and on the 13th of April 1640 the Short Parliament assembled. But on its discussing grievances before granting supplies and finally refusing subsidies till peace was made with the Scots, it was dissolved on the 5th of May. Charles returned once more to measures of repression, and on the 10th imprisoned some of the London aldermen who refused to lend money. He prepared for war, scraping together what money he could and obtaining a grant through Strafford from Ireland. His position, however, was hopeless; his forces were totally undisciplined, and the Scots were supported by the parliamentary opposition in England. On the 20th of August the Scots crossed the Tweed, beginning the so-called second Bishops’ War, defeated the king’s army at Newburn on the 28th, and subsequently occupied Newcastle and Durham. Charles at this juncture, on the 24th of September, summoned a great council of the peers; and on the 21st of October a cessation of arms was agreed to by the treaty of Ripon, the Scots receiving £850 a day for the maintenance of the army, and further negotiations being transferred to London. On the 3rd of November the king summoned the Long Parliament.
Such was the final issue of Charles’s attempt to govern without parliaments—Scotland in triumphant rebellion, Ireland only waiting for a signal to rise, and in England the parliament revived with almost irresistible strength, in spite of the king, by the force of circumstances alone. At this great crisis, which would indeed have taxed the resolution and resource of the most cool-headed and sagacious statesman, Charles failed signally. Two alternative courses were open to him, either of which still offered good chances of success. He might have taken his stand on the ancient and undoubted prerogative of the crown, resisted all encroachments on the executive by the parliament by legal and constitutional means, which were probably ample, and in case of necessity have appealed to the loyalty of the nation to support him in arms; or he might have waived his rights, and, acknowledging the mistakes of his past administration, have united with the parliament and created once more that union of interests and sentiment of the monarchy with the nation which had made England so powerful. Charles, however, pretended to do both simultaneously or by turns, and therefore accomplished neither. The illegally imprisoned members of the last parliament, now smarting with the sense of their wrongs, were set free to stimulate the violence of the opposition to the king in the new assembly. Of Charles’s double statecraft, however, the series of incidents which terminated the career of the great Strafford form the most terrible example. Strafford had come to London in November, having been assured by Charles that he “should not suffer in his person, honour or fortune,” but was impeached and thrown into the Tower almost immediately. Charles took no steps to hinder the progress of the proceedings against him, but entered into schemes for saving him by bringing up an army to London, and this step exasperated Strafford’s enemies and added new zeal to the prosecution. On the 23rd of April, after the passing of the attainder by the Commons, he repeated to Strafford his former assurances of protection. On the 1st of May he appealed to the Lords to spare his life and be satisfied with rendering him incapable of holding office. On the 2nd he made an attempt to seize the Tower by force. On the 10th, yielding to the queen’s fears and to the mob surging round his palace, he signed his death-warrant. “If my own person only were in danger,” he declared to the council, “I would gladly venture it to save my Lord Strafford’s life; but seeing my wife, children, all my kingdom are concerned in it, I am forced to give way unto it.” On the 11th he sent to the peers a petition for Strafford’s life, the force of which was completely annulled by the strange postscript: “If he must die, it were a charity to reprieve him until Saturday.” This tragic surrender of his great and devoted servant left an indelible stain upon the king’s character, and he lived to repent it bitterly. One of his last admonitions to the prince of Wales was “never to give way to the punishment of any for their faithful service to the crown.” It was regarded by Charles as the cause of his own subsequent misfortunes, and on the scaffold the remembrance of it disturbed his own last moments. The surrender of Strafford was followed by another stupendous concession by Charles, the surrender of his right to dissolve the parliament without its own consent, and the parliament immediately proceeded, with Charles’s consent, to sweep away the star-chamber, high commission and other extra-legal courts, and all extra-parliamentary taxation. Charles, however, did not remain long or consistently in the yielding mood. In June 1641 he engaged in a second army plot for bringing up the forces to London, and on the 10th of August he set out for Scotland in order to obtain the Scottish army against the parliament in England; this plan was obviously doomed to failure and was interrupted by another appeal to force, the so-called Incident, at which Charles was suspected (in all probability unjustly) of having connived, consisting in an attempt to kidnap and murder Argyll, Hamilton and Lanark, with whom he was negotiating. Charles had also apparently been intriguing with Irish Roman Catholic lords for military help in return for concessions, and he was suspected of complicity in the Irish rebellion which now broke out. He left Scotland more discredited than ever, having by his concessions made, to use Hyde’s words, “a perfect deed of gift of that kingdom,” and without gaining any advantage.
Charles returned to London on the 25th of November 1641 and was immediately confronted by the Grand Remonstrance (passed on the 22nd), in which, after reciting the chief points of the king’s misgovernment, the parliament demanded the appointment of acceptable ministers and the constitution of an assembly of divines to settle the religious question. On the 2nd of January 1642 Charles gave office to the opposition members Colepeper and Falkland, and at the same time Hyde left the opposition party to serve the king. Charles promised to take no serious step without their advice. Nevertheless, entirely without their knowledge, through the influence of the queen whose impeachment was intended, Charles on the 4th made the rash and fatal attempt to seize with an armed force the five members of the Commons, Pym, Hampden, Holies, Hesilrige and Strode, whom, together with Mandeville (afterwards earl of Manchester) in the Lords, he had impeached of high treason. No English sovereign ever had (or has since that time) penetrated into the House of Commons. So complete and flagrant a violation of parliamentary liberties, and an appeal so crude and glaring to brute force, could only be justified by complete success; but the court plans had been betrayed, and were known to the offending members, who, by order of the House, had taken refuge in the city before the king’s arrival with the soldiers. Charles, on entering the House, found “the birds flown,” and returned baffled, having thrown away the last chance of a peaceful settlement (see Lenthall, William). The next day Charles was equally unsuccessful in obtaining their surrender in the city. “The king had the worst day in London yesterday,” wrote a spectator of the scene, “that ever he had, the people crying ‘privilege of parliament’ by thousands and prayed God to turn the heart of the king, shutting up their shops and standing at their doors with swords and halberds.” On the 10th, amidst general manifestations of hostility, Charles left Whitehall to prepare for war, destined never to return till he was brought back by his victorious enemies to die.
Several months followed spent in manoeuvres to obtain the control of the forces and in a paper war of controversy. On the 23rd of April Charles was refused entry into Hull, and on the 2nd of June the parliament sent to him the “Nineteen Propositions,” claiming the whole sovereignty and government for the parliament, including the choice of the ministers, the judges, and the control of the army, and the execution of the laws against the Roman Catholics. The military events of the war are described in the article Great Rebellion. On the 22nd of August the king set up his standard at Nottingham, and on the 23rd of October he fought the indecisive battle of Edgehill, occupying Oxford and advancing as far as Brentford. It seemed possible that the war might immediately be ended by Charles penetrating to the heart of the enemy’s position and occupying London, but he drew back on the 13th of November before the parliamentary force at Turnham Green, and avoided a decisive contest.
- Hist. MSS. Comm.: MSS. of Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, 141.