« AnteriorContinuar »
We wish that we had space to quote largely from that speech in the shape in which Mr. Forster now lays it before his readers. What especially moved Charles's wrath was the comparison of Buckingham to Sejanus. Implicitly,' said the King, he must intend me for Tiberius.' Laud in his diary records the committal of Eliot and Digges to the Tower on the 8th of May for the prologue and epilogue, as he calls it, of the charges. He did not see, what Mr. Forster truly says, that this was the first of those open and undisguised outrages which brought their author to the scaffold. The punishment was inflicted, not only for words spoken in Parliament, but was actually carried out while Parliament was sitting. The House was evidently resolved to proceed with no business until Eliot was liberated. Digges had been released on the day following his arrest, and on the 20th of May Eliot, after having been questioned, was set free. He justified in the House the expressions used in his speech, and was cleared by a unanimous vote from all imputations. It is impossible to conceive a more ignominious defeat for the King. In our author's words
'He suffered for want of his father's cowardice quite as much as for want of Elizabeth's courage. His was one of those natures, not uncommon, which having no self-reliance have yet a most intense self-reference, and make up ever for yielding in some points by obstinacy in some other; and it was his misery always to resist, as he yielded, too late. After giving up everything that had sustained the prerogative while it had yet any work in the world to do, he believed in it to the last as the only thing that could help him; and he was not the less ready to seize Pym and Hampden in 1641 because of his defeat and discomfiture in the attempt to seize Eliot in 1626.'—vol. i. p. 570.
After Buckingham's indecent nomination as Chancellor of Cambridge whilst actually under impeachment, he sent in his answers to the charges of the Commons. A fresh application for supply had been made, but the House proceeded to complete their remonstrance, warning the King against retaining the Duke in his counsels, and protesting against all such advisers as should instigate him to levy aids, taxes, or subsidies contrary to the laws of the land. On the 15th the Parliament was dissolved. A show was made of an intention to prosecute the Duke in the Star Chamber; and the Secret Committee, of which Eliot was one, were called on by the Attorney-General to state the proofs of their charges. They treated the matter as one with which they were concerned only in Parliament. Eliot was then specially examined, but he adhered to the principle that he had nothing to Vol. 117,-No. 233.
do with it, except as a member acting by the command of the Commons of England.
It was then resolved to ruin Sir John Eliot in another way, and charges were prepared against him in connexion with the discharge of his duty, and his accounts as Vice-Admiral of Devon. After appearing before the Council, he was, in June 1627, committed to the Gate-house. Charles in the mean time had resolved to levy, if he could, the supply which Parliament had not finally granted in the shape of four subsidies and three fifteenths, as well as the tax of tonnage and poundage. The answers from all parts of England to these demands showed that there was but little chance of obtaining money in this form, and the conviction that Parliament was the only legitimate mode of extracting money from the subject, was evidently proved to have a firm hold of the mass of the people. We cannot enter into the discussion of Buckingham's motives for quarrelling with France, or the truth or falsehood of his disappointed love for Anne of Austria. A forced loan was resorted to, and the clergy lent themselves to this project on the part of the Crown; but the resistance was such as to require the most rigorous measures against those who refused to contribute or to aid in its collection. Eliot, foreseeing the difficulties in which he might be involved, had, between the winter of 1626 and the following summer, resettled his estates, and placed all his property in the hands of trustees. On the 27th of June in this year (1627) Buckingham sailed to Rochelle, and when reinforcements were most urgently wanted for this disastrous expedition, it became perfectly evident, as our author says, that the people's settled determination was, without a Parliament they would not give.' When we read in later years of Hampden's resistance to the King, and his death on the field of battle, let us not forget that he suffered a long imprisonment for refusing to submit to the illegal exaction of this forced loan. Eliot embodied his reasons against this tax in a petition to the King, which he printed and circulated, and which is now given by Mr. Forster, in an authentic shape (vol. ii. pp. 87-93). The writ of Habeas Corpus sued out by Hampden and others was argued before the Judges, and the prisoners were left in confinement. At length the state of the country and the feeling of the public was such, that Charles resolved to call a Parliament. The writs were issued, and above eighty country gentlemen were released from prison. This third Parliament of Charles was summoned to meet on the 17th of March, 1628; and what was the position in which he had by this time placed himself? What were the probable relations in which he would
stand towards the gentlemen of England and the representatives of the people? In spite of proved abuses and incompetence in the Cabinet and in the field, the King upheld the favourite who was universally believed to be the author of all the trouble and disasters. which had occurred. In the teeth of the Commons of England he had levied taxes which they and he knew to be illegal: he had imprisoned those whom he had now again to meet clothed with the powers of the House of Commons: he had irritated and deceived the men whom he could not crush, and on whose votes the future prosperity of his reign must depend: he had proved conclusively his wish to overthrow that which his subjects believed to be the law of the land; and he had shown with equal clearness his impotence to effect this object.-What could he expect but the whirlwind which was to follow? Not a single man imprisoned on account of the loan who offered himself for election failed to obtain a seat; and among those returned for the first time appeared Hampden's cousin, Mr. Oliver Cromwell, for the borough of Huntingdon. Eliot might have sat again for Newport; but, in spite of his recent release from imprisonment, his outlawry, and all the efforts of Sir James Bagge and the friends of the Government against him, he was triumphantly returned for the county of Cornwall. When the Commons assembled on the 17th of March, neither Laud's sermon, nor His Majesty's speech, was calculated to soothe their temper or inspire greater confidence in the constitutional wisdom of the King.
The question of supply was to come on on the 24th of March; but on the 22nd a debate arose in which the speeches of Sir Thomas Wentworth and Sir John Rich were especially remarkable. The constitutional zeal of the former was warmed, if not generated, by his desire to overthrow Buckingham, and the genuine patriotism of the latter was not likely to be less ardent because he had been imprisoned for many months without warrant of law. It was obvious enough that the discussion of grievances must again precede supply, and all that had passed since the last Parliament was not calculated to diminish the bitterness or assuage the wrath of Buckingham's opponents.
The King, feeling that the debate on grievances was inevitable, and that his want of money was urgent, suggested that one and the same Committee might deal with both subjects. This course was taken: Mr. Littleton was chairman of a committee of the whole House, to which were referred, in the first place, the liberty of the subject in his person and goods, and next, supply. Four resolutions on the first subject were adopted unanimously and sent up to the Lords, and a vote was passed for five subsidies. With the message from the King acknowledging this last vote, G 2 Buckingham's
Buckingham's thanks were joined; and the arrogant folly of such a proceeding was indignantly protested against by Eliot, whose speech was received with the acclamation, Well spoken, Sir John Eliot!'
The resolutions of the Commons were argued in the conference with the Lords for three days; Digges, Littleton, Selden, and Coke, as managers for the former, being opposed by the Attorney and Solicitor General, on behalf of the Crown. The Judges were called on to declare the nature of their judgment on the Habeas Corpus sued out by those who had been committed, and the resolutions of the Lords were, in fact, an evasion of the questions raised. In the mean time the King had begun to press the House in the matter of supply. Mr. Forster says, 'His importunity betrayed him. Too broadly his purpose declared itself to use the House of Commons only for supply, and to dismiss it as soon as that object was achieved, not to have fixed its leaders irremovably to their own course, if in this they had ever wavered. But the House itself kept them steady and true' (vol. ii. p. 166).
They had resolved that supply and the redress of grievances should go on together, or stop together. On the 25th of April five propositions, modifying the resolutions of the Commons, were brought down from the Lords, and having been rejected by the former, the 28th was appointed for a final discussion of the subject. On the morning of that day the House was summoned to meet the King, when the Chancellor delivered a speech recognising the validity of the great Charter and the other six statutes relied on at the conference, but, in fact, calling upon them to trust for their secure observance to the word of the King. The Commons then resolved to frame a statute embodying and re-enacting the provisions of these Acts and of Magna Charta with reference to the liberties of the subject, and thus came into existence the immortal 'Petition of Right.' Eliot and Wentworth were both members of the Committee, to which its preparation was intrusted.
On the 8th of May the Petition, as passed by the Commons, was taken up to the Lords, or at least presented in a conference in the painted chamber; for Mr. Forster tells us that when a bill took this form it seems to have been the usage at that time that it should not pass through its first stage in either House until its terms had been agreed upon by previous discussions in conference. It was known, too, that the Commons had ordered a bill for five subsidies to be prepared-guarded, however, by fixing the terms of payment for each, and by the condition that the Petition of Right should be previously granted. A sharp struggle took place on the question of inserting words saving the King's sovereign
power; but the Commons remained firm and undaunted. At length, on May 27th, the Lords had yielded, and the Petition of Right, with two immaterial verbal alterations, was accepted. On the 28th it was presented to the King, by whom it was received in silence,
The condition of things was now this: A bill, in the form of a petition, had been passed by both Houses. It wanted only the customary words 'soit droit fait comme il est desiré' to become the law of the land. Without this constitutional sanction it was a nullity, and these words the Commons hoped to hear when they met the King in the House of Lords on the 31st of May.
Instead however of this, Charles made a short speech, in which he told the Parliament, I am come hither to show you that, as well in formal things as essential, I desire to give you as much content as in me lies.' And the Lord Keeper read a paper stating that the King willed right to be done according to the laws and customs of the realm, with other vague assurances of the same kind; but the necessary form of assent was still wanting. The Commons returned to their own House and adjourned.
Sir John Eliot saw clearly enough that the King could be reached only through Buckingham, and in a bold and memorable speech on the 3rd of June he reopened all the complaints against the favourite, and carried a resolution of the House for a remonstrance or declaration, to be presented to His Majesty. Charles supposed that he could save Buckingham and secure the subsidies only by consenting to the Petition of Right in its proper form, and on the 7th of June this was done; but, like all the concessions of this unfortunate King, it came too late to effect its object.
We are bound to state too that Charles's conduct in this whole business was at once imbecile and untruthful. If he had intended, as he said, to abide by the laws as they were recited in the Petition, why did he not give his assent in the usual form required by the precedents of many hundred years? If he did not intend to evade the Petition, why did he on the 26th of May, before he gave his first answer, privately consult the Judges as to its binding force if it were enacted as a statute? As Mr. Hallam observes, the sincerity of Charles in giving his assent to the Petition at all may be estimated by the fact of this conference. His conduct with reference to the Petition of Right had led to the remonstrance; but it did not follow because he was obliged to yield that he would then succeed in stopping the movement which his duplicity had caused. The Commons were bound to pass the Supply Bill, but they were bound to nothing else. On the 13th of June Eliot spoke in the strongest terms in favour of naming the Duke in the remonstrance, which was presented at Whitehall in the pre