Изображения страниц

hated Parliaments, and Parliaments distrusted and despised the king.

Nothing was done on any consistent principle. Charles agreed to the impeachment of the duke, and while it hung over his head forced him upon the authorities of Oxford as Chancellor of the University. Accepting the long-recognised axiom that a redress of grievances preceded a vote of the supplies, he yet sent his imperative order to the Commons to grant him his demands of subsidies and taxes, to the exclusion of other business, especially the impeachment of his friend. The Commons went on with their accusation, and declined to grant any money till the cause was decided. Charles, again losing temper, and urged by Buckingham himself, who saw no other escape, dissolved Parliament in a hurry. The Lords implored the delay of a few days. "No, not a minute!" said the king, and Buckingham was saved.

§ 7. Prerogative was now on its trial, in opposition to legal government. Forced loans were commanded. Rich and poor were ordered to contribute on the security of the subsidies hereafter to be granted. If the rich refused, they were fined and imprisoned; if the poorer sort, such as small tradesmen and artisans, declined to pay, they were sent to serve on board the fleet as common sailors. Among the first who pined in the gaols, were Sir John Eliot, John Hampden, and Thomas Wentworth; among the second class who were condemned to the then hopeless slavery of a man-of-war, or the army ranks, were several respectable citizens of London. Voices were heard on both sides which would have given pause to Buckingham and Charles if they had been wiser men. The mobs of the great cities shouted "Parliament! Parliament!-no Parlia ment, no money!" The High Church party, headed by Laud, who had recently been made Bishop of Bath and Wells, uttered the more dangerous cry of "No Parliament !—we will have an absolute king. Everything is his : our lives and fortunes!" Meanwhile, we are to remember that in remoter


districts the spirit of theological discussion was at work. The Church, by the insane conduct of her chiefs, had changed her position since the time of the Armada, and, instead of being the symbol and rallying cry of civil and religious freedom, had become the main support and embodiment of despotism. To be a churchman was to be an enemy to constitutional government. The Thirty-nine Articles had repealed Magna Charta.

§ 8. Clergymen preaching absolute obedience were sure of reward. The late Parliament had protested against some divines, who had brought a verse of Ecclesiasticus to justify the arbitrary taxation of Charles Stuart, and they were made bishops by the grateful king. Abbot, the Archbishop of Canterbury, refused to license the publication of the slavish sermons, and he was suspended from his office, and confined to his country-house. Every day the question became more broadly stated on either side, and before the king was three years on the throne every one understood that the struggle was, whether we were to live under a limited monarchy or as absolute a government as had ever existed in Rome.

§ 9. Buckingham never forgave an insult or even a disappointment. Prevented by Richelieu from renewing his visit to Paris, he resolved to aid the enemies of "that old fox," and, to complete the terror of his antagonist, determined to command a warlike expedition in person. But a gentleman may dance with the most astonishing skill, and not be able to direct an army in the field. He landed on the Isle of Rhé, near Rochelle, and was speedily surprised and forced to re-embark. The Huguenot cause was ruined by this ineffectual aid. English reputation suffered for every quality except courage. All parties agreed that the rashness, the want of plan, the neglect of every rule of art, were attributable to Buckingham, and he had nothing to console him in his disgrace and unpopularity but the letters of his unalterable admirer, the king, who assured him his military genius was

extraordinary, and that he had carried himself nobly throughout.

§ 10. In spite of theoretical dominion over life and purse, it was found indispensable to have recourse to a Parliament again. Money must be raised to vindicate the tarnished honour of the flag, and Buckingham himself was ready to lead another expedition and dispose of all the subsidies that could be got. Even this did not tempt the House of Commons. The king, indeed, took care, with his usual want of tact, to revive all ancient ill-feeling by an insulting speech at the opening of the session, in which he again reminded them of their duty, and of his own unlimited power. Their views of duty and government differed from the king's. They recommenced the work of the last session, and before granting supplies procured the royal assent to the greatest of all our statutes since the original foundation of our freedom. This is the "Petition of Right," and contained the following principal articles.

1. Forced loans or benevolences were declared illegal, as were also

2. Imprisonment, or any other punishment, unless after trial by a man's peers.

3. The billeting of soldiers on private families as a penalty for not lending on the king's writ; and the proclamation of martial law ostensibly for the maintenance of discipline among the troops so lodged, but under which numerous executions of peaceable citizens had taken place, and the action of the ordinary courts had been suspended.

Subsidies were granted after this victory of the Commons -a victory that seems very strange to us four hundred years after the barons' meeting at Runnimede.

§ 11. Charles, to prevent further aggression on what he still considered his prerogative, prorogued the Parliament, and Buckingham again prepared himself for feats of war.

He went down to Portsmouth to superintend the embarka


tion of his troops for Rochelle. Soubise, and other French nobles, were waiting to receive him. The town was alive with gaiety; and Charles himself, to be near his favourite to the last, was living at a house within a few miles of the harbour. On the day before the vessels were to sail, being the 23rd of August, the crowd of attendants and petitioners was very great. Among the rest was a heavy-browed disappointed man, of the name of John Felton, who had been wounded in the expedition to the Isle of Rhé, and besides was half insane with religious melancholy and musings over his fallen fortunes. How long he had cherished the design of assassinating the hated Buckingham is not known; but he availed himself of the confusion caused by the numerous waiters upon the generalissimo to stab him as he lifted a curtain between his bed. room and the audience-chamber. The knife was thrown away; -the duke exclaimed, "I am murdered;"—a great clamour arose, and no one had seen the deed. A man, however, was standing grimly silent in the midst of the noise; a hat was picked up from the floor, and when the owner was inquired for, John Felton claimed it as his. Some writing was sewn to the crown. He was arrested and examined. He made no denial, and was hurried away to prison. Meantime the duke lay dead upon the floor, and people were afraid to communicate the dreadful news to the king. When at length the intelligence reached him he was at prayers. He continued his devotions with an unmoved countenance, and then retired and gave way to his natural grief-a grief embittered, perhaps, by knowing the gladness with which the news would be received everywhere else. He appeared to have a sort of perverted pride in loving and admiring a person whom all the rest of the world hated and contemned.

§ 12. The reputation of the favourite might have been still. more darkly shaded if any change had become visible in the conduct of public affairs; but the same system was pursued, and the odium of ill success fell more personally on the king

than when he had Buckingham to share the blame. expedition to Rochelle was as great a failure as if Buckingham had been still in command; the quarrel with the Parliament continued as bitter as if he had still been at Charles's ear. During the prorogation, the Petition of Right had been totally ignored. Benevolences were exacted, refusers were imprisoned and mutilated by warrant of the Star Chamber, which grew into an institution as hateful as the Inquisition, and pushed the prerogative to a pitch unknown before. When Parliament accordingly met, the dispute at once began. Charles claimed tonnage and poundage for life; Parliament insisted on redress of grievances and further guarantees against oppression. The Church was too popish in its ceremonial to please the Puritan leaders, and too conservative in its principles to please the practical sectaries who desired its separation from the State. The chief ecclesiastical adviser was Laud, now Bishop of London, who persisted in widening the breach still more, and along with Cosens, Bishop of Durham, offended the moderate Churchmen by a return to the gorgeous forms and thinly-veiled superstitions of the old religion, and moderate lovers of liberty, by an ostentatious prostration of the independence of the clergy at the foot of the throne.

§ 13. Recriminations were interchanged between king and Parliament which rapidly made reconciliation impossible. Charles was accused of publishing a false copy of the Petition of Right, with the royal assent so expressed as not to be binding, while the true copy was suppressed. Parliament, on the other hand, was accused of starving the revenue and refusing supplies for the very war which it had urged the Government to declare. Charles said he had raised forced loans during the recess, in reliance on the grant of tonnage and poundage, which had been voted to many of his predecessors for life, and which he therefore had a right to expect. Each party advanced their boundaries as the strife went on, The Commons complained of promotions in the Church and


« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »