Page images

hotly roused for the people to pass under so degrading a yoke, or to submit tamely to such a daring aggression upon

their ancient and most cherished rights. No sooner was this expedient of assembling a grand council of Peers made public, than requisitions poured in from all parts of the kingdom, soliciting the King to summon a Parliament at Westminster.

A petition to this effect, signed by 10,000 citizens, was forwarded from London, although the committee of state had made the most strenuous efforts for its suppression while in the course of signature. Similar demands appeared from almost every county, the language of some being more violent than others, but all referring to a Parliament as likely to prove the happiest solution of existing difficulties. Even many of the Peers themselves felt considerable hesitation in obeying the summons which called them to the proposed council, — thinking Parliament a more legal tribunal, as well as a more natural remedy, for the disorders of the time. Twelve noblemen, particularly distinguished for their prominent support of popular principles, drew up a petition to this effect, in which it was especially stated that they acted not for themselves alone, but for many of the nobility and most of the gentry in several parts of the kingdom. Indeed, so strongly and universally was public opinion expressed against any farther delay of a Parliament, that before the Peers actually assembled to enter upon the novel trust confided to their care, Charles had so far yielded as to issue writs of his own free will for the assemblage of a Parliament at Westminster, on the third of November. Accordingly, upon the Grand Council being opened in September for the despatch of business, the King, instead of requesting the Peers to furnish him with supplies, frankly informed them that he had by the advice of the Queen resolved to call a Parliament, and had already issued writs for that purpose. Wishing however to make it appear that he had not been driven from the original purpose for which the Peers were professedly assembled, Charles pretended that he had summoned them to find the means of paying his army till parliamentary supplies should come in, and to ask their advice as to the answer he should give the rebels, and in what manner he should treat them; thus representing the time necessarily occupied in the election of the Commons, as a plea for his unusual and unprecedented departure from the ordinary practices of Parliament.

The King having now virtually abandoned the direction of the executive to the Peers, they proceeded to make such arrangements with the Scots as were required for the interval that must elapse before the new Parliament could possibly assemble. It was immediately decided that a commission of noblemen should enter into communication with a similar deputation on the part of the Scots, and sixteen peers being nominated, Ripon, a town in Yorkshire, was fixed upon as the place most convenient for the negociation to be commenced. Before, however, the Scots would consent to enter upon the consideration of a treaty at all, they required the English Commissioners to guarantee that the subsistence of the Covenanters' army should be furnished by the English government, until such times as Parliament could meet at Westminster, a point readily conceded by the English Peers, the Royalist party feeling themselves too powerless to raise any demur. This preliminary claim allowed, a cessation of hostilities was agreed to, and the sum of £850 a day voted for the support of the Scottish forces until November, at which period the commissioners were to adjourn to London and conclude the pacification. It was also determined that if the money were not regularly paid, the Scots might levy it from the four Northern Counties of England, which were ceded to them as securities till peace was concluded. In the mean time, as the King's exchequer contained no treasure to meet the immediate necessities of the Scottish army, the Peers despatched a deputation of four noblemen to the City of London, soliciting a loan of £200,000 from the merchants, its repayment being guaranteed upon the personal responsibility of the Council, in case Parliament, when assembled, should refuse to ratify their proceedings. To this urgent request the citizens willingly responded, and the Scots, well pleased with their bargain, continued to occupy the Northern Counties with their troops, receiving instalments of money from time to time according to the arrangements they bad concluded.

Amidst such vicissitudes and adversities, the King and those ministers on whose counsel he had hitherto reposed confidence, sank into inactivity from despair. Strafford, though feeling himself conquered, alone retained sufficient self-possession to stand unawed, and confront the perils of the hour. His haughty spirit spurned the idea of submitting to the terms, dictated by men whom he regarded as successful rebels. “ Let the King” said he to Laud, “but speak the word, and I will make the Scots go hence faster than they came, I would answer for it on my life; but the instructions must come from another than from me.” The imperious tone in which he addressed the soldiers, irritated them to such a degree as to incense them more against their own leaders than the enemy they were enlisted to oppose. Lord Wharton and another peer having ventured to present a petition to the King, requesting him to conclude a peace with the Scots, Strafford summoned them before a court-martial, and demanded that they should be shot at the head of the army, as abettors and encouragers of revolt. Before the court rose, Hamilton asked Strafford “if he were sure of the army,” a home question to which the latter could make no reply. Even while the treaty was pending at Ripon, Strafford ordered a skirmish to be made against the Scots, and gained a slight advantage, a circumstance which rather prejudiced than proved of service to the King's affairs. Thus, desperate in the dire extremity to which his fortunes were reduced, he stood eager to rush headlong on the foe, fully conscious that for bim nothing now remained but the chance of victory or the certainty of death.

On the 3rd of November, 1640, a day conspicuous even in the annals of the world, that illustrious assembly, known in history as the Long Parliament, commenced its memorable career. The Commons, irritated by the

[ocr errors]

wrongs they had suffered, and indignant at the neglect with which they had been treated, assumed a stern and determined attitude. They laid the axe to the very roots of regal absolutism. They took the whole power of the government into their own hands. They subjected the executive to the control and supervision of Parliament. They placed restraints upon


prerogatives of royalty. They vindicated and re-established the privileges of the people. They curbed the ambitious pretensions of the church. They eradicated corruption and abuse from the courts of law. They purified the administration of justice. They liberated the victims of arbitrary power, and struck off the fetters of servitude from the oppressed. Finally, they brought to the bar of trial those guilty agents of despotism, who for eleven years had laboured to abrogate the Constitution by establishing a tyranny as revolting as it was unnatural.

To the merits of those inflexible patriots who formed the leaders of this Assembly, posterity has at length done tardy justice ; errors they committed-excesses they sanctioned-authority they abused, yet when all the faults of their chequered conduct shall be closely scanned, when all the evil deeds of their administration shall be harshly written down against them, when the worst construction shall have been put upon their actions and intentions, a sufficient measure of virtue will still be left to place them high upon the list of English statesmen, conspicuous amidst the ranks of freemen, and pre-eminent even among the noblest, the wisest, and the greatest benefactors of the human race.

« PreviousContinue »