« ZurückWeiter »
him from the proverb that it was health for a king, he replied, that the proverb was meant for a young king. Af. ter some fits, he found himself extremely weakened, and sent for the prince, whom he exhorted to persevere in the protestant religion; then preparing with decency Mar. 27, and courage to meet his end, he expired, after 1625. a reign over England of twenty-two years, and in the fifty-ninth year of his age. With regard to fo. reign negotiations, James neither understood nor cultivated them; and perhaps in a kingdom so situated as England, domestic politics are alone sufficient. His reign was marked with none of the splendours of triumph, nor with any new conquests or acquisitions; but the arts were nevertheless silently going on to improvement. Reason was extending her influence, and discovering to mankind a thousand errors in religion, in morals, and in government, that had long been reverenced by blind submission. The Reformation had produced a spirit of liberty, as well as of investigation, among all ranks of mankind, and taught them that no precedents could sanctify fraud, tyranny, or injustice. James taught them by his own example to argue upon the nature of the king's prerogative and the extent of the subject's liberty. He first began by setting up the prescriptive authority of kings against the natural privileges of the people; but when the subject was submitted to a controversy, it was soon seen that the monarch's was the weaker side.
FEW princes have ascended a throne with more apparent advantages than Charles; and none ever encountered more real difficulties. The advantages were such as might flatter even the most cautious prince into security; the difficulties were such as no abilities could surmount. He found himself, upon coming to the crown, possessed of a peaceful and flourishing kingdom, his right undisputed, his power strengthened by an alliance with one of the most potent nations in Europe, his absolute authority tacitly acknowledged by one part of his subjects, and enforced from the pulpit by the rest. To add to all this, he was loved by his people, whose hearts he had gained by his virtues, his humility, and his candour. But on the opposite side of the picture we are presented with a very different scene. Men had begun to think of the different rights of mankind, and found that all had an equal claim to the inestimable blessings of freedom. The spirit of liberty was roused; and it was, resolved to oppose the ancient claims of monarchs, who usurped their power in times of ignorance or danger, and who pleaded in succeeding times their former encroachments as prescriptive privileges. Charles had been taught from his infancy to consider the royal prerogative as a sacred pledge, which it was not in his power to alienate, much less his duty to abridge. His father, who had contributed so much to sink the claims of the crown, had, nevertheless, boldly defended them in his writings, and taught his son to defend by the sword VOI. II. O
what he had only inculcated by the press. Charles, though a prince of tolerable understanding, had not comprehension enough to see that the genius and disposition of his people had received a total change: he resolved therefore to govern, by old maxims and precedents, a people who had lately found out that these maxims were established in times of ignorance and slavery.
In the foregoing reigns, I have given very little of the parliamentary history of the times, which would have led me out of the way; but, in the present, it will be proper to point out the transactions of every parliament, as they make the principal figure in this remarkable aera, in which we see genius and courage united in opposing injustice, seconded by custom, and backed by power.
Charles undertook the reins of government with a fixed persuasion that his popularity was sufficient to carry every measure. He was burthened with a treaty for defending the Palatinate, concluded in the late reign; and the war declared for that purpose was to be carried on with vigour in this. But war was more easily declared than supplies were granted. After some reluctance, the commons voted him two subsidies; a sum far from being sufficient to support him in his intended equipment, to assist his brother-in-law; and to this was added a petition for punishing papists, and redressing the grievances of the nation. Buckingham, who had been the late king's favourite, and who was still more caressed by the present monarch, did not escape their censures; so that, instead of granting the sums requisite, they employed the time in disputations and complaints, till the season for prosecuting the intended campaign was elapsed. Charles, therefore, wearied with their delays, and offended at the refusal of his demands, thought proper to dissolve a parliament which he could not bring to reason.
To supply the want of parliamentary aids, Charles had recourse to some of the ancient methods of extortion, practised by sovereigns when in necessitous circumstances. That kind of tax called a benevolence was ordered to be exacted, and privy-seals were issued accordingly. In order to cover the rigour of this step, it was commanded that none should be asked for money but such as were able to spare it; and he directed letters to different persons, mentioning the sums he desired. With this the people were obliged, though reluctantly, to comply; it was in fact authorised by many precedents; but no precedents whatsoever could give a sanction to injustice.
With this money, a fleet was equipped against Spain, carrying ten thousand men; the command of which army was intrusted to lord Wimbledon, who sailed directly to Cadiz, and found the bay full of ships of great value. But he failed in making himself master of the harbour, while his undisciplined army landing, instead of attacking the town, could not be restrained from indulging themselves in the wine, which they found in great abundance on shore. Farther stay therefore appeared fruitless; they were re-embarked; and the plague attacking the fleet soon afterwards, they were obliged to abandon all hopes of success, and return to England. Loud complaints were made against the court, for intrusting so important a command to a person who was judged so unqualified for the undertaking.
This ineffectual expedition was a great blow to the court: and, to retrieve the glory of the nation, another attempt was to be made, but with a more certain prospect of success. New supplies therefore being requisite, the king was resolved to obtain them in a more regular and constitutional manner than before. Another
A. D. parliament was accordingly called; and though
1626, some steps were taken to exclude the more popular leaders of the last house of commons, by nominating them as sheriffs of counties, yet the present parliament seemed more refractory than the former. When the king laid before the house his necessities, and asked for a supply, they voted him only three subsidies, which amounted to about a hundred and sixty thousand pounds; a sum no way adequate to the importance of the war, or the necessities of the state. But even this was not to be granted until the grievances of the state were redressed. Their chief indignation was leveled against Buckingham, a minister who had no real merit, and the great infelicity of being the king’s favourite. . Whenever the subjects resolve to attack the royal prerogative, they begin with the favourites of the crown; and wise monarchs seldom have any. Charles was not possessed of the art of making a distinction between friends and ministers; and whoever was his friend was always trusted with the administration of his affairs. He loved the duke, and undertook to protect him; although to defend a person so obnoxious to the people, was to share his reproach. The commons undertook to impeach him in the lower house, while the earl of Bristol, who had returned from his embassy in Spain, accused him among his peers. The purport of the charge against him amounted to little more than that he had engrossed too much power for himself and his relations; that he had neglected to guard the seas with the fleet; and that he had applied a plaster to the late king's side, which was supposed to be poisonous, and to hasten his end. These frivolous accusations must have sunk of themselves, had they not been intemperately opposed by the royal authority. The king gave orders to the