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6 Privilege of parliament! privilege of parliament ! ” résounding from all quarters. One of the populace, more insolent than the rest, drew nigh to his coach, and called out with a loud voice, “ To your tents, O Israel !” the words employed by the mutinous Israelites when they abandoned Rehoboam, their rash and ill-counselled sovereign.*
When the house of commons met, they affected the greatest dismay; and adjourning themselves for some days, ordered a committee to sit in Merchant Tailors Hall in the city. The committee made an exact inquiry into all circumstances attending the king's entry into the house : every passionate speech, every menacing gesture of any, even the meanest of his attendants, was recorded and aggravated. An intention of offering violence to the parliament, of seizing the accused members in the very house, and of murdering all who should make resistance, was inferred. And that unparalleled breach of privilege
so it was called was still ascribed to the counsel of Papists and their: adherents. This expression, which then recurred every moment in speeches and memorials, and which at present is so apt to excite laughter in the reader, begat at that time the deepest and most real consternation throughout the kingdom.
A letter was pretended to be intercepted, and was communicated to the committee, who pretended to lay great stress upon it. One Catholic there congratulates another on the accusation of the members ; and represents that incident as a branch of the same pious contrivance which had excited the Irish insurrection, and by which the profane heretics would soon be exterminated in England.t
The house again met; and, after confirming the votes of their committee, instantly adjourned, as if exposed to the most imminent perils from the violence of their enemies. This practice they continued for some time. When the people, by these affected panics, were wrought up to a sufficient degree of rage and terror, it was thought proper that the accused members should, with a triumphant and military procession, take their seats in the house. The river was covered with boats and other vessels, laden with small pieces of ordnance, and prepared for fight. Skippon, whom the parliament had appointed, by their own authority, major-general of the city
* Rush. vol. v. p. 479. Clarendon, vol. ii. p. 361.
militia,* conducted the members, at the head of this tumultuary army, to Westminster Hall. And when the populace, by land and by water, passed Whitehall, they still asked, with insulting shouts, “ What has become of the king and his cavaliers ? And whither are they fled ? ”
The king, apprehensive of danger from the enraged multitude, had retired to Hampton Court, deserted by all the world, and overwhelmed with grief, shame, and remorse, for the fatal measures into which he had been hurried. His distressed situation he could no longer ascribe to the rigors of destiny, or the malignity of enemies : his own precipitancy and indiscretion must bear the blame of whatever disasters should henceforth befall him. The most faithful of his adhe. rents, between sorrow and indignation, were confounded with reflections on what had happened, and what was likely to follow. Seeing every prospect blasted, faction triumphant, the discontented populace inflamed to a degree of fury, they utterly despaired of success in a cause to whose ruin friends and enemies seemed equally to conspire.
The prudence of the king, in his conduct of this affair, nobody pretended to justify. The legality of his proceedings met with many and just apologies, though generally offered to unwilling ears. No maxim of law, it was said, is more established, or more universally allowed, than that privilege of parliament extends not to treason, felony, or breach of peace ; nor has either house, during former ages, ever pretended, in any of those cases, to interpose in behalf of its members. Though some inconveniencies should result from the observance of this maxim, that would not be sufficient, without other authority, to abolish a principle established by uninterrupted precedent, and founded on the tacit consent of the whole legislature. But what are the inconveniencies so much dreaded ? The king, on pretence of treason, may seize any members of the opposite faction, and for a time gain to his partisans the majority of voices. But if he seize only a few, will he not lose more friends by such a gross artifice than he confines enemies ? If he seize a great number, is not this expedient force, open and barefaced? And what remedy at all times against such force, but to oppose to it a force which is superior? Even allowing that the king intended to employ
* Nalson, vol. ii. p. 833. + Whitlocke, p. 52. Dugdale, p. 82. Clarendon, vol. i. p. 380.
violence, not authority, for seizing the members; though at that time, and ever afterwards, he positively asserted the contrary; yet will his conduct admit of excuse. That the hall where the parliament assembles is an inviolable sanctuary, was never yet pretended. And if the commons complain of the affront offered them, by an attempt to arrest their members in their very presence, the blame must lie entirely on themselyes, who had formerly refused compliance with the king's message, when he peaceably demanded these members. The sovereign is the great executor of the laws; and his presence was here legally employed, both in order to prevent opposition, and to protect the house against those insults which their disobedience had so well merited.
Charles knew to how little purpose he should urge these reasons against the present fury of the commons. He pro posed, therefore, by a message, that they would agree upon a legal method by which he might carry on his prosecution against the members, lest further misunderstandings happen with regard to privilege. They desired him to lay the grounds of accusation before the house; and pretended that they must first judge whether it were proper to give up their members to a legal trial. The king then informed them, that he would waive, for the present, all prosecution : by successive messages he afterwards offered a pardon to the members; offered to concur in any law that should acquit or secure them; offered any reparation to the house for the beach of privilege, of which, he acknowledged, they had reason to complain.* They were resolved to accept of no satisfaction, unless he would discover his advisers in that illegal measure ; a condition to which, they knew that, without rendering himself forever vile and contemptible, he could not possibly submit. Meanwhile, they continued to thunder against the violation of parliamentary privileges, and by their violent outcries to inflame the whole nation. The secret reason of their displeasure, however obvious, they carefully concealed. In the king's accusation of the members, they plainly saw his iudgment of late parliamentary proceedings; and every adherent of the ruling faction dreaded the same fate, should royal authority be reëstablished in its ancient lustre. By the most unhappy conduct, Charles while he extremely augmented in his opponents the will, bad also increased the ability of hurting him.
* Dugdale, p. 84. Rush. vol. v. p. 484, 488, 492, etc.
The more to excite the people, whose dispositions were already very seditious, the expedient of petitioning was renewed. A petition from the county of Buckingham was pre sented to the house by six thousand subscribers, who promised to live and die in defence of the privileges of parliament.* The city of London, the county of Essex, that of Hertford, Surrey, Berks, imitated the example. A petition from the apprentices was graciously received. Nay, one was encouraged from the porters, whose numbers amounted, as they said, to fifteen thousand. The address of that great body contained the same articles with all the others; the privileges of parliament, the danger of religion, the rebellion of Ireland, the decay of trade. The porters further desired, that justice might be done upon offenders, as the atrociousness of their crimes had deserved. And they added, “ That if such remedies were any longer suspended, they should be forced to extremities not fit to be named, and make good the saying, that** Necessity has no law.""
Another petition was presented by several poor people, or beggars, in the name of many thousands more; in which the petitioners proposed as a remedy for the public miseries, 6. That those noble worthies of the house of peers, who concur with the happy votes of the commons, may separate themselves from the rest, and sit and vote as one entire body." The commons gave thanks for this petition.||
The very women were seized with the same rage.' A brewer's wife, followed by many thousands of her sex, brought a petition to the house, in which the petitioners expressed their terror of the Papists and prelates, and their dread of like massacres, rapes, and outrages, with those which had been committed upon their sex in Ireland. They had been necessitated, they said, to imitate the example of the women of Tekoah: and they claimed equal right with the men, of declaring by petition their sense of the public cause ; because Christ had purchased them at as dear a rate, and in the free enjoyment of Christ consists equally the happiness of both sexes. Pym came to the door of the house ; and having told the female zealots that their petition was thankfully accepted, and was presented in a seasonable time, he begged that their prayers for the success of the commons might follow their
* Rush. vol. v. p. 487. I Dugdale, p. 87.
Clarendon, vol. i. p. 413.
of Rush. vol. v. p. 462.
petition: such low arts of popularity were affected, and by such illiberal cant were the unhappy people incited to civil discord and convulsions.
In the mean time, not only all petitions which favored the church or monarchy, from whatever hand they came, were discouraged, but the petitioners were sent for, imprisoned, and prosecuted as delinquents; and this unequal conduct was openly avowed and justified. Whoever desire a change, it was said, must express their sentiments; for how otherwise shall they be known? But those who favor the established government in church or state, should not petition ; because they already enjoy what they wish for. *
The king had possessed a great party in the lower house, as appeared in the vote for the remonstrance; and this party, had every new cause of disgust been carefully avoided, would soon have become the majority, from the odium attending the violent measures embraced by the popular leaders. A great majority he always possessed in the house of peers, even after the bishops.were confined or chased away ; and this majority could not have been overcome but by outrages which, in the end, would have drawn disgrace and ruin on those who incited them. By the present fury of the people, as by an inundation, were all these obstacles swept away, and every rampart of royal authority laid level with the ground. The victory was pursued with impetuosity by the sagacious commons, who knew the importance of a favorable moment in all popular commotions. The terror of their authority they extended over the whole nation; and all opposition, and even all blame vented in private conversation, were treated as the most atrocious crimes by these severe inquisitors. Scarcely was it permitted to find fault with the conduct of any particular member, if he made a figure in the house ; and reflections thrown out on Pym were at this time treated as breaches of privilege. The populace without doors were ready to execute, from the least hint, the will of their leaders; nor was it safe for any member to approach either house, who pretended to control or oppose the general torrent. After so undisguised a manner was this violence conducted, that Hollis, in a speech to the peers, desired to know the names of such members as should vote contrary to the sentiments of the commons : † and Pym said
* Clarendon, vol. ii. p. 449. † King's Declaration of 12th of August, 1642.