your online library and language lab
Contents > Author > Charles Dickens > A Child's History of England 33 1812- 1870
Previous Next

Charles Dickens
A Child's History of England 33
printer friendly version
CHAPTER XXXIII
ENGLAND UNDER CHARLES THE FIRST



BABY CHARLES became KING CHARLES THE FIRST, in the twenty-fifth
year of his age. Unlike his father, he was usually amiable in his
private character, and grave and dignified in his bearing; but,
like his father, he had monstrously exaggerated notions of the
rights of a king, and was evasive, and not to be trusted. If his
word could have been relied upon, his history might have had a
different end.

His first care was to send over that insolent upstart, Buckingham,
to bring Henrietta Maria from Paris to be his Queen; upon which
occasion Buckingham - with his usual audacity - made love to the
young Queen of Austria, and was very indignant indeed with CARDINAL
RICHELIEU, the French Minister, for thwarting his intentions. The
English people were very well disposed to like their new Queen, and
to receive her with great favour when she came among them as a
stranger. But, she held the Protestant religion in great dislike,
and brought over a crowd of unpleasant priests, who made her do
some very ridiculous things, and forced themselves upon the public
notice in many disagreeable ways. Hence, the people soon came to
dislike her, and she soon came to dislike them; and she did so much
all through this reign in setting the King (who was dotingly fond
of her) against his subjects, that it would have been better for
him if she had never been born.

Now, you are to understand that King Charles the First - of his
own determination to be a high and mighty King not to be called
to account by anybody, and urged on by his Queen besides -
deliberately set himself to put his Parliament down and to put
himself up. You are also to understand, that even in pursuit of
this wrong idea (enough in itself to have ruined any king) he
never took a straight course, but always took a crooked one.

He was bent upon war with Spain, though neither the House of
Commons nor the people were quite clear as to the justice of that
war, now that they began to think a little more about the story of
the Spanish match. But the King rushed into it hotly, raised money
by illegal means to meet its expenses, and encountered a miserable
failure at Cadiz, in the very first year of his reign. An
expedition to Cadiz had been made in the hope of plunder, but as it
was not successful, it was necessary to get a grant of money from
the Parliament; and when they met, in no very complying humour,
the, King told them, 'to make haste to let him have it, or it would
be the worse for themselves.' Not put in a more complying humour
by this, they impeached the King's favourite, the Duke of
Buckingham, as the cause (which he undoubtedly was) of many great
public grievances and wrongs. The King, to save him, dissolved the
Parliament without getting the money he wanted; and when the Lords
implored him to consider and grant a little delay, he replied, 'No,
not one minute.' He then began to raise money for himself by the
following means among others.

He levied certain duties called tonnage and poundage which had not
been granted by the Parliament, and could lawfully be levied by no
other power; he called upon the seaport towns to furnish, and to
pay all the cost for three months of, a fleet of armed ships; and
he required the people to unite in lending him large sums of money,
the repayment of which was very doubtful. If the poor people
refused, they were pressed as soldiers or sailors; if the gentry
refused, they were sent to prison. Five gentlemen, named SIR
THOMAS DARNEL, JOHN CORBET, WALTER EARL, JOHN HEVENINGHAM,
and EVERARD HAMPDEN, for refusing were taken up by a warrant of
the King's privy council, and were sent to prison without any cause
but the King's pleasure being stated for their imprisonment. Then
the question came to be solemnly tried, whether this was not a
violation of Magna Charta, and an encroachment by the King on the
highest rights of the English people. His lawyers contended No,
because to encroach upon the rights of the English people would be
to do wrong, and the King could do no wrong. The accommodating
judges decided in favour of this wicked nonsense; and here was a
fatal division between the King and the people.

For all this, it became necessary to call another Parliament. The
people, sensible of the danger in which their liberties were, chose
for it those who were best known for their determined opposition to
the King; but still the King, quite blinded by his determination to
carry everything before him, addressed them when they met, in a
contemptuous manner, and just told them in so many words that he
had only called them together because he wanted money. The
Parliament, strong enough and resolute enough to know that they
would lower his tone, cared little for what he said, and laid
before him one of the great documents of history, which is called
the PETITION OF RIGHT, requiring that the free men of England
should no longer be called upon to lend the King money, and should
no longer be pressed or imprisoned for refusing to do so; further,
that the free men of England should no longer be seized by the
King's special mandate or warrant, it being contrary to their
rights and liberties and the laws of their country. At first the
King returned an answer to this petition, in which he tried to
shirk it altogether; but, the House of Commons then showing their
determination to go on with the impeachment of Buckingham, the
King in alarm returned an answer, giving his consent to all that was
required of him. He not only afterwards departed from his word
and honour on these points, over and over again, but, at this very
time, he did the mean and dissembling act of publishing his first
answer and not his second - merely that the people might suppose
that the Parliament had not got the better of him.

That pestilent Buckingham, to gratify his own wounded vanity, had
by this time involved the country in war with France, as well as
with Spain. For such miserable causes and such miserable creatures
are wars sometimes made! But he was destined to do little more
mischief in this world. One morning, as he was going out of his
house to his carriage, he turned to speak to a certain Colonel
FRYER who was with him; and he was violently stabbed with a knife,
which the murderer left sticking in his heart. This happened in
his hall. He had had angry words up-stairs, just before, with some
French gentlemen, who were immediately suspected by his servants,
and had a close escape from being set upon and killed. In the
midst of the noise, the real murderer, who had gone to the kitchen
and might easily have got away, drew his sword and cried out, 'I am
the man!' His name was JOHN FELTON, a Protestant and a retired
officer in the army. He said he had had no personal ill-will to
the Duke, but had killed him as a curse to the country. He had
aimed his blow well, for Buckingham had only had time to cry out,
'Villain!' and then he drew out the knife, fell against a table,
and died.

The council made a mighty business of examining John Felton about
this murder, though it was a plain case enough, one would think.
He had come seventy miles to do it, he told them, and he did it for
the reason he had declared; if they put him upon the rack, as that
noble MARQUIS OF DORSET whom he saw before him, had the goodness
to threaten, he gave that marquis warning, that he would accuse HIM
as his accomplice! The King was unpleasantly anxious to have him
racked, nevertheless; but as the judges now found out that torture
was contrary to the law of England - it is a pity they did not make
the discovery a little sooner - John Felton was simply executed for
the murder he had done. A murder it undoubtedly was, and not in
the least to be defended: though he had freed England from one
of the most profligate, contemptible, and base court favourites to
whom it has ever yielded.

A very different man now arose. This was SIR THOMAS WENTWORTH,
a Yorkshire gentleman, who had sat in Parliament for a long time, and
who had favoured arbitrary and haughty principles, but who had gone
over to the people's side on receiving offence from Buckingham.
The King, much wanting such a man - for, besides being naturally
favourable to the King's cause, he had great abilities - made him
first a Baron, and then a Viscount, and gave him high employment,
and won him most completely.

A Parliament, however, was still in existence, and was NOT to be
won. On the twentieth of January, one thousand six hundred and
twenty-nine, SIR JOHN ELIOT, a great man who had been active in the
Petition of Right, brought forward other strong resolutions against
the King's chief instruments, and called upon the Speaker to put
them to the vote. To this the Speaker answered, 'he was commanded
otherwise by the King,' and got up to leave the chair - which,
according to the rules of the House of Commons would have obliged
it to adjourn without doing anything more - when two members, named
Mr. HOLLIS and Mr. VALENTINE, held him down. A scene of great
confusion arose among the members; and while many swords were
drawn and flashing about, the King, who was kept informed of all that
was going on, told the captain of his guard to go down to the House
and force the doors. The resolutions were by that time, however,
voted, and the House adjourned. Sir John Eliot and those two
members who had held the Speaker down, were quickly summoned
before the council. As they claimed it to be their privilege not to
answer out of Parliament for anything they had said in it, they
were committed to the Tower. The King then went down and dissolved
the Parliament, in a speech wherein he made mention of these
gentlemen as 'Vipers' - which did not do him much good that ever I
have heard of.

As they refused to gain their liberty by saying they were sorry for
what they had done, the King, always remarkably unforgiving, never
overlooked their offence. When they demanded to be brought up
before the court of King's Bench, he even resorted to the meanness
of having them moved about from prison to prison, so that the writs
issued for that purpose should not legally find them. At last they
came before the court and were sentenced to heavy fines, and to be
imprisoned during the King's pleasure. When Sir John Eliot's
health had quite given way, and he so longed for change of air and
scene as to petition for his release, the King sent back the answer
(worthy of his Sowship himself) that the petition was not humble
enough. When he sent another petition by his young son, in which
he pathetically offered to go back to prison when his health was
restored, if he might be released for its recovery, the King still
disregarded it. When he died in the Tower, and his children
petitioned to be allowed to take his body down to Cornwall, there
to lay it among the ashes of his forefathers, the King returned for
answer, 'Let Sir John Eliot's body be buried in the church of that
parish where he died.' All this was like a very little King
indeed, I think.

And now, for twelve long years, steadily pursuing his design of
setting himself up and putting the people down, the King called no
Parliament; but ruled without one. If twelve thousand volumes
were written in his praise (as a good many have been) it would still
remain a fact, impossible to be denied, that for twelve years King
Charles the First reigned in England unlawfully and despotically,
seized upon his subjects' goods and money at his pleasure, and
punished according to his unbridled will all who ventured to oppose
him. It is a fashion with some people to think that this King's
career was cut short; but I must say myself that I think he ran a
pretty long one.

WILLIAM LAUD, Archbishop of Canterbury, was the King's right-hand
man in the religious part of the putting down of the people's
liberties. Laud, who was a sincere man, of large learning but
small sense - for the two things sometimes go together in very
different quantities - though a Protestant, held opinions so near
those of the Catholics, that the Pope wanted to make a Cardinal of
him, if he would have accepted that favour. He looked upon vows,
robes, lighted candles, images, and so forth, as amazingly
important in religious ceremonies; and he brought in an immensity
of bowing and candle-snuffing. He also regarded archbishops and
bishops as a sort of miraculous persons, and was inveterate in the
last degree against any who thought otherwise. Accordingly, he
offered up thanks to Heaven, and was in a state of much pious
pleasure, when a Scotch clergyman, named LEIGHTON, was pilloried,
whipped, branded in the cheek, and had one of his ears cut off and
one of his nostrils slit, for calling bishops trumpery and the
inventions of men. He originated on a Sunday morning the
prosecution of WILLIAM PRYNNE, a barrister who was of similar
opinions, and who was fined a thousand pounds; who was pilloried;
who had his ears cut off on two occasions - one ear at a time - and
who was imprisoned for life. He highly approved of the punishment
of DOCTOR BASTWICK, a physician; who was also fined a thousand
pounds; and who afterwards had HIS ears cut off, and was imprisoned
for life. These were gentle methods of persuasion, some will tell
you: I think, they were rather calculated to be alarming to the
people.

In the money part of the putting down of the people's liberties,
the King was equally gentle, as some will tell you: as I think,
equally alarming. He levied those duties of tonnage and poundage,
and increased them as he thought fit. He granted monopolies to
companies of merchants on their paying him for them,
notwithstanding the great complaints that had, for years and years,
been made on the subject of monopolies. He fined the people for
disobeying proclamations issued by his Sowship in direct violation
of law. He revived the detested Forest laws, and took private
property to himself as his forest right. Above all, he determined
to have what was called Ship Money; that is to say, money for the
support of the fleet - not only from the seaports, but from all the
counties of England: having found out that, in some ancient time
or other, all the counties paid it. The grievance of this ship
money being somewhat too strong, JOHN CHAMBERS, a citizen of
London, refused to pay his part of it. For this the Lord Mayor
ordered John Chambers to prison, and for that John Chambers brought
a suit against the Lord Mayor. LORD SAY, also, behaved like a real
nobleman, and declared he would not pay. But, the sturdiest and
best opponent of the ship money was JOHN HAMPDEN, a gentleman
of Buckinghamshire, who had sat among the 'vipers' in the House of
Commons when there was such a thing, and who had been the
bosom friend of Sir John Eliot. This case was tried before the twelve
judges in the Court of Exchequer, and again the King's lawyers said
it was impossible that ship money could be wrong, because the King
could do no wrong, however hard he tried - and he really did try
very hard during these twelve years. Seven of the judges said that
was quite true, and Mr. Hampden was bound to pay: five of the
judges said that was quite false, and Mr. Hampden was not bound to
pay. So, the King triumphed (as he thought), by making Hampden the
most popular man in England; where matters were getting to that
height now, that many honest Englishmen could not endure their
country, and sailed away across the seas to found a colony in
Massachusetts Bay in America. It is said that Hampden himself and
his relation OLIVER CROMWELL were going with a company of such
voyagers, and were actually on board ship, when they were stopped
by a proclamation, prohibiting sea captains to carry out such
passengers without the royal license. But O! it would have been
well for the King if he had let them go! This was the state of
England. If Laud had been a madman just broke loose, he could not
have done more mischief than he did in Scotland. In his endeavours
(in which he was seconded by the King, then in person in that part
of his dominions) to force his own ideas of bishops, and his own
religious forms and ceremonies upon the Scotch, he roused that
nation to a perfect frenzy. They formed a solemn league, which
they called The Covenant, for the preservation of their own
religious forms; they rose in arms throughout the whole country;
they summoned all their men to prayers and sermons twice a day
by beat of drum; they sang psalms, in which they compared their
enemies to all the evil spirits that ever were heard of; and they
solemnly vowed to smite them with the sword. At first the King
tried force, then treaty, then a Scottish Parliament which did not
answer at all. Then he tried the EARL OF STRAFFORD, formerly Sir
Thomas Wentworth; who, as LORD WENTWORTH, had been governing
Ireland. He, too, had carried it with a very high hand there,
though to the benefit and prosperity of that country.

Strafford and Laud were for conquering the Scottish people by force
of arms. Other lords who were taken into council, recommended
that a Parliament should at last be called; to which the King
unwillingly consented. So, on the thirteenth of April, one
thousand six hundred and forty, that then strange sight, a
Parliament, was seen at Westminster. It is called the Short
Parliament, for it lasted a very little while. While the members
were all looking at one another, doubtful who would dare to speak,
MR. PYM arose and set forth all that the King had done unlawfully
during the past twelve years, and what was the position to which
England was reduced. This great example set, other members took
courage and spoke the truth freely, though with great patience and
moderation. The King, a little frightened, sent to say that if
they would grant him a certain sum on certain terms, no more ship
money should be raised. They debated the matter for two days;
and then, as they would not give him all he asked without promise
or inquiry, he dissolved them.

But they knew very well that he must have a Parliament now; and
he began to make that discovery too, though rather late in the day.
Wherefore, on the twenty-fourth of September, being then at York
with an army collected against the Scottish people, but his own men
sullen and discontented like the rest of the nation, the King told
the great council of the Lords, whom he had called to meet him
there, that he would summon another Parliament to assemble on
the third of November. The soldiers of the Covenant had now forced
their way into England and had taken possession of the northern
counties, where the coals are got. As it would never do to be
without coals, and as the King's troops could make no head against
the Covenanters so full of gloomy zeal, a truce was made, and a
treaty with Scotland was taken into consideration. Meanwhile the
northern counties paid the Covenanters to leave the coals alone,
and keep quiet.

We have now disposed of the Short Parliament. We have next to
see what memorable things were done by the Long one.



-------------------------------------------------------------
 

Previous Next

17951630 visitors
· 8908 texts · 2350 recordings · 957 authors · 194 readers

· Home · Index · Audio Clips · Links · Feedback · About Us · Contact Us ·


Copyright © RepeatAfterUs.com. All Rights Reserved.



Warning: Unknown: Your script possibly relies on a session side-effect which existed until PHP 4.2.3. Please be advised that the session extension does not consider global variables as a source of data, unless register_globals is enabled. You can disable this functionality and this warning by setting session.bug_compat_42 or session.bug_compat_warn to off, respectively in Unknown on line 0