« ZurückWeiter »
1860 The Elections for the new Parliament favorablo to the
[1625.] No sooner had Charles taken into his hands the reins of government, than he showed an impatience to assem. ble the great council of the nation ; and he would gladly, for the sake of despatch, have called together the same parliament which had sitten under his father, and which lay at that time under prorogation. But being told that this measure would appear unusual, he issued writs for summoning a new parliament on the seventh of May; and it was not without regret that the arrival of the princess Henrietta, whom he had espoused by proxy, obliged him to delay, by repeated piorogations, their meeting till the eighteenth of June, when they assembled at Westminster for the despatch of business. The young prince, unexperienced and impolitic, regarded as sincere all the praises and caresses with which he had been loaded while active in procuring the rupture with the house of Austria. And besides that he labored under great necessities, he hastened with alacrity to a period when he might receive the most undoubted testimony of the dutiful attachment of his subjects. His discourse to the parliament was full of simplicity and cordiality. He lightly mentioned the occasion which he had for supply.* He employed no intrigue to influ
Rushworth, vol. i. p. 171. Parl. Hist. vol. vi. p. 346. Frank. lyn, p. 108.
ence the suffrages of the members. He would not even allow the officers of the crown, who had seats in the house, to menlion any particular sum which might be expected by him Secure of the affections of the commons, he was resolved that their bounty should be entirely their own deed ; unasked, unsolicited; the genuine fruit of sincere confidence and regard.
The house of commons accordingly took into consideration the business of supply. They knew that all the money granted by the last parliament had been expended on naval and military armaments; and that great anticipations were likewise made on the revenues of the crown. They were not ignorant that Charles was loaded with a large debt, contracted by his father, who had borrowed money both from his own subjects and from foreign princes. They had learned by experience, that the public revenue could with difficulty maintain the dignity of the crown, even under the ordinary charges of government. They were sensible, that the present war was very lately the result of their own importunate applications and entreaties, and that they had solemnly engaged to support their sovereign in the management of it. They were acquainted with the difficulty of military enterprises directed against the whole house of Austria ; against the king of Spain, possessed of the greatest riches and most extensive dominions of any prince in Europe ; against the emperor Ferdinand, hitherto the most fortunate monarch of his age, who had sub. dued and astonished Germany by the rapidity of his victories. Deep impressions they saw must be made by the English sword, and a vigorous offensive war be waged against these mighty potentates, ere they would resign a principality which they had now fully subdued, and which they held in secure possession, by its being surrounded with all their other terrilories.
To answer, therefore, all these great and important ends ; to satisfy their young king in the first request which he made them; to prove their sense of the many royal virtues, particu. larly economy, with which Charles was endued; the house of commons, conducted by the wisest and ablest senators that huu ever flourished in England, thought proper to confer on the king a supply of two subsidies, amounting to one hundred and twelve thousand pounds.*
• A subsidy was now fallen to about fifty-six thousand pcunda Cabala, p. 224, 1st edit.
This measure, which discovers rather a cruel mockery of Charles, than any serious design of supporting him, appeara so extraordinary, when considered in all its circunstances, that it naturally summons up our attention, and raises an inquiry con cerning the causes of a conduct unprecedented in an English parliament. So numerous an assembly, composed of persons of various dispositions, was not, it is probable, wholly inAuenced by the same motives; and few declared openly their true reason. We shall, therefore, approach nearer to the truth if we mention all the views which the present conjunctura could suggest to them
It is not to be doubted, but spleen and ill will against the duke of Buckingham had an influence with many. So vast and rapid a fortune, so little merited, could not fail to excite public envy ; and however men's hatred might have been suspended for a moment, while the duke's conduct seemed to gratify their passions and their prejudices, it was impossible for him long to preserve the affections of the people. His influence over the modesty of Charles exceeded even that which he had acquired over the weakness of James; nor was any public measure conducted but by his counsel and direction. His vehement temper prompted him to raise suddenly, to the bighest elevation, his flatterers and dependants; and upon the least occasion of displeasure, he threw them down with equal impetuosity and violence. Implacable in his hatred, fickle in his friendships, all men were either regarded as his enemies, or dreaded soon to become such. The whole power of the kingdom was grasped by his insatiable hand; while he both engrossed the entire confidence of his master, and held invested in his single person the most considerable offices of the crown.
However the ill humor of the commons might have been increased by these considerations, we are not to suppose them the sole motives. The last parliament of James, amidst all their joy and festivity, had given him a supply very disproportioned to his demand, and to the occasion. And as every house of commons which was elected during forty years, succeeded to all the passions and principles of their predeces. sors, we ought rather to account for this obstinacy from the general situation of the kingdom during that whoie period, ihan from any circumstances which attended this particular conjuncture.
The nation was very little accustomed at that time to the
burden of taxes, and had never opened their purses in any degree for supporting their sovereign. Even Elizabeth, notwithstanding her vigor and frugality, and the necessary wars in which she was engaged, had reason to complain of the commons in this particular; nor could the authority of that princess, which was otherwise almost absolute, ever extort from them the requisite supplies. Habits, more than reason, we find in every thing to be the governing principle of man. kind. In this view, likewise, the sinking of the value of subsidies must be considered as a loss to the king. The parliament, swayed by custom, would not augment their number in the same proportion.
The Puritanical party, though disguised, had a great auther. ity over the kingdom ; and many of the leaders among the commons had secretly embraced the rigid tenets of that sect. All these were disgusted with the court, both by the prevalence of the principles of civil liberty essential to their party, and on account of the restraint under which they were held by the established hierarchy. In order to fortify himself against the resentment of James, Buckingham had affected popularity, and entered into the cabals of the Puritans : but, being secure of the confidence of Charles, he had since abandoned this party; and on that account was the more exposed to their hatred and resentment. Though the religious schemes of many of the l'uritans, when explained, appear pretty frivolous, we are not thence to imagine that they were pursued by none but
persons of weak understandings. Some men of the greatest parts and most extensive knowledge that the nation at this time produced, could not enjoy any peace of mind, because obliged to hear prayers offered up to the Divinity by a priest covered with a white linen vestment.
The match with France, and the articles in favor of Catholics which were suspected to be in the treaty, were likewise causes of disgust to this whole party : though it must be remarked, that the connections with that crown were much less obnoxious to the Protestants, and less agreeable to the Catholics, than the alliance formerly projected with Spain, and were therefore received rather with pleasure than dissatisfaction.
To ail these causes we must yet add another, of considerable moment. The house of commons, we may observe, was almost entirely governed by a set of men of the most unicom. mon capacity and the largest views; men who were now fornied into a regular party, and united, as well by fixed aims