,” was approaching his place, when a chorus of voices arose “bidding him void the House.” So great was the clamor that he was barely accorded the right to speak. But he was not the man to be deterred by noise. He arose with dignity and earnestly pleaded for his release during the formulation of the charges against him, and reminded their Lordships what mischief they might bring on themselves if, upon a mere general accusation without the mention of any one crime, a Peer of the realm could be committed to prison and deprived of his place in that House where he was summoned by the King’s writ to assist in their counsels. He then withdrew, and the Lords, terrified under the furious lash of the Commons, resolved to commit him to the custody of Black Rod, and he was forthwith restrained of his liberty. And now nothing could stop the Commons.
On December 18, Laud was arrested and lodged in the Tower on the charge of high treason. Finch and Windebank, of the King’s party, would have been impeached, but, warned in time, they fled the country. Christopher Wandesford, a trusted councilor of the Lord Lieutenant’s, would have been assailed, but he was so shocked on learning the news of his master’s arrest that he fell in a faint and expired.
On March 22, 1641, nearly three months after his arrest, the trial of Strafford began. The number of the articles of impeachment had grown to ninety-eight, and embraced every act of his life and every expression of a fearless tongue which malice or the heat of party could torture into crime. The introduction was delivered by Pym, whose power of invective was never so well displayed, and who referred to Strafford, with melodramatic effect, as “the wicked Earl.” The fallen Minister behaved himself with humility and submission, yet with great courage, never losing an advantage, and making a very dexterous defense. As the trial progressed, it was soon discerned by the watchful Commons that they would fail to prove high treason against him. This crime had been defined through all the jurisprudence of England as an act of hostility against the King’s right or person, whereas the acts of arbitrary authority which made up the sum of the accusations against Strafford were at the worst only in contravention of that constitutional government which up to this time had never been clearly defined. The general charge was an “endeavor to overthrow the fundamental laws of the government and to introduce an arbitrary power.” No one of the articles of impeachment would sustain this charge.
At this moment there was injected into the prosecution an ingenious and plausible but dangerous theory, that as high treason was not proved by any single article, yet the evidence supporting all of the articles was sufficiently strong to make conviction on the general charge; and this was to be done under a process by which each article was strengthened and supported by the others, thus making a sort of cumulative high treason out of the whole. Strafford tore the mask from this specious theory by demanding, “When one thousand misdemeanors will not make one felony, shall twenty-eight misdemeanors heighten it to a treason?”
It likewise became necessary in this proceeding “to make one witness, with divers circumstances, as good as two.” The elder Sir Henry Vane, still smarting under the loss of the ancient Barony of Raby, had appeared as a witness against Strafford, and betrayed the secrets of the Privy Council by testifying that Strafford had advised the King to employ the Irish army for the subjugation of England. “You must,” he was alleged to have said, “prosecute the war vigorously; you have an army in Ireland with which you may reduce this kingdom.” Strafford denied that he had used the words, but with his usual adroitness pointed out that, even if they had been used, the Committee was then sitting as a Committee for Scotch Affairs, and the Court was invited to adopt the reasonable conclusion that the “war” which was to be prosecuted vigorously was the Scotch war, and that “this kingdom” which was to be reduced was the kingdom of Scotland. There were four other councilors present at the time the words were said to have been used—Northumberland, Hamilton, Cottington, and Juxon, who all declared on oath, while recollecting all the rest of Strafford’s language as reported by Vane, that they had heard nothing about the army in Ireland or the threatened reduction of England. With Vane asserting, Strafford denying, and the other four not remembering the treasonable words, the legal inference was in Strafford’s favor.
But the managers of the prosecution were equal to the emergency. Pym arose and informed the House that he was responsible for the insertion of that charge against Strafford. He then proceeded to make a most remarkable disclosure. Some months before he had called to visit young Sir Harry Vane, who was just recovering from an attack of ague. Sir Harry seemed troubled about the state of the kingdom, and referred with suppressed horror to a mysterious paper which he had found while making a clandestine search through his father’s cabinet. This paper was a minute of a part of the proceedings of the Privy Council, taken down by the elder Sir Henry, and contained these words as coming from Strafford: “Absolved from the rules of Government; prosecute the war vigorously; an army in Ireland to subdue this kingdom.” After much pressure young Sir Harry permitted Pym to take a copy of the document, the original being then returned to the cabinet, and afterwards destroyed by the elder Vane. Mr. Pym said:
“Though there was but one witness in the point, Sir Henry Vane the Secretary, whose handwriting that paper was, whereof this was a copy, yet he conceived those circumstances of his and young Sir Henry Vane’s having seen those original results, and being ready to swear that the paper read by him was a true copy of the other, might reasonably amount to the validity of another witness.”
Young Sir Harry rose and with an apparent shame corroborated Pym’s statement. He was conscious, he said, that this discovery would prove little less than ruinous in the good opinion of his father, but having been drawn by a tender conscience towards the common parent, his country, to trespass against his natural father, he hoped he should find compassion from that House, though he had little hopes of pardon elsewhere.
Then the elder Vane, “with a pretty confusion,” played his part in this picturesque incident. He had been much amazed, he said, when he found himself pressed by such interrogatories as made him suspect some discoveries to be made by some person as conversant in the councils as himself, but he was now satisfied to whom he owed his misfortunes, in which he was sure the guilty person should bear his share.
“This scene was so well acted, with such passion and gestures, between the father and son, that many speeches were made in commendation of the conscience, integrity, and merit of the young man, and a motion made ‘that the father might be enjoined by the House to be friends with his son,’ but for some time there was, in public, a great distance observed between them.”
After seventeen days spent in the trial, the arguments began. Strafford presented his own defense with skill and eloquence. The Lords appointed attorneys to assist him in points of law, a privilege accorded to the meanest criminal, but for which they were churlishly rebuked by the Commons. The Earl, in that touching peroration to his final speech, said:
“My Lords, I have now troubled your Lordships a great deal longer than I should have done. Were it not for the interest of these pledges that a saint in Heaven left me, I should be loath, my Lords… (Here he paused for a moment, overcome by his emotion, and then, leaving the sentence unfinished, continued.) What I forfeit for myself it is nothing. But I confess that my indiscretion should forfeit for them, it wounds me very deeply. You will be pleased to pardon my infirmity; something I should have said, but I see I shall not be able, and therefore I will leave it. And now, my Lords, I thank God I have been, by his good blessing towards me, taught that the afflictions of the present life are not to be compared with that eternal weight of glory that shall be revealed hereafter. And so, my Lords, even so, with all humility and with all tranquility of mind, I do submit myself clearly and freely unto your judgment, whether that righteous judgment shall be to life or death. Te Deum laudamus, ie Dominum confitemur.”
The prosecution wavered. The House of Lords inquired of the judges whether some of the articles amounted to treason, and the judges answered unanimously that upon all which their Lordships had voted to be proved, it was their opinion the Earl of Strafford did deserve to undergo the pains and penalties of high treason by law. This decision merely placed upon the Lords the responsibility of declaring whether the charges had been sustained by the evidence.
But before the opinion was taken, the Commons, fearful that their culprit would escape, resolved to make that a crime by ex post facto law which could not under the existing statutes be capitally punished. A bill of attainder was passed in the lower House, immediately followed by a bill exempting Strafford’s children from the penalties of forfeiture and corruption of blood—an act of generosity which was startling in that moment of passion. The attainder carried its own condemnation in one of its articles, which prohibited the judges from construing it as a precedent. The Lords hesitated. Their sympathies were with Strafford, but the fifty-nine members of the Commons who had voted against the bill of attainder had since been treated with so much open contempt that their Lordships, fearful of the popular wrath, passed the bill by a vote of twenty-six to nineteen, those who could find a sufficient excuse remaining away. Strafford, with a tongue of prophecy, protested against the sacrifice of his life lest such inconveniences and miseries should follow within a few years as that no man should know what to do, or what to say.
In the meantime, the frightened Monarch found his heart tossed between the emotions of hope and despair. On April 23, two days after the bill passed the Commons, he wrote to Strafford assuring him on that much abused “word of a King,” that, though the “misfortune that had fallen upon him” made it impossible that he could be employed hereafter in the royal affairs, he should not “suffer in life, honour, or fortune.” On May 1, the King went down to the House of Lords in state, and informed the Parliament in a dignified and courageous speech that he could not consider Strafford to have been guilty of high treason, and, denying explicitly Vane’s army story, suggested that Strafford should be punished only for misdemeanor. This interference of the King brought forth a furious protest from the Commons in behalf of the privilege of Parliament, and it was this uproar which forced from the Lords an unwilling assent to the attainder.
The mobs now surrounded the King’s palace and cried out for Strafford’s blood. Charles, in terror, summoned the bishops and acquainted them with his promise to Strafford. The assurance of protection had been most solemn; but panic had seized upon the royal household, and the only calm man in England probably was Strafford himself. That chivalrous gentleman wrote to Charles releasing him from his obligation. “To say, Sir,” he said, “that there hath not been a strife in me, were to make me less man than, God knoweth, my infirmities make me; and to call a destruction upon myself and my young children (where the intentions of my heart at least have been innocent of this great offence) may be believed will find no easy consent from flesh and blood.” Concluding in a strain of loftiest magnanimity, he said:
“So now, to set your Majesty’s conscience at liberty, I do most humbly beseech Your Majesty, for prevention of evils which may happen by your refusal, to pass this bill, and by this means to remove, praised be God (I cannot say this accursed, but, I confess), this unfortunate thing forth of the way towards that blessed agreement which God, I trust, shall ever establish between you and your subjects. Sir, my consent shall more acquit you herein to God than all the world can do besides. To a willing man there is no injury done. And as, by God’s grace, I forgive all the world with a calmness and meekness of infinite contentment to my dislodging soul, so, Sir, to you I can give the life of this world, with all the cheerfulness imaginable, in the just acknowledgment of your exceeding favours.”
This letter cleared the way for the bishops to advise his Majesty—with the honorable exception of Juxon—that a King had two consciences, one public, the other private; and that “his public conscience as a King might not only dispense with, but oblige him to do, that which was against his conscience as a man.” Under this specious reasoning the King, coquetting still further with his conscience, appointed a commissioner to sign the bill, and on Monday, May 10, it became law.
On the next day the wretched Monarch made an effort to secure clemency. Fearful now of exercising that boasted prerogative by granting Strafford a pardon, as he had a full constitutional right to do, he dispatched a message to the House of Lords by the hand of the youthful Prince of Wales, beseeching them to use their offices in securing from the Commons their approval to the pardon. After making a dignified and pathetic statement of the quality of mercy, and expressing a desire that Strafford might live out the natural course of his life in a close imprisonment, he hastily added, as if afraid of turning their wrath upon himself, “But if no less than his life can satisfy my people, I must say, fiat justitia.” Then in a postscript which destroyed the force of it all, he wrote, “If he must die, it were charity to reprieve him until Saturday.” When Strafford received the news of the King’s assent to the bill of attainder, the treachery with which he had been sacrificed wrung from his lips the Scriptural words, “Put not your trust in princes, for in them there is no help!”
On Wednesday, May 12, 1641, Strafford was conducted to Tower Hill. As he passed the cell where Archbishop Laud was confined, that aged prelate stood at the window, and with choking voice sent forth a feeble blessing, the Earl kneeling reverently to receive it. He then walked on with the courage of a conqueror. When he had mounted the scaffold, Strafford turned to the multitude who had lately howled for his blood, but were now hushed in the presence of impending death. Addressing them with an air of calm fortitude, he protested his innocence of high treason, and proclaimed his steadfast adherence to the Protestant faith. But it augured ill, he told them, for the people’s happiness, to write the commencement of a reformation in letters of blood. He implored them, “for Christian charity’s sake,” to believe him that he had always thought Parliaments in England to be the happy constitution of the kingdom and nation. He charged his eldest son to avoid ambition, and to seek no higher preferment than Justice of the Peace in his own county. The executioner approached, and, according to an ancient custom, entreated his forgiveness, which was freely given. Strafford joined for a few moments in prayer with Archbishop Usher, and, after bidding farewell to those of his kinsmen who were on the scaffold, he knelt before the block and received the headsman’s blow.
When Strafford fell, the theory of absolute monarchy fell also. He was cast in a heroic mold, and with another master he might have made England great, as Cromwell afterwards made her great. But the times were out of joint; Charles was not equal to the task of enforcing his own principles in the government, and when the Commons pursued Strafford to the foot of the throne as a scapegoat for all the oppressions of this reign, the wretched Monarch pusillanimously permitted the destruction of the only man who could possibly have preserved his Crown for him against the rising tide of rebellion. If Strafford had lived—if his frail health had been spared—history might have recorded different results at Marston Moor and Naseby. English liberty might have been set back for a hundred years. Who can tell?
The Long Parliament for Popular Government
“Pray, Mr. Hampden,” cried Lord Digby, overtaking the great Commoner one day as he was leaving Parliament House, “who is that man—that sloven who spoke just now?” Hampden, turning round and perceiving that his kinsman, Oliver Cromwell, was the object of this animadversion, gazed calmly at his interrogator while he answered in the memorable and prophetic words, “That sloven whom you see before you hath no ornament in his speech; that sloven, I say, if we should ever come to a breach with the King—which God forbid!—in such a case, I say, that sloven will be the greatest man in England.”
The grave Royalist, Sir Philip Warwick, writes this famous description of Cromwell:
“The first time that ever I took notice of him was in the very beginning of the parliament held in November, 1640, when I vainly thought myself a courtly young gentleman; for we courtiers valued ourselves much upon our good clothes. I came one morning into the House well clad, and perceived a gentleman speaking (whom I knew not) very ordinarily appareled, for it was a plain cloth suit, which seemed to have been made by an ill country tailor; his linen was plain and not very clean; and I remember a speck or two of blood upon his little band, which was not much larger than his collar; his hat was without a hatband, his stature was of a good size, his sword stuck close to his side, his countenance swollen and reddish, his voice sharp and untunable, and his eloquence full of fervor, for the subject matter would not bear much of reason, it being in behalf of a servant of Mr. Prynne’s, who had disbursed libels against the Queen for her dancing, and such like innocent and courtly sports; and he aggravated the imprisonment of this man by the Council table unto that height, that one would have believed the very Government itself had been in great danger by it. I sincerely profess it lessened much my reverence unto that great Council, for he was very much hearkened unto. And yet I lived to see this very gentleman, whom out of no ill will to him I thus describe, by multiplied good successes, and by real, but usurped power (having had a better tailor and more converse among good company), in my own eye, when for six weeks together I was a prisoner in his Sergeant’s hands and daily waited at Whitehall, appear of a great and majestic deportment and comely presence. Of him, therefore, I will say no more, but that verily I believe he was extraordinarily designed for those extraordinary things which one while most wickedly and facinorously he acted, and at another as successfully and greatly performed.”
There is another reference to Cromwell in which his deep passion for social justice is unconsciously illuminated. It was in the early days of the Long Parliament, when Clarendon, speaking of himself as Mr. Hyde, wrote:
“Mr. Hyde was often heard to mention one private committee, in which he was put accidentally into the chair; upon an Enclosure which had been made of great wastes, belonging to the Queen’s Manors, without the consent of the tenants, the benefit whereof had been given by the Queen to a servant of her near trust, who forthwith sold the lands enclosed to the Earl of Manchester, Lord Privy Seal; who together with his son Mandevil were now most concerned to maintain the Enclosure; against which, as well the inhabitants of other manors, who claimed common in those wastes, as the Queen’s tenants of the same, made loud complaints, as a great oppression, carried upon them with a very high hand, and supported by power.
“The Committee sat in the Queen’s Court; and Oliver Cromwell being one of them, appeared much concerned to countenance the Petitioners, who were numerous together with their Witnesses; the Lord Mandevil being likewise present as a party, and by the direction of the Committee sitting covered. Cromwell, who had never before been heard to speak in the House of Commons [at least not by Mr. Hyde, though he had spoken there], ordered the Witnesses and Petitioners in the method of the proceeding; and seconded, and enlarged upon what they said, with great passion; and the Witnesses and persons concerned, who were a very rude kind of people, interrupted the Counsel and Witnesses on the other side, with great clamour, when they said anything that did not please them; so that Mr. Hyde (whose office it was to oblige men of all sorts to keep order) was compelled to use some sharp reproofs, and some threats, to reduce them to such a temper that the business might be quietly heard. Cromwell, in great fury, reproached the Chairman for being partial, and that he discountenanced the Witnesses by threatening them: the other appealed to the Committee; which justified him, and declared that he behaved himself as he ought to do; which more inflamed him [Cromwell], who was already too much angry. When upon any mention of matter-of-fact, or of the proceeding before and at the Enclosure the Lord Mandevil desired to be heard, and with great modesty related what had been done, or explained what had been said, Mr. Cromwell did answer, and reply upon him with so much indecency and rudeness, and in language so contrary and offensive, that every man would have thought, that as their natures and their manners were as opposite as it is possible, so their interests could never have been the same. In the end his whole carriage was so tempestuous, and his behaving so insolent, that the Chairman found himself obliged to reprehend him: and to tell him, that if he [Cromwell] proceeded in the same manner, he [Hyde] would presently adjourn the Committee, and the next morning complain to the House of him. Which he never forgave; and took all occasions afterward to pursue him with the utmost malice and revenge, to his [Cromwell’s] death.”
But it was not Cromwell’s destiny to rise to any great height as a Parliamentary leader. He was not a popular speaker, and his tongue could not command the ready wit nor control itself by the equable patience of a successful debater. His heart seems to have been stirred more by the religious side of the quarrel between the King and the Parliament than by the political side; and the great danger to the Protestant faith which he, in common with all the other Puritans, beheld in the extreme Episcopalianism of Laud’s unbridled administration, incited him, as it did them, to a resistance which finally brought both parties to armed combat. Cromwell was an active force in the private counsels of his party in the Long Parliament, but he was not sufficiently prominent in their public proceedings, even after the session had lasted fourteen months, to make himself personally obnoxious to the King, else we may conclude that he would have been named with the five members in whose attempted arrest Charles sought to save his perishing Majesty.
It has been suggested that the Long Parliament was, in part, a league of families confederated for the purpose of restraining the power of the Crown. In tracing this theory through the roll of membership it is curious to discover the remarkable prominence of Cromwell’s family interest. Pym and Vane stood almost alone in this respect, but Cromwell was related in the ties which men call family to no less than thirty-one of the members of the House of Commons. To set forth the details of this relationship would occupy more space, perhaps, than the reader would patiently approve. But we find that, either through the ties of blood, or the marriage of his immediate relatives, Cromwell held kinship with John Hampden; Oliver St. John; Edmund Dunch; Sir Thomas Barrington; Edmund Waller; Sir Richard Knightley; Sir Robert Pye; Sir John Trevor; Valentine Walton; Sir Gilbert Gerrard; Sir William Masham; Francis Gerrard; Thomas Trevor; Sir Oliver Luke; Sir Samuel Luke; Humphrey Salwey; (perhaps) Henry Marten; Sir Francis Russell; Richard Norton; Nathaniel, James, and John Fiennes; Sir John Barrington; Sir John Bouchier; William Masham; John Trevor; John Jones; Thomas Waller; Richard Ingoldsby; Henry Ireton; and Richard Salwey. This made thirty-one votes, although, as some of them were elected on account of the death or defection of others, they did not all sit at one time. The connecting family line is sometimes indistinct, but in the larger part of the names it is indisputable. On the other hand, Pym was related possibly to Bradshaw, and, perhaps, to Milton, who was, however, unknown in the zenith of the Civil War. Denzil Hollis, the leader of the Presbyterians, was Strafford’s brother-in-law, but Strafford was an impediment to any Puritan. Sir Harry Vane belonged to a powerful family, of whom we recognize, however, only his father and the Pelham’s in the House. No one of these men had around him the family strength in the Parliament which supported Hampden, and, afterwards, until he went beyond them, Cromwell. Yet, despite this stupendous array of kin, it is clear that Cromwell’s rise was wholly due to his own ability, as his public position was insignificant until he stood illustrious, but alone, as the only successful soldier on the Puritan side.
The Long Parliament was endeavoring to accomplish a revolution by Parliamentary methods. While they never wavered in their resolution to strip the Crown of every vestige of its ancient individual power, they advanced step by step under the forms of reverence and duty, and, had Charles consented at the last moment—even after he had raised the standard of civil war at Nottingham—to a government through ministers chosen with the consent of Parliament, all that vast sacrifice of blood and treasure which ensued would have been saved.
There were some bright spots on the troubled sky. On the 19th of April, 1641, Prince William of Orange arrived to claim the heart and hand of the King’s eldest daughter, the Princess Mary, and the Protestant nation hailed the match with every sound of joy. But even while the glad bells were pealing forth the happiness of the event, there were those who said that the Dutch Prince had brought with him the sum of 1,200,000 ducats to relieve the pressing necessities of his future father-in-law. This cannot be established as a fact, but it is clear that Charles was at that time put in possession of funds which were sent to York to pay his army and hold their wavering loyalty. He expected to be successful in this, as the Parliament had provoked the soldiers to anger by paying to the Scottish troops, still encamped on the English soil, the sum of £10,000, which had been levied for the pay of the English army.
The same tumultuous outcry which had impelled the King, in a moment of extreme terror, to sign the bill for the execution of the Earl of Strafford, had likewise coerced him to sign a bill inhibiting the dissolution of the present Parliament except with its own consent. The importance of this measure in the interest of the nation—for now the apparent interest of the nation was distinctly opposed to the apparent interest of Charles—is shown by a remark made by the Marquis of Dorset at that time to the King. “I may live to do you a kindness,” said Dorset, “but you can do me none.”
The Commons, having thus struck a deadly blow at the royal prerogative, now devised an equally effective measure against the Established Church. A bill was passed excluding the bishops from the House of Lords and cutting off the power of the Church in civil affairs. The discussion on this bill gave rise to the formation of parties in the modern Parliamentary sense. Those members of the House of Commons who were in favor of destroying the political power of the Episcopal Church, as it rested in the bishops and the clergy, became known as the Root-and-Branch party; while those who favored the preservation of Episcopalianism as the established worship and aimed only to curtail the imitations of the Roman Catholic forms which had evoked the cry of popery against Laud, were called Episcopalians. Between these two parties, Pym and Hampden and their supporters, like accomplished politicians, held the balance of power.
The Bishops’ Exclusion Bill was rejected by the Lords, which inspired young Sir Henry Vane and Oliver Cromwell to devise a bill for the complete extinction of Episcopacy. But at the present time such a measure could not be passed.
Pope Urban VIII thought he saw an opportunity now to rekindle the extinguished flame of the ancient religion in the breast of the English nation, and his Ambassador, early in June, called on the Queen to learn whether any success rewarded her cherished labor of making the King a Catholic. She then admitted the impossibility of inducing Charles to change his religion, but said if the pope would send over £150,000 he would grant religious liberty in Ireland, and for the present would allow the Catholics in England to worship in the chapels of the Queen, and of foreign Ambassadors. After reducing his subjects to obedience, the Catholics should have full religious liberty, with permission to open chapels of their own. Every religion but those of Rome and the Established Church should be abolished. Speaking of some recent hostile legislation she betrayed the King’s insincerity and her own by saying that, according to the law of England, what was granted by a King under compulsion was null and void. These promises she offered to put in writing for the pope, and engaged to obtain Charles’s counter-signature to her letter.
On the 8th of June a report was made to the Commons on a plot in which the Army was to have been used during Strafford’s last days, conniving at that doomed nobleman’s escape, and the statements of the witnesses made it only too clear that the King had himself possessed knowledge of the conspiracy. Indeed it was now, when Charles was being hemmed in on every side, that the weakness of his character led him into rash enterprises which have left the stigma of duplicity upon his fame. The discovery of this first army plot—there were two—threw the House into the liveliest tumult. An officer named Billingsley had received instructions from the Court, with a pass from the King, to enter the Tower with one hundred men. Sir William Balfour, the Lieutenant of the Tower, a brusque Scotsman, refused to admit the armed band, and that was all there was to it so far as Strafford’s release was concerned. A Colonel Goring had, however, engaged to incite the officers of the Army in Yorkshire to espouse the King’s cause; Goring himself was to hold the fortifications of Portsmouth for the King, and the Queen was to embark there for France, taking her children with her. Digby and Wilmot, who were concerned in the plot, were in the House at the time the report was read, and they attempted to withdraw. Others sought to stop them. A riot ensued, and Speaker Lenthall confessed next morning that he had not expected to come away alive. It soon appeared, from a vote clearing Goring of dishonor, that that treacherous officer had betrayed the plot to Pym, who had caused it to be brought before the House. The next morning it was proposed to discipline Digby, but the King had already put him beyond the vengeance of the House by making him a Peer of the realm.
It was in this month of June that a new champion arose among the Puritans. John Milton threw aside the poet’s lyre for the patriot’s pen, and brought all the great wealth of his learning and eloquence to bear upon the controversy of Presbyterianism against Episcopalianism, his pamphlet adding much to the flame of the present situation.
Within a few days Charles was concocting another army plot. This time the object was to purchase the neutrality of the invading Scottish Army and move the northern English Army down to London for the purpose of overawing the Parliament. This, like the other, came to nothing except that its disclosure before the House of Commons a few months later only increased the popular distrust of the King.
On June 22, a tonnage and poundage bill was passed, granting to Charles, for a period of three weeks only, the revenues of the customs, and in this law the King bound himself forever to levy no customs duties except by consent of Parliament. And yet they would trust him no longer with these revenues than three weeks.
On June 24, Pym sent up to the Lords ten propositions which had unanimously passed the Commons, and to which he invited the counsel and cooperation of the Peers. These propositions asked that the armies might be disbanded as soon as money could be provided, that the King’s proposed journey to Scotland might be delayed, and that His Majesty would remove any evil counselors about his person and commit “his own business and the affairs of the kingdom to such counselors and officers as the Parliament may have cause to confide in.” The articles called for the removal of Catholics from Court, and from attendance on the Queen; for the expulsion of Rosetti, the pope’s Ambassador; for the placing of the military and naval forces in safe hands; for the granting of a general pardon; and, finally, for the appointment of a committee of the two Houses “for the reducing of these propositions to effect for the public good.”
The Lords softened the article bearing on the Queen’s attendants so as to spare that lady’s feelings as much as possible, and adopted the series of propositions, thus giving the sanction of a united Parliament to a scheme for the reform of the government which provided for the complete destruction of the royal prerogative.
This measure, offensive to the King’s dignity as it must have been, afforded him a golden opportunity for securing tranquility for his people, a lawful government for his kingdoms, and popularity for himself. But he preferred to follow the vacillating policy which finally destroyed him. He granted a part of the demands of his people, but impaired the effect of graciousness by withholding the rest. He consented to the disbandment of the Army and to the dismissal of Rosetti; but he ignored the request for a Parliamentary ministry, and he informed the Earl of Bath in a blaze of anger that he knew of no evil counselors about his person.
Charles had already, in the preceding February, made an attempt to conciliate Parliament by taking a step in the direction of popular government. This consisted in the appointment of seven opposition Lords as Privy Councillors—Bristol, Bedford, Essex, Hertford, Saye, Mandeville, and Saville. But a Privy Councilor at Whitehall had little or nothing to do with the administration of the government. The rumor had been circulated in February, in April, and again in July, that the King would appoint the Puritans to office. Pym was to have been Chancellor of the Exchequer; Hampden, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster; Hollis or Mandeville, Secretary of State; Bedford, Lord Treasurer; Brooke, Privy Councilor; and Saye, Master of the Wards; but while the King doubtless reflected on these promotions, he lacked the courage to anticipate necessity by making the appointments.
The Parliamentary destruction of the prerogative went on with startling rapidity. On July 3, the King was constrained to sign the Poll-Tax Bill. On the 5th he assented to the abolition of his cherished courts of Star Chamber and High Commission—courts whose arbitrary judgments had confirmed the prerogative in its most flourishing vigor. The Council of the North, of which Strafford had been the able President, was voted down. The Council of Wales, of arbitrary powers, was annulled, and this was the last of those extraordinary courts which had come into the hands of the Stuart Kings from the Tudors. The King’s powers must now be exercised through the courts created by acts of Parliament. If that were not enough, he could be brought to terms by the Commons stopping the supplies. This method had, indeed, in spite of all the machinery of the prerogative, reduced him to extremity. It might fail for a time if the King resorted to violent methods. But he had already resorted to violent methods and they had proved inadequate to his necessities. The King had come to the end of the resources of his absolutism; his resources were exhausted, his absolutism was confined within Parliamentary bounds.
Charles made one more effort to win popular favor. The occupation of the Palatinate by a Protestant ruler was a deep-seated desire of the English people. Prince Frederick, who had married Charles’ sister, was dead. His eldest son, Charles Lewis, was now in England seeking military assistance. The person and address of this Prince so favorably impressed the English people that there were those bold enough to whisper that if it became necessary to dethrone the reigning King, Charles Lewis might worthily wear the English Crown. Some vain idea of this kind doubtless filled the young Prince’s mind, and when the Civil War began, he adroitly absented himself from England, leaving his younger brothers, Rupert and Maurice, to win a renown in arms which was forever lost to him. But Charles had received as yet no cause to doubt the young man’s affections, and he was himself extremely desirous of seeing Charles Lewis on the throne of Bohemia. He therefore issued a manifesto in favor of Charles Lewis as King of Bohemia, and asked Parliament to supply the Prince with the means to win back his father’s inheritance. The Houses listened respectfully and returned a decorous reply, but voted no money. It was too late to succor Bohemia.
The King was determined, contrary to the advice of his Parliament, to proceed on his journey to Scotland; and Henrietta Maria, now an object of the people’s hatred, was not willing to remain near the Parliament in his absence. She had at first proposed a visit to France, but Richelieu, ever watchful of events, had dissuaded her from that purpose. A trip to Spa was then suggested. It was said that the fair Queen was falling into a consumption, and that the curative waters would be beneficial to her health. She would take advantage of the opportunity, she said, to escort her daughter to the Prince of Orange. But the Parliament feared that she meant to carry with her the Crown jewels and plate, and they prevented her departure.
The object of Charles’ visit to his Scottish subjects, who had even now an armed host in England in subversion of his authority, is not easily understood except when we view the hopelessness of his situation in England. But it seems clear, when viewed from this standpoint, that Charles hoped to gain a party in Scotland that would apply a salve to his bleeding honor in England. The Duke of Argyle and the Duke of Montrose, the two most powerful of the Scottish nobility, were at mortal enmity. In the first Bishops’ War, Montrose had taken arms for the Covenant, but the dissensions among the noble houses of Scotland had brought him over to the King. He had recently written Charles a letter, setting forth his political principles in terms which had completely captivated that Monarch. In this epistle he asserted that sovereign power must exist in every State. It might be placed, according to the circumstances of each country, in the hands of a democracy, an aristocracy, or a monarchy. In Scotland it must be entrusted to a monarchy. The nobles were incapable of sacrificing their private interests to the public good. The people were too easily led astray to offer a secure foundation for a stable government. Let the King, therefore, come in person to Scotland to preside over the coming Parliament. Let him freely grant to his subjects the exercise of their religion and their just liberties. Let him be ready to consult Parliaments frequently in order to learn the wants of his people, and win his subjects’ hearts by ruling them with wisdom and moderation.
It was the possibility of reaping an advantage from this invitation which at first seriously drew Charles’ attention to the desirability of a progress to Scotland. But it was not in his nature to go as a King in distress, ready to trust to the sympathy and loyalty of his subjects. Modern research has disclosed in the archives of Venice a motive for this visit, which we may well believe would have caused an explosion had it been known to the Long Parliament at the time of his departure. The Venetian Ambassador writes to his government on July 30, 1642, that the Queen had informed him that she intended to remove a hundred miles from London when the King went north, in order that she might not be exposed “to those dangers which will be inevitable when the King resolves to return to this realm, accompanied by the Scottish army and by the English troops at York.” While the Parliament was not acquainted with this intention of the King’s, it believed him to be capable of compassing such an undertaking.
On Saturday, August 7, Charles announced that he would depart for Scotland on the following Monday, and the House instantly implored him to defer his journey. On that day he signed two important bills, one in relation to ship-money, the other limiting the forest boundaries, and both restricting his own expiring powers. On Saturday night the Commons held a stormy session. It was even said on the floor of the House, though not publicly, that the King had forfeited his Crown. The extremity of their terror may be seen in the session which was held next day, by which the consciences of those sturdy Puritans were put to sleep while the debate was carried on during Sunday. The House appealed to the Scottish Commissioners to counsel delay in the King’s departure. Charles sent another message to the Commissioners begging them to do nothing of the kind, and the good understanding that existed between the King and themselves was shown in their reply, that they would risk their lives to restore him to his authority. He waited over until Tuesday to make some promotions among his adherents. Bristol, the now aged rival of Buckingham in the affair of the Spanish match, was made a Gentleman of the Bed-Chamber. Bristol’s son, the brilliant Lord Digby, was appointed Ambassador to France. The Earl of Lenox, now on friendly terms with the King, was made Duke of Richmond. To preserve a balance in these promotions, the Lords asked that two Peers of their own selection, Salisbury and Pembroke, might be appointed to office, but the King was in no humor to grant them favors, and he declined their request. A crowd of apprentices, as in the time of Strafford’s trial, assembled at Westminster, but the King’s spirit was proof against the mob, and he said that he would make anyone repent it who laid hands on his horse’s reins to stop him. His last official acts were to sign the Treaty of Peace with Scotland, and give his assent to a bill securing the payment of £220,000 to the Scottish army as soon as they should have passed beyond the Tweed. As the King and his royal retinue disappeared, the Scottish Commissioners turned to say that their nation would do all in its power to place the King in his authority again, and that, when he appeared in Scotland, all political differences would be at an end, and they would serve their natural Prince as one man.
And Charles had left England without a government. No provision had been made to pass bills, except a few which should receive the royal assent through a commission appointed for that purpose. In this juncture of affairs the Parliament adopted a bold expedient. Sir Symonds D’Ewes, the best informed man on Parliamentary precedents in that distinguished body, cited an ordinance that had been passed in 1373, and suggested that an ordinance of the two Houses in Parliament had always been of great authority. The Commons quickly adopted the idea and passed an ordinance (August 20), which was sent to the Lords and passed by them. This first ordinance provided for the appointment of a commission to wait upon the King in Scotland, ostensibly to observe the progress of a further treaty, but really to keep a watch upon the mistrusted Monarch. John Hampden was a member of this commission.
The English Army was disbanded as fast as it could be paid off, and, on September 25, General Leslie led his Scottish forces across the Tweed. The Parliament could now breathe freely, and it is certain that a better sentiment began to prevail towards the King, who might now have returned to London with peace and security. At that very moment, however, Charles was writing to the Queen that by promises of promotion he had won over certain powerful Scots who had hitherto opposed him bitterly, and that he could rely upon the aid of four thousand foot and one thousand horse whenever he might demand them. He was at the same time writing to the Duke of Ormond in Ireland for Irish assistance, thus presenting the odd spectacle of an Episcopalian Monarch effecting a coalition between the Scottish Presbyterians and the Irish Catholics for the subjugation of the English Puritans.
By this time the plague and the small-pox were raging in London and Westminster, and the members of the two Houses, worn out by the severe experiences of the past ten months, determined to seek a short and necessary rest. Most of them had already gone home without leave, there being about eighty of the Commons and less than a score of the Lords in attendance at the present sittings. On August 28, when all danger had disappeared from the North, the 8th of September was fixed for the adjournment, and October 20 for the reassembling.
As soon as the adjournment had been decided upon, there were certain members of the Commons whose consciences reproached them for the failure of the House to do anything for religion. The apprehension of popery had long been the nightmare of the Puritans, and the tyrannical innovations of Laud in the forms of the Established Church had aroused in their minds a suspicion that that Church was the Roman worship in a thin disguise. The Catholics were now undergoing punishment for their adherence to the ancient dogmas by the merciless enforcement of cruel statutes, while the unhappy Laud was languishing in prison, destined ere long to suffer death for his rash zeal. But this was not enough. It was determined that the communion tables should be removed from the east end of the churches, and the rails taken down; that “all crucifixes, scandalous pictures of one or more persons of the Trinity, and all images of the Virgin Mary” should be taken away, and “all tapers, candlesticks, and basins be removed from the communion table”; that “all corporal bowing at the name of Jesus or towards the east end of the church, or towards the communion table, be henceforth foreborne”; that all dancing and sports be forborne on Sunday, and the preaching of sermons be permitted in the afternoon. If the Puritans in the House had stopped here they might have carried their measure. But an unknown member suggested that it would be well to think of some alterations in the Book of Common Prayer. This roused the Episcopalians who had previously fought the Root-and-Branch Bill. The party spirit was carried further than ever before. Culpepper instantly demanded by resolution that the House provide a punishment for any person who would attack or vilify that venerable collection of human supplications. Oliver Cromwell retorted that there were passages in the Prayer Book to which grave and learned divines could not submit. The House was thin. In a vote of ninety-two the Prayer Book was sustained by a majority of eighteen.
On September 6, Culpepper’s resolution was called up for further discussion. Pym and his supporters sought to break its force by an amendment, while Culpepper wished to enlarge its scope, and he again carried his point. Before the final vote was taken, it was recommitted in a spirit of forbearance.
The Lords, as usual, attempted to hold the radical spirit of the lower House in check. On the 8th they agreed to the resolution on the removal of the communion table. Images of the Virgin, which had been erected more than twenty years, were to be allowed to stand, and everyone was to be left free in the matter of bowing. The clause concerning Sunday was left for further consideration on the 9th, the adjournment having been postponed one day.
A spirit of jealousy of the Lords, which had been growing for some time, was now openly displayed. The Commons resented the half-hearted action of the Peers on these resolutions, and passed a declaration on the authority of the lower House only, making it lawful for parishioners to set up lectures at their own charge. The Lords took offense, and laid aside the Sunday resolution which they had intended to discuss on the 9th. They ordered, instead, that a former order should be printed and published, “that the divine service be performed as it is appointed by the acts of Parliament of this realm; and that all such as shall disturb that wholesome order shall be severely punished according to law.” The Commons were not asked to concur, and they in their turn were offended. D’Ewes reminded the House that all men who loved the truth expected a mitigation of the laws already established touching religion, and not a severe execution of them. Pym, seeing the drift towards anarchy, proposed that a messenger should be dispatched to ask the King to revoke the Lords’ order by a royal proclamation. It was at last determined that the Commons’ resolutions should be published together with the order of the Lords, a commentary to be attached expressing surprise that such an important action should be pressed by the Peers when there were but twenty of them present at its passage. With an appeal from the Commons to all men to obey the laws with patience until Parliament could adjust religious grievances, the Houses adjourned on the 9th of September, 1642.
Thus far the labors of the Long Parliament had been for the benefit of the nation, and a priceless boon to posterity. At the restoration of Charles II, practically all that it had done up to this adjournment was permitted to stand, and its work has never since been materially disturbed. The abolishment of those extraordinary courts which had been the main support of the old monarchal system, had brought the government very near to the modern constitutional form. The acts of arbitrary power which those courts had unjustly sustained under the forms of law, necessarily ceased when there was no longer any machinery of judicature for their further support. The King’s prerogative was already a mere form. But after the reassembling of Parliament, the leaders of the new system pressed on without a specific object, seemingly to pull down without planning to build up. Was it because they were distrustful of Charles? Or was it because there were some there who aimed at self-aggrandizement and power? Perhaps both of these considerations had their weight. After tying the King’s hands as they had now done, it would have been well to pause. Instead of this, they diverted their attacks from the King’s power to institutions which were dear to the hearts of many of their countrymen. The spirit of faction, the formation of heated parties, the rapid growth of incivism, were the logical fruits of their persistency.
Scottish Intrigues and Irish Massacres
In the meantime, the vexed Monarch had arrived in Edinburgh, where he received a loyal and enthusiastic reception. He wrote to a Government official that all difficulties in Scotland were now passed. He assured his impatient Queen that Argyle had promised to do him faithful service, and that Leslie, who was equally devoted, had driven with him round the town amid the shouts of the people. His line of vision was not sufficiently clear to discern that these demonstrations were only the natural homage that was due to the unusual presence of Majesty. Endymion Porter, a member of Parliament and an acute observer, wrote “that the King was, as usual, pushing subtle designs of gaining popular opinion, and weak executions for the upholding of monarchy.”
Charles at first attempted to ingratiate himself with the Presbyterian middle class, but had not gone far before he turned to the turbulent aristocracy. Among these noblemen there was a condition of jealous strife which would have convinced a broader mind of the futility of seeking their united support. But with Charles, it was a natural conclusion that out of their animosities he might reap advantages which would strengthen his fainting sovereignty. Argyle, the most powerful of Scotland’s chieftains, had won the confidence of the great middle classes and of the common people. His influence was resented by the other nobles, and the valiant Montrose was now confined in prison for the temerity with which he had opposed Argyle’s growing power. The Marquis of Hamilton, who is suspected of having cherished designs on the Crown of Scotland, had attached himself to Argyle from motives of self-exaltation.
Out of this situation, there arose an affair which is known in history as “The Incident.” The Scottish Parliament was already curbing the King’s ambition, and dissipating the fond hopes which he had brought with him into their country. After having passed an act requiring the officers of State to be appointed with the consent of Parliament, they had virtually construed that statute to vest the very appointments with themselves, and certain nominations which the King sent them were rejected, to his great discomfiture. Charles cast the blame on Hamilton’s intrigues, which brought that nobleman’s brother, the Earl of Lanark, to plead his cause before the King. Charles received him coldly, and dismissed him without favor.
Montrose seized this moment as one to ameliorate his own fate. He had already written twice, offering to make revelations of the utmost importance to the King’s Crown and dignity, but Charles had spurned to hear him. In the third letter, the victims of these revelations appeared to be Hamilton and Argyle. But in the rude condition of legal processes it would be impossible to arrest these stalwart leaders, having at their call, according to popular belief, armed retainers amounting to five thousand men. “The Incident” grew out of a plan devised by the Earl of Crawford, a Catholic and head of the House of Lindsey, to privately seize Hamilton and Argyle, and, if rescue were attempted, to assassinate them. It is not clear that the King was aware of this conspiracy to seize the two men, and, even if he knew of it, it is scarcely possible that he possessed the slightest information of their proposed murder. After all that can be justly said against him, there is nothing in his character that will permit the assumption of his connivance in such an atrocious plan. Information of the plot was carried to Leslie, who was expected to furnish a military guard for the incarceration of the two noblemen in the event of their arrest. But Leslie made a full disclosure of the affair to Hamilton and Argyle, who, with Lanark, precipitately fled from the city.
At the instant of their disappearance Charles was on his way to the Parliament House, followed by an armed escort of five hundred men, and it was this imposing approach that had led to the flight of the accused noblemen, who professed their unwillingness to incur a slaughter in the streets in the King’s presence.
Charles quickly detected a suspicion against himself, which led him with tears in his eyes to deny all knowledge of “The Incident,” and to remind his people that on another occasion when a charge of disloyalty had been laid against Hamilton he had permitted that friend of his youth to sleep in his own royal chamber as a mark of his unabated confidence and regard. In the end there was no very serious termination to the affair. Montrose obtained his liberty. The Marquis of Hamilton was created a duke and the Earl of Argyle a marquis, while General Leslie took his seat in the Scottish Parliament as Earl of Leven.
But popular interest which might have been attracted to an investigation of “The Incident” was quickly diverted by the appalling news of a bloody uprising of the native inhabitants of Ireland against the English settlers. The administration of Irish affairs since the accession of the Stuart dynasty had been based upon a singular disregard of the rights of the indigenous population. The worship of the Catholic religion had been proscribed among a people who knew no other faith, and any manifestation of spiritual zeal on the part of the Irish was sure to meet with contumelious treatment from the English. But it was not alone in their faith that the Irish were touched. The attempt to establish an English plantation in the province of Ulster was an attempt to wrest their lands from this rude and nearly barbarous people. Under an artificial process of law, six entire counties were declared to be forfeited to the Crown, and a Protestant emigration from England and Scotland was without much further ceremony invested with the richest parts of that fertile soil. The original owners were thrust forth, not even being allowed to serve the new possessors for hire, the settlers thinking it safer, as doubtless it was, to have the Irish out of sight of their despoiled lands.
It had been a commendable intention in the mind of Charles, whenever he felt himself sufficiently secure to follow out his own desires, to proclaim religious liberty to the Catholics in Ireland; and while the narrow spirit of that age would have made this a perilous move, posterity would have applauded its wisdom and humanity. It was one of his promises to the pope, in return for the oft-solicited contribution of funds, that he would do so. But when his difficulties continued to increase, the project was laid aside.
In the meantime, the loud discussions in England and Scotland over the questions of political and religious privileges had very naturally led the Irish to inquire among themselves whether they possessed any similar privileges as subjects of the British Crown. The treatment of Catholics in England led them to shortly expect equally severe repression in Ireland. As early as February, 1640, the Irish Catholics had talked secretly together concerning retaliation. In June of that year, when a part of the disbanded Irish army was on the march for foreign service, the priests and friars intercepted them and warned them to remain, as they would find use for their arms at home. In August, 1641, a general uprising in the North and the seizure of Dublin Castle were planned to take place on October 23. Early in the latter month a convention of priests and laymen was held in the Abbey of Multyfarnham, in Westmeath, and the question of a course to be taken against the English and other Protestants was agitated. Nearly all the priests, and many of the lay members, urged that no massacre occur. The insurgents were requested to treat the English as the Spaniards had treated the Moors, sending them back to their own country with at least some part of their property. Others loudly demanded a general slaughter. To banish them would simply provoke them to return with swords in their hands. With this divergence of opinion the convention dispersed, all knowing that there would soon be a mad carnage in Ireland.
On the evening preceding the date set for the attack on the Castle, the secret was carried to the English authorities by Owen O’Connolly, a Protestant, who informed the Lord Justices that all the Englishmen in Dublin were to be put to death the next day, and all the Protestants in the other towns to be slaughtered that very night. The English acted with promptness and courage. Lord Maguire and Hugh McMahon, the leaders of the Dublin Irish, were seized, and the other insurgents were overawed by a display of force in the castle’s garrison.
But outside of Dublin the red hand of rebellion would be content with nothing but the rout and massacre of the English. In Fermanagh three hundred English were killed on the first day of the outbreak. At many places where captives were taken, those who would have spared human life were driven off, and all the prisoners were sacrificed, women and children being murdered with the rest. The bodies of the dead were allowed to lie where they fell, without burial, putrefying for many weeks.
In Cavan, Philip O’Reilly, who headed the rebellion, sternly forbade his followers to commit cruelty or murder. He gave leave to some eight hundred English to depart, taking some of their property with them. They had not gone far before other rebels waylaid them, killed a part, and stripped the others to the skin, compelling them to go forward empty-handed and naked to Kilmore. Two thousand fugitives from Belturbet, under a guard of two hundred Irishmen, had proceeded a few miles when they were set upon by an angry horde of men, women, and children, who robbed them of all they carried, and took from every one the last vestige of clothing, leaving not even a rag for modesty’s sake. Many of them perished on the way from hunger and cold, the rest reaching Dublin more dead than alive.
In northern Ireland the cruelties were more deliberate and more atrocious. Protestants were hung and stabbed with ferocious delight. Noses and ears were cut off; women were foully abused in the presence of husbands and brothers, and afterwards had their hands and legs cut off at the joints; and at Portadown and Corbridge many persons were flung from the bridges to drown in the rivers beneath. Thousands of men, women, and children were indiscriminately driven naked through the cold November nights, and the Irish considered it a benign mercy to let them escape thus, carrying only their lives with them. Sir Phelim O’Neill, who was in command, in so far as such a horde could be commanded, had issued a proclamation at the outset, declaring that no harm was intended to the King nor to any of his subjects. In view of what followed, the proclamation seemed to be a grim satire. The estimates of the Protestants who were atrociously slain vary all the way from 50,000 to 200,000. The real number was probably much less than 5,000.
The Long Parliament had met again on the 20th of October. On the 1st of November a letter from the Lord Justices was read at Westminster, describing the conspiracy against Dublin Castle, and telling all that could be learned of the projected uprising throughout Ireland. On the 11th further advices reached Parliament. The ever-ready cry of a popish plot was heard in London. It was voted to send two thousand troops to Ireland at once, and to ask Scotland for one thousand more. Even in this emergency, when the honor of England and the life of thousands of her subjects were at stake, King Pym, as he was now beginning to be called, pushed forward his work of revolution.
He moved a vote that unless the King would dismiss his “evil counselors,” and select ministers approved by Parliament, they would not hold themselves bound to assist him in Ireland. It was a proposition that startled even the boldest man in that House. Hyde declared it was a menace to the King. Waller said it absolved the House from its duty, as Strafford absolved the King from all rules of government. Pym’s own followers shrank from so radical a step, and the House rejected his motion. But a few days later it was carried in a modified form, the sting remaining just as severe as in the original shape, but veiled in more considerate language. On the 17th the details of the second army plot were presented to Parliament, from which it appeared that a petition bearing the King’s initials had been circulated among the soldiers, in which they were asked to express their detestation of the leading members of Parliament, and to declare their readiness to march to London to suppress the tumults which those leaders had raised. The Grand Remonstrance, a document devised by Pym, which reviewed all the unwholesome acts of power since the commencement of the present reign, was pushed forward, and became the subject of a great debate. The only purpose of the Grand Remonstrance was to appeal to the country against the King by exciting popular indignation over his usurpations. The Episcopalian party had by this time become the Royalist party. The Root-and-Branch party became the Puritan or Parliamentary party. In the Royalist party men who had voted for every measure that curtailed the King’s authority now perceived that the King’s person stood for social order and security of property, which would be menaced by further attacks upon his dignity. They also plainly saw the intention of the Puritans, now victorious over the prerogative, to turn their hands to the work of destroying that stately and ceremonial worship of the Established Church which was dear to the hearts of so many Englishmen. These considerations led the Royalist party to bitterly oppose the passage of the Grand Remonstrance. When the question was finally put, the relative strength of the two parties was shown by the vote. There were 159 aye’s and 148 noe’s, a majority of 11 votes for the Puritans. The Puritans were afraid that the King purposed to take away from them their religion, and the Grand Remonstrance was their appeal to the nation for the preservation of their faith. The Royalists were equally fearful that the passage of that measure would inflame the public mind against the English Church. And thus it came about that sober and God-fearing Englishmen arrayed themselves against each other because each party had imbibed a deep-seated distrust of the other on questions of religious belief, which only an appeal to the sword could overcome.
Oliver Cromwell had thrown the whole weight of his enthusiastic nature on the side of the Remonstrance. He had boasted to Lord Falkland that its friends in the House were so numerous that it would pass almost without debate. But the small majority of eleven votes showed an error in his conclusion. As they left the Chamber, after the passage of the measure, Falkland asked Cromwell in a tone of irony, whether there had been a debate? “I will take your word for it another time,” was the answer. “If the Remonstrance had been rejected, I would have sold all I had the next morning, and never have seen England any more; and I know there are many other honest men of this same resolution.” The remark shows the impression which the present evils had made on the hearts of the Puritans. When it became impossible to correct abuses by Parliamentary action, they would, rather than endure a circumscribed faith, seek a new and precarious home in that distant wilderness beyond the sea.
Charles returned from Scotland late in November. All his expectations of material assistance from that quarter were dissipated. He had found himself but King in name there, as he was fast finding himself but King in name in England. That deep look of care, which, preserved on Vandyke’s portrait, has won for Charles thousands of passionate admirers, had driven from his face the smile of youth and power. Adversity had given to his mind a new dignity. Those weak schemes which were revealed in the disclosure of the two army plots gave way to better methods. There is reason to believe that the King had made an earnest effort while in Scotland to fasten on the leaders of Parliament the responsibility for the Scottish invasion, and that he hoped to bring them to the block under the forms of law as they had brought Strafford to the block under the forms of law. But while the King was convinced in his own mind of their treason, the evidence attainable was not such as would legally fasten the charge upon them, defended as they would be by a Parliamentary majority.
Charles, like the Puritans, was now appealing to the people. He sent word of his intention to pass through London on his return, and this announcement had given great joy to the people. The Queen had joined him at Theobalds and accompanied him in his progress through the city. A vast concourse of people received the royal pair with enthusiastic acclamations. Charles addressed them and complimented their city. He assured them that the Irish lands which had been acquired by the City Corporation would be restored to them. He hoped, with the assistance of Parliament, to re-establish for them a flourishing trade. He had come back with a hearty affection to his people in general. He would govern them according to the laws, and would maintain the Protestant religion as it had been established in the times of Elizabeth and his father. “This I will do,” he said, “if need be, to the hazard of my life and all that is dear to me.”
This was his answer to the Grand Remonstrance. There was now to be no compromise, no conciliation, no surrender. Puritanism might look for no sympathy from the Established Church. Sectarianism should never flourish with the royal sanction. The character of the people that surrounded him impressed him favorably. “I see,” said Charles, “that all these former tumults and disorders have only risen from the meaner sort of people, and that the dispositions of the better and main part of the city have ever been loyal and affectionate to my person and government.” Richard Gurney, the Lord Mayor, knelt, was touched on the shoulder, and arose Sir Richard Gurney. The people cried, “God bless King Charles, long live Queen Mary!” At Guildhall there was a splendid banquet, after which the royal procession passed on to Whitehall, where the King once more slept in the palace of his fathers.
As a means of quieting the alarms with which the Puritans were vexing the public mind, Charles dismissed the guard which had been stationed around the Parliament House ever since the news of the Irish rebellion had been received. A crowd of Londoners, armed with swords and staves, thereupon appeared in Westminster and demanded the exclusion of the bishops from the House of Lords. They were dispersed without bloodshed, and the Royalists openly made the charge that the Puritans had invited the mob to approach. It is very probable that the charge was true. A similar charge had been made as to the source of mob inspiration in the days of the Strafford trial. Pym made the counter-charge “that he was informed that there was a conspiracy by some members of this House to accuse other members of the same of treason.”
On December 2, Charles came to Westminster to give his assent to a tonnage and poundage bill. The two Houses met him in the Lords’ Chamber, and he spoke with scorn of the misplaced alarm which was distressing the Commons. He referred with gratification to his reception in the city, and expressed a hope that his presence would dispel all fears. He was resolved, he told them in solemn and assuring words, not only to maintain all the acts of the existing Parliament, but to grant whatever else could be justly desired in point of liberties or in the maintenance of the established religion.
Meanwhile the tumults still continued about Westminster. The mobs even threw out insolent menaces against the King himself. This brought from a number of young gentlemen who had been officers in the late army an offer of service for the King. They called the turbulent ones who composed the mob, Roundheads, intending to deride their short-cropped hair. These in turn contemptuously referred to the King’s adherents as Cavaliers. Such was the origin of those party appellations, first applied in scorn, which the respective possessors were afterwards proud to claim.
The burden of the popular cry demanded the exclusion of the bishops from the House of Lords. In a spirit of rash judgment, Archbishop Williams drew up a protestation signed by the twelve bishops, setting forth that though they had an undoubted right to sit and vote in Parliament, yet in coming thither they had been menaced, assaulted, and affronted by the unruly multitude, and they could no longer with safety attend their duty in the House. For this reason they protested against all laws, votes, and resolutions, as null and invalid, which should pass during the time of their constrained absence.
The position assumed by the bishops in this protestation, while strictly legal and just under the old theory of the constitution, was ill-timed and unwise under the existing clamor. Unfortunately the King took no time for considering the propriety of such a paper, but, when it was laid before him, he was moved by its abstract justice to order it presented to the Lords with his approbation. As soon as it was read in the Upper House the Lords desired a conference with the Commons, whom they informed of this astounding document. The Commons saw in it an instant triumph. An impeachment of high treason was immediately sent up against the bishops, as endeavoring to subvert the fundamental laws, and to invalidate the authority of Parliament, and they were all straightway committed to the Tower.
Of this incident Clarendon writes:
“When the passion, rage, and fury of this time shall be forgotten, and posterity shall find amongst the records of the supreme court of judicature so many orders and resolutions in vindication of the liberty of the subject against the imprisoning of any man, though by the King himself, without assigning such a crime as the law hath determined to be worthy of imprisonment; and in the same year, by this high court, shall find twelve Bishops, members of this court, committed to prison for high treason, for the presenting this protestation, men will surely wonder at the spirit of that reformation.”
The King’s honor was further prejudiced about this time by a story that came from Ireland, by which it appeared that Sir Phelim O’Neill had lately taken Armagh, and had boldly exhibited a commission under the Great Seal of England, by which he said he was authorized by the King to restore the Roman Catholic religion in Ireland. This commission has clearly been proved a forgery, but the Commons never paused to ascertain the authenticity of a document so valuable to their plans. Pym notified the Lords that as the Commons were the representative body of the whole nation, while the Lords were but as particular persons coming to Parliament in a particular capacity, the Lords should no longer hold back certain bills which should be passed for the safety of the kingdom, or, if they did, he plainly intimated that the Commons would go forward without them. One of the bills referred to was the Impressment Bill. The Commons were afraid to draft an army for service in Ireland under the common laws lest the King should use it against the Parliament. In this bill they therefore took away his right to compel men to military service beyond the borders of their own county, except under a sudden emergency caused by a foreign invasion. The stoppage of this bill in the House of Lords, and the pressing necessity for sending a large force to Ireland, finally impelled the Commons to tear off the mask. If it was good law, as it seemed to be, that the King could levy troops in any part of England, to employ them against another part, they would demand a new law which would take the sword out of his hand. On December 7, St. John, the Solicitor General, who might have shown a more tender regard for his oath of fealty to the King, brought in the Militia Bill, in which it was proposed that a Lord General, whose name was left blank, should be nominated to have supreme command over the militia. He was to have plenary powers. He was to raise men, to levy money to pay them, and to execute martial law. A Lord Admiral was to be provided for the Navy with similar powers. This was revolution that appalled the most radical revolutionist. “Away with it! Cast it out!” were the cries that resounded through the House. Culpepper defined it rightly when he said that it took away from the King the power which was left to him by the law, and placed an unlimited arbitrary power in another. Nor were the objections confined to the Royalist party alone. Many who had gone on with the Root-and-Branch party without faltering, paused at the spectacle of a military despotism which this bill presented. The House wavered, although a proposal to throw the bill out without further consideration was rejected by a majority of thirty-three. The Commons, in their desperation, urged the Lords to send ten thousand Scottish troops to Ireland. The Lords refused to place Ireland in the hands of a Scottish Presbyterian host unless the Commons would agree to send ten thousand English soldiers at the same time. The Commons would give no such assurance, and no troops were sent, and the Irish massacres continued without restriction.
Charles now removed Sir William Balfour from the command of the Tower. Balfour had been lieutenant in the days of Strafford’s imprisonment, and had refused to admit Billingsly and his men in the plot for the Earl’s escape, and his removal was a significant indication of the King’s wariness. This was further apparent in the appointment of one Colonel Lunsford as his successor, a man of a hard conscience, who was supposed to be capable of any violence. The Commons took fright at this incident and asked the Lords to join them in a protest against Lunsford’s continuance. The Lords refused to interfere in the King’s undoubted right to make the appointment, but privately suggested to Charles that it would be well to appoint another, and he, mindful of the friendly spirit of the Lords, put Sir John Byron in the position.
And now came that attempt to arrest the five members, and destroy the Parliamentary opposition, the failure of which cost Charles Stuart his Crown and life, and made possible the wondrous career of Oliver Cromwell.
END OF SECTION ONE