Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

unexpectedly found themselves involved in the crime of delinquency. And the commons reaped this multiplied advantage by their vote : they disarmed the crown ; they established the maxims of rigid law and liberty ; and they spread the terror of their own authority.*

The writs for ship money had been directed to the sheriffs, who were required, and even obliged, under severe penalties, to assess the sums upon individuals, and to levy them by their authority: yet were all the sheriffs, and all those who had been employed in that illegal service, voted, by a very rigorous sentence, to be delinquents. The king, by the maxims of law, could do no wrong: his ministers and servants, of whatever degree, in case of any violation of the constitution, were alone culpable.t

All the farmers and officers of the customs, who had been employed during so many years in levying tonnage and poundage and the new impositions, were likewise declared criminals, and were afterwards glad to compound for a pardon by paying a fine of one hundred and fifty thousand pounds.

Every discretionary or arbitrary sentence of the star chamber and high commission, courts which, from their very constitution, were arbitrary, underwent a severe scrutiny; and all those who had concurred in such sentences were voted to be liable to the penalties of law. No minister of the king, no member of the council, but found himself exposed by this decision.

The judges who had given their vote against Hambden in the trial of ship money, were accused before the peers, and obliged to find surety for their appearance. Berkeley, a judge of the king's bench, was seized by order of the house, even when sitting in his tribunal ; and all men saw with astonishment the irresistible authority of their jurisdiction.

The sanction of the lords and commons, as well as that of the king, was declared necessary for the confirmation of ecclesiastical canons. And this judgment, it must be confessed, however reasonable, at least useful, it would have been difficult to justify by any precedent. But the present was no

* Clarendon, vol. i. p. 176. + Clarendon, vol. i. p. 176.

I Clarendon, vol. i. p. 177. g Whitlocke, p. 39.

|| Nalson, vol. i. p. 678. . ? An art of parliament, 25th Henry VIII., cap. 19, allowed the convocation with the king's consent to make canons. By the famous

time for question or dispute. That decision which abolished all legislative power except that of parliament, was requisite for completing the new plan of liberty, and rendering it quite uniform and systematical. Almost all the bench of bishops, and the most considerable of the inferior clergy, who had voted in the late convocation, found themselves exposed by these new principles to the imputation of delinquency. *

The most unpopular of all Charles's measures, and the least justifiable, was the revival of monopolies, so solemnly abolished, after reiterated endeavors, by a recent act of parliament. Sensible of this unhappy measure, the king had of himself recalled, during the time of his first expedition against Scotland, many of these oppressive patents; and the rest were now annulled by authority of parliament, and every one who was concerned in them declared delinquents. The commons carried so far their detestation of this odious measure, that they assumed a power which had formerly been seldom practised,f and they expelled all their members who were monopolists or projectors; an artifice by which, besides increasing their own privileges, they weakened still further the very small party which the king secretly retained in the house. Mildmay, a notorious monopolist, yet having associated himself with the ruling party, was still allowed to keep his seat. In all questions, indeed, of elections, no steady rule of decision was observed ; and nothing further was regarded than the affections and attachments of the parties. Men's passions were too much heated to be shocked with any instance of injustice, which served ends so popular as those which were pursued by this house of commons.

The whole sovereign power being thus in a manner transferred to the commons, and the government, without any seeming violence or disorder, being changed in a moment from a monarchy almost absolute to a pure democracy, the

act of submission to that prince, the clergy bound themselves to enact no canons without the king's consent. The parliament was never mentioned nor thought of. Such pretensions as the commons advanced at present, would in any former age have been deemed strange usurpations. Clarendon, vol. i. p. 206. Whitlocke, p. 37.

Rush. vol. v, p. 235, 359. Nalson, vol. i. p. 807.

+ Lord Clarendon says it was entirely new; but there are instances of it in the reign of Elizabeth. D’Ewes, p. 296, 352. There are also instances in the reign of James.

Clarendon, vol. i. p. 176.

popular leader's seemed willing for some time to suspend their active vigor, and to consolidate their authority, ere they pro ceeded to any violent exercise of it. Every day produced some new hạrangue on past grievances. The detestation of former usurpations was further enlivened; the jealousy of liberty roused ; and, agreeably to the spirit of free government, no less indignation was excited by the view of a violated constitution, than by the ravages of the most enormous tyranny.

This was the time when genius and capacity of all kinds, freed from the restraint of authority, and nourished by unbounded hopes and projects, began to exert themselves, and be distinguished by the public. Then was celebrated the sagacity of Pym, more fitted for use than ornament; matured, not chilled, by his advanced age and long experience : then was displayed the mighty ambition of Hambden, taught disguise, not moderation, from former constraint; supported by courage, conducted by prudence, embellished by modesty; but whether founded in a love of power or zeal for liberty, is still, from his untimely end, left doubtful and uncertain: then too were known the dark, ardent, and dangerous character of St. John; the impetuous spirit of Hollis, violent and sincere, open and entire in his enmities and in his friendships ; the enthusiastic genius of young Vane, extravagant in the ends which he pursued, sagacious and profound in the means which he employed ; incited by the appearances of religion, negligent of the duties of morality.

So little apology would be received for past measures, so contagious the general spirit of discontent, that even men of the most moderate tempers, and the most attached to the church and monarchy, exerted themselves with the utmost vigor in the redress of grievances, and in prosecuting the authors of them. The lively and animated Digby displayed his eloquence on this occasion ; the firm and undaunted Capel, the modest and candid Palmer. In this list too of patriot royalists are found the virtuous names of Hyde and Falkland. Though in their ultimate views and intentions these men differed widely from the former, in their present actions and discourses an entire concurrence and unanimity was observed.

By the daily harangues and invectives against illegal usurpations, not only the house of commons inflamed themselves with the highest animosity against the court: the nation caught

ܪ

new fire from the popular leaders, and seemed now to have made the first discovery of the many supposed disorders in the government. While the law in several instances seemed . to be violated, they went no further than some secret and calm murmurs; but mounted up into rage and fury as soon as the constitution was thought to be restored to its former integrity and vigor. The capital especially, being the seat of parliament, was highly animated with the spirit of mutiny and disaffection. Tumults were daily raised; seditious assemblies encouraged ; and every man, neglecting his own business, was wholly intent on the defence of liberty and religion. By stronger contagion, the popular affections were communicated from breast to breast in this place of general rendezvous and society.

The harangues of members, now first published and dispersed, kept alive the discontents against the king's administration. The pulpits, delivered over to Puritanical preachers and lecturers, whom the commons arbitrarily settled in all the considerable churches, resounded with faction and fanaticism. Vengeance was fully taken for the long silence and constraint in which, by the authority of Laud and the high commission, these preachers had been retained. The press, freed from all fear or reserve, swarmed with productions, dangerous by their seditious zeal and calumny, more than by any art or eloquence of composition. Noise and fury, cant and hypocrisy, formed the sole rhetoric which, during this tumult of various prejudices and passions, could be heard or attended to.

The sentence which had been executed against Prynne, Bastwic, and Burton, now suffered a revisal from parliament. These libellers, far from being tamed by the rigorous punishments which they had undergone, showed still a disposition of repeating their offence; and the ministers were afraid lest new satires should issue from their prisons, and still further inflame the prevailing discontents. By an order, therefore, of council, they had been carried to remote prisons ; Bastwic to Scilly, Prynne to Jersey, Burton to Guernsey; all access to them was denied; and the use of books, and of pen, ink, and paper, was refused them. The sentence for these additional punishments was immediately reversed, in an arbitrary manner, by the commons: even the first sentence, upon examination, was declared illegal ; and the judges who passed it were ordered to make reparation to the sufferers.* When the

* Nalson, vol. i. p. 783. May, p. 79.

ܪ

prisoners landed in England, they were received and entertained with the highest demonstrations of affection ; were attended by a mighty confluence of company, their charges were borne with great magnificence, and liberal presents bestowed on them. On their approach to any town, all the inhabitants crowded to receive them, and welcomed their reception with shouts and acclamations. Their train still increased as they drew nigh' to London. Some miles from the city, the zealots of their party met them in great multitudes, and attended their triumphant entrance : boughs were carried in this tumultuous procession ; the roads were strewed with flowers ; and amidst the highest exultations of joy, were intermingled loud and virulent invectives against the prelates, who had so cruelly persecuted such godly personages.* The more ignoble these men were, the more sensible was the insult upon royal authority, and the more dangerous was the spirit of disaffection and mutiny which it discovered among the people.

Lilburne, Leighton, and every one that had been punished for seditious libels during the preceding administration, now recovered their liberty, and were decreed damages from the judges and ministers of justice.t

Not only the present disposition of the nation insured impunity to all libellers: a new method of framing and dispersing libels was invented by the leaders of popular discontent. Petitions to parliament were drawn, craving redress against particular grievances; and when a sufficient number of subscriptions was procured, the petitions were presented to the commons, and immediately published. These petitions became secret bonds of association among the subscribers, and seemed to give undoubted sanction and authority to the complaints which they contained.

It is pretended by historians favorable to the royal cause, I and is even asserted by the king himself in a declaration, $ that a most disingenuous, or rather criminal, practice prevailed in conducting many of these addresses. A petition was first framed ; moderate, reasonable, such as men of character willngly subscribed. The names were afterwards torn off, and

*

* Clarendon, vol. i. p. 199, 200, etc. Nalson, vol. i. p. 570. May

pi 80.

+ Rushworth, vol. y. p. 228. Nalson, vol. i. p. 800.

Dugdale. Clarendon, vol i. p. 203.
Husb. Col. p. 536.

« ZurückWeiter »