« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
SIEGE OF LA ROCHELLE-BUCKINGHAM AND RICHELIEU.
was that of having such "endowments as made him very capable of being a great favourite to a great king." This opinion which Clarendon formed of him indicates very different qualities than those which are required in a minister to a great nation. This proud, insolent, voluptuous young man, whose "inordinate appetite and passion," according to the same authority, were the main cause of the national calamities, was to be matched against the most calculating and at the same time the boldest statesman of that age. It was the battle of a pigmy and a giant. Whilst Buckingham was wasting his soldiers by his gross mismanagement in the isle of Rhé, Richelieu was taking a comprehensive view of the position and resources of La Rochelle, and forming a plan for its reduction eminently characteristic of his genius. After Buckingham's inglorious return, a second expedition had gone forth from Plymouth in the spring of 1628, under the duke's brother-in-law, the earl of Denbigh. Having looked at the French fleet in the harbour, he speedily came back to report what he had seen, after the exchange of a few harmless shots. On the 28th
of May, Charles wrote to the authorities of La Rochelle, urging them to hold out to the last, and using these solemn words of assurance to fifteen thousand people, who saw famine slowly but surely approaching,-"Be assured that I will never abandon you, and that I will employ all the force of my kingdom for your deliverance." A third fleet was equipped, after parliament had granted the subsidies; and in spite of a remonstrance of the Commons against the power of Buckingham and his abuse of that power, the duke was again to take the command. Had he sailed, the triumph of Richelieu over
ASSASSINATION OF BUCKINGHAM.
[1628. the man who had aspired to be his rival would have been complete. La Rochelle was wholly blockaded on the land-side; but the port was open. An English fleet might come to the relief of the town, under better commanders than the rash Buckingham or the timid Denbigh. Richelieu had read in Quintus Curtius how Alexander the Great had subdued Tyre, by carrying out a mole to interrupt the entrance to the harbour. He caused a great mound to be made fourteen hundred yards across, with a small tide-way; and it was nearly completed, when a storm destroyed it. He was a man not to be discouraged by one failure, and he caused the work to be begun anew. The tacticians of the army laughed at the extravagant schemes of the priest whom the king had appointed their lieutenant-general. The cardinal persevered; the mole was formed; the fate of La Rochelle was certain. The English fleet might now come. It was getting in readiness to sail from Portsmouth. The great duke had arrived to take the command. That he would have fought to the death for the relief of the beleaguered Huguenots there can be no doubt. Not only was his pride engaged in the quarrel, but his future political existence depended upon the issue of this his last venture. He was not destined to fall before the superior genius of Richelieu. He perished by the tenpenny knife of an assassin.
At the beginning of June, Charles sent to his minister these orders: "Buckingham, I command you to draw my army together to Portsmouth, to the end I may send them speedily to Rochelle. I shall send after you directions how and where to billet them, until the time that you will be able to ship them." The duke had been at Portsmouth and its neighbourhood for several weeks. On the 23rd of August he was sitting at breakfast in a lower room of the house which he occupied in the town; and his coach was waiting at the door to convey him to the king, who was staying at a mansion at Southwick. The breakfast-room and the ante-chamber were filled with a crowd of attendants and officers; and amongst them passed in, unobserved, a short dark man, who, having looked upon the company, went back to the dimly-lighted lobby through which the duke would pass to the street. Buckingham stopped to speak to sir Thomas Fryer; and the short man being behind stabbed the duke in his left side, leaving the knife in the body. The duke, exclaiming "the villain hath killed me," drew out the knife, and reeling against a chimney fell down dead. The villain was John Felton, a younger brother of a Suffolk family. He had served as lieutenant in the expedition to Rhé; had been disappointed of some promotion; was "of a deep melancholy, silent, and gloomy constitution ;" and, according to his own dying declaration, was moved to assassinate the duke as "an enemy to the public.' "In a bye-cutler's shop on Tower-hill he bought a tenpenny knife, and the sheath thereof he sewed to the lining of his pocket, that he might at any moment draw forth the blade alone with one hand, for he had maimed the other." Felton, full of his dark design, made his way to Portsmouth, partly on foot and partly on horseback; and he there struck down, in one instant, the man whom the shrewd Bassompierre regarded as he who governed absolutely in England. "Within the space of not many minutes before the fall of the body, and removal thereof into the first room, there was not a *Harleian MS., in the king's hand. Sir H. Wotton.
FELTON, THE ASSASSIN.
living creature in either of the chambers." Felton might have escaped, but in endeavouring to pass through the crowd in the ante-chamber he lost his hat. In that hat was found a paper with the following writing: "That man in my opinion is cowardly and base, and deserveth neither the name of a gentleman nor a soldier, that is unwilling to sacrifice his life for the honour of God and the good of his king and country. Let no man commend for doing it, but rather discommend themselves; for if God had not taken away their hearts for their sins, he had not gone so long unpunished. John Felton." The assassin went quietly unpursued into the kitchen of the same house, whilst the people
and the soldiers were wildly rushing about, and the gates of the town were closed. The search was in vain for the murderer; but when the multitude returned to the house, a hatless man, standing in the kitchen, exclaimed,"Here I am," and boldly confessed the deed. When it was pretended that the duke was not dead, he declared that he knew he was dispatched, for that it was the hand of heaven that gave the stroke, and if the duke's whole body. had been covered with armour of proof he could not have avoided it."+ Felton was removed to the Tower of London; was brought to trial on the 27th of November;
was sentenced upon his voluntary confession; and was executed on the 29th, acknowledging that he had been guilty of a great crime. Whilst in the Tower "he was at one time there threatened by Sir Edward Sackville, earl of Dorset, that he should be forced upon the rack to confess who were privy with him and consenting to the duke's death. I have,' said he, already told the truth on that point, upon my salvation; and if I be further questioned by torture, I will accuse you, and you only, my lord of Dorset, to be of conspiracy with me." §
The deportment of Charles, on receiving the news of his favorite minister's untimely death, was more composed than some writers have held to be compatible with a sincere grief. It is as frivolous as unjust to make any
* Sir H. Wotton.
This document was found amongst the Evelyn papers at Wotton; and came into the possession of the late Mr. Upcott. Howel, p. 204. § D'Ewes, vol. i. p. 387.
SURRENDER OF LA ROCHELLE.
such inference. The king did what is the best thing to be done under any calamity-he tasked his faculties in active exertion. He applied himself to complete the equipment of the fleet that Buckingham was to have led to La Rochelle. In twelve days, seventy vessels sailed from Portsmouth, and thirty more quickly followed. On the 15th of September the fleet was off the Isle of Rhé. The earl of Lindsey was the admiral. In the town of La Rochelle there was the most intense suffering from famine. The French army surrounded it. The great mole prevented any supply of necessaries from the sea. The English fleet coasted up and down without any fixed purpose. The spirit of national enterprise was gone. Lindsey looked upon the mole, and had no thought of breaking it down. He looked upon the French camp, and had no inclination to land his men for an attack. He sent a fire-ship or two into the port, and he discharged a few cannon. On the 18th of October La Rochelle was surrendered, in despair of receiving any help from the lukewarm or treacherous allies that had stimulated the Protestants to a desperate resistance to their persecutors. The horrors of this siege of fourteen months exceed most of the miseries recorded of beleaguered towns. Fifteen thousand persons died of hunger and disease. There was not a horse left alive in the town, for they had all been eaten. Cow-hides were a delicacy; and when these were gone, and the supply of dogs and cats was exhausted, leather was in request, so that the household of the duchess of Rohan gladly devoured the animal covering of her coach. Lindsey took his fleet back to Portsmouth; and probably even the courtiers might think that the Commons would have some justice on their side if they repeated the words of their Remonstrance of the last Session, that the conduct of the war had "extremely wasted that stock of honour that was left unto this kingdom, sometime terrible to all other nations, and now declining to contempt beneath the meanest."
On the 20th of January, 1629, the Parliament was assembled. During the recess of six months there had been causes of discontent and irritation, besides the calamities of La Rochelle. Tonnage and poundage had been collected, as the king had threatened to do, without consent of parliament; and goods had been seized when merchants resisted the demand. The king now adopted a less lofty tone. He had enforced these dues, but he was willing to receive them in future by the gift of his people. The judges had decided against the merchants who had refused payment; and the Commons were not content to let the matter rest without some marked condemnation of the past violation not only of the ancient Statutes, but of the recent Petition of Right. The House was soon again in a controversial attitude; and the questions of civil liberty then became embittered by religious differences. There were now two distinct parties in the Church, the Calvinistic and the Arminian-each taking different views of the doctrines of free will and necessity. The Arminian, or High-Church party, the more powerful with the king, was proportionately weak in parliament. The great body of the Commons were puritans-the holders of opinions that had been gradually strengthening from the time when king James insulted their professors. These opinions had become allied with the cause of constitutional freedom; for it was amongst the High-church party that the intemperate assertors of the divine right of kings were to be found. Laud,
translated from the bishopric of Bath and Wells, had become bishop of London in 1628; and was in effect the primate, for archbishop Abbot, whose principles were not in accordance with those of the court, had been suspended. Under Laud there had been ceremonial observances introduced into the performance of divine worship, which were offensive to those who dreaded a revival of popery in copes and candlesticks, prayers towards the east, and bowings to the altar. We know a little in the present day of the somewhat unchristian spirit engendered by differences about ceremonies; but we cannot adequately comprehend the strong feelings of the Englishmen of the seventeenth century upon these points, unless we bring to the proper understanding of their struggles a candid and tolerant admission that they were men in earnest. It is an odious blemish upon the narrative of Hume, our most popular historian, that whenever he encounters a strong stance of religious zeal in the puritans he exclaims "hypocrisy." It is an almost equal fault of other writers that they regard the desire, however ill-regulated, to invest the performance of religious rites with some of the decent order and even pomp of the earlier churches, as mere superstition and idol-worship. There was a man who made his first speech in the session of 1629, who it was once the fashion to regard as the arch-hypocrite of his times.-Hume calls him "fanatical hypocrite." He was described, as he appeared in the same house eleven years afterwards, as "a gentleman very ordinarily appareled, for it was a plain cloth suit, which seemed to have been made by an ill country-tailor," *— but this plain gentleman, with "his countenance swollen and reddish, his voice sharp and untunable," had, according to the same observer, an "eloquence full of fervour." It was Oliver Cromwell that attracted the attention of the "courtly young gentleman," as Sir Philip Warwick terms himself, in 1640: and in 1629 he was disturbing the complacency of other courtly gentlemen, by a speech thus briefly reported: "That he had heard by relation from one Dr. Beard that Dr. Alablaster had preached flat Popery at Paul's Cross; and that the bishop of Winchester had commanded him, as his diocesan, he should preach nothing to the contrary. Mainwaring, so justly censured in this House for his sermons, was by the same bishop's means preferred to a rich living. If these are the steps to church preferment, what are we to expect?" At present we need not further enter into these theological complaints of the Commons than to indicate their nature by this speech. It was a declaration of opinion by one who, though new to public life in 1629, was connected with some of the great parliamentary leaders by family ties and private friendships; and was sent to parliament from Huntingdon, the town in which he dwelt, with the reputation of sagacity and energy in his local relations. The complaints thus briefly reported to be uttered by Cromwell at this time are to be found at much greater length in the speeches of more conspicuous members. Brief, but ominous, was the session. There was a committee formed on religion; and charges against bishop Laud were to be presented to the king. Eliot prepared a form of three protestations,—that whoever should bring in innovations in religion, extend or introduce Popery or Arminianism; whoever should advise the levying or taking tonnage and poundage not granted by parliament; whoever should voluntarily pay the
Warwick's Memoirs, 1701, p. 247.