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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 51

Chapter VII. — Stuart Royalty

page 53

Chapter VII.

Stuart Royalty.

Three or four wenches where I stood cried, "Alas, good soul!" and forgave him with all their hearts; if Cæsar had stabbed their mothers they would have done no less.

Casca in Julius Cæsar."

James I. (1603-1625).

James I., son of Mary, Queen of Scots, great grandson of Margaret, daughter of Henry VII. succeeded Elizabeth, the last of the Tudors.

"The Stuarts," it has been said, "might be pardoned their bad hearts for their worse brains;" but that is only a partial excuse for their wickedness. Their folly was no doubt great, but their natural depravity was very much greater. The British Solomon in particular was a choice specimen of every royal vice. Two years before James's decease, Count Tillières, the French ambassador, thus wrote of "the wisest fool in Christendom: "—"The king will have no man about him of condition, intellect, or judgment, but little people who defer to him in everything, who praise his vices as others praise virtues, and who calumniate all men of honour and virtue. He hates such mortally, thinking that they defame and dispraise him; he would fain avoid the sight of them because he thinks their countenances reproach him for his abominable and scandalous life." "At Newmarket," Tillières adds, "he (the king) leads a life to which past and present times present no parallel." "Unhappy people," he continues "to have such a king, who seeketh nothing but to impoverish them to enrich his favourites, and who careth not what cometh after his death."

Even Tillières, who was by no means squeamish, declines to record some of the unnatural crimes in which James I. is known to have indulged, and they cannot even be hinted at in page 54 these pages. The debauchery of the Court was worse than pagan. Secret murders were perpetrated, and the murderers, as in the case of the Earl and Countess of Somerset, continued to enjoy the royal favour. Mrs. Turner, who was executed vice that worthy couple for the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury, wondered that the earth did not open to swallow up so wicked a place. It is by no means improbable that James himself was an accomplice in the crime. Of his Court it has been truly recorded: "Impiety the most cynical, debauchery the most unveiled, public and unpunished homicide, private murders by what was called magic, by poison, by hired assassins, crimes natural, unnatural and preternatural were the common characteristics." James held that he was absolutely above the law: consequently he was not accountable to any earthly tribunal.

In a work on "The True Law of Free Monarchy," he had laid it down that "although a good king will frame his actions, to be according to law, yet he is not bound thereto, but of his own will and example-giving to his subjects." By a free monarchy James simply meant a state in which the people were to have no freedom whatever, and it was the logical application of this theory that brought his son's head to the block. "As it is atheism and blasphemy," he said, "to dispute what God can do, so it is a presumption and a high contempt in a subject to dispute what a king can do, or to say that a king cannot do this or that."

By his favourite maxim, "No bishop, no king," he meant that episcopal succession and hereditary regal succession were the only true foundations of Church and State—a doctrine received by the prelates with the greatest acceptance. They declared, at the celebrated Hampton Court Conference with the Puritan divines that this notable discovery of the British Solomon had been directly inspired by the Holy Ghost! The University of Oxford, not to be distanced in loyalty, decreed that "it was in no case lawful for subjects to make use of force against their princes, or to appear offensively or defensively against them." Queen Elizabeth did a good deal to "tune the pulpits;" but James went much farther. He laid it down that kings might "make what liked them law and gospel."

In pursuance of this comprehensive claim, he dismissed page 55 Chief Justice Sir Edward Coke, because he refused to administer the law illegally. He peremptorily ordered parliament to abstain from the discussion of certain "mysteries" of kingcraft beyond their province; and when hon. members said their say, notwithstanding, he sent for the journals of the House, and tore out the record of the proceedings with his own hand. "I will govern," he said, "according to the common weal, but not according to the common will." By "kingcraft" James simply meant comprehensive lying.

Even in the time of Nero, if a State prisoner died before conviction, his family did not suffer loss of the dead man's goods. But James improved on this unsatisfactory state of things. He caused corpses to be produced in court and convicted in order to secure escheat of estates to the Crown.

If he could not reach those who had offended him in one way, he did it in another. A half-crazed Scotsman—Thomas Ross—stuck a silly lampoon on his countrymen on the door of a college in Oxford. James could not get him adequately punished in England, so he sent him to his Privy Council in Edinburgh, who, to please their master, first caused the offender's right hand to be struck off, and then his head.

Yet at this critical moment, when the royal terror daunted all but the bravest spirits, the seeds of liberty were being silently sown. Hereditary kingcraft and episcopal priestcraft could not be imposed without challenge on a people politically convinced that taxation imposed without the consent of parliament is illegal; on a people with an open Bible teaching them that royalty was originally granted by the Almighty under a solemn protest and warning; on Christian men daily reading in their New Testaments, "The princes of the Gentiles bear dominion over them, and their great ones exercise authority upon them, but among you it shall not be so. He that would be the greatest among you let him be the least, let him be the servant of all." Among a really Christian people it is not too much to say that a king could not possiby exist. It is noteworthy that when Christ had occasion to allude to King Herod he described him, not as His Gracious Majesty, but as "that fox."

Even in James I. 's time the storm-clouds of revolution were visibly gathering. In his parliaments of 1614 and 1621 the Pyms, Eliots, and Wentworths—that matchless race of page 56 heroes—began to make their appearance in the House. But as usual, the sins of the father were visited, not on the father, James I., but on the son, Charles I. James died in bed, and Charles laid his head on the block.

Charles I. (1625-1649.)

Charles I., who succeeded James I., was not a very complex character. He had an inherited thirst for absolute rule, a fatal attachment to favourites, and no man or party could rely for a moment on that "royal word" of his to which he invariably appealed when he contemplated some act of unusual perfidy. Oliver Cromwell was perhaps not very far wrong when he pronounced Charles "the hardest-hearted man on earth," but he certainly was greatly at fault when he likewise credited him with "great parts and great understanding." "Insincerity," says the impartial Hallam, was "a fault that appeared in all parts of his life, from which no one who has paid the subject any attention will pretend to exculpate him." This it was even more than his tyranny that sealed his doom. It was the impossibility of binding Charles by any compact that nerved the Commons to put him to death. Yet in the unhallowed arts of dissimulation he was a mere child compared with the matchless Oliver himself.

As for the tyranny of the king, it was neither greater nor less than that of his immediate predecessors, James and Elizabeth. He merely walked diligently in their footsteps over ground which their royal hoofs had helped to render impassable.

Hardly was he seated on the throne, when the memorable strife between king and parliament began. The House, led by Sir John Eliot, impeached the royal favourite, Buckingham, one of the most incompetent, reckless, and insolent of his tribe. "I must let you know," wrote Charles to the Commons, "that I will not allow any of my servants to be questioned among you, much less such as are of eminent place and near me." And summoning the members to Whitehall, he told them—"Remember that parliaments are altogether in my power for their calling, sitting, and dissolution; and therefore, as I find the fruits of them good or evil, they are to continue or not to be." This the Commons were very careful to remember when the Long Parliament met. They effectu- page 57 ally provided against the exercise of a power so arbitrary and dangerous; yet even now the Prime Minister can of his own whim or for party purposes turn the Representatives of the People out of doors at any moment. Our rulers would utterly belie themselves if they did not preserve some relict of every State abuse.

Eliot's impeachment of Buckingham was concieved in a strain such as no Tudor or Stuart had ever listened to. "Through the power of State and justice he has dared ever to strike at his own ends. What have been his actions, what he is like, you know. By him came all our evils, in him we find the causes, and on him must be the remedies! Pereat qui perdere cuncta festinat. Opprimatur ne omnes opprimat!" (Let him perish who is in haste to ruin everything. Let him be crushed lest he crush everyone.) Eliot and Sir Dudley Digges were at once hurried to the Tower, while the House was speedily dissolved for its insubordination. Illegality followed illegality. But benevolences, forced loans, and ship-money were enforced to little purpose. The people sullenly resisted.

In another parliament the famous Petition of Right was wrung from the king, and Buckingham fell by the hand of the assassin Felton. Felton regarded himself as a public benefactor, and rich and poor drank to his health. The parliament of 1629 was dissolved like its predecessors, but not before it had declared "a capital enemy of kingdom and commonwealth" any minister who should advise the levy of subsidies without consent of parliament, and "a betrayer of the liberty of England and an enemy of the same" whoever should voluntarily comply with such illegal demands.

The king's third parliament was as unbending as the others. It was dismissed, and the king resolved to govern "by such other means as God had put into his hands." For eleven years Charles, Laud, and Strafford had it pretty much their own way. Sir John Eliot, the brave, the learned, the eloquent died in the Tower. Chambers, a patriotic London alderman, for complaining that Englishmen were worse off than Turks, was heavily fined, and died like Eliot in durance. To-day, alas! his civic successors suffer chiefly from excess of turtle and conger eel. The Petition of Right was treated as if no royal assent had been given to it. The apostate Strafford page 58 had undertaken "to vindicate the monarchy for ever from the conditions and restraints of subjects."

But the darkest hour was before the dawn. An unexpected light burst from the North. Presbyterian Scotland rose in arms as one man to resist Episcopal innovations which Charles had forced on that country at the instigation of Laud. James I., from a bitter personal experience, had admonished that narrow-minded ecclesiastic that "he knew not the stomach of that people." The Scots were over the border before the king could organise any adequate resistance, and their decisive action changed the whole aspect of affairs.

In 1640 the Long Parliament was convoked, and the whole fabric of royal tyranny, column by column, and buttress by buttress, fell to the ground. Strafford and Laud went to the block. The king's outrageous attempt to arrest the Five Members in the House itself was the immediate precursor of the civil war. On the field of N ase by the royalist forces were irretrievably shattered.

Fast, fast the gallants ride
In some safe nook to hide
Their coward heads pre-destined
To rot on Temple Bar:
And he—he turns and flies,
Shame to those cruel eyes
That bore to look on torture,
But dared not look on war.

The war ended in the complete overthrow of the Royalists, the execution of the king, and the eventual usurpation of the supreme power by Oliver Cromwell, the Puritan Bonaparte of the English Revolution.

About the justice of the king's sentence there can be no rational dispute. He had violated the fundamental laws of the State and involved the nation in torrents of blood. The Commissioners who tried him were men of the highest probity, and of their president, Bradshaw, the worst that Whitlocke could say was that he was "a stout man and learned in the law—no friend of monarchy." Charles declined to acknowledge the authority of the Court on the ground that the English monarchy, being hereditary, he himself was the fountain of all law. Bradshaw overruled the objection, asserting that kingship, on the contrary, is an page 59 elective trust, and that the people are the source of all rights. In a previous chapter the reader may remember this question was examined and solved as Bradshaw solved it.

But all things that are lawful are not expedient. There are numerous "wenches" in society, as Casca said, always ready to cry, "Alas, poor soul!" when a high-placed criminal meets his deserts—aye, even "if he had stabbed their mothers," and out of consideration for these weak vessels, it can hardly be doubted that exile or imprisonment would have been a more politic penalty than death. What was to be dreaded was a monarchical reaction, and that, at all events, the execution of the king did not prevent. It is noteworthy that the illustrious trio, Vane, Blake and Sidney regarded the execution, as a grave political blunder.

Oliver Cromwell's account of the ground of his action in the matter, as afterwards narrated by his confidant, Lord Broghill, is worth relating:—

"The reason of an inclination to come to terms with him (Charles) was, we found the Scots and Presbyterians began to be more powerful than we (Cromwell and the Independent Army Officers) and were strenuously endeavouring to strike up an agreement with the king and leave us in the lurch; wherefore we thought to prevent them by offering more reasonable conditions. (At this juncture, there is every reason to believe, Cromwell would have been content with the earldom of Essex and the post of generalissimo.) But while we were buried with these thoughts, there came a letter to us from one of our spies, who was of the king's bedchamber, acquainting us that our final doom was decreed that day, What it was he could not tell; but a letter was gone to the queen with the contents of it, which letter was sewed up in the skirt of a saddle, and the bearer of it would come, with the saddle upon his head, about ten o'clock the following night, to the Blue Boar Inn in Holborn, where he was to take horse for Dover. The messenger knew nothing of the letter in the saddle, but someone in Dover did. We were then at Windsor, and immediately upon the receipt of the letter from our spy, Ireton and I resolved to take a trusty fellow with us, and in troopers' habits to go to the inn, which we accordingly did, and set our man at the gate of the inn to watch. The gate was shut but the wicket was open, and our man stood to give us notice when anyone came with a saddle on his head. Ireton and I sat in a box near the wicket, and called for a can of beer and then another, drinking in that disguise till ten o'clock, when our sentinel gave us notice that the man with the saddle was come, upon which we immediately rose, and when the man was leading out his horse saddled we came up to him with our swords drawn, and told him we were to search all who went in and out there, but as he looked like an honest fellow we would only search his saddle, which we did, and found the letter we looked for. On opening it we read the contents, in which the king acquainted the queen that he was now courted by both the page 60 factions, the Scots and Presbyterians, and the Army; that which of them bid fairest for him should have him; that he thought he could close sooner with the Scots than the other. Upon which we speeded to Windsor, and finding we were not like to have any tolerable terms from the king, we immediately resolved to ruin him."

But though Oliver's resolution to despatch the king was there and then taken, he professed to be undecided almost to the last. It was his invariable policy to appear to be led by those he was misleading.

At a later date honest General Ludlow made the following curious notes at a conference convened by Cromwell, in Westminster, between the so-called "Grandees of the House and the Army" and the "Commonwealth's men," or Republicans, of whom Ludlow was one:—

"The Grandees, of whom Lieutenant-General Cromwell was the head, kept themselves in the clouds, and would not declare their judgments either for a monarchical, aristocratical, or democratical government, maintaining that any of them might be good in themselves, or for us, according as Providence should direct. The Commonwealth men declared that monarchy was neither good in itself nor for us; that it was not desirable in itself from the 8th chapter and 8th verse of the First Book of Samuel, where the rejection of the judges and the choice of a king was charged upon the Israelites by God himself as a rejection of Him, and from divers more texts of Scripture to the same effect. And that it was in no way conducive to the interest of the nation, was endeavoured to be proved by the infinite mischiefs and oppressions we had suffered under it; that indeed our ancestors had permitted themselves to be governed by a single person, but with this proviso that he should govern according to the direction of the law which he always bound himself by oath to perform; that the king had broken his oath and thereby dissolved our allegiance. Notwithstanding what was said, Lieutenant-General Cromwell—not for want of conviction, but in hopes of making a better bargain with another party—professed himself unresolved; and having learned what he could of the principles and intentions of those present at the conference, took up a cushion and flung it at my head and then ran down the stairs; but I overtook him with another, which made him hasten down faster than he desired. The next day, passing by me in the House, he told me he was convinced of the desirableness of what was proposed, but not of the feasibleness of it, thereby I suppose, designing to encourage me to hope that he was inclined to join with us, though unwilling to publish his opinion, lest the Grandees should be informed of it, to whom I presume he professed himself of another opinion."