Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

resolution was known, the house of peers, whose compliant behavior entitled them to some authority with him, endeavored to interpose ;* and they petitioned him, that he would allow the parliament to sit some time longer. 66 Not a moment longer," cried the king hastily ; t and he soon after ended the session by a dissolution.

As this measure was foreseen, the commons took care to finish and disperse their remonstrance, which they intended as a justification of their conduct to the people. The king likewise, on his part, published a declaration, in which he gave the reasons of his disagreement with the parliament, and of their sudden dissolution, before they had time to conclude any one act. $ These papers furnished the partisans on both sides with ample matter of apology or of recrimination. But all impartial men judged, “that the commons, though they had not as yet violated any law, yet, by their unpliableness and independence, were insensibly changing, perhaps improving, the spirit and genius, while they preserved the form of the constitution : and that the king was acting altogether without any plan; running on in a road surrounded on all sides with the most dangerous precipices, and concerting no proper measures, either for submitting to the obstinacy of the commons, or for subduing it.”

After a breach with the parliament, which seemed so diffi. 'cult to repair, the only rational counsel which Charles could pursue, was immediately to conclude a peace with Spain, and to render himself, as far as possible, independent of his people, who discovered so little inclination to support him, or rather who seemed to have formed a determined resolution to abridge his authority. Nothing could be more easy in the execution than this measure, nor more agreeable to his own and to national interest. But, besides the treaties and engagements which he had entered into with Holland and Denmark, the king's thoughts were at this time averse to pacific counsels. There are two circumstances in Charles's character, seemingly incompatible, which attended him during the whole course of his reign, and were in part the cause of his mis. fortunes : he was very steady, and even obstinate in his purfose; and he was easily governed, by reason of his facility and of his deference to men much inferior to himself botha

* Rushworth, vol. i. p. 398.
+ Sanderson's Life of Charles I., p. 58.

Franklyn, p. 203, etc. Parliament. Hist. vol. vii. p. 300

in morals and understanding. His great ends he inflexibly maintained; but the means of attaining them he readily received from his ministers and favorites, though not always fortunate in his choice. The violent, impetuous Buckingham inftamed with a desire of revenge for injuries which he him self had committed, and animated with a love of glory which he had not talents to merit, had at this time, notwithstanding his profuse licentious life, acquired an invincible ascendant over the virtuous and gentle temper of the king. The 66

new counsels," which Charles had mentioned to the parliament, were now to be tried, in order to supply his necessities. · Had he possessed any military force on which he could rely, it is not improbable, that he had at once taken off the mask, and governed without any regard to parliamentary privileges : so high an idea had he received of kingly prerogative, and so contemptible a notion of the rights of those popular assemblies, from which, he. very naturally thought, he had met with such ill usage. But his army was new levied, ill paid, and worse disciplined ; nowise superior to the militia, who were much more numerous, and who were in a great measure under the influence of the country gentlemen. It behoved him, therefore, to proceed cautiously, and to cover his enterprises under the pretence of ancient precedents, whích, considering the great authority commonly enjoyed by his predecessors, could not be wanting to him.

A commission was openly granted to compound with the Catholics, and agree for dispensing with the penal laws enacted against them.* By this expedient, the king both filled his coffers, and gratified his inclination of giving indulgence to these religionists; but he could not have employed any branch of prerogative which would have been more disagreeable, or would have appeared more exceptionable to his Protestant subjects.

From the nobility he desired assistance : from the city he required a loan of one hundred thousand pounds. The former contributed slowly; but the latter, covering themselves under many pretences and excuses, gave him at last a flat refusal.

In order to equip a fleet, a distribution, by order of council, was made to all the maritime towns; and each of them was required, with the assistance of the adjacent counties, to arm

* Rushworth, vol. i. p. 413. Whitlocke, p. 7.
+ Rushworth, vol. i. p. 415. Franklyn, p. 206.

so many vessels as were appointed them.* The city of Lon don was raied at twenty ships. This is the first appearance in Charles's reign, of ship-money; a taxation which had once been imposed by Elizabeth, but which afterwards, when carried some steps further by Charles, created such violent discontents. Of some, loans were required :* to others the

way

of benevolence was proposed : methods supported by precedent, but always invidious, even in times more submissive and compliant. In the most absolute governments, such expedients would be regarded as irregular and unequal.

These counsels for supply were conducted with some moderation ; till news arrived, that a great battle was fought between the king of Denmark and Count Tilly, the imperial general; in which the former was totally defeated. Money now, more than ever, became necessary, in order to repair so great a breach in the alliance, and to support a prince who was so nearly allied to Charles, and who had been engaged in the war chiefly by the intrigues, solicitations, and promises of the English monarch. After some deliberation, an act of council was passed, importing, that as the urgency of affairs admitted not the way of parliament, the most speedy, equal, and convenient method of supply was by a “general loan

? from the subject, according as every man was assessed in the rolls of the last subsidy. That precise sum was required which each would have paid, had the vote of four subsidies passed into a law: but care was taken to inform the people, that the sums exacted were not to be called subsidies, but loans. Had any doubt remained, whether forced loans, however authorized by precedent, and even by statute, were a violation of liberty, and must, by necessary consequence, render all parliaments superfluous, this was the proper expedient for opening the eyes of the whole nation. The example of Henry VIII., who had once, in his arbitrary reign, practised a like method of levying a regular supply, was generally deemed a very insufficient authority.

The commissioners appointed to levy these loans, among other articles of secret instruction, were enjoined, " If any shall refuse to lend, and shall make delays or excuses, and persist in his obstinacy, that they examine him upon oath, whether he has been dealt with to deny or refuse to lend, or make an

* Rushworth, vel. i. p. 416. + Rushworth, vol. i. p. 416. I Rushworth, vol. i. p. 418. Whitlocke, p. 8.

97* answer was.

excuse for not lending? Who has dealt with him, and what speeches or persuasions were used to that purpose ? And that they also shall charge every such person, in his majesty's name, upon his allegiance, not to disclose to any one what his

So violent an inquisitorial power, so impracticable an attempt at secrecy, were the objects of indignation, and even, in some degree, of ridicule.

That religious prejudices might support civil authority, sermons were preached by Sibthorpe and Manwaring, in favor of the general loan; and the court industriously spread them over the kingdom. Passive obedience was there recommended in its full extent, the whole authority of the state was represented as belonging to the king alone, and all limitations of law and a constitution were rejected as seditious and impious.t So openly was this doctrine espoused by the court, that Archbishop Abbot, a popular and virtuous prelate, was, because he refused to license Sibthorpe's sermon, suspended from the exercise of his office, banished from London, and confined to one of his country seats. I Abbot's principles of liberty, and his opposition to Buckingham, had always rendered him very ungracious at court, and had acquired him the character of a Puritan. For it is remarkable, that this party made the privileges of the nation as much a part of their religion, as the church party did the prerogatives of the crown: and nothing tended further to recommend among the people, who always take opinions in the lump, the whole system and all the principles of the former sect. The king soon found by fatal experience, that this engine of religion, which with so little necesšity was introduced into politics, falling under more fortunate management, was played with the most terrible success against him.

While the king, instigated by anger and necessity, thus employed the whole extent of his prerogative, the spirit of the people was far from being subdued. Throughout England, many refused these loans; some were even active in encouraging their neighbors to insist upon their common rights and privileges. By warrant of the council, these were thrown into prison. Most of them with patience submitted to confinement, or applied by petition to the king, who commonly

* Rushworth, vol. i. p. 419. Franklyn, p. 207.
† Rushworth, vol. i. p. 422. Franklyn, p. 208.

Rushworth, vol. i. p. 431.
♡ Bashworth, vol. i. p. 429. Franklyn, p. 210.

released them. Five gentlemen alone, Sir Thomas Darnel, Sir John Corbet, Sir Walter Earl, Sir John Heveningham, and Sir Edmond Hambden, had spirit enough, at their own hazard and expense, to defend the public liberties, and to demand releasement, not as a favor from the court, but as their due, by the laws of their country.* No particular cause was assigned of their commitment. The special command alone of the king and council was pleaded. And it was asserted, that, by law, this was not sufficient reason for refusing bail or releasement to the prisoners.

This question was brought to a solemn trial, before the king's bench; and the whole kingdom was attentive to the issue of a cause which was of much greater consequence than the event of many battles

By the debates on this subject, it appeared, beyond controversy, to the nation, that their ancestors had been so jealous of personal liberty, as to secure it against arbitrary power in the crown, by six † several statutes, and by an article 1 of the Great Charter itself, the most sacred foundation of the laws and constitution. But the kings of England, who had not been able to prevent the enacting of these laws, had sufficient authority, when the tide of liberty was spent, to obstruct their regular execution; and they deemed it superfluous to attempt the formal repeal of" statutes which they found so many expedients and pretences to elude. Turbulent and seditious times frequently occurred, when the safety of the people absolutely required the confinement of factious leaders; and by the genius of the old constitution, the prince, of himself, was accustomed to assume every branch of prerogative which was found necessary for the preservation of public peace and of his own authority. Expediency, at other times, would cover itself under the appearance of necessity; and, in proportion as precedents multiplied, the will alone of the sovereign was sufficient to supply the place of expediency, of which he constituted himself the sole judge. In an age and nation where the power of a turbulent nobility prevailed, and where the king had no settled military force, the only means that could maintain public peace, was the exertion of such prompt and discretionary powers in the crown; and the public itself

* Rushworth, vol. i. p. 458. Franklyn, p. 224. Whitlocke, p. 8

of 25 Edw. III. cap. 4. 28 Edw. III. cap. 3. 37 Edw. III. cap. 18, 38 Edw. III. cap. 9. 42 Edw. III, cap. 3. i Richard II. cap. 12.

# Chap. 29 .

« ZurückWeiter »