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of constitutional improvement. The principle of appro-
priating supplies was affirmed in the case of supplies
granted for war. In Danby's case it was asserted that a
royal pardon could not be pleaded in bar of impeach-
ment, and that an impeachment did not determine with
the sitting of the parliament. By the impeachment or
arraignment of ministers, though sometimes factious, the
control of parliament over the executive was confirmed.

1679 Better than all was the Habeas Corpus Act, passed after
a stubborn opposition by the Lords, which secured per-
sonal liberty against illegal imprisonment by sweeping
away all impediments hitherto raised by judicial or official
trickery to the issue of the writ, and rendering its opera-
tion sure. Of this the credit belongs to Shaftesbury,
whatever his motive may have been. Superior in impor-
tance to any legislation was the lapse, by the expiration


of its term, of the Licensing Act, which, as the temper
of the new parliament forbade re-enactment, tacitly put
an end for a time to the censorship and gave freedom
to the press. But that freedom was curtailed by the
power of the government to prosecute for libel.

After sitting eighteen years the parliament was dis- 1679
solved. Its successor, elected in a crisis of national
discontent, could not fail to be hostile to the court.
The boroughs and the small free-holders prevailed. In
Danby's place came Sunderland and Halifax. Sunder-
land was a first-rate courtier and intriguer. Halifax was
a man of a very different stamp, a philosophic statesman,
an excellent political writer, broad in his views, with
a mind only too well balanced, since it could never in-
cline to decisive action. Courage was wanting to him,
while from passion and prejudice he was free. Of re-
vealed religion he "believed as much as he could."
Government, however, was in convulsions. Sir William
Temple, the Solon of the age, the author of the Triple
Alliance, was called in to prescribe for the sick state.
His prescription was a return from the unconstitutional
Cabal to the constitutional privy council. He proposed
to substitute for a privy council of fifty members, one
of thirty, without an inner ring, made up half of minis-
ters of the crown, half of popular members of parliament
selected by the crown, with a proviso that the aggregate
income of the councillors should not be less than three
hundred thousand pounds, about three-fourths of the
computed income of the Commons. This body, its pro-
jector probably thought, would not be too unwieldy for
administration, would exclude cabal, would stand between
the crown and the raging parliament, would absorb oppo-


sition by giving a share in the government to its leaders,
and perhaps would relieve the popular assembly, the
tempestuous character of which must have been little
congenial to a diplomatist, of the initiative of legislation.
But diplomacy seldom makes parliamentary statesmen.
1679 The experiment at once failed. Not only was the coun-
cil still too large for business, but the elements of which
it was made up were too alien to each other for common
action. The oil of office would not mingle with the
vinegar of opposition. Charles, who hated no enemy so
much as trouble, had made Shaftesbury president of the
council to keep him quiet. The great agitator was now
at liberty to ride the storm once more.

The storm which he did ride and which was chiefly
of his own raising forms one of the blackest episodes in
English history. The air was full of a panic fear of
catholic plots, for which the intrigues of Louis XIV.,
suspected probably by the nation, and more than sus-
pected by Shaftesbury, together with ttie restless ac-
tivity of the Jesuits, afforded at least some ground ;
though fear must have been highly intensified by hatred
when it could be believed, and inscribed on a public
monument, that the great fire which had ravaged London
was the work of the papists. The Duke of York had
now publicly avowed his conversion ; Coleman, his secre-
tary, was indiscreet, writing of " a mighty work in hand,
no less than the conversion of three kingdoms and
thereby the utter subduing of a pestilent heresy which
had long domineered over the northern world." By the
opposition in parliament the^ feeling against the duke
and against the catholics had been worked up for a politi-
cal purpose. A mine of protestant suspicion was fully


charged when upon it fell as a spark the mysterious mur-
der, for murder it assuredly was, of Sir Edmund Berry 1678
Godfrey, a London magistrate who had taken depositions
against the catholics, though in general he had rather
been their friend. Of all vile informers in the pillory
of history, the highest stand Titus Gates and Bedloe,
men of infamous character and lives, who, with stories
of catholic plots for the assassination of the king, the
invasion of the kingdom, and the massacre of all protes-
tants, monstrous as a maniac's dream, swore away the
lives of a long train of Roman Catholics ending with the
aged Lord Stafford and the blameless Archbishop Plunket. 1680
For a time mere frenzy reigned ; its phantoms took the
place of judicial evidence ; while terrorism silenced all
witnesses to the truth. No sane man would have be-
lieved such tales told by such wretches. But sanity is
lost in multitude. Credulity was not startled even when
an informer deposed that he had been in the palace and
heard the queen assent to the assassination of the king.
People lashed themselves into the belief that the capital,
and the lives of all the protestants in it, were in imminent
peril ; took arms against the creations of their own dis-
ordered fancy ; went about with small flails loaded with
lead and called " Protestant Flails," for their protection
against the catholic assassin. The Popish Plot ranks
with the terrible illusions bred at Athens by the muti-
lation of the Hermse, and in New England by the alarm
of witchcraft. In all such cases probably the frenzy
would be allayed by a free and active press. Whatever
blame attaches to the English people for this murderous
panic attaches in a higher degree to the judges, such
as Scroggs and North, who turned the courts of justice


into dens of judicial murder, and to members of parlia-
ment, Shaftesbury above all, who for a political purpose
fanned the raging flame. From political cowardice prob-
ably, rather than from fanaticism, the Lords counte-
nanced the frenzy of the deluded people. Their House
brought upon its records an indelible stain by allowing
itself to be made the judicial instrument for the piteous
immolation of Lord Stafford. It appears to have been
actuated by selfish fear of the unpopularity which it was
in danger of incurring by its rejection of a Bill for the
1679 exclusion of the Duke of York from succession to the
crown. Not the least odious, however, was the conduct
of Charles, who, too cool-headed and sensible to believe
in the plots, signed the death-warrants because he did
not want to go again upon his travels. Nor must
Louis XIV. and the Jesuits escape their share of respon-
sibility. That they were actively plotting for the exter-
mination of protestantism was no fiction of Gates or
Dangerfield, but a most certain and deadly fact. By his
intrigues the Jesuit had presented Roman Catholicism as
capable of anything, and by his casuistry he had de-
stroyed confidence in a catholic's oath.

Of the catholic conspiracy denounced by Gates and
Dangerfield the Duke of York was guiltless. Gf the
catholic conspiracy against protestantism and freedom, of
which Louis XIV. was the head, the Duke of York was
unquestionably a limb; and to put a free and protestant
nation into his hands might well seem and was proved by
the event to be national suicide. For one part of the
royal office, the headship of the church of England, he was
plainly disqualified. His conduct as satrap in Scotland,
where he looked on unpityingly at torture, showed that


he was a cruel tyrant as well as a bigot. But he was heir
presumptive to the crown, and there was no longer any
hope that Charles would have legitimate offspring. James
had no son. His heiress was his daughter by his first wife,
brought up, by the king's order, as a protestant, and mar-
ried to William of Orange ; after whom came her sister
Anne, also brought up as a protestant. But he had taken
as his second wife Mary of Modena, a Roman Catholic, and
by her he might have a son who would cut out his two
protestant daughters and perpetuate a Roman Catholic
dynasty. That parliament had a right to deal with the
succession to the crown there could be no doubt, since it
had done this in the case of Henry IV., and still more sig-
nally by the Act which enabled Henry VIII. to dispose of
the crown by will and exclude the Scottish line. To this
extreme remedy it was now determined by the patriots to
resort, at the evident risk of civil war, since there could
be no doubt that James would fight for the crown or that
he would have a large legitimist party on his side. A Bill
excluding the Duke of York from the succession passed 1680
with ease through the Commons, now intensely anti-catho-
lic and thoroughly opposed to the court. It would have
passed through the House of Lords but for the influence
of Halifax, the great Trimmer, in whose eyes the bold-
ness of the measure would be its sufficient condemna-
tion. The Bill was supported by ministers of the crown,
Sunderland and Godolphin, as well as by the reigning
mistress ; but thanks to the oratory of Halifax it was
thrown out by a majority of sixty-three to thirty. The
patriots had compromised their cause and given a handle
to the opponents of the Bill, of which Halifax took
advantage in debate, by countenancing the pretensions


of the Duke of Monmouth, Charles's bastard son, a
beautiful and brave but brainless youth, his father's darl-
ing and a protestant idol. A story was set afloat of a
secret marriage between Charles and Lucy Walters, Mon-
mouth's mother, evidence of which was said to be pre-
served in a mysterious black box. On the faith of this
Monmouth gave himself royal airs and even assumed the
royal arms without the bend sinister. The king solemnly,
and no doubt truly, declared that he had never been mar-
ried to anyone but the queen. The Exclusion Bill seems
to have been needlessly invidious and aggressive in form.
Instead of indicting and proscribing the Duke of York
personally, might it not simply have extended the prin-
ciple of the Test Act to the crown ?

Halifax, ever the friend of middle courses, advocated,
in place of an Exclusion Act, an Act of Limitation, to
which, or something like which, it seems the king would
have assented, though he refused to deprive his brother of
the birthright. A Bill was drafted under the guidance of
Halifax depriving James of his negative voice in Bills
passed by the two houses, transferring from him to the
parliament the right of treating with foreign states and
that of appointing to offices, and banishing him to a dis-
tance of five hundred miles from England during the
king's life. James, as might have been foreseen, rejected
with scorn a plan which would have left him the mere
name of king. From engagements the Jesuit would have
released him. He would as certainly have taken arms
against limitation as he would against exclusion ; there
would have been civil war in either case ; and limitation
would have had no name wherewith to conjure, no senti-
mental rallying cry upon its side. It would seem that


there was nothing for it but to take the bold course, bring
forward the effective measure and try the sinew of the
nation. If for the present the sinew failed, the tyrant,
having full swing, might brace it, as in the sequel he did.

Charles again dissolved parliament. An agitation was 1679
then organized by the patriots in the form of petitions
for its re-assembling. But now the royalist and legiti-
mist feeling of the country was aroused, and with it
the fear of a renewal of the civil war. The frenzy of
the Popish Plot had abated ; remorse had begun to take its
place. The execution of Lord Stafford excited the pity 1680
even of the fanatical mob of London, which responded
with sympathy to his protests of innocence on the scaffold.
In opposition to petitioners for the meeting of parliament
swarmed out Abhorrers of those petitions and of inter- 1679
ference with the rights of the crown. Restoration
sentiment showed its renewed force in a shower of loyal
addresses. It began to be seen, Burnet says, how little
dependence could be placed on the hot fits of popular
fever or the flo wings of the popular tide. The dominant
party in the Commons, not contented with asserting the
right of the subject to petition for a parliament, launched
out into disgraceful excesses in the impeachment of the
leading opponents of exclusion and in the denunciation
and arbitrary punishment of Abhorrers, and a reaction
against that tyrannical violence ensued.

Now were heard for the first time the two party names,
famous in American as well as English history, and borne
by the two great British parties almost down to the
present day. In themselves the names have little mean-
ing, Tory being a designation of Irish banditti. Whig
that of wild fanatics in western Scotland; and perhaps


they were not on that account less adapted for the service
of party, since a man may change his mind about a prin-
ciple, while he cannot change his mind about a name.
The Tory, however, was the friend of government by
prerogative and of church privilege; the Whig was the
friend of constitutional liberty and toleration; in effect,
the Tory was a supporter of monarchical, the Whig of par-
liamentary supremacy. To be the friend of monarchical
supremacy was to be the friend of the house of Stuart;
to be the friend of parliamentary supremacy was to be
an adherent of the house by which, under an Act of Par-
liament, the house of Stuart was to be supplanted. In
the Whig the Puritan opponent of the personal govern-
ment of Charles I. may be said to have risen again, so
far as the political part of the character was concerned,
though the religious part of the character had dropped
off. The Tory was an unromantic Cavalier. In later
times, when the question between royal and parliamentary
government had been finally settled, and the dynastic
question connected with it was no more, the Tory party
became that of political and ecclesiastical reaction, the
Whig party that of general progress, till the Tory was
softened into the Conservative, while the Whig blossomed
into the Liberal.
1681 Charles showed his wisdom by holding his last parlia-
ment, not at Westminster, under the influence of the
great city of London with its protestantism, its liberal-
ism, and its inflammable populace, but in quiet and loyal
Oxford. Had Louis XVI. taken the hint and held his
States-General at some provincial city instead of holding
them at Versailles, he might have had less trouble. Not
having London to back them, and fearing or affecting to


fear violence, the Whig leaders came to Oxford with
armed trains as the patriot barons had come to the same
meeting place in the reign of Henry III. Now the abyss
of civil war seemed to open under the feet of the nation.
A violent recoil ensued. The king felt himself strong
enough in national opinion to take the aggressive and
turn the tables on the Whigs. He suddenly dissolved 1681
parliament, the liability of which to dissolution at the
will of the king was always its weak point in the struggle
for power. His appeal to the people was well received;
yet to avoid the fatal suspicion of popery he signed the
death-warrant of Archbishop Plunket, the last victim of 1681
the Popish Plot, a prelate of the church to which he
himself in heart belonged, and innocent, as he knew.

Judges who held their places at the king's pleasure
were his creatures, and such men as Scroggs and North
would be not less ready to serve power by murdering
Whigs than they had been to serve it by murdering catho-
lics. But there had now come on the stage a figure
which more hideously profaned the judgment-seat than
even those of Scroggs and North. To any defence which
political superstition may attempt to set up for James
as king, it is a sufficient reply that he patronized, ad-
vanced to the highest office of the law, and employed
as his trusted counsellor and instrument, such a scoun-
drel, ruffian, and assassin as George Jeffreys. A judicial
reign of terror now commenced. The first blow struck
was the execution of College, the protestant joiner as he 1681
was called, the inventor of the Protestant Flail. Shaftes-
bury was indicted, but the venue was in London, where 1681
his name was still mighty, and a Whig grand jury ignored
the Bill. After a vain attempt to make his peace with


1683 the court, the arch-agitator fled to the continent, and
there ended his restless days.

At the head of the Whig party were Lord Russell, son
of the Earl of Bedford, Lord Essex, and Algernon Sidney.
Russell was a scion of one of those houses which origi-
nally had been attached to the protestant Reformation
and the political principles connected with it by large
grants of church lands. But he was also a sincere Whig
and a genuine patriot, deservedly honoured, though, like
other Whigs, he had disgraced himself by countenancing
the Popish Plot. Algernon Sidney was an old soldier of
the New Model, a regicide in sentiment though not in act,
a member of the Council of State under the Common-
wealth, a thorough-going republican of the old Roman
type, and a political writer of that school. It is a strange
stain on the character of this Whig saint and martyr that
he should have taken money from the king of France, for
however patriotic a purpose he may have meant to use it.
Lord Essex was a politician of moderate sentiments and
no great force. These men feared, and with good reason,
that the cause of law and liberty was now going by the
board. There is little doubt that they contemplated
armed resistance in case of extremity, and took counsel
with each other as to the means of organization. It does
not appear that they went further or did anything which
could be legally designated as treason. But there was a
knot of men of a lower grade, fanatical republicans and
heirs of the regicidal Independents, who entered into a

1688 plot called, from the intended scene of its execution, the
Rye House Plot, for an attempt upon the person of the
king. By the artifice of the court lawyers the counsels
of the Whig leaders were confounded with the Rye House


Plot, and with the help of the patrician treachery of Lord
Howard, who betrayed his friends Russell and Sidney,
the patriots were brought to the block. Tyranny has 1683
never laid their ghosts ; the picture of Russell at the
judgment bar, with his wife acting as his secretary at his
side, is familiar to English eyes, and his powerful house
has constantly appealed to the people in his name. Essex
committed suicide in the Tower, probably to save his 1683
heirs from the consequences of his attainder for treason.
Party whispered that he had been murdered. The king
was quite incapable of any but judicial murder. In lay-
ing the wreath on the graves of these patriots we must
remember that their party was responsible for the Popish
Plot and that Russell had voted for the death of Lord

It was now seen what a king with subservient judges
might do without overstepping- the strict limits of the
law. On pretence of a technical breach of the charter
of London on the part of the citizens, the charter was,
at the instance of the crown, declared forfeit by the. 1683
courts. Thus the defeat of the crown in the case of
Shaftesbury was avenged, and the liberties of the great
Whig city were laid at the feet of the king. From Lon-
don the process was extended to other boroughs which
were the strongholds of the Whig party. Charter after
charter was declared forfeit by a servile judiciary. The
king remodelled the corporations at his pleasure, filled i684-
them with his creatures, and became master of the urban ^^^^
representation. The landed gentry, who commanded the
rural constituencies, having now for the most part turned
Tories, he was master of the parliament.

By the Act repealing the Triennial Act it had been laid



down as a principle that a parliament should be held at
least every three years, but no provision was made in it
for enforcement. During the last four years of his reign
Charles, following his father's example of personal govern-
ment, held no parliament. In no other way can he be
said to have broken the law. All the other acts of his
tyranny, the confiscation of the charters and the judicial
murders, were technically legal. It is a lesson to those
who rely too much on the forms of institutions.

The political atmosphere was now da^k with the most
slavish doctrines of prerogative. At this time was put

1680 forth, amid the general applause of the Tories, above all
of the Tory clergy, Filmer's theory of the divine right
of kings, the patriarchal origin of government, and the
indefeasible claim of the first-born. With this fancy
solid interests, monarchical, aristocratic, and clerical, were
closely bound up, otherwise its author and his disciples
would have had little right to deride the hallucinations of
any fanatic. From Oxford, the heart of ecclesiastical

1683 Toryism, came a decree, afterwards burned by the hang-
man, against a string of damnable doctrines, such as that
civil authority is derived originally from the people, and
that there is a compact, express or tacit, between the king
and his subjects. The decree did not, as did Filmer,
condemn limited monarchy, but it affirmed primogenitary
right, which is truly said to come practically to the same
thing. On the University of Oxford the reproach is cast,
but the voice was in truth not that of a university; it
was that of the clergy who filled the headships and
fellowships and had banished from the place all studies,
all interests, and all sentiments but their own. By the
clergy throughout the country, who had probably been


the soul of the political reaction, Filmer's doctrine was
zealously preached.

In opposition to the religious absolutism of Filmer
and the unreligious absolutism of Hobbes will come
Locke with his original compact and pervading spirit
of Liberal Christianity. Oxford, at the bidding of the
Stuarts, has expelled him. He is in exile in Holland. 1684
But he and his political philosophy will return. Light
lingers on the horizon and will broaden into day.

Circumstances favoured political reaction. In spite
of misgovernment and perversion of justice, the country
seems to have been prosperous. Trade increased; the
price of land was high. London, after the Great Fire 1666
which followed the Great Plague and perhaps purified its i665
filthy and infected scene, had risen with surprising rapid-
ity from its ruins. There was anguish among patriotic
politicians, but among the people probably little discon-
tent. The army had been increased to an amount fully
sufficient for the purpose of repression.

Charles was good-natured and too lazy actively to play
the tyrant. Having at last got rid of the parcel of
fellows who pried into his affairs, he might have been
contented with the quiet enjoyment of his concubines,
in the midst of whom, with a French boy singing love-
songs and the courtiers at a gambling-table, Evelyn and
two other grave gentlemen were scandalized by seeing
him one memorable Sunday afternoon. But his pleasures
were cut short by a somewhat sudden death, which con- i685
temporaries paid the usual compliment to the morality of
their times by attributing to poison. On his death-bed
he declared himself a Roman Catholic, was admitted by a
priest, furtively brought to his bedside, into the church,


and after a confession which, if at all complete, must
have been highly condensed, received absolution and the
sacrament. To the courtiers who, according to the hide-
ous custom of that day, thronged the chamber of death,
he apologized for being so unconscionably long in dying.
Exile, which obliged him to be gracious, had taught him,

Online LibraryGoldwin SmithThe United kingdom; a political history → online text (page 50 of 84)