George Nugent Grenville Nugent.

Some memorials of John Hampden : his party and his times online

. (page 23 of 45)
Online LibraryGeorge Nugent Grenville NugentSome memorials of John Hampden : his party and his times → online text (page 23 of 45)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

' him could scarce be justified by his crimes/* All departure
from the substantial rules of justice to procure judgment
against a man for his crimes is in itself one of the worst of
crimes, and admits neither of justification nor apology.
But, on the other hand, it would be no less shameful to
speak of that proceeding, as Evelyn does, as being 'the
' greatest malice and greatest innocency that ever met before
' so illustrious an assembly/ Let the case be put fairly. We
may assume, (without the sort of palliation insinuated to
qualify the murder of Argyle), that the only ground on which,
in this case, an attempt at justification can be rested, is that
very dangerous one of state necessity, and this state necessity
arising out of the peculiar position as well as character of the
person himself. For the imminent danger to the state arose I
out of the peculiarities of his position as well as character.
And these, taken together, were doubtless dangerous to <it in
the highest degree. His apostacy had been of the most
execrable sort, and took effect at a time when any apostacy
from the popular cause was the most execrable. For it was not
to be palliated by any reason of alarm, nor even by the
temptation of a great revenge upon political antagonists. His
only political antagonists were those into whose ranks he was
proceeding to desert with all the arms about him which he had
borne in the cause of liberty. The cause of liberty was not
then triumphant, nor had its pretensions, nor the demands of
the popular party, risen beyond the level of that Petition
of Eight of which Strafford had been one of the foremost

* Macpherson Hist. Great Britain.


champions.* His power had soon become fully commensurate
with his daring. Like Buckingham a stranger equally to mode-
ration and to fear, his capacities were immeasurably greater; and,
at the time of his fall, he was meditating a blow at the constitu-
tion such as Buckingham had never contemplated, nor probably
could ever have obtained the means to attempt. It is difficult
to admit that the act which threw Strafford into the hands of
his prosecutors had of itself dissolved the spell of his power.
Charles had promised to banish him for ever from his presence
and councils, and even from the land. But slender indeed
would have been the security of this engagement, if ever the
state of those negotiations which the King was then carrying
on with the army had given the means to restore and avenge
him ; and to avenge him the more signally in proportion to
the power which had been shown by his adversaries. If it
were a doctrine admissible that laws may be framed ex post
facto to fit particular cases, the whole argument on the justice
of this act would be as complete as the argument on the
injustice of the principle is now complete the other way. If,
on the other hand, it be said that charges of accumulative
treason may be held to be proved in cases where it is doubtful
whether any one act taken singly can be made treasonable
within the law of the land, no man is safe, and especially
when he is to be tried by a council of many, where each judge
separately may be satisfied on some one separate charge, and
so all be found to condemn on the charges taken in the aggre-
gate, while on each particular the majority of the judges might
have acquitted.

These who voted on the Bill of Attainder had to determine
whether they would allow a criminal to escape death because
his crime was so great and so complicated that it Avas difficult
to bring it within the bounds of a statute, and thus show
future ministers a way to baffle justice ; or whether, in order
to destroy a powerful enemy to their country, they should for
a time cast loose from the anchorage ground of law, and on a
capital matter too. Be it remembered, these prosecutors were
charged with no ordinary duties, they were fighting against no

* It was Wentworth who moved this clause to be added to the Petition
of Right, ' That, for the comfort and safety of his subjects, his Majesty
' would be pleased to declare his will and pleasure that all hi.s Ministers
' should serve him according to the laws aud statutes of the realm.'


ordinary man, and with inferior means ; and, above all, they I
were lighting a great battle for the liberties of their country. I

Thus much for their motives, and for the difficulties and
dangers with which on every side they were surrounded.

On the whole, however, it must be admitted that the pro- |
ceeding by bill is not capable of any complete vindication. \
Mercy is never the attribute of great assemblies, and justice
not always. And, in this case, much was owed to precedent
a.s well as to justice ; for good precedent is justice due to after
times. It has often De^n~nb5crved that the strongest
practical admission on the part of the promoters ^of this
measure, that they knew the principle to be wrong, was their
proviso that it should not be drawn into precedent. This has
been generally argued upon as if it had been a proviso against
all future bills of attainder, which would be an absurd
supposition. The precedent against which in all probability
they meant to guard was that of an act of attainder brought
in pending a trial at law. But the strongest proof that their
principle was wrong was this ; that, in spite of that proviso,
their act was pleaded as precedent, three years after, for the
taking off of Laud ; a measure still more repugnant to all
notions of legal principle.

To treat of it as a legal act would be an idle misuse of
terms. The apology for it is that, while Strafford lived, /
there was no security against Charles's restoring him to '
power ; and that, while he was in power, there was no law iu '
.England for the protection of the subject. The phrase in i
Oliver St. John's speech, that ' there is no law for wolves and ,
' beasts of prey/ it would be a solecism in language to call an/
argument in law. Taken as such, it would have been but
insolent and cruel mockery. But it was a fit declaration of
the character of an act which was to demolish an authority
stronger than the law, and an authority which it was difficult,
/ without demolishing, to abate. It was, on the whole, the \
I case of the most dangerous minister that England ever knew, I
I destroyed by the most dangerous precedent that an English :
Parliament ever established.

The conduct of Lord Digby in this matter would have
entitled him to praise', if it had not been stained by his base-
ness in secretly purloining a material piece of evidence from
the Committee, and afterwards vehemently, impiously, and
falsely, protesting his innocence before God and the Parlia-


merit on oath.* His speech in the House of Commons was
eloquent and powerful. It states the whole of the argument
against the Bill, and states it in the best manner ; nor is the
reasoning of it materially shaken by that of St. John, which,
however, is very superior to Pym's, and is, in every respect,
the best vindication of that measure which has ever been put
forth. Lord Digby's opposition to the Bill was the more
effective, so long as his motives were regarded as pure and
honourable, on account of the unceasing vehemence with
which he had before urged the impeachment.

Then followed that great last speech of the Earl himself
before the Lords, the peroration of which has been so often

I and so deservedly celebrated as one of the finest specimens of
pathetic eloquence in our language. It is so generally
known, that the transcribing of it here would hardly be
justified. And, indeed, so beautiful are several of the passages
which precede it, that it would be difficult to determine
where the quotation ought to commence. No reader, who
is not familiar with the conclusion of that speech, will repent
the having searched for it in the report of the trial ; and if, in
the course of that search, he should be led to read through
the whole of that memorable defence, he will be well repaid
for the time which it will have cost him.

We have already remarked how necessary it is for any man
who would do fair justice to the leaders in this prosecution to
keep his mind free to judge between the two modes of pro-
ceeding adopted during its course. Of this we shall presently
adduce a remarkable proof. Those writers who discuss this
matter in a mere spirit of political controversy, and who would
therefore include that whole party and that whole prosecution
in one undistinguishing measure of either approbation or
blame, have endeavoured to veil the great barrier of principle
which separates the trial upon the impeachment from the ex
post facto law of pains and penalties. This course has been
lately taken in an eminent critical work, in its observations
on Mr. Hallam's history.t The Impeachment and Bill of
Attainder are tEefe~~treated of but as parts of one great
measure, and then pronounced upon together as being an

* His treachery in this matter, and the falsehood of his protestations,
which at the time deceived many, were afterwards proved by the purloined
document found, copied in his own handwriting, among papers taken at
Naseby. f Quarterly Review, No. IxxiiL Article 7.


' extra legal murder/ They are said to have originated in the
failure of the proposal for giving office to some of the leaders
of that party who ' wanted places and power, and being
' disappointed in their expectations, determined upon shedding
' the blood of the man with whom, if they had been taken
' into office, they were willing to have coalesced/ This
imputation must have been made without due inquiry into
the history of that transaction. None of those persons who
were named for office appear to have been privy to any com-
promise in favour of Lord Strafford, except the Earl of
Bedford,* with whom the negotiation originated, by whom it
was secretly conducted, and by whose death it was abruptly
closed. There is, consequently, no reason for imputing to
them a folly so gross as the having been willing to coalesce
with one who would not have lost much time after such a
coalition in effectually working their ruin and that of their
cause. Besides, the impeachment had preceded that negotia-
tion ; and, consequently, the remarks of this writer upon
those who, 'being disappointed in their expectations, were
' thereby determined upon shedding blood/ must be strictly
limited to the promoters of the bill of pains and penalties,
among whom he strangely classes Hampdeu with the Earl of
Bedford, who was working to defeat it, and died before it
reached the Upper House, t and with Lord Say, who counselled,
spoke, and voted against it. J ' This fact alone/ concludes the
passage in question, 'might suffice to reclaim an ingenuous
1 mind from the worship of Pym and Hampden/ It is pleasing
to a mind which would contemplate with unqualified admira-
tion the high and blameless character of Harnpden to be able,
without disingenuousness, to satisfy itself that the premises on
which this censure rests are likewise destitute of foundation.
Throughout the progress of the attainder, the memory of
Hampden is not stained by any appearance of his having been
concerned in it. That he was a manager of the impeachment,
and an active one, we have seen. The remarkable fact, there-
fore, of his name not appearing in any of the proceedings on
the Bill, whether it afford a more or less strong presumption

* Perhaps also the Marquis of Hamilton, who, according to Clarendon,
early engaged with Bedford in recommending the project of popularising
the King's government by the iuti'oduction of some of the leaders of the
country party. t Clarendon, Hist. Reb.

Collection of Speeches, published 16iS. Paii. Hist.


of his having disapproved of that course, is at least a sufficient
answer to an accusation which ought not to have been made
unless accompanied by direct affirmative proof.

But the case does not stop here. Hampden' s steady absti-
nence from any participation in the act of attainder, and in the
proceedings which led to it, is not inferred from such circum-
stances only as might have been accidental or undesigned.
From the opening of the charges, to the last free conference
' touching the matter of law in the case of the trial/ (the heads
of which he was appointed, together with Pym, Pierrepoint,
Colepepper, and others, to prepare,) in almost every step of
the impeachment he is conspicuous.* To 'the further pro-
ceedings ' he is no party, although they are at different times
countenanced by all his colleagues in the Lower House except
Digby and Selden. This is the more fit to be observed on
account of the unfavourable contrast in which it is sometimes
attempted to place the conduct of Hampden with that of
I Falkland and of Hyde. Now, Hyde at best did no more to
( mark his disapproval of the Bill than Hampden did. On the
contrary, on the 24th of April, when Glyn and Hill were
appointed to manage a conference 'for the expediting of the
' bill of attainder/ Hyde went up with a message ( to acquaint
'their Lordships that the House hath received information
' that the Earl may-have a design to escape, &c., &c., and
'therefore to desire their Lordships that he may be close
' prisoner, and the guard strengthened/ t

Falkland, it appears clearly from Sir Ralph Veruey's notes,
on the 15th of April, spoke in answer to Digby and in favour
of the Bill; Hampden never.J And, on the 16th, while
Hampden was on one committee to prepare heads for a con-
ference ' concerning their Lordships' resolution to hear counsel
' in matter of law, and to desire that their Lordships would

* See Commons Journals, January 4, April 15, 16, 22, 23, and 24, 1640-1
et passim.

t Clarendon, with remarkable disingenuousness, passes over, in his

HistoryTthe whole of Ins own conduct on the prosecution of Strafford, and

particularly the fact of his having taken up this message, which arose out

; of the apprehension entertained by the House of the project of 'bringing

' up the army,' afterwards strangely called by him ' the pretended plot.' la

his account of the progress of the Bill against Episcopacy, he states that,

I until then, Falkland and he had never differed in a vote. This, if taken

I strictly, is an admission that he (Hyde) had voted for Stafford's attainder;

I for Falkland unquestionably did.

J Sir Ralph Verney's MS. notes, in the possession of Sir Harry Veruey.


' use all expedition to give an end to this trial as much as in
' justice may be/ Falkland was on another which was appointed
to prepare heads for a conference ' concerning the further
' proceedings/ on the report of which committee it was that
the Bill was passed.*

In debate, Hampden never alluded to the proceeding by bill
but once. On the 16th of April, when it was discussed,
pending the attainder, whether the Commons should continue
to hear the Earl's counsel at the bar of the Lords, or proceed
with the Bill, St. John, having said that ' being possessed of
' a bill, they had made themselves judges, and being so, it were
' a dishonour to hear counsel anywhere but at their own bar;.'
and Colepepper having said, ' if we reply to Lord Stafford's
' counsel before the Lords, we prejudice our cause in taking
' away the power of declaring treason/ Hampden, according to
Sir Ralph Vernev's noi^s, in opposition to his fellow managers,
urged that they should proceed, not by bill, but by trial at the
Lords' bar. c The Bill now depending doth not tie us to goe
' by bill. Oar counsel hath been heard. Ergo, in justice we
' must heare his. Noe more prejudice to goe to heare matter
' of law, than to heare counsel to matter of fact.' t

I may have been too prolix in these details. But I have
undertaken these memorials with a desire to do justice ; and
the injustice of general imputations, made without foundation
of authority, cannot be met but by reference to particulars.

Then why, it may be asked, if Hampden disapproved of the
Bill, did he not take the part of actively opposing it ? and why
do we not find his name in the list of Straffordians ? First,
it might, in reply, be asked, why do we not find Edward
Hyde's? It is not necessary to rest anything on the fuel of
several of the strongest opposers of that Bill not having voted
in that minority of fifty-six members afterwards called the
Straffordians. Let it be admitted that it is most improbable
indeed that Hampden took any further part against the Bill.
I am decidedly of opinion that he did not. I only mention
this fact as a singular one ; I know not why it was so ; that
some of the boldest and most active opponents of the attainder
are not to be found in that list. Heath says that ' at the time

* Commons Journals.

+ Sir Ralph Verney's Notes. Glyn supports Pym's argument against
hearing Strafford's counsel as to the point of law. Sir Benjamin Rudyerd
agrees with Hampden.

ii 2


' of passing the Bill of Attainder in the House of Commons,
' Sir Bevill Grenvil and Sir Alexander Carew sitting together,
' they both serving for the same county of Cornwall, Sir Bevill
' bespoke Sir Alexander in such like words : " Pray, Sir, let
' it not be said that any member of our county should have
' a hand in this ominous business, and, therefore, pray give
' your vote against this Bill." To whom the other instantly
' replied, " If I were sure to be the next man that should suffer
' upon the same scaffold with the same axe, I would give my
' consent to the passing of it." ' * And yet, plain as it is that
Sir Bevill very thoroughly opposed the Bill, he does not appear
among the Straffordians.

But why then, it is again asked, if Hatnpden disapproved
of the precedent of a bill of attainder, did he not make head
against it as manfully as he had before supported the impeach-
ment ? Plainly, because in a case doubtful to him only as
matter of precedent but clear to him in respect of the guilt of
the accused person, in a case in which the accused person, in
his estimation, deserved death, and in which all law but that of
the sceptre and the sword was at an end if he had escaped it,
when all the ordinary protection of law to the subject through-
out the country was suspended, and suspended mainly by the
j counsels of Strafford himself, Hampden was not prepared to
j heroically immolate the liberties of England in order to save
I the life of him who would have destroyed them. Hampden
probably considered the bill which took away Strafford's life
(and indeed it must in fairness be so considered) as a revolu-
tionary act undertaken for the defence of the Commonwealth.
That in his conscience he believed it to be an act of substantial
injustice to the person arraigned, no man has any right to
] conclude. I moreover aver that there is not more ground for
| imputing a participation in that measure to him than to Lord
' Clarendon, and not near so much as to Lord Falkland.f


* Brief Chronicle.

t [The Editor of the present edition of this biography has reason to
believe that had its author lived himself to superintend it, he would at least
have modified many expressions in the above argument as to Hampden's
supposed opposition to the bill of attainder. Lord Nugent felt latterly
that he had given more importance to the entry in Sir Harry Vemey's
Notes than it ought legitimately to bear, seeing that the strict alternative
presented in the discussion on which he spoke does not appear- to have
been whether Strafford's counsel should be heard, or the bill proceeded with,
for the very obvious and satisfactory reason that both were ultimately
done. Hampden's opinion prevailed, and the bill nevertheless went


The conduct of Hampden in this matter has been unjustly
dealt with. It has been (designedly, as it appears) confounded
with that of others, by Lord Clarendon, by the Commonwealth
writers, and by the inflamed Tory writers of modern times.
Lord Clarendon never did justice to any opponent, and there
were "many feelings which specially interfered with his doing
justice to Hampden. The Commonwealth writers are, of
course, partial to Hampden's memory ; but they are generally
defenders also of the proceedings against Strafford, and would
not willingly disconnect a name which they revered from
a measure which they approved. And the modern Tory writers
are well content to assume, without any authority for it, that
Hampden' s reputation is involved in a measure which they
represent as an ' extra legal murder/ blackening every reputa-
tion which can be connected with it.

But, in whatever light the conduct of the Managers is to be
viewed, upon that of the King there can be but one judgment
formed by any man who respects the clear boundaries which
divide the most obvious duty from the most unmitigated
injustice and perfidy. It may be said to have been an unne-
cessary severity in the Parliament to adopt a course by which
it was proposed to him to become a party to the destruction of
his favourite, for acts many of which he had enjoined, and to
all of which he had consented. But nothing can palliate the
falsehood and cruelty of Charles, who, rather than have sent
Lord Strafford to his fate, ought to have prepared himself to
meet any result, even that, if need had been, of sharing it.
The merely sacrificing his Minister for acts to which he had
been himself a party, was an infamous baseness ; the sacrificing
him after a letter of assurance that not a hair of his head
should suffer, but that he (the King) would risk all and suffer
all first, was shameful treachery. The postscript to lu's letter
to the Lords, pleading for Strafford at the beginning, and at
the end delivering him up to death, with an ' if he must die,
' 'twere charity to reprieve him till Saturday, *~was unfeeling
and" cruel. But more base, more treacherous, and more cruel
still, \vas the permitting St. John, in consequence of a half-
executed design for conciliating the country party, to continue
to lead the prosecution and bring up the Bill as Solicitor-
General to the King. Who, seeing this, can believe the King
to have been at any time in conscience irreconcileable to the
project of destroying Strafford ? who, seeing this, but would


admit that it gave countenance to the declared purpose of the
Commons, and encouragement to them to proceed ? Though
Strafford knew his master's duplicity, still, when he wrote to
him his famous letter urging him to pass the Bill, he seems to
have thoroughly expected that he would resist. This was
shown by his exclamation of surprise, and grief, and reproach,
when he was told that the King had given way.

Next in guilt to the conduct of Charles was that of Williams
and the other Bishops, with whom was performed the mockery
of a consultation on a point of plain and absolute duty. From
this hypocrisy Juxon alone was free. To his honour be it
remembered that, scorning the sophistry of divided conscience,
he told the King that he was' bound before God and man to
refuse his assent.

Thus fell Lord Strafford ; in the circumstances of his death
giving to his enemies no advantage over his character. It is
truly said of him in the ' Eikon/ ' I looked upon him as
' a gentleman whose abilities might well make a Prince rather
' afraid than ashamed in the greatest affairs of State/




Triennial Bill Corruptions of the Churchmen Bill to restrain the Clergy from
secular offices Missions of Panzani and Rosetti Temporising of the High
Church Party in England with the Romish Discipline Ground of Clarendon's
Imputation against Hampden examined Lord Say Nathaniel Fiennes
Lord Kimbolton Lord Digby Sir Harry Vane, the Younger Strode
Hazelrigge Sir Edward Deering Oliver Cromwell Pym Root-and-Branch
Bill for rendering Parliament indissoluble but with it's own consent
Proceedings against Finch, Windebanke, and others Result of the changes
in Government Great Seal given to Sir Edward Littleton Army Plot.

IT has been already remarked that two other very important
measures were proceeding, separately and independently, at an
equal pace with the impeachment of Lord Strafford. These
were to deprive the Bishops of votes in Parliament, by a bill
prohibiting the exercise of any civil office by clergymen; and
to provide, by what was called the Triennial Bill, that parlia-

Online LibraryGeorge Nugent Grenville NugentSome memorials of John Hampden : his party and his times → online text (page 23 of 45)