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yet reduced to this virtual abdication, Charles dissolved

1640 the parliament and threw some of its bold spirits into
prison. Convocation added to the flame by continuing
to sit after the dissolution of parliament, voting a subsidy
of its own, and passing, as a counterblast to the Scotch

1640 Covenant, canons proclaiming the necessity of episcopacy
and the divine authority of kings. Strafford, his temper
perhaps rendered more violent by gout, breathed war,
and, if his words were rightly reported, laid it down in
the council that the king, by the refusal of parliament to
do its duty, was released from constitutional restraints,
and at liberty, for the suppression of rebellion, to avail
himself of any means in his power. Desperate expedients
were employed to raise money ; bullion was seized in the
mint, and the currency was debased. By this time the
Puritan leaders in England had opened communications

1640 with Scotland, and the ground was mined beneath the
king's feet. A second expedition against the Scotch
ended in worse disaster than the first. The English army
refused to fight, the Scotch in their turn invaded Eng-
land, and were received not as enemies, but as allies.
The last straw at which the king caught to break his
now inevitable fall was an assembly of the peers, called

1640 in the old form of the Grand Council, which, though super-
seded by parliament, still remained in constitutional
existence. The peers could in the upshot advise nothing

1640 but the assembling of parliament. Parliament was called.
The king came to the opening not in his usual state but
humbly in his barge as a vanquished man.


The Long Parliament is truly so called, since it lived
for twenty years, though part of the time in a state of
suspended animation, and through all the phases of a
great revolution. It may be said to have carried political
England finally out of the middle ages.

Imperfect as the representation was, petty boroughs
being controlled by the crown, while important towns
were unrepresented, the sentiment of the hour prevailed,
as it did in the election of the parliament which carried
the Reform Bill of 1832. When the House of Commons 1640
met, political England, that is to say, the England of the
land-owners, the yeomanry, and the burghers, was there.
The peasantry and mechanics, for the most part, appear
to have taken little interest in the controversy, and when
at last they appeared on the field of civil war it was in the
form of tumultuary bodies of clubmen rising in defence of
their hearths and their bread against disturbers and plun-
derers of both parties. This was not, in its origin at least,
a democratic revolution. It was a revolution of the gentry
and the middle class. Its authors could defend them-
selves against an imputation of lawless tendencies by
saying that it was not likely that such bodies as the
two Houses of Parliament, filled with the " nobility and
gentry " of the kingdom, should " conspire to take away
the law by which they enjoyed their estates, were pro-
tected from any act of violence and power, and differenced
from the meaner sort of people with whom otherwise they
would be but fellow-servants."

Looking round the old chapel of St. Stephen, where
the Commons sat, we see the chiefs of the parties, actual
or eventual, of the revolution. There is Pym, soon ac-
cepted once more as the leader, King Pym, as he was


presently nicknamed, to whom Clarendon pays the com-
pliment of saying that he was " the most popular man and
the most able to do hurt that had lived in any time."
There is Pym's second self, Hampden, the patriotic oppo-
nent of ship-money, of whom Clarendon says that he was
" of the most discerning spirit, and of the greatest address
and insinuation to bring anything to pass that he desired
of that time, and who laid the design deepest." There is
Vane, " young in years, but in sage counsel old," the most
advanced of liberals, too advanced even for New England,
which he had visited and disturbed. There is Oliver St.
John, an enigmatic figure, nicknamed the "dark-lantern
man " of his party. There is the fiery Strode, who had
once held down the Speaker in his chair while patriotic
resolutions were being passed. There is the highly in-
tellectual Fiennes, with Genevan associations. There are
representatives of Presbyterianism, such as Denzil Holies,
Haselrig, and Stapleton, who in the course of the revo-
lution will have their hour. There is Falkland, literary,
refined, the centre of an intellectual and liberal circle,
intensely sensitive and impulsive, who will go into civil
war "ingeminating peace"; the type of the philosophic
and literary liberals, most of whom, repelled by Puri-
tan fanaticism, will, in the day of battle, sadly incline to
the royalist side. There is Falkland's friend Hyde, after-
wards Lord Clarendon, mentor of royalty and royalist
historian that is to be. There are Digby and Culpepper,
who, with Falkland and Hyde, will soon pass over to
the reaction. There are the great constitutional lawyers,
Selden, Whitelock, Maynard, and Glyn, whose views and
aims, as political reformers, are bounded by the law. In
this assembly are no Jacobins; hardly even Girondists.


Politically the most extreme man among them is Henry
Marten, a republican, not of the Puritan, but of the
Roman stamp.

In religion the extreme man is Oliver Cromwell, who re-
presents the Independents in virtual, though not yet avowed,
secession from the Anglican establishment. Cromwell is
one of the members for Cambridge, in the eastern district,
which is strongly Puritan. He is, in his own phrase, a
gentleman, one of the younger branch of a family which
had derived its wealth from the confiscation of the monas-
teries, and a relative of Hampden. He has been at a clas-
sical school, at Cambridge, at an Inn of Court. He is
passionately religious, after having been, as he fancies,
the chief of sinners, but endowed at the same time with
practical capacity, which makes itself felt from the first,
in spite of his uncouth garb and total want of grace and
fluency as a speaker. Sir Philip Warwick sees him in " a
plain cloth suit, which seemed to have been made by an
ill country tailor, linen plain and not very clean, a speck
or two of blood upon his band, which was unfashionably
small, and a hat without a hat-band." "His stature,"
Warwick says, "was good; his countenance swollen and
reddish ; his voice sharp and untunable ; and his elo-
quence full of fervour." Cromwell's eloquence, there-
after to be heard, was the thunder of victory. Warwick
as a fine gentleman was scandalized at the attention paid
to such a speaker.

In the House of Lords, too, there are notable men.
A majority of the peers were Stuart creations, some of
them for cash. But cash was not court favour, and the
peers, though they had long lost their feudal indepen-
dence, had acquired a certain independence of assured rank,


wealth, and dignity. The House was conservative, of
course, and already under the Stuart parliaments there had
been murmurings at their lukewarmness in the patriotic
cause. Yet they had among them Puritans and reformers
of mark, such as Bedford, Saye and Sele, Brooke, or Essex
and Kimbolton, afterwards Manchester, the parliamentary
generals that were to be. It was an age in which religious
enthusiasm lifted men above rank and wealth.

London, the place of meeting, is Puritan and hostile to
the court. The royalist historian calls it the sink of all
the ill humours of the kingdom. In this as in the French
Revolution the patriotism of the Assembly has the street
on its side, and sometimes brings mob intimidation to
bear. The London apprentices especially were always
ready for a fray. The device of petitioning is also called
into play, as Clarendon avers, and the art must have been
already far advanced, if names which had been signed to
a mild petition were cut off and appended to a stronger.

The line of cleavage between the parties in the Long
Parliament, on which separation in the end will take
place, is religious ; it is the line between episcopacy and
the Prayer Book as by law established, on the one side,
and Presbyterianism or Congregationalism on the other.

Scotch commissioners are there to treat for peace, ar-
range a pecuniary indemnity, and at the same time sup-
port the Puritan cause ; while the Scotch army encamped
in England affords its moral support to its English friends.

Of the four hundred and ninety-three members who had
sat in the Short Parliament, two hundred and ninety-four
were returned again. But men who before had spoken of
moderate remedies now talked in another strain. Pym
told Hyde that they must be of another temper than they


were in the last parliament; that they must not only
sweep the House clean below, but must pull down all
the cobwebs which hung in the top and corners, that
they might not breed dust and so make a foul House
hereafter; that they had now an opportunity to make
their country happy by removing all grievances and pull-
ing up the causes of them by the roots, if all men would
do their duties. Whence Hyde inferred that " the warmest
and boldest counsels and overtures would find a much bet-
ter reception than those of more temperate allay." Yet
these men came in a spirit which could hardly be called
revolutionary, since their object was, not like that of the
French Revolutionists, to break with the past and make a
new world, but to put a stop to what they deemed innova-
tion, above all to Romanist innovation, on the part of the
king and his advisers.

Charles had called to him Strafford. The earl knew
his danger; but the king had pledged to him the royal
word that not a hair of his head should be touched. He
came, foiled, broken by disease, yet still resolute, prepared
to act on the aggressive, perhaps to arraign the leaders
of the Commons for treasonable correspondence with the
Scotch. But he had to deal, in his friend and coadjutor
of former days, with no mere rhetorician, but with a man
of action as sagacious and as intrepid as him'self. Pym at
once struck a blow which proved him a master of revolu- 1640
tion. Announcing to the Commons that he had weighty
matter to impart, he moved that the doors should be
closed. When they were opened, he carried up to the
Lords the impeachment of the Earl of Strafford. The
earl came down to the House of Lords that day with his
brow of imperial gloom, his impetuous step, his tones and
VOL. 1 вАФ 33


gestures of command; but scarcely had he entered the
House when he found that power had departed from
him; and the terrible minister of government by pre-
rogative went away a fallen man, none unbonneting to
him, in whose presence an hour before no man would
have stood covered. The speech by which Pym bore the
House on to this bold move, so that, as Clarendon says,
" not one man was found to stop the torrent," is known
only from Clarendon's outline. But that outline shows
how the speaker filled the thoughts of his hearers with
a picture of the tyranny, before he named its chief author,
the Earl of Strafford ; and how he blended with the ele-
ments of indignation some lighter passages of the earl's
vanity and amours, to mingle contempt with indignation
and to banish fear.

Both Houses and almost all their members moving to-
gether, a clean sweep was made of government by pre-
1641 rogative. After Strafford, Laud was impeached and
thrown into prison to await his trial. Cottington, Finch,
and other ministers of arbitrary government cowered or

1640 fled. Prjaine, Burton, and Bastwick were set free and
came home in triumph, the people going out to meet them
in thousands, strewing flowers in their way, and mingling
shouts of welcome with fierce outcries against the bishops.
Chambers was indemnified for his losses and sufferings.

1641 Ship-money was abolished. Ship-money judges were called
to account, and the most obnoxious of them, Berkeley, to
make an awful example, was arrested on the bench of jus-
tice. The other fiscal supplies of arbitrary rule, as com-
positions for knighthood, forest claims and fi[nes, were cut
off, and an end was put to monopolies. Levying of taxes
without consent of parliament was forever condemned.


The courts of star chamber and high commission were 1641
abolished, and the action of the privy council was reduced
within constitutional bounds. The council of the north, 1641
the presidency of Wales, and other local remnants of
arbitrary jurisdiction were swept away. Here the tide of
change reached high water mark. After this the waves
rose much higher, but not the tide.

To all this loss of prerogative Charles was fain to assent.
He was fain to allow parliament to assume and exercise
the supreme power while it wielded the besom of political
reform. Still Charles was king. It was in his power at any
moment to dissolve parliament, and to reduce its members
to the condition of private men and subjects ; nor could it
meet again except by the king's command. The Scotch
army, its present support and really in its pay, would then
be paid off and gone. Thus government by prerogative
might revive. Here lay the weakness of a parliament
aspiring to be the government. To cure it an Act was 1641
passed, and received the enforced assent of the king,
providing that parliament should be called at least once
in every three years, and that if the king failed to issue
the summons, it should be issued in his name by the
chancellor, or in default of the chancellor by any twelve
peers; and if no peers assembled for the purpose, the
local officers should proceed to the election. This might
be called a reversion to the old Plantagenet statutes,
which prescribed annual parliaments, and in that sense
might be constitutional. But a further Act was passed, 1641
forbidding the dissolution of the parliament then sitting
without its own consent. This was a measure of revolu-
tionary necessity, though veiled under the pretext that
parliament was borrowing money to pay off the Scotch,


and could not give security to lenders unless its own
existence were secured. The Commons also took the
finances into their own hands; they granted large sup-
plies, partly to pay off the Scotch, but themselves regu-
lated the disbursement. As the revolution advanced they
began to legislate under the form of Ordinances without
the consent of the crown, and to exercise the executive
power. They were, in fact, though unconsciously, drawing
the sovereignty to themselves. This is the key to the
political situation and at the same time the defence of

It was not less fear of Strafford than resentment of his
crime against the state that determined the Commons to
take his life. His Irish army, believed to be intended for the*
subjugation of England, was his rankest offence; and that
army still hung, or was believed to hang, a thunder-cloud
on the political horizon. The vast hall of Westminster
1641 w^s made ready for the grandest political trial in English
history, a trial to be compared rather to that of Strafford's
master or to that of Louis XVI. than to the ship-money
trial, to that of the bishops in the time of James II., or to
that of Warren Hastings. The Lords formed the court.
The hall was crowded with spectators whose excitement
was at first intense, though as the trial dragged on listless-
ness ensued. The king was there behind a lattice, through
which he broke in his eagerness to see. There he heard
these words of Pym, " If the histories of eastern countries
be pursued, whose princes order their affairs according to
the mischievous principles of the Earl of Strafford, loose
and absolved from all rules of government, they will be
found to be frequent in combustions, full of massacres and
of the tragical end of princes." The best speakers of the


Commons, Pym at their head, used all their eloquence.
Nor was the quarry unworthy of the hunt. Strafford
defended himself magnificently, and awakened much sym-
pathy, especially among the ladies of rank. It was said
that like Ulysses, though not beautiful, he had the elo-
quence which could inspire a goddess with love. He had
to plead his own cause against the powerful array of man-
agers for the Commons. He was allowed counsel only on
points of law, it being held beneath the dignity of the
Commons, as of the crown, to plead against advocates, as
though anything were more undignified than injustice.
The practice was a survival of the time when every man
pleaded his own cause, and the advocate, as the Latin word
and its Greek synonym import, came in only as a prompter
or a seconder.

To bring Strafford's case within the treason law it was
necessary to feign that he had levied war against the king.
But the king had been his accomplice. So far as the stat-
ute was concerned he might well protest against the un-
fairness of the charge. The real charge against him was
unknown to the law or hitherto to the constitution,
treason against the nation, in " having endeavoured by his
words, actions, and counsels to subvert the fundamental
laws of England and Ireland, and to introduce an arbitrary
and tyrannical government." Of this he was guilty, and if
the proof does not seem to us complete, it seemed complete
to the men of that time, who had the facts before their
eyes. Those on whom he had trampled, or whose mal-
practice he had perhaps curbed as lord deputy of Ireland,
bore hard on him with their testimony. But the most
fatal piece of evidence against him was a paper of notes
taken down by the elder Vane, who was secretary of state,


and abstracted by the younger Vane, of advice given to the
king by Strafford in council, and importing or seeming te
import that, parliament having refused supplies, the king
was absolved from constitutional rules of government, and
might have recourse to any means that he saw fit, includ-
ing the employment of the Irish army, for the subjugation
of England.

Pym put forth all his powers as an orator. And they
were great. If his general style was argumentative, and
even somewhat heavy and homiletic, he was capable of
electric strokes, and sometimes makes us think of him as a
very Puritan Mirabeau. To the charge of arbitrary gov-
ernment in Ireland, Strafford had pleaded that the Irish
were a conquered nation. " They were a conquered na-
tion ! " cries Pym. " There cannot be a word more preg-
nant or fruitful in treason than that word is. There are
few nations in the world that have not been conquered,
and no doubt but the conqueror may give what law he
pleases to those that are conquered ; but if the succeeding
pacts and agreements do not limit and restrain that right,
what people can be secure? England hath been conquered,
and Wales hath been conquered ; and b}^ this reason will
be in little better case than Ireland. If the king by the
right of a conqueror gives laws to his people, shall not the
people by the same reason be restored to the right of the
conquered to receive their liberty if they can ? " Strafford
had alleged good intentions as an excuse for his evil coun-
sels. " Sometimes, my lords," says Pym, " good and evil, ,
truth and falsehood, lie so near together that they are hard
to be distinguished. Matters hurtful and dangerous may
be accompanied with such circumstances as may make
them appear useful and convenient. But where the mat-


ters propounded are evil in their own nature, such as the
matters are wherewith the Earl of Strafford is charged, as
to break public faith and to subvert laws and government,
they can never be justified by any intentions, how good
soever they be pretended." Again, to the plea that it was
a time of great danger and necessity, Pym replies, "If
there were any necessity, it was of his own making ; he, by
his evil counsel, had brought the king into a necessity ; and
by no rules of justice can be allowed to gain this advantage
by his own fault, as to make that a ground of his justifica-
tion, which is a great part of his offencco" Skilfully he
raises the minds of the judges from the factitious and tech-
nical to the real indictment. " Shall it be treason," he says,
" to embase the king's coin, though but the piece of twelve-
pence or sixpence ? And must it not needs be the effect
of a greater treason to embase the spirit of his subjects,
and to set up a stamp and character of servitude upon
them, whereby they shall be disabled to do anything for
the service of the king and commonwealth?" To the
objection, which was true enough, that the charge was
novel, his answer is, " Neither will this be a new way of
blood. There are marks enough to trace this law to the
very original of this kingdom ; and if it hath not been put
in execution, as he allegeth, these two hundred and forty
years, it was not for want of law, but that all that time
hath not bred a man bold enough to commit such crimes as
these." He takes always the high political ground. " To
alter the settled frame and constitution of government is
treason in any state. The laws whereby all other parts of
a kingdom are preserved would be very vain and defective
if they had not the power to secure and preserve them-
selves." Strafford might have retorted that to put the mon-


archy under the feet of parliament, as Pym was doing,
was to alter the settled frame and constitution of govern-
ment as much as they could have been altered by putting
the parliament under the feet of the king. Once, we are
told, while Pym was speaking, his eyes met those of Straf-
ford's, and the speaker grew confused, lost the thread of
his discourse, and broke down beneath the haggard look of
his old political friend..

Oratory has from that time to this been a mighty
power in politics, and its early masterpieces are momen-
tous events.

The trial dragged and the Lords appeared to waver.
The majority in the Commons growing impatient, over-
bore their leaders, who wished to demand a verdict on
the impeachment, and determined to take judgment into
their own hands by an Act of Attainder, thus once more
confounding the legislative and judicial powers, as they
had been confounded in early times. The bill passed by
1641 204 to 59, Falkland, and in all probability Hyde, with
many others who afterwards became royalists, voting
Aye. The vote of the Lords was still doubtful. Straf-
ford's fate was sealed by a plot, of which the queen's
circle was the centre, for bringing up the army which had
been raised against the Scotch and lay not yet disbanded
in the north, to overawe the parliament; a scheme like
that by which Marie Antoinette and her evil counsellors
precipitated the crash in France. The plot was betrayed.
It furnished Pym with a subject for an appeal to the
country, in the shape of a protestation of fidelity to par-
liamentary privilege and public right, and against the de-
signs of papists, which was signed by all the Commons.
Mobs threatening violence, the evil concomitant of revo-


lution, beset the Houses. The Bill of Attainder passed
the intimidated Lords. Fear of the mighty enemy of
parliament sealed his doom. When imprisonment for
life was proposed, the answer was, "Stone-dead hath no
fellow." At the last moment an attempt was made to
deal with the situation in what is now the established
way, by bringing the leaders of the opposition into office ;
but this w^as frustrated by the sudden death of the Earl 1641
of Bedford, a patriotic but moderate man, whose great
personal influence might possibly have stilled the waves.
Once more we have to acknowledge the force of accident
in history.

Charles had assured Strafford, on the word of a king,
that he should not suffer in life, honour, or fortune. Could
he now assent to the Bill which was the earl's death-war-
rant? Honour by the lips of Juxon said that he could
not, and honour was the true policy. But the casuistry
of Williams, with fear for wife and children, turned the
scale. Strafford magnanimously gave the king back his
pledge. Charles miserably haggled, and at last, induced by
a misapplied distinction between his private and his public
conscience, gave his assent. Bitterly he afterwards re- 1641
pented the act, and with good reason, for by it he was
more than discrowned. In signing Strafford's death-war-
rant, in truth, he signed his own doom. Abdication would

Online LibraryGoldwin SmithThe United kingdom; a political history → online text (page 37 of 84)