Page images
PDF
EPUB

reigners scrupled to give any credit to a people, so c p< torn by domestic faction, and oppressed by mili- ^^.f^j tary usurpation: Even the internal commerce of i«*8. the kingdom began to stagnate. And in order to remedy these growing evils, the generals, in the name of the army, published a declaration, in which they expressed their resolution of supporting law and justice.*1

The more to quiet the minds of men, the council of officers took into consideration a scheme, called The agreement of the people; being the plan of a republic, to be substituted in the place of that government which they had so violently pulled in pieces. Many parts of this scheme, for correcting the inequalities of the representative, are plausible; had the nation been disposed to receive it, or had the army intended to impose it. Other parts are too perfect for human nature, and savour strongly of that fanatical spirit so prevalent throughout the kingdom.

ThE height of all iniquity and fanatical extravagance yet remained; the public trial and execution of their sovereign. To this period was every measure precipitated by the zealous independents. The parliamentary leaders of that party had intended, that the army, themselves, should execute that daring enterprise; and they deemed so irregular and lawless a deed best fitted to such irregular and lawless instruments/ But the generals were too wise to load themselves singly with the infamy which, they knew, must attend an action so shocking to the general sentiments of mankind. The parliament, they were resolved, should share with them the reproach of a measure which was thought requisite for the advancement of their common ends of safety and ambition. In the house of commons, therefore, a committee was appointed to bring in a

charge

'Rush. vol. viii. p. 1364. r Whillocke.

Chap.charge against the king. On their report a vote ^ passed, declaring it treason in a king to levy war

1648. against his parliament, and appointing a High Court or Justice to try Charles for this new invented treason. This vote was sent up to the house of peers.

The house of peers, during the civil wars, had, all along, been of small account; but it had lately, since the king's fall, become totally contemptible; and very few members would submit to the mortification of attending it. It happened, that day, to be fuller than usual, and they were assembled, to the number of sixteen. Without one dissenting voice, and almost withoutdeliberation, they instantly rejected the vote of the lower house, and adjourned themselves for ten days; hoping that this delay would be able to retard the furious career of the commons.

1649. The commons were not to be stopped by so small an obstacle. Having first established a principle, which is noble in itself, and seems specious, but is belied by all history and experience, That the people are the origin of all just power; they next declared, that the commons of England, assembled in parliament, being chosen by the people, and representing them, are the supreme authority of the nation, and that whatever is enacted and declared to be law by the commons, hath the force of law,

January 4. without the consent of king or house of peers. The ordinance for the trial of Charles Stuart, king of England, so they called him, was again read, and unanimously assented to.

In proportion to the enormity of the violences and usurpations, were augmented the pretences of sanctity, among those regicides. "Should any "one have voluntarily proposed," said Cromwel in the house, "to bring the king to punishment, "I should have regarded him as the greatest trai"tor; but, since providence and necessity have "cast us upon it, I will pray to God for a blessing 4' "on "on your counsels; though I am not prepared to c H A P. "give you any advice on this important occasion. i^^^ "Even I myself," subjoined he, "when I was 16*9. '* lately offering up petitions for his majesty's resto"ration, felt my tongue cleave to the roof of my "mouth, and considered this preternatural move"ment as the answer which heaven, having rejected "the king, had sent to my supplications."

A Woman of Hertfordshire, illuminated by prophetical visions, desired admittance into the military council, and communicated to the officers a revelation, which assured them that their measures were consecrated from above, and ratified by a heavenly sanction. This intelligence gave them great comfort, and much confirmed them in their present resolutions.'

Colonel Harrison, the son of a butcher, and the most furious enthusiast in the army, was sent with a strong party to conduct the king to London. At Windsor, Hamilton, who was there detained a prisoner, was admitted into the king's presence; and falling on his knees, passionately exclaimed My dear Master.'—/ have indeed been so to you, replied Charles, embracing him. No farther intercourse was allowed between them. The king was instantly hurried away. Hamilton long followed him with his eyes, all suffused in tears, and prognosticated, that, in this short salutation, he had given the last adieu to his sovereign and his friend.

Charles himself was assured, that the period of his life was now approaching; but notwithstanding all the preparations which were making, and the intelligence which he received, he could not, even yet, believe that his enemies really meant to con* elude their violences by a public trial and execution. A private assassination he every moment looked for; and though Harrison assured him, that his apprehensions

'Whitlocke, p. 360.

hensions were entirely groundless, it was by that catastrophe, so frequenfwith dethroned princes, that he expected to terminate his life. In appearance, as well as in reality, the king was now dethroned. All the exterior symbols of sovereignty were withdrawn, and his attendants had orders to serve him without ceremony. At first, he was shocked with instances of rudeness and familiarity, to which he had been so little accustomed. Nothing so contemptible as a despised prince! was the reflection which they suggested to him. But he soon reconciled his mind to this, as he had done to his other calamities.

All the circumstances of the trial were now adjusted; and the high court of justice fully constituted. It consisted of 133 persons as named by the commons; but there scarcely ever sat above 70: So difficult was it, notwithstanding the blindness of prejudice and the allurements of interest, to engage men of any name or character in that criminal measure. Cromwel, Ireton, Harrison, and the chief officers of the army, most of them of mean birth, were members, together with some of the lower house and some citizens of London. The twelve judges were at first appointed in the number: But as they had affirmed, that it was contrary to all the ideas of English law to try the king for treason, by whose authority all accusations for treason must necessarily be conducted; their names, as well as those of some peers, were afterwards struck out. Bradshaw, a lawyer, was chosen president. Coke was appointed solicitor for the people of England. Dorislaus, Steele, and Aske, were named assistants. The court sat in Westminster hall.

It is remarkable, that, in calling over the court, when the crier pronounced the name of Fairfax, which had been inserted in the number, a voice came from one of the spectators, and cried, He has more wit than to be here. When the charge was read against against the king, In the name of the people of Eng- Chap. land; the same voice exclaimed, Not a tenth part of them. Axtel the officer, who guarded the court, j6*9, giving orders to fire into the box whence these insolent speeches came; it was discovered, that lady Fairfax was there, and that it was she who had had the courage to utter them. She was a person of noble extraction, daughter of Horace, lord Vere of Tilbury; but being seduced by the violence of the times, she had long seconded her husband's zeal against the royal cause, and was now, as well as he, struck with abhorrence at the fatal and unexpected consequence of all his boasted victories.

ThE pomp, the dignity, the ceremony of this trans- The lung's action corresponded to the greatest conception thattr"1' is suggested in the annals of human kind; the delegates of a great people sitting in judgment upon their supreme magistrate, and trying him for his misgovernment and breach of trust. The solicitor, in the name of the commons, represented, that Charles Stuart, being admitted king of England, and entrusted with a limited power; yet nevertheless, from a wicked design to erect an unlimited and tyrannical government, had traitorously and maliciously levied war against the present parliament, and the people whom they represented, and was therefore impeached as a tyrant, traitor, murderer, and a public and implacable enemy to the commonwealth. After the charge was finished, the president directed his discourse to the king, and told him, that the court expected his answer.

The king, though long detained a prisoner, and now produced as a criminal, sustained, by his magnanimous courage, the majesty of a monarch. With great temper and dignity, he declined the authority of the court, and refused to submit himself to their jurisdiction. He represented, that having been engaged in treaty with his two houses of parliament, and having finished almost every article,

« PreviousContinue »