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to such a profaning of the forms of justice as the arraignment of the king. And it is here that Butler lets fall the sombre reflection, so poignant to all who vainly expect too much from the hearts and understandings of mankind, that “the history of all ages and all countries will show what has been really going forward over the face of the earth, to be very different from what has been always pretended; and that virtue has been everywhere professed much more than it has been anywhere practised.” We may, if we be so minded, accept Butler's general reflection, and assuredly it cannot lightly be dismissed; but it is hardly the best explanation of this particular instance. Self-deception is a truer as well as a kinder word than hypocrisy, and here in one sense the institution of something with the aspect of a court was an act of homage to conscience and to habit of law. Many must have remembered the clause in the Petition of Right, not yet twenty years old, forbidding martial law. Yet martial law this was and nothing else, if that be the name for the uncontrolled arbitrament of the man with the sword.
In outer form as in interior fact, the trial of the king had much of the rudeness of the camp, little of the solemnity of a judicial tribunal. That pathetic element so strong in human nature, save when rough action summons; that imaginative sensibility, which is the fountain of pity when there is time for tears, and leisure to listen to the heart : these counted for nothing in that fierce and peremptory hour. Such moods are for history or for onlookers in stern scenes, not for the actors. Charles and Cromwell had both of them long stood too close to death in many grisly shapes, had seen too many slaughtered men, to shrink from an encounter without quarter. Westminster Hall was full of soldiery, and resounded with their hoarse shouts for justice and execution. The king with
his hat upon his head eyed the judges with unaffected scorn, and with unmeaning iteration urged his point, that they were no court and that he was there by no law. Bradshaw, the president, retorted with high-handed warnings to his captive that contumacy would be of no avail. Cromwell was present at every sitting with one doubtful exception. For three days (Jan. 20, 22, 23) the altercation went on, as fruitless as it was painful, for the Court intended that the king should die. He was incredulous to the last. On the fourth and fifth days (Jan. 24-25) the Court sat in private in the Painted Chamber, and listened to depositions that could prove nothing not already fully known. The object was less to satisfy the conscience of the court, than to make time for pressure on its more backward members. There is some evidence that Cromwell was among the most fervid in enforcing the point that they could not come to a settlement of the true religion, until the king, the arch obstructor, was put out of the way. On the next day (Jan. 26) the Court numbering sixty-two members adopted the verdict and sentence, that Charles was a tyrant, traitor, murderer, and public enemy to the good people of this nation, and that he should be put to death by the severing of his head from his body. On the 27th an end came to the proceedings. Charles was for the fourth time brought into the hall, and amid much noise and disorder he attempted to speak. He sought an interview with the Lords and Commons in the Painted Chamber, but this after deliberation was refused. The altercations between the king and Bradshaw were renewed, and after a long harangue from Bradshaw sentence was pronounced. The king, still endeavouring in broken sentences to make himself heard, was hustled away from the hall by his guards. The composure, piety, seclusion, and silence in which he passed the three days of life that were left, made a deep impression on the time, and have moved men's common human-heartedness ever since. In Charles himself, whether for foe or friend, an Eliot or a Strafford, pity was a grace unknown.
On the fatal day (Jan. 30), he was taken to Whitehall, then more like a barrack than a palace. Fairfax, Cromwell, Ireton, and Harrison were probably all in the building when he arrived, though the first of them had held stiffly aloof from all the proceedings of the previous ten days. A story was told afterwards that just before the execution, Cromwell, seated in Ireton's room, when asked for a warrant addressed to the executioner (who seems to have been Brandon, the common hangman), wrote out the order with his own hand, for signature by one of the three officers to whom the High Court had addressed the actual death-warrant. Charles bore himself with unshaken dignity and fortitude to the end. At a single stroke the masked headsman did his work. Ten days later the corpse was conveyed by a little band of devoted friends to Windsor, where amid falling flakes of snow they took it into Saint George's Chapel. Clarendon stamps upon our memories the mournful coldness, the squalor, and the desolation like a scene from some grey underworld :-" Then they went into the church to make choice of a place for burial. But when they entered into it, which they had been so well acquainted with, they found it so altered and transformed, all tombs, inscriptions, and those landmarks pulled down, by which all men knew every particular place in that church, and such a dismal mutation over the whole, that they knew not where they were ; nor was there one old officer that had belonged to it, or knew where our princes had used to be interred. At last there was a fellow of the town who undertook to tell them the place, where, he said, there was a vault in which King
CROMWELL'S OWN VIEW
Harry the Eighth and Queen Jane Seymour were interred.' As near that place as could conveniently be, they caused the grave to be made. There the king's body was laid without any words, or other ceremonies than the tears and sighs of the few beholders. Upon the coffin was a plate of silver fixed with these words only-King Charles, 1648. When the coffin was put in, the black velvet pall that had covered it was thrown over it, and then the earth thrown in, which the governor stayed to see perfectly done, and then took the keys of the church, which was seldom put to any use.”
Cromwell's own view of this momentous transaction was constant. A year later he speaks to the officers of “the great fruit of the war, to wit, the execution of exemplary justice upon the prime leader of all this quarrel.” Many months after this, he talks of the turning-out of the tyrant in a way which the Christians in after times will mention with honour, and all tyrants in the world look at with fear; many thousands of saints in England rejoice to think of it; they that have acted in this great business have given a reason of their faith in the action, and are ready further to do it against all gainsayers; the execution was an eminent witness of the Lord for bloodguiltiness. In a conversation again, one evening, at Edinburgh, he is said to have succeeded in converting some hostile presbyterians to the view that the taking away of the king's life was inevitable. There is a story that while the corpse of the king still lay in the gallery at Whitehall, Cromwell was observed by unseen watchers to come muffled in his cloak to the coffin, and raising the lid, and gazing on the face of the king, was heard to murmur several times, “Cruel necessity.” The incident is pretty certainly apocryphal, for this was not the dialect of Oliver's philosophy.
the gallery watchers to come mand gazing on the ta
Extravagant things have been said about the execution of the king by illustrious men from Charles Fox to Carlyle. “We may doubt,” said Fox, “ whether any other circumstance has served so much to raise the character of the English nation in the opinion of Europe.” “ This action of the English regicides,” says Carlyle,“ did in effect strike a damp like death through the heart of Flunkeyism universally in this world. Whereof Flunkeyism, Cant, Cloth-worship, or whatever ugly name it have, has gone about miserably sick ever since, and is now in these generations very rapidly dying." Cant, alas, is not slain on any such easy terms by a single stroke of the republican headsman's axe. As if, for that matter, force, violence, sword, and axe, never conceal a cant and an unveracity of their own, viler and crueller than any other. In fact, the very contrary of Carlyle's proposition as to death and damp might more fairly be upheld. For this at least is certain, that the execution of Charles I. kindled and nursed for many generations a lasting flame of cant, flunkeyism, or whatever else be the right name of spurious and unmanly sentimentalism, more lively than is associated with any other business in our whole national history.
The two most sensible things to be said about the trial and execution of Charles I. have often been said before. One is that the proceeding was an act of war, and was just as defensible or just as assailable, and on the same grounds, as the war itself. The other remark, thought tolerably conclusive alike by Milton and by Voltaire, is that the regicides treated Charles precisely as Charles, if he had won the game, undoubtedly promised himself with law or without law that he would treat them. The author of the attempt upon the Five Members in 1642 was not entitled to plead punctilious demurrers to a revolutionary jurisdiction. From the