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Contents > Author > Charles Dickens > A Child's History of England 33 Part 2 1812- 1870
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Charles Dickens
A Child's History of England 33 Part 2
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Chapter XXXIII

THE Long Parliament assembled on the third of November, one
thousand six hundred and forty-one. That day week the Earl of
Strafford arrived from York, very sensible that the spirited and
determined men who formed that Parliament were no friends towards
him, who had not only deserted the cause of the people, but who
had on all occasions opposed himself to their liberties. The King told
him, for his comfort, that the Parliament 'should not hurt one hair
of his head.' But, on the very next day Mr. Pym, in the House of
Commons, and with great solemnity, impeached the Earl of Strafford
as a traitor. He was immediately taken into custody and fell from
his proud height.

It was the twenty-second of March before he was brought to trial in
Westminster Hall; where, although he was very ill and suffered
great pain, he defended himself with such ability and majesty, that
it was doubtful whether he would not get the best of it. But on
the thirteenth day of the trial, Pym produced in the House of
Commons a copy of some notes of a council, found by young SIR
HARRY VANE in a red velvet cabinet belonging to his father
(Secretary Vane, who sat at the council-table with the Earl), in
which Strafford had distinctly told the King that he was free from all
rules and obligations of government, and might do with his people
whatever he liked; and in which he had added - 'You have an army in
Ireland that you may employ to reduce this kingdom to obedience.'
It was not clear whether by the words 'this kingdom,' he had really
meant England or Scotland; but the Parliament contended that he
meant England, and this was treason. At the same sitting of the
House of Commons it was resolved to bring in a bill of attainder
declaring the treason to have been committed: in preference to
proceeding with the trial by impeachment, which would have required
the treason to be proved.

So, a bill was brought in at once, was carried through the House of
Commons by a large majority, and was sent up to the House of Lords.
While it was still uncertain whether the House of Lords would pass
it and the King consent to it, Pym disclosed to the House of
Commons that the King and Queen had both been plotting with the
officers of the army to bring up the soldiers and control the
Parliament, and also to introduce two hundred soldiers into the
Tower of London to effect the Earl's escape. The plotting with the
army was revealed by one GEORGE GORING, the son of a lord of that
name: a bad fellow who was one of the original plotters, and
turned traitor. The King had actually given his warrant for the
admission of the two hundred men into the Tower, and they would
have got in too, but for the refusal of the governor - a sturdy
Scotchman of the name of BALFOUR - to admit them. These matters
being made public, great numbers of people began to riot outside
the Houses of Parliament, and to cry out for the execution of the
Earl of Strafford, as one of the King's chief instruments against
them. The bill passed the House of Lords while the people were in
this state of agitation, and was laid before the King for his
assent, together with another bill declaring that the Parliament
then assembled should not be dissolved or adjourned without their
own consent. The King - not unwilling to save a faithful servant,
though he had no great attachment for him - was in some doubt
what to do; but he gave his consent to both bills, although he in
his heart believed that the bill against the Earl of Strafford was
unlawful and unjust. The Earl had written to him, telling him that
he was willing to die for his sake. But he had not expected that
his royal master would take him at his word quite so readily; for,
when he heard his doom, he laid his hand upon his heart, and said,
'Put not your trust in Princes!'

The King, who never could be straightforward and plain, through one
single day or through one single sheet of paper, wrote a letter to
the Lords, and sent it by the young Prince of Wales, entreating
them to prevail with the Commons that 'that unfortunate man should
fulfil the natural course of his life in a close imprisonment.' In
a postscript to the very same letter, he added, 'If he must die, it
were charity to reprieve him till Saturday.' If there had been any
doubt of his fate, this weakness and meanness would have settled
it. The very next day, which was the twelfth of May, he was
brought out to be beheaded on Tower Hill.

Archbishop Laud, who had been so fond of having people's ears
cropped off and their noses slit, was now confined in the Tower
too; and when the Earl went by his window to his death, he was
there, at his request, to give him his blessing. They had been
great friends in the King's cause, and the Earl had written to him
in the days of their power that he thought it would be an admirable
thing to have Mr. Hampden publicly whipped for refusing to pay the
ship money. However, those high and mighty doings were over now,
and the Earl went his way to death with dignity and heroism. The
governor wished him to get into a coach at the Tower gate, for fear
the people should tear him to pieces; but he said it was all one to
him whether he died by the axe or by the people's hands. So, he
walked, with a firm tread and a stately look, and sometimes pulled
off his hat to them as he passed along. They were profoundly
quiet. He made a speech on the scaffold from some notes he had
prepared (the paper was found lying there after his head was struck
off), and one blow of the axe killed him, in the forty-ninth year
of his age.

This bold and daring act, the Parliament accompanied by other
famous measures, all originating (as even this did) in the King's
having so grossly and so long abused his power. The name of
DELINQUENTS was applied to all sheriffs and other officers who had
been concerned in raising the ship money, or any other money, from
the people, in an unlawful manner; the Hampden judgment was
reversed; the judges who had decided against Hampden were called
upon to give large securities that they would take such
consequences as Parliament might impose upon them; and one was
arrested as he sat in High Court, and carried off to prison. Laud
was impeached; the unfortunate victims whose ears had been
cropped and whose noses had been slit, were brought out of prison
in triumph; and a bill was passed declaring that a Parliament should
be called every third year, and that if the King and the King's
officers did not call it, the people should assemble of themselves
and summon it, as of their own right and power. Great
illuminations and rejoicings took place over all these things, and
the country was wildly excited. That the Parliament took advantage
of this excitement and stirred them up by every means, there is no
doubt; but you are always to remember those twelve long years,
during which the King had tried so hard whether he really could do
any wrong or not.

All this time there was a great religious outcry against the right
of the Bishops to sit in Parliament; to which the Scottish people
particularly objected. The English were divided on this subject,
and, partly on this account and partly because they had had foolish
expectations that the Parliament would be able to take off nearly
all the taxes, numbers of them sometimes wavered and inclined
towards the King.

I believe myself, that if, at this or almost any other period of
his life, the King could have been trusted by any man not out of
his senses, he might have saved himself and kept his throne. But,
on the English army being disbanded, he plotted with the officers
again, as he had done before, and established the fact beyond all
doubt by putting his signature of approval to a petition against
the Parliamentary leaders, which was drawn up by certain officers.
When the Scottish army was disbanded, he went to Edinburgh in four
days - which was going very fast at that time - to plot again, and
so darkly too, that it is difficult to decide what his whole object
was. Some suppose that he wanted to gain over the Scottish
Parliament, as he did in fact gain over, by presents and favours,
many Scottish lords and men of power. Some think that he went to
get proofs against the Parliamentary leaders in England of their
having treasonably invited the Scottish people to come and help
them. With whatever object he went to Scotland, he did little good
by going. At the instigation of the EARL OF MONTROSE, a desperate
man who was then in prison for plotting, he tried to kidnap three
Scottish lords who escaped. A committee of the Parliament at home,
who had followed to watch him, writing an account of this INCIDENT,
as it was called, to the Parliament, the Parliament made a fresh
stir about it; were, or feigned to be, much alarmed for themselves;
and wrote to the EARL OF ESSEX, the commander-in-chief, for a
guard to protect them.

It is not absolutely proved that the King plotted in Ireland
besides, but it is very probable that he did, and that the Queen
did, and that he had some wild hope of gaining the Irish people
over to his side by favouring a rise among them. Whether or no,
they did rise in a most brutal and savage rebellion; in which,
encouraged by their priests, they committed such atrocities upon
numbers of the English, of both sexes and of all ages, as nobody
could believe, but for their being related on oath by eye-
witnesses. Whether one hundred thousand or two hundred thousand
Protestants were murdered in this outbreak, is uncertain; but, that
it was as ruthless and barbarous an outbreak as ever was known
among any savage people, is certain.

The King came home from Scotland, determined to make a great
struggle for his lost power. He believed that, through his
presents and favours, Scotland would take no part against him; and
the Lord Mayor of London received him with such a magnificent
dinner that he thought he must have become popular again in
England. It would take a good many Lord Mayors, however, to make
a people, and the King soon found himself mistaken.

Not so soon, though, but that there was a great opposition in the
Parliament to a celebrated paper put forth by Pym and Hampden
and the rest, called 'THE REMONSTRANCE,' which set forth all the
illegal acts that the King had ever done, but politely laid the
blame of them on his bad advisers. Even when it was passed and
presented to him, the King still thought himself strong enough to
discharge Balfour from his command in the Tower, and to put in his
place a man of bad character; to whom the Commons instantly
objected, and whom he was obliged to abandon. At this time, the
old outcry about the Bishops became louder than ever, and the old
Archbishop of York was so near being murdered as he went down
to the House of Lords - being laid hold of by the mob and violently
knocked about, in return for very foolishly scolding a shrill boy
who was yelping out 'No Bishops!' - that he sent for all the
Bishops who were in town, and proposed to them to sign a
declaration that, as they could no longer without danger to their
lives attend their duty in Parliament, they protested against the
lawfulness of everything done in their absence. This they asked
the King to send to the House of Lords, which he did. Then the
House of Commons impeached the whole party of Bishops and sent
them off to the Tower:

Taking no warning from this; but encouraged by there being a
moderate party in the Parliament who objected to these strong
measures, the King, on the third of January, one thousand six
hundred and forty-two, took the rashest step that ever was taken
by mortal man.

Of his own accord and without advice, he sent the Attorney-General
to the House of Lords, to accuse of treason certain members of
Parliament who as popular leaders were the most obnoxious to him;
(they used to call him King Pym, he possessed such power and looked
so big), JOHN HAMPDEN, and WILLIAM STRODE. The houses of those
members he caused to be entered, and their papers to be sealed up.
At the same time, he sent a messenger to the House of Commons
demanding to have the five gentlemen who were members of that
House immediately produced. To this the House replied that they
should appear as soon as there was any legal charge against them,
and immediately adjourned.

Next day, the House of Commons send into the City to let the Lord
Mayor know that their privileges are invaded by the King, and that
there is no safety for anybody or anything. Then, when the five
members are gone out of the way, down comes the King himself, with
all his guard and from two to three hundred gentlemen and soldiers,
of whom the greater part were armed. These he leaves in the hall;
and then, with his nephew at his side, goes into the House, takes
off his hat, and walks up to the Speaker's chair. The Speaker
leaves it, the King stands in front of it, looks about him steadily
for a little while, and says he has come for those five members.
No one speaks, and then he calls John Pym by name. No one speaks,
and then he calls Denzil Hollis by name. No one speaks, and then
he asks the Speaker of the House where those five members are?
The Speaker, answering on his knee, nobly replies that he is the
servant of that House, and that he has neither eyes to see, nor
tongue to speak, anything but what the House commands him.
Upon this, the King, beaten from that time evermore, replies that
he will seek them himself, for they have committed treason; and
goes out, with his hat in his hand, amid some audible murmurs
from the members.

No words can describe the hurry that arose out of doors when all
this was known. The five members had gone for safety to a house in
Coleman-street, in the City, where they were guarded all night; and
indeed the whole city watched in arms like an army. At ten o'clock
in the morning, the King, already frightened at what he had done,
came to the Guildhall, with only half a dozen lords, and made a
speech to the people, hoping they would not shelter those whom he
accused of treason. Next day, he issued a proclamation for the
apprehension of the five members; but the Parliament minded it so
little that they made great arrangements for having them brought
down to Westminster in great state, five days afterwards. The King
was so alarmed now at his own imprudence, if not for his own
safety, that he left his palace at Whitehall, and went away with
his Queen and children to Hampton Court.

It was the eleventh of May, when the five members were carried in
state and triumph to Westminster. They were taken by water. The
river could not be seen for the boats on it; and the five members
were hemmed in by barges full of men and great guns, ready to
protect them, at any cost. Along the Strand a large body of the
train-bands of London, under their commander, SKIPPON, marched to
be ready to assist the little fleet. Beyond them, came a crowd who
choked the streets, roaring incessantly about the Bishops and the
Papists, and crying out contemptuously as they passed Whitehall,
'What has become of the King?' With this great noise outside the
House of Commons, and with great silence within, Mr. Pym rose and
informed the House of the great kindness with which they had been
received in the City. Upon that, the House called the sheriffs in
and thanked them, and requested the train-bands, under their
commander Skippon, to guard the House of Commons every day.
Then, came four thousand men on horseback out of Buckinghamshire,
offering their services as a guard too, and bearing a petition to
the King, complaining of the injury that had been done to Mr.
Hampden, who was their county man and much beloved and honoured.

When the King set off for Hampton Court, the gentlemen and soldiers
who had been with him followed him out of town as far as Kingston-
upon-Thames; next day, Lord Digby came to them from the King at
Hampton Court, in his coach and six, to inform them that the King
accepted their protection. This, the Parliament said, was making
war against the kingdom, and Lord Digby fled abroad. The
Parliament then immediately applied themselves to getting hold of
the military power of the country, well knowing that the King was
already trying hard to use it against them, and that he had
secretly sent the Earl of Newcastle to Hull, to secure a valuable
magazine of arms and gunpowder that was there. In those times,
every county had its own magazines of arms and powder, for its own
train-bands or militia; so, the Parliament brought in a bill
claiming the right (which up to this time had belonged to the King)
of appointing the Lord Lieutenants of counties, who commanded
these train-bands; also, of having all the forts, castles, and garrisons
in the kingdom, put into the hands of such governors as they, the
Parliament, could confide in. It also passed a law depriving the
Bishops of their votes. The King gave his assent to that bill, but
would not abandon the right of appointing the Lord Lieutenants,
though he said he was willing to appoint such as might be suggested
to him by the Parliament. When the Earl of Pembroke asked him
whether he would not give way on that question for a time, he said,
'By God! not for one hour!' and upon this he and the Parliament
went to war.

His young daughter was betrothed to the Prince of Orange. On
pretence of taking her to the country of her future husband, the
Queen was already got safely away to Holland, there to pawn the
Crown jewels for money to raise an army on the King's side. The
Lord Admiral being sick, the House of Commons now named the Earl
of Warwick to hold his place for a year. The King named another
gentleman; the House of Commons took its own way, and the Earl
of Warwick became Lord Admiral without the King's consent. The
Parliament sent orders down to Hull to have that magazine removed
to London; the King went down to Hull to take it himself. The
citizens would not admit him into the town, and the governor would
not admit him into the castle. The Parliament resolved that
whatever the two Houses passed, and the King would not consent to,
should be called an ORDINANCE, and should be as much a law as if he
did consent to it. The King protested against this, and gave
notice that these ordinances were not to be obeyed. The King,
attended by the majority of the House of Peers, and by many members
of the House of Commons, established himself at York. The
Chancellor went to him with the Great Seal, and the Parliament made
a new Great Seal. The Queen sent over a ship full of arms and
ammunition, and the King issued letters to borrow money at high
interest. The Parliament raised twenty regiments of foot and
seventy-five troops of horse; and the people willingly aided them
with their money, plate, jewellery, and trinkets - the married
women even with their wedding-rings. Every member of Parliament
who could raise a troop or a regiment in his own part of the
country, dressed it according to his taste and in his own colours,
and commanded it. Foremost among them all, OLIVER CROMWELL
raised a troop of horse - thoroughly in earnest and thoroughly well
armed - who were, perhaps, the best soldiers that ever were seen.

In some of their proceedings, this famous Parliament passed the
bounds of previous law and custom, yielded to and favoured riotous
assemblages of the people, and acted tyrannically in imprisoning
some who differed from the popular leaders. But again, you are
always to remember that the twelve years during which the King had
had his own wilful way, had gone before; and that nothing could
make the times what they might, could, would, or should have been,
if those twelve years had never rolled away.


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